Remarks at the Laying of the Cornerstone of the Lewis and Clark Memorial in Portland, Oregon

May 21, 1903

Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow citizens:

We have come here to-day to lay a cornerstone of a monument that is to call to mind the greatest single pioneering feat On this continent, the voyage across the continent by Lewis and Clark, which rounded out the ripe statesmanship of Jefferson and his fellows by giving to the United States all of the domain between the Mississippi and the Pacific. Following their advent came the reign of the fur-trader, and then some sixty years ago those entered in whose children were to possess the land. Across the continent in the early 40's came the ox-drawn, white-topped wagons bearing the pioneers, the stalwart, sturdy, sun-burned men, with their wives and their little ones who entered into the country to possess it. You have built up here this wonderful commonwealth, a commonwealth great in its past and infinitely greater in its future.

It was a pleasure to me today to have as part of my escort the men of the Second Oregon, who carried on the expansion of our people beyond the Pacific, as your fathers have carried it on to the Pacific. Speaking to you here I do not have to ask you to face the future high of heart and confident of soul. You could not assume any other attitude and be true to your blood, true to the position in which you find yourselves on this continent. I speak to the men of the Pacific Slope, to the men whose predecessors gave us this region because they were not afraid, because they did not seek the life of ease and safety, because their life training was not to shrink from obstacles but to meet and overcome them; and now I ask that this Nation go forward as it has gone forward in the past; I ask that it shape its life in accordance with the highest ideals; I ask that we govern the Philippines primarily in the interest of the people of the islands, and just so long as men like Taft and Luke Wright are there they will be so governed; I ask that our name be a synonym for truthful and fair dealing with all the nations of the world; and I ask two things in connection with our foreign policy—that we never wrong the weak and that we never flinch from the strong.

Base is the man who inflicts wrong, and base is the man who suffers a wrong to be done him.

I was greeted here today by men of the Grand Army of the Republic, by the men who wear the button which shows that in the times that tried men's souls they were willing to prove their truth on war's red touchstone. In those days we won because the men who responded to the call of Abraham Lincoln had iron in the blood, because in addition to having a lofty ideal, in addition to being resolute that there should indeed be freedom and unity within the borders of the Republic founded by the men of '76, they had the courage, the hardihood and the strength to make them realize their ideal in war, in battle. I ask of the men today that they do their duty as the men of yesterday did theirs. Remember this, if we only pay homage to their deeds in words, we show ourselves unworthy to be their successors. We can pay homage to them only by behaving in time of trial as they behaved in their time of trial. In 1861 if our men had confined themselves to glorifying the acts of the men of 1776, we would not have anything to glorify now; the President of this Republic is able to travel across the Pacific Slope and still be just as much in his country as on the Atlantic Slope, because you of '61 dared and did and died at need, but triumphed in the end.

Today the Secretary of the Navy spoke of the great pride we take in the feats of the mighty battleship which bears the name of this State—the Oregon. It is a good thing to cheer her, but it is a better thing to see that we keep on building other ships like her, but even better. That is the right way to cheer the Oregon; to see to it that our Senators and Representatives in Congress go on with the building up of the United States Navy. Whether we wish it or not we have to be a great power; we have to play a great part. All we can decide is whether we will play that part well or ill, and if I know my countrymen there is scant doubt as to how the decision will come out. We can glory now in the deeds of Manilla and Santiago, because for the dozen years before our people were building up the Navy. The Navy which won in '98 won because for a dozen years before our people had been building ships and seeing that the officers and men were trained in their use. It is too late to improve a Navy when the need comes. Not one ship which counted effectively in the war of '98 was built in that year or even the year before. They were all built from two to fifteen years in advance—and the men of Manila and Santiago, do you think they learned their trade after it became evident that war could not be averted? Not a bit of it. They were trained through years of practice to handle the ships, and the guns, and the engines, and we won with such small loss of life and so decisively because we had men who, when they shot, hit And to hit in time of war it means you have to spend money for powder in time of peace. I ask that you show your appreciation of what the Navy did in '98, that you show your appreciation of what was done in the past by the pioneers who won this land by making ready for the future. If we do not, then our children when they look back for cause of pride in our history will have to skip our generation. I ask that we, the inheritors of the glory of the men who founded the Republic under Washington, of the men who saved it under Lincoln, in our turn play our part and do aright the lesser tasks of today.

We have met to commemorate a mighty pioneer feat, a feat of the old days, when men needed to call upon every ounce of courage and hardihood and manliness they possessed in order ta make good our claim to this continent. Let us in our turn with equal courage, equal hardihood and manliness carry on the task that our forefathers have intrusted to our hands; and let us resolve that we will leave to our children and our children's children an even mightier heritage than we received in our turn. I ask it, and I am sure that it will be granted. I know you men and women of Oregon; men and women of the United States; and because I know you I am confident that before this Republic there lies a future so brilliant that even the deeds of the past will seem dim in comparison.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Laying of the Cornerstone of the Lewis and Clark Memorial in Portland, Oregon Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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