Remarks in Nahant, Massachusetts
Mr. Chairman, and fellow citizens:
Any good American who comes to the home of the town meeting feels that he comes to sit at the feet of Gamaliel as regards republican democratic government. And you in New England, in the country which, with the sole exception of the little republic of Switzerland, has developed to a higher degree than anywhere else the true principle of democratic republican representative government—you have done more, much more than your share in leavening the whole Republic; and just as long as our people show the capacity for self-government which is made evident in towns like this, just so long we shall prosper as a whole.
And when I address an audience like this, which takes part itself in all the workings of the government, I do not have to explain—as I have to explain to some other audiences—that the government cannot do everything. You can do a good deal through the town, but you can do more for the town than it can do for you. Some people make the mistake of thinking you can convert that, but you cannot.
I am glad to be here to speak to you after coming through your library, and especially escorted out here by the veterans of the great war, and by you, Gen. Curtis Guild, my comrade of the lesser war.
It is a very good thing, indeed it is an indispensable thing, to have material well-being. You have got to have that as the basis of our civilization, but if you do not build something more on top of that you will have only the foundation, and that is a bad place to live. You have got to have a superstructure, too. In addition to the material prosperity, you must have the spirit which makes that prosperity count. You must have it in peace; you must have it in war. The spirit that has made New England identified not only with self-government, but with the spread of education; the spirit that produces the school and the library; that is the spirit upon which we must build if we hope to make this great nation rise loyally both to her deeds and her opportunities.
But education is not enough. The men of thin intellects, the men who are competent to feel only intellectual emotions, are not the men who will make a great nation. You have got to have, in addition to the intellect, what counts for much more than intellect—character. And in character you must have men good, and you must have them strong.
Now you representatives of the great war, who are here today, you went out from '61 to '65. The men alongside of whom you fought had to have certain traits. No one trait was enough. They must be patriotic in the first place. They had to be driven on by love for country that made them willing to spend the best years of their youth and young manhood in the service of the nation to their own detriment—that made them willing to sacrifice everything for the prize of death in battle for the honor of the flag. But you had to have more than that. No matter how patriotic a man, if he had the tendency to run away, he was no good. Besides the love of country you had to have a strong, virile purpose in the man—the eagerness to do his work as a man. He had to have courage, strength, fixity of resolution. It was not all victory, and the man who, after a defeat, thought he would go home was of no use. You had to have the men who after a defeat would come back and try again, and after another defeat would come back and try again and again, until they wrested from defeat the splendid ultimate triumph.
The army is a poor place for a man of hysterical temperament. The government is a poor place for a man of hysterical temperament. The men who are going to do good work for citizenship in this community are the men who approach their duties in the spirit in which you approached yours in the time of the Civil War, who are not going to expect to have everything done for them, but are willing to do their share; who do not expect the way to be easy and smooth—for the path of national greatness never is easy or smooth—but who are going to face the rough work of the world with the determination to do that work right.
I thank you for the chance to greet you today.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Nahant, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343485