You are here
The following article recounts the speech made by President Woodrow Wilson upon his visit to Charlotte, North Carolina during the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence celebrations.
The Charlotte News 5/20/1916 Night Edition Section 2, p.1
Carolinians Cheer Chief Executive of Nation Who Is Charlotte’s Honor Guest
President Thrills Vast Audience With Picture Of Role To Be Played By United States After The War
Cheers Burst from Throats of One Hundred Thousand People When President Declared United States After the War Would Pay Heed to the Still Small Voice of Humanity – Most of His Address Was Devoted to Treatment of American Ideals – What is Needed, He Declared, is Untainted Ideals –What Is Needed Fall Back on Its Moral Consciousness, He Said – Great Part to be Played in World Civilization by the United States.
President Wilson, speaking to a vast crowd of more than 100,000 people here to-day, declared he hoped the United States after the European war would be able to lift up a symbol of the “still, small voice of humanity.”
The President expressed the hope that out of the present war may come an amalgamation of the peoples and the interests of the world which will bring them into a common melting pot. He ventured the hope that after the present war all peoples might come together.
The president asked what “You are going to do with your power?” He inquired whether “You are going to transform it into force or peace.” He added the world is now about to fall back upon its moral consciousness.
The president spoke only briefly and devoted himself almost wholly to discussion of the ideals of the United States. He declared “Untainted Americanism” is needed. He declared the United States must preserve its ideals in order to be of assistance in helping the world. He was enthusiastically applauded.
“I have come back for a brief visit to a region dear to my heart,” said the president. “I do not know whether I can interpret for you the spirit of this occasion. It is necessary to realize just what we celebrate.
“There were only 3,000,000 people in this nation when it became independent. Now there are 100,000,000 people. There have been changes but we have the same elements. What I want to impress on you is that we have always been in the making. Among the men who founded this nation there was a very great passion for human liberty.
“What I want to call to your attention is that this nation has devoted itself almost too much to material things. There have been other nations just as rich as the United States. We must think of what we are going to do with our wealth and our prosperity.
“America did not come out of the south and it did not come out of New England. It came out of the middle states where there was a mixture of different races.”
The president spoke of the need of “untainted Americanism.” He dwelt on the European war. “What are the elements of this war?” he asked. “It is a clash of different elements. Europe is fighting out in the war questions we are fighting out in peace. As the processes of communication have grown better nations and peoples have grown closer together. Men can now learn more about each other. So that now the melting pot is bigger than America. It is as big as the world. See then what a new world we have come into.
“Here in America we have tried to set the example of peace by keeping together.
“Isn’t it the sign and dawn of a new age that the one thing now on which the world is about to fall back is the moral judgment of mankind?”
The president said he would like to think the “spirit of this occasion” could be expressed “if we could imagine ourselves lifting up some symbol of humanity.”
Closing his address amid a burst of applause, the president left the stand to go to a local club for lunch.
The President’s Speech Follows:
“It is with unaffected pleasure that I find myself in the presence of this interesting company today, for I have come back for a visit all too brief to a region very familiar to my heart, and the greeting of whose people is peculiarly welcome to me.
“I do not know, my fellow citizens, whether I can interpret for you today the spirit of this occasion, but it is necessary when we get together in celebrations like this to take counsel together with regard to just what it is that we wish to celebrate. You will say we wish to celebrate the memories of that time to which we look back with such pride, when our fathers with singular wisdom of counsel and stoutness of heart undertook to set up an independent nation on this side of the water; but it is very much more important that we should remind ourselves of the elements with which our forefathers dealt. There were only three million citizens in that original republic of the United States of America. Now there are one hundred millions. It is a long cry back to those modest beginnings: a great period of time, not only, but a great period of profound change, separates us from that time, and yet I would remind you that the same elements were present then that are present now.
“What interests my thought more than anything else about the United States is that it has always been in a process of being made ever since that little beginning and that there have always been the same elements in the process. At the outset there was at the heart of the men who led the movement for independence a very high and handsome passion for human liberty and free institutions. And yet there lay before them a great continent which it was necessary to subdue to the uses of civilization if they were going to build upon it a great state among the family of nations. I heard a preacher once point out the very interesting circumstance that our Lord’s Prayer begins with the petition for ‘our daily bread,’ from which he drew the inference that it is very difficult to worship God on an empty stomach, and that the material foundations of our life are the first foundations. What I want to call your attention to is that this country ever since that time has devoted practically all of its attention, perhaps too much of its attention, to the material foundations of its life, to subduing this continent to the uses of the nation and to the building up of a great body of wealth and material power. I find some men who when they think of America do not think of anything else but that. But, my friends, there have been other nations just as rich and just as powerful in comparison with the other nations of the world as the United States is, and it is a great deal more important that we should determine what we are going to do with our power than that we should possess it.
You must remember, therefore, the elements with which we are dealing. Sometimes those of us who were born in this part of the country persuade ourselves that this is the characteristic part of America. Here more than anywhere else has been preserved a great part of the original stock which settled this country, particularly that portion of the stock which came from the British Isles. (I am not meaning to exclude Ireland!) And then I find a great many of my friends who live in New England imagining that the history of this country is merely the history of the expansion of New England, and that Plymouth Rock lies at the foundation of our institutions. As a matter of fact, my fellow citizens, however mortifying it may be to them or us, America did not come out of the south, and it did not come out of New England. The characteristic part of America originated in the middle states of New York and Pennsylvania and New Jersey, because there from the start was that mixture of racial stock, the mixture of antecedents which is the most singular and distinguishing mark of the United States. The most important single fact about this great nation which we represent is that it is made up one of all the nations of the world. I dare say that the men who came to American then and the men who have come to America since came with a single purpose; sharing some part of the passion for human liberty which characterized the men who founded the republic, but they came with all sorts of blood in their veins, all sorts of antecedents behind them, all sorts of traditions in their family and national life and America has had to serve as a melting pot for all these diversified and contrasted elements. What kind of fire of pure passion are you going to keep burning under the pot in order that the mixture that comes out may be purged of its dross and may be the fine gold of untainted Americanism? That is the problem.
I want to call your attention to another picture. America has always been making and to be made and while we were in the midst of this process, apparently at the acme and crisis of the process, while this travail of soul and fermentation of elements was at its height, came this great cataclysm of European war, and almost every other nation in the world became involved in a tremendous struggle which was what, my fellow citizens? What are the elements in the struggle? Don’t you see that in this European war is involved the very thing that has been going on in America? It is a competition of national standards, of national traditions, and of national politics – political systems. Europe has grappled in war as we have grappled in peace to see what is going to be done with these things when they come into hot contact with one another. For do you not remember that while these processes were going on in America some very interesting things were happening? It was a very big world into which this nation came when it was born, but it is a very little world now. It used to take as many days to go from Washington to Charlotte in those days as it now takes hours. I heard an Irishman say if the power of steam continued to increase in the next fifty years as it had in the last, we would get to Charlotte two hours before we left Washington. And as these processes of intercommunication have been developed and quickened, men of the same nation, not only have grown closer neighbors, but men of different nations have grown closer neighbors with each other; and now that we have these invisible tongues that speak by the wireless through the trackless air to the ends of the world, every man can make every other man in the world his neighbor and speak to him upon the moment. While these processes of fermentation and travail were going on, men were learning about each other, nations were becoming more and more acquainted with each other, nations were more and more becoming interrelated and intercommunication was being quickened in every possible way, so that now the melting pot is bigger than America. It is as big as the world. And what you see taking place on the other side of the water is the tremendous – I had about said final process by which a contest of elements may in God’s process be turned into a co-ordination and co-operation of elements.
“For it is an interesting circumstance that the processes of the war stand still. These hot things that are in contact with each other do not make very much progress against each other. When you cannot overcome, you must take counsel. See then, ladies and gentlemen, what a new age we have come into. I should think that it would quicken the imagination of every man and quicken the patriotism of every man who cared for America. Here in America we have tried to set the example of bringing all the world together upon terms of liberty and co-operation and peace, and in that great experience that we have been going through America has been a sort of prophetic sample of mankind. Now the world outside of America has felt the forces of America; felt the forces of freedom, the forces of common aspiration, the forces that bring every man and every nation face to face with this question. ‘What are you going to do with your power? Are you going to translate it into force, or are you going to translate it into peace and the salvation of society?’ Does it not interest you that America has run before the rest of the world in making trial of this great human experiment, and is it not the sign and dawn of a new age that the one thing upon which the world is now about to fall is the moral judgment of mankind. There is no finer sentence in the history of great nations than the sentence which occurs in the Declaration of Independence (I am now referring to the minor declaration at Philadelphia, not to the Mecklenburg Declaration) in which Mr. Jefferson said, ‘A decent respect for the opinion of mankind makes it necessary – I am not now quoting the words exactly – that we should state the grounds upon which we have taken the important step of asserting our independence.’ A decent respect for the opinion of mankind – it is as if Jefferson knew that this was the way in which mankind itself was to struggle to realize its aspirations and that, standing in the presence of mankind, this little group of three million people should say, ‘Friends and fellow citizens of the great moral world, our reason for doing this thing we now intend to state to you in candid and complete terms, so that you will never think that we were merely throwing off a yoke of impatience, but know that we were throwing off this thing in order that a great world of liberty should be open to man through our instrumentality.’
“I would like, therefore, to think that the spirit of this occasion could be expressed if we imagined ourselves lifting some sacred emblem of counsel and of peace, of accommodation and righteous judgment, before the nations of the world and reminding them of that passage in Scripture, ‘After the wind, after the earthquake, after the fire, the still small voice of humanity.’”