Roosevelt states the main point of his speech in the opening remarks:
I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.
An individual who puts great effort into his work and is not lazy, he claims, will be a success. It is the duty of someone who does not engage in manual labor for a living to devote himself to the arts or sciences. He uses the citizens of Chicago and Illinois as examples of people who embody such a spirit. Those who do not embrace the strenuous life, however, do not live meaningful lives.
As the speech continues, Roosevelt claims that the strenuous life can benefit not just the individual, but also the entire country. He advocates imperialism as an extension of the strenuous life. America must become involved in global affairs, or else it will suffer as a nation. America must be a powerful country, and it must exert this power if it sees fit. Such strength necessarily requires a strong military, and a strong military presence. Roosevelt's concluding words tie together the importance of the strenuous life in the individual and the nation:
Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the strife is justified, for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.
The speech was published in 1900 as part of a collection of other Roosevelt writings and addresses also entitled The Strenuous Life.