Today, the Monroe Doctrine Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the speech Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt made on September 1, 1901 at the Minnesota State Fair.
In this speech, he quoted, “Speak softly and carry a big stick” to the crowd of mid-westerners that in turn became a famous quote attributed to him.
The American Monthly Review of Reviews for October 1901 included his entire speech of which an excerpt is provided below:
In his admirable series of studies of twentieth- century problems, Dr. Lyman Abbott has pointed out that we are a nation of pioneers; that the first colonists to our shores were pioneers, and that pioneers selected out from among the descendants of these early pioneers, mingled with others selected afresh from the Old World, pushed westward into the wilderness, and laid the foundations for new commonwealths.
They were men of hope and expectation, of enterprise and energy; for the men of dull content, or more, dull despair, had no part in the great movement into and across the New World.
Our country has been populated by pioneers, and therefore it has in it more energy, more enterprise, more expansive power, than any other in the wide world.
You whom I am now addressing stand, for the most part, but one generation removed from these pioneers.
You are typical Americans, for you have done the great, the characteristic, the typical, work of our American life.
In making homes and carving out careers for yourselves and your children, you have built up this State; throughout our history the success of the home-maker has been but another name for the up building of the nation.
The men who with axe in the forest and pick in the mountains and plow on the prairies pushed to completion the dominion of our people over the American wilderness have given the definite shape to our nation.
They have shown the qualities of daring, endurance, and farsightedness, of eager desire for victory and stubborn refusal to accept defeat, which go to make up the essential manliness of the American character.
Above all, they have recognized in practical form the fundamental law of success in American life — the law of worthy work, the law of high, resolute endeavor.
We have but little room among our people for the timid, the irresolute, and the idle, and it is no less true that there is scant room in the world at large for the nation with mighty thews that dares not to be great.
EAGER FOR OPPORTUNITIES.
It is because we believe with all our heart and soul in the greatness of this country, because we feel the thrill of hardy life in our veins, and are confident that to us is given the privilege of playing a leading part in the century that has just opened, that we hail with eager delight the opportunity to do whatever task Providence may allot us.
We admit with all sincerity that our first duty is within our own household; that we must not merely talk, but act, in favor of cleanliness and decency and righteousness, in all political, social, and civic matters.
No prosperity and no glory can save a nation that is rotten at heart. We must ever keep the core of our national being sound, and see to it that not only our citizens in private life, but above all, our statesmen in public life, practice the old commonplace virtues which from time immemorial have lain at the root of all true national well- being.
Yet, while this is our first duty, it is not our whole duty. Exactly as each man, while doing first his duty to his wife and the children within his home, must yet, if he hopes to amount to much, strive mightily in the world outside his home, so our nation, while first of all seeing to its own domestic well-being, must not shrink from playing its part among the great nations without.
Our duty may take many forms in the future, as it has taken many forms in the past. Nor is it possible to lay down a hard-and-fast rule for all cases. We must ever face the fact of our shifting national needs, of the always changing opportunities that present themselves.
But we may be certain of one thing: whether we wish it or not, we cannot avoid hereafter having duties to do in the face of other nations. All that we can do is to settle whether we shall perform these duties well or ill.
SAY WHAT YOU MEAN.
Right here let me make as vigorous a plea as I know how in favor of saying nothing that we do not mean, and of acting without hesitation up to whatever we say.
A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick — you will go far.”
If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble; and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power.
In private life there are few beings more obnoxious than the man who is always loudly boasting; and if the boaster is not prepared to back up his words, his position becomes absolutely contemptible.
So it is with the nation.
It is both foolish and undignified to indulge in undue self-glorification, and, above all, in loose-tongued denunciation of other peoples.
Whenever on any point we come in contact with a foreign power, I hope that we shall always strive to speak courteously and respectfully of that foreign power.
Let us make it evident that we intend to do justice. Then let us make it equally evident that we will not tolerate injustice being done us in return.
Let us further make it evident that we use no words which we are not prepared to back up with deeds, and that while our speech is always moderate, we are ready and willing to make it good.
Such an attitude will be the surest possible guarantee of that self-respecting peace the attainment of which is and must ever be the prime aim of a self- governing people.
This is the attitude we should take as regards the Monroe Doctrine. There is not the least need of blustering about it. Still less should it be used as a pretext for our own aggrandizement at the expense of any other American state.
But, most emphatically, we must make it evident that we intend on this point ever to maintain the old American position.
Indeed, it is hard to understand how any man can take any other position now that we are all looking forward to the building of the isthmian canal.
The Monroe Doctrine is not international law, but there is no necessity that it should be.
If you will study our past history as a nation, you will see we have made many blunders and have been guilty of many shortcomings, and yet that we have always in the end come out victorious because we have refused to be daunted by blunders and defeats — have recognized them, but have persevered in spite of them.
So it must be in the future. We gird up our loins as a nation with the stern purpose to play our part manfully in winning the ultimate triumph; and therefore we turn scornfully aside from the paths of mere ease and idleness, and with unfaltering steps tread the rough road of endeavor, smiting down the wrong and battling for the right as Greatheart smote and battled in Bunyan’s immortal story.
The Monroe Doctrine Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows against a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt, circa 1901.
coin image courtesy of US Mint