'Speak softly and carry a big stick' - Roosevelt's proverb could bring $80,000

As we've reported, a spectacular Book of Hours is going under the hammer at Heritage in their fascinating auction of rare books and manuscripts which has started its live section today and ends on Saturday April 9.

Naturally the highlights are not limited to medieval books. There are a number of important autographed letter from the James Ring collection going under the hammer too, including several from US Presidents and one from Albert Einstein.

In a typed letter, signed, future President Theodore Roosevelt uses his famous aphorism "Speak softly and carry a big stick" for the first time. It was written when he was governor of New York and is two pages long, marked Albany, New York, January 26, 1900.

This original letter - the carbon copy is displayed in the Library of Congress' American Treasures - is addressed to Henry L. Sprague of the "Union League Club, N.Y. City".

Roosevelt letter
Roosevelt letter (typed softly in blue)

Roosevelt credits a West African proverb for the famous phrase and applies it to a recent political tussle in the New York State Assembly. The letter reads in full:

"Your letter of the 25th really pleased me. Of course, I shall not feel real easy until the vote has actually been taken, but apparently everything is now all right. I have always been fond of the West African proverb: 'Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.'

"If I had not carried the big stick the Organization would not have gotten behind me, and if I had yelled and blustered as [Dr. Charles] Parkhurst and the similar dishonest lunatics desired, I would not have had ten votes.

"But I was entirely good humored, kept perfectly cool and steadfastly refused to listen to anything save that [Louis] Payn had to go, and that I would take none but a thoroughly upright and capable man in his place. Unless there is some cataclysm, these tactics will be crowned with success.

"As for the Eveing [sic] Post, Parkhurst and Company, they of course did their feeble best to try to get me to take action which would have ensured Payn's retention and would have resulted therefore in a very imposing triumph for rascality.

"They have often shown themselves the enemies of good government, but in this case I do not think they are even to be credited with good intentions. They were no more anxious to see dishonesty rebuked than a professional prohibitionist is to see the liquor law decently administered.
With warm regards,
Faithfully yours,
[signed] Theodore Roosevelt."

Roosevelt did not use the phrase publicly until September 2, 1901, by which time he had been sworn in as vice-President. The letter is expected to achieve $60,000-80,000 when it goes under the hammer tomorrow in the auction which is taking place in New York.

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