Friday, July 4, 2014

The Most Glorious Heritage

I read this speech last fall and appreciated the thoughts expressed.  They seem appropriate even now, nearly 120 years later. 

In 1886, Teddy Roosevelt was asked to offer the Independence Day address to the citizens of little Dickinson, North Dakota.  He was just 27 years old.  This is, in part, what he said.
...It is peculiarly incumbent on us here today so to act throughout our lives as to leave our children a heritage, for which we will receive their blessing and not their curse....   If you fail to work in public life, as well as in private, for honesty and uprightness and virtue, if you condone vice because the vicious man is smart, or if you in any other way cast your weight into the scales in favor of evil, you are just so far corrupting and making less valuable the birthright of your children....

It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.

I do not undervalue for a moment our material prosperity; like all Americans, I like big things; big prairies, big forests and mountains, big wheat fields, railroads—and herds of cattle, too—big factories, steamboats, and everything else.  But we must keep steadily in mind that no people were ever yet benefited by riches if their prosperity corrupted their virtue.  It is of more importance that we should show ourselves honest, brave, truthful, and intelligent, than that we should own all the railways and grain elevators in the world.  We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.  Here we are not ruled over by others, as is the case of Europe; we rule ourselves.  All American citizens, whether born here or elsewhere, whether of one creed or another, stand on the same footing; we welcome every honest immigrant no matter from what country he comes, provided only that he leaves off his former nationality, and remains neither Celt nor Saxon, neither Frenchman nor German, but becomes an American, desirous of fulfilling in good faith the duties of American citizenship.

When we thus rule ourselves, we have the responsibilities of sovereigns, not of subjects.  We must never exercise our rights either wickedly or thoughtlessly; we can continue to preserve them in but one possible way, by making the proper use of them.  In a new portion of the country, especially here in the Far West, it is peculiarly important to do so; and on this day of all others we ought soberly to realize the weight of the responsibility that rests upon us.  I am, myself, at heart as much a Westerner as an Easterner; I am proud, indeed, to be considered one of yourselves, and I address you in this rather solemn strain today, only because of my pride in you, and because your welfare, moral as well as material, is so near by heart.

You can read this speech in its entirety at The Digital Library of The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.

Teddy Roosevelt's image from New-York Tribune.  (New York [N.Y.]), 27 Oct. 1907.  Chronicling America:  Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. 

Wishing you and yours a most glorious Independence Day!


1 comment:

  1. That is GREAT! Where are those inspiring statesmen today? Happy 4th of July, Nancy!


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