Remarks at the Alaskan Reception in Seattle, Washington

May 23, 1903

Mr. Chairman, and you, men and women of Alaska:

I confess I am for the moment a little surprised at the aspect of so many of the Alaskan pioneers. I knew that in the immediate future Alaska would become a highly civilized community, but I did not know that it had already become so.

Seriously, let me thank you and the members of the Arctic Brotherhood for their greeting and their gifts. I am happy to say that during the last year or two the national legislature has begun to realize its responsibilities in reference to Alaska, and that even those of our people who do not dwell on the Pacific slope are beginning to understand that in the very near future Alaska will be, not merely a regularly organized Territory, but a great and populous State.

Very few European races have exercised a more profound influence upon Europe, and none has had a more heroic history, than the race occupying the Scandinavian countries of the Old World; and Alaska lies in the same latitude as and can and will in the lifetime of those I am now addressing support as great a population as the Scandinavian peninsulas of the Old World. It is curious how our fate as a nation has often driven us forward toward greatness in spite of the protests of many of those who esteemed themselves, in point of training and culture, best fitted to shape the nation's destiny. In 1803, when we acquired the so-called Louisiana Purchase, when we acquired the territory stretching from the Mississippi to the Pacific, there were plenty of wise men who announced that we were acquiring a mere desert; that it was a violation of the constitution to acquire it, and that the acquisition was fraught with the seeds of dissolution of the Republic. And think how absolutely the event falsified the predictions of those men.

And so when, in the late sixties, we by treaties acquired Alaska, this great territory, this territory with its infinite possibilities, was taken by this Republic in spite of the bitter opposition of many men who were patriots according to their lights, and who esteemed themselves far-sighted—many men who held that we were doing ourselves and the nation a wrong by acquiring this territory which is now one of the possessions upon which we pride ourselves most.

And but five years ago there were excellent men who bemoaned the fact that we were obliged during the war with Spain to take possession of the Philippines, and to show that we were hereafter to be one of the dominant powers of the Pacific. And in every instance how the after events of history have falsified the predictions of the men of little faith.

And now there are critics, so feeble and so timid, that they shrink back when this nation asserts that it comes in the category of the nations who dare to be great; and they want to know, forsooth, the cost of greatness and what it means.

We don't know the cost, but we know that it will be more than repaid ten times over by the result. What it may ultimately mean we don't know; what the present holds, what the present needs demand, we know, and we take the present and hold ourselves ready to abide the results of whatever the future may bring.

And when I speak to you of the Pacific slope, to you of the Northwest—the new Northwest; to you whose cities are seated here by the Sound—I speak to people abounding in their youth and their virile manhood; people who do not fear to grasp opportunity as the opportunity comes, and who weigh slight risk but lightly in the balance when on the other side of the scale come the greatness of triumph, the greatness of conquest, the greatness of acquisition.

We took Alaska thirty-five years ago, and at last we have begun to wake up to the heritage that thereby we handed over to our children and our children's children.

And now I speak to you, citizens of Alaska, people who have dwelt therein, to say how much all our people have to owe to you. During the last year many wise laws have been put upon the statute book in reference to Alaska; but not as many as should have been put there by a good many.

I earnestly hope that Congress will speedily provide for a delegate from Alaska, so that the people of the Territory may have some recognized exponent whose duty it shall be to place their needs before the national legislature. Meanwhile, with the assistance of the senators and representatives in Congress from this section of the country, I shall do all that in me lies to see that the proper type of legislation, the proper kinds of legislation, are enacted for the Territory.

The immediate cause of the great development of Alaska, of course, is to be found in its mines; but most of the people of this country are wholly in error when they think of the mines as being the sole, or even the chief, permanent cause of Alaska's future greatness. Alaska has untold possibilities of agricultural and pastoral development. Not only her mines, her fisheries, her furs, but her agriculture and her stock raising will combine to make Alaska one of the great wealth producing and man producing portions of our republic. And I am anxious that our laws should be framed, not in the interest of those who wish to skin the country and then leave it, but in the interest of those who intend to go there and stay there and bring up their children there,. and make it in very fact as well as in name an integral part of this republic.

And I ask your help, and pledge you my help, in the effort to secure such legislation. Let me tell you just exactly how I mean it In the case of a mine, you get the metal out of the earth. You cannot leave any metal in there to produce other metal. In the case of a fishery, a salmon fishery, if we are wise—if you are wise, you will insist upon its being carried on under conditions which will make the salmon fishery as profitable in that river thirty years hence as now. Don't take all of the salmon out and go away and leave the empty river to your children and children's children. Take it out under conditions—and, mind you, the conditions are ready to be carried out for you by the national fish commission, which has been so singularly successful in its work—under conditions which will secure the preservation of that river as a salmon river; which will secure the perpetuation of the salmon canneries along its banks, so that it will be not an industry carried on by imported Orientals in the employ of three or four alien capitalists.

I think you see that I understand some of the conditions, but see that it is carried on in such a way as to be a perpetual source of income to the actual settlers resident in the locality. Now, is not that the common sense way to go at the situation? Exactly. Just in the same way, I want to have you see that the lumber industry is exploited in a way which, while giving a great return to those engaged in it at the moment, shall also secure the preservation of the forest for the settlers and the settlers' children that are to come in and inherit the lands.

I wish to see the land laws so enacted—such land laws enacted, and to see them so administered as to be in the interest of the actual settler who goes to Alaska to live, who desires there to produce crops, to raise stock, and to make a home for himself. Subject to this condition that is, subject to the condition of shaping the legislation in the interest of the actual homeseeker who is making a home for himself and for future generations; subject to that condition, I desire to see legislation shaped in a spirit of the broadest liberality, that will secure the quickest possible development of the resources of Alaska. And with that end in view, to have all of the encouragement possible given to those seeking to establish, by steamship line and by railway, quick and efficient transportation facilities in the Territory.

I believe in the pioneer, even when he is as well dressed as the pioneer I am addressing. I recollect, by the way, of recently speaking to an Arctic explorer who had come across Siberia, and he told me of the immense hardships he had suffered as he worked along across the Asiatic provinces of Russia; and with infinite labor and at an immense peril of starvation finally got to the waters which separated Asia from America and crossed the American possessions within the Arctic, where he at once found himself in a summer hotel, where on account of de deficiency in civilized clothing, he was not allowed to dine at the first table.

Few things have been more typical of our people and have been more full of promise for the future than the way in which the re sources of Alaska have been developed, and when one sees what has been done there during the last few years, I think we have cause to feel abundantly justified in our belief that the qualities of the old-time pioneers who first penetrated the wooded wilderness between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi, and then steered their way across the vast seas of grass from the Mississippi to the Rockies, who penetrated the passes of the barren mountains and then came to this, the greatest of all the oceans—that their qualities still survive in their grandsons and successors. Nor must we forget, in speaking of Alaska, the immense importance that the Territory has from the standpoint of the needs of the nation as a whole, as a dominant power in the Pacific. Exactly as with the building of the Isthmian Canal, we shall make our Atlantic and our Pacific coasts in effect continuous, so the possession and peopling of the Alaska seacoast puts us in a position of dominance as regards the Pacific which no other nation shares or can share.

Let me say a word of greeting now, not only to the Alaskans present, but to all of you, Alaskans and others, simply as Americans; a word of especial greeting to my friends, the exponents of the higher education. As I came in there were fond moments when I almost imagined myself at a football match. Seriously, nothing has pleased me more in coming through the Pacific Northwest, than to see the way in which, together with your astounding material progress, you have prepared for the building upon it of the higher life, intellectual and spiritual. A material foundation is indispensable. Without it we can do nothing, but with only that material foundation we could do little. We need to have built upon it the kind of life which will give to the citizenship of the community the chance of developing itself along the loftiest lines, and you who have received from the State a college education, you who have received from the State any education, or who have received from any source any education, you are bound to feel that you have been derelict in your duty unless you make for that education the return of good and enlightened citizenship.

It is not open to you to say that you will or will not make that return as you choose. If you do not make it you are derelict in your duty and you have shown yourselves unworthy of what you have received. We have a right to demand from you that you shall show yourselves able to take the lead in all the work of the State which requires a disinterested and far-sighted adherence to the principles which have made this nation great in time past.

Wherever I have gone today, wherever I have gone since I have struck the Pacific coast, I have been greeted by men of the Grand Army, by men who fought in the great war for the Union; and I wish to state, also, that I have been greeted here and there by Americans, just as loyal, just as devoted to our country, who in that contest wore the gray instead of the blue; for one great feature of that war was that the victors left us the right of brotherhood with the vanquished; left us the right of feeling keen pride in the valor and self-devotion of all Americans who took part in that contest, whether they fought against the Stars in their course or with them; and those men left us a heritage of undying honor and glory, because when the call was made they rose above all material considerations, because they were spurred on by a lofty and generous enthusiasm which counted all that life held dear and life itself as naught in the balance compared with fealty to an ideal, and I ask now that the people of this generation, the men and women of this generation, in their turn show in their lives the same capacity for high endeavor, the same resolute purpose, the same fealty to a lofty ideal combined with the power of seeking to achieve it in practical ways that was shown by the men of the great Civil War; I ask that and because I know that you, my fellow countrymen, you and those like you, from one end of this country to the other, have in you the spur of the spirit which will drive you to give it, because you have that spur and will respond to it, I believe in your future with all my heart and soul, and I am proud that I can call myself your fellow citizen.

Good night.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Alaskan Reception in Seattle, Washington Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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