The Sayings of

Theodore Roosevelt is famous for many things among which are his words of wisdom. Listed below, in no particular order, are some quotes worthy of your review. I will add more, as time permits.  Cites, where known are given

If you know of any good ones not listed here, or have a cite for any others please send them to me by clicking here.

For the complete text of TR's "Man in the Arena" speech, click here.

"There should be legislation to provide a complete plan for organizing the great body of volunteers behind the Regular Army and the National Guard when war has come. Congressional assistance should be given those who are endeavoring to promote rifle practice so that our men, in the Services and out of them, may know how to use the rifle. While teams representing the United States won the Rifle and Revolver Championships of the World against all comers in England this year, it is unfortunately true that the great body of our citizens shoot less and less as time goes on. To meet this we should encourage rifle practice among schoolboys, and indeed among all classes, as well as in the military services, by every means in our power. Thus, and not otherwise, may we be able to assist in preserving the peace of the world. Fit to hold our own against the strong nations of the earth, our voice for peace will carry to the ends of the earth. Unprepared, and therefore unfit, we must sit dumb and helpless to defend ourselves, protect others, or preserve peace. The first step — in the direction to avert war if possible, and to be fit for war if it should come — is to teach our men to shoot." -- Message to Congress, 1908

"I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life; the life of toil and effort; of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, nor from bitter toil, and who, out of these, wins the splendid ultimate triumph. A life of ignoble ease, a life of 'peace,' which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual." 

"An American who is to amount to anything must rely upon himself, and not upon the State; he must take pride in his own work, instead of sitting idle to envy the luck of others. He must face life with resolute courage, win victory when he can, and accept defeat when he must, without seeking to place on his fellow man a responsibility which is not theirs." 

"Far better is it 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 the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat"

"You never have trouble if you are prepared for it."

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready."

"Naturally, when one is intensely interested in a certain cause, the tendency is to associate particularly with those who take the same view."

"When they call the roll in the Senate, the senators do not know whether to answer 'present' or 'guilty.' "

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready."

"The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his own weight."

"Power undirected by high purpose spells calamity; and high purpose by itself is utterly useless if the power to put it into effect is lacking.".

"In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."

"Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else."

"Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."

"The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it."

"[I go armed that] I should have some chance of shooting the assassin before he could shoot me, if he were near me."

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

"A just war is, in the long run, far better for a man's soul than the most prosperous peace."

"It is wonderful, in the event of a street fight, how few bullets seem to hit the men they are aimed at."

"The shots that hit are the shots that count."

"Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure."

"At Sagamore Hill we loved a great many things—birds and trees and books and all things beautiful, and horses and rifles and children, and hard work and the joy of life."

"If I must choose between righteousness and peace, I choose righteousness."  - New York Times, October 4, 1914 Nat. Ed. XVIII, page 36

"Don't hit at all if you can help it; don't hit a man if you can possibly avoid it; but if you do hit him, put him to sleep." - New York City February 17, 1899

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready." - San Francisco May 13, 1903

"Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords."

"If I preach to you anything which I do not strive, with whatever haltings and shortcomings, myself to realize, then I am unworthy your paying heed to me."

"Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far. It sounds rather as if that were but a homely old adage, yet as is often the case with matters of tradition, this truism is actually true."

"What is politics for if not to right wrongs and to stand for truth."

"Life brings sorrows and joys alike. It is what a man does with them--not what they do to him--that is the true test of his mettle."

Happy homes are the responsibility of husbands and fathers--but inevitably it is wives and mothers who make it so."

"The worst enemies of the republic are the demagogue and the corruptionist."

"We worked very hard; but I made it a point of getting a couple of hours off each day for equally vigorous play."

"No man ever enjoyed being president more than I did."

"I'm dee-lighted!"

"I do not number party loyalty among my commandments."

"Better faithful than famous."

"Weasel words from mollycoddles will never do when the day demands prophetic clarity from great hearts."

"It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds."

"No other success in life--not being President, or being wealthy, or going to college, or anything else--comes up to the success of the man and women who can feel that they have done their duty and that their children and grandchildren rise up to call them blessed."

"I am rather more apt to read old books than new ones."

"I am in the mood for a good story. Of course, I am always in the mood for a good story."

"I have a horror of words that are not translated into deeds, of speech that does not result in action."

"I believe in waging war on rank-growing evils of all kinds."

"In this actual world, a churchless community, a community where men have abandoned and scoffed at, or ignored their religious needs, is a community on the rapid down-grade." 

"It is not always easy to keep just the middle, especially when it happens that one side are corrupt and unscrupulous demagogues, and on the other side corrupt and unscrupulous reactionaries."

"It is difficult to make our material condition better by the best of laws, but it is easy enough to ruin it by bad laws."

"Under government ownership corruption can flourish just as rankly as under private ownership. I do not believe in government ownership of anything which can with propriety be left in private hands."

"The man who knows the truth and has the opportunity to tell it, but who nonetheless refuses to, is among the most shameful of all creatures. God forbid that we should ever become so lax at that."

"The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety first instead of duty first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life."

"A nation is not wholly admirable unless in times of stress it will go to war for a great ideal."

"Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaiden of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy."

"Progress has brought us both unbounded opportunities and unbridled difficulties. Thus the measure of our civilization will not be that we have done much, but what we have done with that much."

"The thought of modern industry in the hands of Christian charity is a dream worth dreaming. The thought of industry in the hands of paganism is a nightmare beyond imagining. The choice of the two is up to us."

"My success so far has only been won by absolute indifference to my future career."

"There is no disgrace in failure, only in a failure to try."

"It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone; but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching."

"Never will I sit motionless while directly or indirectly apology is made for the murder of the helpless."

" There are those who believe that a new modernity demands a new morality. What they fail to consider is the harsh reality that there is no such thing as a new morality. There is only one morality. All else is immorality.... If we are to fulfill our great destiny as a people, then we must return to the old morality, the sole morality."

"The most dangerous form of sentimental debauch is to give expression to good wishes on behalf of virtue while you do nothing about it. Justice is not merely words. It is to be translated into living acts."

"I should hang my head in shame if I were capable of discriminating against a man because he and I have a different shade of skin."

"The wise and honorable and Christian thing to do is to treat each black man and each white man on his merits as a man, giving him no more and no less than he shows he is worthy of."

" A nation needs heroes. It needs examples of valor so that it will know just how it ought to behave."

"Profanity is the parlance of the fool. Why curse when there is such a magnificent language with which to discourse."

"Before a man can discipline other men, he must demonstrate his ability to discipline himself. Before he may be allowed the command of commission, he must evidence command of character. Look then to the work of his hands. Hear the words of his mouth. By his fruits you shall know him."

"A churchless society is most assuredly a society on the downgrade."

"I always believe in going hard at everything. My experience is that it never pays to let up or grow slack and fall behind."

"A true patriot must necessarily be a zealot and fighter for the truth. He must hold to the mean and enforce the dictates of righteousness with justice."

"Righteousness and justice flow on like a river--this then is the high call of freedom."

"The greatest men are those who would willingly serve in the shadows. The least and the last are the first and foremost."

"A life of authentic concern for the less privileged is the badge of authority in a culture. Acts of mercy are the only credentials for true greatness."

"The hardest lessons to learn are those that are the most obvious."

"With great privileges come great responsibilities. Blessings brig with them duties. And the joy of liberty is the most sober obligation ever entrusted to men of nations."

"In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man's becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile...We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people." 

"The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities."

"Because all leadership is in the end moral leadership, a leader’s faith must be firmly established."

"Men can never escape being governed. Either they must govern themselves or they must submit to being governed by others." -- Jamestown, VA, April 26, 1907

"Americans [seem to] learn only from catastrophes and not from experience."

"A man's usefulness depends upon his living up to his ideals insofar as he can."

"No triumph of peace is quite so great as the supreme triumphs of war... It may be that at some time in the dim future of the race the need for war will vanish; but that time is yet ages distant. As yet no nation can hold its place in the world, or can do any work really worth doing, unless it stands ready to guard its rights with an armed hand."

"The only tyrannies from which men, women and children are suffering in real life are the tyrannies of minorities."

"Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground."

"Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to success in life."

"Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike."

"In popular government results worth while can only be achieved by men who combine worthy ideals with practical good sense."

"Throughout past history liberty has always walked between the twin terrors of tyranny and anarchy."

"In this country we have no place for hyphenated Americans. A hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts 'Native' before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance."

"The teachings of the Bible are so interwoven and entwined with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally -- I do not mean figuratively, I mean literally -- impossible for us to figure to ourselves what life would be if these teachings were removed. We would lose almost all the standards by which we now judge both public and private morals; all the standards toward which we, with more or less resolution, strive to raise ourselves."

"We can afford to differ on the currency, the tariff, and foreign policy; but we cannot afford to differ on the question of honesty if we expect our republic permanently to endure. ... Honesty is not so much a credit as an absolute prerequisite to efficient service to the public. Unless a man is honest, we have no right to keep him in public life; it matters not how brilliant his capacity.... The weakling and the coward cannot be saved by honesty alone; but without honesty, the brave and able man is merely a civic wild beast who should be hunted down by every lover of righteousness. No man who is corrupt, no man who condones corruption in others, can possibly do his duty by the community."

"I have often been afraid, but I wouldn't give in to it. I made myself act as though I was not afraid, and gradually my fear disappeared."

"The Roman Republic fell, not because of the ambition of Caesar or Augustus, but because it had already long ceased to be in any real sense a republic at all. When the sturdy Roman plebeian, who lived by his own labor, who voted without reward according to his own convictions, and who with his fellows formed in war the terrible Roman legion, had been changed into an idle creature who craved nothing in life save the gratification of a thirst for vapid excitement, who was fed by the state, and who directly or indirectly sold his vote to the highest bidder, then the end of the republic was at hand, and nothing could save it. The laws were the same as they had been, but the people behind the laws had changed, and so the laws counted for nothing."

"A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user." - Autobiography

"A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. More than that no man is entitled, and less than that no man shall have." - Speech in Springfield, Illinois, July 4, 1903

"To sit 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 Outlook, December 21, 1895

"Success, the real success, does not depend upon the position you hold but upon how you carry yourself in that position." - Cambridge Address, England, May 26, 1910

"I have never won anything without hard labor and the exercise of my good judgment and careful planning and working long in advance." - Des Moines, Iowa, November 4, 1910

"It is both foolish and wicked to teach the average man who is not well off that some wrong or injustice has been done him, and that he should hope for redress elsewhere than in his own industry, honesty, and intelligence." - Review of Reviews, January 1897

"If an American is to amount to anything he must rely upon himself, and not upon the State; he must take pride in his own work, instead of sitting idle to envy the luck of others. He must face life with resolute courage, win victory if he can, and accept defeat if he must, without seeking to place on his fellow man a responsibility which is not theirs." - Review of Reviews, January 1897

"Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty... 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." - Des Moines, Iowa, November 4, 1910

"Avoid the base hypocrisy of condemning in one man what you pass over in silence when committed by another." - Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 11, 1890

"We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less." - New York State Fair, September 3, 1903

"I would rather go out of politics feeling that I had done what was right than stay in with the approval of all men, knowing in my heart that I had acted as I ought not to." - Speech to the New York Assembly, 1884

"From the standpoint of the nation, and from the broader standpoint of mankind, scholarship is of worth chiefly when it is productive, when the scholar not merely receives or acquires, but gives." - The Outlook , January 13, 1912

"There is quite enough sorrow and shame and suffering and baseness in real life, and there is no need for meeting it unnecessarily in fiction." - Letter to Kermit Roosevelt , November 19, 1905

"There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of the great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder." - Sorbonne, April 23, 1910

"Unless a man is master of his soul, all other kinds of mastery amount to little." - Ladies' Home Journal, January 1917

"Americans learn only from catastrophe and not from experience." - Autobiography

"The worst of all fears is the fear of living." - Autobiography, 1913

"Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage."

"The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name."

"The great bulk of my wealthy and educated friends regard me as a dangerous crank."

"I have only a second rate brain, but I think I have a capacity for action."

"I keep my good health by having a very bad temper, kept under good control."

"A stream cannot rise larger than its source."

"Life is not easy, and least of all is it easy for either the man or the nation that aspires to great deeds. It is always better to be an original than an imitation." - Forum, April 1894

"Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing and common sense."

"Let us keep untarnished, unstained, the honor of the flag our fathers bore aloft in the teeth of the wildest storm, the flag that shall float above the solid files of a united people, a people sworn to the great cause of liberty and justice, for themselves, and for all the sons and daughters of men."

"My disagreement with the peace-at-any-price men, the ultrapacifists, is not in the least because they favor peace. I object to them, first, because they have proved themselves futile and impotent in working for peace, and second, because they commit what is not merely the capital error but the crime against morality of failing to uphold righteousness as the all-important end toward which we should strive ... I have as little sympathy for them as they have for the men who deify mere brutal force, who insist that power justifies wrongdoing, and who declare that there is no such thing as international morality. But the ultra- pacifists really play into the hands of these men. To condemn equally might which backs right and might which overthrows right is to render positive service to wrong-doers ... To denounce the nation that wages war in self-defense, or from a generous desire to relieve the oppressed, in the same terms in which we denounce war waged in a spirit of greed or wanton folly stands on a par with denouncing equally a murderer and the policeman who, at peril of his life and by force of arms, arrests the murderer. In each case the denunciation denotes not loftiness of soul but weakness both of mind and morals." 

"When you play, play hard; when you work, don't play at all." 

"Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, 'Certainly I can!' Then get busy and find out how to do it." 

"No man is justified in doing evil on the ground of expediency."

"The amateur, and not the professional, is the desirable citizen, the man who should be encouraged. Our object is to get as many of our people as possible to take part in manly, healthy, vigorous pastimes, which will benefit the whole nation; it is not to produce a limited class of athletes who shall make it the business of their lives to do battle with one another for the popular amusement."

"No greater wrong can ever be done than to put a good man at the mercy of a bad, while telling him not to defend himself or his fellows; in no way can the success of evil be made surer or quicker." 

"You could no more make an agreement with the Columbian rulers than you could nail currant jelly to a wall"

"We cannot afford to differ on the question of honesty if we expect our republic permanently to endure. Honesty is not so much a credit as an absolute prerequisite to efficient service to the public. Unless a man is honest, we have no right to keep him in public life; it matters not how brilliant his capacity." 

"It is only the warlike power of a civilized people that can give peace to the world." 

"All that the law can do is to shape things so that no injustice shall be done by one to the other, and that each man shall be given the first chance to show the stuff that is in him."

"We cannot afford to differ on the question of honesty if we expect our republic permanently to endure. Honesty is not so much a credit as an absolute prerequisite to efficient service to the public. Unless a man is honest, we have no right to keep him in public life; it matters not how brilliant his capacity."

"We are face to face with our destiny and we must meet it with a high and resolute courage."

"If we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at the hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world."

"It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed"

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Updated 2014-12-11