They don't hold White House lunches the way they used to at the beginning of the century. On Jan. 1, 1907, for example, the guest list was as
follows: a Nobel prize winner, a physical culturalist, a naval historian, a biographer, an essayist, a palaeontologist, a taxidermist, an
ornithologist, a field naturalist, a conservationist, a big-game hunter, an editor, a critic, a ranchman, an orator
, a country squire, a civil
service reformer, a socialite, a patron of the arts, a colonel of the cavalry, a former Governor of New York, the ranking expert on big-game mammals
in North America and the President of the U.S.
All these men were named Theodore Roosevelt
In his protean variety, his febrile energy (which could have come from his lifelong habit of popping nitroglycerin pills for a dicey heart), his
incessant self-celebration and his absolute refusal to believe there was anything finer than to be born an American, unless to die as one in some
glorious battle for the flag, the great "Teddy" was as representative of 20th century dynamism as Abraham Lincoln had been of 19th century union and
George Washington of 18th century independence.
“Duties of American Citizenship”
January 26, 1883; Buffalo, New York
Given while serving as a New York assemblyman, TR’s address on the “Duties of American Citizenship” delved into both the theoretical reasons why
every man should be involved in politics and the practical means of serving in that capacity. Roosevelt chided those who excused themselves from
politics because they were too busy; it was every man’s duty to devote some time to maintaining good government.
Of course, in one sense, the first essential for a man’s being a good citizen is his possession of the home virtues of which we think when we
call a man by the emphatic adjective of manly. No man can be a good citizen who is not a good husband and a good father, who is not honest in his
dealings with other men and women, faithful to his friends and fearless in the presence of his foes, who has not got a sound heart, a sound mind, and
a sound body; exactly as no amount of attention to civil duties will save a nation if the domestic life is undermined, or there is lack of the rude
military virtues which alone can assure a country’s position in the world. In a free republic the ideal citizen must be one willing and able to take
arms for the defense of the flag, exactly as the ideal citizen must be the father of many healthy children. A race must be strong and vigorous; it
must be a race of good fighters and good breeders, else its wisdom will come to naught and its virtue be ineffective; and no sweetness and delicacy,
no love for and appreciation of beauty in art or literature, no capacity for building up material prosperity can possibly atone for the lack of the
great virile virtues.
But this is aside from my subject, for what I wish to talk of is the attitude of the American citizen in civic life. It ought to be axiomatic in this
country that every man must devote a reasonable share of his time to doing his duty in the Political life of the community. No man has a right to
shirk his political duties under whatever plea of pleasure or business; and while such shirking may be pardoned in those of small cleans it is
entirely unpardonable in those among whom it is most common–in the people whose circumstances give them freedom in the struggle for life. In so far
as the community grows to think rightly, it will likewise grow to regard the young man of means who shirks his duty to the State in time of peace as
being only one degree worse than the man who thus shirks it in time of war. A great many of our men in business, or of our young men who are bent on
enjoying life (as they have a perfect right to do if only they do not sacrifice other things to enjoyment), rather plume themselves upon being good
citizens if they even vote; yet voting is the very least of their duties, Nothing worth gaining is ever gained without effort. You can no more have
freedom without striving and suffering for it than you can win success as a banker or a lawyer without labor and effort, without self-denial in youth
and the display of a ready and alert intelligence in middle age. The people who say that they have not time to attend to politics are simply saying
that they are unfit to live in a free community.
“The Man with the Muck-rake”
April 14, 1906; Washington, D.C.
Theodore Roosevelt was president during the Progressive Era, a time of great enthusiasm for reform in government, the economy, and society. TR himself
held many progressive ideals, but he also called for moderation, not extremism. The “Man with a Muck-rake” in Pilgrim’s Progress never looked
heavenward but instead constantly raked the filth at his feet. TR thus dubbed the journalists and activists of the day who were intent on exposing the
corruption in society as “muckrakers.” He felt that they did a tremendous amount of good, but needed to mitigate their constant pessimism and
alarmist tone. He worried that the sensationalism with which these exposes were often presented would make citizens overly cynical and too prone to
throw out the baby with the bathwater.
To assail the great and admitted evils of our political and industrial life with such crude and sweeping generalizations as to include decent men
in the general condemnation means the searing of the public conscience. There results a general attitude either of cynical belief in and indifference
to public corruption or else of a distrustful inability to discriminate between the good and the bad. Either attitude is fraught with untold damage to
the country as a whole. The fool who has not sense to discriminate between what is good and what is bad is well-nigh as dangerous as the man who does
discriminate and yet chooses the bad. There is nothing more distressing to every good patriot, to every good American, than the hard, scoffing spirit
which treats the allegation of dishonesty in a public man as a cause for laughter.
Such laughter is worse than the crackling of thorns under a pot, for it denotes not merely the vacant mind, but the heart in which high emotions have
been choked before they could grow to fruition.