Remarks in St. Augustine, Florida
Mr. Chairman, and you, my fellow citizens:
It is indeed a great pleasure to be in your beautiful and this old historic city. The last time I was down in Florida it was with my regiment. We were going to Tampa, and I met your chairman at that time. He was in the Florida regiment, and, of course, that was strictly a business trip, and I didn't have any chance to look about and enjoy anything. Now I am here for other reasons. I am here now partly for my own enjoyment and partly that I may have the chance to see you and greet you.
Since I have been President, when I have finished this trip, I will have spoken in every State in the Union, during my Presidency. I feel that every President whose duties permit it should welcome the chance to go about as often as he can in all the different parts of our country, because, my friends, the President of the United States, if he is faithful to his oath of office, is President of no party, no class, no section; he is the President of all the people. During my period of the last four years I have been from one end of this country to the other, across from ocean to ocean, from the Canadian line to the Gulf. I have addressed many audiences and I cannot too often say that the thing that impresses me most is, not the differences between one American and another, but the fundamental underlying likeness amongst all of us. And I think that the average American is a pretty good man, and the one thing necessary to make him on good terms with the other average American is that they know each other if they have a chance of meeting their fellows, and I find that there is very little difference.
Now fortunately we are past, long past, the time of division, and there are no sectional lines. We must look to it and see that no other lines of division of quite as undesirable character be drawn. In our great industrial civilization which wealth produces it is inevitable that there should grow up some men of wealth who use their wealth not in desirable ways and at the same time some men who do not get any wealth and would incline to envy those who do. Now this country of ours, or any Republic, cannot afford to see grow up within itself elements or anything in any way approaching to lines drawn as between class and class, or between caste and caste.
In the past no republics have been born for the rich only, and the most potent factor in bringing about the downfall of each has almost always been the growth of a spirit of loyalty to this class instead of loyalty to the nation as a whole. The minute that these republics develop rich men who will look down on the poor, and poor and envious men who hate and wish for the disposal of the rich; the minute that those classes develop in any republic, the day of that republic's downfall is near at hand, and it makes not the slightest difference in the end whether it was the rich man who looked down on the poor man or the poor man who envied the rich man. If either side arose and by trampling on the rights and perverting the institutions of the republic and the welfare of the people as a whole, if either class thus arose, the republic was at an end.
My belief in the destiny of this great nation is strong and fixed be cause I believe that our people will never permit such a spirit to grow up in their hearts. This republic is not, and never shall, be the government of a plutocracy. This government is not, and never shall be, the government of a mob. It shall remain as it was founded in the beginning, a government of justice, through the forms of law, a government wherein every man, rich or poor, is given justice and equal rights, where each man is guaranteed in his own rights, and is op posed to wrong.
Here in the Southland, in every city throughout this great country, I meet men in every audience who have fought in the Civil War, have fought in the great war. We are fortunate, my friends, in the fact that now we are in every part so thoroughly reunited, and we have the right and claim as our own, the honor of this country by every man who in that great trouble did his duty as light was given him to see his duty, without regard as to whether or not he wore the blue or the gray. Now, I want to appeal to the experiences of the men of the Civil War, and their experience in war will tell them the truth of what I am saying to you should be our proper attitude in time of peace. To you, my friend, down there, when you were in the war, it was a great thing to have your "bunkie" a game man, and as long as he did his duty and went out to fight it didn't matter if he stood firm. That if you were ordered up you didn't have to go looking out for him to see that he was there, and follow this man up to see that he fought. You didn't care the slightest degree how he worshiped his God or whether he was well off or not, but whether he was a man and a true man.
It is exactly the same thing now in civil life. If we permit ourselves to draw a line of distinction between men, to judge them harshly or leniently, because of their social standing and their wealth, or because they are our favorites, or because of their great influence on outside circumstances we are false to our principles of American citizens. If he is a straight man we should be for him, and if he is a crooked man we should be against him.
Now, about what are the qualities that make good citizenship? They are not very difficult qualities. It is not always easy to develop the proper point, but there is nothing wonderful in the way of genius, or even of cleverness needed to bring out qualities which we all of us recognize as essential to the man with whom we want to deal in our ordinary affairs. In the first place, if a man is to be a good citizen he has got to have as a basis to his character, honesty and decency. The sort that will make him act fairly by his neighbor, the sort that will make him do his duty in his community, and to make his name in the community before he goes to the State.
We cannot afford to accept any other quality as a substitute for honesty, and one of the least desirable traits sometimes shown among our people is a tendency to be one that makes gain unaccompanied by the moral sense, exercised without scruple.
Realize that a man if crooked and not a fool is the worse for the entire community. We don't have much difficulty with a crooked fool. But the crooked man who has got a good deal more than the average amount of sense will cause a lot of trouble. It is not the scoundrel who fails, but it is the scoundrel who succeeds who interests us. There are many very healthy developments in this country and there are more that are not so healthy, and among the last of them is the growth of a spirit which is warped.
Now we can say, I think, that the first thing in a man is that he should have a courage. I find that it is indispensable for me or almost anyone that he is able to form his own opinion. I have no use for the laborer who works solely on a manual ground on his own account. I want to see the man able to support those dependent upon him and to educate his children, so that the whole united community are benefited by it, and we insist upon the applying of the proper amount of success following men in the community, not merely in what he has made, but by what he has done.
Now then, as I was saying, the first quality needed in good citizenship is honesty. Just exactly as in the war, the men in your regiment had to be men devoted to the cause, devoted to right and men willing to give their lives or their devotion if need be. The men possessed with the idea of patriotism. But honesty by itself is not enough, no one quality is enough. It does not make any difference how honest he is if he is stingy. That man is not much use in a democratic community. No use here. Our community is a rough-and-tumble community. So, in addition to honesty, we must have another virtue, courage. The courage that in time of need will show up our honesty. We must have that courage that will do right even if sneered at or laughed at, the courage that will refuse to be bought and that will refuse to be bullied. The courage that will never betray the people's cause and the courage that will refuse to go with popular clamor if that popular clamor is wrong. I want to say, remember this, that if you go to a man and he says that if the people want it he will do something that is wrong in their interests, you can make up your minds you have got a man who, if he takes up his own interests, will do something wrong to the people in his own interests.
Some years ago I lived out in the West, out in the cow country, on a cattle ranch, in a land where there were no fences; where we had cowboys and branding irons to supply these fences. Each cow was branded with the owner's mark, an unwritten law of the West, and if you had an unbranded yearling you put the brand of your own ranch on. I told my cowboy to put an owner's brand on one of his calves, and he said he didn't have his branding iron, but he would put mine on. I said, "You go back and get your time." He said, "Why, that is your iron." "Yes," I said, "that is my iron, but if you will steal for me you will steal from me."
If you get any man who is willing to do wrong for you, if it is to his interests, he will do wrong to you. So that you need honest and courageous men, both in order that a man may make a good citizen.
And those two are not enough. We do not care how honest a man is and how brave he is, if he is a natural-born fool you can't do anything with him. Honesty and courage you will need, with the saving grace of common sense.
If you have got those qualities in the average man, self-government is a success. If the average man does not have them then no device will supply their place.
And men and women of Florida, I believe in the future of this country, in your future, in our future, because I believe that the average American has got exactly those three qualities of honesty, courage and common sense.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in St. Augustine, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343621