Patriotism Means To Stand by the Country. It Does Not Mean To Stand by the President or Any Other Public Official

Theodore Roosevelt? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a spirited disagreement on Facebook about whether the following statement can be ascribed to Theodore Roosevelt:

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President.

Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Several U.S. presidential administrations have been greeted by critics who have cited this expression. In May 1918 Theodore Roosevelt published an article titled “Lincoln and Free Speech” in “Metropolitan Magazine” which began with the following paragraph. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

PATRIOTISM means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him in so far as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth—whether about the President or about anyone else—save in the rare cases where this would make known to the enemy information of military value which would otherwise be unknown to him.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In May 1918 Roosevelt also published an editorial titled “Sedition, a Free Press and Personal Rule” in “The Kansas City Star”. 2 The piece was reprinted in several other newspapers including “The Washington Post”. 3 The point of Roosevelt’s essay was closely related to the article above:

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.

In November 1918 Roosevelt published the volume “The Great Adventure”, and he reprinted his words from the “Metropolitan Magazine” article in a section of the appendix: 4

In my letter to Senator Poindexter I quoted an article I had written which appeared in the Metropolitan Magazine for April 1918. It runs as follows:

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country.

Robert Welch was one of the founders of the anti-communist organization the John Birch Society. In 1963 he published “The Politician” which was harshly critical of Dwight Eisenhower who had recently completed his presidency. The quotation ascribed to Roosevelt was included as an epigraph near the beginning of the book: 5

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. . .
Theodore Roosevelt

In conclusion, Theodore Roosevelt should be credited with the statement he wrote in “Metropolitan Magazine” in 1918.

Image Notes: Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt by John Singer Sargent circa 1903; U.S. Government for the White House. Both images accessed via Wikimedia Commons, Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Mark Huffman whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Huffman located the citation in “The Kansas City Star”.)

Notes:

  1. 1918 May, Metropolitan Magazine, Volume 47, Number 6, Lincoln and Free Speech by Theodore Roosevelt, Start Page 7, Quote Page 7, Column 1, The Metropolitan Magazine Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1918 May 7, The Kansas City Star, Sedition, a Free Press and Personal Rule by Theodore Roosevelt, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Kansas City, Missouri. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1918 May 8, The Washington Post, Theodore Roosevelt Urges Congress to Give Wilson Free Hand and Retain Full Power (Editorial by Theodore Roosevelt reprinted from “Kansas City Star” of May 7), Quote Page 4, Column 3, Washington, D.C (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1918, The Great Adventure: Present-Day Studies in American Nationalism by Theodore Roosevelt, Section: Appendix, Lincoln and Free Speech, Quote Page 181, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1963, The Politician by Robert Welch, Epigraph, Quote Page v, (Privately printed for Robert Welch), Belmont Pub. Company, Belmont, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link