Theodore Roosevelt on Immigrants and being an American – January 3, 1919
“In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American. If he tries to keep segregated with men of his own origin and separated from the rest of America, then he isn’t doing his part as an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, and American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house; and we have room for but one soul[sic] loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”
This quote made the rounds as an e-mail a while back and I hadn’t gotten around to sharing it. Well, I finally got around to researching it and just needed to correct a couple minor mistakes so that it be taken in the proper context. First, the quote is NOT from a 1907 speech made by Roosevelt while still in office. The text actually comes from a letter he wrote in 1919 just days before his death. I also restored a couple lines that had been edited out. If you would like to see the original document from the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, it can be viewed here.
During my research on this I found some other quotes by Teddy Roosevelton along similar lines. Here are a couple.
“Let us say to the immigrant not that we hope he will learn English, but that he has got to learn it. Let the immigrant who does not learn it go back. He has got to consider the interest of the United States or he should not stay here. He must be made to see that his opportunities in this country depend on his knowing English and observing American standards. the employer cannot be permitted to regard him only as an industrial asset.
We must in every way possible encourage the immigrant to rise, help him up, give him a chance to help himself. If we try to carry him he may well prove not well worth carrying. We must in turn insist upon his showing the same standard of fealty to this country and to join us in raising the level of our common American citizenship.”
Excerpted from a speach by former President Roosevelt from The New York Times of February 2, 1916.
“I appeal to all our citizens no matter what land their forefathers came from, to keep this ever in mind, and to shun with scorn and contempt the sinister intrigues and mischiefmakers who would seek to divide them along lines of creed, or birthplace or of national origin… The effort to keep our citizenship divided against itself by the use of the hyphen and along the lines of national origin is certain to breed a spirit of bitterness and prejudice and dislike between great bodies of our citizens. If some citizens band together as German-Americans or Irish-Americans, then after a while others are certain to band together as English-Americans or Scandanavian-Americans, and every such banding together, means down at the bottom an effort against the interest of straight-out American citizenship, an effort to bring into our nation the bitter Old World rivalries and jealousies and hatreds.”
Memorial Day speech by former President Roosevelt from The Washington Post of June 1, 1916.
Now, I am not a big fan of either Roosevelt. But Teddy, despite being the first progressive president, was still able to recognize the exceptional nature of America and that it needed to be protected from enemies both foreign and domestic.