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Title: Address of President Roosevelt at Cairo, Illinois, October 3, 1907
Author: Roosevelt, Theodore
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Address of President Roosevelt at Cairo, Illinois, October 3, 1907" ***

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            CAIRO, ILLINOIS [Illustration] OCTOBER 3, 1907


                      GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE


I am glad to have the chance to speak to you to-day. This is the heart
of what may be called the Old West, which we now call the Middle West,
using the term to denote that great group of rich and powerful States
which literally forms the heart of the country. It is a region whose
people are distinctively American in all their thoughts, in all their
ways of looking at life; and in its past and its present alike it is
typical of our country. The oldest men present can still remember the
pioneer days, the days of the white-tilted ox wagon, of the emigrant,
and of the log cabin in which that emigrant first lived when he settled
to his task as a pioneer farmer. They were rough days, days of hard
work, and the people who did that work seemed themselves uncouth and
forbidding to visitors who could not look below the surface. It is
curious and amusing to think that even as genuine a lover of his kind,
a man normally so free from national prejudices as Charles Dickens,
should have selected the region where we are now standing as the seat
of his forlorn “Eden” in Martin Chuzzlewit. The country he so bitterly
assailed is now one of the most fertile and productive portions of
one of the most fertile and productive agricultural territories
in all the world, and the dwellers in this territory represent a
higher average of comfort, intelligence, and sturdy capacity for
self-government than the people in any tract of like extent in any
other continent. The land teems with beauty and fertility, and but a
score of years after Dickens wrote it was shown to be a nursery and
breeding ground of heroes, of soldiers and statesmen of the highest
rank, while the rugged worth of the rank and file of the citizenship
rendered possible the deeds of the mighty men who led in council and in
battle. This was the region that brought forth mighty Abraham Lincoln,
the incarnation of all that is best in democratic life; and from the
loins of the same people, living only a little farther south, sprang
another of our greatest Presidents, Andrew Jackson, “Old Hickory”――a
man who made mistakes, like most strong men, but a man of iron will
and incorruptible integrity, fearless, upright, devoted to the welfare
of his countrymen, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, a typical
American if ever there was one.

I commend a careful reading of Martin Chuzzlewit to the pessimists of
to-day, to the men who, instead of fighting hard to do away with abuses
while at the same time losing no jot of their buoyant hopefulness for
the country, insist that all our people, socially and industrially, in
their private lives no less than as politicians, newspaper men, and
business men, are at a lower ebb than ever before. If ever any one
of you feels a little downcast over the peculiarly gloomy view of the
present taken by some well-meaning pessimist of to-day, you will find
it a real comfort to read Martin Chuzzlewit, to see what a well-meaning
pessimist of the past thought of our people sixty-five years ago; and
then think of the extraordinary achievement, the extraordinary gain,
morally no less than materially, of those sixty-five years. Dickens
can be read by us now with profit; Elijah Pogram, Hannibal Chollop,
Jefferson Brick and Scadder have their representatives to-day, plenty
of them; and the wise thing for us to do is to recognize that these
are still types of evil in politics, journalism, business, and private
life, and to war against them with all our hearts. But it is rank folly
to regard these as the only, or the chief, types in our national life.
It was not of much consequence whether Dickens made such an error or
not, but it would be of great consequence if we ourselves did; for a
foolish pessimism is an even greater foe of healthy national growth
than a foolish optimism. It was not that Dickens invented characters
or scenes that had no basis in fact; on the contrary, what he said was
true, as far as it went; the trouble was that out of many such half
truths he made a picture which as a whole was absurd; for often a half
truth is the most dangerous falsehood. It would be simply silly to be
angry over Martin Chuzzlewit; on the contrary, read it, be amused
by it, profit by it; and don’t be misled by it. Keep a lively watch
against the present-day Pograms and Bricks; but above all, distrust
the man who would persuade you to feel downhearted about the country
because of these same Pograms and Bricks, past or present. It would be
foolish to ignore their existence, or the existence of anything else
that is bad in our national life; but it would be even more foolish
to ignore the vaster forces that tell for righteousness. Friends,
there is every reason why we should fight whatever is evil in the
present. But there is also every reason why we should feel a sturdy and
confident hope for the future. There are many wrongs to right; there
are many and powerful wrong doers against whom to war; and it would be
base to shrink from the contest, or to fail to wage it with a high, a
resolute will. But I am sure that we shall win in the contest, because
I know that the heart of our people is sound. Our average men and women
are good men and women――and this is true in all sections of our country
and among all classes of our countrymen. There is no other nation on
earth with such vast natural resources, or with such a high standard
of living and of industrial efficiency among its workers. We have as
a nation an era of unexampled prosperity ahead of us; we shall enjoy
it, and our children will enjoy it after us. The trend of well-being
in this country is upward, not downward; and this is the trend in the
things of the soul as well as in the things of the body.

Government in its application is often a complicated and delicate
work, but the principles of government are, after all, fairly simple.
In a broad general way we should apply in the affairs of the national
administration, which deals with the interests of all our eighty-odd
millions of people, just the same rules that are necessary in getting
on with our neighbors in our several neighborhoods; and the nation as a
whole should show substantially the same qualities that we would expect
an honorable man to show in dealing with his fellows. To illustrate
this, consider for a moment two phases of governmental action.

First as to international affairs. Among your own neighbors, among your
friends, what is the attitude you like to see a man take toward his
fellows, the attitude you wish each of your sons to take when he goes
out into the world? Is it not a combination of readiness and ability
to hold his own if anyone tries to wrong him, while at the same time
showing careful regard not only for the rights but for the feelings of
others? Of course it is! Of course the type of man whom we respect,
whom we are proud of if he is a kinsman, whom we are glad to have as a
friend and neighbor, is the man who is no milksop, who is not afraid,
who will not tolerate nor hesitate to resent insult or injury, but
who himself never inflicts insult or injury, is kindly, good-natured,
thoughtful of others’ rights――in short, a good man to do business with
or have live in the next house or have as a friend. On the other hand,
the man who lacks any of those qualities is sure to be objectionable.
If a man is afraid to hold his own, if he will submit tamely to
wrongdoing, he is contemptible. If he is a bully, an oppressor, a man
who wrongs or insults others, he is even worse and should be hunted
out of the community. But, on the whole, the most contemptible position
that can possibly be assumed by any man is that of blustering, of
bragging, of insulting or wronging other people, while yet expecting to
go through life unchallenged, and being always willing to back down and
accept humiliation if readiness to make good is demanded.

Well, all this is just as true of a nation as of an individual, and
in dealing with other nations we should act as we expect a man who
is both game and decent to act in private life. There are few things
cheaper and more objectionable, whether on the part of the public man
or of the private man, on the part of a writer or of a speaker, an
individual or a group of individuals, than a course of conduct which
is insulting or hurtful, whether in speech or act, to individuals
of another nation or to the representatives of another nation or to
another nation itself. But the policy becomes infamous from the
standpoint of the interests of the United States when it is combined
with the refusal to take those measures of preparation which can alone
secure us from aggression on the part of others. The policy of “peace
with insult” is the very worst policy upon which it is possible to
embark, whether for a nation or an individual. To be rich, unarmed, and
yet insolent and aggressive, is to court well-nigh certain disaster.
The only safe and honorable rule of foreign policy for the United
States is to show itself courteous toward other nations, scrupulous not
to infringe upon their rights, and yet able and ready to defend its
own. This nation is now on terms of the most cordial good will with all
other nations. Let us make it a prime object of our policy to preserve
these conditions. To do so it is necessary on the one hand to mete out
a generous justice to all other peoples and show them courtesy and
respect; and on the other hand, as we are yet a good way off from the
millenium, to keep ourselves in such shape as to make it evident to
all men that we desire peace because we think it is just and right and
not from motives of weakness or timidity. As for the first requisite,
this means that not only the Government but the people as a whole shall
act in the needed spirit; for otherwise the folly of a few individuals
may work lasting discredit to the whole nation. The second requisite
is more easily secured――let us build up and maintain at the highest
point of efficiency the United States Navy. In any great war on land
we should have to rely in the future as we have relied in the past
chiefly upon volunteer soldiers; and although it is indispensable that
our little army, an army ludicrously small relatively to the wealth
and population of this mighty nation, should itself be trained to the
highest point and should be valued and respected as is demanded by
the worth of the officers and enlisted men, yet it is not necessary
that this army should be large as compared to the armies of other
great nations. But as regards the Navy all this is different. We have
an enormous coast line, and our coast line is on two great oceans.
To repel hostile attacks the fortifications, and not the Navy, must
be used; but the best way to parry is to hit――no fight can ever be
won except by hitting――and we can only hit by means of the Navy. It
is utterly impossible to improvise even a makeshift navy under the
conditions of modern warfare. Since the days of Napoleon no war between
two great powers has lasted as long as it would take to build a battle
ship, let alone a fleet of battle ships; and it takes just as long to
train the crew of a battle ship as it does to build it; and as regards
the most important thing of all, the training of the officers, it takes
much longer. The Navy must be built and all its training given in time
of peace. When once war has broken out it is too late to do anything.
We now have a good Navy, not yet large enough for our needs, but of
excellent material. Where a navy is as small as ours, the cardinal
rule must be that the battle ships shall not be separated. This year
I am happy to say that we shall begin a course which I hope will be
steadily followed hereafter, that, namely, of keeping the battle-ship
fleet alternately in the Pacific and in the Atlantic. Early in December
the fleet will begin its voyage to the Pacific, and it will number,
friends, among its formidable fighting craft three great battle
ships, named, respectively, the _Illinois_, the _Missouri_, and the
_Kentucky_. It is a national fleet in every sense of the term, and its
welfare should be, and I firmly believe is, as much a matter of pride
and concern for every man in the farthest interior of our country as
for every man on the seacoast. A long ocean voyage is mighty good
training; and not the least good it will do will be to show just the
points where our naval program needs strengthening. Incidentally I
think the voyage will have one good effect, for, to judge by their
comments on the movement, some excellent people in my own section of
the country need to be reminded that the Pacific coast is exactly as
much a part of this nation as the Atlantic coast.

So much for foreign affairs. Now for a matter of domestic policy.
Here in this country we have founded a great federal democratic
republic. It is a government by and for the people and therefore a
genuine democracy; and the theory of our Constitution is that each
neighborhood shall be left to deal with the things that concern
only itself and which it can most readily deal with; so that town,
county, city, and State have their respective spheres of duty, while
the nation deals with those matters which concern all of us, all of
the people, no matter where we dwell. Our democracy is based upon
the belief that each individual ought to have the largest measure
of liberty compatible with securing the rights of other individuals,
that the average citizen, the plain man whom we meet in daily life,
is normally capable of taking care of his own affairs, and has no
desire to wrong any one else; and yet that in the interest of all there
shall be sufficient power lodged somewhere to prevent wicked people
from trampling the weak under foot for their own gain. Our constant
endeavor is to make a good working compromise whereby we shall secure
the full benefit of individual initiative and responsibility, while at
the same time recognizing that it is the function of a wise government
under modern conditions not merely to protect life and property, but
to foster the social development of the people so far as this may be
done by maintaining and promoting justice, honesty, and equal rights.
We believe in a real, not a sham, democracy. We believe in democracy
as regards political rights, as regards education, and, finally, as
regards industrial conditions. By democracy we understand securing, as
far as it is humanly possible to secure it, equality of opportunity,
equality of the conditions under which each man is to show the stuff
that is in him and to achieve the measure of success to which his own
force of mind and character entitle him. Religiously this means that
each man is to have the right, unhindered by the state, to worship his
Creator as his conscience dictates, granting freely to others the
same freedom which he asks for himself. Politically we can be said
substantially to have worked out our democratic ideals, and the same
is true, thanks to the common schools, in educational matters. But in
industry there has not as yet been the governmental growth necessary
in order to meet the tremendous changes brought about in industrial
conditions by steam and electricity. It is not in accordance with our
principles that literally despotic power should be put into the hands
of a few men in the affairs of the industrial world. Our effort must
be for a just and effective plan of action which, while scrupulously
safeguarding the rights of the men of wealth, shall yet, so far as
is humanly possible, secure under the law to all men equality of
opportunity to make a living. It is to the interest of all of us that
the man of exceptional business capacity should be amply rewarded;
and there is nothing inconsistent with this in our insistence that he
shall not be guilty of bribery or extortion, and that the rights of
the wageworker and of the man of small means, who are themselves honest
and hard working, shall be scrupulously safeguarded. The instruments
for the exercise of modern industrial power are the great corporations
which, though created by the individual States, have grown far beyond
the control of those States and transact their business throughout
large sections of the Union. These corporations, like the industrial
conditions which have called them into being, did not exist when the
Constitution was founded; but the wise forethought of the founders
provided, under the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution,
for the very emergency which has arisen, if only our people as a whole
will realize what this emergency is; for if the people thoroughly
realize it, their governmental representatives will soon realize
it also. The National Government alone has sufficiently extensive
power and jurisdiction to exercise adequate control over the great
interstate corporations. While this thorough supervision and control
by the National Government is desirable primarily in the interest of
the people, it will also, I firmly believe, be to the benefit of those
corporations themselves which desire to be honest and law-abiding. Only
thus can we put over these corporations one competent and efficient
sovereign――the Nation――able both to exact justice from them and to
secure justice for them, so that they may not be alternately pampered
and oppressed. The proposal need be dreaded only by those corporations
which do not wish to obey the law or to be controlled in just fashion,
but prefer to take their chances under the present lack of all system
and to court the chance of getting improper favors as offsetting the
chance of being blackmailed――an attitude rendered familiar in the past
by those corporations which had thriven under certain corrupt and
lawless city governments.

The first need is to exercise this Federal control in thoroughgoing
and efficient fashion over the railroads, which, because of their
peculiar position, offer the most immediate and urgent problem. The
American people abhor a vacuum, and is determined that this control
shall be exercised somewhere; it is most unwise for the railroads not
to recognize this and to submit to it as the first requisite of the
situation. When this control is exercised in some such fashion as it is
now exercised over the national banks, there will be no falling off
in business prosperity. On the contrary, the chances for the average
man to do better will be increased. Undoubtedly there will be much
less opportunity than at present for a very few individuals not of the
most scrupulous type to amass great fortunes by speculating in and
manipulating securities which are issued without any kind of control or
supervision. But there will be plenty of room left for ample legitimate
reward for business genius, while the chance for the man who is not
a business genius, but who is a good, thrifty, hard-working citizen,
will be better. I do not believe that our efforts will have anything
but a beneficial effect upon the permanent prosperity of the country;
and, as a matter of fact, even as regards any temporary effect, I
think that any trouble is due fundamentally not to the fact that the
national authorities have discovered and corrected certain abuses, but
to the fact that those abuses were there to be discovered. I think
that the excellent people who have complained of our policy as hurting
business have shown much the same spirit as the child who regards the
dentist and not the ulcerated tooth as the real source of his woe. I
am as certain as I can be of anything that the course we are pursuing
will ultimately help business; for the corrupt man of business is as
great a foe to this country as the corrupt politician. Both stand on
the same evil eminence of infamy. Against both it is necessary to war;
and if, unfortunately, in either type of warfare, a few innocent people
are hurt, the responsibility lies not with us, but with those who have
misled them to their hurt.

This is a rapidly growing nation, on a new continent, and in an era of
new, complex, and ever-shifting conditions. Often it is necessary to
devise new methods of meeting these new conditions. We must regard the
past, but we must not regard only the past. We must also think of the
future; and while we must learn by experience, we can not afford to pay
heed merely to the teachings of experience. The great preacher Channing
in his essay on “The Union” spoke with fine insight on this very point.
In commenting on the New England statesman Cabot, whom he greatly
admired, he said that nevertheless “he had too much of the wisdom of
experience; he wanted what may be called the wisdom of hope.” He then
continued in words which have a peculiar fitness for the conditions of
to-day: “We apprehend that it is possible to make experience too much
our guide. There are seasons in human affairs, of inward and outward
revolution, when new depths seem to be broken up in the soul, when
new wants are unfolded in multitudes, and a new and undefined good is
thirsted for. These are periods when the principles of experience need
to be modified, when hope and trust and instinct claim a share with
prudence in the guidance of affairs, when in truth _to dare_ is the
highest wisdom.”

These sentences should be carefully pondered by those men, often very
good men, who forget that constructive change offers the best method of
avoiding destructive change; that reform is the antidote to revolution;
and that social reform is not the precursor but the preventive of


 Transcriber’s Notes:

 ――Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).

 ――Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

 ――Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Address of President Roosevelt at Cairo, Illinois, October 3, 1907" ***

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