By: Theodore Roosevelt
Date: August 31, 1910
Source: Roosevelt, Theodore. "The New Nationalism." The Program in Presidential Rhetoric Speech Archive. Available online at ; website home page: http://www.tamu.edu (accessed January 18, 2003).
About the Author: Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) was born in New York City, the seventh-generation Roosevelt to be born in Manhattan. He was a sickly child, suffering from chronic asthma, but he exhibited an iron-willed determination to lead "the Strenuous Life." A graduate of Harvard, he was an accomplished historian, boxer, cowboy, war hero, sportsman, reformer, and two-term president (served 1901–1909).
In 1901, following the death of William McKinley (served 1897–1901) by an anarchist's bullet, Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest president in the nation's history. Roosevelt believed that his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft (served 1909–1913), would continue his progressive policies. At the Republican convention in 1908, though, Roosevelt almost decided to run for another term. On the second day of the convention, an impromptu and disorderly forty-nine-minute demonstration supporting Roosevelt erupted. When Roosevelt finally sent word that he would not seek reelection, the delegates nominated Taft on the first ballot. After the convention, Roosevelt journeyed to Africa for a prolonged big-game hunt.
In some ways, Taft was more progressive than Roosevelt. His administration filed more antitrust lawsuits in one term than Roosevelt had in two terms. He supported the eight-hour workday and legislation to improve the working conditions of miners. He was also the first president to redistribute wealth by enacting the first tax on corporate profits. However, Taft angered Roosevelt when his administration filed an antitrust suit against United States Steel, owned by financier John Pierpont Morgan. During the lawsuit, documents surfaced showing that in 1907 Roosevelt agreed to allow Morgan's steel monopoly to grow larger with the acquisition of Tennessee Coal and Iron. Taft also signed the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act, which further protected American monopolies and hurt consumers with higher prices on goods. Moreover, Taft fired Roosevelt's good friend Gifford Pinchot, the chief of the U.S. Forest Service who criticized the administration's gift of rich Alaskan coal lands to mining interests.
In March 1910 Roosevelt returned home from Africa and immediately plunged back into party politics. He concluded that Taft had failed to fight for progressive policies in Congress and that he supported the Old Guard faction of the Republican Party. In 1910 Roosevelt decided to unseat Taft and take back the presidency, setting up one of the most exciting and significant elections in American history.
At first, Roosevelt made no attempt to publicize his problems with Taft or split from the Republican Party. In the summer of 1910, however, he set out on a sixteen-state, three-week tour of the West. Traveling in a private railway car, he gave a series of speeches to farmers and small businessmen, in which he challenged Taft and the Old Guard faction. On August 31, he visited Osawatomie, Kansas, to dedicate a new state park on a site where fifty years before the radical abolitionist John Brown had battled pro-slavery Missouri ruffians. Roosevelt's speech outraged his Republican opponents, who compared it to socialism, anarchism, and communism. Though the speech was hardly radical, Roosevelt foreshadowed the modern welfare state, which grew to fruition under his cousin President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (served 1933–1945) and the New Deal. In 1912 Taft won the Republican party nomination after a rowdy convention floor fight. Roosevelt left the party, forming the progressive Bull Moose Party. In the election, Roosevelt and Taft split the Republican vote, allowing progressive Democrat Woodrow Wilson (served 1913–1921) to win the election.
Primary Source: "The New Nationalism" [excerpt]
SYNOPSIS: Roosevelt's speech called for a New Nationalism of active democracy to replace the old nationalism characterized by corrupt special interests. His detractors accused him of betraying his aristocratic upbringing by denouncing "special privilege" and the "unfair money-getting" practices of "law-breakers of great wealth."
We come here to-day to commemorate one of the epochmaking events of the long struggle for the rights of man—the long struggle for the uplift of humanity. Our country—this great Republic—means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy, the triumph of popular government, and, in the long run, of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him. That is why the history of America is now the central feature of the history of the world; for the world has set its face hopefully toward our democracy; and, O my fellow citizens, each one of you carries on your shoulders not only the burden of doing well for the sake of your own country, but the burden of doing well and of seeing that this nation does well for the sake of mankind.
There have been two great crises in our country's history: first, when it was formed, and then, again, when it was perpetuated; and, in the second of these great crises—in the time of stress and strain which culminated in the Civil War, on the outcome of which depended the justification of what had been done earlier, you men of the Grand Army, you men who fought through the Civil War, not only did you justify your generation, not only did you render life worth living for our generation, but you justified the wisdom of Washington and Washington's colleagues. If this Republic had been founded by them only to be split asunder into fragments when the strain came, then the judgment of the world would have been that Washington's work was not worth doing. It was you who crowned Washington's work, as you carried to achievement the high purpose of Abraham Lincoln.Now, with this second period of our history the name of John Brown will be forever associated; and Kansas was the theater upon which the first act of the second of our great national life dramas was played. It was the result of the struggle in Kansas which determined that our country should be in deed as well as in name devoted to both union and freedom; that the great experiment of democratic government on a national scale should succeed and not fail. In name we had the Declaration of Independence in 1776; but we gave the lie by our acts to the words of the Declaration of Independence until 1865; and words count for nothing except in so far as they represent acts. This is true everywhere; but, O my friends, it should be truest of all in political life. A broken promise is bad enough in private life. It is worse in the field of politics. No man is worth his salt in public life who makes on the stump a pledge which he does not keep after election; and, if he makes such a pledge and does not keep it, hunt him out of public life. I care for the great deeds of the past chiefly as spurs to drive us onward in the present. I speak of the men of the past partly that they may be honored by our praise of them, but more that they may serve as examples for the future.
It was a heroic struggle; and, as is inevitable with all such struggles, it had also a dark and terrible side. Very much was done of good, and much also of evil; and, as was inevitable in such a period of revolution, often the same man did both good and evil. For our great good fortune as a nation, we, the people of the United States as a whole, can now afford to forget the evil, or, at least, to remember it without bitterness, and to fix our eyes with pride only on the good that was accomplished. Even in ordinary times there are very few of us who do not see the problems of life as through a glass, darkly; and when the glass is clouded by the murk of furious popular passion, the vision of the best and the bravest is dimmed. Looking back, we are all of us now able to do justice to the valor and the disinterestedness and the love of the right, as to each it was given to see the right, shown both by the men of the North and the men of the South in that contest which was finally decided by the attitude of the West. We can admire the heroic valor, the sincerity, the self devotion shown alike by the men who worethe blue and the men who wore the gray; and our sadness that such men should have had to fight one another is tempered by the glad knowledge that ever hereafter their descendants shall be found fighting side by side, struggling in peace as well as in war for the uplift of their common country, all alike resolute to raise to the highest pitch of honor and usefulness the nation to which they all belong. As for the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, they deserve honor and recognition such as is paid to no other citizens of the Republic; for to them the republic owes its all; for to them it owes its very existence. It is because of what you and your comrades did in the dark years that we of to-day walk, each of us, head erect, and proud that we belong, not to one of a dozen little squabbling contemptible commonwealths, but to the mightiest nation upon which the sun shines.
I do not speak of this struggle of the past merely from the historic standpoint. Our interest is primarily in the application to-day of the lessons taught by the contest of half a century ago. It is of little use for us to pay lip-loyalty to the mighty men of the past unless we sincerely endeavor to apply to the problems of the present precisely the qualities which in other crises enable the men of that day to meet those crises. It is half melancholy and half amusing to see the way in which well-meaning people gather to do honor to the man who, in company with John Brown, and under the lead of Abraham Lincoln, faced and solved the great problems of the nineteenth century, while, at the same time, these same good people nervously shrink from, or frantically denounce, those who are trying to meet the problems of the twentieth century in the spirit which was accountable for the successful solution of the problems of Lincoln's time.
Of that generation of men to whom we owe so much, the man to whom we owe most is, of course, Lincoln. Part of our debt to him is because he forecast our present struggle and saw the way out. He said:
I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind.
Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.
If that remark was original with me, I should be even more strongly denounced as a Communist agitator than I shall be anyhow. It is Lincoln's. I am only quoting it; and that is one side; that is the side the capitalist should hear. Now, let the working man hear his side.
Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.… Nor should this lead to a war upon the owners of property. Property is the fruit of labor; … property is desirable; is a positive good in the world.
And then comes a thoroughly Lincoln-like sentence:
Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.
It seems to me that, in these words, Lincoln took substantially the attitude that we ought to take; he showed the proper sense of proportion in his relative estimates of capital and labor, of human rights and property rights. Above all, in this speech, as in many others, he taught a lesson in wise kindliness and charity; an indispensable lesson to us of today. But this wise kindliness and charity never weakened his arm or numbed his heart. We cannot afford weakly to blind ourselves to the actual conflict which faces us to-day. The issue is joined, and we must fight or fail.
In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows. That is what you fought for in the Civil War, and that is what we strive for now.
At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth. That is nothing new. All I ask in civil life is what you fought for in the Civil War. I ask that civil life be carried on according to the spirit in which the army was carried on. You never get perfect justice, but the effort in handling the army was to bring to the front the men who could do the job. Nobody grudged promotion to Grant, or Sherman, or Thomas, or Sheridan, because they earned it. The only complaint was when a man got promotion which he did not earn.
Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.
I stand for the square deal. But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the games, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service. One word of warning, which, I think, is hardly necessary in Kansas. When I say I want a square deal for the poor man, I do not mean that I want a square deal for the man who remains poor because he has not got the energy to work for himself. If a man who has had a chance will not make good, then he has got to quit. And you men of the Grand Army, you want justice for the brave man who fought, and punishment for the coward who shirked his work. Is not that so?
Now, this means that our government, national and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics. That is one of our tasks to-day. Every special interest is entitled to justice—full, fair, and complete—and, now, mind you, if there were any attempt by mob-violence to plunder and work harm to the special interest, whatever it may be, that I most dislike, and the wealthy man, whomsoever he may be, for whom I have the greatest contempt, I would fight for him, and you would if you were worth your salt. He should have justice. For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protections to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation. The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man's making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being.
There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.
We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.
It has become entirely clear that we must have government supervision of the capitalization, not only of public-service corporations, including, particularly, railways, but of all corporations doing an interstate business. I do not wish to see the nation forced into the ownership of the railways if it can possibly be avoided, and the only alternative is thoroughgoing and effective regulation, which shall be based on a full knowledge of all the facts, including a physical valuation of property. This physical valuation is not needed, or, at least, is very rarely needed, for fixing rates; but it is needed as the basis of honest capitalization.
Harbaugh, William H. Power and Responsibility: The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1961.
Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House. 2001.
——. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Random House, 1979.
Dunne, Finley Peter. "Mr. Dooley's Friend: Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain." Atlantic Monthly, September 1963, 77–93.
Foerstel, Karen. "From Teddy Roosevelt On: A Century of Changes." Congressional Weekly 58, May 2000, 1090.
"The Indomitable President." The American President Series. Available online at http://www.americanpresident.org/kotrain/courses/TR/TR_Life... ; website home page: http://www.americanpresident.org (accessed January 18, 2003).
Theodore Roosevelt Association. Available online at http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org (accessed January 18, 2003). This site contains links to information about Theodore Roosevelt.