Remarks in Memphis, Tennessee
Bishop and fellow citizens:
I have but little time, and can say only a few words to you, but I cannot resist the chance to come out here and greet you and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness in coming to welcome me.
I have been for a week traveling through the South, and by to morrow, when I have reached Louisiana, I shall have been in every State of these United States during my term as President.
The thing that struck me most in going from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Canada line to the Gulf, O my fellow citizens, is how slight and superficial are the points of dissimilarity between our people and how deep and underlying are the points of likeness between them.
Gentlemen, the average American is a pretty decent kind of a fellow, and all that is necessary to have him get along with the other average American is that they simply know one another. That is a fact. The difference, I would say, is perfectly trivial; the likeness goes deep down The man that is a good citizen in Maine is a good citizen in Louisiana If he is a good citizen in Memphis, take him to San Francisco and he will be a good citizen there.
What we need in the nation is not genius or brilliancy; it is the possession of humdrum, everyday, work-a-day living. We need decent men in private life. If a man is a decent man in private life, if he is a good husband, a good neighbor, a man you would like to do business with, he is a good citizen. These qualities are in reach of every man. I believe the average American has them. If the average American has these qualities the nation is going up, and if he does not have them nothing on the face of the earth can save the nation.
I believe in this country with such unfaltering faith because I know my countrymen, and I know the average American, the ordinary citizen--North, South, East or West—has the three cardinal virtues of citizenship—commonplace virtues, mind you, or necessary honesty.
This country has nothing to fear from a crooked man who fails. We put him in jail. It is the crooked man that succeeds that is a threat to this country. The timid good man is not of any use. If a man is honest, but afraid, you cannot do anything with him.
In addition to honesty we need courage—civic courage, a courage that can be displayed, if need be, in battle, moral courage and civic courage, both. I don't care how brave a man is and how honest he is, if he is natural born fool you can't do anything with him.
We also need to have the saving grace of common sense.
I believe in the future of this country because I believe that the average American is a pretty good fellow, and his wife is a better fellow, and that the average citizen has got those three cardinal virtues of courage. honesty and common sense.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Memphis, Tennessee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343653