Remarks in Lynn, Massachusetts
Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow citizens, men and women of Lynn:
I thank you from my heart for the way in which you have greeted, not me, personally, but the chief executive of the American Republic. And I wish to thank the men of the National Guard, afloat and ashore, the cavalry and the infantry, for the escort tendered me. There is but little that I can say to you, for I have come here less to teach than to learn—here in your city, a city rendered great by the fact that the individual citizens in it have known how to work, have known how to do alike their duty in private life and in public life. Whenever I come into such a community as this, I feel as if the utmost I could say would be to ask you to learn aright, not from what I say, but from what you do. In this country we have got to have decent and intelligent government, not as a substitute for individual initiative but as a supplement to it.
Lynn has been made what it is through its people, through its citizens, through its people individually, as well as collectively. Now we have got to apply the same principles to the country as a whole that you have applied in practice here in Lynn. The government can do some thing—it can do a good deal—but it never can begin to do as much for the individual as the individual can do for the government. The city of Lynn can do something, but it is the citizens that have built up the city of Lynn. So in our country as a whole, we must have wise legislation; we must have honest, fearless and able administrators of the law. All law must be so administered as to secure justice for all alike—a square deal for every man, great or small, rich or poor.
That we have got to have, and after that has been attained, it will then still remain true that the factor in any man's individual success must be the sum of those qualities which we speak of as character in any man—his energy, his perseverance, his intelligence, his business thrift.
No laws, however good, can supply the lack of those qualities in any man. Take the navy department, under your fellow-Massachusetts man, Mr. Moody. Now in the navy you have got to have good ships and good guns, but if you have not got the right officers and enlisted men to work them the ships and the guns are worthless. You have got to have the men behind the guns— the men in the engine room. That is what counts. That is what made the difference at Santiago. There is a difference in guns, but there is also a difference in men. So, exactly as you need in war men behind the guns, in peace you need the man behind the plough, the man at the machine. It is on them that our success ultimately depends. Laws are good things, but they are only the implements with which men who make them and live under them work out their salvation and the salvation of the Nation.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Lynn, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343484