Remarks on Receiving the Degree of LL.D. From Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts
President Wright and President Hall, graduates of the university and the college, and men and women of Worcester:
I shall do little except by way of illustration of the admirable address to which we have just listened from Dr. Mabie. What the speaker said applies thoroughly to two men because of whom I am here to-day. Senator Hoar, two years ago, induced me to promise to come here on this occasion to greet President Wright as the head of this college. Coming from such a man and for such another man, I could not refuse the request; for in Senator Hoar is realized, Mr. Mabie, your picture of the public servant.
I cannot speak of you, President Wright, as I would like to speak today, and as I hope you may live a long time yet, it may a long time before I shall be able to say what I would like to say.
You have given to the country the kind of service no money can possibly buy. It is not merely what you have done at the head of your department, but it is the way in which you have done it, and the influence which you have exerted, which makes you so valuable to the country.
The greatest problem before our people, as before every modern people, is the problem of getting justice as between man and man, and this especially in industrial matters, so that the man who works with his hands and the man who has the capital accumulated by work with head and hands shall get on better together, each giving justice to the other, and each having sympathy and regard for the other, for even justice can be administered in a manner which leaves you with the heartiest dislike for the person who administers it.
The first duty of each one of you here is to carry your own weight to carry yourselves. You are not going to be able to do anything for anyone else until you can support yourselves and those dependent upon you. I do not want to see you develop that kind of idealism which makes you filled with vague thoughts of beneficence for mankind and an awful drawback to your immediate families. While I think we live in a pretty good world, I do not think it is all the best possible world, and I hope we shall have an adjustment of rewards, even those of a pecuniary or material kind. Altogether there is much in the way of re ward that comes to a certain type of financiers and too little comes to the student, to the scholar, to the teacher, to the man who represents the scholarly side, the side of thought.
Literary work does not in the least depend upon reward. "Paradise Lost" brought Milton £10, if I remember rightly. The price of epic has gone down since that day. But it still remains true that Milton wrote a poem for which a million pounds would have been quite an inadequate compensation. There is no monetary value that can be put upon that work, any more than it can be put upon Homer's work, or upon any of the work of the great masters. Ruskin said that what counted was the work that was done not for the fees, but for the work's sake. If the man works for the fee, he gets what he works for; if he works for the work's sake, he leaves mankind his debtor, if he has done his work well. While it is incumbent upon every citizen of this country to do the best that is in him, not only for his own sake and the sake of those connected with him, but for the sake of the people as a whole, it is especially incumbent upon the graduates of such an institution of learning as this. Every man that graduates here has received something, and something big, for which he has made no return, and for which he can never make any return to the men giving it.
I have always felt most strongly that it is true of the nation, as of the individual, that the greatest doer must also be a great dreamer. Of course, if the dream is not followed by action, then it is a bubble; it merely has served to divert the man from doing something. But a great action, action that is really great, cannot take place if the man hasn't it in his brain to think great thoughts, to dream great dreams.
As has been so well pointed out to-day, the marvelous rise of Ger many in the world of industry and of commerce, no less than of art and of letters, has been due to the fact that the German was trained in his mind, that he had high ideals, and finally shaped these ideals by his practical way. I feel so cordially, as the president of Amherst has phrased it, that here in this country, where we are amalgamating into one people many different people of many different tongues, one of the great works to which we should devote our attention is trying to keep what each of these peoples can give of value to our composite national life.
Each race that comes here, each element, can contribute something of value, and can contribute very much of value; and it would be a very good thing for all of our people if we should personally shape our development so that it would come as natural to us as it does to the people of Germany to recognize the incalculable debt of a nation to a writer, to a scholar, to a man, who has done work for the public, for the nation, for all mankind, that upon which no price can be put.
From Germany the country has learned much. Germany has contributed a great element to the blood of our people, and it has given the most marked trend ever given to us along scholastic and university systems, to the whole system of training students and scholars. In taking what we should from Germany, I wish that we could take especially the idealism which renders it natural to them to celebrate such an event as a scholar's life and writings; and also the keen, practical common sense which enables them to turn their idealistic spirit into an instrument for producing the most perfect military and industrial organization that this world has ever seen.
I hope most earnestly for the day when we shall see peace prevail among the nations of mankind; peace industrial as well as military pre vail within the nations themselves. No man in public position can, under penalty of having forfeited the right to the respect of those whose regard he most values, fail as the opportunity comes to do all that in him lies for peace. But peace of a valuable type comes not to the man who craves it because he is afraid, but to the man who deems it but his right. The peace granted contemptuously to the weakling and the coward is but a poor boon after it has been granted. We must keep our minds upon the essentials and not upon the non-essentials. In 1861 there were people who cried "Peace, peace," who said that any peace, no matter how shameful, was preferable to the worst of all wars, a fratricidal war, and if those people had had their way we should have been hanging our heads now. We would now be feeling that the country founded by Washington, the country that at that time was perpetuated by Lincoln, had gone down in the wreck of disaster. We got peace then forever.
I have no patience with the brawler, the quarreler, the swashbuckler, and I have a little less for the academy person who believes that a nation any more than an individual can afford to put peace before justice. Put justice first; it will generally lead to peace; but follow it wherever it leads.
In closing let me say just one more thing. The same homely virtues apply in managing the life of a nation as in managing individual life. All the statesman needs to do is to exercise common sense, and stick as close to the Golden Rule as his imperfect human nature will permit. In other words, he needs to carry himself in public life as he would in private life, and never permit the mistake being made, of divorcing public or private morality any more than divorcing domestic and business morality. The man is a poor citizen, no matter how he stands in the church, whose allegiance to the teachings of the church are limited to his home and to Sunday, and is not carried into his work or his business. The man is a poor citizen who does not do his best in the affairs of his country, both as that country stands to other nations and as the country deals with the matters vital to its own citizens when its departments are managed along the same lines, and those lines are the perfectly simple, old lines of honesty, courage, and common sense.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks on Receiving the Degree of LL.D. From Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343600