Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Elihu Root

American Lawyer, Educator, Cabinet Officer, Statesman, Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

"Moral disarmament is to safe-guard the future; material disarmament is to save the present, that there may be a future to safeguard."

"Human nature must have come much nearer perfection than it is now, or will be in many generations, to exclude from such a control prejudice, selfishness, ambition, and injustice."

"Prejudice and passion and suspicion are more dangerous than the incitement of self-interest or the most stubborn adherence to real differences of opinion regarding rights. "

"There is so much of good in human nature that men grow to like each other upon better acquaintance, and this points to another way in which we may strive to promote the peace of the world. "

"Men do not fail; they give up trying. "

"To deal with the true causes of war one must begin by recognizing as of prime relevancy to the solution of the problem the familiar fact that civilization is a partial, incomplete, and, to a great extent, superficial modification of barbarism. "

"About half of the practice of a decent lawyer is telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop."

"At the same time, freedom of trade regardless of political control is diminishing the comparative value of extension of territory."

"Claims of right and insistence upon obligations may depend upon treaty stipulations, or upon the rules of international law, or upon the sense of natural justice applied to the circumstances of a particular case, or upon disputed facts."

"Cruelty to men and to the lower animals as well, which would have passed unnoticed a century ago, now shocks the sensibilities and is regarded as wicked and degrading."

"Gradually, everything that happens in the world is coming to be of interest everywhere in the world, and, gradually, thoughtful men and women everywhere are sitting in judgment upon the conduct of all nations."

"I observe that there are two entirely different theories according to which individual men seek to get on in the world. One theory leads a man to pull down everybody around him in order to climb up on them to a higher place. The other leads a man to help everybody around him in order that he may go up with them."

"Honest people, mistakenly believing in the justice of their cause, are led to support injustice."

"I guess you will have to go to jail. If that is the result of not understanding the Income Tax Law I shall meet you there. We shall have a merry, merry time, for all of our friends will be there. It will be an intellectual center, for no one understands the Income Tax Law except persons who have not sufficient intelligence to understand the questions that arise under it."

"Human life is held in much higher esteem, and the taking of it, whether in private quarrel or by judicial procedure, is looked upon much more seriously than it was formerly."

"Love of fighting was bred in the blood of the race because those who did not love fighting were not suited to their environment and perished."

"No nation now sets forth to despoil another upon the avowed ground that it desires the spoils."

"Nobody knows through how many thousands of years fighting men have made a place for themselves while the weak and peaceable have gone to the wall."

"Nothing is more important in the preservation of peace than to secure among the great mass of the people living under constitutional government a just conception of the rights which their nation has against others and of the duties their nation owes to others."

"Politics is the practical exercise of the art of self-government, and somebody must attend to it if we are to have self-government; somebody must study it, and learn the art, and exercise patience and sympathy and skill to bring the multitude of opinions and wishes of self-governing people into such order that some prevailing opinion may be expressed and peaceably accepted. Otherwise, confusion will result either in dictatorship or anarchy. The principal ground of reproach against any American citizen should be that he is not a politician. Everyone ought to be, as Lincoln was."

"In the first place, when there is a policy of intentional aggression, inspired by a desire to get possession of the territory or the trade of another country, right or wrong, a pretext is always sought."

"It is not uncommon in modern times to see governments straining every nerve to keep the peace, and the people whom they represent, with patriotic enthusiasm and resentment over real or fancied wrongs, urging them forward to war."

"It is to be observed that every case of war averted is a gain in general, for it helps to form a habit of peace, and community habits long continued become standards of conduct."

"Secretary of War Stanton used to get out of patience with Lincoln because he was all the time pardoning men who ought to be shot."

"The attractive idea that we can now have a parliament of man with authority to control the conduct of nations by legislation or an international police force with power to enforce national conformity to rules of right conduct is a counsel of perfection."

"The growth of modern constitutional government compels for its successful practice the exercise of reason and considerate judgment by the individual citizens who constitute the electorate."

"The law of the survival of the fittest led inevitably to the survival and predominance of the men who were effective in war and who loved it because they were effective."

"The limitation upon this mode of promoting peace lies in the fact that it consists in an appeal to the civilized side of man, while war is the product of forces proceeding from man's original savage nature."

"The line of least resistance in the progress of civilization is to make that theoretical postulate real by the continually increasing force of the world's public opinion."

"The mere assemblage of peace loving people to interchange convincing reasons for their common faith, mere exhortation and argument to the public in favor of peace in general fall short of the mark."

"The methods of peace propaganda which aim at establishing peace doctrine by argument and by creating a feeling favorable to peace in general seem to fall short of reaching the springs of human action and of dealing with the causes of the conduct which they seek to modify."

"The old system of exploitation of colonies and the monopolization of their trade for the benefit of the mother country has practically disappeared."

"Science has been arranging, classifying, methodizing, simplifying, everything except itself. It has made possible the tremendous modern development of power of organization which has so multiplied the effective power of human effort as to make the differences from the past seem to be of kind rather than of degree. It has organized itself very imperfectly. Scientific men are only recently realizing that the principles which apply to success on a large scale in transportation and manufacture and general staff work to apply them; that the difference between a mob and an army does not depend upon occupation or purpose but upon human nature; that the effective power of a great number of scientific men may be increased by organization just as the effective power of a great number of laborers may be increased by military discipline."

"The point of departure of the process to which we wish to contribute is the fact that war is the natural reaction of human nature in the savage state, while peace is the result of acquired characteristics."

"The popular tendency is to listen approvingly to the most extreme statements and claims of politicians and orators who seek popularity by declaring their own country right in everything and other countries wrong in everything."

"The theoretical postulate of all diplomatic discussion between nations is the assumed willingness of every nation to do justice."

"The wolf always charges the lamb with muddying the stream."

"The worst, the hardest, the most disagreeable thing that you may have to do may be the thing that"

"To eradicate or modify or curb the tendencies which thus survive among civilized men is not a matter of intellectual conviction or training."

"True love of country is not mere blind partisanship. It is regard for the people of ones country and all of them it is a feeling of fellowship and brotherhood for all of them it is a desire for the prosperity and happiness of all of them it is kindly and considerate judgment toward all of them. The first duty of popular self-government is individual self-control. The essential condition of true progress is that it shall be based upon grounds of reason, and not prejudice. Lincolns noble sentiment of charity for all and malice toward none was not a specific for the Civil War, but is a living principle of action."

"War comes today as the result of one of three causes: either actual or threatened wrong by one country to another, or suspicion by one country that another intends to do it wrong ... or, from bitterness of feeling, dependent in no degree whatever upon substantial questions of difference. . . . The least of these three causes of war is actual injustice."

"War was forced upon mankind in his original civil and social condition."

"We all know of course that we cannot abolish all the evils in this world by statute or by the enforcement of statutes, nor can we prevent the inexorable law of nature which decrees that suffering shall follow vice, and all the evil passions and folly of mankind. Law cannot give to depravity the rewards of virtue, to indolence the rewards of industry, to indifference the rewards of ambition, or to ignorance the rewards of learning. The utmost that government can do is measurably to protect men, not against the wrong they do themselves but against wrong done by others and to promote the long, slow process of educating mind and character to a better knowledge and nobler standards of life and conduct. We know all this, but when we see how much misery there is in the world and instinctively cry out against it, and when we see some things that government may do to mitigate it, we are apt to forget how little after all it is possible for any government to do, and to hold the particular government of the time and place to a standard of responsibility which no government can possibly meet."

"When a teacher of the future comes to point out to the youth of America how the highest rewards of intellect and devotion can be gained, he may say to them, not by subtlety and intrigue not by wire pulling and demagoguery not by the arts of popularity not by skill and shiftiness in following expediency but by being firm in devotion to the principles of manhood and the application of morals and the courage of righteousness in the public life of our country by being a man without guile and without fear, without selfishness, and with devotion to duty, devotion to his country."