Remarks at the Unveiling of the Statue of Frederick the Great in Washington, DC

November 19, 1904

Mr. Ambassador:

Through you I wish, on behalf of the people of the United States, to thank His Majesty the German Emperor, and the people of Germany, for the gift to the nation which you have just formally delivered to me. I accept it with deep appreciation of the regard which it typifies for the people of this Republic, both on the part of the Emperor, and on the part of the German people. I accept it not merely as a statue of one of the half dozen of the greatest soldiers of all time, and therefore peculiarly appropriate for placing in this War College, but I accept it as the statue of a great man, whose life was devoted to the service of a great people, and whose deeds hastened the approach of the day when a united Germany should spring into being.

Asa soldier, Frederick the Great ranks in that very, very small group which includes Alexander, Cæsar, and Hannibal in antiquity, and Napoleon and possibly Gustavus Adolphus, in modern times. He belonged to the ancient and illustrious house of Hohenzollern, which after playing a strong and virile part in the Middle Ages, and after producing some men, like the Great Elector, who were among the most famous princes of their time, founded the royal house of Prussia two centuries ago, and at last in our own day established the mighty German Empire, now among the foremost of the world's powers. We receive this gift now at the hands of the present Emperor, himself a man who has markedly added to the luster of his great house and his great nation, a man who has devoted his life to the welfare of his people, and who, while keeping ever ready to defend the rights of that people, has also made it evident in emphatic fashion, that he and they desire friendship and peace with the other nations of the earth.

It is not my purpose here to discuss at length the career of the mighty King, and mighty general, whose statue we have just received. In all history no other great commander, save only Hannibal, fought so long against such terrible odds, and while Hannibal finally failed, Frederick finally triumphed. In almost every battle he fought against great odds, and he almost always won the victory. When defeated he rose to an even higher altitude than when victorious. The memory of the Seven Years' War will last as long as there lives in mankind the love of heroism, and its operations will be studied to the minutest detail as long as the world sees a soldier worthy of the name. It is difficult to know whether to admire most the victories of Leuthen or Prague, Rossbach or Zorndorf, when the great King, after having been beaten to the ground by the banded might of Europe, yet rose again and, by an exhibition of daring such as never before had been seen united in one person, finally wrested triumph from defeat.

Not only must the military scholar always turn to the career of Frederick the Great for lessons in strategy and tactics; not only must the military administrator always turn to his career for lessons in organizing success; not only will the lover of heroism read the tales of his mighty feats as long as mankind cares for heroic deeds; but even those who are not attracted by the valor of the soldier, must yet, for the sake of the greatness of the man, ponder and admire the lessons taught by his undaunted resolution, his inflexible tenacity of purpose, his farsighted grasp of lofty possibilities, and his unflinching, unyielding determination in following the path he had marked out.

It is eminently fitting that the statue of this iron soldier, this born leader of men, should find a place in this War College; for when soldierly genius and soldierly heroism reach the highest point of achievement, the man in whom they are displayed has grown to belong not merely to the nation from which he sprang, but to all nations capable of showing and therefore capable of appreciating the virile and masterful virtues which alone make victors in those dread struggles where resort is at last had to the arbitration of arms.

But, Mr. Ambassador, in accepting the statue given us to-day through you from the German Emperor, I accept it, not merely be cause it is the statue of a mighty and terrible soldier, but I accept it as a symbol of the ties of friendship and good will which I trust as the years go on will bind ever closer together the American and German peoples. There is kinship of blood between the two nations. We of the United States are a mixed stock. In our veins runs the blood of almost all the people of middle, northern and western Europe. We already have a history of which we feel that we have the right to be legitimately proud and yet our nationality is still in the formative period. Nearly three centuries have elapsed since the landing of the English at Jamestown marked the beginning of what has since grown into the United States.

During these three centuries streams of new-comers from many different countries abroad have in each generation contributed to swell the increase of our people. Soon after the English settled in Virginia and New England, the Hollander settled at the mouth of the Hudson and the Swede at the mouth of the Delaware. Even in Colonial days the German element had become very strong among our people in various parts of this country; the Irish element was predominant in the foothills of the Alleghanies; French Huguenots were numerous. By the time of the Declaration of Independence, that process of fusion which has gone on ever since, was well under way. From the beginning of our national history men of German origin or German parentage played a distinguished part in the affairs both of peace and of war. In the Revolutionary War one of the leading generals was Muhlenburg, an American of German descent just as among the soldiers from abroad who came to aid us one of the most prominent was a German, Steuben. Muhlenberg was the first Speaker of the House of Representatives; and the battle which in the Revolution saved the valley of the Mohawk to the American cause was fought under the lead of a German, Herkimer. As all the different races here tend rapidly to fuse together, it is rarely possible after one or two generations to draw a sharp line between the various elements; but there is no student of our national conditions who has failed to appreciate what a valuable element in our composite stock is the German. Here on this platform, Mr. Ambassador, among those present to-day are many men partly of German blood, and among the officers of the army and navy who have listened to you and who now join with me in greeting you, there are many whose fathers or grandfathers were born in Germany, and not a few who themselves first saw the light there.

Each nation has its allotted tasks to do; each nation has its peculiar difficulties to encounter; and as the peoples of the world tend to more closely knit together alike for good and for evil, it becomes ever more important to all that each should prosper; for the prosperity of one is normally not a sign of menace, but a sign of hope for the rest. Here on this continent, where it is absolutely essential that the different peoples coming to our shores should not remain separate, but should fuse into one, our unceasing effort is to strive to keep and profit by the good that each race brings to our shores, and at the same time to do away with all racial and religious animosities among the various stocks. In both efforts we have met with an astonishing measure of success. As the years go by it becomes not harder, but easier, to live in peace and goodwill among ourselves; and I firmly believe that it will also become not harder, but easier to dwell in peace and friendship with the other nations of the earth.

A young people, a people of composite stock, we have kinship with many different nations, but we are identical with none of them, and are developing a separate national life. We have in our veins the blood of the Englishman, the Welshman and the Irishman, the German and the Frenchman, the Scotchman, the Dutchman, the Scandinavian, the Italian, the Magyar, the Finn, the Slav, so that to each of the powers of the Old World we can claim a more or less distant kinship by blood; and to each strain of blood we owe some peculiar quality in our national life or national character. As such is the case, it is natural that we should have a peculiar feeling of nearness to each of many peoples across the water. We most earnestly wish not only to keep unbroken our friendship for each, but so far as we can without giving offence by an appearance of meddling, to seek to bring about a better understanding and a broader spirit of fair dealing and toleration among all nations. It has been my great pleasure, Mr. Ambassador, in pursuance of this object, recently to take with you the first steps in the negotiation of a treaty of friendly arbitration between Germany and the United States.

In closing, let me thank you, and through you, the German Emperor and the German people, for this statue, which I accept in the name of the American people, a people claiming blood kinship with your own, a people owing much to Germany, a people which, though with a national history far shorter than that of your people, nevertheless, like your people, is proud of the great deeds of its past, and is confident in the majesty of its future. I most earnestly pray that in the coming years these two great nations shall move on toward their several destinies knit together by ties of the heartiest friendship and good will.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Unveiling of the Statue of Frederick the Great in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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