Remarks at the Laying of the Cornerstone of the New Law School of Chicago University in Chicago, Illinois

April 02, 1903

Mr. President, men and women of the university, and you, my fellow citizens, people of the great city of the West:

I am glad indeed to have the chance of being with you this afternoon to receive this degree at the hands of President Harper, and in what I have to say there is little that I. can do save to emphasize certain points made in the address of Dr. Judson. I speak to you of this university, to you who belong to the institution, the creation of which has so nobly rounded out the great career of mercantile enterprise and prosperity which Chicago not merely embodies but of which in a peculiar sense the city stands as symbolical.

It is of vast importance to our well being as a nation that there should be a foundation deep and broad of material well being. No nation can amount to anything great unless the individuals composing it have so worked with the head or with the hand for their own benefit, as well as for the benefit of their fellows in material ways, that the sum of the national prosperity is great.

But that alone does not make true greatness or anything approaching true greatness. It is only the foundation for it, and it is the existence of institutions such as this, above all the existence of institutions turning out citizens of the type which I know you turn out, that stands as one of the really great assets of which a nation can speak when it claims true greatness. From this institution you will send out scholars, and it is a great and a fine thing to send out scholars to add to the sum of productive scholarship.

To do that is to take your part in doing one of the great duties of civilization, but you will do more than that, for greater than the school is the man, and you will send forth men; men who will scorn what is base and ignoble; men of high ideals who yet have the robust sense necessary to allow for the achievement of the high ideal by practical methods. It was also a sage who said that it was easier to be a harmless dove than a wise serpent.

Now, the aim in production of citizenship must not be merely the production of harmless citizenship. Of course it is essential that you should not harm your fellows, but if after you are through with life all that can be truthfully said of you is that you did not do any harm it must also be truthfully added that you did no particular good.

Remember, that the commandment had the two sides, to be harmless as doves and wise as serpents; to be moral in the highest and broadest sense of the word; to have the morality that does and fears, the morality that can suffer and the morality that can achieve results. To have that, and coupled with it to have the energy, the power to accomplish things which every good citizen must have if his citizenship is to be of real value to the community. Dr. Judson said in his address today that what we need—the things that we need are elemental.

We need to produce, not genius, not brilliancy, but the homely, commonplace, elemental virtues. The reason we won in 1776, the reason that in the great trial from 1861 to 1865 this nation rang true metal was because the average citizen had in him the stuff out of which good citizenship has been made from time immemorial, because he had in him courage, honesty, common sense.

Brilliancy and genius? Yes, if we can have them in addition to the other virtues. If not, if brilliant genius comes without the accompaniment of the substantial qualities of character and soul, then it is a menace to the nation.

If it comes in addition to those qualities, then, of course, we get the great general leader, we get the Lincoln, we get the man who can do more than any common man. But without it much can be done. The men who carried musket and saber in the armies of the East and the West through the four grim years which at last saw the sun of peace rise at Appomattox had only the ordinary qualities, but they were pretty good ordinary qualities.

They were the qualities which, when possessed as those men possessed them, made in their sum what we call heroism, and what those men had need to have in time of war we must have in time of peace, if we are to make this nation what she shall ultimately become, if we are to make this nation in very fact the great republic, the greatest power upon which the sun has ever shone. And no quality is enough.

First of all, honesty, and again remember I am using the word in its broadest signification, honesty, decency, clean living at home, clean living abroad, fair dealing in one's own family, fair dealing with the public.

And honesty is not enough. If a man is never so honest, but is timid, there is nothing to be done with him. In the Civil War you needed patriotism in the soldier, but if the soldier had patriotism, yet felt compelled to run away, you could not win the fight with him. Together with honesty you must have the second of the virile, virtues, courage; courage to dare, courage to stand against the wrong and to fight aggressively and vigorously for the right.

And if you have only honesty and courage you may yet be an entirely worthless citizen. An honest and valiant fool has but a small place of usefulness in the body politic. With honesty, with courage, must go common-sense; ability to work with your fellows, ability when you go out of the academic halls to work with the men of this nation, the men of millions who have not got an academic training, who will accept your leadership on just one consideration, and that is if you show yourself in the rough work of actual life fit and able to lead, and only so.

You need honesty, you need courage and you need common-sense. Above all, you need it in the work to be done in the building the comer stone of which we laid today, the law school, out of which are to come the men who, at the bar and on the bench, make and construe, and in construing make the laws of this country, the men who must teach by their actions all our people that this is in fact essentially a government of orderly liberty under the law.

Men and women, you the graduates of this university, you the undergraduates, upon you rests a heavy burden of responsibility; much has been given to you; much will be expected of you. A great work lies before you. If you fail in it you discredit yourselves, you discredit the whole cause of education. And you can succeed and will succeed if you work in the spirit of the words and the deeds of President Harper and of those men whom I have known so well who are in your faculty today. I thank you for having given me the chance to speak to you.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Laying of the Cornerstone of the New Law School of Chicago University in Chicago, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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