Magnificent Autograph Speech by Theodore Roosevelt: “I believe… that the forces working for good in our national life outweigh the forces working for evil”

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ROOSEVELT, THEODORE. (1858-1919). Twenty-sixth president of the United States. AMs. Unsigned. 2pp. Written in pencil on two separate sheets with extensive holograph corrections. Small Folio. N.p., N.d. [1912]. A lengthy fragment from the conclusion of Roosevelt’s epic, two-hour long speech, History as Literature, delivered at the occasion of the American Historical Association’s annual presidential address in Boston on December 27, 1912. The transcription below does not include the struck-through sections of TR’s manuscript.

“Beyond the dim centuries we shall see the banners float forward to victories that have changed the course of time. We shall listen to the prophecies of forgotten seers. Our shall be the dreams of dreamers who dreamed greatly, who saw in their vision peaks so lofty that never yet have they been reached by the sons and daughters of men. Dead poets shall sing to us of the deeds of men of might and the love and the beauty of fair women. We shall see the dancing girls of Memphis. The scent of the flowers in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon will be heavy in our senses. We shall sit at feast with the Kings of Nineveh when they drink from ivory and gold. With Queen Maeve in her sun-parlor we shall watch the nearing chariots of the champions. For us the war-horns of King Olaf shall wail across the flood, and the harps sound high at festivals in forgotten halls. The frowning strongholds of the barons of old shall rise before us, and the white palace-castles from whose windows Syrian princes once looked across the blue Ægean sea. We shall see the terrible horsemen of Timur the Lame ride over the roof of the world; we shall hear the drums beat as the armies of Gustavus and Frederick and Napoleon drive forward to victory. Ours shall be the woe of burgher and peasant, and ours the stern joy when freemen triumph and justice comes to her own. The agony of the galley slaves shall be ours, and the rejoicing when the wicked are brought low and the men of evil days have their reward. We shall see the glory of triumphant violence, and the revel of those who do wrong in high places and the broken-hearted despair that lies beneath the glory and the revel. We shall also see the supreme righteousness of the wars for freedom and justice, and know that men who fell in these wars made all mankind their debtors.

Someday the historians will tell us of these things. Someday too they will tell our children of the age and the land in which we now live. They will portray the conquest of the continent. They will show beginnings of settlements, the growth of the fishing and trading towns on the seacoast; the tentative early ventures into the Indian-haunted forest. Then they will show the backwoodsmen, with their long rifles and their light axes, making their way with labor and peril through the wooded wilderness to the Mississippi; and then the endless march of the white-topped wagon-trains across plain and mountain to the coast of the greatest of the five great oceans. They will show how the land which the pioneers won slowly and with incredible hardship was filled in two generations by the overflow from the countries of western and central Europe.

The portentous growth of the cities will be shown, and the change from a nation of farmers to a nation business men and artisans, and all the far-reaching consequences of the rise of the new industrialism. The formation of a new ethnic type in this melting-pot of the nations will be told. The hard materialism of our age will appear, and also the strange capacity for lofty idealism which must be reckoned with by all who would understand the American character. A people whose heroes are Washington and Lincoln, a peaceful people who fought to a finish one of the bloodiest of wars, waged solely for the sake of a great principle and a noble idea, surely possess an emergency-standard far above mere money-getting. [Yet in ordinary times there is a strong tendency among us to judge business and political success alike by sordid standards. When such standards obtain when instead of treating money making as an indispensable … need, it is allowed to become the one all important end of life, the result is bad from every standpoint. It renders inevitable alike the hard insolence of failed greed and the lean hatred of the greed which was not yet that which it defines. It renders men and women unable to tell what is really best in life so that their souls are set on self indulgence and the soft avoidance of effort and risk, and the gratification of a taste for vapid and petty excitement. If success is measured only in terms of wealth, and if attainment of great wealth comes with a shroud of oblivion the means by which it was obtained the effect is as bad on the poor man as on the rich man. A community which accepts such standards puts a premium on class division and class hatred, a premium on arrogance among those who have wealth and even among those who have not – and arrogance and envy are equally unlovely vices and it also puts a demand on both crimes of commission and crimes of violence.]

Those who tell the Americans of the future what the Americans of to-day and of yesterday have done, will perforce tell much that is unpleasant. This is but saying that they will describe the arch-typical civilization of this age. Nevertheless, when the tale is finally told, I believe that it will show that the forces working for good in our national life outweigh the forces working for evil, and that, with many blunders and shortcomings, with much halting and turning aside from the path, we shall yet in the end prove our faith by our works, and show in our lives our belief that righteousness exalteth a nation.”

Theodore Roosevelt

The end of Roosevelt’s second presidential term in 1909 was by no means the end of Roosevelt’s political career. He continued to play an active public role as an unofficial ambassador, lecturer and author of books and articles. Among his forums were The Saturday Evening Post, The Kansas City Star, Metropolitan Magazine, and Outlook, of which he became an editor in 1911. He maintained a hectic schedule and continued to play a leading role in political affairs. Having endorsed his successor, William Howard Taft, Roosevelt felt betrayed when the new president appeared to oppose TR’s previous ground-breaking anti-trust efforts. The Republican Party schism, already apparent in 1910, led to Roosevelt’s unsuccessful 1912 bid for the Republican presidential nomination and his subsequent founding of the “Bull Moose Party.”

Concurrent with his run for the presidency in 1912, Roosevelt served as president of the American Historical Association. Roosevelt, who constantly wrote and complained about speaking requests and other demands on his time thought the association’s presidency was merely honorary when he accepted it in 1911 and was irritated to learn that he was expected to give the presidential address at the organization’s annual meeting. Upon being informed of this speaking engagement he wrote the association: “You really cannot imagine the endless pressure upon me for speeches of every kind. I have come positively to dread making any address, and I have to make addresses continually. They are a perfect burden to me… I do not see how I can undertake duties additional to those I have already undertaken. I do not want to be churlish, and I do not want to seem to show a lack of sensibility of the great honor conferred upon me, but it does seem to me that it would be wiser to take someone else in my place,” (quoted in “Presidential History President of the Historians: Theodore Roosevelt and the American Historical Association,” White House Studies, Sarantakes).

Roosevelt, the first American president to head the AHA (the second being Woodrow Wilson), was a celebrated historian and writer. He distinguished himself as a scholar while a student at Harvard and Columbia Law School, and penned a history of the War of 1812, begun during his undergraduate years. In 1882, Roosevelt published The Naval War of 1812, still considered one of the definitive works on the subject. It was eclipsed, however, by Roosevelt’s four-volume epic, The Winning of the American West, published between 1889 and 1896. A prolific writer, his other books include Hero Tales from American History, The Naval Operations of the War Between Great Britain and the United States 1812-1815, American Problems, and The New Nationalism.

“Despite his initial reluctance in accepting the position, the presidency of the AHA would help him advance some of the intellectual and cultural ideas that he had advocated before and during his residence in the White House,” such as the need for an American national identity. In fact, Roosevelt viewed the AHA as elitist and desired for “a more democratically oriented history,” (ibid.). His address History as Literature, which begins, “There has been much discussion as to whether history should not henceforth be treated as a branch of science rather than of literature,” lasted nearly two hours, was meant to be literary in its language and to challenge the audience of historians to be innovative in the ways they record the story of American democracy. In his rousing speech Roosevelt cited ancient, medieval and modern writers including Pythagoras, Homer, Virgil, Livy, Tacitus, Lucretius, the Beowulf poet, Roland, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Goethe, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Thomas Carlyle, Robert Browning, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He noted that “those who wish history to be treated as a purely utilitarian science often decry the recital of the mighty deeds of the past, the deeds which always have aroused, and for a long period to come are likely to arouse, most interest” and urges historians to use literary language to bring the heroic deeds of the past to life. He also wanted historians to be cross-disciplinarians, as he was himself. Roosevelt’s speech was published the following year, and in the preface, the former Roosevelt opined, “that the domain of literature must be ever more widely extended over the domains of history and science,” (History as Literature and Other Essays, Roosevelt).

Our lengthy fragment illustrates Roosevelt’s substantial literary and oratorical skills as well as his thought process while drafting his speech. The second page includes a lengthy passage not included in the final version starting with “Yet in ordinary times…” and noted above within brackets.

With several small tears along the left edge and minor creasing; otherwise fine. Autograph manuscripts by Roosevelt are scarce.

Estimate: $3,000-$4,000

Magnificent Autograph Speech by Theodore Roosevelt: “I believe… that the forces working for good in our national life outweigh the forces working for evil”


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