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Week of: January 14, 2001

Teddy Roosevelt on Self-Government

by F.R. Duplantier

In his 1905 inaugural address, President Theodore Roosevelt declared that "no people on earth have more cause to be thankful than ours."

President Theodore Roosevelt began his inaugural address in 1905 by expressing "gratitude to the Giver of Good who has blessed us with the conditions which have enabled us to achieve so large a measure of wellbeing and of happiness. To us as a people, it has been granted to lay the foundations of our national life in a new continent," he observed. "We are the heirs of the ages, and yet we have had to pay few of the penalties which in old countries are exacted by the dead hand of a bygone civilization. . . .

"Much has been given us," Roosevelt affirmed, "and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with the other nations of the earth, and we must behave as beseems a people with such responsibilities. Toward all other nations, large and small, our attitude must be one of cordial and sincere friendship," he advised. "We must show not only in our words, but in our deeds, that we are earnestly desirous of securing their good will by acting toward them in a spirit of just and generous recognition of all their rights. . . .

"Our relations with the other powers of the world are important," Roosevelt averred; "but still more important are our relations among ourselves. Such growth in wealth, in population, and in power as this nation has seen during the century and a quarter of its national life is inevitably accompanied by a like growth in the problems which are ever before every nation that rises to greatness. . . . Never before have men tried so vast and formidable an experiment as that of administering the affairs of a continent under the forms of a Democratic republic," he noted. "Upon the success of our experiment much depends, not only as regards our own welfare, but as regards the welfare of mankind. If we fail, the cause of free self-government throughout the world will rock to its founda- tions, and therefore our responsibility is heavy. . . ."

Roosevelt emphasized that "self-government is difficult" and that "no people needs such high traits of character as that people which seeks to govern its affairs aright through the freely expressed will of the freemen who compose it. But we have faith that we shall not prove false to the memories of the men of the mighty past," he asserted. "They did their work, they left us the splendid heritage we now enjoy. We in our turn have an assured confidence that we shall be able to leave this heritage unwasted and enlarged to our children and our children's children. To do so," Roosevelt admonished, "we must show, not merely in great crises, but in the everyday affairs of life, the qualities of practical intelligence, of courage, of hardihood, and endurance, and above all the power of devotion to a lofty ideal. . . ."


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