Remarks in Waukesha, Wisconsin

April 03, 1903

Gentlemen and ladies, my fellow citizens of Wisconsin:

You are men and women of Wisconsin, but you are men and women of America first. I am glad of having the chance of saying a few words to you today. I believe with all my heart in this nation playing its part manfully and well. I believe that we are now, at the outset of the twentieth century, face to face with great world problems; that we cannot help playing the part of a great world power; that all we can decide is whether we will play it well or ill. I do not want to see us shrink from any least bit of duty. We have not only taken during the past five years a position of even greater importance in this Western Hemisphere than ever before, but we have taken a position of great importance even in the furthest Orient, in that furthest West, which is the immemorial East. We must hold our own. If we show ourselves weaklings we will earn the contempt of mankind, and—what is of far more consequence—our own contempt; but I would like to impress upon every public man, upon every writer in the press, the fact that strength should go hand in hand with courtesy, with scrupulous regard in word and deed, not only for the rights, but for the feelings, of other nations. I want to see a man able to hold his own. I have no respect for the man who will put up with injustice. If a man will not take his own part, the part is not worth taking. That is true. On the other hand, I have a hearty contempt for the man who is always walking about wanting to pick a quarrel, and above all, wanting to say something unpleasant about some one else. He is not an agreeable character anywhere; and the fact that he talks loud does not necessarily mean that he fights hard either. Sometimes you will see a man who will talk loud and fight hard; but he does not fight hard because he talks loud, but in spite of it. I want the same thing to be true of us as a nation. I am always sorry whenever I see any reflection that seems to come from America upon any friendly nation. To write or say anything unkind, unjust, or inconsiderate about any foreign nation does not do us any good, and does not help us toward holding our own if ever the need should arise to hold our own. I am sure you will not misunderstand me; I am sure that it is needless for me to say that I do not believe the United States should ever suffer a wrong. I should be the first to ask that we resent a wrong from the strong, just as I should be the first to insist that we do not wrong the weak. As a nation, if we are to be true to our past, we must steadfastly keep these two positions—to submit to no injury by the strong and to inflict no injury on the weak. It is not at all necessary to say disagreeable things about the strong in order to impress them with the fact that we do not intend to submit to injury. Keep our navy up to the highest point of efficiency; have good ships, and enough of them; have the officers and the enlisted men on them trained to handle them, so that in the future the American navy shall rise level, whenever the need comes, to the standard it has set in the past. Keep in our own hearts the rugged, manly virtues, which have made our people formidable as foes, and valuable as friends throughout the century and a quarter of our national life. Do all that; and having done it, remember that it is a sensible thing to speak courteously of others.

I believe in the Monroe Doctrine. I shall try to see that this nation lives up to it; and as long as I am President it will be lived up to.

But I do not intend to make the doctrine an excuse or a justification for being unpleasant to other powers, for speaking ill of other powers.

We want the friendship of mankind. We want to get on well with the other nations of mankind, with the small nations and with the big nations. We want so to carry ourselves that if (which I think most unlikely) any quarrel should arise, it would be evident that it was not a quarrel of our own seeking, but one that was forced on us. If it is forced on us, I know you too well not to know that you will stand up to it if the need comes; but you will stand up to it all the better if you have not blustered or spoken ill of other nations in advance. We want friendship, we want peace. We wish well to the nations of mankind. We look with joy at any prosperity of theirs; we wish them success, not failure. We rejoice as mankind moves forward over the whole earth. Each nation has its own difficulties. We have difficulties enough at home. Let us improve ourselves, lifting what needs to be lifted here, and let others do their own work; let us attend to our own business; keep our own hearthstone swept and in order. Do not shirk any duty; do not shirk any difficulty that is forced upon us, but do not invite it by foolish language. Do not assume a quarrelsome and unpleasant attitude toward other people. Let the friendly expressions of foreign powers be accepted as tokens of their sincere good will, and reflecting their real sentiments; and let us avoid any language on our part which might tend to turn their good will into ill will. All that is mere common—sense; the kind of common-sense that we apply in our own lives, man to man, neighbor to neighbor; and remember that substantially what is true among nations is true on a small scale among ourselves. The man who is a weakling, who is a coward, we all despise, and we ought to despise him. If a man cannot do his own work and take his own part, he does not count; and I have no patience with those who would have the United States unable to take its own part, to do its work in the world. But remember that a loose tongue is just as unfortunate an accompaniment for a nation as for an individual. The man who talks ill of his neighbors, the man who invites trouble for him self and them, is a nuisance. The stronger, the more self-confident the nation is, the more carefully it should guard its speech as well as its action, and should make it a point, in the interest of its own self-respect, to see that it does not say what it cannot make good, that it avoids giving needless offence, that it shows genuinely and sincerely its desire for friendship with the rest of mankind, but that it keeps itself in shape to make its weight felt should the need arise.

That is in substance my theory of what our foreign policy should be. Let us not boast, not insult any one, but make up our minds coolly what is necessary to say, say it, and then stand to it, whatever the consequences may be.

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

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