Address of THEODORE ROOSEVELT
To the Assembled Panama Canal Force
Colon, Rep. of Panama
November 16, 1906
THE WORK YOU HAVE DONE HERE WILL REMAIN FOR THE AGES
It was without precedent for a president to leave the United States, but this work is
without precedent. You are doing the biggest thing of the kind that has ever been
done, and I wanted to see how you are doing it. I am profoundly thankful that I
shall be able to take back to the United States the message that the nation's picked sons
are carrying themselves so well here that I can absolutely guarantee the success of the
mighty work which they are doing. It is not an easy task. Mighty few things
that are worth doing are easy. Sometimes it is rough on the men and just a little
rougher on the women. It has pleased me particularly to see, as I have met the wives
who have come down here with their husbands, the way in which they have turned in to make
the best of everything and to help the men do their work well.
I want to say this word to you men, -- right through, -- to all of you who are engaged in the work of digging this canal, whether you are here as superintendent, foreman, chief clerk, machinist, conductor, engineer, steam-shovel man (and he is the American who is setting the mark for the rest of you to live up to, by the way), whoever you are, if you are doing your duty, you are putting your country under an obligation to you just as a soldier who does his work well in a great war puts the country under an obligation to him. As I have seen you at work, seen what you have done and are doing, noted the spirit in which you are approaching the task yet to be done, I have felt just exactly as I should feel if I saw the picked men of my country engaged in some great war. I am weighing my words when I say that you here, who do your work well in bringing to completion this great enterprise, will stand exactly as the soldiers of a few, and only a few, of the most famous armies of all the nations stand in history. This is one of the great works of the world; it is a greater work than you, yourselves, at the moment realize. Some of you, a good many of you, are sons of men who fought in the Civil War. when your fathers were in the fighting, they thought a good deal of the fact that the blanket was too heavy by noon and not quite heavy enough by night; that the pork was not as good as it might be; and the hardtack was sometimes insufficient in amount; and they were not always satisfied with the way in which the regiments were led. Those were the things they talked about a good deal of the time. But when the war was done -- when they came home, when they looked at what had been accomplished -- all those things sank into insignificance, and the great fact remained that they had played a part like men among men; that they had borne themselves so that when people asked what they had done of worth in those great years, all they had to say was that they had served decently and faithfully in the great armies. So you men here, in the future, each man of you, will have the right to feel, if he has done his duty and a little more than his duty right up to the handle in the work here on the Isthmus, that he has made his country his debtor; that he has done more than his full share in adding renown to the nation under whose flag the canal is being built.
Why, gentlemen, there never was a great feat done yet that there were not some men evil enough, small enough, or foolish enough, to wish to try to interfere with it and to sneer at those who are actually doing the work. From time to time, little men will come along to find fault with what you have done; to say that something could have been done better; that there has been some mistake, some shortcoming; that things are not really managed in the best of all possible manners, in the best of all possible worlds. They will have their say and they will go downstream like bubbles; they will vanish; butt he work you have done will remain for the ages. It is the man who does the job who counts, not the little scolding critic who thinks how it ought to have been done.
I go back a better American, a prouder American, because of what I have seen the pick of American manhood doing here on the Isthmus. You will have hard times. Each of you will sometimes think that he is misunderstood by someone above him. this is a common experience of all of us, gentlemen. Now and then you will feel as if the people at home were indifferent and did not realize what you are doing. Do not make a mistake; they do realize, and they will realize it more and more clearly as the years go by. I cannot overstate the intensity of the feeling I have (and therein I merely typify the sentiment of the average man of our country) as to the vital importance of the task you are doing; and to each of you who does his share of that task there will come in the end the proud assurance of vital duty well done. This assurance can come to but a limited number of men in each generation; and you are to be congratulated that you are to be among that limited number. I do not pity you because you have before you a hard task. I would feel ashamed of you if I thought you wanted pity. I admire you. I wish that any one of my boys was old enough to take part in the work. I feel that to each of you has come an opportunity such as is vouchsafed to but few in each generation. I shall see if it is not possible to provide for some little memorial, some mark, some badge, which will always distinguish the man who did his work well on the Isthmus, just as the button of the Grand Army distinguishes the man who did his work well n the civil War. Another thing; in the Grand Army the spirit that appeals to me most is the spirit of full and frank comradeship among its members. Whether a man was a Lieutenant-general of the Army of the United States, or whether he was the youngest recruit whose age would permit him to serve in the ranks, makes no difference; if he did his duty well he is the comrade of his fellows, and acclaimed as such in a spirit of full equality in every Grand Army post. the point is not the position, but in the way in which the man handled himself in the position. So here, whatever the work, whether it be that of chief engineer, assistant engineer, machinist, foreman, or steam-shovel man, the only question that need be asked is: Did the man do it well? And to do it well, gentlemen, you must do just a little more that merely earn the salary. Each man must have in him the feeling that, besides getting what he is rightfully entitled to for his work, that aside and above that must come the feeling of triumph at being associated with the work itself, must come the appreciation of what a tremendous work it is, of what a splendid opportunity is offered to any man who takes part in it. As I came up the line through Culebra Cut yesterday, on one of the steam-shovels they had cut the legend, "We will do our best to help you dig it." I liked to look at that motto. That is the right spirit. Another man called out to me as the train passed, "We are going to put it through." That is the spirit I like to see, and it is the spirit you have in you.
In any army, there are some men who, to use a homely phrase, can't stand the pace. So, here on the Isthmus, there is an occasional man who means well, but who does not how how; there is an occasional man who does not mean well at all; and when a man of either type gets out and goes home it is much more comfortable for him not to say that he failed, but that somebody else was not really a good man. there will always be a certain percentage of men in any work who for one cause or another become disgruntled, become sulky, and then try to run down the work and run down those who are doing it; and they are the natural and legitimate sources of the is information and slander of the yellow writers, of the men who preach the gospel of despair, whether in magazine or in newspaper. If there is any veteran of the Civil War here, he will tell you there were "coffee coolers" in those days too; there are some of them to be fund everywhere and at all times. these men as they go home beaten, will give a totally wrong impression of the rest of the men down there, a totally wrong impression, not to their countrymen as a whole, but to a few people of little faith who measure the standard of you who succeed in doing the work by the standard of those who fail in the effort to do the work. We can disregard them. No man can see, as I have seen, the character of the men engaged in doing this work and not glow with pride to think that they are representatives of his country. No man can see them and fail to realize that our honor and interest are safe in their hands -- are safe in your hands.
In closing, all I have to say is this: You are doing the work the like of which has not before been seen in the ages, a work that shall last through the ages to come, and I pledge to you as President of the United States, every ounce of support and help and assistance, that it is in my power to give you, so that we together, you backed by the people of the United States, may speedily bring this greatest of works to a triumphant conclusion.
Presented by CZBrats
October 15, 1998