Speaker to bring Roosevelt to life

by Britt Aamodt
Contributing writer

If you live in Minnesota, it’s hard to miss the media barrage surrounding the State Fair. TV news anchors report from the fair. They give rundowns on this year’s hot fair food and midway rides.

Newspapers publish the numbers: how many people through the gates, how far they’ve driven to attend the fair and how many times they’ll have to circle the grounds to burn off that corn dog and Australian-cut fries.

Illustration from the Inside Ken’s Mind blog
Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “Speak softly and carry a big stick …” speech was delivered at the Minnesota State Fair in 1901.

But one factoid you might have missed is that in 1901 Teddy Roosevelt attended the Minnesota State Fair. He was there to give a speech, probably his most famous prepared speech, the one about “talk softly and carry a big stick.”

J. B. Andersen, retired University of Minnesota professor, has the goods on Roosevelt, who, by the way, hated the name Teddy and asked the press if they might refer to him as TR instead.

Andersen is one of a dozen instructors barnstorming the area in the next few months to offer state fair-size portions of education and entertainment in equal doses. They’re part of ISD 728 Community Education’s Active Minds lecture series.

The first two-part class begins Sept. 18 with “The American Barn: A Photographic Study.” Andersen’s “Teddy Roosevelt: The Early Years” follows Sept. 19 with its second session Oct. 3.

Along with the above, Active Minds will introduce participants to the Great American Songbook, financial planning, the history of the baseball stadium, Scandinavia and holistic health, among other topics. The final class, “Forensics from East to West: Crime Scene Investigation,” starts Dec. 4.

Classes can be taken individually or as a packaged annual membership. A couple’s discount is available.

Andersen has invested a lifetime in the study of history. He has published over 200 articles and given thousands of lectures. The American presidency has been a favorite subject, and Roosevelt one of his most popular talks.

“Roosevelt was one of our first celebrity presidents,” he explains. “Even today everybody’s heard of him. But Martin Van Buren, who’s that?”

Martin Van Buren was president from 1837 to 1841. Still, Andersen has a point. Even before Roosevelt carried his soft voice/big stick into the White House, he was a household name. He’d waged a war on vice as New York’s police commissioner, hunted buffalo and published several well-received histories.

Today he’s remembered for the Rough Riders, the Panama Canal and a certain stuffed bear.

“One of the things many people don’t know about Teddy was that he was married twice,” says Andersen, who likes to intermix the known with the unknown in his talks. “And that his wife and mother died on the same day within hours of each other.”

Roosevelt was so crushed by his wife’s death that he abandoned New York and his burgeoning career to lose himself in the vast North Dakota ranchlands. Ultimately, he married again, a woman he’d known since childhood and who’d held a torch for Teddy, and began the meteoric rise from police commissioner to New York governor to vice president of the United States.

“As a matter of fact, when he gave his speech at the Minnesota State Fair, that was just weeks before Roosevelt became president after the assassination of McKinley,” says Andersen.

He adds that Roosevelt left an enduring legacy for the United States and for Minnesota.

Every time you visit a national park, thank Teddy. There were national parks before him. Yellowstone was the first in 1879. But Roosevelt, a rugged outdoorsman, made preservation a part of national policy.

Minnesotans have benefitted with Voyageurs National Park, the Chippewa National Forest and, in our own backyard, the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.

And you can still find a statue of Teddy Roosevelt, carved around the time of his speech, at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

If you go:
Active Minds
A series geared to the adult looking for intriguing topics, in-depth dialog and new topics to explore.

“Teddy Roosevelt: The Early Years”

presented by J.B. Andersen

When: Wednesdays, Sept. 19 and Oct. 3, 6:30–8:30 p.m.

Where: Rogers Middle School

Contact: ISD 728 Community Education to register: 763-241-3520

Theodore Roosevelt: SPEECH AT THE MINNESOTA STATE FAIR  St. Paul, Sept. 2, 1901
In his admirable series of studies of 20th-century problems, Dr. Lyman Abbott has pointed out that we are a nation of pioneers; that the first colonists to our shores were pioneers, and that pioneers selected out from among the descendants of these early pioneers, mingled with others selected afresh from the Old World, pushed westward into the wilderness and laid the foundations for new commonwealths. They were men of hope and expectation, of enterprise and energy; for the men of dull content or more dull despair had no part in the great movement into and across the New World. Our country has been populated by pioneers, and therefore it has in it more energy, more enterprise, more expansive power than any other in the wide world….

Right here let me make as vigorous a plea as I know how in favor of saying nothing that we do not mean, and of acting without hesitation up to whatever we say. A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb: “Speak softly and carry a big stick—you will go far.” If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble; and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power. In private life there are few beings more obnoxious than the man who is always loudly boasting; and if the boaster is not prepared to back up his words his position becomes absolutely contemptible. So it is with the nation. It is both foolish and undignified to indulge in undue self-glorification, and, above all, in loose-tongued denunciation of other peoples. Whenever on any point we come in contact with a foreign power, I hope that we shall always strive to speak courteously and respectfully of that foreign power. Let us make it evident that we intend to do justice. Then let us make it equally evident that we will not tolerate injustice being done to us in return. Let us further make it evident that we use no words which we are not prepared to back up with deeds, and that while our speech is always moderate, we are ready and willing to make it good. Such an attitude will be the surest possible guarantee of that self-respecting peace, the attainment of which is and must ever be the prime aim of a self-governing people…

We shall make mistakes; and if we let these mistakes frighten us from our work we shall show ourselves weaklings. Half a century ago Minnesota and the two Dakotas were Indian hunting-grounds. We committed plenty of blunders, and now and then worse than blunders, in our dealings with the Indians. But who does not admit at the present day that we were right in wresting from barbarism and adding to civilization the territory out of which we have made these beautiful states? And now we are civilizing the Indian and putting him on a level to which he could never have attained under the old conditions.

In the Philippines let us remember that the spirit and not the mere form of government is the essential matter. The Tagalogs have a hundredfold the freedom under us that they would have if we had abandoned the islands. We are not trying to subjugate a people; we are trying to develop them and make them a law-abiding, industrious, and educated people, and we hope ultimately a self-governing people. In short, in the work we have done we are but carrying out the true principles of our democracy.” We work in a spirit of self-respect for ourselves and of goodwill toward others, in a spirit of love for and of infinite faith in mankind. We do not blindly refuse to face the evils that exist, or the shortcomings inherent in humanity; but across blundering and shirking, across selfishness and meanness of motive, across short-sightedness and cowardice, we gaze steadfastly toward the far horizon of golden triumph. If you will study our past history as a nation you will see we have made many blunders and have been guilty of many shortcomings, and yet that we have always in the end come out victorious because we have refused to be daunted by blunders and defeats, have recognized them, but have persevered in spite of them. So it must be in the future. We gird up our loins as a nation, with the stern purpose to play our part manfully in winning the ultimate triumph; and therefore we turn scornfully aside from the paths of mere ease and idleness, and with unfaltering steps tread the rough road of endeavor, smiting down the wrong and battling for the right, as Greatheart smote and battled in Bunyan’s immortal story.