Quotations from the speeches and other works of Theodore Roosevelt

Big Stick

"Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far"

During TR's term as Governor of NY State he fought with the party bosses, particularly Boss Tom Platt regarding a political appointment. Roosevelt held out, although the boss threatened, to "ruin" him. In the end the boss gave in.

According to Nathan Miller in his book "Theodore Roosevelt, A Life", page 337,

"Looking back upon his handling of the incident, Roosevelt thought he 'never saw a bluff carried more resolutely through to the final limit.' And writing to a friend a few days later, he observed: 'I have always been fond of the West African proverb: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." ' "

The proverb and the policy followed him into numerous instances in his career, including his policies abroad during his presidency.

Man in the Arena

One of the top three most requested quotes is that regarding the "man in the arena" or "not the critic"

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

"Citizenship in a Republic,"
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Below are additional quotations related to the more famous and later quote. These quotes taken from a cdrom - The Works of Theodore Roosevelt - National Edition, A PRODUCT OF H-BAR ENTERPRISES COPYRIGHT 1997

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." (1891)

"Criticism is necessary and useful; it is often indispensable; but it can never take the place of action, or be even a poor substitute for it. The function of the mere critic is of very subordinate usefulness. It is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing the stress and the danger." (1894)

Square Deal

"Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense."... "We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less.""The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us."
New York State Fair, Syracuse, September 7, 1903

"A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. More than that no man is entitled, and less than that no man shall have."
Speech to veterans, Springfield, IL, July 4, 1903

"We demand that big business give the people a square deal; in return we must insist that when anyone engaged in big business honestly endeavors to do right he shall himself be given a square deal."
Letter to Sir Edward Gray, November 15, 1913

Presidential Criticism

Recently several people have written to ask us about a viewpoint TR had on criticism of the presidency. This quote was part of an editorial he wrote for the "Kansas City Star" during World War I.

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."

"Roosevelt in the Kansas City Star", 149
May 7, 1918

Women's Rights

Theodore Roosevelt was in the forefront of thinking in his day, advocating for women's rights. His undergraduate thesis at Harvard was on this topic.

"Viewed purely in the abstract, I think there can be no question that women should have equal rights with men."..."Especially as regards the laws relating to marriage there should be the most absolute equality between the two sexes. I do not think the woman should assume the man's name."
"The Practicability of Equalizing Men and Women before the Law"
Senior thesis at Harvard, 1880

"Much can be done by law towards putting women on a footing of complete and entire equal rights with man - including the right to vote, the right to hold and use property, and the right to enter any profession she desires on the same terms as the man."..."Women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter, and when their work is as valuable as that of a man it should be paid as highly."
An Autobiography, 1913

"Working women have the same need to protection that working men have; the ballot is as necessary for one class as to the other; we do not believe that with the two sexes there is identity of function; but we do believe there should be equality of right."
Speech, National Convention of the Progressive Party, Chicago, IL, August 6, 1912

Children

City streets are unsatisfactory playgrounds for children because of the danger, because most good games are against the law, because they are too hot in summer, and because in crowded sections of the city they are apt to be schools of crime. Neither do small back yards nor ornamental grass plots meet the needs of any but the very small children. Older children who would play vigorous games must have places especially set aside for them; and, since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools. This means that they must be distributed over the cities in such a way as to be within walking distance of every boy and girl, as most children can not afford to pay carfare.
(To Cuno H. Rudolph, Washington Playground Association, February 16, 1907.) Presidential Addresses and State Papers VI, 1163.

"It is no use to preach to [children] if you do not act decently yourself."
Speech to Holy Name Society, Oyster Bay, August 16, 1903

"For unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison."
An Autobiography, 1913

"I never keep boys waiting. It's a hard trial for a boy to wait."

"The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name." "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."
Chicago, IL, April 10, 1899

"Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground."
The Groton School, Groton, MA, May 24, 1904

Conservation

"Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so."
Seventh Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1907

"We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed; and because of that want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted...So any nation which in its youth lives only for the day, reaps without sowing, and consumes without husbanding, must expect the penalty of the prodigal whose labor could with difficulty find him the bare means of life."
"Arbor Day - A Message to the School-Children of the United States" April 15, 1907

"There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country."
Confession of Faith Speech, Progressive National Convention, Chicago, IL, August 6, 1912

"Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying the 'the game belongs to the people.' So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The 'greatest good for the greatest number' applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method."
A Book-Lover's Holidays in the Open, 1916

"The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others."
Address to the Deep Waterway Convention, Memphis, TN, October 4, 1907

Other Quotes

"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."
"The Strenuous Life"

"Is America a weakling, to shrink from the work of the great world powers? No! The young giant of the West stands on a continent and clasps the crest of an ocean in either hand. Our nation, glorious in youth and strength, looks into the future with eager eyes and rejoices as a strong man to run a race."
Letter to John Hay, American Ambassador to the Court of St. James, London, Written in Washington,
DC, June 7, 1897

"A healthy-minded boy should feel hearty contempt for the coward and even more hearty indignation for the boy who bullies girls or small boys, or tortures animals."..."What we have a right to expect of the American boy is that he shall turn out to be a good American man."

"The American Boy," St. Nicholas Magazine, May 1900

"There are good men and bad men of all nationalities, creeds and colors; and if this world of ours is ever to become what we hope some day it may become, it must be by the general recognition that the man's heart and soul, the man's worth and actions, determine his standing."
Letter, Oyster Bay, NY, September 1, 1903

"If a man does not have an ideal and try to live up to it, then he becomes a mean, base and sordid creature, no matter how successful."
Letter to his son Kermit, quoted in Theodore Roosevelt by Joseph Bucklin Bishop, 1915

"There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live - I have no use for the sour-faced man - and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do."

Talk to schoolchildren in Oyster Bay, Christmastime 1898

"I have a perfect horror of words that are not backed up by deeds."
Oyster Bay, NY, July 7, 1915

"The object of government is the welfare of the people." "Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us."
"The New Nationalism" speech, Osawatomie, Kansas, August 31, 1910

"This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in."
Chicago, IL, June 17, 1912

"I don't think any President ever enjoyed himself more than I did. Moreover, I don't think any ex-President ever enjoyed himself more."... "Success - the real success - does not depend upon the position you hold, but upon how you carry yourself in that position."
University of Cambridge, England, May 26, 1910

"A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user."
An Autobiography, 1913

"I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life; I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."
Des Moines, Iowa, November 4, 1910

"The worst of all fears is the fear of living."
An Autobiography, 1913

"There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to 'mean' horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid."
An Autobiography, 1913

"To borrow a simile from the football field, we believe that men must play fair, but that there must be no shirking, and that the success can only come to the player who 'hits the line hard.' "
Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, NY, October 1897

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready."
San Francisco, CA, May 13, 1903

"Men with the muckrake are often indispensable to the well-being of society, but only if they know when to stop raking the muck." "An epidemic in indiscriminate assault upon character does not good, but very great harm." "There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil practice, whether in politics, in business, or in social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform, or in book, magazine or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful."
Washington, DC, April 14, 1906

"No man can lead a public career really worth leading, no man can act with rugged independence in serious crises, nor strike at great abuses, nor afford to make powerful and unscrupulous foes, if he is himself vulnerable in his private character."
An Autobiography, 1913

"This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in."
Chicago, IL, June 17, 1912

"There is not a man of us who does not at times need a helping hand to be stretched out to him, and then shame upon him who will not stretch out the helping hand to his brother."
Pasadena, CA, May 8, 1903

"Don't hit at all if you can help it; don't hit a man if you can possibly avoid it; but if you do hit him, put him to sleep."
New York City, February 17, 1899

"No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it.""Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor."

Third Annual Message to Congress, December 7, 1903

"It is true of the Nation, as of the individual, that the greatest doer must also be a great dreamer."
Berkeley, CA, 1911

"The bulk of government is not legislation but administration." "Men can never escape being governed. Either they must govern themselves or they must submit to being governed by others."
Jamestown, VA, April 26, 1907

"It is by no means necessary that a great nation should always stand at the heroic level. But no nation has the root of greatness in it unless in time of need it can rise to the heroic mood."
Fear God and Take Your Own Part, 1916

"This country has nothing to fear from the crooked man who fails. We put him in jail. It is the crooked man who succeeds who is a threat to this country."
Memphis, TN, October 25, 1905

"Alone of human beings the good and wise mother stands on a plane of equal honor with the bravest soldier; for she has gladly gone down to the brink of the chasm of darkness to bring back the children in whose hands rests the future of the years. "
The Great Adventure, 1918

"There is not in all America a more dangerous trait than the deification of mere smartness unaccompanied by any sense of moral responsibility."
Abilene, KS, May 2, 1903 

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