Remarks at the Reunion of the Department of the Potomac, Grand Army of the Republic at the New Willard Hotel

February 19, 1902

Mr. Chairman, Commander-in-Chief, and you, my comrades:

I can say that there is nothing else of which I am quite so proud as having won, in a sense, the right to claim comradeship with you. And, gentlemen, I recollect speaking with a friend at the time of the Spanish War as to why we went, and it was agreed that it was simply because we could not stay away. We had taken to heart the great object lesson that you gave. I am very glad to have the chance of seeing you this evening and of being with you. I would be but a poor American if I did not appreciate to the full the debt under which America rests to you, not alone for the lesson in war that you have given, but for what that lesson teaches as to peace. I meet you here and I see the general and the man from the ranks honor one another by the highest title either knows—comrade. I see you applying the great lesson of brother hood—the lesson that must be applied in civil life no less than in military life if we are to work out, as we shall work out, aright the problems that face the Republic. The war in which I was engaged was a small affair; but it gave us an understanding of what you had done and of what you had been through. I know pretty well what kind of memories you have. I know what you did, what you risked, what you sacrificed. I know what it meant to you, and I know why you did it. There are two or three lessons that you taught that I hope this country will not only never forget, but will never cease applying. In the first place the motive— the tissue of motives that spurred you on—the love for liberty, love for union, and the love for the stable and ordered freedom of a great people. You braved nights in the freezing mud of the trenches in winter, and the marches under scorching midsummer suns; fever cots, wounds, insufficient food, exhausting fatigue of a type that those that have not tried it cannot even understand. You did it without one thought of the trivial monetary reward at the moment; you did it because your souls spurred you on. And that is the reason why to this day, when any man speaks to a body of veterans he speaks to a body of men who are instant to respond to any call for adherence to a lofty ideal. In other words, you practiced, and by practicing preached, in the strongest manner, the ideal of doing your duty, of doing duty when duty calls, without thought of what the reward might be. In the days when the sad, kindly, patient Lincoln—mighty Lincoln—stood in the White House like a high priest of the people, between the horns of the altar, and poured out the blood of the bravest and best, it was because only by that sacrifice could the flag that had been rent in sunder once again be made without a seam. You taught the ideal of duty—duty, a word that stands above glory, or any other word. Glory is a good word, too, but duty is a better one.

You taught, in addition to that, brotherhood. In the ranks, as you stood there shoulder to shoulder, little anyone of you cared what the man next to you was as regarded wealth, trade, or education, if he was in very truth a man. And, friends, short would have been our shrift if in our army as a whole there had been any failure to exercise just that type of judgment—to exercise the judgment on the man as a man; short would have been our shrift if we had failed to do justice to the bricklayer on the one hand, or to the banker on the other; if we had shown either contempt of the one, or the no less mean emotion of envy for the other. If we are to go on, as we shall and must go on in our national career, we must apply in the civic life of our nation exactly the principles which obtained in the Grand Army of the republic. There are plenty of foes to fight and we cannot afford to have honest men betrayed into hostility toward one another; betrayed into acting toward one another in a way that will permanently deteriorate the standard of our national character. We can afford to disagree on questions of proper political difference. There are plenty such. But we cannot afford, if we are to remain true to the ideals of the past, to differ about those ideals. We cannot afford to do less than justice to any man. We cannot afford to shrink from seeing that the right obtains; nor, on the other hand, to rebuke any effort to stir up those dark and evil forces which lurk in each man's breast, and which need to be kept down, not excited.

The Commander-in-Chief spoke of the great and good President of President McKinley—who died for the people exactly as Abraham Lincoln died. You who wore the blue in the early sixties warred against that spirit of disunion which, if successful, would have meant wide spread governmental anarchy throughout this land. You warred for orderly liberty. So now it behooves each of us so to conduct his civil life, so to do his duty as a citizen, that we shall in the most effective way war against the spirit of anarchy in all its forms. You did mighty deeds, and you leave us more than mighty deeds, for you leave us the memory of how you did them. You leave us not only the victory, but the spirit that lay behind it and shone through it. You leave us not only the triumph, but the memory of the patient resolution, of the suffering, of the dogged endurance and heroic daring through which that triumph came to pass. You in your youth and early manhood took up the greatest task which fell to the lot of any generation of our people to perform. You did it well. We have lesser tasks, and yet tasks of great and vital importance. Woe to us if we do not show our selves worthy to be your successors, by doing our lesser tasks with the same firm determination for right that you displayed when you fought to a finish the great Civil War, when you upheld the arms of Abraham Lincoln, and followed to victory the flag of Ulysses S. Grant.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Reunion of the Department of the Potomac, Grand Army of the Republic at the New Willard Hotel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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