Manvotional: Theodore Roosevelt on Integrity in Private and Public Life

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 13, 2012 · 36 comments

in Manvotionals

From the speech, Citizenship in a Republic, 1910
By Theodore Roosevelt

The very last thing that an intelligent and self-respecting member of a democratic community should do is to reward any public man because that public man says he will get the private citizen something to which this private citizen is not entitled, or will gratify some emotion or animosity which this private citizen ought not to possess.

Let me illustrate this by one anecdote from my own experience. A number of years ago I was engaged in cattle-ranching on the great plains of the western United States. There were no fences. The cattle wandered free, the ownership of each being determined by the brand; the calves were branded with the brand of the cows they followed. If on the round-up an animal was passed by, the following year it would appear as an unbranded yearling, and was then called a maverick. By the custom of the country these mavericks were branded with the brand of the man on whose range they were found. One day I was riding the range with a newly hired cowboy, and we came upon a maverick. We roped and threw it; then we built a little fire, took out a cinch-ring, heated it at the fire; and the cowboy started to put on the brand. I said to him, “It is So-and-so’s brand,” naming the man on whose range we happened to be. He answered: “That’s all right, boss; I know my business.” In another moment I said to him: “Hold on, you are putting on my brand!” To which he answered: “That’s all right; I always put on the boss’s brand.” I answered: “Oh, very well. Now you go straight back to the ranch and get what is owing to you; I don’t need you any longer.” He jumped up and said: “Why, what’s the matter? I was putting on your brand.” And I answered: “Yes, my friend, and if you will steal for me you will steal from me.

Now, the same principle which applies in private life applies also in public life. If a public man tries to get your vote by saying that he will do something wrong in your interest, you can be absolutely certain that if ever it becomes worth his while he will do something wrong against your interest.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Robert Barnes October 13, 2012 at 10:02 pm

His words will ring true forever. Such an amazing individual.

2 Bill October 13, 2012 at 10:04 pm

This should be mandatory reading for all adults over voting age. It is a wonderful synopsis of what the original signers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution stood for. The problem is that to elect men of this calibre they must consent to run. With all the sound bites, sneak videos and straight on lying attacks, few really good men want to run. It is the governmental application of the Peter Principle. People are elected to higher and higher office until they are elected above their ability. There they want to stay so they promise the world and deliver chaos.

3 BC October 13, 2012 at 11:04 pm

This is quite similar to Davy Crockett’s speech “Not Yours to Give.”

4 Karl October 14, 2012 at 5:35 am

Every person in a democracy should read this and remember it.

5 Andrew October 14, 2012 at 5:50 am

Thank you BC, for posting that. I had never read that before and found it thouroughly entertaining and educational.

6 Dean October 14, 2012 at 6:02 am

Posting this one via Hootsuite on Twitter, FB Catalyst Coaches page and LinkedIn tomorrow morning. Great one!! Thanks.

7 Jim October 14, 2012 at 7:37 am

This has its most common application in non-duplicity: if you hear someone talking behind another’s back, you can be assured he talks behind yours. The only approach is never to participate.

8 David Y October 14, 2012 at 7:54 am

That is one of my favorites from “Manovationals”.

I agree with Bill that it should be required reading for all voting age adults. Too many people vote based on what they can get from the politicians, not what is best for the country.

It is amazing we can get any good people to run for office.

9 Xenocles October 14, 2012 at 7:55 am

A fine sentiment. It’s a shame he didn’t live by it in politics. He helped lead the US into a land-grabbing war and he helped found the progressive movement, which is characterized by having politicians steal for you.

10 Chase Morgan October 14, 2012 at 8:03 am

Man could speak wonders, I think I’ll be voting for him in a few weeks, lol.

Also, have to say, well timed post.

11 Kevin October 14, 2012 at 9:19 am

That was a great article. Thank you.

12 A.S Falcon October 14, 2012 at 10:21 am


13 Taylor October 14, 2012 at 11:37 am

I sure with that I could vote for Teddy in the next election.

14 G.M. Schooley October 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Great words and advice for the upcoming election season.

15 Ben October 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Good anecdote and a fine sentiment, but this is not realistic. Reality is that people in each party disagree among themselves and across party lines about what a private citizen is entitled to and ought to possess. Reality is that public men of all categories often do wrong things in our interest and against them. That comes by definition when you have a country which represents so many different kinds of people. Take war, for instance: some think we should be in a war for good reasons, some think we should be in it in spite of the bad consequences, others think we shouldn’t be in that particular war, and still others believe we shouldn’t be involved in any war (and all the other nuanced beliefs I’ve missed). It is impossible for all of those beliefs to be represented by any one public man, and it is necessary that the public man, saying it’s in their interest, will go against the moral code of people holding some of these beliefs.

16 Louis October 14, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Never read this TR quote before (and I’ve read a lot about him). It was worth the wait.

17 Jon Haile October 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Teddy Roosevelt may not have been right about everything he has ever said but this is spot on and he is still an inspiration to everyone who stands for democracy and leadership

18 Matt October 15, 2012 at 1:33 am

Well put. Good example too.

19 Jarrod October 15, 2012 at 3:13 am

“He helped lead the US into a land-grabbing war and he helped found the progressive movement, which is characterized by having politicians steal for you.”

With all respect, you should perhaps read a bit about the Bull-Moose Party before you pass judgment. The Progressive party he founded was not exactly the same as the policies advocated by Wilson or FDR when they adopted the mantle. Teddy advocated the use of the Sherman Anti-trust laws, which his fellow Republicans used against labor unions with no moral reservations, on businesses, and he wanted government financial regulation, which is right out of the modern liberal platform, but much of his platform doesn’t fall into your black-and-white worldview so neatly.
Perhaps the single issue that alienated Teddy from the Republican mainstream in his time was his support for the reduction of protectionist tariffs–something that anyone who truly believes in free markets leading to free peoples should support. Today, both Republicans and Democrats have now ideological reservations against jacking up tariffs to protect their preferred industry. Roosevelt also supported farm subsidies, something that has become a conservative issue.

Also, the modern progressive movement, if you have to make generalizations, is probably more anti-war than anything else, so if you have to put Roosevelt’s “land theft war” into a pigeonhole, I don’t think it would be the one labeled “progressive.”

20 gevin shaw October 15, 2012 at 8:27 am

To Ben’s point, remember what the farmer’s thought of all that cattle wandering around unfenced.

21 jagiar October 15, 2012 at 8:29 am


Ben, as long as a politician (in any party) acts upon principle whereby that principle is grounded in The Golden Rule, then no politician should ever have any problem satisfying the needs of his/her entire constituency. Your example of war is only legitimate in a situation, which exists today, where the reasons for war are false, hidden and duplicitous. When politicians cease to hide their real intentions and act by The Golden Rule (both within their borders and outside of them), we may not stop all wars, but we can definitely stop the vast majority of them.

22 J. Delancy October 15, 2012 at 8:54 am

All very true. The same rule applies to gossip. The Bahamian proverb for that is, “Dog bring bone, dog carry bone.”

23 Tyler October 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm

This sounds like a story straight out of McCain’s 2000 campaign!

24 Will Russell October 15, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Unfortunately, it is far easier to fall for empty promises than to adhere to what Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Douglass referred “eternal vigilance”.

25 Mr. Jozsef October 15, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Though men may not perfectly execute the duties of their office, it should never be said that we ‘ought lower the bar in order that we might attain the standard; for it is the upholding of that bar that makes it the standard.

26 Todd October 15, 2012 at 8:01 pm

I was curious who was his audience for this speech. I was surprised to find he gave this speech in France. During this 35-page speech came his excerpt on “the man in the arena.”

27 Jerry Melvin October 15, 2012 at 10:12 pm

These are the type of comments, speeches and quotes that should be taught in our schools and universities; however, present day schools do not feel the need to teach real history, only that which is politically correct and which fits the left-leaning policies of those who simply do not believe in the strength and good of our great country and its constitution. Let’s start a move to make sure proper history (BOTH AMERICAN AND INTERNATIONAL) is again emphasized in schools at all levels.

28 Peter October 16, 2012 at 8:37 am

Many of you nailed it. The bottom line is that as a culture, we no longer value the lessons of history so learning about it has become a mere hobby.

29 Ken R October 16, 2012 at 11:52 am

Progressive Theodore Roosevelt summed up eugenicist theory: “Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce.”

Mark Twain, who met him twice, judged that he was “clearly insane”

Geez, even a complete imperialist like TR says something correct now and again, but the fawning above is a bit much.
Forget the public-school diatribes we all were taught, find the true histories and read those…

30 BYC October 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm

newly hired cowboy = 95% of the politicians out there today

31 jeff October 16, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Read the whole speech and you may get a very different view of what he meant.

32 Ron October 17, 2012 at 8:13 am

I agree, and President Roosevelt also told Congress on two occasions of his State of the Union address that one of the biggest threats to democracy was the power of corporate money to buy the votes of Congress. President Eisenhower also warned of the danger of corporate money corrupting government. Sad to say these warnings have been ignored and worse.

33 Gus October 19, 2012 at 2:29 pm

I’ll never forget this.

34 Jack October 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm

It always makes me sad every election when I realize people are out voting to take (more) from me.

35 Garret October 22, 2012 at 5:18 pm

As long as we live under a government, we will be subject to the whims of those elected or (far more often) appointed, and the eternal debate will be, “who should the government help? What should the government give to people? To what are citizens entitled?” This is a debate that cannot be legitimately won.

TR frames his story as a warning against the government giving a private citizen something that he is not entitled; but as a poster above noted, if we accept the premise that the government ought to be giving out goods or services (in a positive sense), then we will eternally argue over which goods or services a citizen is actually entitled to.

The only solution is to get government out of the business of assisting (in the POSITIVE sense) anyone – no subsidies, no redistribution, nothing. Its responsibilities must be solely reactive: it must do justice to those who were subject to harm, loss or injury by another citizen, and it must protect the citizenry from external invasion. This is ALL that it should do.

We hear so often about the dangers of money in politics, as money can “buy” votes. Why would anybody wish to “buy” a vote? So that the politician whose vote is bought will later assist their donor through subsidies, tax breaks, or favorable regulation. Take away the government’s power to do these things, however, and the question of “money in politics” becomes moot.

“The solution to money buying power is to limit not the money but the power.”

36 SmilingAhab November 4, 2012 at 10:14 pm

@Garrett: “it must do justice to those who were subject to harm, loss or injury by another citizen, and it must protect the citizenry from external invasion.”

And, as this is often the desire or ultimate goal of those over whom the state exerts the most force over, regulations and judicial response fall precisely into your above sentiment. To remove all regulation is merely to allow the pressure to shift to the judiciary, and give greater latitude to those who feel it is their entitlement as the nobility, whether attained or inherited, to run roughshod over the bulk of humanity. Mandatory minimum sentencing was introduced to protect minorities from excessive and false charges through subjecting caucasians to the same level of judicial rulings, but has simply turned into harsher and often senseless, rehabilitation-void punishment for minorities while caucasians just don’t get arrested or charged.

Second, the end quote assumes money and power are separable. Money and power convert as quickly and fludily as anything, and in all practicality are the same thing. So long as either exist, both will exist.

thirdly, there are goals in any civilization that can never be achieved by any individual, group, corporation or corporate group, especially in the scientific arena. When the rulers of the market wish to bend the market in one direction, but the constituency’s purchasing power or overwhelming scientific consensus, or projects on a continental or global scale become priorities is not enough to change minds and bend human and financial capital in another, an artifice is needed to ensure the national allocation of power, funds and ability does not come to resemble only what the owners of the means of production wish it to.

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