Remarks at the Banquet of the New York Press Club in New York City
As my friend, Congressman Sulzer, will tell you, in Washington and generally elsewhere, in politics, about 95 per cent of the really important work has nothing political in it. That 95 per cent includes an immense amount of worrying problems of how to get middling decent government; and it is part of the creed of all public servants who aspire to be thought decent public servants that when it comes to a question of honesty there are no party lines. We can afford to differ widely among ourselves on questions of the currency, of the tariff, and many other subjects; we cannot afford to differ on the elemental question of getting honest and decent service for the public from no matter which party, from no matter what man happens to be in power.
It is not a matter of credit to be honest, any more than it is a matter of credit to a soldier to be brave. It is a discredit to be dishonest, just as it is a discredit to be a coward. And in our internal affairs the major of part of the problem after all is seeing that the inefficient man is, if possible, kept out of office; but if he is put in, that his stay maybe as brief as possible, and that if he is crooked, nothing shall avail. You see, our. internal policy as a nation is a perfectly simple policy.
Now as regards our external policy. I am glad to see that you have our good friend, the German Ambassador, here to-night. I am glad that you invited the representatives of the various foreign countries, and I want to say just a word about the general attitude of our people in their foreign policy, as to what it should be. Fundamentally, it ought to be based on just about the principle that ought to govern each private individual citizen in dealing with his fellow, on the principle of trying to act squarely by every other nation, and of exacting square treatment in return.
And this is another point. Besides acting squarely, talk politely.
Yes, and have the "big stick", too, but do not brandish it. In private life not only do we object to being wronged, but we object almost as much to being insulted. Isn't that true? Exactly. Now, let us apply it in public life in the same way. And this applies, gentlemen, not only to public men, but to writers for the public press. I do wish that every public man and every public writer could realize the extreme desirability of speaking courteously and considerately of all foreign nations, of all outside powers. To speak discourteously, insultingly, does not do them any harm; it may irritate them, and therefore, it may do us some harm.
And we all of us know, in private life, that it is not the man who speaks loudest and who is most prone to disregard the feelings of others, upon whom we can most rely in the event of a quarrel. Isn't that so? On the contrary, while there are exceptions to the rule, it is nevertheless the rule that the man who is considerate of the feelings of others, who does not put them in a position where they feel obliged to resent an insult, is himself the man who is apt to be most dangerous if insulted or wronged. And the man we respect is the man who, while perfectly able to protect his own. rights, is scrupulously careful neither to insult nor to wrong any one else. Now that is the ideal I want to see set before us as a nation, and the ideal up to which I hope to see our people live.
If we want to pick out the failings and follies of mankind to assail, there are plenty of them within our own limits as a nation, and we are going to do much more good to mankind by striving to uplift ourselves than by expressing reprehension of and solicitude concerning the morals of somebody else who won't care for our feelings except to resent them.
It is the mark, or it should be the mark,. of a strong, self-respecting nation never wantonly to injure the feelings or to infringe upon the rights of any other people. In a nation such as ours, a nation where the government is literally a government of the whole people, that idea can be carried out only if as a people, on the stump and in the press, we endeavor to speak moderately, fairly, pleasantly of other nations; and, at the same time, remember to keep our navy built up and in good fighting trim. I hope to see it made evident by our whole action that we mean well toward our neighbors, that we not only do not intend to do them any material damage, to disregard their rights, but that we also intend to have due and proper respect for their feelings.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Banquet of the New York Press Club in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343751