Thursday, March 01, 2007

Did Theodore Roosevelt Really Say That?


"Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country."
- Theodore Roosevelt

These are the true words of Theodore Roosevelt, supposedly taken from a letter written to the President of the American Defense Society on January 3, 1919, three days before he died, ten years after his presidency.

The American Defense Society, who named Roosevelt Honorary President, was ready to launch a campaign to distribute Theodore Roosevelt portraits to schools and organizations in support of their cause, which is what brought Roosevelt to make what would be his last public statement; where he encouraged the United States to "Keep up the Fight for Americanism."

This theme of "Americanism" was a popular topic for Roosevelt, for he believed our nations would fall to ruins because of the "squabbling of nationalities" amongst the "hyphenated Americans."

It was this fear that led him to endorse compulsory learning of English by every naturalized citizen. It was this same fear that prompted Roosevelt to record his infamous statement that "Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or to leave the country". He also added that "English should be the only language taught or used in the public schools."

Another quote from Roosevelt: "It is our boast that we admit the immigrant to full fellowship and equality with the native-born. In return we demand that he shall share our undivided allegiance to the one flag which floats over all of us."

I've seen these statements (or ones very similar) written many times. However they always seem to be associated with many different dates, spanning two years. What I can conclude with near certainty was that Roosevelt said these words years after his presidency. This does not sound like the calculated words of a politician, but rather the tired voice of a strong minded, curmudgeon who loves his country to the point where he doesn't want to see all his hard work crumble in vain. He actually seems a lot like my Granfather.

Regardless of when he said these words, Roosevelt's words ring true for many Americans today. Some things never change.

More Teddy Roosevelt Quotes
Roosevelt on immigration

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1 comment:

Shaun said...

What is the problem with immigrants learning English? While it may not be the official language of our country every important historical document has been written in it. Learning English is crucial if immigrants wish to assimilate and are to be able to take part in our political system. Secondly, what is wrong with demanding "undivided allegiance" to the United States? It is only logical that an immigrant should want to take pride in their new home. With the threat of terrorism always looming over our head it is frightening to think of the prospect of a person emigrating from their country to ours only to do us harm.

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