One hundred years ago today, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt warned the nation that “ruin in its worst form is inevitable if our national life brings us nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few.” Roosevelt was speaking at a gathering of 30,000 people in Osawatomie, Kansas. It was at this event that Roosevelt coined the term “Square Deal” to describe the progressive message of his post-presidency.
Some of the memorable passages from his speech:
“The prime problem of our nation is to get the right type of good citizenship, and, to get it, we must have progress, and our public men must be genuinely progressive.”
“I stand for the square deal. But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the games, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.”
“Now, this means that our government, national and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics.”
“For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office.”
“We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs”.
“I believe that the officers, and, especially, the directors, of corporations should be held personally responsible when any corporation breaks the law.”
“I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective - a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate”.
“Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”
“Moreover, I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few.”
“..[T]here are many people who will go with us in conserving the resources only if they are to be allowed to exploit them for their benefit. That is one of the fundamental reasons why the special interest should be driven out of politics.”
Roosevelt also quoted Abraham Lincoln in part of his speech:
"I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind.""Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."
The concentration of wealth in America in 1910 was almost as great as that which exists in 2010. It is amazing to hear Teddy Roosevelt (and Abraham Lincoln) speak to the problems that exist today.
It is even more amazing knowing that both of these presidents were Republicans.