As we talk about and think through our nation’s history, why are there some people that continue to stand out? Just how does their memory continue to withstand all the time that has passed? Is it their position in life, or their money, or their accomplishments? I believe it has to do more with their character. That’s a word we don’t hear much about today but the truth is this – character makes leaders, and true leaders have a powerful influence in our society.
Long before Abraham Lincoln ever became President, when he was a young man working as a store clerk, one day he noticed that, somehow, during a sale he had overcharged one customer, a lady, by six cents. Now that may seem insignificant to some, but not to him. So, at the end of that work day, Abraham Lincoln walked four miles to that woman’s home to return that six cents – and she was amazed. You see, it’s no accident that Abraham Lincoln was called “Honest Abe”. He was a man of character.
And there’s another man in our American history who, solely because of his character, he drew men to him to take on a task, a battle, that cost many their lives. Listen to this story.
In 1898, when the United States went to war with Spain, a man by the name of Theodore Roosevelt was the assistant Secretary of the Navy. Now Roosevelt had quite a reputation as a frontiersman, and as being a man ready for any rough task needing to be done. So, with the “OK” of the U.S. government, Theodore Roosevelt resigned his position and, along with his friend, Dr. Leonard Wood, began to form a small army of special men to fight that war. This group of men was to be all expert horsemen, and they were officially designated as the First United States Volunteer Cavalry.
Now, privately, Roosevelt wondered if anyone would volunteer for such a dangerous job. But to his credit literally thousands of men volunteered. They came from everywhere. And after they were chosen and trained, they were exceptionally good soldiers, a crack cavalry unit of 1,000 expert horsemen who came to be known as “Rough Riders”.
In a very short time these Rough Riders were ready for battle, so they traveled by train from Texas to Florida and were given their orders – to fight the Spaniards on a tiny island called Cuba. But here’s where the twist comes – even though they had been trained as cavalry, they were told that their horses would have to be left behind – they would be foot soldier. But, not one Rough Rider quit or resigned. They would follow their leader, Theodore Roosevelt, into the very face of death.
On July 1, 1898, they saw that face of death and stood firm. With Theodore Roosevelt literally in the front leading his men by example, these 1,000 Rough Riders on foot, charged up San Juan Hill and won the battle. And Theodore Roosevelt became a national hero and, later, the youngest U.S. President in our history. Just what makes a leader? Character.
And later in life Theodore Roosevelt gave one of the most powerful and quoted speeches ever which contains a challenge we all must consider. Read these telling words by Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without erring or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; …and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
What a speech! And now is the time for each of us in America to take a stand, to find our character, to quit watching from the sidelines and get in the arena!
Where are you standing – right now?