Theodore Roosevelt On the Nature of the Presidency, the Republic, and the People

In a unique signed quotation from his most famous speech, the Carnegie Hall Address, with which he opened his 1912 Presidential Campaign, Roosevelt paraphrases Abraham Lincoln’s “last best hope of earth” quotation

The most important signed quotation of TR that we have ever seen, it was frequently used by Ronald Reagan

“The leader for the time being, whoever he may be, is but an instrument, to be used until broken and then to be cast aside; and if he is worth his salt he...

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Theodore Roosevelt On the Nature of the Presidency, the Republic, and the People

In a unique signed quotation from his most famous speech, the Carnegie Hall Address, with which he opened his 1912 Presidential Campaign, Roosevelt paraphrases Abraham Lincoln’s “last best hope of earth” quotation

The most important signed quotation of TR that we have ever seen, it was frequently used by Ronald Reagan

“The leader for the time being, whoever he may be, is but an instrument, to be used until broken and then to be cast aside; and if he is worth his salt he will care no more when he is broken than a soldier cares where he is sent, where his life is proffered in order that the victory may be won. In the long fight for righteousness the watchword for all of us is spend and be spent. We, here in America, hold in our hands the hope of the world, the fate of the coming years; and shame and disgrace will be ours if in our eyes the light of high resolve is dimmed, if we trail in the dust the golden hopes of mankind.”

Before he left office in 1909, Roosevelt hand-picked William H. Taft as his successor and worked to get him elected. But by 1912 TR and his progressive allies felt betrayed by Taft, feeling that he had sold progressivism down the river and turned over control of the party to the bosses. So TR determined to run for president in 1912, and try to wrest the nomination of the Republican Party from Taft. He announced his candidacy in February 1912, and on March 20, at Carnegie Hall, he gave his first major speech after that decision. The hall was packed to capacity that evening. The balcony was filled with activists and social workers, while the main floor glittered with men and women in evening dress. Another crowd of Roosevelt supporters filled the Carnegie Lyceum, a smaller theater and recital hall, and as many as 5,000 others, who could not gain admission, stood cheering in the street. Carnegie Hall had the excitement and flavor of opening night of the opera season. When Roosevelt bounded onto the stage, the building exploded with wild cheers. “Teddy, O! Teddy,” people shouted, waving handkerchiefs and hats from the galleries.

Standing on the raised platform, Roosevelt waved his hand, asking his admirers to take their seats. But a shout came from the back of the hall, and most of those in the crowd jumped back to their feet and cheered for another two minutes. Roosevelt had been working on his speech for more than a week, and called his speech “The Right of the People to Rule.” He was determined to use the Carnegie Hall speech to win the broad support of progressives, to land a blow for progressive principles, to continue his new fight for political primaries, to inspire his supporters, and to invigorate his campaign forces.

“The great fundamental issue now before the Republican Party and before our people can be stated briefly,” he began. “It is: Are the American people fit to govern themselves, to rule themselves, to control themselves? I believe they are.” He attacked President Taft’s use of patronage and political bosses to control the delegate selection process. He presented his argument for the cause of social justice by attacking the rich: “We are today suffering from the tyranny of minorities [the wealthy]. It is a small minority that is grabbing our coal-deposits, our water-powers, and our harbor fronts. A small minority is battening on the sale of adulterated food and drugs. It is a small minority that stands behind the present law of master and servant, the sweat-shops, and the whole calendar of social and industrial injustice.” As he neared the end of his address, TR started to pace back and forth on the platform, turning up the pitch and the passion as he explained his reasons for running, “I am not leading this fight as a matter of aesthetic pleasure,” he explained. “I am leading because somebody must lead, or else the fight would not be made at all. We the people cannot turn back. Our aim must be steady, wise progress.

“Friends,” he said as he neared his conclusion, “Our tasks as Americans is to strive for social and industrial justice, achieved through the genuine rule of the people…In order to succeed we need leaders of inspired idealism, leaders to whom are granted great visions, who dream greatly and strive to make their dreams come true; who can kindle the people with the fire from their own burning souls. The leader for the time being, whoever he may be, is but an instrument, to be used until broken and then to be cast aside; and if he is worth his salt he will care no more when he is broken than a soldier cares when he is sent where his life is forfeit in order that the victory may be won. In the long fight for righteousness the watchword for all of us is spend and be spent. It is of little matter whether any one man fails or succeeds; but the cause shall not fail, for it is the cause of mankind.” Then, paraphrasing his idol Abraham Lincoln, he continued, “We, here in America, hold in our hands the hope of the world, the fate of the coming years; and shame and disgrace will be ours if in our eyes the light of high resolve is dimmed, if we trail in the dust the golden hopes of men.” At the end, the audience erupted with applause.

The speech energized progressives everywhere, and telegrams of congratulation poured in. TR’s Secretary of Commerce and Labor, Oscar Straus, said it was “The most eloquent address I ever heard him deliver,” while Scripps reporter Gilson Gardner told TR it was “the best speech you ever gave.” Quotations from the speech became famous, particularly those where he defined leadership and called for self-sacrifice, and when he paraphrased Abraham Lincoln about the United States being the hope of the world.

Typed quotation signed, joining two of the most inspirational quotations from the Carnegie Hall speech: “The leader for the time being, whoever he may be, is but an instrument, to be used until broken and then to be cast aside; and if he is worth his salt he will care no more when he is broken than a soldier cares where he is sent, where his life is proffered in order that the victory may be won. In the long fight for righteousness the watchword for all of us is spend and be spent. We, here in America, hold in our hands the hope of the world, the fate of the coming years; and shame and disgrace will be ours if in our eyes the light of high resolve is dimmed, if we trail in the dust the golden hopes of mankind.” TR has revised the last word of the quotation in his own hand.

This is undoubtedly the most significant signed quotation from a TR speech that we have ever seen, and the only one from the Carnegie Hall speech. It sets a high bar for leaders, stressing that they must fight for a cause, without regard to what happens to them personally. And as Abraham Lincoln said of the American experiment and personal sacrifices to save it, “We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth,” TR’s words similarly resound, “We, here in America, hold in our hands the hope of the world… and shame and disgrace will be ours…if we trail in the dust the golden hopes of mankind.”

TR ended up as the Progressive Party nominee, and he lost the election to Woodrow Wilson. But the Progressive platform, which included political reforms such as women’s suffrage and direct election of senators, and social reforms including an eight hour work day, a federal minimum wage, social insurance for the unemployed, disabled, and elderly, and the establishment of a national health service and a federal securities commission, were ultimately enacted. Other progressive reforms also passed, as in 1913 Congress created the Federal Reserve as a central banking system to lessen the financial panics that had occurred periodically over the previous two decades, the 16th Amendment was enacted authorizing a federal income tax, lessening the burden on tariffs for providing government revenue, and the Federal Trade Commission and Clayton Antitrust Act prohibited certain business practices and encouraged competition.

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