Remarks at the Banquet of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York in New York City
Mr. President, gentlemen, and you, the guests, whom we welcome here this evening:
I do not wish to speak to you in the language of idle compliment, and yet it is but a bare statement of fact to say that nowhere in our country could there be gathered an audience which would stand as more typically characteristic than this of all those qualities and attributes which have given us of the United States our commanding position in the industrial world. There is no need of my preaching to this gathering the need of combining efficiency with upright dealing, for as an American and as a citizen of New York I, am proud to feel that the name of your organization carries with it a guarantee of both; and your practice counts for more than any preaching could possibly count. New York is a city of national importance, because its position toward the nation is unique, and the Chamber of Commerce of New York must of necessity be an element of weight in the commercial and industrial welfare of the entire people. New York is the great port of entry for our country—the port in which centers the bulk of the foreign commerce of the country—and her welfare is therefore no matter of mere local or municipal, but of national, concern. The conduct of the Government in dealing with all matters affecting the financial and commercial relations of New York must continually take into account this fact; and it must be taken into account in appreciating the importance of the part played by the New York Chamber of Commerce.
This body stands for the triumphs of peace both abroad and at home.
We have passed that stage of national development when depreciation of other peoples is felt as a tribute to our own. We watch the growth and prosperity of other nations, not with hatred or jealousy, but with sincere and friendly good-will. I think I can say safely that we have shown by our attitude toward Cuba, by our attitude toward China, that as regards weaker powers our desire is that they may be able to stand alone, and that if they will only show themselves willing to deal honestly and fairly with the rest of mankind we on our side will do all we can to help, not to hinder, them. With the great powers of the world we desire no rivalry that is not honorable to both parties. We wish them well. We believe that the trend of the modern spirit is ever stronger toward peace, not war; toward friendship, not hostility, as the normal international attitude. We are glad indeed that we are on good terms with all the other peoples of mankind, and no effort on our part shall be spared to secure a continuance of these relations. And remember, gentlemen, that we shall be a potent factor for peace largely in proportion to the way in which we make it evident that our attitude is due, not to weakness, not to inability to defend ourselves, but to a genuine repugnance to wrongdoing, a genuine desire for self-respecting friendship with our neighbors. The voice of the weakling or the craven counts for nothing when he clamors for peace; but the voice of the just man armed is potent. We need to keep in a condition of preparedness, especially as regards our navy, not because we want war, but because we desire to stand with those whose plea for peace is listened to with respectful attention.
Important though it is that we should have peace abroad, it is even more important that we should have peace at home. You, men of the Chamber of Commerce, to whose efforts we owe so much of our industrial well-being, can, and I believe surely will, be influential in helping toward that industrial peace which can obtain in society only when in their various relations employer and employed alike show not merely insistence each upon his own rights, but also regard for the rights of others, and a full acknowledgment of the interests of the third party—the public. It is no easy matter to work out a system or rule of conduct, whether with or without the help of the lawgiver, which shall minimize that jarring and clashing of interests in the industrial world which causes so much individual irritation and suffering at the present day, and which, at times, threatens baleful consequences to large portions of the body politic. But the importance of the problem cannot be overestimated, and it deserves to receive the careful thought of all men such as those whom I am addressing to-night. There should be no yielding to wrong; but there should most certainly be not only desire to do right but a willingness each to try to understand the viewpoint of his fellow, with whom, for weal or for woe, his own fortunes are indissolubly bound.
No patent remedy can be devised for the solution of these grave problems in the industrial world; but we may rest assured that they can be solved at all only if we bring to the solution certain old-time virtues, and if we strive to keep out of the solution some of the most familiar and most undesirable of the traits to which mankind has owed untold degradation and suffering throughout the ages. Arrogance, suspicion, brutal envy of the well-to-do, brutal indifference toward those who are not well-to-do, the hard refusal to consider the rights of others, the foolish refusal to consider the limits of beneficent action, the base appeal to the spirit of selfish greed, whether it take the form of plunder of the fortunate or of oppression of the unfortunate from these and from all kindred vices this Nation must be kept free if it is to remain in its present position in the forefront of the peoples of mankind. On the other hand, good will come, even out of the present evils, if we face them armed with the old homely virtues; if we show that we are fearless of soul, cool of head, and kindly of heart; if, without betraying the weakness that cringes before wrongdoing, we yet show by deeds and words our knowledge that in such a government as ours each of us must be in very truth his brother's keeper.
At a time when the growing complexity of our social and industrial life has rendered inevitable the intrusion of the State into spheres of work wherein it formerly took no part, and when there is also a growing tendency to demand the illegitimate and unwise transfer to the government of much of the work that should be done by private per sons, singly or associated together, it is a pleasure to address a body whose members possess to an eminent degree the traditional American self-reliance of spirit which makes them scorn to ask from the government, whether of State or of Nation, anything but a fair field and no favor; who confide not in being helped by others, but in their own skill, energy, and business capacity to achieve success. The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight—that he shall not be a mere passenger, but shall do his share in the work that each generation of us finds ready to hand; and, furthermore, that in doing his work he shall show not only the capacity for sturdy self-help but also self-respecting regard for the rights of others.
The Chamber of Commerce, it is no idle boast to say, stands in a pre-eminent degree for those qualities which make the successful merchant, the successful business man, whose success is won in ways honorable to himself and beneficial to his fellows. There are very different kinds of success. There is the success that brings with it the seared soul—the success which is achieved by wolfish greed and vulpine cunning—the success which makes honest men uneasy or indignant in its presence. Then there is the other kind of success—the success which comes as the reward of keen insight, of sagacity, of resolution, of address, combined with unflinching rectitude of behavior, public and private. The first kind of success may, in a sense—and a poor sense at that – benefit the individual, but it is always and necessarily a curse to the community; whereas the man who wins the second kind, as an incident of its winning becomes a beneficiary to the whole common wealth. Throughout its history the Chamber of Commerce has stood for this second and higher kind of success. It is, therefore, fitting that I should come on here, as the Chief Executive of the Nation, to wish you well in your new home; for you belong not merely to the city, not merely to the State, but to all the country, and you stand high among the great factors in building up that marvelous prosperity which the entire country now enjoys. The continuance of this prosperity depends in no small measure upon your sanity and common-sense, upon the way in which you combine energy in action with conservative refusal to take part in the reckless gambling which is so often bred by, and which so inevitably puts an end to, prosperity. You are men of might in the world of American effort; you are men whose names stand high in the esteem of our people; you are spoken of in terms like those used in the long-gone ages when it was said of the Phænician cities that their merchants were princes. Great is your power and great, therefore, your responsibility. Well and faithfully have you met this responsibility in the past. We look forward with confident hope to what you will do in the future, and it is therefore with sincerity that I bid you Godspeed this evening and wish for you, in the name of the Nation, a career of ever-increasing honor and usefulness.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Banquet of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343518