Remarks in Omaha, Nebraska

April 27, 1903

Mr. Chairman, and you, my fellow citizens:

It is a great pleasure to come before you this evening. Since Saturday I have been traveling through your great and beautiful State. I know your people; I have been with them; I have worked with them; and it is indeed a joy to come here now and see from one end of your state to the other the signs of your abounding prosperity. I feel that the future of Nebraska is secure. There will be temporary ups and downs, and of course if any of you are guilty of folly, from your own folly nothing can save you but yourselves. But if you act as I believe and trust that you will act, this State has a future before it second to that of no other state in this great Nation.

I addressed you to-night on the anniversary of the birth of the great silent soldier—Ulysses Grant, and I am glad to have the chance of saying a few words to an audience such as this in this great typical city of the West on the occasion of the birthday of the great Western general, the great American general. It is a good thing to pay homage with our lips to the illustrious dead. It is a good thing to keep in mind what we owe to the memories of Washington and his fellows, who founded this mighty Republic; to Abraham Lincoln and Grant and · their fellows, who saved it. It is a far better thing to pay the homage that counts—the homage of our lives and our deeds. Illustrious memories of the Nation's past are but curses if they serve the men of the Nation at present as excuses for shirking the problems of the day.

They are blessings if they serve to spur on the men of today to see that they act as well in their time as the men of yesterday did in theirs.

Each generation has its peculiar problems; each generation has certain tasks allotted to it to do. Shame to it if it treats the glorious deeds of a generation that went before as an excuse for its own failure to do the peculiar task it finds ready to hand. Upon the way in which we solve our problems will depend whether our children and our children's children shall look back or shall not look back to us with the veneration which we feel for the men of the mighty years of the Civil War. Our task is a lighter one than theirs, but it is an important one, and do it we must, if we wish to rise level to the standard set us by our forefathers. You in Nebraska have passed through periods of terrible privation of misery and hardship. They were evil times. And yet, there is no experience, no evil, that out of it good cannot come, if only we look at it right. Things are better now. Things can be kept better, but only on condition that we face facts with coolness and sanity, with clear-eyed vision that tells us what is true and what is false. When things go wrong there is a tendency in humanity to wish to blame some of its fellows. It is a natural tendency, and by no means always a wholesome tendency. There is always a tendency to feel that somehow by legislation, by the enactment of some law, by the trying of some patent scheme things can be made permanently better. Now, something can be done by law. A good deal can be done by law. Even more can be done by the honest administration of the law; an administration which knows neither fear nor favor, which treats each man exactly as that man's record entitles him to be treated; the kind of enforcement of the law which I think I may promise that you will have while Mr. Knox remains Attorney General. But "more than the law, far more than the administration of the law, depends upon the individual quality of the average citizen. The chief factor in winning success for your state, for the people in the state, must be what the chief factor in winning the success of a people has been from the beginning of time—the character of the individual man, of the individual woman.

I have spoken of the homage we should pay to the memory of Grant. It is the homage we should pay to the memory of Lincoln, the homage we should pay to all of our fellow-countrymen who have at any time rendered great service to the Republic, and it can be rendered in most efficient form not by merely praising them for having dealt with problems which now we do not have to face, but by facing our problems in the same spirit in which they faced theirs. Nothing was more noteworthy, in all of Lincoln's character than the way in which he combined fealty to the loftiest ideal with a thoroughly practical capacity to achieve that ideal by practical methods. He did not war with phantoms; he did not struggle among the clouds; he faced facts; he endeavored to get the best results he could out of the warring forces with which he had to deal. When he could not get the best he was forced to content himself, and did content himself, with the best possible. What he did in his day we must do in ours. It is not possible to lay down any rule of conduct so specific that it will enable us to meet each particular issue as it arises. All that can be done is to lay down certain general rules, and then to try, each man for him self, to apply those general rules to the specific cases that come up.

Our complex industrial civilization has not only been productive of much benefit, but has also brought us face to face with many puzzling problems; problems that are puzzling, partly because there are men who are wicked, partly because there are good men who are foolish or short-sighted. There are many such today—the problems of labor and capital, the problems which we group together rather vaguely when we speak of the problems of the trusts, the problems affecting the farmers on the one hand, the railroads on the other. It would not be possible in anyone place to deal with the particular shapes which these problems take at that time and in that place. And yet, there are certain general rules which can be laid down for dealing with them, and those rules are the immutable rules of justice, of sanity, of courage, of common sense. Six months ago it fell to my lot to appoint a commission to investigate into and conclude about matters connected with the great and menacing strike in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania. On that commission I appointed representatives of the church, of the bench, of the army, a representative of the capitalists of the region, and a representative of organized labor. They published a report which was not only of the utmost moment because it dealt with the great and vital problem with which they were appointed to deal, but also because in its conclusions it initiated certain general rules in so clear and masterful a fashion that I wish most earnestly it could receive the broadest circulation as a tract wherever there exists, or threatens to exist, trouble in any way akin to that with which those commissioners dealt.

If I might give a word of advice to Omaha, I should like to see your daily press publish in full the concluding portion of that report of the Anthracite Coal Strike Commission, signed by all the members thereof, by those in a special sense the champion of the wage-worker, and by those in a special sense identified with capital, organized or unorganized; because, men and women of Omaha, those people did not speak first as capitalist or as laborer, did not speak first as judge, as army man, as churchman, but all of them signed that report as American citizens anxious to see right and justice prevail. No one quality will get us out of any difficulty. We need more than one; we need a good many. We need, as I said, the power first of each man's honestly trying to look at the problem from his fellow's standpoint. Capitalist and wage-worker alike should honestly endeavor each to look at any matter from the other's standpoint, with a freedom on the one hand from the contemptible arrogance which looks down upon the man of less means, and on the other, from the no less contemptible envy, jealousy and rancor, which hates another because he is better off. Each quality is the supplement of the other, and in point of baseness there is not the weight of a finger to choose between them. Look at the report signed by those men; look at it in the spirit in which they wrote it, and if you can only make yourselves, make this community, approach the problems of today in the spirit that those men, your fellows, showed in approaching the problem of yesterday, your problems will be solved.

Any man who tries to excite class hatred, sectional hate, hate of creeds, any kind of hatred in our community, though he may affect to do it in the interest of the class he is addressing, is, in the long run, with absolute certainty that class's own worst enemy. In the long run, and as a whole, we are going to go up or go down together. Of course there will be individual exceptions, small, local exceptions, exceptions in kind, exceptions in place; but as a whole, if the common wealth prospers some measure of prosperity comes to all of us. If it is not prosperous, then the adversity, though it may fall unequally upon us, will weigh more or less upon all. It lies with us ourselves to determine our own fate. I cannot too often say that the wisest law, the best administration of the law, can do naught more than give us a fair field in which to work out that fate aright. If, as individuals, or as a community, we mar our future by our own folly, let us remember that it is upon ourselves that the responsibility must rest.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Omaha, Nebraska Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives