‘The basis of good citizenship is the home’ – Theodore Roosevelt
Visiting other people’s homes gives you a sense of who lives there. Houses, like pets, often reflect the characteristics of their owners. This holds true for presidents, who are both people and elected officials. President Bush reminded us of this recently with his statement that “I do tears.”
On Labor Day weekend, I, along with family and friends, visited Sagamore Hill, the summer White House and home to Theodore Roosevelt and his family. Located in Oyster Bay, New York, Sagamore hill was built by Roosevelt in 1885. Roosevelt was the twenty-sixth president of the United States. In 1901, when President McKinley was assassinated, the 42-year-old Roosevelt became the nation’s youngest president. He served until 1909.
His home, a three-story, 23-room, blue-painted, wood-framed house, is perched atop a hill. Walking into the house, a visitor instantly feels she is entering not a house, but what was -- a century ago -- a home to a family with six children.
That homey feeling persists, despite the presence of velvet ropes stretched across the entrances to rooms to keep out guests who might try to reach in and touch artifacts (yes, the alarm does work). The dark-wood panels in the entrance hallway and the stuffed animal heads convey a feeling of masculinity and roughness true to the outdoorsman and conservationist.
The second floor includes bedrooms for guests, children and Roosevelt himself, who died in an adjacent bedroom where he had been moved so that he could be near a fire.
Roosevelt was a bibliophile, with a collection of more than 6,000 books. They are tucked away in corners throughout the house, including a small bookshelf built into the entrance to the master bedroom. An American Flag, from Roosevelt’s time, Roosevelt’s red presidential flag, and the Rough Riders Flag all hang in the trophy room of the house. Lessons in history and life are woven into the surroundings and highlighted in quotes from Roosevelt. Many of them are still applicable.
“Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die: and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life. Both life and death are parts of the same great adventure.” President Roosevelt, “Metropolitan” October 1918.
Life transcends as individuals, we live in a nation and a world that is larger than us and that will endure after we are gone. A walk through Roosevelt’s family’s home underscores this fact. Though the original occupants are long gone, their legacy remains.
The second message is that there are things we can do ourselves. By that, I don’t mean things we can get the politicians to do or things we can assign to bureaucrats, but things we can do as individuals to give ourselves, our children and our grandchildren a better future.
While we are individuals, we are also part of an American civilization that gives us freedom, security and prosperity. We are able to have a limited government because we have an active civil society. Civic activity and philanthropy are part of the American fabric. Roosevelt was active and engaged in bettering society. As a conservationist, he made a lasting impact on the preservation of land from which even children yet unborn will benefit.
The third message is that it is important to work hard. “There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live – I have no use for the sour-faced man – and next that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do,” Theodore Roosevelt talking to schoolchildren in Oyster Bay, Christmas 1898.
This quote reflects Americans’ belief in hard work and the impact that hard work has on our culture and civilization. One of the benefits of hard work can be civil peace. When we are busy creating, we are too busy to be destructive. This evokes Atlanta’s description as “a city too busy to hate.”
Americans’ have great freedom and, with it, great responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to pass American civilization onto future generations. As Newt Gingrich said at the 2006 groundbreaking of Atlanta’s Millennium Gate, “It’s almost as though we believe you can take this extraordinarily complex thing called ‘American civilization’ and figure that your children and your grandchildren would automatically learn to be Americans. It’s not true. It is not easy to learn to be an active member of American civilization, but it critical for us to be safe, prosperous and free.” Roosevelt reminds us that “the basis of good citizenship is the home.”
We often get caught up in society’s obsession with possessions: having a larger house, a nicer car, better clothes and the right accessories. Possibly this is because this is an easy way to keep score. By continually refocusing on what people do, specifically in regards to furthering our civilization in such a way that we create a better future of ourselves, our children and our grandchildren we create long-term value for our civilization.
Can you image if we had a nation of doers not possessors. How do we create a nation of doers, who understand that what you have is not as important as what you do with what you have; that it is better to have less and do more that to have more and do less.