A little history – Theodore Roosevelt

Troosevelt, Wikimedia Commons

The official Presidential portrait of Theodore Roosevelt. Wikimedia Commons

Teddy Roosevelt was a wise man and much of what he said in our past is just as relevant today than ever. He was a Progressive Republican that fought for the rights of the American worker, and this is one the reasons that he is considered one of the most popular presidents.

Because he believed a living wage was important for the American worker, Roosevelt stated in his speech on social and industrial justice, “The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living–a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit a reasonable saving for old age.”

He fought to rein in the out of control corporate practices that were occurring at that time, because he believed that the corporations should not go against the good of the people. In his 1902 State of the Union speech, Roosevelt stated, “We can do nothing of good in the way of regulating and supervising these corporations until we fix clearly in our minds that we are not attacking the corporations, but endeavoring to do away with any evil in them. We are not hostile to them; we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to subserve the public good. We draw the line against misconduct, not against wealth.”

Teddy Roosevelt also had a problem with corporations contributing to the political campaigns. In his 1906 State of the Union speech, Roosevelt declared, “I again recommend a law prohibiting all corporations from contributing to the campaign expenses of any party. Such a bill has already past one House of Congress. Let individuals contribute as they desire; but let us prohibit in effective fashion all corporations from making contributions for any political purpose, directly or indirectly.”

Below are some videos and recordings of Theodore Roosevelt’s speeches found on the internet to gain more insight into his thinking and how his points could have been spoken today. Each includes the transcripts from the Library of Congress to read along while listening.

Teddy Roosevelt Speech on Social and Industrial Justice

This speech contains excerpts from “A Confession of Faith,” an address originally delivered to the national convention of the Progressive party in Chicago on August 6, 1912.

Transcription of Speech:

Our prime concern is that in dealing with the fundamental law of the land, in assuming finally to interpret it, and therefore finally to make it, the acts of the courts should be subject to and not above the final control of the people as a whole. I deny that the American people have surrendered to any set of men, no matter what their position or their character, the final right to determine those fundamental questions upon which free self-government ultimately depends.

The people themselves must be the ultimate makers of their own Constitution, and where their agents differ in their interpretations of the Constitution the people themselves should be given the chance, after full and deliberate judgment, authoritatively to settle what interpretation it is that their representatives shall thereafter adopt as binding.

We do not question the general honesty of the courts. But in applying to present-day social conditions the general prohibitions that were intended originally as safeguards to the citizen against the arbitrary power of government in the hands of caste and privilege, these prohibitions have been turned by the courts from safeguards against political and social privilege into barriers against political and social justice and advancement.

Our purpose is not to impugn the courts, but to emancipate them from a position where they stand in the way of social justice; and to emancipate the people, in an orderly way, from the iniquity of enforced submission to a doctrine which would turn constitutional provisions which were intended to favor social justice and advancement into prohibitions against such justice and advancement.

In the last twenty years an increasing percentage of our people have come to depend on industry for their livelihood, so that today the wage-workers in industry rank in importance side by side with the tillers of the soil. As a people we cannot afford to let any group of citizens or any individual citizen live or labor under conditions which are injurious to the common welfare. Industry, therefore, must submit to such public regulation as will make it a means of life and health, not of death or inefficiency. We must protect the crushable elements at the base of our present industrial structure.

We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living–a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit a reasonable saving for old age.

Hours are excessive if they fail to afford the worker sufficient time to recuperate and return to his work thoroughly refreshed. We hold that the night labor of women and children is abnormal and should be prohibited; we hold that the employment of women over forty-eight hours per week is abnormal and should be prohibited. We hold that the seven-day working week is abnormal, and we hold that one day of rest in seven should be provided by law. We hold that the continuous industries, operating twenty-four hours out of twenty-four, are abnormal, and where, because of public necessity or for technical reasons (such as molten metal), the twenty-four hours must be divided into two shifts of twelve hours or three shifts of eight, they should by law be divided into three of eight.

Transcription from the Library of Congress.

Theodore Roosevelt The Right of the People to Rule Speech

This speech contains excerpts from “The Right of People to Rule,” an address originally delivered at Carnegie Hall, New York City, on March 20, 1912.

Transcription of Speech:

The great fundamental issue now before our people can be stated briefly. It is, are the American people fit to govern themselves, to rule themselves, to control themselves? I believe they are. My opponents do not. I believe in the right of the people to rule. I believe that the majority of the plain people of the United States will, day in and day out, make fewer mistakes in governing themselves than any smaller class or body of men, no matter what their training, will make in trying to govern them. I believe, again, that the American people are, as a whole, capable of self-control, and of learning by their mistakes. Our opponents pay lip-loyalty to this doctrine; but they show their real beliefs by the way in which they champion every device to make the nominal rule of the people a sham.

I am not leading this fight as a matter of aesthetic pleasure. I am leading because somebody must lead, or else the fight would not be made at all. I prefer to work with moderate, with rational, conservatives, provided only that they do in good faith strive forward toward the light. But when they halt and turn their backs to the light, and sit with the scorners on the seats of reaction, then I must part company with them. We the people cannot turn back. Our aim must be steady, wise progress.

It would be well if our people would study the history of a sister republic. All the woes of France for a century and a quarter have been due to the folly of her people in splitting into the two camps of unreasonable conservatism and unreasonable radicalism. Had pre-Revolutionary France listened to men like Turgot, and backed them up, all would have gone well. But the beneficiaries of privilege, the Bourbon reactionaries, the shortsighted ultra-conservatives, turned down Turgot; and then found that instead of him they had obtained Robespierre. They gained twenty years’ freedom from all restraint and reform, at the cost of the whirlwind of the red terror; and in their turn the unbridled extremists of the terror induced a blind reaction; and so, with convulsion and oscillation from one extreme to another, with alternations of violent radicalism and violent Bourbonism, the French people went through misery toward a shattered goal. May we profit by the experiences of our brother republicans across the water, and go forward steadily, avoiding all wild extremes; and may our ultra-conservatives remember that the rule of the Bourbons brought on the Revolution, and may our would-be revolutionaries remember that no Bourbon was ever such a dangerous enemy of the people and of freedom as the professed friend of both, Robespierre.

There is no danger of a revolution in this country; but there is grave discontent and unrest, and in order to remove them there is need of all the wisdom and probity and deep-seated faith in and purpose to uplift humanity we have at our command. Friends, our task as Americans is to strive for social and industrial justice, achieved through the genuine rule of the people. This is our end, our purpose. The methods for achieving the end are merely expedients, to be finally accepted or rejected according as actual experience shows that they work well or ill. But in our hearts we must have this lofty purpose, and we must strive for it in all earnestness and sincerity, or our work will come to nothing. In order to succeed we need leaders of inspired idealism, leaders to whom are granted great visions, who dream greatly and strive to make their dreams come true; who can kindle the people with the fire from their own burning souls. The leader for the time being, whoever he may be, is but an instrument, to be used until broken and then to be cast aside; and if he is worth his salt he will care no more when he is broken than a soldier cares when he is sent where his life is forfeit in order that the victory may be won. In the long fight for righteousness the watchword for all of us is spend and be spent.

Transcription from the Library of Congress.

Theodore Roosevelt – The Farmer And The Business Man

The speech contains excerpts from “A Confession of Faith,” an address originally delivered to the national convention of the Progressive party in Chicago on August 6, 1912.

Transcription of Speech:

There is no body of our people whose interests are more inextricably interwoven with the interests of all the people than is the case with the farmers. The Country Life Commission should be revived with greatly increased powers; its abandonment was a severe blow to the interests of our people.

The welfare of the farmer is a basic need of this nation. It is the men from the farm who in the past have taken the lead in every great movement within this nation, whether in time of war or in time of peace. It is well to have our cities prosper, but it is not well if they prosper at the expense of the country. In this movement the lead must be taken by the farmers themselves; but our people as a whole, through their governmental agencies, should back the farmers. Everything possible should be done to better the economic condition of the farmer, and also to increase the social value of the life of the farmer, the farmer’s wife, and their children. The burdens of labor and loneliness bear heavily on the women in the country; their welfare should be the especial concern of all of us. Everything possible should be done to make life in the country profitable so as to be attractive from the economic standpoint and there should be just the same chance to live as full, as well-rounded, and as highly useful lives in the country as in the city.

The government must cooperate with the farmer to make the farm more productive. There must be no skinning of the soil. The farm should be left to the farmer’s son in better, and not worse, condition because of its cultivation. Moreover, every invention and improvement, every discovery and economy, should be at the service of the farmer in the work of production; and in addition, he should be helped to cooperate in business fashion with his fellows, so that the money paid by the consumer for the product of the soil shall, to as large a degree as possible, go into the pockets of the man who raised that product from the soil. So long as the farmer leaves cooperative activities with their profit-sharing to the city man of business, so long will the foundations of wealth be undermined and the comforts of enlightenment be impossible in the country communities.

The present conditions of business cannot be accepted as satisfactory. There are too many who do not prosper enough, and of the few who prosper greatly there are certainly some whose prosperity does not mean well for the country. Rational Progressives, no matter how radical, are well aware that nothing the government can do will make some men prosper, and we heartily approve the prosperity, no matter how great, of any man, if it comes as an incident to rendering service to the community; but we wish to shape conditions so that a greater number of the small men in business-the decent, respectable, industrious, and energetic; men who conduct small businesses, who are retail traders, who run small stores and shops–shall be able to succeed, and so that the big man who is dishonest shall not be allowed to succeed at all.

Our aim is to control business, not to strangle it-and above all, not to continue a policy of make-believe strangle toward big concerns that do evil, and constant menace toward both big and little concerns that do well.

Our aim is to promote prosperity and then to see that prosperity is passed around, that there is a proper division of prosperity. We wish to control big business so as to secure among other things good wages for the wage-workers and reasonable prices for the consumers. We will not submit to the prosperity that is obtained by lowering the wages of working men and charging an excessive price to consumers, nor to that other kind of prosperity obtained by swindling investors or getting unfair advantages over business rivals. We propose to make it worth while for our business men to develop the most efficient business agencies, but we propose to make these business agencies do complete justice to our own people. We are against crooked business, big or little. We are in favor of honest business, big or little. We propose to penalize conduct and not size.

Transcription from the Library of Congress.

Theodore Roosevelt Progressive Covenant with the People 1912

The second half of the speech is an excerpt from “A Confession of Faith,” an address originally delivered to the national convention of the Progressive party in Chicago on August 6, 1912.

Transcription of Speech:

Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people. From these great staffs, both of the old parties have ganged aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them in martialling [sic] to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day. Unhampered by tradition, uncorrupted by power, undismayed by the magnitude of the task, the new party offers itself as the instrument of the people, to sweep away old abuses, to build a new and nobler government. This declaration is our covenant with the people and we hereby bind the party and its candidates with this [signation?] to the pledges made there herein. With all my heart and soul, with every particle of high purpose that is within me, I pledge you my word to do everything I can to put every particle of courage, of common sense, and of strength that I have at your disposal, and to endeavor so far as strength has given me to live up to the obligations you have put upon me and to endeavor to carry out in the interest of our whole people the policies to which you have today solemnly dedicated yourselves in the name of the millions of men and women for whom you speak.

Surely there never was a fight better worth making than the one in which we are in. It little matters what befalls any one of us who for the time being stands in the forefront of the battle. I hope we shall win, and I believe that if we can wake the people to what the fight really means we shall win. But, win or lose, we shall not falter. Whatever fate may at the moment overtake any of us, the movement itself will not stop. Our cause is based on the eternal principles of righteousness; even though we who now lead may for the time fail, in the end the cause itself shall triumph. Six weeks ago, here in Chicago, I spoke to the honest representatives of a convention which was not dominated by honest men; a convention wherein sat, alas! a majority of men who, with sneering indifference to every principle of right, so acted as to bring to a shameful end a party which had been founded over half a century ago by men in whose souls burned the fire of lofty endeavor. Now to you men, who, in your turn, have come together to spend and be spent in the endless crusade against wrong, to you who face the future resolute and confident, to you who strive in a spirit of brotherhood for the betterment of our nation, to you who gird yourselves for this great new fight in the never-ending warfare for the good of humankind, I say in closing what in that speech I said in closing: we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.

Transcription from the Library of Congress.

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