Remarks to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen in Chattanooga, Tennessee

September 08, 1902

Mr. Grand Master, Governor McMillan, Mr. Mayor, my brothers, my fellow citizens:

I am glad to be here today. I am glad to come as the guest of the Brotherhood. Let me join with you, the members of the Brotherhood of this country, in extending a most cordial welcome to our fellows from Canada and Mexico. The fact that we are good Americans only makes us all the better men, all the more desirous of seeing good fortune to all mankind. I needed no pressing to accept the invitation tendered through you, Mr. Hannahan, and through Mr. Arnold to come to this meeting. I have always admired greatly the railroad men of the country, and I do not see how anyone who believes in what I regard as the fundamental virtues of citizenship can fail to do so. I want to see the average American a good man, an honest man, and a man who can handle himself, and does handle himself, well under difficulties. The last time I ever saw General Sherman, I dined at his house, and we got to talking over the capacity of different types of soldiers, and the General happened to say that if ever there were another war, and he were to have a command, he should endeavor to get as many railroad men as possible under him. I asked him why, and he said, "Because on account of their profession they have developed certain qualities which are essential in a soldier." In the first place, they are accustomed to taking risks. There are a great many men who are naturally brave, but who, being entirely unaccustomed to risks, are at first appalled by them. Railroad men are accustomed to enduring hardship; they are accustomed to irregular hours; they are accustomed to act on their own responsibility, on their own initiative, and yet they are accustomed to obeying orders quickly. There is not any thing more soul-harrowing for a man in time of war, or for a man engaged in a difficult job in time of peace, than to give an order and have the gentleman addressed say "What?" The railroad man has to learn that when an order is issued there may be but a fraction of a second in which to obey it. He has to learn that orders are to be obeyed, and, on the other hand, that there will come plenty of crises in which there will be no orders to be obeyed, and he will have to act for himself.

Those are all qualities that go to the very essence of good soldiership, and I am not surprised at what General Sherman said. In raising my own regiment, which was raised mainly in the Southwest, partly in the Territory in which Mr. Sargent himself served as a soldier at one time--in Arizona—I got a number of railroad men. Of course, the first requisite was that a man should know how to shoot and how to ride. We were raising the regiment in a hurry, and we did not have time to teach him either. He had to know how to handle a horse and how to handle a rifle, to start with. But given the possession of those two qualities, I found that there was no group of our citizens from whom better men could be drawn to do a soldier's work in a tight place and at all times than the railroad men.

But, gentlemen, the period of war is but a fractional part of the life of our Republic, and I earnestly hope and believe that it will be an even smaller part in the future than it has been in the past. It was the work that you have done in time of peace that especially attracted me to you, that made me anxious to come down here and see you, and that made me glad to speak to you, not for what I can tell you, but for the lesson it seems to me can be gained by all of our people from what you have done.

At the opening of the twentieth century we face conditions vastly changed from what they were in this country and throughout the world a century ago. Our complex industrial civilization under which progress has been so rapid, and in which the changes for good have been so great, has also inevitably seen the growth of certain tendencies that are not for good, or at least that are not wholly for good; and we in consequence, as a people, like the rest of civilized mankind, find set before us for solution during the coming century problems which need the best thought of all of us, and the most earnest desire of all to solve them well if we expect to work out a solution satisfactory to our people, a solution for the advantage of the nation. In facing these problems, it must be a comfort to every well-wisher of the nation to see what has been done by your organization. I believe emphatically in organized labor. I believe in organizations of wage workers. Organization is one of the laws of our social and economic development at this time. But I feel that we must always keep before our minds the fact that there is nothing sacred in the name itself. To call an organization an organization does not make it a good one. The worth of an organization depends upon its being handled with the courage, the skill, the wisdom, the spirit of fair dealing as between man and man, and the wise self-restraint which, I am glad to be able to say, your Brotherhood has shown. You now number close upon 44, 000 members. During the two years ending June 30 last you paid in to the general and beneficiary funds close upon a million and a half dollars. More than six and one-half millions have been paid in since the starting of the insurance clause in the constitution—have been paid to disabled members and their beneficiaries. Over fifty per cent of the amount paid was paid on account of accidents. Gentlemen, that is a sufficient commentary upon the kind of profession which is yours. You face death. and danger in time of peace, as in time of war the men wearing Uncle Sam's uniform must face them.

Your work is hard. Do you suppose I mention that because I pity you? No; not a bit. I don't pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who doesn't work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being. The law of worthy work well done is the law of successful American life. I believe in play, too—play, and play hard while you play; but don't make the mistake of thinking that that is the main thing. The work is what counts, and if a man does his work well and it is worth doing, then it matters but little in which line that work is done; the man is a good American citizen. If he does his work in slip-shod fashion, then no matter what kind of work it is, he is a poor American citizen.

I speak to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, but what I say applies to all railroad men—not only to the engineers who have served an apprenticeship as firemen, to the conductors, who, as a rule, have served an apprenticeship as brakemen, but to all the men of all the organizations connected with railroad work. I know you do not grudge my saying that, through you, I am talking to all the railroad men of the country. You, in your organization as railroad men, have taught two lessons: the lesson of how much can be accomplished by organization, by mutual self-help of the type that helps another in the only way by which, in the long run, — that is, by teaching him to help himself. You teach the benefits of organization, and you also teach the indispensable need of keeping absolutely unimpaired the faculty of individual initiative, the faculty by which each man brings himself to the highest point of perfection by exercising the special qualities with which he is himself endowed. The Brotherhood has developed to this enormous extent since the days, now many years ago, when the first little band came together; and it has developed, not by crushing out individual initiative, but by developing it, by combining many individual initiatives.

The Brotherhood of Firemen does much for all firemen, but I firmly believe that the individual fireman since the growth of the Brother hood has been more, not less, efficient than he was twenty years ago. Membership in the Brotherhood comes, as I understand it, after a nine months' probationary period; after a man has shown his worth, he is then admitted and stands on his footing as a brother. Now, any man who enters with the purpose of letting the Brotherhood carry him is not worth much. The man who counts in the Brother hood is the man who pulls his own weight and a little more. Much can be done by the Brotherhood. I have just hinted in the general figures I gave you, at how much has been done, but it still remains true in the Brotherhood, and everywhere else throughout American life, that in the last resort nothing can supply the place of the man's own individual qualities. We need those, no matter how perfect the organization is outside. There is just as much need of nerve, hardihood, power to face risks and accept responsibilities, in the engineer and the fireman, whether on a flyer or a freight train, now as there ever was. Much can be done by the Association. A great deal can be accomplished by working each for all and all for each; but we must not forget that the first requisite in accomplishing that is that each man should work for others by working for himself, by developing his own capacity.

The steady way in which a man can rise is illustrated by a little thing that happened yesterday. I came down here over the Queen and Crescent Railroad, and the General Manager, who handled my train and who handled yours, was Mr. Maguire. I used to know him in the old days when he was on his way up, and he began right at the bottom. He was a fireman at one time. He worked his way straight up, and now he is General Manager.

I believe so emphatically in your organization because, while it teaches the need of working in union, of working in association, of working with deep in our hearts, not merely on our lips, the sense of Brotherhood, yet of necessity it still keeps, as your organization always must keep, to the forefront the worth of the individual qualities of a man. I said to you that I came here in a sense not to speak to you, but to use your experience as an object-lesson for all of us, an object lesson in good American citizenship. All professions, of course, do not call for the exercise to the same degree of the qualities of which I have spoken. Your profession is one of those which I am inclined to feel play in modern life a greater part from the standpoint of character than we entirely realize. There is in modern life, with the growth of civilization and luxury, a certain tendency to softening of the national fibre. There is a certain tendency to forget, in consequence of their disuse, the rugged virtues which lie at the back of manhood; and I feel that professions like yours, like the profession of the railroad men of the country, have a tonic effect upon the whole body politic.

It is a good thing that there should be a large body of our fellow citizens—that there should be a profession—whose members must, year in and year out, display those old, old qualities of courage, daring, resolution, unflinching willingness to meet danger at need. I hope to see all our people develop the softer, gentler virtues to an ever increasing degree, but I hope never to see them lose the sterner virtues that make men men.

A man is not going to be a fireman or an engineer, or serve well in any other capacity on a railroad long if he has a "streak of yellow" in him. You are going to find it out, and he is going to be painfully conscious of it, very soon. It is a fine thing for our people that we should have those qualities in evidence before us in the life-work of a big group of our citizens.

In American citizenship, we can succeed permanently only upon the basis of standing shoulder to shoulder, working in association, by organization, each working for all, and yet remembering that we need each so to shape things that each man can develop to best advantage all the forces and powers at his command. In your organization you accomplish much by means of the Brotherhood, but you accomplish it because of the men who go to make up that Brotherhood.

If you had exactly the organization, exactly the laws, exactly the system, and yet were yourselves a poor set of men, the system would not save you. I will guarantee that, from time to time, you have men go in to try to serve for the nine months who prove that they do not have the stuff in them out of which you can make good men. You have to have the stuff in you, and, if you have the stuff, you can make out of it a much finer man by means of the association—but you must have the material out of which to make it. So it is in citizenship.

And now let me say a word, speaking not merely especially to the Brotherhood, but to all our citizens. Governor McMillan, Mr. Mayor: I fail to see how any American can come to Chattanooga and go over the great battle-fields in the neighborhood—the battle-fields here in this State and just across the border in my mother's State of Georgia how any American can come here and see evidences of the mighty deeds done by the men who wore the blue and the men who wore the gray, and not go away a better American, prouder of the country, prouder because of the valor displayed on both sides in the contest--the valor, the self-devotion, the loyalty to the right as each side saw the right. Yesterday I was presented with a cane cut from the Chickamauga battlefield by some young men of Northern Georgia. On the cane were engraved the names of three Union generals and three Confederate generals. One of those Union generals was at that time showing me over the battlefield—General Boynton. Under one of the Confederate generals—General Wheeler—I myself served. In my regiment there served under me in the ranks a son of General Hood, who commanded at one time the Confederate army against General Sherman. The only captain whom I had the opportunity of promoting to field rank, and to whom the promotion was given for gallantry on the field, was Micah Jenkins, of South Carolina, the son of a Confederate general, whose name you will find recorded among those who fought at Chickamauga.

Two of my best captains were killed at Santiago—one was Allyn Capron, the fifth in line who; from father to son, had served in the regular army of the United States, who had served in every war in which our country had been engaged; the other, Bucky O'Neill. His father had fought under Maher, when, on the day at Fredericksburg, his brigade left more men under the stone wall than did any other brigade. I had in my regiment men from the North and the South; men from the East and the West; men whose fathers had fought under Grant, and whose fathers had fought under Lee; college graduates, capitalists' sons, wage-workers, the man of means and the man who all his life had owed each day's bread to the day's toil. I had Catholic, Protestant, Jew, and Gentile under me. Among my captains were men whose forefathers had been among the first white men to settle on Massachusetts Bay and on the banks of the James, and others whose parents had come from Germany, from Ireland, from England, from France. They were all Americans, and nothing else, and each man stood on his worth as a man, to be judged by it, and to succeed or fail accordingly as he did well or ill. Compared to the giant death wrestles that reeled over the mountains round about this city the fight at Santiago was the merest skirmish; but the spirit in which we handled ourselves there, I hope was the spirit in which we have to face our duties as citizens if we are to make this Republic what it must be made..

Yesterday, in passing over the Chickamauga battle-field, I was immensely struck by the monument raised by Kentucky to the Union and Confederate soldiers from Kentucky who fell on that battle-field. The inscription reads as follows: "As we are united in life, and they united in death, let one monument perpetuate their deeds, and one people, forgetful of all asperities, forever hold in grateful remembrance all the glories of that terrible conflict which made all men free and retained every star on the nation's flag." That is a good sentiment. That is a sentiment by which we can all stand. And oh, my friends! what does that sentiment have as its underlying spirit? The spirit of brotherhood!

I firmly believe in my countrymen, and therefore I believe that the chief thing necessary in order that they shall work together is that they shall know one another—that the Northerner shall know the Southerner, and the man of one occupation know the man of another occupation; the man who works in one walk of life know the man who works in another walk of life, so that we may realize that the things which divide us are superficial, are unimportant, and that we are, and must ever be, knit together into one indissoluble mass by our common American brotherhood.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen in Chattanooga, Tennessee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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