Teddy Roosevelt (2007): "We Have Traveled Far...": Weekend Reading

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How to make proper use of the good parts of an at best ambiguous past: Teddy Roosevelt: "There is nothing easier than to belittle the great men of the past by dwelling only on the points where they come short of the universally recognized standards of the present...

...Men must be judged with reference to the age in which they dwell, and the work they have to do. The Puritan's task was to conquer a continent; not merely to overrun it, but to settle it, to till it, to build upon it a high industrial and social life; and, while engaged in the rough work of taming the shaggy wilderness, at that very time also to lay deep the immovable foundations of our whole American system of civil, political, and religious liberty achieved through the orderly process of law.

This was the work allotted him to do; this is the work he did; and only a master spirit among men could have done it.

We have traveled far since his day.

That liberty of conscience which he demanded for himself, we now realize must be as freely accorded to others as it is resolutely insisted upon for ourselves.

The splendid qualities which he left to his children, we other Americans who are not of Puritan blood also claim as our heritage. You, sons of the Puritans; and we, who are descended from races whom the Puritans would have deemed alien—we are all Americans together. We all feel the same pride in the genesis, in the history, of our people; and therefore this shrine of Puritanism is one at which we all gather to pay homage, no matter from what country our ancestors sprang.

We have gained some things that the Puritan had not—we of this generation, we of the twentieth century, here in this great Republic; but we are also in danger of losing certain things which the Puritan had and which we can by no manner of means afford to lose.

We have gained a joy of living which he had not, and which it is a good thing for every people to have and to develop.

Let us see to it that we do not lose what is more important still; that we do not lose the Puritan's iron sense of duty, his unbending, unflinching will to do the right as it was given him to see the right...