Remarks in Waterville, Maine

August 27, 1902

I passed by your State House in Augusta this morning. Your legislature only meets every other year, and only stays in session about two months. Quite right. We do not need too many laws, too much legislation. What we need is stability of laws, fearlessness in applying legislation to new evils, when the evils spring up, but above all common sense and self-restraint in applying these remedies, and the fixed and unchangeable belief that fundamentally each man's salvation rests in his own hands. All of us stumble at times. There is not a man here who does not at times need a helping hand stretched out toward him. Shame upon the man who, when the opportunity to help is given, fails to stretch out the hand. Help the man who stumbles. Help a brother who slips. Set him up on his feet. Try to start him along the right road. But if he lies down, make up your mind you cannot carry him. If he won't try to walk himself he is not worth carrying. That is so among your neighbors; that is so in your families. Every father of a large family—and being an old-fashioned man, I believe in large families—knows that if he is to do well by his children they must try to do well by themselves.

Now, haven't you in your own experience known men—and I am sorry to say even more often, women—who think that they are doing a favor to their children when they shield them from every effort? When they let the girls sit at ease and read while the mother does all the housework? Don't you know cases like that? I do, yes; when a boy will be brought up to be very ornamental and not particularly useful? Don't you know that, too? Exactly. Now, those are not good fathers and mothers. They are foolish fathers and mothers. They are not being kind; they are simply being silly. That's all. It is not any good that you do your son or your daughter by teaching him or her how to shirk difficulties; you do him or her good, only if you teach him or her to face difficulties and by facing them to overcome them. Isn't that true? Don't you know it to be so in your own families? Well, it is just so on a larger scale in the state. The only way by which, in the long run, any man can be helped is by teaching him to help himself. Of course, there may come sudden cataclysms where you have got to extend help with a free hand, thinking only of the immediate need, not of the ultimate results. Of course, new conditions will arise here and there, especially in the complex industrial life of great cities, where you must shape the legislation of the country on a new basis to meet the new conditions. But fundamentally, it is true that the only permanent betterment in the condition of any nation is to raise the standards of individual citizenship throughout that nation.

My fellow-citizens, I wish to thank you, to thank all the people of Maine for the way in which I have been greeted. I feel in a certain sense a right to the greeting, for at least I am trying to put into practice the principles in which you believe. I feel that the art of successful government in our country is the art of applying practically the every day principles of decency, morality and common sense, which must be applied by the average citizen if he is to be a good husband, a good father, a good neighbor and a good citizen.

There is not any wonderful brilliancy or genius in it. What we need is the application of the everyday principles that a man needs if he is to make his business a success, if he is to do his duty in his own family and to his neighbor. Now, up here in Maine you are so fortunate as to have a State which, on the whole, represents as well as any other in the Union (better than all, save a very few others, in our Union) the conditions of life, the ways of looking at life, out of which such a republican, such a democratic government as ours springs. You believe practically that each man must work out his fate for himself. And yet that the state must be called on to try to give each man a fair show in life.

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

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