Theodore Roosevelt '80 gave the first of the William Belden Noble lectures for the current year in Sanders Theatre last evening. His subject was "Applied Morality." He spoke as follows:
"It is the easiest thing in the world to sketch out in the closet a system of government; and it is one of the most difficult things in the world to make a government really function. In just the same way it is proverbially easy to preach morality, and still easier to applaud it when preached; but it is difficult to do the only thing that counts, which is to apply the morality in practice. For that reason when I speak of applied morality,--using morality in the largest sense, that is, for the efficient application of the principles, the carrying out of which means really good government,--I wish to give concrete illustrations.
"For instance, it is greatly to the credit of any nation, of any government, when it performs some vast undertaking which will last for many centuries and which adds perceptibly to the sum of achievements of mankind. Such an undertaking is the Panama Canal. Last spring, when in Europe, I was struck by the fact that every statesman I met deemed two acts of the American people during the past decade pre-eminently worth noting; these two being the voyage of the battle fleet round the world and the business-like efficiency with which we were doing the work of the Panama Canal. Now, our own people have largely been ignorant of the really wonderful work that has been done on that canal. No man in our history, save only some of the men engaged in the great wars which founded and perpetuated this nation, has such a claim on the gratitude of the nation as those who have done such efficient work on the Panama Canal. That work represents one of our greatest national assets, one of the greatest feats to be credited to our nation throughout our entire history. Enormous sums of money have been spent, and yet there is practically no taint of corruption in connection with spending them. American officials on small salaries have gone down to that tropical isthmus, have made it so healthy as to be almost a health resort, and have expended huge sums of money with vigilant economy as well as with singular efficiency in the actual work on the canal, and have done it so that there is not even a suspicion of a dollar having been taken by any of them. Very, very few private business concerns, no matter how well administered, can show such a high standard of probity and efficiency as has obtained among the men doing the work on the Panama Canal.
"I speak of this tonight largely because when I was here last June at Commencement, in listening to the addresses by members of the graduating class in Sanders Theatre, I was very much struck by the address of a member of that class named Bishop, whose father has been one of the men who have done singularly disinterested and efficient work (for, I may add, an utterly inadequate salary, a salary which this country should be ashamed to give for such services as his) down on Panama. Mr. Bishop's chief is Colonel Goethals of the United States army, and I do not believe that there is any public servant of any nation to whom, at this moment, that nation owes so much as the American people owe to Colonel Goethals. Many men have rendered high and honorable service to the United States in connection with the work of the Panama Canal, but by far the greatest and most important work has been that rendered by Colonel Goethals. It is to him more than any other one man that we owe the successful accomplishment of one of the great business and engineering feats of all the ages.
"Now I thus speak of Colonel Goethals and of those associated with him and working under him because what they do illustrates just what I mean when I speak of applied morality in governmental life. Of course, in government you can hardly speak of morality as being such unless it is also efficient; public morality is a matter of integrity combined with efficiency. Of course, the more efficient a man is, the worse he is, if he is not absolutely upright. But he is of practically no use, that is, his morality is of no avail to the nation unless in addition to integrity he also possesses efficiency.
"Down on the Isthmus of Panama, good, well-meaning men, who could not keep their subordinates straight or get good work out of them, would have inflicted irreparable injury to the nation. Colonel Goethals and his associates represent that high type of applied morality which is composed of integrity and efficiency, both alike raised to the highest standard.
"Again, take the question of conservation of our natural resources, of preserving our forests, our water supply, our soil, and not only of preserving them, but of seeing that they are preserved for the use of our people as a whole and not exploited merely for the benefit of a few people of great wealth. It is by no means difficult to make speeches and deliver lectures on that subject, nor to hold conventions in its favor and applaud declarations in favor of conservation. But as soon as men in actual practical work begin to apply the doctrine they meet with all kinds of difficulties; they are brought face to face with all kinds of selfish interests, and they are exposed also to the even greater danger of being honestly misunderstood by honest men.
"Those who actually do the work of conservation have, therefore, a peculiar claim upon us. While I was President, there were no two men to whom I felt I owed more, from the standpoint of the public service, than Messrs. Garfield and Pinchot, for the work they did in connection with conservation.
"Here, again, I mention these men merely to illustrate by example just what I mean in what I have to say to you tonight. It is the easiest thing in the world for any man, sitting in his study, to write virtuous articles in which he declaims against the greed of people who are engaged in destroying our forests or wasting our water supply. But it is an exceedingly difficult thing practically to work out a scheme of conservation. And this was just exactly what Messrs. Garfield and Pinchot did. Their work was done not only with zeal and disinterestedness, but with the utmost efficiency. They actually put into practice as working principles the theories which a great many men, including I myself, for instance, thoroughly approve, but which were reduced to action in satisfactory shape for the first time by these two men.
"Let me take one more illustration. For over half a century there have been repeated and organized efforts to further the cause of international peace. Great peace meetings have been held again and again in country after country. Now, real good has been accomplished at some of these peace meetings; they have sometimes resulted in furthering the cause of peace. But those engaged in them have never begun to do such practical work for peace as have the men who in actual practice succeeded in reducing certain of these theories to action. For instance, it was a fine thing to establish The Hague court; but, having been established, the court was never used, for it was found to be infinitely easier to pass lofty resolutions as to its existence than actually to get any power, any nation, under any circumstances, to try to take advantage of it. The court would, in actual fact, never have come into existence, its memory would have vanished if it had not been for John Hay, who, as Secretary of State, succeeded in getting Mexico and the United States to submit to the judgment of the court a claim involving the two nations. It was this act of John Hay's which literally saved the court, because it put the machinery in motion and if this step had not been taken mere disuse would have caused the court to vanish out of existence in a very short space of time. Almost any nation is willing to pass a high-sounding resolution in favor of peace, and in any peace convention which is to do efficient work the difficult is not in passing such a resolution, but in preventing the passage of so many such resolutions as to make the convention appear foolish in the eyes of practical men. But the minute the question arises of actually applying the principle so easily enunciated in the abstract the difficulties in the way are seen to be of the most formidable character.
"What has been accomplished by friendly treaty during President Taft's administration represents a mass of substantial achievement, of triumphs over the formidable obstacles."
Toward the end of his lecture, Mr. Roosevelt deviated from the topic of "Peace" and spoke in connection with the Carnegie Fund, announcement of which was made yesterday.
"A great and notable gift to the cause of international peace has just been announced today. Mr. Carnegie has done many things for the cause of peace, but none quite so important as that which is today announced. He has provided means which will enable very real progress to be made in bringing about the results which he desires to achieve. He is entitled to the hearty praise of all good citizens here, of all patriots and lovers of their country, no matter what that country may be, in every part of the world, for what he has just done. But remember always that the ultimate worth of this foundation which he has made will depend primarily upon the practical good sense, the judgment and the ability of the men who, administering the fund, or working under them, succeed in translating the theory into action.
"To return for a moment to the Hague court, one of the most important instances of the triumph of Mr. Taft's administration over those obstacles is that supplied by the work of The Hague tribunal having brought before it the fisheries question between the United States and Great Britain. Elihu Root, ex-Secretary of War and of State, and now United States Senator from New York, has rendered many and great services to his country; and among these great services is that which he rendered last summer when in charge of the American case at The Hague. Nor was this service only to the United States. It was a service to all mankind, because it represented a practical advance in peaceful and friendly adjustment of international questions by arbitration. No number of resolutions advocating peace and arbitration in the abstract have the slightest weight in the balance when compared with the practical, efficient service to the cause of peace, to the cause of arbitration, thus rendered by Elihu Root.
"Peace must come, if it is to be of the slightest good, as the child of justice, and not of weakness,--a fact that should be remembered by the foolish and short-sighted people who objected, for instance, to the fortifying of the Panama Canal and to the building up of the United States Navy. The efficiency of the United States Navy and its ability in very fact to guarantee by itself the neutrality of the Panama Canal will add immensely to our practical efficiency as a people in working for peace; and the surest way to destroy all power on our part to work for peace, and to render our conduct in seeking peace a subject of derision and contempt among the nations of mankind, would be to abandon the work of upbuilding the United States Navy and to refrain from fortifying the Panama Canal. The conduct of the misguided men who advocate such policies stands in the most striking contrast to work like that of Elihu Root at The Hague last summer, work which represented in the highest sense applied morality because it represented the successful performance of that most difficult feat, the efficient putting into practice in any concrete case of the principles which must obtain if we are ultimately to establish justice, achieved through peaceful methods, as a substitute for war in international relations.