Remarks at the City Park in Little Rock, Arkansas
Governor, and my fellow Americans:
I cannot sufficient express my gratitude and appreciation for the magnificent greeting you have given me today, and in greeting all of you I wish to say especial words of greeting to those who wore the gray, and those who wore the blue in the Civil War, and I wish to emphasize this on behalf of my comrades of the National Guard, forming the guard of honor here today, with whom I myself went to war in 1898. There could be no better augury than that the escort of an American President should be those who once were enemies walking shoulder to shoulder. What a joy it is to think of the services of the men who wore the blue and the men who wore the gray, a glorious record for the North and South. Allusion has been made to the war of '98, in which I had the good fortune to command a regiment. Of that regiment the fathers of more of them wore the gray than wore the blue, but the only rivalry was to see who could do the most for their common country. I have spoken all over the country, but I would not make a remark here that I would not make anywhere else. I am fortunate in being President of a country where to praise one State you do not have to run down any other. I am for all of them. I have been impressed not by the superficial differences of the people, but by the positive likenesses.
The average American is a pretty good fellow. All that is necessary for the average Americans of all sections to get along well is that they should know each other.
What is true of sections is true of occupations and positions. Thank heaven, we are free now from all danger of territorial antagonisms. Now we must see that there shall never come any antagonisms of the classes or antagonisms between capital and labor. Treat each man according to his worth as a man. Hold it not against him that he is either rich or poor. But if he is rich and crooked hold it against him; if not rich but is crooked, then hold it against him. But if he is a square man, stand by him. Distrust all who would have any one class placed before any other. Other republics have fallen because of unscrupulous rich or the unscrupulous poor who gained ascendancy, who substituted loyalty to class for loyalty to the people as a whole.
Abolish the insolence and arrogance of the rich who look down upon the poor; if they lost their wealth, they would be ready to plunder the rich, and the unscrupulous poor man who becomes rich would op press the poor. The poor man who is true to you is the ultimately righteous, and the man who will steal for you will steal from you. The man who will seek to persuade you that he will benefit you by wronging any one else will wrong you when it will benefit him. What we must do as a nation is to stand for the immutable principles of decency and virtue, regarding vice with abhorrence. If we make any artificial di visions we have done irreparable injury to the people.
Governor, you spoke of a hideous crime that is often hideously avenged. The worst enemy of the negro race is the negro criminal, and above all the negro criminal of that type; for he has committed not only an unspeakably hideous and infamous crime against the victim, but he has committed a hideous crime against the people of his own color; and every reputable colored man, every colored man who wishes to see the uplifting of his race, owes it as his first duty to himself and to that race to hunt down that criminal with all his soul and strength.
Now for the side of the white man. To avenge one hideous crime by another hideous crime is to reduce the man doing it to the bestial level of the man who committed the bestial crime. The horrible effects of lynch law are shown in the fact that three-fourths of the lynchings are not for that crime at all, but for other crimes. And above all other men, Governor, you and I and all who are exponents and representatives of the law owe it to our law, owe it to our people, to the cause of civilization and humanity to do everything in our power, officially and unofficially, directly and indirectly, to free the United States from the menace and reproach of lynch law.
We can afford to be divided on questions of mere partisanship, for comparatively the differences of tariff and the currency are of no consequence. After all the real question is that of decency in the life of the home and honesty in public life. It makes little difference in the long run whether a Democratic or a Republican is President, but it makes every difference to have all our public officials honest and clean. The candidate is the candidate of his party, but the President, if he is worth his salt, is the President of the whole people.
You cannot have good public life unless you have good private life. The country will be all right if the average man is decent and clean in his home life, but if it goes below that average you can't make the country right. I have a great respect for a good man, and the only one I have greater respect for is a good woman and if there is any one here who does not agree with me I don't think much of him.
We young men have a great heritage in this free country of ours and let us see that we transmit it unimpaired to our children. Let their valor and heroism in war and in peace be an incentive to greater efforts.
The only people I feel as glad to see as the veterans are the fathers and mothers with babies in their arms. Arkansas has cause to feel proud of its natural resources and its great crop is the crop of babies, and those of Arkansas seem to be all right in quantity and quality. I like to see the children, for I have a few myself. See that the children are educated for citizenship in intellect so that when they grow up they may have the three cardinal virtues of American citizenship—courage, honesty and common sense.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the City Park in Little Rock, Arkansas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343655