Gongol.com Archives: April 2024

Brian Gongol

April 24, 2024

News "Forethought, shrewdness, self-restraint"

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt delivered a Presidential speech in his home state of New York, in which he pleaded with his fellow Americans to remain worthy of the republic they had so fortunately inherited. "Many qualities are needed by a people which would preserve the power of self-government in fact as well as in name," he encouraged. "Among these qualities are forethought, shrewdness, self-restraint, the courage which refuses to abandon one's own rights, and the disinterested and kindly good sense which enables one to do justice to the rights of others." ■ American history would be worth studying on its own merely for the fascinating story it tells. But it's enormously practical to study, as well. For as much as the country is the product of an idea -- an abstraction about people and self-government that takes shape around a couple of documents from the 1700s -- it's also the product of events that are as much a part of the experiment in self-government as the hypothesis that people can govern themselves. ■ One of the major concerns of Roosevelt's time was the threat of anarchist violence; an anarchist had assassinated William McKinley in 1901. And yet, that anarchist movement instigated Roosevelt to argue that "A healthy republican government must rest upon individuals, not upon classes or sections. As soon as it becomes government by a class or by a section, it departs from the old American ideal." ■ Those words hardly seem out of place today, particularly not at a moment when mass protests centered on group identities have made some universities tense and even threatening places to be. We're no less subject to those same pressures identified by Roosevelt some twelve decades ago than Americans were at his time. That the country endured through its trouble then is a good sign that we can weather difficulty today. But it doesn't happen without individuals choosing to be better than some of our lesser impulses would try to make us.

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