On this date in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at the Minnesota State Fair where he used a line that was to become famously associated with him: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Roosevelt was Vice President at the time, but he would soon become the youngest president ever just eight days later when President William McKinley died from an assassin’s bullet.
In his speech, Roosevelt did not claim that his metaphor was original, but he did extend the metaphor to illustrate how it applied to foreign policy:
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. (1)
As President, Roosevelt practiced what he preached, “speaking softly” by negotiating peacefully with other nations while wielding the “big stick” of a strong military. One clear example of this was “The Great White Fleet,” an armada of sixteen battleships that circumnavigated the globe to demonstrate the Unites States’ military might. More than just a masterful politician, Roosevelt was a historian, biographer, and author of more than 25 books (2).
Roosevelt is not the only president to practice his powers of rhetoric. Below are a few other vivid examples:
Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. -Abraham Lincoln
What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog. -Dwight D. Eisenhower
Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order. -John Adams
If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress. -Barack Obama
Today’s Challenge: Wisdom from the Whitehouse
What would you argue is the smartest thing ever said by a United States president? Argue for one of the quotations on this page, or research another one on your own. Make your case by explaining your reasoning. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day: No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it. -John Adams