Remarks at the Charleston Exposition in Charleston, South Carolina

April 09, 1902

Mr. President, Mr. Mayor, and you the men and women of the Palmetto State, men and women of the South, my fellow citizens of the Union:

It is indeed to me a peculiar pleasure to have the chance of coming here to this Exposition held in your old, your beautiful, your historic city. My mother's people were from Georgia; but before they came to Georgia, before the Revolution, in the days of Colonial rule, they dwelt for nearly a century in South Carolina; and therefore I can claim your State as mine by inheritance no less than by the stronger and nobler right which makes each foot of American soil in a sense the property of all Americans.

Charleston is not only a typical Southern city; it is also a city whose history teems with events which link themselves to American history as a whole. In the early Colonial days Charleston was the outpost of our people against the Spaniard in the South. In the days of the Revolution there occurred here some of the events which vitally affected the outcome of the struggle for Independence, and which impressed themselves most deeply upon the popular mind. It was here that the tremendous terrible drama of the Civil War opened.

With delicate and thoughtful courtesy you originally asked me to come to this Exposition on the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. The invitation not only showed a fine generosity and manliness in you, my hosts, but it also emphasized as hardly anything else could have emphasized how completely we are now a united people. The wounds left by the great Civil War, incomparably the greatest war of modern times, have healed; and its memories are now priceless heritages of honor alike to the North and to the South. The devotion, the self-sacrifice, the steadfast resolution and lofty daring, the high devotion to the right as each man saw it, whether Northerner or Southerner all these qualities of the men and women of the early sixties now shine luminous and brilliant before our eyes, while the mists of anger and hatred that once dimmed them have passed away forever.

All of us, North and South, can glory alike in the valor of the men who wore the blue and of the men who wore the gray. Those were iron times, and only iron men could fight to its terrible finish the giant struggle between the hosts of Grant and Lee, the struggle that came to an end thirty-seven years ago this very day. To us of the present day, and to our children and children's children, the valiant deeds, the high endeavor, and abnegation of self shown in that struggle by those who took part therein will remain for evermore to mark the level to which we in our turn must rise whenever the hour of the Nation's need may come.

When four years ago this Nation was compelled to face a foreign foe, the completeness of the reunion became instantly and strikingly evident. The war was not one which called for the exercise of more than an insignificant fraction of our strength, and the strain put upon us was slight indeed compared with the results. But it was a satisfactory thing to see the way in which the sons of the soldier of the Union and the soldier of the Confederacy leaped eagerly forward, emulous to show in brotherly rivalry the qualities which had won renown for their fathers, the men of the great war. It was my good fortune to serve under an ex-Confederate general, gallant old Joe Wheeler, who commanded the cavalry division at Santiago.

In my regiment there were certainly as many men whose fathers had served in the Southern, as there were men whose fathers had served in the Northern, army. Among the captains there was opportunity to promote but one to field rank. The man who was singled out for this promotion because of conspicuous gallantry in the field was the son of a Confederate general and was himself a citizen of this, the Palmetto State; and no American officer could wish to march to battle beside a more loyal, gallant, and absolutely fearless comrade than my former captain and major, your fellow-citizen, Micah Jenkins.

A few months ago, owing to the enforced absence of the Governor of the Philippines, it became necessary to nominate a Vice-Governor to take his place— one of the most important places in our Government at this time. I nominated as Vice-Governor an ex-Confederate, General Luke Wright, of Tennessee. It is therefore an ex-Confederate who now stands as the exponent of this Government and this people in that great group of islands in the eastern seas over which the American flag floats. General Wright has taken a leading part in the work of steadily bringing order and peace out of the bloody chaos in which we found the islands. He is now taking a leading part not merely in up holding the honor of the flag by making it respected as the symbol of our power, but still more in upholding its honor by unwearied labor for the establishment of ordered liberty—of law-creating, law-abiding civil government—under its folds.

The progress which has been made under General Wright and those like him has been indeed marvelous. In fact, a letter of the General's the other day seemed to show that he considered there was far more warfare about the Philippines in this country than there was warfare in the Philippines themselves! It is an added proof of the complete ness of the reunion of our country that one of the foremost men who have been instrumental in driving forward the great work for civilization and humanity in the Philippines has been a man who in the Civil War fought with distinction in a uniform of Confederate gray.

If ever the need comes in the future the past has made abundantly evident the fact that from this time on Northerner and Southerner will in war know only the generous desire to strive how each can do the more effective service for the flag of our common country. The same thing is true in the endless work of peace, the never-ending work of building and keeping the marvelous fabric of our industrial prosperity. The upbuilding of any part of our country is a benefit to the whole, and every such effort as this to stimulate the resources and industry of a particular section is entitled to the heartiest support from every quarter of the Union. Thoroughly good national work can be done only if each of us works hard for himself, and at the same time keeps constantly in mind that he must work in conjunction with others.

You have made a particular effort in your Exhibition to get into touch with the West Indies. This is wise. The events of the last four years have shown us that the West Indies and the Isthmus must in the future occupy a far larger place in our national policy than in the past. This is proved by the negotiations for the purchase of the Danish Is lands, the acquisition of Porto Rico, the preparation for building an Isthmian canal, and, finally, by the changed relations which these years have produced between us and Cuba. As a Nation we have especial right to take honest pride in what we have done for Cuba. Our critics abroad and at home have insisted that we never intended to leave the island. But on the 20th of next month Cuba becomes a free republic, and we turn over to the islanders the control of their own government. It would be very difficult to find a parallel in the conduct of any other great State that has occupied such a position as ours. We have kept our word and done our duty, just as an honest individual in private life keeps his word and does his duty.

Be it remembered, moreover, that after our four years' occupation of the island we turn it over to the Cubans in a better condition than it ever has been in all the centuries of Spanish rule. This has a direct bearing upon our own warfare. Cuba is so near to us that we can never be indifferent to misgovernment and disaster within its limits. The mere fact that our administration in the island has minimized the danger from the dreadful scourge of yellow fever, alike to Cuba and to our selves, is sufficient to emphasize the community of interest between us. But there are other interests which bind us together. Cuba's position makes it necessary that her political relations with us should differ from her political relations with other powers. This fact has been formulated by us and accepted by the Cubans in the Platt amendments. It follows as a corollary that where the Cubans have thus assumed a position of peculiar relationship to our political system they must similarly stand in a peculiar relationship to our economic system.

We have rightfully insisted upon Cuba adopting toward us an attitude differing politically from that she adopts toward any other power; and in return, as a matter of right, we must give to Cuba a different—that is, a better—position economically in her relations with us than we give to other powers. This is the course dictated by sound policy, by a wise and far-sighted view of our own interest, and by the position we have taken during the past four years. We are a wealthy and powerful country, dealing with a much weaker one; and the contrast in wealth and strength makes it all the more our duty to deal with Cuba, as we have already dealt with her, in a spirit of large generosity.

This Exposition is rendered possible because of the period of industrial prosperity through which we are passing. While material well-being is never all-sufficient to the life of a nation, yet it is the merest truism to say that its absence means ruin. We need to build a higher life upon it as a foundation; but we can build little indeed unless this foundation of prosperity is deep and broad. The well-being which we are now enjoying can be secured only through general business prosperity, and such prosperity is conditioned upon the energy and hard work, the sanity and the mutual respect, of all classes of capitalists, large and small, of wage workers of every degree. As is inevitable in a time of business prosperity, some men succeed more than others, and it is unfortunately also inevitable that when this is the case some unwise people are sure to try to appeal to the envy and jealousy of those who succeed least. It is a good thing when these appeals are made to remember that while it is difficult to increase prosperity by law, it is easy enough to ruin it, and that there is small satisfaction to the less prosperous if they succeed in overthrowing both the more prosperous and themselves in the crash of a common disaster.

Every industrial exposition of this type necessarily calls up the thought of the complex social and economic questions which are involved in our present industrial system. Our astounding material prosperity, the sweep and rush rather than the mere march of our progressive material development, have brought grave troubles in their train. We cannot afford to blink these troubles, any more than because of them we can afford to accept as true the gloomy forebodings of the prophets of evil. There are great problems before us. They are not insoluble, but they can be solved only if we approach them in a spirit of resolute fearlessness, of common-sense, and of honest intention to do fair and equal justice to all men alike. We are certain to fail if we adopt the policy of the demagogue who raves against the wealth which is simply the form of embodied thrift, foresight, and intelligence; who would shut the door of opportunity against those whose energy we should especially foster, by penalizing the qualities which tell for success. Just as little can we afford to follow those who fear to recognize injustice and to endeavor to cut it out because the task is difficult or even—if performed by unskillful hands—dangerous.

This is an era of great combinations both of labor and of capital. In many ways these combinations have worked for good; but they must work under the law, and the laws concerning them must be just and wise, or they will inevitably do evil; and this applies as much to the richest corporation as to the most powerful labor union. Our laws must be wise, sane, healthy, conceived in the spirit of those who scorn the mere agitator, the mere inciter of class or sectional hatred; who wish justice for all men; who recognize the need of adhering so far as possible to the old American doctrine of giving the widest possible scope for the free exercise of individual initiative, and yet who recognize also that after combinations have reached a certain stage it is in dispensable to the general welfare that the Nation should exercise over them, cautiously and with self-restraint, but firmly, the power of super vision and regulation.

Above all, the administration of the government, the enforcement of the laws, must be fair and honest. The laws are not to be administered either in the interest of the poor man or the interest of the rich man. They are simply to be administered justly; in the interest of justice to each man be he rich or be he poor—giving immunity to no violator, whatever form the violation may assume. Such is the obligation which every public servant takes, and to it he must be true under penalty of forfeiting the respect both of himself and of his fellows.

And now, my fellow-countrymen, in closing I am going to paraphrase something said by Governor Aycock last night. I have dwelt today upon the fact that we are indeed a reunited people; that we are indeed and forever one people. The time was when one could not have made that statement with truth; now it can be truthfully said. There was a time when it was necessary to keep saying it, because it was already true, and because the assertion made it more true; but the time is at hand, I think the time has come, when it is not necessary to say it again. Proud of the South? Of course we are proud of the South; not only Southerners, but Northerners are proud of the South. Proud of your great deeds? Of course I am proud of your great deeds, for you are my people. I thank you from my heart for the welcome you have given me, and I assure you that few experiences in my life have been more pleasant than the experiences of these two days that I have spent among you.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Charleston Exposition in Charleston, South Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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