« PreviousContinue »
to be Brigadier-Generals at the start. Greater good, it seems to me, is done by the men who take subordinate posts, and in them, do their work honestly and well. I sit to-night with representatives of both houses of the Legislature. You should understand that in all matters of constructive work the Governor is helpless unless he is backed by such men as represent those two branches here to-night. I know there is a belief that the Governor is both houses of the Legislature, and can pass any law that he wants to. That isn't true.
In no way can you bring about decency in your Government so quickly as by backing up the men who represent your interests, rewarding those who are faithful and punishing those who fail in their duty. Besides these there is another class — the public spirited citizens — who, without holding office, give of their time to aid the servants of the public. I cannot express the obligation I am under to such men who aid us in our work. You have one here to-night — your next President, John Proctor Clarke.
Now to the voters. If you let the professional politicians do all the work they will take all the reward, and they ought to. You can't govern yourselves by sitting in your studies and thinking how good you are. You've got to fight all you know how, and you'll find a lot of able men willing to fight you. Sometimes one of these people, who feel that they should do something to raise the country's political standard, goes to a primary and finds a raft of men who have been to many primaries. He discovers that he counts for nothing. Then, if he is of the type of men unfit for self-government he says politics are low, and goes home. If he is worth his salt he goes again, loses; goes again, maybe wins; and finally finds that he counts, and
that he is doing his plain duty as an American citizen. He can't be proud of doing it, but he ought to be ashamed if he doesn't. All of our problems finally resolve themselves into getting honest government. Our duty is to see that the Decalogue and Golden Rule prevail in the Government. You want to hitch your wagon to a star; but always to remember your limitations. Strive upward, but realize that your feet must touch the ground. In our Government you can only work successfully in conjunction with your fellows. Don't let practical politics mean foul politics.
I make a plea for every man who holds public office, that the people behind him watch him and make him remember that the critic stands behind the doer. Let him know that as long as he does right the people are behind him. But I despise a man who surrenders his conscience to the multitude as much as I do the one who surrenders it to one man. If he believes the multitude is wrong on a question of policy, or finance he should not bow to it.
It is not the men in office who make public life. It is the men out of office who are the arbiters of our public life. It rests on every man here, on every man in the city, on every man in the State and nation to make public life high.
THE STRENUOUS LIFE.
SPEECH BEFORE THE HAMILTON CLUB, CHICAGO, ILL.,
APRIL 10, 1899
GENTLEMEN: In speaking to you, men of the greatest city of the West, men of the State which gave to the country Lincoln and Grant, men who pre-eminently and distinctly embody all that is most American in the American character, I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life; the life of toil and effort; of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires more easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.
A life of ignoble ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual. I ask only that what every self-respecting American demands from himself, and from his sons, shall be demanded of the American nation as a whole. Who among you would teach your boys that ease, that peace is to be the first consideration in their eyes, — to be the ultimate goal after which they strive. You men of Chicago have made this city great, you men of Illinois have done your share, and more than your share, in making America great, because you neither preach nor practice such a doctrine. You work yourselves, and you bring up your sons to work. If you are rich and are worth your salt, you will teach your sons that though they may have leisure, it is not to be spent in idleness; for wisely used leisure merely means that those who possess it, being free from the necessity of working for their livelihood, are all the more bound to carry on some kind of non-remunerative work in science, in letters, in art, in exploration, in historical research — work of the type we most need in this country, the successful carrying out of which reflects most honor upon the nation. We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbors; who is prompt to help a friend; but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life. It is hard to fail; but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. In this life we get nothing save by effort. Freedom from effort in the present, merely means that there has been stored up effort in the past. A man can be freed from the necessity of work only by the fact that he or his fathers before him have worked to good purpose. If the freedom thus purchased is used aright, and the man still does actual work, though of a different kind, whether as a writer or a general, whether in the field of politics or in the field of exploration and adventure, he shows he deserves his good fortune. But if he treats this period of freedom from the need of actual labor, as a period not of preparation, but of mere enjoyment, even though perhaps not of vicious enjoyment, he shows that he is simply a cumberer of the earth's surface; and he surely unfits himself to hold his own with his fellows, if the need to do so should again arise. A mere life of ease is not in the end a very satisfactory life, and, above all, it is a life which ultimately unfits those who follow it for serious work in the world.
As it is with the individual, so it is with the nation. It is a base untruth to say that happy is the nation that has no history. Thrice happy is the nation that has a glorious history. Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. If in 1861 the men who loved the Union had believed that peace was the end of all things, and war and strife the worst of all things, and had acted up to their belief, we would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives; we would have saved hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, besides saving all the blood and treasure we then lavished, we would have prevented the heart-break of many women, the dissolution of many homes; and we would have spared the country those months of gloom and shame, when it seemed as if our armies marched only to defeat. We could have avoided all this suffering simply by shrinking from strife. And if we had thus avoided it, we would have shown that we were weaklings, and that we were unfit to stand among the great nations of the earth. Thank God for the iron in the blood of our fathers, the men who upheld the wisdom of Lincoln and bore sword or rifle in the armies of Grant! Let us, the children of the men who proved themselves equal to the mighty days,— let us, the children of the men who carried the great civil war to a triumphant conclusion, praise the God of our fathers that the ignoble counsels of peace were rejected; that the suffering and loss, the blackness of sorrow and despair, were unflinching!y faced, and the years of strife endured; for in the end the slave was freed, the Union restored, and the mighty American republic placed once more as a helmeted queen among nations.