October 12, 1915: Theodore Roosevelt Addresses the Knights of Columbus

Death had to take him in his sleep, for if he was awake there’d have been a fight.

Remark of Charles Marshall, Vice President of the United States, upon hearing of the death of Theodore Roosevelt

 

On October 12, 1915, Columbus Day, that force of nature Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech to the Knights of Columbus in New York City.  Roosevelt packed so many lives into his 60 years: historian, reformer, rancher, politician, Undersecretary of the Navy, soldier, Governor of New York, President, explorer, naturalist, etc. In 1915 his crusade was to rouse America into readiness if it should become necessary to fight Germany and to instill in the American people a sense of unity and patriotism.  He wanted this nation of immigrants to understand that they were Americans and he wanted no talk of hyphenated Americans.  Many of the important issues of his day translate poorly to our time, and Roosevelt took positions which would inspire, and offend, virtually every segment of the contemporary American political spectrum.  This speech however does have a contemporary ring to it, and if I had been present I suspect that I would have come close to wearing out my hands madly applauding most of it. Here is the text of the speech:

 

FOUR centuries and a quarter have gone by since Columbus by discovering America opened the greatest era in world history. Four centuries have passed since the Spaniards began that colonization on the main land which has resulted in the growth of the nations of Latin-America. Three centuries have passed since, with the settlements on the coasts of Virginia and Massachusetts, the real history of what is now the United States began. All this we ultimately owe to the action of an Italian seaman in the service of a Spanish King and a Spanish Queen. It is eminently fitting that one of the largest and most influential social organizations of this great Republic, a Republic in which the tongue is English, and the blood derived from many sources, should, in its name, commemorate the great Italian. It is eminently fitting to make an address on Americanism before this society.

DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES

We of the United States need above all things to remember that, while we are by blood and culture kin to each of the nations of Europe, we are also separate from each of them. We are a new and -distinct nationality. We are developing our own distinctive culture and civilization, and the worth of this civilization will largely depend upon our determination to keep it distinctively our own. Our sons and daughters should be educated here and not abroad. We should freely take from every other nation whatever we can make of use, but we should adopt and develop to our own peculiar needs what we thus take, and never be content merely to copy.

Our nation was founded to perpetuate democratic principles. These principles are that each man is to be treated on his worth as a man without regard to the land from which his forefathers came and without regard to the creed which he professes. If the United States proves false to these principles of civil and religious liberty, it will have inflicted the greatest blow on the system of free popular government that has ever been inflicted. Here we have had a virgin continent on which to try the experiment of making out of divers race stocks a new nation and of treating all the citizens of that nation in such a fashion as to preserve them equality of opportunity in industrial, civil, and/ political life. Our duty is to secure each man against any injustice by his fellows. (more…)

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Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 12, 1915: Theodore Roosevelt Addresses the Knights of Columbus  
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