Remarks at the Banquet of the Young Men's Christian Association at the New Willard Hotel
Mr. Chairman, gentlemen:
It is no accident that we should meet here to celebrate a record of fifty years—that period which covers the half century which has seen the gigantic industrial change of the world, which has seen the fruition of the forces that have brought about a revolution, socially and industrially, within the fifty years such as was hardly seen within any preceding five centuries. Life has been very intense, has been carried on at a very high pressure, during that half century; more intense, carried on a higher pressure, than ever before. That means of course that all the forces have been raised to a higher degree of power—the forces of evil, and, thank heaven, also the forces of good. If it had not been for the work of such organizations as this, for such organized effort as that represented by you here to-night, the immense material progress of the world during the past half century would have been a progress that would have told for ill for the nations, not for good. We can say with truth that we are better off than we were. We can say that the creed of those who have faith is the right creed as justified in present history, because side by side with this great material development, and with an even stronger rate of growth than the forces of evil, have grown the forces of good. If it had not been for the work done by those who founded this movement, and of course by all those who have taken part in similar movements, in all movements for good, in every movement for social betterment, for civic betterment, in every movement to make men decent and manly and strong—if it had not been for the work done by them, if they had sat supine and thought things would make themselves better, things would have become steadily worse. We see all around us people who say, "Oh, well, things will come out all right." So they will; but not because there are men who are content to say that they will come out all right; but because there is a sufficient number of earnest men with the root of righteousness in them who are bound to do what will make them come out right.
The remarkable concentration of our lives during the last half century has rendered it possible for anything that is evil to manifest itself more strongly than ever before, and therefore made it necessary for us to see that the good has a corresponding development. A hundred years ago there was no such need for the Young Men's Christian Associations, for the invaluable Young Women's Christian Associations. Life was simpler. The temptation would come surely to every man, but it would not come so frequently and in so intense a form. As the forces of evil manifested themselves in stronger and stronger form they had to be met, if they were to be successfully grappled with, by organized effort, by the effort of the many, which must always be stronger than the effort of one; and the successful effort to combat the forces of evil had to take just such shape as has been given to the growth of the Young Men' s Christian Associations. It had to take the shape of combining decency and efficiency. There are many things that are so true that it seems almost trite to speak of them, and yet it is continually necessary to speak of them. There have been philanthropic movements led and supported by most excellent people, which, nevertheless, have produced results altogether incommensurable with the efforts spent, because they failed to combine as this movement has combined a recognition of the needs of human nature with a resolute effort to make that human nature better.
I have been acquainted especially with three types of your work: the work in the army and navy, the work among railroad men, and the work among college students. These three classes are not going to be effectively reached as classes by any effort which fails to take account of the fact that they demand manliness as well as virtue; and you can make them straight only on condition that in making them straight you also keep in mind that it is necessary for them to be strong. Remember, Wesley's remark when some one criticized him because his hymn tunes were so good. He answered that he was not going to leave all the good tunes to the devil. We want to be exceedingly careful that the impression shall not get about that good men intend to leave strength to those who serve the devil. I was very much interested in what was said by Mr. Mott as to the meeting at Yale a few nights ago, where the captain of the football team and the captain of the crew of next season both were present. I think that is typical of the whole movement. I am certain that those who have had experience in the army and navy have seen that in the long run the man who is a decent man is apt to be the man who is the best soldier.
The work among the railroad men always particularly appealed to me because the railroad men are those who follow that modern industry which more than any other modern industry makes demand upon its followers for the heroic virtues, for the willingness to take risks, the willingness to accept responsibilities, the readiness to adopt a standard of duty which will require at need the sacrifice of life; those who follow it must possess both the power to obey and the power to act on individual initiative—the power to take responsibility. You can make men like that accept morality if you can make them understand that it is not only compatible with but is demanded by essential manliness. The work of the Y. M. C. A. has grown so among college students, for instance, because (I think I am right in saying) it has tried, not to dwarf any of the impulses of the young, vigorous men, but to guide them aright. It has sought not to make a man's development one-sided, not to prevent his being a man, but to see that he is in the fullest sense a man, and a good man. We greet to-night with, peculiar pleasure the men who served in the great war. Those men won in the day of trial because they and their fellows had in them, in the first place, the power of devotion to an ideal, and, in the next place, the strength to realize that power in effective fashion. If the men of '61 had not been driven forward by a spirit which made them anxious to lay down their lives if need should be rather than to see the flag of the Union torn in twain, if they had not had in them the lift toward loftier things which comes to those who value life as of small account compared to devotion to country and to the flag, if they had not in the truest and greatest and deepest sense of the word been patriotic, then no amount of fighting capacity would have saved them. I don't care how good natural soldiers or sailors they had been, if their ambitions had been personal, if they had been fundamentally disloyal, if each had been striving to build up himself and had viewed his fellows as rivals to be trampled down for his own advantage, then failure would have come upon them. If Grant and Sherman and Thomas and Farragut had not all felt that they were fighting for one end, that they were holding up the arms of mighty Lincoln as he toiled and wrought and suffered for the people, then their prowess would have availed naught, and this Nation would have gone down into bloody anarchy, would have crumbled into dust as so many republics had crumbled of old. They needed fervent devotion to country, devotion to the right, and power to fight.
In addition to the lofty ideal— in no way as a substitute for it, but in addition to this power of devotion to an ideal— the man must have the fibre of heart, the fibre of body, to make his devotion take effective shape for the Nation's welfare. And nowadays we shall win out, in the fight for a loftier life—we shall make this twentieth century better and not worse than any century that has gone before it—in proportion as we approach the problems that face us as this society has approached those problems, with a firm resolution to neglect neither side of the development of our people, to strive to make the young men decent, God-fearing, law-abiding, honor-loving, justice-doing; and also fearless and strong, able to hold their own in the hurly-burly of the world's work, able to strive mightily that the forces of right may be in the end triumphant.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Banquet of the Young Men's Christian Association at the New Willard Hotel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343414