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Teddy Roosevelt's Boys
    by Rita Smith

St. Nicholas was a popular American juvenile periodical that was issued monthly from November 1873 through March 1940. The May, 1900, issue opens with an essay by Theodore Roosevelt entitled, "What We Can Expect of the American Boy." At the time this essay appeared, Roosevelt was serving as governor of New York.

"Of course," he begins, "what we have a right to expect of the American boy is that he shall turn out to be a good American man. Now the chances are strong that he won't be much of a man unless he is a good deal of a boy." And what did Roosevelt think it took to make a "good deal of a boy?" Basically, three things: a strong body, a strong mind, and courage. A boy should develop his body by participating in athletic sports -- "rough sports which call for pluck, endurance, and physical address. But this athletic involvement is really a means to an end. Active participation in sports, however enjoyable and beneficial in and of itself, is simply preparation for work that counts when the time arises, especially in defense of the country.

A boy should develop his mind by "work[ing] hard, at his lessons, first for what he will learn, and second, for the discipline that comes from resolutely settling down to learn it. Boys, when they study should study just as hard as they play football in an important game. Shiftlessness, slackness, indifference in studying, are almost certain to mean inability to get on in other walks of life.

"A boy should develop both physical and moral courage. He should not be a coward, who will take a blow without returning it, and he should always stand up for what he thinks is right, even when his friends sneer at him. He should be ashamed to submit to bullying without instant retaliation, and should, in return, abhor any form of bullying, cruelty or brutality.

"[A] boy can best become a good man by being a good boy -- not a goody-goody boy, but just a plain good boy. 'Good.' in the largest sense, should include whatever is fine, straightforward, clean, brave and manly. The best boys I know are good at their studies fearless and stalwart, hated and feared by all that is wicked and depraved, incapable of submitting to wrong-doing, and equally incapable of being aught but tender to the weak and helpless."

"In short," Roosevelt advises, "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!"

Roosevelt, Theodore, "What We Can Expect of the American Boy," St. Nicholas Magazine, May 1900, p. 571-574.

Copyright 2004 Rita Smith

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