Remarks in Pocatello, Idaho

May 28, 1903

It is a great pleasure to be here in this city, in this State, and to greet you this morning. I wish to acknowledge the courtesy of those who escorted me—the veterans of the great war, my own comrades of the Spanish-American war, and the men of the National Guard, and to congratulate Idaho upon what she is doing with her National Guard; and in greeting all of you I want to say a word in special recognition of the children. As you all know, I believe in children and in plenty of them. Much though I congratulate Idaho upon her forests and mines in the northern part of the State, upon all her industrial development, upon her railroads, upon what she will be able to make out of irrigated agriculture, upon all her products, the product upon which I congratulate her most is the children. I am glad to see that you have them all right in point of quality and in point of quantity. I have only one word to say to them. I believe in play and I believe in work. Play hard while you play, and when you work don't play at all. That is middling good advice for older folks, too.

This is a railroad town. I have been and am now on a trip during which on every day and during every hour my safety and well-being depend absolutely upon the vigilance, skill, nerve and fidelity of the railroad men; and I would like to say a special word to and about them this morning. The last time that I ever saw General Sherman he told me that if there ever were a war and he were limited to choosing men of one occupation he would take all his soldiers from among the railroad men—that is if he were limited to one occupation, for there are good men in every occupation, he would take them all if he only had to choose from one occupation – because a railroad man has to develop four or five of the qualities most indispensable in a soldier; in the first place, capacity to face risk undaunted. Railroading is one of those professions which, like following the deep sea fisheries, necessarily implies the acceptance of risk and danger. In the next place the man has not only learned to endure risk but to face hardships. Very few outside of those who have known intimately what railroading means appreciate what a ride, especially a night ride, in the winter time is on one of our trains, handling the brakes, doing all the work along the train. The men have to face risks and hardship. More than that, they have to face irregular hours. Any one who has ever done any soldiering knows that one of the difficulties to be overcome by the average man is to make him understand that he is not to sleep every night, but just when the chance comes. The railroad man knows that already. Finally, and most important of all, the railroad man has learned two things. He has learned how to act on his own responsibility in time of emergency, how to take the lead himself if the need arises and also how to obey orders, and obey them quickly. There is not any time for wondering whether or not he will do anything at all; it's to be done, and done quickly. These were the reasons which General Sherman enumerated in talking to me of his preference for railroad men for army life. The qualities thus developed are of as good service in the field of citizenship in ordinary civil life as in military life. In this country we need above all things to show our power to act on one's own individual responsibility, each to care for himself, to be able to handle his own life, and yet all of us to act in co-operation with our fellows, to be able to preserve our independence, our self respect, and one of the means of preserving it is to show that power of living our lives in orderly liberty under the law.

I wish also to say a word of special acknowledgment of the presence of the men on horseback from the reservation. I was glad to see them, and, Major Cadwell, I was glad to learn that many of the Indians under your care are traveling along the white man's road and beginning not only to send their children to school, but to own cattle and to own property. The only outcome of the Indian question in this country is gradually to develop the Indian into a property-owning, law-abiding, hard-working, educated citizen. In other words, to train him to travel the path that we are all trying to travel; and I congratulate you upon the progress that you have made. When he is traveling that path and when he is doing his duty he is entitled to and he shall receive exactly as square a deal as any one else.

After all, that is the fundamental principle of our government In the last analysis what America stands for more than for aught else is for treating each man on his worth as a man; if he acts well in whatever walk of life, whatever his ancestry, his creed, his color, give him a fair chance; if he acts badly let nothing protect him from the hand of the law.

I congratulate you, the men and women of Idaho, upon what you have done for your State. Let me congratulate you especially upon the fact that in addition to the business energy, the thrift, the enterprise that you have shown in material development, you have taken such pains in the bringing up of the next generation. I congratulate you upon your schools and upon your education, both elementary and higher—the most important things in life arid which we are sometimes tempted to regard as the humdrum and commonplace things. The whole fabric of society rests upon the home. The best citizen is the man who is a good husband, a good father; the woman who is a good wife, a good mother. Of course that is so elementary a fact, like other elementary facts, we occasionally forget its existence, that the highest type of citizenship is to be found in the home, and nothing can take the place of the education of the home—the fathers and mothers who educate their children not merely by precept but by practice, for in the intimacy of the home it does little good to preach if that preaching is not backed up by performance. It is of no use telling the children to tell the truth if they see their elders not telling the truth, no use trying to teach the child to be unselfish if the father or mother is selfish. There is no use in trying to teach the small folks not to shirk their duty if the bigger ones shirk theirs.

Nothing can excuse shirking in the performance of duty toward the children by the father and mother; but their work has to be supplemented from the outside; and a special and peculiar debt of gratitude is owing to the men and women who are engaged in teaching, who are engaged in educating the body, mind and soul of the younger generation, and to all, Mr. Mayor, who take part in the work of the school committee in seeing that the educational requirements of any locality are fully and actually met. I am glad to have seen you. It has done me good to come here. I believe in the future of your great State because I believe with all my heart and soul in the quality of the average man and the average woman who go to make up this State, and go to make up this entire nation.

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

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