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In a democracy like ours we cannot expect the stream to rise higher than its source. If the average man and the average woman are not of the right type, your public men will not be of the right type. The average man must be decent man in his own home, he must pull his own weight, he must be a decent neighbor, and a man with whom you like to deal, or he cannot be a good citizen. That is good as a beginning; but it is not enough. He must show in his relations with his fellows and in his dealing with the State the essentials of good citizenship. Genius is not necessary, Genius is a fine thing; but fortunately character is not only more common, but better. What he needs to show is character, and there are three essential qualities going to make up character.
In the first place, there is honesty. The bolder a man is the worse he is, if he has n't honesty. Don't be misled by that unfortunate trait sometimes shown by our people - the trait of deifying mere smartness, meaning thereby mental subtlety and ability unencumbered by any sense of responsibility.
But honesty is not enough. I don't care how honest a man is, if he is timid he is no good. I don't want to see a division of our citizenship into good men who are afraid and bad men who are not at all afraid. The honest man who is afraid is of just as little use in civic life as in
You need honesty and then you need courage; but both of them together are not enough. I don't care how honest a man is and how brave he is, if he is a naturalborn fool you can do nothing with him; and perhaps this applies particularly to people in the profession of politics. Of course, the bolder a politician is, if he is dishonest, the worse he is; hunt him out of public life; and a feeble, well-meaning, timid politician, like the other good, timid people, is of no use; but the bold, incorruptible politician who stupidly goes wrong may be just as useless to a community in the long run as if he were hired by some dishonest man to do his work. So there is a third quality; that is, you must possess the saving grace
of common sense. When you get into your average citizen honesty militant, not merely passive, honesty - courage, and common sense, you will find that your representatives in public life will soon show the same traits; and when they do, we shall have gone a long way toward solving the questions which must be solved and must be solved aright, if this nation is to be, as it shall and will be, not merely the greatest republic upon which the sun has ever shone, but the nation which holds out the lamp of hope to all the other nations throughout the world."
IV As soon as I left college I wanted to take an interest in political life; I wanted to find out how the work of governing was really done. Quite a number of nice people in New York, along Fifth Avenue, solemnly advised me not to join any of the regular political organizations, because I would find that they were composed only of “muckers," not of “gentlemen." The answer was easy: “Then they are the ones that govern; if it is the muckers that govern, I want to see if I cannot hold my own with
· Speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium, September 7, 1910.
them. I will join with them in governing you if you are too weak to govern yourself." I intended to be one of the class that governs, not one of the class that is governed. So I joined the political club in my district. I joined it just as I joined the National Guard. If there came a time of civic disturbance in the community, or if we were invaded or were at war with any country, I did not intend to have to hire somebody else to do my shooting for me. I intended to do it myself; and in the same way I intended to do the governing myself, to do my part of it.
I want to see you feel the same way. Education is of good chiefly according to the use you put it to. If it teaches you to be so puffed with pride as to make you misestimate the relative values of things, it becomes a harm and not a benefit. There are few things less desirable than the arid cultivation, the learning and refinement which lead merely to that intellectual conceit which makes a man in a democratic community like ours hold himself aloof from his fellows and pride himself upon the weakness which he mistakes for supercilious strength. Small is the use of those edụcated men who in after life meet no one but themselves, and gather in parlors to discuss wrong conditions which they do not understand and to advocate remedies which have the prime defect of being unworkable. I remember exSpeaker Reed speaking to me of how easy it was to get an absolutely perfect theory to meet any condition as long as you kept that theory in the study, and how difficult it was to get even moderately good results out of any theory when you tried to apply it to the hard facts of actual life. The judgment on practical affairs, polit
ical and social, of the men who keep aloof from conditions of practical life, is apt to be valueless to those other men who do wage effective war against the forces of baseness and of evil.
From the political standpoint an education that leads you into the ranks of the educated ineffectives is a harm, not a good. It is a harm to all of you here if it serves you as an excuse for refusing to mingle with your fellows, for standing aloof from the broad sweep of our national life in a curiously impotent spirit of fancied superiority. If you go into politics, if you go into a ward caucus and try to carry it you lose the feeling of superiority very quickly. The political wrong-headedness of such men is quite as great as that of wholly uneducated men; and no people could be less trustworthy as critics and advisers. The educated man who seeks to console himself for his own lack of the robust qualities necessary to bring success in American politics by moaning over the degeneracy of the times instead of trying to better them, by railing at the men who do the actual work of political life instead of trying himself to do the work, is a poor creature, and, so far as his feeble powers avail, is a damage and not a help to the country.
You may come far short of this disagreeable standard and still be a rather useless member of society. Your education, your cultivation, will not help you if you make the mistake of thinking that it is a substitute for instead of an addition to those qualities which in the struggle of life bring success to the ordinary man without your advantages. Your college training confers no privilege upon you save as tested by the use you make of it. It puts upon you the obligation to show yourselves better able to do certain things than your fellows who have not had your advantages. If it has served merely to make you believe that you are to be excused from effort in after life, that you are to be excused from contact with the actual world of men and events, then it will prove a curse and not a blessing. If on the other hand you treat your education as a weapon the more in your hands, a weapon to fit you to do better in the hard struggle of effort, and not as excusing you in any way from taking part in practical fashion in that struggle, then it will be a benefit to you.
Let each of you college men remember in after life that in the fundamentals he is very much like his fellows who have not been to college, and that if he is to achieve results, instead of confining himself exclusively to disparagement of other men who have achieved them, he must manage to come to some kind of working agreement with these fellows of his. There are times, of course, when it may be the highest duty of a citizen to stand alone, or practically alone. But if this is a man's normal attitude - if normally he is unable to work in combination with a considerable body of his fellows it is safe to set him down as unfit for useful service in a democracy. In popular government results worth having can only be achieved by men who combine worthy ideals with practical good sense; who are resolute to accomplish good purposes, but who can accommodate themselves to the give and take necessary where work has to be done, as almost all important work has to be done, by combination. Moreover, remember that normally the prime object of political life should be to achieve results and not merely to issue manifestoes - save, of course,