Remarks at the 121st Annual Dinner of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in New York City

March 17, 1905

Long before the outbreak of the Revolution there had begun on the soil of the colonies which afterward became the United States that mixture of races which has been, and still is, one of the most important features in our history as a people. At the time, early in the eighteenth century, when the immigrants from Ireland first began to come in numbers to this country, the race elements in our population were still imperfectly fused, and for some time the new Irish strain was clearly distinguishable from the others. There was a peculiarity about these immigrants who came from Ireland to the colonies during the eighteenth century which has never been paralleled in the case of any other immigrants whatsoever. In all other cases, since the very first settlements, the pushing westward of the frontiers has been due primarily to the men of native birth. But the immigrants from Ireland in the seventeenth century pushed boldly through the settled districts and planted themselves as the advance guard of the conquering civilization on the borders of the Indian-haunted wilderness. In Maine and Northern New Hampshire, in Western Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, alike, this was true.

By the time the Revolution broke out these men had begun to mix with their fellows of other stocks, and they furnished their full share of leadership in the great struggle which made us a Nation. Among their number was Commodore John Barry, one of the three or four officers to whom our infant navy owed most. On land they furnished generals like Montgomery, who fell so gloriously at Quebec, and Sullivan, the conqueror of the Iroquois, who came of a New Hampshire family, which furnished governors to three New England States, while the Continental troops of the hardest fighter among Washington's generals, Mad Anthony Wayne, were recruited so largely from this stock that Light Horse Harry Lee always referred to them as "The Line of Ireland." Nor must we forget that of this same stock there was a boy during the days of the Revolution who afterward became the chief American general of his time, and as President, one of the public men who left his impress most deeply upon our nation, old Andrew Jackson, the victor of New Orleans.

In the second great crisis of our country's history—the period of the Civil War—the part played by the men of Irish birth or parentage was no less striking than it had been in the Revolution. Among the three or four great generals who led the Northern army in the war stood Philip Sheridan. Some of those whom I am now addressing served in that immortal brigade which on that fatal day of Fredericks burg left its dead closest to the stone wall which marked the limit that could not be overpassed even by the highest human valor.

The people who have come to this country from Ireland have contributed to the stock of our common citizenship qualities which are essential to the welfare of every great nation. They are a masterful race of rugged character—a race the qualities of whose womanhood have become proverbial, while its men have the elemental, the indispensable virtues of working hard in time of peace and fighting hard in time of war. In every walk of life men of this blood have stood, and now stand, pre-eminent as statesmen and as soldiers, on the bench, at the bar, and in business. They are doing their full share toward the artistic and literary development of the country. And right here let me make a special plea to you. We Americans take a just pride in the development of our great universities, and more and more we are seeking to provide for original and creative work in these universities. I hope that an earnest effort will be made to endow chairs in American universities for the study of Celtic literature and for research in Celtic antiquities. It is only of recent years that the extraordinary wealth and beauty of the old Celtic sages have been fully appreciated, and we of America, who have so large a Celtic strain in our blood, cannot afford to be behindhand in the work of adding to modern scholarship by bringing within its ken the great Celtic literature of the past.

My fellow-countrymen, I have spoken to-night especially of what has been done for this Nation of ours by its sons of Irish blood. But, after all, in speaking to you or any other body of my fellow-citizens, no matter from what Old World country they themselves or their forefathers may have come, the great thing to remember is that we are all of us Americans. Let us keep our pride in the stocks from which we have sprung; but let us show that pride not by holding aloof one from another, least of all by preserving the Old World jealousies and bitterness, but by joining in a spirit of generous rivalry to see which can do most for our great common country. Americanism is not a matter of creed, or birthplace, or descent. That man is the best American who has in him the American spirit, the American soul. Such a man fears not the strong and harms not the weak. He scorns what is base or cruel or dishonest. He looks beyond the accidents of occupation or social condition, and hails each of his fellow citizens as his brother, asking nothing save that each shall treat the other on his worth as a man, and that they shall join together to do all that in them lies for the uplifting of this mighty and vigorous people. In our veins runs the blood of many an Old World nation. We are kin to each of those nations, and yet identical with none. Our policy should be one of cordial friendship for all; and yet we should keep ever before our eyes the fact that we are ourselves a separate people, with our own ideals and standards, and destined, whether for better or for worse, to work out a wholly new national type. The fate of the twentieth century will in no small degree depend upon the quality of citizenship developed on this continent. Surely such a thought must thrill us with the resolute purpose so to bear ourselves that the name American shall stand as the symbol of just, generous, and fearless dealing with all men and all nations. Let us be true to ourselves, for we cannot then be false to any man.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the 121st Annual Dinner of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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