Remarks at the Banquet Tendered General Luke E. Wright in Memphis, Tennessee
Mr. Toastmaster, General Wright, and you, my friends, whose greeting to-night I shall ever remember:
It is a real and great pleasure to come to this typical city of the southern Mississippi Valley in order to greet a typical American, a citizen of Tennessee, who deserves honor not only from his State, but from the entire country—General Luke E. Wright. We have a right to expect a high standard of manhood from Tennessee. It was one of the first two States created west of the Allegheny Mountains, and it was in this State that the first self-governing community of American freemen was established upon waters flowing into the Gulf. The pioneers of Tennessee were among the earliest in that great west ward march which thrust the nation's border across the continent to the Pacific, and it is eminently fitting that a son of Tennessee should now play so prominent a part in the further movement of expansion beyond the Pacific. There have been Presidents of the United States for but one hundred and thirteen years, and during sixteen of those years Tennesseans sat in the White House. Hardihood, and daring, and iron resolution are of right to be expected among the sons of a State which nurtured Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston; which sent into the American Navy one of the most famous fighting admirals of all time, Farragut.
There is another reason why our country should be glad that it was General Wright who rendered this service. General Wright fought with distinguished gallantry among the gallant men who served in the armies of the Confederacy during the Civil War. We need no proof of the completeness of our reunion as a people. When the war with Spain came the sons of the men who wore the blue and the sons of the men who wore the gray vied with one another in the effort to get into the ranks and face a foreign foe under the old flag that had been carried in triumph under Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor and Andrew Jackson. It was my own good fortune to serve under that fearless fighter, old Joe Wheeler, a memory of which I shall always be proud. But if we needed any proof of the unity of our interests it would have been afforded this very year by General Wright, the ex-Confederate, in his administration as Acting Governor of the Philip pine Islands. Upon him during the months of summer rested a heavier burden of responsibility than upon any other public servant at that particular time; and not the least of his titles to our regard is the way in which he was able to work on terms of cordial good-will with the head of the army, himself a man who had honored the blue uniform as Wright had honored the gray.
General Wright's work has been as difficult as it was important. The events of the last four years have definitely decided that, whether we wish to or not, we must hereafter play a great part in the world. We cannot escape facing the duties. We may shirk them if we are built of poor stuff, or we may take hold and do them if we are fit sons of our sires—but face them we must, whether we will or not. Our duty in the Philippine Islands has simply been one of the duties that thus have come upon us. We are there, and we can no more haul down our flag and abandon the islands than we could now abandon Alaska. Whether we are glad or sorry that events forced us to go there is aside from the question; the point is that, as the inevitable result of the war with Spain, we found ourselves in the Philippines and that we could not leave the islands without discredit. The islanders were wholly unfit to govern themselves, and if we had left there would have been a brief period of bloody chaos, and then some other nation would have stepped in to do the work which we had shirked. It cannot be too often repeated that there was no question that the work had to be done. All the question was, whether we would do it well or ill; and, thanks to the choice of men like Governor Wright, it has been done well. The first and absolutely indispensable requisite was order—peace. The reign of lawless violence, of resistance to legitimate authority, the reign of anarchy, could no more be tolerated abroad than it could be tolerated here in our own land.
The American flag stands for orderly liberty, and it stands for it abroad as it stands for it at home. The task of our soldiers was to restore and maintain order in the islands. The army had the task to do, and it did it well and thoroughly. The fullest and heartiest praise belongs to our soldiers who in the Philippines brought to a triumphant conclusion a war, small indeed compared to the gigantic struggle in which the older men whom I am addressing took part in the early six ties, but inconceivably harassing and difficult, because it was waged amid the pathless jungles of great tropic islands and against a foe very elusive, very treacherous, and often inconceivably cruel both to ward our men and toward the great numbers of peace-loving Filipinos who gladly welcomed our advent. The soldiers included both regulars and volunteers, men from the North, the South, the East and the West, men from Pennsylvania and from Tennessee, no less than men from the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Slope—and to all alike we give honor, for they acted as American soldiers should.
Cruelties were committed here and there. The fact that they were committed under well-nigh intolerable provocation affords no excuse for such cruelties, nor can we admit as justification that they were retaliatory in kind. Every effort has been made to detect and punish the wrongdoers and the wrongdoing itself has been completely stopped. But these misdeeds were exceptional, and their occurrence in no wise alters the fact that the American army in the Philippines showed as a whole not only splendid soldierly qualities but a high order of humanity in dealing with their foes. A hundred thousand of our troops went to the Philippines. Among them were some who offended against the right. Well, are we altogether immaculate at home? I think not. I ask for no special consideration to be shown our friends and kinsmen, our sons and brothers, who during three years so well upheld the national honor in the Philippines. I ask merely that we do the same equal justice to the soldier who went abroad and faced death and lived hard as we show to his fellow who stayed at home and lived easily and in comfort; and if we show that equal justice we will doff our hats to the man who has put the whole country under obligations by the victory he helped to win in the Philippines.
But the soldier's work as a soldier was not the larger part of what he did. When once the outbreak was over in any place, then began the work of establishing civil administration. Here, too, the soldier did his part, for the work of preparing for the civil authority was often done by the officers and men of the regular army, and well done, too. Then the real work of building up a system of self-government for the people who had become our wards was begun, under the auspices of the Philippine Commission, Judge Taft being made Governor, and I having had the honor myself to appoint General Wright as Vice Governor. During the critical period when the insurrection was ending and the time was one of transition between a state of war and a state of peace, at the time that I issued a proclamation declaring that the state of war was over and that the civil government was now in complete command, General Wright served as Governor of the archipelago.
The progress of the islands both in material well-being and as regards order and justice under the administration of Governor Wright and his colleagues has been astounding.
There is no question as to our not having gone far enough and fast enough in granting self-government to the Filipinos; the only possible danger has been lest we should go faster and further than was in the interest of the Filipinos themselves. Each Filipino at the present day is guaranteed his life, his liberty, and the chance to pursue happiness as he wishes, so long as he does not harm his fellows, in a way which the islands have never known before during all their recorded history. There are bands of ladrones, of brigands, still in existence. Now and then they may show sporadic increase. This will be due occasionally to disaffection with some of the things that our government does which are best—for example, the effort to quarantine against the plague and to enforce necessary sanitary precautions, gently and tactfully though it was made, produced violent hostility among some of the more ignorant natives. Again, a disease like the cattle plague may cause in some given province such want that a part of the inhabitants revert to their ancient habit of brigandage. But the islands have never been as orderly, as peaceful, or as prosperous as now; and in no other Oriental country, whether ruled by Asiatics or Europeans, is there anything approaching to the amount of individual liberty and of self-government which our rule has brought to the Filipinos. The Nation owes a great debt to the people through whom this splendid work for civilization has been achieved, and therefore on behalf of the Nation I have come here to-night to thank in your presence your fellow-townsman, because he has helped us materially to add a new page to the honor roll of American history.
General Wright, I greet you, I thank you, and I wish you well.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Banquet Tendered General Luke E. Wright in Memphis, Tennessee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343540