Miller Center

Inaugural Address (March 4, 1905)

Theodore Roosevelt

My fellow-citizens, no people on earth have more cause to be thankfulthan ours, and this is said reverently, in no spirit of boastfulness inour own strength, but with gratitude to the Giver of Good who has blessedus with the conditions which have enabled us to achieve so large a measureof well-being and of happiness. To us as a people it has been granted tolay the foundations of our national life in a new continent. We are theheirs of the ages, and yet we have had to pay few of the penalties whichin old countries are exacted by the dead hand of a bygone civilization.We have not been obliged to fight for our existence against any alien race;and yet our life has called for the vigor and effort without which themanlier and hardier virtues wither away. Under such conditions it wouldbe our own fault if we failed; and the success which we have had in thepast, the success which we confidently believe the future will bring, shouldcause in us no feeling of vainglory, but rather a deep and abiding realizationof all which life has offered us; a full acknowledgment of the responsibilitywhich is ours; and a fixed determination to show that under a free governmenta mighty people can thrive best, alike as regards the things of the bodyand the things of the soul. 

Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us.We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither.We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness intorelations with the other nations of the earth, and we must behave as beseemsa people with such responsibilities. Toward all other nations, large andsmall, our attitude must be one of cordial and sincere friendship. We mustshow not only in our words, but in our deeds, that we are earnestly desirousof securing their good will by acting toward them in a spirit of just andgenerous recognition of all their rights. But justice and generosity ina nation, as in an individual, count most when shown not by the weak butby the strong. While ever careful to refrain from wrongdoing others, wemust be no less insistent that we are not wronged ourselves. We wish peace,but we wish the peace of justice, the peace of righteousness. We wish itbecause we think it is right and not because we are afraid. No weak nationthat acts manfully and justly should ever have cause to fear us, and nostrong power should ever be able to single us out as a subject for insolentaggression. 

Our relations with the other powers of the world are important; butstill more important are our relations among ourselves. Such growth inwealth, in population, and in power as this nation has seen during thecentury and a quarter of its national life is inevitably accompanied bya like growth in the problems which are ever before every nation that risesto greatness. Power invariably means both responsibility and danger. Ourforefathers faced certain perils which we have outgrown. We now face otherperils, the very existence of which it was impossible that they shouldforesee. Modern life is both complex and intense, and the tremendous changeswrought by the extraordinary industrial development of the last half centuryare felt in every fiber of our social and political being. Never beforehave men tried so vast and formidable an experiment as that of administeringthe affairs of a continent under the forms of a Democratic republic. Theconditions which have told for our marvelous material well-being, whichhave developed to a very high degree our energy, self-reliance, and individualinitiative, have also brought the care and anxiety inseparable from theaccumulation of great wealth in industrial centers. Upon the success ofour experiment much depends, not only as regards our own welfare, but asregards the welfare of mankind. If we fail, the cause of free self-governmentthroughout the world will rock to its foundations, and therefore our responsibilityis heavy, to ourselves, to the world as it is to-day, and to the generationsyet unborn. There is no good reason why we should fear the future, butthere is every reason why we should face it seriously, neither hiding fromourselves the gravity of the problems before us nor fearing to approachthese problems with the unbending, unflinching purpose to solve them aright. 

Yet, after all, though the problems are new, though the tasks set beforeus differ from the tasks set before our fathers who founded and preservedthis Republic, the spirit in which these tasks must be undertaken and theseproblems faced, if our duty is to be well done, remains essentially unchanged.We know that self-government is difficult. We know that no people needssuch high traits of character as that people which seeks to govern itsaffairs aright through the freely expressed will of the freemen who composeit. But we have faith that we shall not prove false to the memories ofthe men of the mighty past. They did their work, they left us the splendidheritage we now enjoy. We in our turn have an assured confidence that weshall be able to leave this heritage unwasted and enlarged to our childrenand our children's children. To do so we must show, not merely in greatcrises, but in the everyday affairs of life, the qualities of practicalintelligence, of courage, of hardihood, and endurance, and above all thepower of devotion to a lofty ideal, which made great the men who foundedthis Republic in the days of Washington, which made great the men who preservedthis Republic in the days of Abraham Lincoln.