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we have a due regard for the honor and the interest of our mighty nation; and that we keep unsullied the renown of the flag which beyond all others of the present time or of the ages of the past stands for confident faith in the future welfare and greatness of mankind.1
It is character that counts in a nation as in a man. It is a good thing to have a keen, fine intellectual development in a nation, to produce orators, artists, successful business men; but it is an infinitely greater thing to have those solid qualities which we group together under the name of character-sobriety, steadfastness, the sense of obligation toward one's neighbor and one's God, hard common sense, and, combined with it, the lift of generous enthusiasm toward whatever is right. These are the qualities which go to make up true national greatness.2
In the long run, in the great battle of life, no brilliancy of intellect, no perfection of bodily development, will count when weighed in the balance against that assemblage of virtues, active and passive, of moral qualities, which we group together under the name of character; and if between any two contestants, even in college sport or in college work, the difference in character on the right side is as great as the difference of
1 Address at the Quarter-Centennial Celebration of Statehood in Colorado, at Colorado Springs, August 2, 1901. From The Strenuous Life. Second augmented edition. Copyright, 1901. The Century Company, publishers.
From The Strenuous Life. Copyright, 1900.
intellect or strength the other way, it is the character side that will win.1
I RECOLLECT saying to a young friend who was about to enter college, "My friend, I know that you feel that you ought to be a good man; now, be willing to fight for your principles whenever it is necessary; if you're willing enough to fight, nobody will complain about your being too virtuous."
If you accept only the weak man, who cannot hold his own, as the type of virtuous man, you will inevitably create an atmosphere among ordinary, vigorous young men in which they will translate their contempt of weakness into contempt of virtue. My plea is that the virtuous man, the decent man, shall be a strong man, able to hold his own in any way, just because I wish him to be an agent in eradicating the misconception that being decent somehow means being weak; I want this to apply to every form of decency, public as well as private.
The worst development that we could see in civic life in this country would be a division of citizens into two camps, one camp containing nice, well-behaved, wellmeaning little men, with receding chins and small feet, men who mean well and who if they are insulted feel shocked and want to go home; and the other camp containing robust and efficient creatures who do not mean well at all. I wish to see our side the side of decency
- include men who have not the slightest fear of the
1 From The Strenuous Life. Copyright, 1900. The Century Company, publishers.
people on the other side. I wish to see the decent man in any relation of life, including politics, when hustled by the man who is not decent, able so to hold his own that the other gentleman shall feel no desire to hustle him again. My plea is for the virtue that shall be strong and that shall also have a good time. You recollect that Wesley said he was n't going to leave all the good times to the Devil. In the same way we must not leave strength and efficiency to the Devil's agents. The decent man must realize that it is his duty to be strong just as much as to be decent. There are a good many types of men for whom I do not care; and among those types I would put in prominent place the timid good man - the good man who means well but is afraid. I wish to see it inculcated from the pulpit by every ethical teacher, and in the home, that just to be decent is not enough; that in addition to being a decent man it is the duty of the man to be a strong man. And also this; to let the fact that he is a decent man dawn on his neighbors by itself, and without his announcing it or emphasizing it.1
It is a good thing that of these great landmarks of our history-Gettysburg and Valley Forge-one should commemorate a single tremendous effort and the other what we need, on the whole, much more commonly, and what I think is, on the whole, rather more difficult to do -long-sustained effort. Only men with a touch of the heroic in them could have lasted out that three days' struggle at Gettysburg. Only men fit to rank with the
1 Permission to use this excerpt granted by The Harr Wagner Publishing Company, publishers of Theodore Roosevelt's Realizable Ideals.
great men of all time could have beaten back the mighty onslaught of that gallant and wonderful army of Northern Virginia, whose final supreme effort faded at the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge on that July day fortyone years ago.
But after all, hard though it is to rise to the supreme height of self-sacrifice and of effort at a time of crisis that is short, to rise to it for a single great effort — it is harder yet to rise to the level of a crisis when that crisis takes the form of needing constant, patient, steady work, month after month, year after year, when, too, it does not end after a terrible struggle in a glorious daywhen it means months of gloom and effort steadfastly endured, and triumph wrested only at the very end.
Here at Valley Forge Washington and his Continentals warred not against the foreign soldiery, but against themselves, against all the appeals of our nature that are most difficult to resist against discouragement, discontent, the mean envies and jealousies and heartburnings sure to arise at any time in large bodies of men, but especially sure to arise when defeat and disaster have come to large bodies of men. Here the soldiers who carried our national flag had to suffer from cold, from privation, from hardship, knowing that their foes were well housed, knowing that time went easier for the others than it did for them. And they conquered, because they had in them the spirit that made them steadfast, not merely on an occasional great day, but day after day in the life of daily endeavor to do duty well.
When two lessons are both indispensable, it seems hardly worth while to dwell more on one than on the other. Yet I think that as a people we need more to
learn the lesson of Valley Forge even than that of Gettysburg. I have not the slightest anxiety but that this people, if the need should come in the future, will be able to show the heroism, the supreme effort that was shown at Gettysburg, though it may well be that it would mean a similar two years of effort, checkered by disaster, to lead up to it. But the vital thing for this Nation to do is steadily to cultivate the quality which Washington and those under him so preeminently showed during the winter at Valley Forge- the quality of steady adherence to duty in the teeth of difficulty, in the teeth of discouragement, and even disaster, the quality that makes a man do what is straight, and decent, not one day when a great crisis comes, but every day, day in and day out, until success comes at the end.1
REMEMBER always that the securing of a substantial education, whether by the individual or by a people, is attained only by a process, not by an act. You can no more make a man really educated by giving him a certain curriculum of studies than you can make a people fit for self-government by giving it a paper constitution. The training of an individual so as to fit him to do good work in the world is a matter of years; just as the training of a nation to fit it successfully to fulfill the duties of self-government is a matter, not of a decade or two, but of generations. There are foolish empiricists who believe that the granting of a paper constitution, prefaced by some high-sounding declaration, of itself confers the
1 Remarks at the Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, June 19, 1904.