Remarks in Tuskegee, Alabama

October 24, 1905

Mr. Mayor and friends and fellow Americans:

Itis indeed a peculiar pleasure to be here this morning and be greeted as you have greeted me. Mr. Mayor, I feel that those gathered here to greet me symbolize what we most like to think of as a typical American in our national life. When you brought me here, Mr. Mayor, I was met on the platform by the pastors of the Methodist and Baptist churches in the shade of an institution of higher learning, in the presence of these students and children of the public schools. At the same time I see the industries of the nation typified both by cotton being picked as I came up and also by the fact that I am speaking on the most valuable platform I have ever spoken on, and finally I have as a guard of honor members of the National Guard, who, as I look at them I feel that they are my own comrades, for they are just the type I had in my own regiment in the Spanish war.

These elements, as I say, typify what we hope and believe are the elements representing what is most vital in American life; the deep religious feeling of our people, the understanding of our people that material prosperity amounts to nothing if behind it and under it there is not the spiritual sense, the sense of moral obligation, the fealty to an ideal, the realization that in addition to that, you must have as the foundation of national prosperity industry, energy and thrift, and the fruits of that industry, energy and thrift, devotion to arts and practices of peace, devotion to civic duty and yet the readiness of the man who does his duty in civil life to do it in a military life if ever the need arises, and, finally, the recognition of the fact that though a great many crops are important, the most important is the crop of children.

The one thing this nation cannot afford to neglect is the education of the nation of the future. You, Mr. Mayor, I, all of us here, will pass away and the nation of the future will rise higher and higher or not, just as the boys and girls of the present are or are not trained to do their duty as men and women. So I take a particular pleasure in being here and greeting the children of the public schools and those past childhood studying in this college itself. The one all-essential thing in America, the thing that underlies everything else, is to have the average American a good man or a good woman; and if there is any one thing that I respect more than a good man, it is a good woman. I think she is just a trifle more useful, and she has a harder time in life and she is a little more entitled to our respect than even the best man. And there is not a man here who is worth his salt who does not agree with me.

Of course, it is a mere truism to say that the ultimate factor in determining the welfare of the nation is the life of home; that is, the way it is the ordinary man and ordinary woman performs his or her ordinary duties of the most sacred, intimate kind. If the man is a good father, a good husband; if he is decent and clean in his domestic life; if he does his duty by his neighbor; if he is the kind of a man whom we are glad to have as a neighbor, that man is all right; he is going to be a good citizen. It is just the same with women; if the woman is a good wife and mother, she is a good citizen, and not merely a good citizen, but she is the very best kind of citizen that this country can produce.

What we need is not the desire to perform the heroic duties under altogether exceptional circumstances, but the steadfast determination to perform the rather commonplace duties of every day, day by day, as they arise; speaking broadly, the man who does that is the man whom you can trust if the need for heroism arises. Each boy here should remember that the way to fit yourself to be of the utmost possible use is to act so that your family likes to have you at home instead of feeling a relief when you are gone; it is the same way with the girl. We all of us know an occasional foolish mother who says: "I have had to work hard; I have had a pretty hard time, my daughters shall not have to work." This is not kindness to the daughter. It is doing the very worst thing that can be done for her. Do not bring up your boys and girls to be useless, to avoid trouble, to get around trouble, to shirk work. The man or the woman who counts in life is the man or the woman who does not flinch from a task, but who does the task, who overcomes the obstacle. The boy or girl won't turn out that kind of man or woman if they are not brought up in that spirit from the beginning.

I want to say that nothing could have pleased me more or touched me more than just this kind of reception today, coming, as I have, through your beautiful town with the roomy, spacious streets, and the great trees and being greeted by this assemblage of those whom I am proud to honor as my fellow American citizens.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Tuskegee, Alabama Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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