September 2nd, 1901 – “Speak softly and carry a big stick”


Vice President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt first used the phrase “Speak softly and carry a big stick” in a conversation at the Minnesota State Fair on September 2nd, 1901. Four days later President William McKinley was assassinated and died an additional eight days later, which subsequently thrust Roosevelt into the presidency.

Big Stick Cartoon 680

Roosevelt had referred to the phrase earlier (January 26th, 1900) in a letter to Henry W. Sprague of the Union League Club of New York, mentioning his liking of the phrase in a bout of happiness after forcing New York‘s Republican committee to pull support away from a corrupt financial adviser.

T Roosevelt 680Roosevelt attributed the term as “a West African proverb”, and was seen at the time as evidence of Roosevelt’s “prolific” reading habits. The proverb reads “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far,” but the claim that it originated in West Africa has been disputed. However, it is also rumored that Roosevelt himself first made the phrase publicly known, and that he meant it was West African proverb only metaphorically.

Although used before his presidency, Roosevelt used military muscle several times throughout his two terms with a more subtle touch to complement his diplomatic policies. This included the Great White Fleet, 16 battleships which peacefully circumnavigated the globe as an illustration of America’s rising yet neutral prestige under Roosevelt’s direction.


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