Remarks at the Commemoration of Washington's Birthday by the University of Pennsylvania and on Receiving the Degree of LL.D. from that Institution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

February 22, 1905

As a nation we have had our full share of great men, but the two men of pre-eminent greatness who, as the centuries go on, will surely loom above all others are Washington and Lincoln; and it is peculiarly fitting that their birthdays should be celebrated every year and the meaning of their lives brought home close to us.

No other city in the country is so closely identified with Washing ton's career as Philadelphia. He served here in 1775 in the Continental Congress. He was here as commander of the army at the time of the battles of Brandywine and Germantown; and it was near here that with that army he faced the desolate winter at Valley Forge, the winter which marked the turning point of the revolutionary war. Here he came again as President of the Convention which framed the Constitution, and then as President of the United States, and finally as lieutenant general of the army after he had retired from the Presidency.

One hundred and eight years ago, just before he left the Presidency, he issued his Farewell Address, and in it he laid down certain principles which he believed should guide the citizens of this republic for all time to come, his own words being, "which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people."

Washington, though in some ways an even greater man than Lincoln, did not have Lincoln's wonderful gift of expression—that gift which makes certain speeches of the rail-splitter from Illinois read like the inspired utterances of the great Hebrew seers and prophets. But he had all of Lincoln's sound common sense, far-sightedness, and devotion to a lofty ideal. Like Lincoln he sought after the noblest objects, and like Lincoln he sought after them by thoroughly practical methods. These two greatest Americans can fairly be called the best among the great men of the world, and greatest among the good men of the world.

Each showed in actual practice his capacity to secure under our system the priceless union of individual liberty with governmental strength. Each was as free from the vices of the tyrant as from the vices of the demagogue. To each the empty futility of the mere doctrinaire was as alien as the baseness of the merely self-seeking politician. Each was incapable alike of the wickedness which seeks by force of arms to wrong others and of the no less criminal weakness which fails to pro vide effectively against being wronged by others.

Among Washington's maxims which he bequeathed to his country men were the two following: "Observe good faith and justice toward all nations," and "To be prepared for war is the most effective means to promote peace." These two principles taken together should form the basis of our whole foreign policy. Neither is sufficient taken by itself.

It is not merely an idle dream, but a most mischievous dream, to believe that mere refraining from wrongdoing will insure us against being wronged. Yet, on the other hand, a nation prepared for war is a menace to mankind unless the national purpose is to treat other nations with good faith and justice. In any community it is neither the conscientious man who is a craven at heart, nor yet the bold and strong man without the moral sense, who is of real use to the community; it is the man who to strength and courage adds a realizing sense of the moral obligation resting upon him, the man who has not only the desire but the power to do his full duty by his neighbor and by the state. So, in the world at large, the nation which is of use in the progress of mankind is that nation which combines strength of character, force of character, and insistence upon its own rights, with a full acknowledgment of its own duties toward others. Just at present the best way in which we can show that our loyalty to the teachings of Washington is a loyalty of the heart and not of the lips only is to see to it that the work of building up our navy goes steadily on, and that at the same time our stand for international righteousness is clear and emphatic.

Never since the beginning of our country's history has the navy been used in an unjust war. Never has it failed to render great and sometimes vital service to the republic. It has not been too strong for our good, though often not strong enough to do all the good it should have done.

Our possession of the Philippines, our interest in the trade of the Orient, our building the Isthmian Canal, our insistence upon the Mon roe Doctrine, all demand that our navy shall be of adequate size and for its size of unsurpassed efficiency. If it is strong enough I believe it will minimize the chance of our being drawn into foreign war. If we let it run down it is as certain as the day that sooner or later we shall have to choose between a probably disastrous foreign war or a peace kept on terms that imply national humiliation. Our navy is the surest guaranty of peace and the cheapest insurance against war, and those who, in whatever capacity, have helped to build it up during the past twenty years have been in good faith observing and living up to one of the most important of the principles which Washington laid down for the guidance of his countrymen.

Nor was Washington the only one of our great Presidents who showed farsighted patriotism by support of the navy. When Andrew Jackson was in Congress he voted for the first warships we ever built as part of our regular navy; and he voted against the grant of money to pay our humiliating tribute to the pirates of the Barbary States. Old Hickory was a patriot through and through, and there was not an ounce of timidity in his nature, and of course he felt only indignant contempt for a policy which purchased an ignoble peace by cowardice instead of exacting a just peace by showing we were as little willing to submit to as to inflict aggression. Had a majority of Jackson's colleagues and successors felt as he did about the navy, had it been built up instead of being brought to a standstill, it would probably never have been necessary to fight the war of 1812.

Again Washington said: "Give to manhood the example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence." This feeling can be shown alike by our dealings within and without our own borders.

Taft and Wright in the Philippines and Wood in Cuba have shown us exactly how to practice this justice and benevolence in dealing with other peoples—a justice and benevolence which can be shown, not by shirking our duty and abandoning to self-destruction those unfit to govern themselves, but by doing our duty by staying with them and teaching them how to govern themselves, by uplifting them spiritually and materially. Here at home we are obeying this maxim of Washington just so far as we help in every movement, whether undertaken by the government, or as is, and should be, more often the case, by voluntary action among private citizens, for the betterment of our own people. Observe that Washington speaks both of justice and benevolence, and that he puts justice first. We must be generous, we must help our poorer brother, but above all we must remember to be just; and the first step toward securing justice is to treat every man on his worth as a man, showing him no special favor, but so far as may be holding open for him the door of opportunity so that reward may wait upon honest and intelligent endeavor.

Again Washington said: "Cherish public credit." Just at the moment there is no attack on public credit, but if ever the temptation arises again let our people at the outset remember that the worst because the most insidious form of the appeal that would make a man a dishonest debtor is that which would persuade him that it is anything but dishonest for him to repudiate his debts.

Finally, it is peculiarly appropriate, when I have come to this city as the guest of the University of Pennsylvania, to quote another of Washington's maxims: "Promote, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened." Education may not make a man a good citizen, but most certainly ignorance tends to prevent his being a good citizen. Washington was far too much of a patriot, had far too much love for his fellow-citizens, to try to teach them that they could govern themselves unless they could develop a sound and enlightened public opinion. No nation can permanently retain free government unless it can retain a high average of citizenship; and there can be no such high average of citizenship without a high average of education, using the word in its broadest and truest sense to include the things of the soul as well as the things of the mind. School education can never supplant or take the place of self-education, still less can it in any way take the place of those rugged and manly qualities which we group together under the name of character; but it can be of enormous use in supplementing both. It is a source of just pride to every American that our people have so consistently acted in accordance with Washington's principle of promoting institutions for the diffusion of knowledge. There is nothing dearer to our hearts than our public school system, by which free primary education is provided for every one within our borders. The higher education, such as is provided by the University of Pennsylvania and kindred bodies, not only confers great benefits to those able to take advantage of it, but entails upon them corresponding duties.

The men who founded this nation had to deal with theories of government and the fundamental principles of free institutions. We are now concerned with a different set of questions, for the republic has been firmly established, its principles thoroughly tested and fully approved. To merely political issues have succeeded those of grave social and economic importance, the solution of which demands the best efforts of the best men. We have a right to expect that a wise and leading part in the effort to attain this solution will be taken by those who have been exceptionally blessed in the matter of obtaining an education. That college graduate is but a poor creature who does not feel when he leaves college that he has received something for which he owes a return. What he thus owes he can as a rule only pay by the way he bears himself throughout life. It is but occasionally that a college graduate can do much outright for his alma mater; he can best repay her by living a life that will reflect credit upon her, by so carrying himself as a citizen that men shall see that the years spent in training him have not been wasted. The educated man is entitled to no special privilege, save the inestimable privilege of trying to show that his education enables him to take the lead in striving to guide his fellows aright in the difficult task which is set to us of the twentieth century. The problems before us to-day are very complex, and are widely different from those which the men of Washington's generation had to face; but we can overcome them surely, and we can overcome them only if we approach them in the spirit which Washington and Washington's great supporters brought to bear upon the problems of their day—the spirit of sanity and of courage, the spirit which combines hard common sense with the loftiest idealism.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Commemoration of Washington's Birthday by the University of Pennsylvania and on Receiving the Degree of LL.D. from that Institution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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