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Teddy Roosevelt

“Every man here knows the temptations that beset all of us in this world. At times any man will slip. I do not expect perfection, but I do expect genuine and sincere effort toward being decent and cleanly in thought, in word, and in deed… I expect you to be strong. I would not respect you if you were not. I do not want to see Christianity professed only by weaklings; I want to see it a moving spirit among men of strength. I do not expect you to lose one particle of your strength or courage by being decent.

There is always a tendency among very young men and among boys who are not quite young men as yet to think that to be wicked is rather smart; to think it shows that they are men. Oh, how often you see some young fellow who boasts that he is going to ‘see life,’ meaning by that that he is going to see that part of life which it is a thousandfold better should remain unseen!

I ask that every man here constitute himself his brother’s keeper by setting an example to that younger brother which will prevent him from getting such a false estimate of life. Example is the most potent of all things. If any one of you in the presence of younger boys, and especially the younger people of our own family, misbehave yourself, if you use coarse and blasphemous language before them, you can be sure that these younger people will follow your example and not your precept…

I have told you that I wanted you not only to be decent, but to be strong. These boys will not admire virtue of a merely anaemic type. They believe in courage, in manliness. They admire those who have the quality of being brave, the quality of facing life as life should be faced, the quality that must stand at the root of good citizenship in peace or in war… I want to see each man able to hold his own in the rough life outside, and also, when he is at home, a good man, unselfish in dealing with wife, or mother, or children. Remember that the preaching does not count if it is not backed up by practice. There is no good in your preaching to your boys to be brave if you run away. There is no good in your preaching to them to tell the truth if you do not… We have a right to expect that in your own homes and among your own associates you will prove by your deeds that yours is not a lip-loyalty merely; that you show in actual practice the faith that is in you.”

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Teddy, speaking to the Holy Name Society at Oyster Bay, New York, on August 16th, 1903.

In his original compilation of Teddy’s speeches, Alfred Henry Lewis includes with this text the following worthwhile footnote:

President Roosevelt belongs to the Dutch Reformed Church. His freedom from religious prejudice, however, never fails to stick out. He would no more dream of quarreling with a man because he was a Methodist or a Catholic than he would of quarreling with a man in the car ahead or the car behind on a railway train because of the car he saw fit to travel in. There are many churches just as there are many cars in a train; but he is as tolerant of one as of the other, since they are all going to the same place.

There’s also this old joke, which expresses, in so many words, something of Roosevelt’s point about the gap between preaching and practicing:

A man is driving his five year old to a friend’s house when another car races in front and cuts them off, nearly causing an accident. “Douchebag!” the father yells. A moment later he realizes the indiscretion, pulls over, and turns to face his son. “Your father just said a bad word,” he says. “I was angry at that driver, but that was no excuse for what I said. It was wrong. But just because I said it, it doesn’t make it right, and I don’t ever want to hear you saying it. Is that clear?” His son looks at him and says: “Too late, douchebag.”

Read on:

Teddy Roosevely and the Rough RidersTeddy Roosevelt Riding a MooseTeddy Roosevelt