Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was the 25th vice president and 26th president of the United States, as well as the youngest president in U.S. history. He is best remembered for his approachable nickname that inspired the teddy bear and for “carrying a big stick” (or did he?). But Roosevelt was also known in his time for his fresh, inspirational speeches and powerful words.
In addition to his political career, Theodore Roosevelt was a noted author, explorer, soldier, and naturalist. As such, he had a unique appreciation for nature as well as human nature.
“To sit at home, read one's favorite paper, and scoff at the misdeeds of the men who do things is easy, but it is markedly ineffective. It is what evil men count upon the good men's doing;” - "The Higher Life of American Cities" in The Outlook (December 21, 1895)
“I don't pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who doesn’t work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being.”- Remarks to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen in Chattanooga, Tennessee (September 8, 1902)
“The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything.” - “A Young Men's Hero” in Theodore Roosevelt, the Citizen (1904)
“It is no use to preach to [children] if you do not act decently yourself.” - Speech to Holy Name Society, Oyster Bay, August 16, 1903
“Unless a man is master of his soul, all other kinds of mastery amount to little." - quoted in The Bully Pulpit: A Teddy Roosevelt Book of Quotations
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in that gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” - "The Strenuous Life"
“We cannot avoid meeting great issues. All that we can determine for ourselves is whether we shall meet them well or ill.” - “The Strenuous Life”
“... success comes only to those who lead the life of endeavor.” - address at Minnesota State Fair (September 2, 1901)
“I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life; I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.“ - Address in Des Moines, Iowa (November 4, 1910)
Roosevelt was the leader of the Republican Party in his day and a major voice in the Progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century. He frequently spoke about the role of government and the relationship between the people and the government in his speeches.
“The government is us; we are the government, you and I.” - Speech in Asheville, North Carolina (September 9, 1902)
“Greatness means strife for nation and man alike. A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fibre of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage…” - quoted in The Works of Theodore Roosevelt
“We are face to face with our destiny and we must meet it with a high and resolute courage. For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.” - "The Duties of a Great Nation," Campaigns and Controversies (October 5, 1898)
“Women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter, and when their work is as valuable as that of a man it should be paid as highly.” - Applied Idealism
“… we need in our common schools not merely education in book-learning, but also practical training for daily life and work.” - The New Nationalism
“We are all Americans. Our common interests are as broad as the continent … The national government belongs to the whole American people, and where the whole American people are interested, that interest can be guarded effectively only by the national government.” - The New Nationalism
“No country can long endure if its foundations are not laid deep in the material prosperity which comes from thrift, from business energy and enterprise, from hard, unsparing effort in the fields of industrial activity; but neither was any nation ever yet truly great if it relied upon material prosperity alone.” - "The Strenuous Life"
A popular quote often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt is, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” However, the first part of this quote is often forgotten:
"I have always been fond of the West African proverb 'Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.'" - letter to Henry L. Sprague (January 26, 1900)
As he mentions in the letter, he was paraphrasing a West African proverb. The quote became Roosevelt’s motto, and he quoted it in a speech as vice president at the Minnesota State Fair:
There is a homely adage which runs "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." If the American nation will speak softly and yet build and keep at a pitch of highest training a thoroughly efficient Navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far.
Many American leaders and prominent figures left behind a legacy of words to inspire that are as relevant today as when they first spoke or wrote them.