Remarks at the Founders' Day Banquet of the Union League in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mr. President, gentlemen of the Union League:
Forty years ago this club was founded, in the dark days of the Civil War, to uphold the hands of Abraham Lincoln and give aid to those who battled for the Union and for human liberty. Two years ago President McKinley came here as your guest to thank you, and through you all those far-sighted and loyal men who had supported him in his successful effort to keep untarnished the national good faith at home and the national honor abroad, and to bring back to this country the material well-being which we now so abundantly enjoy. It was no accident which made the men of this club who stood as in a peculiar sense the champions and upholders of the principles of Lincoln in the early sixties stand no less stoutly for those typified in the person of McKinley during the closing years of the century. The qualities apt to make men respond to the call of duty in one crisis are also apt to make them respond to a similar call in a crisis of a different character.
The traits which enabled our people to pass unscathed through the fiery ordeal of the Civil War were the traits upon which we had to rely in the less serious, but yet serious, dangers by which we were menaced in 1896, 1898, and 1900.
From the very beginning our people have markedly combined practical capacity for affairs with power of devotion to an ideal. The lack of either quality would have rendered the possession of the other of small value. Mere ability to achieve success in things concerning the body would not have atoned for the failure to live the life of high endeavor; and, on the other hand, without a foundation of those qualities which bring material prosperity there would be nothing on which the higher life could be built. The men of the Revolution would have failed if they had not possessed alike devotion to liberty and ability (once liberty had been achieved) to show common-sense and self-restraint in its use. The men of the great Civil War would have failed had they not possessed the business capacity which developed and organized their resources in addition to the stern resolution to expend these resources as freely as they expended their blood in furtherance of the great cause for which their hearts leaped. It is this combination of qualities that has made our people succeed. Other peoples have been as devoted to liberty, and yet, because of lack of hard-headed common-sense and of ability to show restraint and subordinate individual passions for the general good, have failed so signally in the struggle of life as to become a byword among the nations. Yet other peoples, again, have possessed all possible thrift and business capacity, but have been trampled under foot, or have played a sordid and ignoble part in the world, because their business capacity was unaccompanied by any of the lift toward nobler things which marks a great and generous nation. The stern but just rule of judgment for humanity is that each nation shall be known by its fruits; and if there are no fruits, if the nation has failed, it matters but little whether it has failed through meanness of soul or through lack of robustness of character. We must judge a nation by the net result of its life and activity. And so we must judge the policies of those who at any time control the destinies of a nation.
Therefore I ask you to-night to look at the results of the policies championed by President McKinley on both the occasions when he appealed to the people for their suffrages, and to see how well that appeal has been justified by the event. Most certainly I do not claim all the good that has befallen us during the past six years as due solely to any human policy. No legislation, however wise, no Administration, however efficient, can secure prosperity to a people or greatness to a nation. All that can be done by the law-maker and the administrator is to give the best chance possible for the people of the country them selves to show the stuff that is in them. President McKinley was elected in 1896 on the specific pledge that he would keep the financial honor of the Nation untarnished and would put our economic system on a stable basis, so that our people might be given a chance to secure the return of prosperity. Both pledges have been so well kept that, as is but too often the case, men are beginning to forget how much the keeping of them has meant. When people have become very prosperous they tend to become sluggishly indifferent to the continuation of the policies that brought about their prosperity. At such times as these it is of course a mere law of nature that some men prosper more than others, and too often those who prosper less, in their jealousy of their more fortunate brethren, forget that all have prospered somewhat. I ask you soberly to remember that the complaint made at the present day of our industrial or economic conditions never takes the form of stating that any of our people are less well off than they were seven or eight years back, before President McKinley came in and his policies had a chance to be applied; but that the complaint is that some people have received more than their share of the good things of the world. There was no such complaint eight years ago, in the summer of 1894. Complaint was not then that anyone had prospered too much; it was that no one had prospered enough. Let each one of us think of the affairs of his own household and his own business, let each of us compare his standing now with his standing eight years back, and then let him answer for himself whether it is not true that the policies for which William McKinley stood in 1896 have justified themselves thrice over by the results they have brought about.
In 1900 the issues were in part the same, but new ones had been added. Prosperity had returned; the gold standard was assured; our tariff was remodeled on the lines that have marked it at all periods when our well-being was greatest. But as must often happen, the President elected on certain issues was obliged to face others entirely unforeseen. Rarely indeed have our greatest men made issues—they have shown their greatness by meeting them as they arose. President McKinley faced the problems of the Spanish War and those that followed it exactly as he had faced the problems of our economic and financial needs. As a sequel to the war with Spain we found ourselves in possession of the Philippines under circumstances which rendered it necessary to subdue a formidable insurrection which made it impossible for us with honor or with regard to the welfare of the island to withdraw therefrom. The occasion was seized by the opponents of the President for trying to raise a new issue, on which they hoped they might be more successful, than on the old. The clamor raised against him was joined in not only by many honest men who were led astray by a mistaken view or imperfect knowledge of the facts, but by all who feared effort, who shrank from the rough work of endeavor. The campaign of 1900 had to be fought largely upon the new issue thus raised. President McKinley met it squarely. Two years and eight months ago, before his second nomination, he spoke as follows:
"We believe that the century of free government which the American people have enjoyed has not rendered them irresolute and faithless, but has fitted them for the great task of lifting up and assisting to better conditions and larger liberty those distant peoples who through the issue of battle have become our wards. Let us fear not. There is no occasion for faint hearts, no excuse for regrets. Nations do not grow in strength, the cause of liberty and law is not advanced by the doing of easy things. The harder the task the greater will be the result, the benefit, and the honor. To doubt our power to accomplish it is to lose faith in the soundness and strength of our popular institutions... We have the new care and cannot shift it. And, breaking up the camp of ease and isolation, let us bravely and hope fully and soberly continue the march of faithful service, and falter not until the work is done... The burden is our opportunity. The opportunity is greater than the burden."
There spoke the man who preached the gospel of hope as well as the gospel of duty, and on the issue thus fairly drawn between those who said we would do our new work well and triumphantly and those who said we would fail lamentably in the effort, the contest was joined. We won. And now I ask you, two years after the victory, to look across the seas and judge for yourselves whether or not the promise has been kept. The prophets of disaster have seen their predictions so completely falsified by the event that it is actually difficult to arouse even a passing interest in their failure. To answer them now, to review their attack on our army, is of merely academic interest. They played their brief part of obstruction and clamor; they said their say; and the current of our life went over them and they sank under it as did their predecessors who, thirty-six years before, had declared that another and greater war was a failure, that another and greater struggle for true liberty was only a contest for subjugation in which the United States could never succeed. The insurrection among the Filipinos has been absolutely quelled. The war has been brought to an end sooner than even the most sanguine of us dared to hope. The world has not in recent years seen any military task done with more soldierly energy and ability; and done, moreover, in a spirit of great humanity. The strain on the army was terrible, for the conditions of climate and soil made their work harassing to an extraordinary degree, and the foes in the field were treacherous and cruel, not merely toward our men, but toward the great multitude of peaceful is landers who welcomed our rule. Under the strain of well-nigh intolerable provocation there were shameful instances, as must happen in all wars, where the soldiers forgot themselves, and retaliated evil for evil. There were one hundred thousand of our men in the Philippines, a hundred thousand hired for a small sum a month apiece, put there under conditions that strained their nerves to the breaking point, and some of the hundred thousand did what they ought not to have done. But out of a hundred thousand men at home, have all been faultless? Every effort has been made to detect such cases, to punish the offenders, and to prevent any recurrence of the deed. It is a cruel injustice to the gallant men who fought so well in the Philippines not to recognize that these instances were exceptional, and that the American troops who served in the far-off tropic islands deserve praise the same in kind that has always been given to those who have well and valiantly fought for the honor of our common flag and common country. The work of civil administration has kept pace with the work of military administration, and when on July 4 last amnesty and peace were declared throughout the islands the civil government assumed the complete control. Peace and order now prevail and a greater measure of prosperity and of happiness than the Filipinos have ever hitherto known in all their dark and checkered history; and each one of them has a greater measure of liberty, a greater chance of happiness, and greater safety for his life and property than he or his fore fathers have ever before known.
Thus we have met each task that has confronted us during the past six years. Thus we have kept every promise made in 1896 and 1900. We have a right to be proud of the memories of the last six years.
But we must remember that each victory only opens the chance for a new struggle; that the remembrance of triumphs achieved in the past is of use chiefly if it spurs us to fresh effort in the present. No nation has ever prospered as we are prospering now, and we must see to it that by our own folly we do not mar this prosperity. Yet we must see to it also that wherever wrong flourishes it be repressed. It is not the habit of our people to shirk issues, but squarely to face them. It is not the habit of our people to treat a good record in the past as anything but a reason for expecting an even better record in the present; and no Administration, gentlemen, should ask to be judged save on those lines. The tremendous growth of our industrialism has brought to the front many problems with which we must deal; and I trust that we shall deal with them along the lines indicated in speech and in action by that profound jurist and upright and fearless public servant who represents Pennsylvania in the Cabinet--Attorney-General Knox. The question of the so-called trusts is but one of the questions we must meet in connection with our industrial system. There are many of them and they are serious; but they can and will be met. Time may be needed for making the solution perfect; but it is idle to tell this people that we have not the power to solve such a problem as that of exercising adequate supervision over the great industrial combinations of today. We have the power and we shall find out the way. We shall not act hastily or recklessly; but we have firmly made up our minds that a solution, and a right solution, shall be found, and found it will be.
No nation as great as ours can expect to escape the penalty of great ness, for greatness does not come without trouble and labor. There are problems ahead of us at home and problems abroad, because such problems are incident to the working out of a great national career. We do not shrink from them. Scant is our patience with those who preach the gospel of craven weakness. No nation under the sun ever yet played a part worth playing if it feared its fate overmuch—if it did not have the courage to be great. We of America, we, the sons of a nation yet in the pride of its lusty youth, spurn the teachings of dis trust, spurn the creed of failure and despair. We know that the future is ours if we have in us the manhood to grasp it, and we enter the new century girding our loins for the contest before us, rejoicing in the struggle, and resolute so to bear ourselves that the Nation's future shall even surpass her glorious past.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Founders' Day Banquet of the Union League in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343543