Remarks in Richmond, Virginia
My friends and fellow citizens:
I trust I need hardly say how great is my pleasure at speaking in this historic capital of your historic State; the State than which no other has contributed a larger proportion to the leadership of the nation; for on the honor roll of those American worthies whose great ness is not only for the age but for all time, not only for one nation but for all the world, on this honor roll Virginia's name stands above all others. And in greeting all of you, I know that no one will grudge my saying a special word of acknowledgment to the veterans of the Civil War. A man would indeed be but a poor American who could without a thrill witness the way in which, in city after city in the North as in the South, on every public occasion, the men who wore the blue and the men who wore the gray now march and stand shoulder to shoulder, giving tangible proof that we are all now in fact as well as in name a reunited people, a people infinitely richer because of the priceless memories left to all Americans by you men who fought in the great war. Last Memorial Day I spoke in Brooklyn, at the un veiling of the statue of a Northern general, under the auspices of the Grand Army of the Republic, and that great audience cheered every allusion to the valor and self-devotion of the men who followed Lee as heartily as they cheered every allusion to the valor and self devotion of the men who followed Grant. The wounds left by the great Civil War have long healed, but its memories remain. Think of it, oh, my countrymen, think of the good fortune that is ours! That whereas every other war of modern times has left feelings of rancor and bitterness to keep asunder the combatants, our great war has left to the sons and daughters of the men who fought, on whichever side they fought, the same right to feel the keenest pride in the great deeds alike of the men who fought on one side and of the men who fought on the other. The proud self-sacrifice, the resolute and daring courage, the high and steadfast devotion to the right as each man saw it, whether Northerner or Southerner, these qualities render all Americans forever the debtors of those who in the dark days from '61 to '65 proved their truth by their endeavor. Here around Richmond, here in your own State, there lies battlefield after battlefield, rendered for ever memorable by the men who counted death as but a little thing when weighed in the balance against doing their duty as it was given them to see it. These men have left us of the younger generation not merely the memory of what they did in war, but of what they did in peace. Foreign observers predicted that when such a great war closed it would be impossible for the hundreds of thousands of combatants to return to the paths of peace. They predicted ceaseless disorder, wild turbulence, the alternation of anarchy and despotism. But the good sense and self-restraint of the average American citizen falsified these prophecies. The great armies disbanded and the private in the ranks, like the officer who had commanded him, went back to take up the threads of his life where he had dropped them when the call to arms came. It was a wonderful, a marvelous thing, in a country consecrated to peace with but an infinitesimal regular army, to develop so quickly the huge hosts which fronted one another between the James and the Potomac and along the Mississippi and its tributaries. But it was an even more wonderful, an even more marvelous thing, how these great hosts, once their work done, resolved themselves into the general fabric of the nation.
Great though the meed of praise is which is due the South for the soldierly valor her sons displayed during the four years of war, I think that even greater praise is due to her for what her people have accomplished in the forty years of peace which followed. For forty years the South has made not merely a courageous, but at times a desperate struggle, as she has striven for moral and material well being. Her success has been extraordinary, and all citizens of our common country should feel joy and pride in it; for any great deed done, or any fine qualities shown by one group of Americans, of necessity reflects credit upon all Americans. Only a heroic people could have battled successfully against the conditions with which the people of the South found themselves face to face at the end of the Civil War. There had been utter destruction and disaster, and wholly new business and social problems had to be faced with the scantiest means.
The economic and political fabric had to be readjusted in the midst of dire want, of grinding poverty. The future of the broken, war swept South seemed beyond hope, and if her sons and daughters had been of weaker fiber there would in very truth have been no hope. But the men and the sons of the men who had faced with unfaltering front every alternation of good and evil fortune from Manassas to Appomattox, and the women, their wives and mothers, whose courage and endurance had reached an even higher heroic level—these men and these women set themselves undauntedly to the great task before them. For twenty years the struggle was hard and at times, doubtful.
Then the splendid qualities of your manhood and womanhood told, as they were bound to tell, and the wealth of your extraordinary natural resources began to be shown. Now the teeming riches of mine and field and factory attest the prosperity of those who are all the stronger because of the trials and struggles through which this prosperity has come. You stand loyally to your traditions and memories; you also stand loyally for our great common country of to-day and for our common flag, which symbolizes all that is brightest and most hopeful for the future of mankind; you face the new age in the spirit of the age. Alike in your material and in your spiritual and intellectual development you stand abreast of the foremost in the world's progress.
And now, my fellow-citizens, my fellow-Americans, exactly as all of us, whether we live in the East or the West, in the North or the South, have the right merely as Americans to feel pride in every great deed done by any American in the past, and exactly as we are knit together by this common heritage of memories, so we are knit to get her by the bond of our common duties in the present, our common interests in the future. Many and great problems lie before us. If we treat the mighty memories of the past merely as excuses for sitting lazily down in the present, or for standing aside from the rough work of the world, then these memories will prove a curse in stead of a blessing. But if we treat them as I believe we shall treat them, not as excuses for inaction, but as incentives to make us show that we are worthy of our fathers and of our fathers' fathers, then in truth the deeds of the past will not have been wasted, for they shall bring forth fruit a hundred fold in the present generation. We of this nation, we the citizens of this mighty and wonderful Republic, stretching across a continent between the two greatest oceans, enjoy extraordinary privileges, and as our opportunity is great, therefore our responsibility is great. We have duties to perform both abroad and at home, and we can not shirk either set of duties and fully retain our self-respect.
In foreign affairs we must make up our minds that whether we wish it or not, we are a great people and must play a great part in the world. It is not open to us to choose whether we will play that great part or not. We have to play it; all we can decide is whether we shall play it well or ill. And I have too much confidence in my countrymen to doubt what the decision will be. Our mission in the world should be one of peace, but not the peace of cravens, the peace granted contemptuously to those who purchase it by surrendering the right. No! Our voice must be effective for peace because it is raised for righteous ness first and for peace only as the handmaiden of righteousness. We must be scrupulous in respecting the rights of the weak, and no less careful to make it evident that we do not act through fear of the strong. We must be scrupulous in doing justice to others and scrupulous in exacting justice for ourselves. We must beware equally of that sinister and cynical teaching which would persuade us to disregard ethical standards in international relations, and of the no less hurtful folly which would stop the whole work of civilization by a well-meant but silly persistency in trying to apply to peoples unfitted for them those theories of government and of national action which are only suited for the most advanced races. In particular we must remember that in undertaking to build the Panama Canal we have necessarily undertaken to police the seas at either end of it; and this means that we have a peculiar interest in the preservation of order in the coasts and islands of the Caribbean. I firmly believe that by a little wise and generous aid we can help even the most backward of the peoples in these coasts and islands forward along the path of orderly liberty so that they can stand alone. If we decline to give them such help the result will be bad both for them and for us; and will in the end in all probability cause us to face humiliation or bloodshed.
The problems that face us abroad are important, but the problems that face us at home are even more important. The extraordinary growth of industrialism during the last half century brings every civilized people face to face with the gravest social and economic questions. This is an age of combination among capitalists and combination among wage-workers. It is idle to try to prevent such combinations. Our efforts should be to see that they work for the good and not for the harm of the body politic. New devices of law are necessary from time to time in order to meet the changed and changing conditions. But after all we will do well to remember that although the problems to be solved change from generation to generation, the spirit in which their solution must be attempted remains forever the same. It is in peace as it is in war. Tactics change and weapons change. The Continental troops in their blue and buff, who fought under Washington and Greene and Wayne, differed entirely in arms and in training from those who in blue or gray faced one another in the armies of Grant and of Lee, of Sherman and of Johnston. And now the sons of these same Union and Confederate veterans who serve in our gallant little army of today, wear a different uniform, carry a different weapon, and practice different tactics. But the soul of the soldier has remained the same throughout, and the qualities which drove forward to victory or to death the men of '76 and the men of '61, are the very qualities which the men of today must keep unchanged if in the hour of need the honor of the nation is to be kept untarnished. So it is in civil life. This Government was formed with as its basic idea the principle of treating each man on his worth as a man, of paying no heed to whether he was rich or poor, no heed to his creed or his social standing, but only to the way in which he performed his duty to himself, to his neighbor, to the state. From this principle we can not afford to vary by so much as a hand's breadth. Many republics have risen in the past, and some of them flourished long, but sooner or later they fell; and the cause most potent in bringing about their fall was in almost all cases the fact that they grew to be governments in the interests of a class instead of governments in the interest of all. It made no difference as to which class it was that thus wrested to its own advantage the governmental machinery. It was ultimately as fatal to the cause of freedom whether it was the rich who oppressed the poor or the poor who plundered the rich. The crime of brutal dis regard of the rights of others is as much a crime when it manifests itself in the shape of greed and brutal arrogance on the one side, as when it manifests itself in the shape of envy and lawless violence on the other. Our aim must be to deal justice to each man; no more and no less. This purpose must find its expression and support not merely in our collective action through the agencies of the Government, but in our social attitude. Rich man and poor man must alike feel that on the one hand they are protected by law and that on the other hand they are responsible to the law; for each is entitled to be fairly dealt with by his neighbor and by the State; and if we as citizens of this nation are true to ourselves and to the traditions of our forefathers such fair measure of justice shall always be dealt to each man; so that as far as we can bring it about each shall receive his dues, each shall be given the chance to show the stuff there is in him, shall be secured against wrong, and in turn prevented from wronging others. More than this no man is entitled to, and less than this no man shall have.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Richmond, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343635