Remarks in Tacoma, Washington

May 22, 1903

Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow citizens:

It is the greatest pleasure to me to have come this morning through the Southwestern part of this great and beautiful State, and now to have seen your beautiful city here on Puget Sound. I wish to express my acknowledgments to the men of the Grand Army and to my comrades of the Spanish War for having come out to greet me. I also wish to express a particular word of greeting to the delegates of the State Sunday School Convention who have come here today, and to say how glad I am to see them.

Pleased though I am to see this marvelous material prosperity in which the State of Washington so abundantly rejoices, I am even more pleased to see the evidences in every city through which I pass of the resolute purpose of your people to build upon that material well-being the higher life, without which prosperity by itself can have no durable basis.

I believe in your people—in my people—because I believe they have in them not only the power to win success in actual affairs; to build up great cities; to turn the wilderness into a smiling garden; to build commerce and factories; but because I think that they have also the power to raise a structure of citizenship based upon decency, upon clean living and high thinking, upon the virtues that make men good neighbors, good husbands and fathers, and good citizens in their relation alike to the State and the Nation.

I wish to say just one word this afternoon to you here in this City of Destiny, in this city by the Sound, on our foreign policy, and upon what must ever be the main prop of any good foreign policy—the American Navy. In the old days, when I first came to the Little Missouri, there was a motto on the range, "Never draw unless you mean to shoot." That is a pretty sound policy for a nation in foreign affairs. Do not threaten; do not bluster; above all, do not insult other people; but when you make up your mind that the situation is such as to require you to take a given position, take it and keep it, and have it definitely understood that what you say you are ready to make good. I earnestly believe, and of course I hope with all my heart, that there will be always peace between the United States and other powers; but I wish that peace to come to us not as a favor granted in contempt, but to be the kind of peace that comes to the just man armed, the peace that we can claim as a matter of right Of course, it is the merest truism to say that the best way to keep peace is to show that you are not afraid of war, if unjustly treated or wronged. The events of the last few years have shown that whether we wish or not, we must play a great part in the world. It is not open to us to decide whether we will play it. All that is open to us to decide is. whether we will play it well; and I know my countrymen too thoroughly to have any doubt as to what their answer will be.

You men of the great Civil War fought to keep us a Nation; to make us really one Nation. You fought the greatest war of the kind; and because you dared to fight for four years, you have forever purchased internal peace for the Republic.

Peace came to us for all time because you dared to fight; and the people who in your day called for peace at any price, if they had had their way, would have doomed us to generations of struggle—to generations of war. So you, my own comrades of the Army, and members of the Navy in '98 and the years immediately following, by what you did you gave this Nation an assured position such as it could have acquired in no other way; and you made it infinitely less liable (not more liable) that we should ever, for instance, have serious trouble with any nation as to the Monroe Doctrine.

The events of that war, moreover, showed that the United States had to be a dominant power on the Pacific Ocean. Our interests in the trade that goes across that ocean are such, our positions of command in reference to the ocean are such, that we must have a decisive say in its future. We can only have that say in peace by building up an adequate Navy.

If we fail to build an adequate Navy, then sometime some great power, throwing off the restraint of international morality, will take some step against us, relying upon the weakness of our Navy; and again I know my countrymen, and I know that in such case they would fight anyhow; and therefore, in your own interest, I ask you to see to it that you do not fight with the odds against you; and above all that by preparing sufficiently you obviate all need whatever of fighting at all.

The surest guarantee of peace is an adequate Navy. The best possible assurance against war is an adequate navy. I ask for a navy, primarily, because it is the surest means of keeping peace; and also because if war does come, surely there can be no American who will tolerate the idea of its having anything other than a successful issue.

In the fighting in Manila bay and in Santiago in 1898, in which such ships as the Olympia and the Oregon—named for the Northwest-em Coast, and built on the Pacific Ocean—did their part, what controlled the issue of those fights, what was done at the moment? No, the preparation had been made in advance. The ships that won the victories of Manila and Santiago had been built years before, when there was no thought, and could have been no thought, of war with Spain. In 1883 we had a navy composed of antiquated war craft, as unfit to go against a modem battleship as the galleys in which Rome and Carthage fought for mastery of the Mediterranean. If at that time we had been put in such a position as we were in 1898, bitter humiliation would have been in store for us before we eventually won, for, mind you, I think we would have eventually won anyhow. But I do not want to see a generation of humiliation precede the victory. We won because we prepared in advance. We built the ships, established the shipyards, created the armor plants, created the gun foundries, and we made ships which, in hulls, guns and engines, need to. fear no comparison with those of any power; and then put the men on them and trained the men to do their part in the battle.

The only shots that count are the shots that hit. I believe in marksmanship ashore and marksmanship afloat. You and I, my comrades, who fought ashore, had a simpler task in learning how to handle our weapons. Most of us knew something of the rifle in advance; if we did not, we had our time to learn it. But get on a big ship—and any man who has been on one knows it is a mighty complicated and delicate bit of machinery to handle the guns in the gun turrets; to handle the ship itself, needs the training of a specialist. You can take the best men alive and put them upon one of our modern battleships, and, unless they have had some training, the fact that they are the best men alive will not help them. They have got to have the training; and it was because our officers and men were trained well that when the crucial minute came we not only won, but we won at a minimum, of loss to ourselves and a maximum of damage to the enemy.

It is a pleasant thing to come together and congratulate ourselves upon the great deeds of the past, but that is not the way to prepare for great deeds in the future. In '61 the men of the Civil War won, not by attending Fourth of July celebrations; not by glorifying what had been done by the men of the Revolution, but by turning in themselves to try to distance the deeds of the men of the Revolution. That is how you did it, and we of the younger generation were helped by your example, because we felt that what you had done did not excuse us from effort, but required us to try to rise level to the great deeds of the past.

I ask you, the sovereigns of the country, for you are the sovereigns, and therefore, you are not to be excused if you do not exercise your sovereignty aright, to see to it that the work of preparing the Navy in time of peace goes on. The last Congress did its duty—no more than its duty—by going on with the building up of the Navy, and see to it that the next Congress ends with a record as good. If we stop, we go back. The only way to do in building up the Navy is to keep on with it, to provide the ships, and to provide that they shall be the best of their kind, and then to provide for the men on them, and for training them at the great guns and in sea practice, which shall make them in their turn the best of their kind; and I believe—I do not want to boast—but I believe that the American fighting man, if you will give him a chance, is at least as good as any one else; that the man on our ships, in our armies, will do everything that we can possibly demand of him if we give him the chance, and because he is such a good man, I ask that you give him the chance. It has been a great and a real pleasure to see you.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Tacoma, Washington Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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