Remarks in Rutland, Vermont
General, and you, my fellow citizens:
I am very glad to have the chance of saying a word here to the citizens of Vermont on Labor Day. And before I address myself specifically to you I know you will pardon me in expressing in a word my acknowledgment of the greeting of the veterans of the great Civil War and my good wishes toward the men who served in the Spanish War and the National Guardsmen here.
The veterans who served in the Civil War gave the supreme lesson to the people of our country, both in the way that, when the need was, they fought, and in the lives of labor and effort they have led since, When the war was ended they came back to civil life to do their part, as every honest American worthy of the name must do his part, by working in private life for himself and his family, and no less also by association with his fellows for the common good.
There is no holiday which should be more typically American, no holiday which should make our people think more seriously of their privileges, their rights and their duties than this holiday of Labor Day.
The material side of our civilization is very important because of the men who stand behind it, exactly as in battle the important thing is not the gun, but the man behind the gun. So in our civil life it is the man in the shop, the man on the farm, the man in the factory, upon whom for well or for ill our whole civilization ultimately depends, and it is according as that man is able to secure his rights, and, further more, as he remembers and performs his duties—it is according to these two facts that our civilization does or does not make progress. It is not an easy task for a man to always remember his duties, still less is it an easy task for him always to do them; but he must keep them in mind, he must strive faithfully to perform them, or he becomes but a poor citizen. No man in this country who does not at least pull his own weight can amount to anything. The man who is only a passenger, who is not trying to do his share, has no proper place in our body politic, and it makes no difference what the man's social position is, what his wealth or poverty is, if he does nothing, if he fails to take advantage of his opportunities, such as his opportunities are, then, no matter which end of the social scale he is at, he is a cumbrance on the earth's surface, his presence means a burden and not a benefit to the rest of us.
On the other hand the man who works faithfully, conscientiously, whatever the line of his work is, if it is honorable work, is a benefit to the whole country. And the great test to apply, oh, my friends and fellow citizens, is not as to what work the man is engaged in, but as to the spirit in which he does it. If he is a square and an honest man, if he tries to do his best by himself and family, and yet remembers his duty to his neighbor, then, whether he be capitalist or wage worker, he is a good citizen and entitled to the respect of good citizens. If he comes short in either respect, if he shirks his work, or if he employs his power malevolently or with utter disregard and carelessness of the rights of others, be he rich or be he poor, he is a bad citizen and has forfeited all right to the respect of his fellow countrymen.
The law of successful national life is the law of work. Play when the chance comes, and when you do play, play hard, but do not make of the play a business. Get all the enjoyment you legitimately can by all means, but remember that that can only be an interlude, a holiday, and do not let it interfere with the serious work of life. And let us remember that while the conditions of social life change, while in the externals there come such changes as to necessitate a different attitude of ours toward some of those conditions, yet fundamentally the great basic principles through which success or failure comes have not been changed. Our complex industrial civilization means that we cannot rely as we formerly could upon such simple methods as suffice while men are brought close together with their relations inextricably interwoven. We must meet the new conditions where necessary —meet them by legislation, and if legislation cannot serve, then meet them by combination among ourselves as you here, bearing the banners of this procession, have met them.
Much of great good can come by sub-associations, something can be done through wise legislation, but do not forget, gentlemen, in the last resort you cannot find a substitute for a man's own energy, resourcefulness, skill, courage and honesty. Work through association in combination with your fellows, but do not under any circumstances let any man lose his own capacity for self help. There on the banner is the sign of brotherhood, the sign of the clasped hands, a good sign for any union or association, and a good sign for all of us throughout this nation.
The lesson of brotherhood, the lesson of the clasped hand, is a lesson we must not merely learn, but apply, not merely in name, but in deed, through all our life. Brotherhood, fundamentally, means treating each man at his worth as a man. You over there, the men of the great war, that lesson of brotherhood was one of the most important that you left us, the men who came after you, when you fought in the great Civil War, when you marched into battle. What you were concerned with as to the man on your right or on your left was not whether he was a capitalist or wageworker, a painter, a cigarmaker, a banker, a bricklayer; what you were concerned with was whether he was a man, a good man, a straight man, an American, worthy of the name. You did not care for his past position, you did not care for his antecedents. You cared to know whether when the trial came he would "stay put". That is what you wanted to know.
And it is the same lesson we have to learn in civil life. We shall make our government a success if we shall measure each man by the standard of his worth as a man, neither looking down upon him because of the accidents of his position, but valuing him accordingly as he shows the qualities which entitle him to our respect That is the standard which we must set up and up to which we must live if we are to make our Republic, as we shall and will make it, all that the fathers deemed it should be; all that men like you men of the Civil War by your deeds showed your faith that would be, and if we adopt any other standard the root of righteousness is not in us. Let us remember, then, that we need good laws, that we need wise administration of the laws, that we need not only each to work for himself, but each to work for all, that we need to join in associations with our fellows for the common good, but let us all never forget that the fundamental truth in American citizenship is that each man is entitled in the last resort to be judged solely on his worth as a man.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Rutland, Vermont Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343495