Words That Men Live By
Pres. Theodore Roosevelt (1899)
CHICAGO, Ill., April 10, 1899 - New York's ebullient Governor, Theodore Roosevelt, came to the 'Windy City" from the relatively calm and conservative environs of his New York 1 background to warn his hearers-and his political party-that today's world leaves no room for calm acceptance of the status quo.
Speaking before the Hamilton Club, whose membership represents the hard core of Republican leader- ship in the "capital of the prairies," the leader of the Rough Riders in their charge up San Juan Hill only a year ago, and pugnacious challenger of his own State's political bosses, figuratively shook a warning finger in the face of smugness.
"The twentieth century looms be fore us," he said, "big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease, , and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win, at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by and will win for themselves the domination of the world."
Governor Roosevelt's words were received by some as a prophetic warning that the complaisance which has settled down since victory over Spain in the recent war cannot long continue; to others it seemed that he was needlessly calling up visions of ghosts that will never rattle their chains in this country's experience. To the latter, it was difficult to differentiate between these words from a Republican and the campaign oratory of spokesmen for the Democratic party.
But regardless of individual reaction, it is becoming more and more evident that New York's Governor is not a man who will permit himself to be disregarded. He has, additionally, viewpoints-and both support and liabilities politically-arising from an extraordinary background.
To be a Roosevelt in New York State is to live above any requirement for identification; there have always been Roosevelts there, including notably a member of the State Convention that ratified the Constitution. It is more likely, however, that nationally Theodore Roosevelt would win a greater following in the West than in the East, due to his long periods of residence on his ranch in Dakota Territory, his raising and leading, with Colonel Leonard Wood, of the "Rough Riders," and his personality which exudes an atmosphere that would be marked as western in any company.
These are some of the qualities that make Theodore Roosevelt, as yet only 41 years of age and already with high offices on his record - Police Commissioner of New York City, Assistant Secretary of the Navy and now the Governorship - a man whose back- ground is national rather than local and a speaker whose words echo far away from their point of delivery.
He is appealing to a following over the heads of the titular Republican "bosses," Thomas C. Platt and Mark Hanna, seeking to capture from the masses some of the flaming support that these already have pledged to William Jennings Bryan.
Gentlemen: In speaking to you, men of the greatest city of the West, men of the State which gave to the country Lincoln and Grant, men who preeminently and distinctly embody all that is most American in the American character, I wish to preach not the doctrine of ignoble ease but the doctrine of the strenuous life; the life of toil and effort; of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes not to the man who desires mere easy peace but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.
The timid man, the lazy man, the man who distrusts his country, the over-civilized man, who has lost the great fighting, masterful virtues, the ignorant man and the man of dull mind, whose soul is incapable of feeling the mighty lift that thrills "stern men with empires in their brains" - all these, of course, shrink from seeing the nation undertake its new duties; shrink from seeing us build a navy and army adequate to our needs; shrink from seeing us do our share of the world's work by bringing order out of chaos in the great, fair tropic islands from which the valor of our soldiers and sailors has driven the Spanish flag.
These are the men who fear the strenuous life, who fear the only national life, which is really worth leading. They believe in that cloistered life which saps the hardy virtues in a nation, as it saps them in the individual; or else they are wedded to that base spirit of gain and greed which recognizes in commercialism the be-all and end-all of national life, instead of realizing that, though an indispensable element, it is after all but one of the many elements that go to make up true national greatness. No country can long endure if its foundations are not laid deep in the material prosperity which comes from thrift, from business energy and enterprise, from hard unsparing effort in the fields of industrial activity; but neither was any nation ever yet truly great if it relied upon material prosperity alone.
All honor must be paid to the architects of our material prosperity; to the great captains of industry who have built our factories and our railroads; to the strong men who toil for wealth with brain or hand; for great is the debt of the nation to these and their kind. But our debt is yet greater to the men whose highest type is to be found in a statesman like Lincoln, a soldier like Grant. They showed by their lives that they recognized the law of work, the law of strife; they toiled to win a competence for themselves and those dependent upon them; but they recognized that there were yet other and even loftier duties - duties to the nation and duties to the race.
I preach to you, then, my countrymen, that our country calls not for the life of ease, but for the life of strenuous endeavor. The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease, and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by and will win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to uphold righteousness by deed and by word; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the strife is justified; for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.
~ Postlogue ~
Theodore Roosevelt's forthright speech caused his party leaders such concern that they decided to shelve him. They gave him the nomination for the Vice Presidency in 1900 - securely under the shadow of William McKinley's conservatism. ... and a few months after Inauguration in 1901, McKinley was assassinated.
The devotee of the "strenuous life" became a strenuous President indeed, harrying alike the arrogant business combinations, or "trusts," and the arrogant unions. In foreign affairs he dictated peace terms between Russia and Japan, keeping either from reaping special advantage and, to bring the prestige of the United States to its highest point yet, he sent "the Great White fleet" of his country's war- ships on a good-will mission around the world.
Embittered later by the decision of the Republican party not to nominate him in 1912 for a third term, he made his own life even more strenuous by forming the Bull Moose party and running for the Presidency as its leader. He lost, but so shattered the ultra-conservative Republican forces that Woodrow Wilson was elected to the Presidency on a program that echoed the earlier programs of both Roosevelt and Bryan.
In his other activities, Roosevelt seemed to be several men. As prolific writer, as magazine editor, as explorer of the Amazon jungles and as big game hunter:.. to sum him up, it now appears almost inconceivable that this man lived only 61 years.Printable version