Theodore Roosevelt was a statesman who desired to put his core beliefs on the front line of his public life, not on the back shelf. Looking back in time at his public life may help us make better decisions about whom we’ll choose to elect in our upcoming elections.
When Theodore Roosevelt was New York City's Police Commissioner, there was wide-spread corruption in the police department. He canceled the annual parade of the police, saying: “We will parade only when we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
When he was in the New York Legislature, he sought the impeachment of a corrupt judge. He kept the fight going for eight days: on the first day no other legislator would vote with him and against the Party bosses. On the eighth day, after Roosevelt had rallied the people and the press, the judge was impeached by a vote of 104 to 6.
After Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901 upon the assassination of William McKinley by an anarchist's bullet, he continued to fight for what was straight, and good, and true—and he explained why he did so.
“After a week spent on perplexing problems”, Roosevelt said, “[I]t does so rest my soul to come into the house of the Lord and to sing and mean it, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.’ My great joy and glory is that, in occupying an exalted position in the nation, I am enabled to preach the practical morality of the Bible to my fellow-countrymen and to hold up Christ as the hope and Savior of the world.”
In a speech given in Kansas City on May 1st, 1903, President Roosevelt presented his formula for how to continue our progress as a nation while addressing the turmoil caused by immigration, rapid growth, and social change:
No device that the wit of man can produce, no form of law or of organization among ourselves can supply the lack of fundamental virtues the absence of which has meant the downfall of any nation since the world began. No smartness, no cleverness, unaccompanied by the sense of moral responsibility will ever supply the presence of fundamental precepts put forth in the Bible and put forth in the code of morals of every successful nation in the history of the world from antiquity to modern times.... We are not going to make any new commandments at this stage of the world's progress that will take the place of the old ones. The truths that were spoken on Mount Sinai are truths today. The things that were true when the Golden Rule was promulgated are true now… [A]nd the man is no real friend of his country, no real friend of any set of people in the country, if he appeals to the people only from the standpoint of asking them to see that they get their full share and omits to ask them to do full justice to others also.[T]here is no patent device for getting good citizenship. We need strong bodies; we need more than that; we need strong minds, and, more than that, we need character into which many elements enter, the principal ones being honesty in its widest and deepest sense, decency and morality.
Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech At the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia on June 16, 1903, which provided us with a good description of the type of people we need to look for today to be our elected officials:
In civil life we need decency, honesty and the spirit that makes the man a good husband, a good father, a good neighbor and a good man to work alongside of or to deal with. That makes a man, consequently, who does his duty by the State. The worst crime against this nation which can be committed by any man is the crime of dishonesty, whether in public life, or whether in private life, and we are not to be excused as a people if we ever condone such dishonesty, no matter what other qualities it may be associated with.
The pages upon which I read Theodore Roosevelt’s speeches were yellowed and brittle with age, but the force and truth of his central message is as true today as it was then.