Remarks in Ottumwa, Iowa
Mr. Senator, and you, my fellow citizens:
It is indeed a privilege to have the chance of addressing you this evening and I have enjoyed greatly my trip through Iowa today. As I began to speak at 7 o'clock this morning and as I have met about every man, woman and child within a reasonable radius of the railway I will not detain you long.
I wish to say, in greeting to you all and in expressing my acknowledgment of the magnificent reception you have tendered me here, that I know you will not object to my saying a special word of greeting to the men of the Grand Army of the Republic, because the rest of us owe the fact that there is a President of this country to what they did. And they teach us a lesson, not merely of war but also of peace, for, mighty as was the triumph they won in the years that closed at Appomattox, mighty also was the deed when the army dis banded and the brave boys in blue went back to their counting rooms, their shops, their farms, and each took up the work he had abandoned when President Lincoln called for arms.
I am speaking in one of the chief manufacturing cities of Iowa and to those from round about who come from that rich agricultural country which takes in practically the entire prosperous and happy state. I congratulate you upon your prosperity and upon your well being.
Something can be done I think I may say, has been done by law, to create and preserve that condition of well being, and more can be done by honest and faithful administration of the law. But most of all such well-being depends upon the character of the average man.
It was just so in the war. You needed uniforms, needed good guns, needed training, but you didn't wait. If there was any man who hadn't the stuff in him, you couldn't get it out of him, and we won because the average man in blue had the sturdy constitution, the courage, iron will, and dauntless resolution. These characteristics moved them to enlist, and they saw them through the war.
And here we are in this great state which was built up, not merely by the soil or the climate, but because of the right kind of men and women, who were not afraid of work and were not seeking to lead a life of ease and enjoyment, but rather to play their parts well in the world.
I have drawn more than one lesson from your careers and now allow me to draw another. You, when you left a life of ease, left your home and dear ones, and went down to spend the best years of your youth marching under the hot sun of a southern summer you for whom at noon the blanket was too heavy, and if a recruit you dropped it, but at midnight you found that two blankets were not near enough.
And as you look back over your past lives, of what years are you. proud—the years of ease and pleasant prosperity? No. The years of effort and toil, and when you risked your lives, endured your wounds, faced unflinchingly the fever cots in the war hospitals, and saw the best among you shed their blood for the sake of the lofty idea which led them on.
So it is in peace. Look back, each man of you, at the part of your life of which you are proudest to tell your children, the part you wish them to follow. It is not when conditions were the easiest but the time when the life was hard, when there were obstacles to be overcome, dangers to be dealt with. That's what you hope to see your children emulate.
O men and women of Iowa, I believe in you and in your sturdy manhood and womanhood, and therefore I know that you will teach your children not to go through life choosing the easiest course they can pursue, but will see that they rather choose the hardest, that they trample down the obstacles which intervene in their way to success. That is what makes men and women like the citizens of Iowa.
I owe a peculiar debt of gratitude to Iowa, because I have taken a quarter of my cabinet from this state. Somebody has intimated that this is more than Iowa's share, but I say that when any other state does as well relatively in citizenship, then I will take a quarter from it.
I have traveled all day through Iowa with my valued friend, Secretary Shaw, and now I would say a few words regarding the absent secretary, Mr. Wilson. It was very fitting that from Iowa should come the secretary of agriculture, for no state in the Union has done more to develop the highest grade of farming than has this. Both the experimental work by the Government and educational work by the State have been employed to make the farmer's work one of such scientific skill as to put it fairly beside any of the more prominent professions.
It is a mere truism to say that upon the welfare of the farmer and wage-worker rests the welfare of the entire state. If the conditions of these two great classes are well, the rest of the state is also right. And therefore, residents of this city of manufactories and wage workers, in this state of farmers, I congratulate you on having so well solved your share of the problems which confront the entire nation.
I don't have to do much preaching in Iowa. I think your practice sets a mark for my preaching here. I don't have to preach in the presence of these men of the great war except to remind us younger men that we should be held thrice shamed if we do not remember to do well so that you may feel that our homage to your memory is not simply coming from the mouth but from our hearts.
I am not preaching the gospel of work. You made your standard of work as well as your standard of play, but let me say just this play when you play, but don't play when you work. I am glad to see any harmless enjoyment from which anyone can derive a benefit, only don't let it interfere in doing each his or her duty as the chance comes.
As I have passed through Iowa today I have been struck with the soil, the climate, the rich farms, the prosperity and happiness of the towns and cities, and by the high average of citizenship which is noticeable everywhere. It has been my pleasure in the country districts to notice how the electric cars, the telephones, and the rural free delivery have joined to make the life of the farm less weary and to bring it more upon an equitable plane with the pleasures and the conveniences of the city. I admire the people and I congratulate them upon their crops and their products.
I think the thing that has pleased me most, with the possible exception of the meeting with the old veterans, is the representation from the other end of the line— the children. I congratulate you upon all your crops, and especially upon your crop of children. They are certainly all right in quality and they seem to be all right in quantity. I like your stock and I am glad it is not dying out.
Now I will not detain you longer. I have only come to say that I believe in you, believe in you heart and soul, and that I wish for you in the future a greater measure of prosperity and happiness than you have enjoyed in the past. And now I will bid you good night.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Ottumwa, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343431