Popular Science Monthly/Volume 67/August 1905/Address of President Roosevelt Before the National Educational Association

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ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT BEFORE THE NATIONAL EDUCATIONAL ASSOCIATION.

I AM peculiarly pleased to have the chance of addressing this association, for in all this democratic land there is no more genuinely democratic association than this. It is truly democratic, because here each member meets every other member as his peer without regard to whether he is the president of one of the great universities or the newest recruit to that high and honorable profession which has in its charge the upbringing and training of those boys and girls who in a few short years will themselves be settling the destinies of this nation.

It is not too much to say that the most characteristic work of the republic is that done by the educators, by the teachers, for whatever our shortcomings as a nation may be—and we have certain shortcomings—we have at least firmly grasped the fact that we can not do our part in the difficult and all-important work of self-government, that we can not rule and govern ourselves unless we approach the task with developed minds, and with what counts for more even—with trained characters. You teachers make the whole world your debtors.

Of your profession this can be said with more truth than of any other profession, barring only that of the minister of the Gospel himself. If you—you teachers—did not do your work well this republic would not endure beyond the span of the generation.

Moreover, as an incident to your avowed work, you render some well-nigh unbelievable services to the country. For instance, you render to the republic the prime, the vital service of amalgamating into one homogeneous body the children alike of those who are born here and of those who come here from so many different lands lands abroad. You furnish a common training and common ideals for the children of all the mixed peoples who are being fused into one nationality. It is in no small degree due to you and to your efforts that we of this great American republic form one people instead of a group of jarring peoples. The pupils, no matter where they or their parents were born, who are being educated in our public schools will be sure to become imbued with that mutual sympathy, that mutual respect and understanding, which is absolutely indispensable for the working out of the problems we as people have before us.

And one service you render which I regard as wholly indispensable. In our country, where altogether too much prominence is given to the mere possession of wealth, we are under heavy obligations to such a body as this, which substitutes for the ideal of accumulating money the infinitely loftier, non-materialistic ideal of devotion to work worth doing simply for that work's sake.

I do not in the least underestimate the need of having material prosperity as the basis of our civilization, but I most earnestly insist that if our civilization does not build a lofty superstructure on this basis, we can never rank among the really great peoples.

A certain amount of money is of course a necessary thing, as much for the nation as for the individual; and there are few movements in which I more thoroughly believe than in the movement to secure better remuneration for our teachers.

But, after all, the service you render is incalculable, because of the very fact that by your lives you show that you believe ideals to be worth sacrifice and that you are splendidly eager to do non-remunerative work if this work is of good to your fellow-men.

To furnish in your lives such a realized high ideal is to do a great service to the country. The chief harm done by the men of swollen fortune to the community is not the harm that the demagogue is apt to depict as springing from their actions, but the fact that their success sets up a false standard, and so serves as a bad example for the rest of us. If we did not ourselves attach an exaggerated importance to the rich man who is distinguished only by his riches, this rich man would have a most insignificant influence over us.

I want to interject something here that will make you keep your mind on the real meaning of my words. I am speaking of the rich man who thinks only of his riches, not of the rich man who uses his wealth rightly and regards it as means to an end. It is well, in this connection, to remember the explanation of the parable in the Bible about the difficulty encountered by the rich man who wants to get into heaven. It says that such entrance shall be difficult for 'the rich man who trusteth in his riches.' I am here talking just of rich men who trust in their riches, not of those who are good citizens and first-class men, for those of the latter class are entitled to the same respect as any other men.

It is generally our own fault if he does damage to us, for he damages us chiefly by arousing our envy or by rendering us sour and discontented. In his actual business relations he is much more apt to benefit than harm the rest of us, and, though it is eminently right to take whatever steps are necessary in order to prevent the exceptional members of his class from doing harm, it is wicked folly to let ourselves be drawn into any attack upon the wealthy man merely as such. Remember that, you teachers. It is just as wicked to attack men of wealth as such as it is to attack the man of poverty as such. And, furthermore, the man rendered arrogant by the possession of wealth is precisely the man who, if he did not have it, would hate with envious jealousy the man who had it. And remember, also, that both sides of this shield are true.

The man roused into furious discontent and envy because he sees other men better off than himself would most decidedly misbehave himself if he got wealth. Moreover, such an attack is in itself an exceptionally crooked and ugly tribute to wealth, and therefore the proof of an exceptionally ugly and crooked state of mind in the man making the attack. Venomous envy of wealth is simply another form of the spirit which in one of its manifestations takes the form of cringing servility toward wealth, and in another the shape of brutal arrogance on the part of certain men of wealth. Each one of these states of mind, whether it be hatred, servility or arrogance, is in reality closely akin to the other two, for each of them springs from a fantastically twisted and exaggerated idea of the importance of wealth as compared to other things.

The clamor of the demagogue against wealth, the snobbery of the social columns of the newspapers which deal with the doings of the wealthy, and the misconduct of those men of wealth who act with brutal disregard of the rights of others seem superficially to have no fundamental relation; yet in reality they spring from shortcomings which are fundamentally the same, and one of these shortcomings is the failure to have proper ideals. The community that cherishes such ideals and that admires most the men who approximate most closely to those ideals—in that community we shall not find any of these unhealthy ideas of wealth.

This failure must be remedied in large part by the actions of you and your fellow-teachers, your fellow-educators throughout this land. By your lives, no less than by your teachings, you show that, while you regard wealth as a good thing, you regard other things as still better. It is absolutely necessary to earn a certain amount of money; it is a man's first duty to those dependent upon him to earn enough for their support, but after a certain point has been reached money-making can never stand on the same plane with other and nobler forms of effort.

The roll of American worthies numbers men like Washington and Lincoln, Grant and Farragut, Hawthorne and Poe, Fulton and Morse, St. Gaudens and MacMonnies; it numbers statesmen and soldiers, men of letters, artists, sculptors, men of science, inventors, explorers, roadmakers, bridge builders, philanthropists, moral leaders in great reforms; it numbers all these and scores of others; it numbers men who have deserved well in any one of countless fields of activity; but of the rich men it numbers only those who have used their riches aright, who have treated wealth not as an end but as a means, who have shown good conduct in acquiring it and not merely lavish generosity in disposing of it.

And thrice fortunate are you to whom it is given to lead lives of resolute endeavor for the achievement of lofty ideals, and, furthermore, to instill, both by your lives and by your teachings, these ideals into the minds of those who in the next generation will, as the men and women of that generation, determine the position which this nation is to hold in the history of mankind.

And now, in closing, I want to speak to you of certain things that have occurred during the last week and of how those things emphasize what I have just said to you as to the importance of this country having within its limits men who put the realization of high ideals above any form of money making. During this week our country has lost a great statesman who was also a great man of letters, a man who occupied a peculiar and unique position in our community, a man of whose existence we could each of us be proud because his life reflected upon each of us; for the United States as a whole was better because John Hay lived. John Hay entered the public service as a young man just come of age, as the secretary of President Lincoln. He served in the war, he was a member of the Loyal Legion. He was trusted by and was intimate with Lincoln as hardly any other man was. He then went on rendering service after service, and of his merits this was one of them: He had the great advantage and great merit of always being able at any moment to go back to private life unless he could continue in public life on his own terms. He went on rendering service after service to the country until as the climax of his career he served for some six years as secretary of state in two successive administrations, and by what he did and by what he was contributed in no small degree to achieve for this republic the respect of the nations of mankind. Such service as that could not have been rendered save by a man who had before him ideals as far above as the poles from those ideals which have in them any taint of what is base or sordid.

I wished to get for John Hay's successor the man whom I regarded as of all the men in the country that one best fitted to be such successor. In asking him to accept the position of secretary of state I was asking him to submit to a very great pecuniary sacrifice, and I never even thought of that aspect of the question, for I knew he wouldn't, either. I knew that whatever other consideration he had to waive for and against taking the position, the consideration of how it would affect his personal fortune would not be taken into account by Elihu Root. And he has accepted.

And now I am not speaking of Hay and Root as solitary exceptions. On the contrary, I am speaking of them as typical of a large class of men in public life, and when we hear so much criticism of certain aspects of our public life and of certain of our public servants, criticism which I regret to state is in many cases deserved, it is well for us to remember also the other side of the picture, to remember that here in America we now have and always have had at the command of the nation in any crisis, in any emergency, the very best ability to be found within the nation, and that ability given with the utmost freedom, given lavishly and generously, although to the great pecuniary loss of the man giving it. There is not in my cabinet a man to whose financial disadvantage it is not to sit in the cabinet. There is not in my cabinet one man who does not have to give up something substantial, very largely substantial sometimes, that it is a very real hardship for him to give up, in order that he may continue in the service of the nation, and have the only reward for which he looks or for which he cares, the consciousness of having done service that is worth rendering.

And I hope more and more throughout this nation to see the spirit grow which makes such service possible. I hope more and more to see the sentiment of the community as a whole become such that each man shall feel it borne in on him, whether he is in public life or in private life—mind you, some of the very greatest public services can be best rendered by those who are not in public life—that the chance to do good work is the greatest chance that can come to any man or any woman in our generation, or in any other generation. That if such work can be well done it is in itself the amplest reward and the amplest prize.