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Source: Theodore Roosevelt, Twenty-Sixth President of the United States
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “The Future” [chapter 21]
Author(s): Banks, Charles Eugene; Armstrong, Le Roy
Publisher: S. Stone
Place of publication: Chicago, Illinois
Year of publication: 1901
Pagination: 394-413

Banks, Charles Eugene, and Le Roy Armstrong. “The Future” [chapter 21]. Theodore Roosevelt, Twenty-Sixth President of the United States. Chicago: S. Stone, 1901: pp. 394-413.
full text of chapter; excerpt of book
Roosevelt presidency (predictions, expectations, etc.); Theodore Roosevelt (public addresses); Theodore Roosevelt (political philosophy); William McKinley (last public address); Theodore Roosevelt (public statements).
Named persons
Lyman Abbott; Grace Duffie Boylan; John Bunyan; Great-heart [variant spelling below]; Patrick Henry; Jesse; Ida McKinley [in notes]; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt; William Shakespeare.
Click here to view the poem by Mrs. Boylan referred to below (p. 397).

This chapter includes an illustration facing page 400, captioned as follows: “The New White House According to Mr. and Mrs. McKinley’s Plans and Approved by President Roosevelt.”

From title page: Theodore Roosevelt, Twenty-Sixth President of the United States: A Typical American.

From title page: By Charles Eugene Banks and Leroy Armstrong; Introductory Chapters by Gen. Joseph Wheeler and Opie Read.


The Future



     The life of a nation is much like the life of a man. It begins with an infancy of weakness, of reliance upon others, a seeking for guidance in the experience of those who are older, in the conservation of all the forces available, and the development to a strength which is not taken seriously by the neighbor nations of the earth. Extension of territory and accumulation of wealth follow, with increasing time for the arts and luxuries which opportunity brings, and then the serene stages where full growth is achieved, and when the hot passions of youth have faded into the dignified serenity of established position. In this period is the nation’s peril. Shakespeare [394][395] has told us of the “Seven Ages of Man”; of the progress from infancy, through strength, to the period of decay, when human senses all have vanished, yet life still lurks in the slowly-pulsing heart; and after that comes dissolution, and the gathering again of elements in other formations; the disappearance of factors as they had been known before, and their reassembling in newer combinings, that shall begin again the strange experiment of life. Some flash into glorious promise, and pass before that promise is fulfilled. Some linger superfluous upon the stage, the glow of a splendid past behind them, the certainty of extinction before.
     So with the nations that have made procession across the page of history. It is fair to gather from the record of those that have vanished some rules that must apply to those that still exist; for those departed have trod one way, and all their exits have led through a single gate.
     This nation we call the United States has seen its time of infancy. It passed impetuous boyhood in 1812. It proved adventurous in 1848. It came to quick blows in its full maturity, and reveled in the exuberance of unmeasured strength from 1861 to 1865. Then came the time of judg- [395][396] ment, of serene self-valuation, of conscious equality with any other, and then utility arrived. Opportunity was seized—opportunity was made. All the resources that lay in the land, that lurked in the air, that thrilled in the brains and the hearts of men were developed, until the nation in wealth, in power and in magnificence stood at the very apex of existence. After that one thing of two must come. In Rome, riches and culture crumbled the foundation stones of empire; and she who from her seven hills had ruled the world passed through the gate, and was buried in that cemetery of the nations beside Greece, and Babylon, and distant Nineveh. There was a time in each when its armies marched whithersoever they pleased, and when its ships came from every port in the known world with gold in the ingot, with silks in the bale. But a nation drunk with power or debauched with vice is a nation diseased and hurrying on to death.
     Perhaps no country in the whole lapse of time has possessed the genius, the wealth or the power of the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. If the leaders of the nation should abandon themselves to the gratification of sense, if the corrosion of idleness should eat at the [396][397] iron of vigor and the wine of indulgence dissolve the pearls of purity, there could be but a single ending to the history so splendidly begun, so magnificently maintained. It is providential that in an era of great possibilities—for either good or evil—the happier fate should be assured by the rise of this man; that whatever of moral malaria might have fastened upon the civic health of the people was corrected by the presence of a man of vigorous right, a prophet of the strenuous life, a citizen who teaches the doctrine “Trust in God, and help yourself.” It is providential that the right man came to the nation at the juncture in its history when it needed him. And it is a matter worthy of reflection that his whole life seems to have been dedicated to a preparation for the work which now engrosses him. Combined in his veins, as Mrs. Boylan has well said in her splendid poem, runs the blood of master races. He comes of a family which flourished on American soil long before the American nation was dreamed of. His parentage, his youth, his training, his education up to arrival at manhood, have all been steps in his preparation, as clearly as was the anointing with oil which set apart the son of Jesse for the throne of [397][398] Israel. His political training, his experience in office, his hunting, his conduct of business affairs, his virile, manly strength and heroic soul—all are the attributes which the man of the hour needed—which the man of the hour must have, or the opportunity of the hour will have vanished forever. In an unusual degree the arrival of this man, so equipped, and at the time, is of the very greatest value to the nation. There can be no tendency to idleness or enervation while the industry and energy of such a man provide an incentive to worthy deeds for the youth of America.
     Patrick Henry, in that wonderful speech before the Virginia convention, said: “There is but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience.” The citizen of the United States can know no better rule by which to decide what shall be the mission and achievement of his country than to study the tendency of the past, and the probable course of the men in control at critical stages. America’s history is, or should be, in the possession of the sons of the Republic. It has been a steady progress toward a definite objective, from the very beginning. In a way, that progress has been more a [398][399] result of extraordinary conditions than of cohesive, concerted planning. The critical time came with the close of the nineteenth century. With power at the flood, with influence untried, with every faculty up to maturity fully developed, there waited possibilities for immeasurable good, for unlimited growth abroad, and consequent unlimited advancement at home; or the probability of growth’s cessation—with the inevitable beginning of deterioration, moral and physical, which has come to every people who, content with achievement, has abandoned progress.
     With that history and tendency known, with the mighty forces understood, the manner of men at the head of affairs in the crisis completes the data required in forming judgment as to what the future of the nation shall be. Very fortunately, Theodore Roosevelt has placed himself on record as to the course he believes his country should follow, and a definite pledge as to the direction in which his influence shall be exerted. At Minneapolis, Minnesota, he delivered a speech September 2, before the blow at his chief had fallen at Buffalo; and in those lines the lamp by which the student may be guided is set aflame. [399][400] From that speech the following illustrative passages are taken:

     In his admirable series of studies of twentieth-century problems, Dr. Lyman Abbott has pointed out that we are a nation of pioneers; that the first colonists to our shores were pioneers, and that pioneers selected out from among the descendants of these early pioneers, mingled with others selected afresh from the old world, pushed westward into the wilderness and laid the foundations for new commonwealths.
     They were men of hope and expectation, of enterprise and energy; for the men of dull content or more dull despair had no part in the great movement into and across the new world.
     Our country has been populated by pioneers, and therefore it has in it more energy, more enterprise, more expansive power than any other in the wide world.
     You whom I am now addressing stand for the most part but one generation removed from these pioneers. You are typical Americans, for you have done the great, the characteristic, the typical work of our American life. In making homes and carving out careers for yourselves and your children, you have built up this State. Throughout our history the success of the homemaker has been but another name for the upbuilding of the nation.
     We have but little room among our people for the timid, the irresolute, and the idle; and it is no less true that there is scant room in the world at large for the nation with mighty thews that dares not to be great.
     Sometimes we hear those who do not work spoken of with envy. Surely the wilfully idle need arouse in the breast of a healthy man no emotion stronger than that of contempt—at the outside no emotion stronger than angry contempt. The feeling of envy would have in it an admission of inferiority on our part, to which the men who know not the sterner joys of life are not entitled. [400][401]
     Poverty is a bitter thing, but it is not as bitter as the existence of restless vacuity and physical, moral and intellectual flabbiness to which those doom themselves who elect to spend all their years in that vainest of all vain pursuits, the pursuit of mere pleasure, as a sufficient end in itself.
     The wilfully idle man, like the wilfully barren woman, has no place in a sane, healthy and vigorous community. Moreover, the gross and hideous selfishness for which each stands defeats even its own miserable aims. Exactly as infinitely the happiest woman is she who has borne and brought up many healthy children, so infinitely the happiest man is he who has toiled hard and successfully in his life work.
     The work may be done in a thousand different ways; with the brain or the hands, in the study, the field, or the workshop; if it is honest work, honestly done, and well worth doing, that is all we have a right to ask.
     Every father and mother here, if they are wise, will bring up their children not to shirk difficulties, but to meet and overcome them; not to strive after a life of ignoble ease, but to strive to do their duty, first to themselves and their families, and then to the whole State; and this duty must inevitably take the shape of work in some form or other.
     It is not possible ever to insure prosperity merely by law. Something for good can be done by law, and bad laws can do an infinity of mischief; but, after all, the best law can only prevent wrong and injustice and give to the thrifty, the far-seeing and the hard-working a chance to exercise to the best advantage their special and peculiar abilities.
     No hard and fast rule can be laid down as to where our legislation shall stop in interfering between man and man, between interest and interest.
     All that can be said is that it is highly undesirable on the one hand to weaken individual initiative, and on the other hand that, in a constantly increasing number of cases, we shall find [401][402] it necessary in the future to shackle cunning as in the past we have shackled force.
     It is not only highly desirable, but necessary, that there should be legislation which shall carefully shield the interests of wage-workers, and which shall discriminate in favor of the honest and humane employer by removing the disadvantage under which he stands when compared with unscrupulous competitors who have no conscience, and will do right only under fear of punishment.
     There is but the scantiest justification for most of the outcry against the men of wealth as such, and it ought to be unnecessary to state that any appeal which directly or indirectly leads to suspicion and hatred among ourselves, which tends to limit opportunity, and, therefore, to shut the door of success against poor men of talent, and, finally, which entails the possibility of lawlessness and violence, is an attack upon the fundamental properties of American citizenship.
     Our interests are at bottom common; in the long run we go up or go down together.
     Yet more and more it is evident that the State, and, if necessary, the nation, has got to possess the right of supervision and control as regards the great corporations which are its creatures; particularly as regards the great business combinations which derive a portion of their importance from the existence of some monopolistic tendency.
     The right should be exercised with caution and self-restraint, but it should exist, so that it may be invoked if the need arises.
     So much for our duties, each to himself and each to his neighbor, within the limits of our own country. But our country, as it strides forward with ever-increasing rapidity to a foremost place among the world powers, must necessarily find, more and more, that it has world duties also.
     There are excellent people who believe that we can shirk these duties and yet retain our self-respect; but these good people are in error. Other good people seek to deter us from [402][403] treading the path of hard but lofty duty by bidding us remember that all nations that have achieved greatness, that have expanded and played their part as world powers, have in the end passed away. So they have; so have all others. The weak and the stationary have vanished as surely as, and more rapidly than, those whose citizens felt within them the life that impels generous souls to great and noble effort.
     This is another way of stating the universal law of death, which is itself part of the universal law of life. The man who works, the man who does great deeds, in the end dies as surely as the veriest idler who cumbers the earth’s surface; but he leaves behind him the great fact that he has done his work well. So it is with nations. While the nation that has dared to be great, that has had the will and the power to change the destiny of the ages, in the end must die, yet no less surely the nation that has played the part of the weakling must also die; and, whereas the nation that has done nothing leaves nothing behind it, the nation that has done a great work really continues, though in changed form, forevermore. The Roman has passed away, exactly as all nations of antiquity which did not expand when he expanded have passed away; but their very memory has vanished, while he himself is still a living force throughout the wide world in our entire civilization of to-day, and will so continue through countless generations, through untold ages
     It is because we believe with all our heart and soul in the greatness of this country, because we feel the thrill of hardy life in our veins, and are confident that to us is given the privilege of playing a leading part in the century that has just opened, that we hail with eager delight the opportunity to do whatever task Providence may allot us.
     We admit with all sincerity that our first duty is within our own household; that we must not merely talk, but act, in favor of cleanliness and decency and righteousness in all political, social and civic matters. No prosperity and no glory can save a nation that is rotten at heart. We must ever keep the core [403][404] of our national being sound, and see to it that not only our citizens in private life, but above all, our statesmen in public life, practice the old, common-place virtues which from time immemorial have lain at the root of all true national well-being.
     Yet while this is our first duty, it is not our whole duty. Exactly as each man, while doing first his duty to his wife and the children within his home, must yet, if he hopes to amount to much, strive mightily in the world outside his home, so our nation, while first of all seeing to its own domestic well-being, must not shrink from playing its part among the great nations without.
     It is both foolish and undignified to indulge in undue self-glorification, and above all in loose-tongued denunciation of other peoples. Whenever on any point we come in contact with a foreign power I hope that we shall always strive to speak courteously and respectfully of that foreign power.
     Let us make it evident that we intend to do justice. Then let us make it equally evident that we will not tolerate injustice being done us in return.
     Let us further make it evident that we use no words which we are not prepared to back up with deeds, and that, while our speech is always moderate, we are ready and willing to make it good. Such an attitude will be the surest possible guarantee of that self-respecting peace, the attainment of which is and must ever be the prime aim of a self-governing people.
     This is the attitude we should take as regards the Monroe doctrine. There is not the least need of blustering about it. Still less should it be used as a pretext for our own aggrandizement at the expense of any other American State.
     But most emphatically we must make it evident that we intend on this point ever to maintain the old American position. Indeed, it is hard to understand how any man can take any other position now that we are all looking forward to the building of the isthmian canal. [404][405]
     Commercially, as far as this doctrine is concerned, all we wish is a fair field and no favor; but if we are wise we shall strenuously insist that under no pretext whatsoever shall there be any territorial aggrandizement on American soil by any European power, and this, no matter what form the territorial aggrandizement may take.
     We most earnestly hope and believe that the chance of our having any hostile military complication with any foreign power is small. But that there will come a strain, a jar, here and there, from commercial and agricultural—that is, from industrial—competition is almost inevitable.
     Here, again, we have got to remember that our first duty is to our own people, and yet that we can get justice best by doing justice. We must continue the policy that has been so brilliantly successful in the past, and so shape our economic system as to give every advantage to the skill, energy and intelligence of our farmers, merchants, manufacturers and wage-workers; and yet we must also remember, in dealing with other nations, that benefits must be given when benefits are sought.
     Throughout a large part of our national career our history has been one of expansion, the expansion being of different kinds at different times. This expansion is not a matter of regret but of pride. It is vain to tell a people as masterful as ours that the spirit of enterprise is not safe. The true American has never feared to run risks when the prize to be won was of sufficient value.
     No nation capable of self-government and of developing by its own efforts a sane and orderly civilization, no matter how small it may be, has anything to fear from us. Our dealings with Cuba illustrate this, and should be forever a subject of just national pride.
     We speak in no spirit of arrogance when we state as a simple historic fact that never in recent years has any great nation acted with such disinterestedness as we have shown in Cuba. We freed the island from the Spanish yoke. We then earnestly [405][406] did our best to help the Cubans in the establishment of free education, of law and order, of material prosperity, of the cleanliness necessary to sanitary well-being in their great cities.
     We did all this at great expense of treasure, at some expense of life; and now we are establishing them in a free and independent commonwealth, and have asked in return nothing whatever save that at no time shall their independence be prostituted to the advantage of some foreign rival of ours or so as to menace our well-being. To have failed to ask this would have amounted to national stultification on our part.
     In the Philippines we have brought peace, and we are at this moment giving them such freedom and self-government as they could never under any conceivable conditions have obtained had we turned them loose to sink into a welter of blood and confusion, or to become the prey of some strong tyranny without or within. We are not trying to subjugate a people; we are trying to develop them and make them a law-abiding, industrious and educated people, and we hope ultimately a self-governing people. We have done our duty to ourselves, and we have done the higher duty of promoting the civilization of mankind.
     The first essential of civilization is law. Anarchy is simply the hand-maiden and forerunner of tyranny and despotism. Law and order enforced by justice and by strength lie at the foundation of civilization. Law must be based upon justice, else it cannot stand, and it must be enforced with resolute firmness, because weakness in enforcing it means in the end that there is no justice and no law—nothing but the rule of disorderly and unscrupulous strength.
     Without the habit of orderly obedience to the law, without the stern enforcement of the laws at the expense of those who defiantly resist them, there can be no possible progress, moral or material, in civilization. There can be no weakening of the law-abiding spirit at home if we are permanently to succeed; and just as little can we afford to show weakness abroad. [406][407]
     Barbarism has and can have no place in a civilized world. It is our duty toward the people living in barbarism to see that they are freed from their chains, and we can only free them by destroying barbarism itself. The missionary, the merchant and the soldier may each have to play a part in this destruction and in the consequent uplifting of the people.
     Exactly as it is the duty of a civilized power scrupulously to respect the rights of all weaker civilized powers and gladly to help those who are struggling toward civilization, so it is its duty to put down savagery and barbarism.
     As in such a work human instruments must be used, and as human instruments are imperfect, at times there will be injustice; at times merchant, or soldier, or even missionary may do wrong. Let us instantly condemn and rectify such wrong when it occurs, and if possible punish the wrongdoer. But, shame, thrice shame to us if we are so foolish as to make such occasional wrongdoing an excuse for failing to perform a great and righteous task.
     So it must be in the future. We gird up our loins as a nation with the stern purpose to play our part manfully in winning the ultimate triumph, and therefore we turn scornfully aside from the paths of mere ease and idleness and with unfaltering steps tread the rough road of endeavor, smiting down the wrong and battling for the right as Greatheart smote and battled in Bunyan’s immortal story.

     September 5, 1901, the day before his assassination, President McKinley delivered a speech at the Pan-American Exposition, in Buffalo, which fairly and clearly expressed his view of the nation’s obligations and duties, and his estimate of the Republic’s immeasurable possibilities. The address has become prophetic. The views [407][408] must be regarded as the crystallized sentiment of the nation, and the policy as that which the American people will resolutely follow. From that notable speech these words are chosen:

     Expositions are the timekeepers of progress. They record the world’s advancement. They stimulate the energy, enterprise and intellect of the people and quicken human genius. They go into the home. They broaden and brighten the daily life of the people. They open mighty storehouses of information to the student. To the commissioners of the Dominion of Canada and the British colonies, the French colonies, the republics of Mexico and of Central and South America, and the commissioners of Cuba and Porto Rico, who share with us in this undertaking, we give the hand of fellowship and felicitate with them upon the triumphs of art, science, education and manufacture which the old has bequeathed to the new century.
     Isolation is no longer possible or desirable. The same important news is read, though in different languages, the same day in all Christendom. The telegraph keeps us advised of what is occurring everywhere, and the press foreshadows, with more or less accuracy, the plans and purposes of the nations. Market prices of products and of securities are hourly known in every commercial mart, and the investments of the people extend beyond their own national boundaries into the remotest parts of the earth.
     At the beginning of the nineteenth century there was not a mile of steam railroad on the globe. Now there are enough miles to make its circuit many times. Then there was not a line of electric telegraph; now we have a vast mileage traversing all lands and all seas. God and man have linked the nations together. No nation can longer be indifferent to any other. And as we are brought more and more in touch with each other the less occasion is there for misunderstanding and the stronger [408][409] the disposition when we have differences to adjust them in the court of arbitration, which is the noblest forum for the settlement of international disputes.
     Our industrial enterprises, which have grown to such great proportions, affect the homes and occupations of the people and the welfare of the country. Our capacity to produce has developed so enormously and our products have so multiplied that the problem of more markets requires our urgent and immediate attention. Only a broad and enlightened policy will keep what we have. No other policy will get more. In these times of marvelous business energy and gain we ought to be looking to the future, strengthening the weak places in our industrial and commercial systems that we may be ready for any storm or strain.
     By sensible trade arrangements which will not interrupt our home production, we shall extend the outlets for our increasing surplus. A system which provides a mutual exchange of commodities is manifestly essential to the continued healthful growth of our export trade. We must not repose in fancied security that we can forever sell everything and buy little or nothing. If such a thing were possible it would not be best for us or for those with whom we deal. We should take from our customers such of their products as we can use without harm to our industries and labor.
     Reciprocity is the natural outgrowth of our wonderful industrial development under the domestic policy now firmly established. What we produce beyond our domestic consumption must have a vent abroad. The excess must be relieved through a foreign outlet, and we should sell everywhere we can and buy wherever the buying will enlarge our sales and productions, and thereby make a greater demand for home labor.
     The period of exclusiveness is past. The expansion of our trade and commerce is the pressing problem. Commercial wars are unprofitable. A policy of good will and friendly trade relations will prevent reprisals. Reciprocity treaties are in har- [409][410] mony with the spirit of the times; measures of retaliation are not.
     If, perchance, some of our tariffs are no longer needed for revenue or to encourage and protect our industries at home, why should they not be employed to extend and promote our markets abroad?
     Then, too, we have inadequate steamship service. New lines of steamers have already been put in commission between the Pacific coast ports of the United States and those on the western coast of Mexico and Central and South America. These should be followed up with direct steamship lines between the eastern coast of the United States and South American ports.
     One of the needs of the times is direct commercial lines from our vast fields of production to the fields of consumption that we have but barely touched. Next in advantage to having the thing to sell is to have the convenience to carry it to the buyer.
     We must encourage our merchant marine. We must have more ships. They must be under the American flag, built and manned and owned by Americans. These will not only be profitable in a commercial sense; they will be messengers of peace and amity wherever they go.
     We must build the isthmian canal, which will unite the two oceans and give a straight line of water communication with the western coast of Central and South America and Mexico. The construction of a Pacific cable cannot be longer postponed.
     In the furtherance of these objects of national interest and concern you are performing an important part.
     The good work will go on. It cannot be stopped. These buildings will disappear; this creation of art and beauty and industry will perish from sight, but their influence will remain to

“Make it live beyond its too short living
 With praises and thanksgiving.”

     Our earnest prayer is that God will graciously vouchsafe [410][411] prosperity, happiness and peace to all our neighbors and like blessings to all the peoples and powers of earth.

     The day of President McKinley’s death, the day Theodore Roosevelt assumed the duties and recorded the oath which made him chief executive of the nation, he pledged himself to carry out the policy of his predecessor, in every detail which went to the peace and prosperity, the liberties and the laws of his country. Here, then, is the “lamp” by which a forecast may be fashioned. The United States will maintain, in its domestic economy, the policies which had affected trade and commerce in the past. There will be a readjustment of tariff duties, a removal of the tax where it is no longer necessary, a reduction where that can be done in accordance with public interest, and an extension and encouragement of trade with the nations beyond our borders. There will be a jealous preservation of the Monroe doctrine, yet a maintaining of peace in the family of nations. And the canal across the Central American isthmus will be built by Americans, financed with American money, and kept within the control of Americans, whether peace or war shall come.
     We know the materials which constitute the [411][412] nation. We know the tendency of public men in this portentous era. And we know the temper of the man whose influence, above that of other men, shall direct the advance of the great Republic. Nothing more conclusively illustrating President Roosevelt’s position in this juncture can be presented than his recent remarks when the subject of his reëlection to his high office was suggested to him, and was used as a means of inducing him to appoint to office a man whom he had learned was unfit.
     “I am going to select the best men for public positions. Men appointed to high public places must be high in morals and in many other respects. If the American people care to show their approval of my course as President during the three years and a half I have to serve, by placing me at the head of the Republican ticket in 1904, I should feel deeply grateful. It would be an honor it would be difficult for any man to decline. But if I have to pander to any cliques, combinations, or movements for their approval, I would not give a snap of my finger for it, or a nomination for it under such circumstances. My endorsement must come from the people of the country.” [412][413]
     When an earlier triumph came to him, Mr. Roosevelt was asked by a friend what had been his motto through life, and he replied: “I have never had any motto, except this: ‘What thy hands find to do, do it with thy might.’”
     This is the story of Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-sixth President of the United States, in the hour when the nation enters its golden era.



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