I DEEM it a privilege to join here in the dedication of the tomb of Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States. This beautiful monument, erected by the voluntary subscriptions of the people, symbolizes their respect for his memory. It has been their response with tender remembrance to a kindly and gentle spirit. As future years come and go each of them will be marked by gatherings here of his friends and the people of a grateful democracy, for democracy has ever paid respect and tribute to those who have given her service.
Warren G. Harding came from the people. Born just at the close of the Civil War, it became his responsibility to lead the Republic in a period of reconstruction from another great war in which our democracy had again demonstrated its unalterable resolve to withstand encroachment upon its independence and to deserve the respect of the world. We cannot too often emphasize the difficulties to accomplishment which Warren Harding met in his task.
Great as are the problems of the conflict, the burdens of statesmanship are equally difficult in the rehabilitation of social and economic life after the dislocation of war. Above all, the burden is heavy in composing the hates and prejudices which smoulder and threaten long after the formal documents of peace are signed.
As the aftermath of war our national finances were disorganized, taxes were overwhelming, agriculture and business were prostrate, and unemployment widespread. Our country was torn with injustices to those racial groups of our own citizens descended from the enemy nations. Violent bitterness had arisen over the Treaty of Versailles.
These evil spirits aroused by war, augmented by inestimable losses, deep animosities, the dislocations of industry, the vast unemployment in a world still armed and arming confronted Warren G. Harding. He brought to the Office of President a long experience in public affairs together with the character and spirit of which the Republic was then in need. His was a mind and character fitted for a task where the one transcendent need was the healing quality of gentleness and friendliness. He was inspired by a devoted wife, who gave unstintingly of her strength to aid him. Mrs. Harding rests here beside him in death as she labored beside him in life. It was Mr. Harding's mission to compose the prejudices and conflicts at home, to lessen the threats of renewed wars through the world. He succeeded in those tasks. When in 2 years he died, new peace treaties had been made in terms which won the support of our people; tranquility had been restored at home; employment had been renewed and a long period of prosperity had begun.
And he succeeded further. The Washington Arms Conference for the reduction and limitation of battleships identified his administration with the first step in history toward the disarmament of the world. That step was accompanied by the momentous treaties which restored good will among the nations bordering upon the Pacific Ocean and gave to all the world inestimable blessings of peace and security.
The new and changing problems of later years have not obscured the many other constructive acts of his administration. The reorganization and reduction of the public debt, the reduction in taxation, the creation of the budget system, the better organization of industry and employment, new services to agriculture, the establishment of a permanent system of care for disabled veterans and their dependents--are but some of the enlightened measures which he inspired and advanced.
But this is neither the time nor place for me in historic retrospect to catalogue his many services to our country. They will be recorded and gratefully remembered by his countrymen.
Our thoughts today turn to the man himself. My first meeting with Warren Harding ever lingers in my memory. It was during the war and in a time of the greatest strain and anxiety. Late one evening the then Senator Harding, whom I had never met, came to my office. When he was announced, there flashed into my mind the thought that here was some complaint or a request for some appointment. Instead the Senator said simply: "I have not come to get anything. I just want you to know that if you wish the help of a friend, telephone me what you want. I am there to serve and to help." That statement, I came to learn, was typical of him. I refer to it now because it reveals the nature of the man.
I was one of those who accompanied the late President on his fateful trip across the continent and to Alaska. He had wished to learn from the people their needs and to translate to them his own aspirations. Those who were his companions on that journey realized full well that he had overstrained even his robust strength in the gigantic task which confronted him during the previous 2 years. And we came also to know that here was a man whose soul was being seared by a great disillusionment. We saw him gradually weaken not only from physical exhaustion but from mental anxiety. Warren Harding had a dim realization that he had been betrayed by a few of the men whom he had trusted, by men whom he had believed were his devoted friends. It was later proved in the courts of the land that these men had betrayed not alone the friendship and trust of their staunch and loyal friend but they had betrayed their country. That was the tragedy of the life of Warren Harding.
There are disloyalties and there are crimes which shock our sensibilities, which may bring suffering upon those who are touched by their immediate results. But there is no disloyalty and no crime in all the category of human weaknesses which compares with the failure of probity in the conduct of public trust. Monetary loss or even the shock to moral sensibilities is perhaps a passing thing, but the breaking down of the faith of a people in the honesty of their Government and in the integrity of their institutions, the lowering of respect for the standards of honor which prevail in high places, are crimes for which punishment can never atone.
But these acts never touched the character of Warren Harding. He gave his life in worthy accomplishment for his country. He was a man of delicate sense of honor, of sympathetic heart, of transcendent gentleness of soul--who reached out for friendship, who gave of it loyally and generously in his every thought and deed. He was a man of passionate patriotism. He was a man of deep religious feeling. He was devoted to his fellow men. No revelation of his character can equal that of his own words just before his death. They were a part of his last public statement. I quote:
"We need less of sectarianism, less of denominationalism, less of fanatical zeal and its exactions, and more of the Christ spirit, more of the Christ practice, and a new and abiding consecration and reverence for God. I am a confirmed optimist as to the growth of the spirit of brotherhood .... We do rise to heights at times when we look for the good rather than the evil in others, and gave consideration to the views of all. The inherent love of fellowship is banding men together, and when envy and suspicion are vanquished, fraternity records a triumph and brotherhood brings new blessings to men and to peoples .... Christ was the Prince of Peace, and we who seek to render His name glorious must move in the ways of peace and brotherhood and loving service."
He gave his life in that spirit, and in that spirit we pay tribute to his memory.