Teddy Roosevelt on Manliness

This is an excerpt from an address Teddy Roosevelt made to the citizens of Colorado, on that state’s twenty-fifth anniversary. The bolded portion is, in my view, the most succinct tract on manliness ever written, save of course Kipling’s immortal ‘If.’ This gem is worth pondering and meditation, for it quite well balances those qualities of mind and body, and spirit, which make for full mature personhood and pave the way to unselfish citizenship and devotion. Teddy even seemingly alludes here to the duality of “manliness and womanliness” requisite in all balanced individuals, though his primary focus is of course on manliness. But it should be noted that just as these enduring virtues “of necessity find a different expression now,” so the social situation has come when a truth has been unlocked, and the hallowed manliness TR lauds is commendable and required not only of our men, but of our women too, in equal measure. Therefore meditations on the virtues of manliness are of great usefulness to those of either gender and all genders, for they permeate the human heart and will forever be required in this tumultuous world we inhabit. 

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“The old iron days have gone, the days when the weakling died as the penalty of inability to hold his own in the rough warfare against his surroundings. We live in softer times. Let us see to it that, while we take advantage of every gentler and more humanizing tendency of the age, we yet preserve the iron quality which made our forefathers and predecessors fit to do the deeds they did. It will of necessity find a different expression now, but the quality itself remains just as necessary as ever. Surely you, Men of the West, you men who with stout heart, cool head, and ready hand have wrought out your own success and built up these great new commonwealths, surely you need no reminder of the fact that if either man or nation wishes to play a great part in the world, there must be no dallying with the life of lazy ease. In the abounding energy and intensity of existence in our mighty democratic Republic there is small space indeed for the idler, for the luxury-loving man who prizes ease more than hard, triumph-crowned effort.

We hold work not as a curse but as a blessing, and we regard the idler with scornful pity. It would be in the highest degree undesirable that we should all work in the same way or at the same things, and for the sake of the greatness of the nation we should in the fullest and most cordial way recognize the fact that some of the most needed work must, from its very nature, be unremunerative in a material sense. Each man must choose so far as the conditions allow him the path to which he is bidden by his own particular powers and inclinations. But if he is a man he must in some way or shape do a man’s work. If, after making all the effort that his strength of body and of mind permits, he yet honorably fails, why, he is still entitled to a certain share of respect because he has made the effort. But if he does not make the effort, or if he makes it half-heartedly and recoils from the labor, the risk, or the irksome monotony of his task, why, he has forfeited all right to our respect, and has shown himself a mere cumberer of the Earth. It is not given to us all to succeed, but it is given to us all to strive manfully to deserve success.

We need, then, the iron qualities that must go with true manhood. We need the positive virtues of resolution, of courage, of indomitable will, of power to do without shrinking the rough work that must always be done, and to persevere through the long days of slow progress or of seeming failure which always come before any final triumph, no matter how brilliant. But we need more than these qualities. This country cannot afford to have its sons less than men; but neither can it afford to have them other than good men. If courage and strength and intellect are unaccompanied by the moral purpose, the moral sense, they become merely forms of expression for unscrupulous force and unscrupulous cunning. If the strong man has not in him the lift toward lofty things his strength makes him only a curse to himself and his neighbor. All this is true in private life, and it is no less true in public life. If Washington and Lincoln had not in them the whipcord moral fiber of moral and mental strength, the soul that steels itself to endure disaster unshaken and with grim resolve to wrest victory from defeat, then the one could not have founded, nor the other preserved, our Federal Union. The least touch of flabbiness, of unhealthy softness, in either would have meant ruin for this nation, and therefore the downfall of the proudest hope of Mankind. But it is no less true that had either been influenced by self-seeking ambition, by callous disregard of others, by contempt for the moral law, he would have dashed us down into the black gulf of failure. Woe to all of us as a people if ever we grow to condone evil because it is successful. We can no more afford to lose social and civic decency and honesty than we can afford to lose the qualities of courage and strength. It is the merest truism to say that the nation rests upon the individual, upon the family- upon individual manliness and womanliness, using the words in their widest and fullest meaning.

To be a good husband or wife, a good neighbor and friend, to be hardworking in business and social relations, to bring up [decent and enterprising] children- to be and to do all of this is to lay the foundations of good citizenship as they must be laid. But we cannot stop even with this. Each of us has not only his duty to himself, his family, and his neighbors, but his duty to the state and to the nation. We are in honor bound each to strive according to his or her strength to bring ever nearer the day when justice and wisdom shall obtain in public life as in private life. We cannot retain the full measure of our self-respect if we cannot retain pride in our citizenship. For the sake not only of ourselves but of our children and our children’s children we must see that this nation stands for strength and honesty both at home and abroad. In our internal policy we cannot afford to rest satisfied until all that the government can do has been done to secure fair dealing and equal justice as between man and man. In the great part which hereafter, whether we will or not, we MUST play in the world at large, let us see to it that we neither do wrong nor shrink from doing right because the right is difficult; that on the one hand we inflict no injury, and that on the other 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 the confident faith in the future welfare and greatness of Mankind.”

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