Remarks in San Antonio, Texas
I thank you all for the way in which I have been greeted. You can hardly imagine how much it means to me to come back to San Antonio in this way and to be received as you have received me. I know that the rest of you will not grudge my saying a special word of acknowledgment to two sets among your citizens. First, to the men of the great war, to the men who wore the blue or wore the gray in the days that tried men's souls. My fellow-citizens, infinitely more important than any President, infinitely more important even than the reception to any President, is what is symbolized by seeing the men who fought in the Union army and the men who fought in the Confederate army standing mingled together, fellow-Americans, one in devotion and honor and loyalty to the country, shoulder to shoulder as fellow-citizens of the mightiest republic upon which the sun has ever shone. Indeed, the man would have a poor heart, a poor spirit, who would not be thrilled by such a meeting as this, by such a sight as you accord me today, you of the gray, you of the blue, all one under the flag of this reunited country.
I suppose you must know it, but I want to tell you that it was of course the memory of the valor, the self-sacrifice, the endurance you displayed in the great war that made us of the younger generation feel that when the lesser war came we wished to emulate your course. The regiment which I had the honor to command, which was raised and organized in this city, took part in what were only skirmishes compared with the campaigns in which you did your share, and all that we claim is that while it was not given to us to have the chance to do great deeds, yet we hope we made you feel that the old spirit was not altogether lost. This regiment served under men who had themselves fought in the Civil War, both under Grant and under Lee. The commander of the cavalry division was that great, gallant ex-Confederate soldier, Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, and our immediate commander, our brigadier commander, was a former Union soldier, who entered the Union army as a private, and to whom, for my great good fortune, it befell me to sign the commission as lieutenant general of the army of the United States, Lieut. Gen. Young. After ward at San Juan the cavalry served under Gen. Sumner, from whom I took my orders.
I am going to tell you just one anecdote of Gen. Young. Before the war began I told him I was going to do my best to get into it, and that I wanted to get a chance for some fighting. He said:
"All right; I will have a cavalry brigade and if you come with me I will guarantee that you shall see the fighting."
He kept his word, as he always does. I cannot say how much it meant to me to be able to take part in raising that regiment under the shadow of the Alamo. My admiration for Texas and Texans is no new thing. Since I have been a boy and first studied the history of this country, my veins have thrilled and tingled as I read of the mighty deeds of Houston, Bowie, Crockett, Travis, of the glorious men who fell in the fight of the Alamo, of which it was said, "Thermopylæ had its messengers of death, but the Alamo had none."
I remember well seven years ago when we were raising the regiment, of riding in here one day to see the Alamo, and going away feeling that come what would I was going to try to handle myself so that no disgrace should come to the memory of the Americans who died there. I want you to remember that ours was a volunteer regiment and a small war, and that we do not claim any credit for what we did more than falls to the lot of any number of other people. All we ask of you is to believe that we tried to show the spirit which would have made us do the kind of a job that you of the Civil War did, if the need had arisen.
I wish to express my acknowledgments for the greeting which I have received here in San Antonio, and which I have received through out the length and breadth of Texas. This is the third time I have visited this beautiful city. I wonder if you in yourselves, proud though you are of it, appreciate the charm it has to an outsider coming here.
It is fifteen years ago that I first came here, simply passing through as any number of travelers pass through, and saw your city. Seven years ago when I came here I was strictly one on business. When we got back that year from Santiago I said to one of the officers of the regiment: "Now, we have got to have a reunion of the Rough Riders in San Antonio."
All kinds of things happened in between. I have led a middling busy life myself since, and now at last the chance has come to make good the promise, and to have those of the regiment who are able to come together here in the city where the regiment was raised to greet one another and talk over the past. In a sense, we can claim that that regiment was a typical American body. The men composing it were raised chiefly in the Southwest, but some from the North, some from the East, so that we had the Northerner and the Southerner, the Easterner and the Westerner in that regiment, and almost every religious body of any size in the United States was represented in our ranks. We had men who had been born abroad, and men who were born here, whose ancestors came to what is now the United States at the time of the landing of the first colonists at the mouth of the James and at Ply mouth. We had men who had inherited wealth, and men who all their lives long had earned each day's bread by that day's toil. We had men of every grade socially; men who worked with their heads, men who worked with their hands; men of all the types that our country pro duces; but each of them managed to get in on his worth as a man only and content to be judged purely by what he could show himself to be.
It has always seemed to me that one of the greatest lessons taught by the Civil War was the lesson of brotherhood. You my friends, who wore the blue; you, my friends, who wore the gray, each of you when he went forward to battle, what he was concerned with about the man on his right and the man on his left was not what the man's ancestry was, not as to how he worshiped his Maker; not as to what his profession was or his means; what you wanted to know was whether he would "stay put".
If he did, you were for him, and if he did not, you were against him. The same thing that was true in the great war is true in time of peace. This government is emphatically a government by the people, for the people, of the people.
Now besides applauding that sentiment, let us live up to it. It has two sides. In the first place, it applies in a dozen different directions. It applies, for instance, in reference to creed. We have a right to ask that our neighbor do his duty toward God and man; but we have no business to dictate to him how he shall worship his Maker and no business to discriminate for or against him because of the way in which he does it. In the same way a man is a decent citizen, whether he be rich or poor. To judge from some of the talk you occasionally hear, a man cannot be a square man if he is rich. Remember always that you listen at your peril to any man who would seek to inflame you against your fellow-citizen because he is better off. Again, as in the Civil War, come back to considerations about your bunkie.
You did not care whether he was a banker or a bricklayer. If he was a banker he was all right; he was a good fellow if he did his duty in camp, if he did not straggle on the march, if he did not drop his share of the joint plunder on the march, and then expect you to share yours with him at the end of the day. You wanted him to carry his part, and if he did it you were for him. Now, apply that in civil life. If the rich man does not do his duty, cinch him, and I will help you just as far as I can. But don't cinch him because he is a rich man. If you do you are a mighty mean creature; you are not a good American. Give him a perfectly fair show. If he is a poor man and does his duty, help him; stand him up. If he whines about it and says he ought to be carried, you may just as well make up your mind to drop him then and there. Every man of us stumbles at times. Every man of us at times needs a helping hand stretched out to him, and shame to any man who will not stretch out that helping hand to his brother if that brother needs it. But if the brother lies down, you can do very little in carrying him. You can help him up, but he must walk for himself. The only way in which you can ever really help a man is to help him to help himself.
That brings me to the second set of people here, whom I am most especially glad to see and to greet—the children. Judging by the showing that San Antonio has made to-day, San Antonio is all right as regards both quality and quantity. I like your stock. I am glad that it does not seem likely to die out.
In passing through Texas I have been more impressed than by any thing else with the evident care you are giving to education, to training your children, the school facilities, both for preliminary and for higher education, and the way in which those facilities are being taken ad vantage of. Of course, it is a mere truism to say that the care of the children is the most important task of any generation. You have a wonderful empire here in Texas. It is literally larger than most Old World empires. Your diversification of soil and climate, the marvelous fertility of your soil, your natural advantages, insure you a phenomenal future, agriculturally and industrially-insure this State a wonderful growth in population and wealth. All that is essential. You must have the material basis on which to build a foundation. The material counts for nothing if you do not build upon it the spiritual, if you do not build upon it the things of the soul, of the mind.
Let me again take an example from the war. We need arms and equipment, but the best rifle ever made does not make a soldier if it has not got the right man behind it. You may take the finest model weapon, put it in the hands of a weakling or a coward, and a good man will beat him with a club.
If the other man is a good man, too, you want a mighty good weapon, and if you come in contact with one another, each will want all the good weapons he can get. But the weapon does not in any shape or way serve as a substitute for the spirit of the soldier. That is what counts in the last resort. Tactics change, weapons change, but the soul that drives a man forward to victory does not change as the ages go by. We of to-day, we who, if a war should come, will have to fight under new conditions, with new arms, will win. Assuredly, I believe we shall win. Only because men still have in them the spirit that made their forefathers do well in battle. So you must train your children up so that in addition to having what counts for material prosperity in a State you must have the things that tell most for greatness, the things that make for the soul of the State. Here in San Antonio, what is the building you are proudest of? Exactly, the Alamo. It is not exactly up to date. Other buildings are larger. You are proud of it because it commemorates forever the spirit of those who made its fame immortal. So in the State itself, important though it is to provide for the industrial welfare of the Commonwealth, the thing that is most important is to take care of the really most vital crop—the crop of citizens. The thing which the State most needs to care for is the welfare, not merely material, but moral and intellectual as well, of children who are going to make up the State twenty or twenty-five years hence; and that is why I am so glad to see the care which you of Texas are taking of the generation now growing up.
The thing that is rather distressing to me to see is that sometimes the men and the women who have done well in life show a curious in ability to train their own children in the way that has resulted success fully to them. I think that all of us know people who, because they have worked hard and triumphed, feel that somehow or other they will spare their children. They will foolishly spare their children the acquisition of the very qualities which have made the parents triumph.
Too often you see the man, and, I am sorry to say, the woman, who says, "I have had to work hard; my sons and daughters shall have an easy time." He is preparing ruin for the children about whom he says it.
Of course you want to give your children all the love possible, but it is not right to mistake folly for affection. When you spare the child that which alone will enable it to conquer in after life you are not doing it a blessing; you are doing it the greatest wrong in your power. Bring up the boy and the girl alike, with the understanding that life is not generally easy, that there will be plenty of rough times, and that what they have to show is not a spirit that avoids difficulties and flinches from them, but a spirit which overcomes them.
There is only one of my fellow-citizens to whom I will touch my hat quicker than to the soldier, and that is the mother, because I think she has a harder time of it. The mother who has brought up as they should be brought up a family of young children is entitled to such respect as no other person in the community is entitled to. When the end of her life comes, there has been any amount of hardship, the sitting up by beds of sick children, the taking care of them, and a mother is not allowed to know the difference between night and day as far as the ending of the day's task is concerned; but after all, when it is done, she can look back with a prouder sense of gratification than any one else can have if she has done her duty, for her children and her husband shall rise up and call her blessed. The worthy life for the nation for the individual, for the man and for the woman, is the life of effort for the things worth striving for.
Of course, that is my conception of the life for the nation as well as for the individual. I am not going to develop my theory about that, in the first place, because I want to keep clear of anything that you might think touched in the faintest degree on politics, and, in the next place, because I believe you know pretty well how I feel, any way. We have got our duty to ourselves. We must handle ourselves so that no weak power which is behaving itself shall have cause to fear us, and no strong power of any kind shall be able to oppress us or wrong us. We all believe in the Monroe Doctrine. I have a little difficulty in getting some of my friends to accept my interpretation of it, but they will in time, because that interpretation has come to stay.
We are building the Panama Canal. While that will be a benefit to all the country, it will be of most benefit to the Gulf States. We have duties in connection with the great position we have taken. We can not shirk these duties. We can do them well or do them ill, but do them we must. That is one reason why I want to see a good navy, and we have a good navy.
I am going to use a simile that I used a few nights ago in Dallas. In the old days in Texas I understand that there used to be a proverb that while you would not generally want a gun at all, if you did want it you wanted it quick and you wanted it very bad. That is just the way I feel about the navy. I feel that if we have it the chances are that we will not need it, but that if we do not have it we might need it very bad. Let me thank you again for the attention you have given me.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in San Antonio, Texas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343724