An Autobiography By Theodore Roosevelt


Americans learn only from catastrophes and not from experience. 

Remember that in the present stage of civilization a proper armament is the surest guarantee of peace—and is the only guarantee that war, if it does come, will not mean irreparable and overwhelming disaster.

They had not the slightest understanding of the needs, interests, ways of thought, and convictions of the average small man; and the small man felt this, although he could not express it, and sensed that they were really not concerned with his welfare, and that they did not offer him anything materially better from his point of view than the machine.

...who neither by personality nor by program gave the ordinary plain people any belief that there was promise of vital good to them in the change. 

I therefore made no effort to create a machine of my own, and consistently adopted the plan of going over the heads of men holding public office and of the men in control of the organization, and appealing directly to the people behind them. 

I made up my mind that the only way I could beat the bosses whenever the need to do so arose (and unless there was such need I did not wish to try) was, not by attempting to manipulate the machinery, and not by trusting merely to the professional reformer, but by making my appeal as directly and as emphatically as I knew how to the mass of voters themselves, to the people, to the men who if waked up would be able to impose their will on their representatives. My success depended upon getting them to take such an active interest in affairs as to enable them to exercise control over their representatives. 

I knew that if they were persuaded that I was engaged in a mere faction fight against him, that it was a mere issue between his ambition and mine, they would at once become indifferent, and my fight would be lost. (Appealing to a higher cause in man.)

...was waged from a sense of duty for real and tangible causes such as the promotion of governmental efficiency and honesty, and forcing powerful moneyed men to take the proper attitude toward the community at large.

I did not wish to humiliate them or to seem victorious over them; what I wished was to secure the things that I thought it essential to the men and women of the State to secure. 

I made a fair fight in the open.

I accomplished this only by arousing the people and riveting their attention on what was done.

It is so much easier to be a harmless dove than a wise serpent.

There are men who love out-of-doors who yet never open a book; and other men who love books but to whom the great book of mature is a sealed volume, and the lines written therein blurred and illegible. 

Love of outdoor life, love of simple and hardy pastimes, can be gratified by men and women who do not possess large means, and who work hard; and so can love of good books—not of good bindings and of first editions, excellent enough in their way but sheer luxuries—I mean love of reading books, owning them if possible of course, but, if that is not possible, getting them from a circulating library.

True sportsmen should take the lead in such a movement, for if there is to be any shooting there must be something to shoot; the prime necessity is to keep, and not to kill out, even the birds which in legitimate numbers may be shot. 

At Sagamore Hill we love a great man things—birds and trees and books, and all things beautiful, and horses and rifles and children and hard work and the joy of life. 

Books are almost as individual as friends.

...there are books which a man or woman uses as instruments of a profession—law books, medical books, cookery books, and the like. I am not speaking of these, for they are not properly "books" at all; they come in the category of time-tables, telephone directories, and other useful agencies of civilized life. I am speaking of books that are meant to be read... the one test to which I demand that they all submit is that of being interesting. If the book is not interesting to the reader, then in all but as infinitesimal number of cases it gives scant benefit to the reader. I read them because I enjoyed them, because I liked them, and the profit came in as part of the enjoyment. 

..."what books a statesman should read", and my answer is, poetry and novels—including short stories under the head of novels. He ought to read interesting books on history and government, and books of science and philosophy; and really good books on these subjects are as enthralling as any fiction ever written in prose or verse. Gibbon and Macaulay, Herodotus, Thucydides and Tacitus, the Heimskringla, Froissart, Joinville and Villehardouin, Parman and Mahan, Mommsen and Ranke—why! there are scores and scores of solid histories, the best in the world, which are as absorbing as the best of all the novels, and of as permanent value. The same thing is true of Darwin and Huxley and Carlyle and Emerson, and parts of Kant, and of volumes like Sutherland's "Growth of the Moral Instinct," or Acton's Essays and Lounsbury's studies—here again I am not trying to class books together, or measure one by another, or enumerate one in a thousand of those worth reading, but just to indicate that any man or woman of some intelligence and some cultivation can in some line or other of serious thought, scientific or historical or philosophical or economic or governmental, find any number of books which are charming to read, and which in addition give that for which his or her should hungers. I do not for a minute mean that the statesmen ought not to read a great many different books of this character, just as every one else should read them. But, in the final event, the statesman, and the publicist, and the reformer, and the agitator for new things, and the upholder of what is good in old things, all need more than anything else to know human nature, to know the needs of the human should; and they will find this nature and these needs set forth as nowhere else by the great imaginative writers, whether of prose or of poetry. 

It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone; but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching. And as for a life deliberately devoted to pleasure as an end—why, the greatest happiness is the happiness that comes as a by-product of striving to do what must be done, even though sorrow is met in the doing. 

Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.

They were never allowed to be disobedient or to shirk lessons or work; and they were encouraged to have all the fun possible. 

It is impossible to win the great prizes of life without running risks, and the greatest of all prizes are those connected with the home.

The Jackson-Lincoln view is that a President who is fit to do good work should be able to form his own judgement as to his own subordinates, and, above all, of the subordinates standing highest and in closet and most intimate touch with him.

The existence of any method, standard, custom, or practice is no reason for its continuance when a better is offered.

It was a curious instance of how able and astute men sometimes commit blunders because of sheer inability to understand intensity of disinterested motive in others.

The word "panic" means fear, unreasoning fear; to stop a panic it is necessary to restore confidence.

In every such crisis the temptation to indecision, to non-action, is great, for excuses can always be found for non-action, and action means risk and the certainty of blame to the man who acts. But if the man is worth his salt he will do his duty, he will give the people the benefit of the doubt, and act in any way which their interests demand and which is not affirmatively prohibited by law, unheeding the likelihood that he himself, when the crisis is over and the danger past, will be assailed for what he has done. darned on me that they were not objecting to the thing, but to the name. I found that they did not mind my appointing any man, whether he was a labor man or not, so long as he was not appointed as a labor man, or as a representative of labor; they did not object to my exercising any latitude I chose in the appointments so long as they were made under the headings they had given. 

A simple and poor society can exist as a democracy on a basis of sheer individualism. But a rich and complex industrial society cannot so exist; for some individuals, and especially those artificial individuals called corporations, become so very big that they ordinary individual is utterly dwarfed beside them, and cannot deal with them on terms of equality. It therefore becomes necessary for these ordinary individuals to combine in their turn, first in order to act in their collective capacity through that biggest of all combinations called the Government, and second, to act, also in their own self-defense, through private combinations, such as farmers' associations and trade unions. 

They did not see that their property rights, which they so stoutly defended, were of the same texture as were the human rights, which they so blindly and hotly denied. They did not see that the power which they exercised by representing their stockholds was of the same texture as the power which the union leaders demanded of representing the workmen, who had democratically elected them. They did not see that the right to use one's property as one will can be maintained only so long as it is consistent with the maintenance of certain fundamental human rights, of the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or, as we may restate them in these later days, of the rights of the worker to a living wage, to reasonable hours of labor, to decent working and living conditions, to freedom of thought and speech and industrial representation,—in short, to a measure of industrial democracy and, in return for his arduous toil, to a worthy and decent life according to American standards. Still another thing these great business leaders did not see. They did not see that both their interests and the interests of the workers must be accommodated, and if need be, subordinated, to the fundamental permanent interests of the whole community. No man and no group of men may so exercise their rights as to deprive the nation of the things which are necessary and vital to the common life. A strike which ties up the coal supplies of a whole section is a strike invested with a public interest.

...the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action...

The only safe rule is to promise little, and faithfully to keep every promise; to "speak softly and carry a big stick."

Neither in national nor in private affairs is it ordinarily advisable to make a bluff which cannot be put through—personally, I never believe in doing it under any circumstances. 

Hitherto peace has often come only because some strong and on the whole just power has by armed force, or the threat of armed force, put a stop disorder. 

A council of war never fights, and in a crisis the duty of a leader is to lead and not to take refuge behind the generally timid wisdom of a multitude of councillors.