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Reading 3: Wilson's Final Campaign

Woodrow Wilson gave the following radio address from the library of his S Street home on the eve of Armistice Day, November 10, 1923. The speech appeared in the New York Times on November 11. Several other versions of the speech have been printed, but this is what Wilson actually said. It is also found in The Papers of Woodrow Wilson (Arthur S. Link, ed., vol. 68, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993, pp. 466-67).

 The anniversary of Armistice Day should stir us to great exaltation of spirit because of the proud recollection that it was our day, a day above those early days of that never-to-be forgotten November which lifted the world to the high levels of vision and achievement upon which the great war for democracy and right was fought and won; although the stimulating memories of that happy time of triumph are forever marred and embittered for us by the shameful fact that when the victory was won, be it remembered–chiefly by the indomitable spirit and ungrudging sacrifices of our incomparable soldiers–we turned our backs on upon our associates and refused to bear any responsible part in the administration of peace, or the firm and permanent establishment of the results of the war–won at so terrible a cost of life and treasure–and withdrew into a sullen and selfish isolation which is deeply ignoble because manifestly cowardly and dishonorable.
 This must always be a source of deep mortification to us and we shall inevitably be forced by the moral obligations of freedom and honor to retrieve that fatal error and assume once more the role of courage, self-respect and helpfulness which every true American must wish to regard as our natural part in the affairs of the world.
 That we should have thus done a great wrong to civilization at one of the most critical turning points in the history of the world is the more to be deplored because every anxious year that has followed has made the exceeding need for such services as we might have rendered more and more evident and more and more pressing, as demoralizing circumstances which we might have controlled have gone from bad to worse.
 And now, as if to furnish as sort of sinister climax, France and Italy between them have made waste paper of the Treaty of Versailles and the whole field of international relationship is in perilous confusion.
 The affairs of the world can be set straight only by the firmest and most determined exhibition of the will to lead and make the right prevail.
 Happily, the present situation in the world of affairs affords us the opportunity to retrieve the past and to render mankind the inestimable service of proving that there is at least one great and powerful nation which can turn away from programs of self­interest and devote itself to practicing and establishing the highest ideals of disinterested service and the consistent maintenance of exalted standards of conscience and of right.
 The only way in which we can worthily give proof of our appreciation of the high significance of Armistice Day is by resolving to put self-interest away and once more formulate and act on the highest ideals and purposes of international policy.
 Thus, and only thus, can we return to the true traditions of America.


 The next day, November 11, a throng of over 20,000 well-wishers spontaneously crowded outside the house on S Street to pay homage to Wilson, the war president, architect of the Treaty of Versailles, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and now embittered idealist.
 Wilson came down from the house to its front steps to address the group. He gave a few words of thanks and gratitude and finally left his admirers with these words: "I am not one of those that have the least anxiety about the triumph of the principles I have stood for. I have seen fools resist Providence before, and I have seen their destruction, as will come upon these again, utter destruction and contempt. That we shall prevail is as sure as God reigns." Three months later he died at his quiet brick house just three miles from his former office as executive-in-chief. Wilson's ideals and leadership in crafting the League of Nations have left a rich legacy for the future of peace in our world.

Questions for Reading 3

1. What is significant about the date on which this speech was given?

2. What was Wilson asking America to do?

3. Compare this speech of Wilson's to the one he gave in Colorado four years earlier. How has Wilson's argument changed? How has it stayed consistent?



Comments or Questions

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