Remarks in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow Americans, men and women of this great city of the northwest—the old northwest—the middle west now —the heart of the country:
I thank you for the greeting that you have extended to me; and, Mr. Mayor, I think that there are but few other cities that could furnish a chorus such as this city has furnished, to which we have listened.
Milwaukee has set an example in many things to the other cities of the country; and we profit by some of that example now.
I thank you, Mr. Mayor, and your colleagues representing the city government; and I know you will not grudge my saying a special word of thanks to the men of the Spanish-American war, my comrades.
And I want to tell you that it pleases me to learn that the fireman on the train that brought me to Milwaukee this afternoon was a veteran, was a man that served in the First United States Regular cavalry, in the same division that I did, down in Santiago.
There is no more typically American state than Wisconsin. There is no more typically American city than Milwaukee. From the time, now nearly years ago, when the first scattered settlements were made on the banks of the James, the Hudson, the Delaware, and in Massachusetts bay; from that time to this there has been going on in what is now this great independent republic a constant mixture of the strains of blood from the old world. The American of today, the American of the past, the American of the future, is, has been and will be something akin to, but different from, each of the European nationalities from whom part of the strains in our composite life blood are derived. In the days of the revolution, if you glance over the list of names of the generals who fought under Washington, of the statesmen who with him in the Second Continental congress declared our independence, or in the constitutional government performed the great work of constructive statesmanship in consequence of which we are now a nation—if you look over that list of names you will see that from the beginning many different race-stocks entered into the formation of the American type. English, Scotch and Irish, French, German, Scandinavian, my own people the Dutch of Holland, Slavonic stock all those stocks have sent their strains of blood into the making of the American type.
In the Revolutionary War there were men like Muehlenberg and Sullivan who fought side by side with men like Wayne, Greene, and Marion. In the Civil War men like Sheridan and Siegel, who fought side by side with men like Grant, Sherman, and Farragut. The race stocks of our ancestors are various. We come from many peoples, but we come here together as Americans, and nothing else.
Each stock can contribute something of value to the common lot; each stock can put a new element of worth into the American body politic. But, fundamentally, my fellow citizens, what we need to remember ever to keep before our eyes all the time, is to learn the lesson to which I have just referred in addressing the veterans out at the Soldiers' Home; the men who came from many different states, many of whom were born beyond the seas, but who paid no heed to whether their forefathers had first settled in Massachusetts bay or among the Virginia capes, or whether their immediate parents had come hither from the banks of the Rhine, or the coasts of Ireland; were concerned only in seeing that each man did his duty as a man.
You and I, my comrades of the small war, had to learn the same lesson taught by the men of the big war. What concerns each soldier, if he wishes to see his army do a feat of might, is not the birth place or ancestry of his fellows; still less the creed according to which that fellow of his worships his Maker; not the man's occupation or social position; but the man's worth as a man. That is the vital point. And as it is on stricken fields, so it is in the never ending work of strife for civic and social uplifting. Woe will surely await this people if we ever permit ourselves to draw lines of distinction as between class and class, or creed and creed, or along any other line save that which divides good citizenship from bad citizenship. If the man does his duty as a man; if he is fearless and honorable, upright in his dealings with his fellows; if he does his duty to his family, to his neighbors and to the state, that is all that we have the right to ask about him. If he does those things he is entitled to our regard, and to our esteem. If he does not do them, then he has forfeited all rights to the respect of decent men.
I appeal for the qualities that tell for good citizenship. They are many. But after all, they come down chiefly into three categories. In the first place honesty and decency—I use the words in their widest significance; not merely the honesty that refrains from theft; but the aggressive honesty that will not see a wrong without trying to right it.
That first. But by itself that is not enough. No matter how honest a man may be, if he is timid, there is but little chance of his being useful to the body politic. In addition to honesty you must have strength and courage. We live in a rough world, and good work in it can be done only by those who are not afraid to step down into the hurly burly to do their part in the dust and smoke of the arena. The man who is a good man, but who stays at home in his own parlor, is of small use. It is easy enough to be good, if you lead the cloistered life, which is absolutely free from temptation to do evil because there is no chance to do it.
In addition to honesty and decency you need courage and strength You need not only the virtues that teach you to refrain from wrong doing, but the virtues that teach you positively and aggressively to do right. You have to have those, too. And if you have got them, still it is not enough. You are valueless without them; you are value less as a citizen unless you are both honest and brave, but if, in addition to that, you are a natural born fool, may the Lord be with you.
We need courage and we need honesty, and finally we need the saving grace of common sense. And we shall get good results from good citizenship exactly in proportion as the average citizen is developed along the three lines that I have indicated; for that is the man who will have high ideals, and yet will be able to realize them in practical fashion. That is the man who will keep his eyes on the stars, and yet not forget that in this world of ours he must have his feet on the ground. The man who will strive after a high ideal, but strive after it in methods that will permit of its realization.
And one side of so striving, and of having such an ideal, lies in making promise and performance coincide—speaking the truth, and acting the truth when spoken. Now, there are two sides to that. It is a very bad thing—a very bad thing—for a public man not to perform what he has promised. A man who lies on the stump will lie off the stump, and a promise made in public life should be held as binding on every honest man as a promise made in private life. The other side is that the people must remember that they themselves will be to blame if they ask a promise which, from the nature of things, cannot be kept; such a promise is the promise, sometimes demanded, that such a course of action shall be taken that in effect the millennium will come at once, and all poverty and all suffering be over.
The millennium is a good way off—a very good way off yet. It is possible to promise a course of action, legislative and administrative, by which the best possible chance shall be given each man to work out his own fate, as his own qualities enable him to work it out. More than that, it is not possible for any man to promise, who knows enough to know what is possible, and who cares enough for his word to wish to make that word good.
That much should be promised by every decent man, and the promise should be kept; and a decent man who values the truth should be cautious about promising much more, because a promise of more than that cannot be kept.
I ask for high ideals. I ask that high ideals be demanded in those that represent you. That you insist upon honesty, courage, upright ness and fair dealing in public life. But, I ask, in your interest, and therefore, in the interest of the men who represent you that in addition to courage, in addition to honesty and clean and upright living, you demand in others, and you exact from yourselves, the virtue of common sense. I thank you.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343402