Theodore Roosevelt Quotes 1–30 of 375 Quotes

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (27 October 1858 – 6 January 1919), also known as T.R. or Teddy, was an American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist, and reformer who served as the 26th President of the United States from 1901 to 1909. As a leader of the Republican Party during this time, he became a driving force for the Progressive Era in the United States in the early 20th century.

Below are 30 of 375 sourced Theodore Roosevelt quotes. Sources and related information appear under each quote. Use the 'Cite this quote' link to get citation references.

“I have not been able to think out any solution of the terrible problem offered by the presence of the Negro on this continent, but of one thing I am sure, and that is that inasmuch as he is here and can neither be killed nor driven away, the only wise and honorable and Christian thing to do is to treat each black man and each white man strictly on his merits as a man, giving him no more and no less than he shows himself worthy to have.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: As quoted in Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (2008), by Gail Bederman, Illinois: University of Chicago Press. p. 198.

“The light has gone out of my life.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Entry in Roosevelt's diary, before which he put a large X, on 14 February 1884, the day in which both his mother and wife died within hours of each other.

“There is a curse on this house.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Theodore repeating what his brother, Elliot Roosevelt, said when Theodore reached his home in New York City to find both mother and wife dying on the evening of 13 February 1884; in this same house their father had also died from stomach cancer on 9 February 1878, at the age of 46.

“No candid observer will deny that whatever of good there may be in our American civilization is the product of Christianity.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: “Our Nation, A Product of Christianity,” Springfield Republican, 1884, editorial.

“Of recent years... representative government all over the world has been threatened with a growing paralysis. Legislative bodies have tended more and more to become wholly inefficient for the purposes of legislation. The prime feature in causing this unhealthy growth has been the discovery by minorities that under the old rules of parliamentary procedure they could put a complete stop to all legislative action... If the minority is as powerful as the majority there is no use of having political contests at all, for there is no use in having a majority.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Speech before the Federal Club, New York City, (6 March 1891), as published in New York Daily Tribune (7 March 1891)

“We need, in the interest of the community at large, a rigid system of game laws rigidly enforced, and it is not only admissible, but one may almost say necessary, to establish, under the control of the State, great national forest reserves, which shall also be breeding grounds and nurseries for wild game; but I should much regret to see grow up in this country a system of large private game preserves, kept for the enjoyment of the very rich.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: The Wilderness Hunter, p. 270 (1893)

“We cannot afford merely to sit down and deplore the evils of city life as inevitable, when cities are constantly growing, both absolutely and relatively. We must set ourselves vigorously about the task of improving them; and this task is now well begun.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: "The City in Modern Life", Literary Essays (vol. 12 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national ed., 1926), p. 226. Book review in The Atlantic Monthly (April 1895)

“A perfectly stupid race can never rise to a very high plane; the negro, for instance, has been kept down as much by lack of intellectual development as by anything else; but the prime factor in the preservation of a race is its power to attain a high degree of social efficiency. Love of order, ability to fight well and breed well, capacity to subordinate the interests of the individual to the interests of the community, these and similar rather humdrum qualities go to make up the sum of social efficiency. The race that has them is sure to overturn the race whose members have brilliant intellects, but who are cold and selfish and timid, who do not breed well or fight well, and who are not capable of disinterested love of the community. In other words, character is far more important than intellect to the race as to the individual. We need intellect, and there is no reason why we should not have it together with character; but if we must choose between the two we choose character without a moment's hesitation.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Responding to the social theories of Benjamin Kidd, in "Kidd's 'Social Evolution'" in The North American Review (July 1895), p. 109

“The worst lesson that can be taught a man is to rely upon others and to whine over his sufferings.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: "How Not To Better Social Conditions" in Review of Reviews (January 1897), p. 39 · Full text online (with at least two typos — in the last sentence of the article) as "How Not To Help Our Poor Brother"

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“Is America a weakling, to shrink from the work of the great world powers? No! The young giant of the West stands on a continent and clasps the crest of an ocean in either hand. Our nation, glorious in youth and strength, looks into the future with eager eyes and rejoices as a strong man to run a race.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Letter to John Hay, American Ambassador to the Court of St. James, London, written in Washington, DC (June 7, 1897)

“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.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: "The Higher Life of American Cities", in The Outlook (21 December 1895), p. 1083-1085

“To borrow a simile from the football field, we believe that men must play fair, but that there must be no shirking, and that the success can only come to the player who hits the line hard.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, NY (October 1897)

“The men of Yale, the men of the universities, all, who, when the country called, went to give their lives, did more than reflect honor upon the universities from which they came. They did that which they could not have done so well in any other way. They showed that when the time of danger comes, all Americans, whatever their social standing, whatever their creed, whatever the training they have received, no matter from what section of the country they have come, stand together as men, as Americans, and are content to face the same fate and do the same duties because fundamentally they all alike have the common purpose to serve the glorious flag of their common country.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Address at the Yale Alumni Dinner, The Oxford Club, Brooklyn, New York (3 March 1899)

“If we lose the virile, manly qualities, and sink into a nation of mere hucksters, putting gain over national honor, and subordinating everything to mere ease of life, then we shall indeed reach a condition worse than that of the ancient civilizations in the years of their decay.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: "The Law of Civilization and Decay", The Forum (January 1897), reprinted in American Ideals (1926), vol. 13 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national ed., chapter 15, pp. 259–60

“Every man among us is more fit to meet the duties and responsibilities of citizenship because of the perils over which, in the past, the nation has triumphed; because of the blood and sweat and tears, the labor and the anguish, through which, in the days that have gone, our forefathers moved on to triumph.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Speech before the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island (June 1897), reported in "Washington’s Forgotten Maxim", American Ideals (1926), vol. 13 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national ed., chapter 12, p. 198

“Gentlemen: you have now reached the last point. If anyone of you doesn’t mean business let him say so now. An hour from now will be too late to back out. Once in, you’ve got to see it through. You’ve got to perform without flinching whatever duty is assigned you, regardless of the difficulty or the danger attending it. If it is garrison duty, you must attend to it. If it is meeting fever, you must be willing. If it is the closest kind of fighting, anxious for it. You must know how to ride, how to shoot, how to live in the open. Absolute obedience to every command is your first lesson. No matter what comes you mustn’t squeal. Think it over — all of you. If any man wishes to withdraw he will be gladly excused, for others are ready to take his place.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Address to U.S. Army recruits (1898), as quoted in U.S. Army Field Manual 22-5 (1986)

“Greatness means strife for nation and man alike. A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fibre of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage... We are face to face with our destiny and we must meet it with a high and resolute courage. For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Address at the opening of the gubernatorial campaign, New York City (5 October 1898), reported in "The Duties of a Great Nation", Campaigns and Controversies, vol. 14 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national ed. (1926), chapter 45, p. 291

“Don’t let anyone impose on you. Don’t be quarrelsome, but stand up for your rights. If you've got to fight, fight hard and well. To my mind, a coward is the only thing meaner than a liar.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Talk to schoolchildren in Oyster Bay, Christmastime (1898), as quoted in The Bully Pulpit : A Teddy Roosevelt Book of Quotations (2002) by H. Paul Jeffers, p. 22

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“I have always been fond of the West African proverb "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far."”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Letter to Henry L. Sprague (26 January 1900); this is the first known use of this phrase, which became a signature motto of Roosevelt's after he used it in a speech as Vice-President at the Minnesota State Fair:
 There is a homely adage which runs "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." If the American nation will speak softly and yet build and keep at a pitch of highest training a thoroughly efficient Navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far. (2 September 1901)
  (Accounts of the precise wording with which he introduced this proverb vary. Another version is given below, within a more extensive transcript of the speech.)

“Death is always and under all circumstances a tragedy, for if it is not, then it means that life itself has become one.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Letter to Cecil Spring-Rice (12 March 1900)

“In short, in life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard; don't foul and don't shirk, but hit the line hard!”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: "The American Boy", published in St. Nicholas 27, no. 7 (May 1900), p. 574

“I'm as strong as a bull moose and you can use me to the limit.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Letter to Mark Hannah (27 June 1900)

“It is a dreadful thing to come into the Presidency in this way; but it would be far worse to be morbid about it. Here is the task, and I have got to do it to the best of my ability.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Probably 1901. Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historical Site -- National Park Service

“I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Response when a dignitary asked if he could better control his daughter, as quoted in Hail to the Chiefs : My Life and Times with Six Presidents (1970) by Ruth Shick Montgomery, and TIME magazine (3 March 1980)

“Probably the greatest harm done by vast wealth is the harm that we of moderate means do ourselves when we let the vices of envy and hatred enter deep into our own natures. But there is another harm; and it is evident that we should try to do away with that. The great corporations which we have grown to speak of rather loosely as trusts are the creatures of the State, and the State not only has the right to control them, but it is duty bound to control them wherever the need of such control is shown.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Speech at Kennedy Plaza, Providence, Rhode Island (23 August 1902), Presidential Addresses and State Papers (1910), p. 103.

“I don't pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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More on this quote: Remarks to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen in Chattanooga, Tennessee (8 September 1902).
The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood (22 October 2013).

“The government is us; we are the government, you and I.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Quote source: Speech at Asheville, North Carolina (9 September 1902)

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