A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
July 4th, 2011
By Dan Miller
Here are some words from a Fourth of July speech given by Theodore Roosevelt to the citizens of Dickinson, in the Dakotas, back in 1886. Dickinson had a population of about seven hundred but many from other communities came and it was the largest crowd ever seen in Stark County. According to David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback,
A parade led by the Dickinson Silver Cornet Band included a wagon drawn by four white horses carrying thirty-eight little girls dressed in white, representing the states of the Union. According to one Medora man, everybody got caught up in the spirit and wanted to be part of the parade, with the result there was no one left to watch except two drunks who were beyond watching anything.
TR’s speech may seem naive and excessively idealistic to many in these days of multicultural ethics and feelings that it the government’s job, rather than our own, to care for us — to provide for us from conception and birth till death — as would a kindly guardian for an incompetent ward. If TR’s words now strike many as naive and overly idealistic, so much the pity.
Here is some of what TR said:
I am peculiarly glad to have an opportunity of addressing you, my fellow citizens of Dakota, on the Fourth of July, because it always seems to me that those who dwell in a new territory and whose actions, therefore, are peculiarly fruitful, for good and bad alike, in shaping the future, have in consequence peculiar responsibilities. … Much has been given to us, and so, much will be expected of us; and we must take heed to use aright the gifts entrusted to our care.
The Declaration of Independence derived its peculiar importance, not on account of what America was, but because of what she was to become; she shared with other nations the present, and she yielded to them the past, but it was felt in return that to her, and to her especially, belonged the future. It is the same with us here. We, grangers and cowboys alike, have opened a new land. … [T]he first comers in a land can, by their individual efforts, do far more to channel out the course in which its history is to run than can those who come after them; and their labors, whether exercised on the side of evil or on the side of good, are far more effective than if they had remained in old settled communities.
So it is peculiarly incumbent on us here today so to act throughout our lives as to leave our children a heritage, for which we will receive their blessings and not their curse. … If you fail to work in public, as well as in private, for honesty and uprightness and virtue, if you condone vice because the vicious man is smart, or if you in any other way cast your weight into the scales in favor of evil, you are just so far corrupting and making less valuable the birthright of your children. …
It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it. …
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