Remarks at the Unveiling of the Sherman Statue in Washington, DC
General Dodge, veterans of the four great armies, and you, my fellow citizens:
To-day we meet together to do honor to the memory of one of the great men whom, in the hour of her agony, our Nation brought forth for her preservation. The Civil War was not only in the importance of the issues at stake and of the outcome the greatest of modem times, but it was also, taking into account its duration, the severity of the fighting, and the size of the armies engaged, the greatest since the close of the Napoleonic struggles. Among the generals who rose to high position as leaders of the various armies in the field are many who will be remembered in our history as long as this history itself is remembered. Sheridan, the incarnation of fiery energy and prowess; Thomas, farsighted, cool-headed, whose steadfast courage burned ever highest in the supreme moment of the crisis; McClellan, with his extraordinary gift for organization; Meade, victor in one of the decisive battles of all time; Hancock, type of the true fighting man among the regulars; Logan, type of the true fighting man among the volunteers—the names of these and of many others will endure so long as our people hold sacred the memory of the fight for union and for liberty. High among these chiefs rise the figures of Grant and of Grant's great lieutenant, Sherman, whose statue here in the national capital is today to be unveiled. It is not necessary here to go over the long roll of Sherman's mighty feats. They are written large throughout the history of the Civil War. Our memories would be poor indeed if we did not recall them now, as we look along Pennsylvania Avenue and think of the great triumphal march which surged down its length when at the close of the war the victorious armies of the East and of the West met here in the capital of the Nation they had saved.
There is a peculiar fitness in commemorating the great deeds of the soldiers who preserved this Nation, by suitable monuments at the National Capital. I trust we shall soon have a proper statue of Abraham Lincoln, to whom more than to any other one man this Nation owes its salvation. Meanwhile, on behalf of the people of the Nation, I wish to congratulate all of you who have been instrumental in securing the erection of this statue to General Sherman.
The living can best show their respect for the memory of the great dead by the way in which they take to heart and act upon the lessons taught by the lives which made these dead men great Our homage to-day to the memory of Sherman comes from the depths of our being. We would be unworthy citizens did we not feel profound gratitude toward him, and those like him and under him, who, when the country called in her dire need, sprang forward with such gallant eagerness to answer that call. Their blood and their toil, their endurance and patriotism, have made us and all who come after us forever their debtors. They left us not merely a reunited country, but a country incalculably greater because of its rich heritage in the deeds which thus left it reunited. As a Nation we are the greater, not only for the valor and devotion to duty displayed by the men in blue, who won in the great struggle for the Union, but also for the valor and the loyalty of the men in gray toward what they regarded as right; for this war, thrice fortunate above all other recent wars in its outcome, left to all of us the right of brotherhood alike with. valiant victor and valiant vanquished.
Moreover, our homage must not only find expression on our lips; it must also show itself forth in our deeds. It is a great and glorious thing for a nation to be stirred to present triumph by the splendid memories of triumphs in the past. But it is a shameful thing for a nation, if these memories stir it only to empty boastings, to a pride that does not shrink from present abasement, to that self-satisfaction which accepts the high resolve and unbending effort of the father as an excuse for effortless ease or wrongly directed effort in the son. We of the present, if we are true to the past, must show by our lives that we have learned aright the lessons taught by the men who did the mighty deeds of the past. We must have in us the spirit which made the men of the Civil War what they were; the spirit which produced leaders such as Sherman; the spirit which gave to the average soldier the grim tenacity and resourcefulness that made the armies of Grant and Sherman as formidable fighting machines as this world has ever seen. We need their ruggedness of body, their keen and vigorous minds, and above all their dominant quality of forceful character.
Their lives teach us to strive after in our own lives, not the thing which is merely pleasant, but the thing which it is our duty to do. The life of duty, not the life of mere ease or mere pleasure—that is the kind of life which makes the great man as it makes the great nation.
We can not afford to lose the virtues which made the men of '61 to '65 great in war. No man is warranted in feeling pride in the deeds of the army and navy of the past if he does not back up the army and the navy of the present. If we are farsighted in our patriotism, there will be no let up in the work of building, and of keeping at the highest point of efficiency, a navy suited to the part the United States must hereafter play in the world, and of making and keeping our small regular army, which in the event of a great war can never be anything but the nucleus around which our volunteer armies must form themselves, the best army of its size to be found among the nations.
So much for our duties in keeping unstained the honor roll our fathers made in war. It is of even more instant need that we should show their spirit of patriotism in the affairs of peace. The duties of peace are with us always; those of war are but occasional; and with a nation as with a man, the worthiness of life depends upon the way in which the everyday duties are done. The home duties are the vital duties. The nation is nothing but the aggregate of the families within its border; and if the average man is not hard-working, just, and fear less in his dealings with those about him, then our average of public life will in the end be low; for the stream can rise no higher than its source. But in addition we need to remember that a peculiar responsibility rests upon the man in public life. We meet in the capital of the Nation, in the city which owes its existence to the fact that it is the seat of the National Government. It is well for us in this place, and at this time, to remember that exactly as there are certain homely qualities the lack of which will prevent the most brilliant man alive from being a useful soldier to his country, so there are certain homely qualities for the lack of which in the public servant no shrewd ness or ability can atone. The greatest leaders, whether in war or in peace, must of course show a peculiar quality of genius; but the most redoubtable armies that have ever existed have been redoubtable be cause the average soldier, the average officer, possessed to a high degree such comparatively simple qualities as loyalty, courage, and hardihood. And so the most successful governments are those in which the average public servant possesses that variant of loyalty which we call patriotism, together with common sense and honesty. We can as little afford to tolerate a dishonest man in the public service as a coward in the army.
The murderer takes a single life; the corruptionist in public life, whether he be bribe giver or bribe taker, strikes at the heart of the commonwealth. In every public service, as in every army, there will be wrongdoers, there will occur misdeeds. This can not be avoided; but vigilant watch must be kept, and as soon as discovered the wrong doing must be stopped and the wrongdoers punished. Remember that in popular government we must rely on the people themselves, alike for the punishment and the reformation. Those upon whom our institutions cast the initial duty of bringing malefactors to the bar of justice must be diligent in its discharge; yet in the last resort the success of their efforts to purge the public service of corruption must depend upon the attitude of the courts and of the juries drawn from the people. Leadership is of avail only so far as there is wise and resolute public sentiment behind it.
In the long run, then, it depends upon us ourselves, upon us the people as a whole, whether this Government is or is not to stand in the future as it has stood in the past; and my faith that it will show no falling off is based upon my faith in the character of our average citizenship. The one supreme duty is to try to keep this average high. To this end it is well to keep alive the memory of those men who are fit to serve as examples of what is loftiest and best in American citizenship. Such a man was General Sherman. To very few in any generation is it given to render such services as he rendered; but each of us in his degree can try to show something of those qualities of character upon which, in their sum, the high worth of Sherman rested--his courage, his kindliness, his clean and simple living, his sturdy good sense, his manliness and tenderness in the intimate relations of life, and finally, his inflexible rectitude of soul and his loyalty to all that in this free Republic is hallowed and symbolized by the national flag.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Unveiling of the Sherman Statue in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343705