“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Abstract:This Fourth of July – along with the beer, hotdogs and firecrackers celebration – take time to reflect on the blessings of the Democracy our Founders bestowed on us and how we can perpetuate and improve our good fortune for our posterity. President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 speech, “Citizenship in a Republic,” guides us in addressing that proposition. Reading time: 6-8 minutes.
Our 4th of July Question:
Now that COViD-19 has settled into tolerability, and we’re able to attend events with greater freedom, our approaching Fourth of July anniversary has additional cause for celebration. But with the political chaos we have, it’s also a time for serious reflection. Roosevelt was correct: We are heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received – A country with stunning natural beauty and resources, and a constitutional Democracy. Our Democracy is expressed in what Lincoln called “Our Apple of Gold,” our Declaration of Independence, framed in silver by our Constitution. Our government implemented by our Declaration/Constitution combination, as Jefferson wrote, is designed to protect our natural rights. Our 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence raises a question each of us should ponder:
What are our 21st Century responsibilities as American Citizens to perpetuate and improve the Democracy our Founders gifted to us, for ourselves and for our posterity?
Theodore Roosevelt’s Answer:
Perhaps no President addressed that question better than Theodore Roosevelt. The photo of Roosevelt and Muir at Yosemite introducing this blog hangs on a wall in my study. Next to the photo I have a plaque with a quote from Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic,” speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris April 23, 1910. The speech is popularly known as “The Man in the Arena:”
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
This Fourth of July, seeped in today’s political chaos, Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” advice, coupled with what he had to say at the beginning of his speech, has special meaning.
After his introduction, Roosevelt began:
“Today I shall speak to you on the subject of individual citizenship…. [F]or you and for us the question of the quality of the individual citizen is supreme. Under other forms of government, under the rule of one man or very few men, the quality of the leaders is all-important…. But with you and us the case is different. With you here, and with us in my own home, in the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average women, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional cries which call for heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed. [emphasis added] The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high; and the average cannot be kept high unless the standard of the leaders is very much higher….
“In short, the good citizen in a republic must realize that [each citizen] ought to possess two sets of qualities, and that neither avails without the other. He must have those qualities which make for efficiency; and that he also must have those qualities which direct the efficiency into channels for the public good….
“In a republic, to be successful we must learn to combine intensity of conviction with a broad tolerance of difference of conviction. Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not [to] be stunted, if there is to be room for healthy growth….”
If You Will Steal For Me …:
“Of one man in especial, beyond any one else, the citizens of a republic should beware, and that is of the man who appeals to them to support him on the ground that he is hostile to other citizens of the republic, that he will secure for those who elect him, in one shape or another, profit at the expense of other citizens of the republic. It makes no difference whether he appeals to class hatred or class interest, to religious or antireligious prejudice. The man who makes such an appeal should always be presumed to make it for the sake of furthering his own interest.”
“One day I was riding the range with a newly hired cowboy, and we came upon a maverick. We roped and threw it; then we built a fire, took out a cinch-ring, heated it in the fire; and then the cowboy started to put on the brand. I said to him, ‘It’s so-and-so’s brand,’ naming the man on whose range we happened to be. He answered: ‘That’s all right, boss; I know my business.’ In another moment I said to him: ‘Hold on, you are putting on my brand!’ To which he answered: ‘That’s all right; I always put on the boss’s brand.’ I answered: ‘Oh, very well. Now you go straight back to the ranch and get whatever is owing to you; I don’t need you any longer.’ He jumped up and said: ‘Why, what’s the matter? I was putting on your brand.’ And I answered: ‘Yes, my friend, and if you will steal for me then you will steal from me.’
“Now, the same principle which applies in private life applies also in public life. If a public man tried to get your vote by saying that he will do something wrong in your interest, you can be absolutely certain that if ever it becomes worth his while he will do something wrong against your interest….”
“The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer…. To you and your kind [he was speaking to educated elites like us] much has been given, and from you much should be expected…. Character must show itself in the man’s performance both of the duty he owes himself and of the duty he owes the state.”
In Democracy of Dollars I wrote:
“Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.” It’s in the renewal, strengthening, and defense of democracy where you and I come in. It’s where achieving a healthy balance between individual liberty and the common good must be achieved, and we must insist on it being accomplished.
Beyond enjoying a family get together and the Fourth’s traditions – the firecrackers and hotdogs and beer – carefully reflect on Roosevelt’s message, for he has much to say to us about today and our responsibilities. If time permits, click on this link and read his speech in its entirety.
There’s no need to regurgitate what’s going on in today’s fractured politics. If we have but ears to hear and eyes to see, we know. We all know it’s time. It’s time for us to become active in our Democracy if it is to survive and prosper for ourselves and our posterity. It’s time for us to get into the arena with those whose opinions differ, where our conviction, coupled with a broad tolerance for their “different convictions,” will assure us that our intellect and conscience will grow and our Democracy will prosper. That’s where our character will show itself.
This Fourth of July, reflect on the gift of Democracy our Founders have bestowed on us. Keep it working for all of us. Resolve to be a Good Citizen. Get into the Arena. Vote. Make political contributions. Maybe run for office. Definitely join with others whose voices must be heard. There are limitless worthy causes, locally and nationally, from our threatened environment to our threatened voting rights, and a lot – like education and infrastructure – in between.
It’s Time. Into the Arena!
Democracy of Dollars is now available in electronic, paperback and hardcover on line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and other online book sellers. There’s a chapter on Lincoln’s Apple of Gold.
If you’d like a signed copy of Democracy of Dollars: