A man is assume to be importance and becomes a power in the world just as soon as it is known that he stands for something; that he can not be bought; that he will not lease his manhood for salary, not for any amount of money or for any influence or position; that he will not lend his name to anything which he cannot himself endorse. The trouble with so many men today is that they do not stand for anything outside their vocation. They may be well educated, well experts in their specialties, and have a lot of expert knowledge, but they cannot be depended upon. There is some flaw in them which takes the edge off their virtue. They may be fairly honest, but you cannot bank on that. It is not difficult to find a lawyer or a physician who knows a good deal, who is eminent in his profession; but it is not so easy to find one who is a man before he is a lawyer or a physician; whose name is a synonym for all that is clean, reliable, solid, substantial.
It is not difficult to find a good preacher; but it is not so easy to find a real man, sterling manhood, back of the sermon standing behind the pulpit. It is easy to find successful merchants, but not so easy to find men who put character above merchandise. What the world wants is men who have principle underlying their expertise—principle under their law, their medicine, their business; men who stand for something outside of their offices and stores; who stand for something in their community; whose very presence carries weight. Everywhere we see smart, clever, longheaded, shrewd men, but how comparatively rare it is to find one whose record is as clean as a hound’s tooth; who will not swerve from the right; who would rather fail than be a party to a questionable transaction!
Everywhere we see business men putting the stumbling-blocks of deception and dishonest methods right across their own pathway, tripping themselves up while trying to deceive others. We see men worth millions of dollars filled with terror; trembling lest some investigations may uncover things which will damn them in the public’s eyes! We see them cowed before the law like whipped dogs; reaching at any straw that will save them from public disgrace! What a terrible thing to live in the limelight of popular favor, to be envied as rich and powerful, to be esteemed as honorable and straightforward, and yet to be conscious all the time of not being what the world thinks you are; to live in constant terror of discovery, in fear that something may happen to unmask you and show you up in your true light! But nothing can happen to injure seriously the man who lives four-square to the world; who has nothing to cover up, nothing to hide from his fellow-man; who lives a transparent, clean life, with never a fear of disclosures.
If all of his material possessions are swept away from him, he knows that he has a monument in the hearts of his countrymen, in the affection and admiration of the people, and that nothing can happen to harm his real self image because he has kept his record clean. Mr. Roosevelt early resolved that, let what would come, whether he succeeded in what he undertook or failed, whether he made friends or enemies, he would not take chances with his good name—he would part with everything else first; that he would never gamble with his reputation; that he would keep his record clean. His first ambition was to stand for something, to be a man. Before he was a politician or anything else the man must come first. In his early career he had many opportunities to make a great deal of money by allying himself with crooked, sneaky, unscrupulous politicians.He had all sorts of opportunities for political gains. But crookedness never had any attraction for him. He refused to be a party to any political jibbery, and any underhanded business.
He preferred to lose any position he was seeking, to let somebody else have it, if he must get smirched in getting it. He would not touch a dollar, place, or preferment unless it came to him clean, with no trace of jibbery on it. Politicians who had an “ax to grind “knew it was no use to try to bribe him, or to influence him with promises of patronage, money, position, or power. Mr. Roosevelt knew perfectly well that he would make many mistakes and many enemies, but he resolved to carry himself in such a way that even his enemies should at least respect him for his honesty of purpose, and for his straightforwardness, “square-deal “methods. He resolved to keep his record clean, his name white, at all cost. Everything else seemed unimportant in comparison. In times like these the world especially needs such men as Mr. Roosevelt,men who hew close to the chalk-line of right and hold the line plumb to truth; men who do not pander to public favor; men who make duty and truth their goal and go straight to their mark, turning neither to the right nor to the left, though a paradise tempt them.
Who can ever estimate how much his influence has done toward purging politics and elevating the American ideal. He has changed the view-point of many statesmen and politicians. He has shown them a new and a better way. He has made many of them ashamed of the old methods of grafting and selfish greed. He has held up a new ideal, shown them that unselfish service to their country is infinitely nobler than an ambition for self-aggrandizement. American patriotism has a higher meaning today, because of the example of this great American. Many young politicians and statesmen have adopted cleaner methods and higher aims because of his influence. There is no doubt that tens of thousands of young men in this country are cleaner in their lives, and more honest and ambitious to be good citizens, because here is a man who always stands for the “square deal,” for civic righteousness, for American manhood. Every man ought to feel that there is something in him that bribery cannot touch, that influence cannot buy; something that is not for sale; something he would not sacrifice or tamper with for any price; something he would give his life for if necessary.