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Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). New York. 1906.


MRS. MARTHA J. LAMB’S “History of the City of New York,” the other histories of the city by Miss Booth, and Messrs. Lossing, Todd, and Valentine; the Brodhead and O’Callaghan papers; Hammond’s “Political History of New York;” Dougherty’s “Constitutions of New York;” Cooper’s “Satanstoe” and “Miles Wallingford;” Tuckerman’s “Diary of Philip Hone;” Parton’s “Topics of the Time;” Adams’s “Chapter of Erie;” Shea’s and De Courcey’s “History of the Catholic Church in the United States;” and Lounsbury’s admirable “Life of Cooper,”—the best piece of American literary biography ever yet done,—are among the authorities consulted in preparing this volume. I wish to express my particular thanks to Mr. Brander Matthews, who indeed is responsible for my undertaking to write the book at all.

The limited space allowed forbade the use of the vast mass of manuscript which was obtainable. The temptation was very great to attempt a more exhaustive study of the events of the last forty years,—that is, the history of modern and contemporary New York; for this is the most important and instructive portion of our history, with the possible exception of the Federalist period. But of course such a study would be entirely out of place in a book of this kind.

It has been my aim less to collect new facts than to draw from the immense storehouse of facts already collected those which were to real importance in New York history, and to show their true meaning, and their relations to one another; to sketch the workings of the town’s life, social, commercial, and political, at successive periods, with their sharp transformations and contrasts; and to trace the causes which gradually changed a little Dutch trading-hamlet into a huge American city. I have also striven to make clear the logical sequence and continuity of these events; to outline the steps by which the city gradually obtained a free political life; and to give proper prominence to the remarkable and ever-recurring revolutions in the ethnic make-up of our mixed population,—a population which from the beginning has been composed of many different race-elements, and which has owed its marvelous growth more to immigration than to natural increase.

I had to content myself with barely touching on the social and political problems of the present day; for to deal with these at any length would turn the volume into a tract instead of a history. I have no wish to hide or excuse our faults; for I hold that he is often the best American who strives hardest to correct American shortcomings, and is most willing to profit by the wisdom and experience of other nations, especially of those that are nearest akin to us by blood, belief, speech, and law, and that are knit closest to us by the kindly ties of a former common history and common tradition.

Nevertheless, I am just as little disposed to give way to undue pessimism as to undue and arrogant optimism. Both our virtues and defects should be taken into account. For instance, there are great European cities with much cleaner municipal governments than ours; but on the other hand, the condition of the masses of the population in these same cities is much worse than it is in New York. Our marked superiority in one respect is no excuse or palliation for our lamentable falling off in another; but it must at least be accepted as an offset. We have been favored with some peculiar advantages, and we have been forced to struggle against other peculiar disadvantages; and both must be given due weight.

In speaking to my own countrymen there is one point upon which I wish to lay especial stress; that is, the necessity for a feeling of broad, radical, and intense Americanism, if good work is to be done in any direction. Above all, the one essential for success in every political movement which is to do lasting good, is that our citizens should act as Americans; not as Americans with a prefix and qualification—not as Irish Americans, German Americans, Native Americans,—but as Americans pure and simple. It is an outrage for a man to drag foreign politics into our contests, and vote as an Irishman or German or other foreigner, as the case may be; and there is no worse citizen than the professional Irish dynamiter or German anarchist, because of his attitude toward our social and political life, not to mention his efforts to embroil us with foreign powers. But it is no less an outrage to discriminate against one who has become an American in good faith, merely because of his creed or birthplace. Every man who has gone into practical politics knows well enough that if he joins good men and fights those who are evil, he can pay no heed to lines of division drawn according to race and religion. It would be well for New York if a larger proportion of her native-born children came up to the standard set by not a few of those of foreign birth. The two men who did most to give Brooklyn good municipal government were two mayors, one of German birth, the other of pure native American stock. My own warmest and most disinterested political friends and supporters in the city, and most trusty allies in the State Legislature, included men of Irish and German no less than of native American descent,—but all of them genuine Americans, the former just as much so as the latter. No city could wish representatives more loyal and disinterested in their devotion to the welfare of the commonwealth,—a devotion for which they were often ill rewarded. Of the last four mayors of New York, two have been of native and two of Irish stock; and no political line can be drawn among them which will not throw one Irishman and one American on one side, and one Irishman and one American on the other. In short, the most important lesson taught by the history of New York City is the lesson of Americanism,—the lesson that he among us who wishes to win honor in our life, and to play his part honestly and manfully, must be indeed an American in spirit and purpose, in heart and thought and deed.

Theodore Roosevelt
November, 1890.