Remarks at the Fair Ground in Bangor, Maine

August 27, 1902

My fellow citizens:

I am glad to greet the farmers of Maine. During the century that has closed, the growth of industrialism has necessarily meant that cities and towns have increased in population more rapidly than the country districts. And yet it remains true now, as it always has been, that in the last resort the country districts are those in which we are surest to find the old American spirit, the old American habits of thought and ways of living. Conditions have changed in the country far less than they have changed in the cities, and in consequence there has been little breaking away from the methods of life which have produced the great majority of the leaders of the Republic in the past. Almost all of our great Presidents have been brought up in the country, and most of them worked hard on the farms in their youth and got their early mental training in the healthy democracy of farm life.

The forces which made these farm-bred boys leaders of men when they had come to their full manhood are still at work in our country districts. Self-help and individual initiative remain to a peculiar degree typical of life in the country, life on a farm, in the lumbering camp, on a ranch. Neither the farmers nor their hired hands can work through combinations as readily as the capitalists or wage-workers of cities can work.

It must not be understood from this that there has been no change in farming and farm life. The contrary is the case. There has been much change, much progress. The granges and similar organizations, the farmers' institutes, and all the agencies which promote intelligent co-operation and give opportunity for social and intellectual intercourse among the farmers, have played a large part in raising the level of life and work in the country districts. In the domain of government, the Department of Agriculture since its foundation has accomplished results as striking as those obtained under any other branch of the national administration. By scientific study of all matters connected with the advancement of farm life; by experimental stations; by the use of trained agents, sent to the uttermost countries of the globe; by the practical application of anything which in theory has been demonstrated to be efficient; in these ways, and in many others, great good has been accomplished in raising the standard of productiveness in farm work throughout the country. We live in an era when the best results can only be achieved, if to individual self-help we add the mutual self-help which comes by combination, both of citizens in their individual capacity and of citizens working through the state as an instrument. The farmers of the country have grown more and more to realize this, and farming has tended more and more to take its place as an applied science—though, as with everything else, the theory must be tested in practical work, and can avail only when applied in practical fashion.

But after all this has been said, it remains true that the countryman —the man on the farm, more than any other of our citizens today, is called upon continually to exercise the qualities which we like to think of as typical of the United States throughout its history—the qualities of rugged independence, masterful resolution, and individual energy and resourcefulness. He works hard (for which no man is to be pitied), and often he lives hard (which may not be pleasant); but his life is passed in healthy surroundings, surroundings which tend to develop a fine type of citizenship. In the country, moreover, the conditions are fortunately such as to allow a closer touch between man and man, than, too often, we find to be the case in the city. Men feel more vividly the underlying sense of brotherhood, of community of interest. I do not mean by this that there are not plenty of problems connected with life in our rural districts. There are many problems; and great wisdom and earnest disinterestedness in effort are needed for their solution.

After all, we are one people, with the same fundamental characteristics, whether we live in the city or in the country, in the East or in the West, in the North or in the South. Each of us, unless he is contented to be a cumberer of the earth's surface, must strive to do his life-work with his whole heart. Each must remember that, while he will be noxious to every one unless he first do his duty by himself, he must also strive ever to do his duty by his fellow. The problem of how to do these duties is acute everywhere. It is most acute in great cities, but it exists in the country, too. A man, to be a good citizen, must first be a good bread-winner, a good husband, a good father—I hope the father of many healthy children; just as a woman's first duty is to be a good housewife and mother. The business duties, the home duties, the duties to one's family, come first. The couple who bring up plenty of healthy children, who leave behind them many sons and daughters fitted in their turn to be good citizens, emphatically deserve well of the State.

But duty to one's self and one's family does not exclude duty to one's neighbor. Each of us, rich or poor, can help his neighbor at times; and to do this he must be brought into touch with him, into sympathy with him. Any effort is to be welcomed that brings people closer together, so as to secure a better understanding among those whose walks of life are in ordinary circumstances far apart. Probably the good done is almost equally great on both sides, no matter which one may seem to be helping the other. But it must be kept in mind that no good will be accomplished at all by any philanthropic or charitable work, unless it is done along certain definite lines. In the first place, if the work is done in a spirit of condescension, it would be better never to attempt it. It is almost as irritating to be patronized as to be wronged. The only safe way of working is to try to find out some scheme by which it is possible to make a common effort for the common good. Each of us needs at times to have a helping hand stretched out to him or her. Every one of us slips on some occasion, and shame to the fellow who then refuses to stretch out the hand that should always be ready to help the man who stumbles. It is our duty to lift him up; but it is also our duty to remember that there is no earthly use in trying to carry him. If a man will submit to being carried, that is sufficient to show that he is not worth carrying. In the long run, the only kind of help that really avails is the help which teaches a man to help himself. Such help every man who has been blessed in life should try to give to those who are less fortunate, and such help can be accepted with entire self-respect.

The aim to set before ourselves in trying to aid one another is to give that aid under conditions which will harm no man's self-respect, and which will teach the less fortunate how to help themselves as their stronger brothers do. To give such aid it is necessary not only to possess the right kind of heart, but also the right kind of head. Hardness of heart is a dreadful quality, but it is doubtful whether, in the long run, it works more damage than softness of head. At any rate, both are undesirable. The prerequisite to doing good work in the field of philanthropy—in the field of social effort, undertaken with one's fellows for the common good—is that it shall be undertaken in a spirit of broad sanity no less than of broad and loving charity.

The other day I picked up a little book called "The Simple Life," written by an Alsatian, Charles Wagner, and he preaches such wholesome, sound doctrine that I wish it could be used as a tract throughout our country. To him the whole problem of our complex, somewhat feverish modern life can be solved only by getting men and women to lead better lives. He sees that the permanence of liberty and democracy depends upon a majority of the people being steadfast in morality and in that good plain sense which, as a national attribute, comes only as the result of the slow and painful labor of centuries, and which can be squandered in a generation by the thoughtless and vicious. He preaches the doctrine of the superiority of the moral to the material. He does not undervalue the material, but he insists, as we of this nation should always insist, upon the infinite superiority of the moral, and the sordid destruction which comes upon either the nation or the individual if it or he becomes absorbed only in the desire to get wealth. The true line of cleavage lies between good citizen and bad citizen; and the line of cleavage may, and often does, run at right angles to that which divides the rich and the poor. The sinews of virtue lie in man's capacity to care for what is outside himself. The man who gives himself up to the service of his appetites, the man who the more goods he has the more wants, has surrendered himself to destruction. It makes little difference whether he achieves his purpose or not. If his point of view is all wrong, he is a bad citizen whether he be rich or poor. It is a small matter to the community whether in arrogance and insolence he has misused great wealth, or whether, though poor, he is possessed by the mean and fierce desire to seize a morsel, the biggest possible, of that prey which the fortunate of earth consume. The man who lives simply, and justly, and honor ably, whether rich or poor, is a good citizen. Those who dream only of idleness and pleasure, who hate others, and fail to recognize the duty of each man to his brother, these, be they rich or poor, are the enemies of the State. The misuse of property is one manifestation of the same evil spirit which, under changed circumstances, denies the right of property because this right is in the hands of others. In a purely material civilization the bitterness of attack on another's possession is only additional proof of the extraordinary importance attached to possession itself. When outward well-being, instead of being regarded as a valuable foundation on which happiness may with wisdom be built, is mistaken for happiness itself, so that material prosperity becomes the one standard, then, alike by those who enjoy such prosperity in slothful or criminal ease, and by those who in no less evil manner rail at, envy, and long for it, poverty is held to be shameful, and money, whether well or ill gotten, to stand for merit.

All this does not mean condemnation of progress. It is mere folly to try to dig up the dead past, and scant is the good that comes from asceticism and retirement from the world. But let us make sure that our progress is in the essentials as well as in the incidentals. Material prosperity without the moral lift toward righteousness means a diminished capacity for happiness and a debased character. The worth of a civilization is the worth of the man at its centre. When this man lacks moral rectitude, material progress only makes bad worse, and social problems still darker and more complex.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Fair Ground in Bangor, Maine Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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