Remarks at the Pan-American Missionary Service at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul at Mount St. Alban

October 25, 1903

Bishop Satterlee, and to you, representatives of the Church both at home and abroad, and to all of you, my friends and fellow citizens:

I extend greeting, and in your name I especially welcome those who are in a sense the guests of the nation to-day. In what I am about to say to you, I wish to dwell upon certain thoughts suggested by three different quotations: In the first place, "Thou shalt serve the Lord with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind;" the next, "Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves;" and finally, in the Collect which you, Bishop Doane, just read, that "we being ready both in body and soul may cheerfully accomplish those things which thou commandest."

To an audience such as this I do not have to say anything as to serving the cause of decency with heart and with soul. I want to dwell, however, upon the fact that we have the right to claim from you not merely that you shall have heart in your work, not merely that you shall put your souls into it, but that you shall give the best that your minds have to it also. In the eternal, the unending warfare for righteousness and against evil, the friends of what is good need to remember that in addition to being decent they must be efficient; that good intentions, high purposes, can not be in themselves effective, that they are in no sense a substitute for power to make those purposes, those intentions felt in action. Of course we must first have the purpose and the intention. If our powers are not guided aright it is better that we should not have them at all; but we must have the power itself before we can guide it aright.

In the second text we are told not merely to be harmless as doves, but also to be wise as serpents. One of our American humorists who veils under jocular phrases much deep wisdom—one of those men has remarked that it is much easier to be a harmless dove than a wise serpent. Now, we are not to be excused if we do not show both qualities. It is not very much praise to give a man to say that he is harmless. We have a right to ask that in addition to the fact that he does no harm to any one he shall possess the wisdom and the strength to do good to his neighbor; that together with innocence, together with purity of motive, shall be joined the wisdom and strength to make that purity effective, that motive translated into substantial result.

Finally, in the quotation from the Collect, we ask that we may be made ready both in body and in soul, that we may cheerfully accomplish those things that we are commanded to do. Ready both in body and in soul; that means that we must fit ourselves physically and mentally, fit ourselves to work with the weapons necessary for dealing with this life no less than with the higher, spiritual weapons; fit our selves thus to do the work commanded; and moreover, to do it cheer fully. Small is our use for the man who individually helps any of us and shows that he does it grudgingly. We had rather not be helped than be helped in such fashion. A favor extended in a manner which shows that the man is sorry that he has to grant it is robbed, some times of all, and sometimes of more than all, its benefits. So, in serving the Lord, if we serve him, if we serve the cause of decency, the cause of righteousness, in a way that impresses others with the fact that we are sad in doing it, our service is robbed of an immense proportion of its efficacy. We have a right to ask a cheerful heart, a right to ask a buoyant and cheerful spirit among those to whom is granted the inestimable privilege of doing the Lord's work in this world. The chance to do work, the duty to do work is not a penalty; it is a privilege. Let me quote a sentence that I have quoted once before: "In this life the man who wins to any goal worth winning almost always comes to that goal with a burden bound on his shoulders." The ma who does best in this world, the woman who does best, almost inevitably does it because he or she carries some burden. Life is so constituted that the man or the woman who has not some responsibility is thereby deprived of the deepest happiness that can come to mankind, because each and every one of us, if he or she is fit to live in the world, must be conscious that responsibility always rests on him or on her—the responsibility of duty toward those dependent upon us; the responsibility of duty toward our families, toward our friends, toward our fellow-citizens; the responsibility of duty to wife and child, to the state, to the church. Not only can no man shirk some or all of those responsibilities, but no man worth his salt will wish to shirk them. On the contrary, he will welcome thrice over the fortune that puts them upon him.

In closing, I want to call your attention to something that is especially my business for the time being, and that is measurably your business all the time, or else you are unfit to be citizens of this Republic. In the seventh hymn which we sung, in the last line, you all joined in singing "God save the State!" Do you intend merely to sing that, or to try to do it? If you intend merely to sing it, your part in doing it will be but small. The State will be saved, if the Lord puts it into the heart of the average man so to shape his life that the State shall be worth saving, and only on those terms. We need civic righteousness. The best constitution that the wit of man has ever devised, the best institutions that the ablest statesmen in the world have ever reduced to practice by law or by custom, all these shall be of no avail if they are not vivified by the spirit which makes a State great by making its citizens honest, just and brave. I do not ask you as practical believers in applied Christianity to take part one way or the other in matters that are merely partisan. There are plenty of questions about which honest men can and do differ greatly and very intensely, but as to which the triumph of either side may be compatible with the welfare of the State—a lesser degree of welfare or a greater degree of welfare but compatible with the welfare of the State. But there are certain great principles, such as those which Cromwell would have called "fundamentals," concerning which no man has a right to have more than one opinion. Such a question is honesty. If you have not honesty in the average private citizen, in the average public servant, then all else goes for nothing. The abler a man is, the more dexterous, the shrewder, the bolder, why the more dangerous he is if he has not the root of right living and right thinking in him—and that in private life, and even more in public life. Exactly as in time of war, although you need in each fighting man far more than courage, yet all else counts for nothing if there is not that courage upon which to base it, so in our civil life, although we need that the average man in private life, that the average public servant, shall have far more than honesty, yet all other qualities go for nothing or for worse than nothing unless honesty underlies them—honesty in public life and honesty in private life; not only the honesty that keeps its skirts technically clear, but the honesty that is such according to the spirit as well as the letter of the law; the honesty that is aggressive, the honesty that not merely deplores corruption—it is easy enough to deplore corruption—but that wars against it and tramples it under foot. I ask for that type of honesty, I ask for militant honesty, for the honesty of the kind that makes those who have it discontented with themselves as long as they have failed to do everything that in them lies to stamp out dishonesty wherever it can be found, in high place or in low. And let us not flatter ourselves, we who live in countries where the people rule, that it is ultimately possible for the people to cast upon any but themselves the responsibilities for the shape the government and the social and political life of the community assume. I ask then that our people feel quickened within them burning indignation against wrong in every shape, and condemnation of that wrong, whether found in private or in public life. We have a right to demand courage of every man who wears the uniform; it is not so much a credit to him to have it, as it is shame unutterable to him if he lacks it. So when we demand honesty, we demand it not as entitling the possessor to praise, but as warranting the heartiest condemnation possible if he lacks it Surely in every movement for the betterment of our life, our life social in the truest and deepest sense, our life political, we have a special right to ask not merely support but leadership from those of the Church. We ask that you here to whom much has been given will remember that from you rightly much will be expected in return. For all of us here the lines have been cast in pleasant places. Each of us has been given one talent, or five, or ten talents, and each of us is in honor bound to use that talent or those talents aright, and to show at the end that he is entitled to the praise of having done well as a faithful servant.

I greet you this afternoon, and am glad to see you here, and I trust and believe that after this service every one of us will go home feeling that he or she has been warranted in coming here by the way in which he or she, after going home, takes up with fresh heart, with fresh courage, and with fresh and higher purpose the burden of life as that burden has been given to him or to her to carry.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Pan-American Missionary Service at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul at Mount St. Alban Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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