Members and Guests of the National Press Club:
Gathering here to lay the corner stone of a great edifice, which is to be the home of the National Press Club of Washington, naturally reminds us that the press is one of the corner stones of liberty. This principle is recognized in the fundamental law of our country, which guarantees a full and complete freedom in the publication and distribution of the truth. The right to have a fair and complete discussion of all problems is a necessary attribute of a free people. Without it the diffusion of such knowledge as is necessary to intelligent action in both private and public affairs would be impossible. Under American institutions a corner stone which is dedicated to the press is likewise dedicated to the Republic.
Under these circumstances the most desirable results have been secured. The public press of this country is absolutely independent. It is doubtful if in any other country it has ever been so successful and so prosperous. In general, it is remarkably clean and wholesome. Because of these conditions it has come to have a great influence. But it likewise is charged with great responsibilities.
It is my firm conviction that the press of this country is strong enough, independent enough, and influential enough, so that it should seek not to cater to a supposed low and degraded public opinion, but rather to create a noble and inspired public opinion. It ought to work in harmony with a great purpose, revealing to the people the progress of the development of a Divine power. It should be the record of those mighty events which mark contemporary history. While it is necessary at times to be critical, yet it is to be remembered that criticism pursued merely for the sake of criticism is a barren operation, leaving no lasting results. True journalism must go far beyond this into the field of constructive effort. It is only in that direction that there will be found anything that is of lasting public benefit.
Any student of human relations must come to the conclusion that liberty is derived from law. The press of our country is free because the Constitution guarantees its freedom. If that provision were struck out from our fundamental law, the press would not remain free for an hour. As an obligation, coupled with the very greatest self-interest, the press ought always to stand as a supporter of the Constitution and as the firmest advocate of a reign of law. On that principle there should be no weakness and no wavering. It should advocate resolutely, and at all times, the observance and the enforcement of the law.
In our domestic affairs an exceedingly important principle to observe is nationalism. This is all one country. We are all one people. While a proper pride in our own individual locality is both justifiable and helpful, it ought to be remembered that each individual locality is what it is mainly because it is an integral part of the whole Nation. But however great may be the accomplishments of that section in which we happen to live, they can never be great enough to warrant any disparagement of any other section. No part of our Nation is so perfect that it can look with any disdain on the imperfections of any other part, and, conversely, all of our different areas each have sufficient advantages to commend them to respect. It is enough to know that all can say "This is a part of America," and "We are Americans." Under our institutions all are equal.
The same reasons which make untenable any effort to array section against section apply to any attempt to array class against class. Correctly speaking, we have no sections and we have no classes. The same unity that applies to our territory applies with even more force to our population. The apparent differences of location, race, and customs are not real but artificial. No lasting progress can be built upon them. No appeal can be made to them which will accrue to the lasting benefit of the human race. The progress of civilization is a progress all away from emphasis upon that which is accidental to emphasis upon that which is essential. When we wisely decided not to create those artificial barriers which are represented by orders of nobility, but to let true worth create for all our inhabitants a universal class, we recognized one of the great truths of human existence which can not be too often emphasized. Americans are all privileged.
Broadly speaking, all of these suggestions fall under the principle of toleration. This means the adoption of a broad and generous spirit under which each may work out his own destiny in accordance with his own merits. Race hatred, class feeling, religious persecution, however these may be exhibited, whether under a form of law or through the force of public opinion, or even in defiance of law, have no justification in reason and are disastrous in their consequences. They dwarf and destroy those who permit themselves to come under the domination of these motives. Toleration is not a passive quality. It does not mean simply receiving the benefits of the tolerance of others. It is distinctly an active quality which means bestowing upon others and thereby receiving ourselves the benefits of our own tolerance.
No one can criticize journalistic efforts directed to the promotion of particular interests, but all that can be done without raising bitter antagonisms against other interests. It is impossible to think of political parties in these days without the support of a sympathetic press. It seems to me that in this field especially the chief requirement will always be for constructive effort. Rank partisanship very quickly falls into a distortion or a complete misstatement of the facts, accompanied by arguments which lead to illogical and unsound conclusions. A very cursory perusal of our history would convince anyone that in the past there has been sufficient good in both our political parties, especially when they have been in power, to require a large amount of printer's ink in its portrayal. It is improbable that a very similar condition does not exist at the present time. It would be much more helpful to suggest what ought to be done than merely to find fault with what is being done. It is very difficult to reconcile a narrow and bitter partisanship with real patriotism.
In the field of our foreign relations the attitude of the press becomes of very great importance. The number of our people who learn of foreign countries by actual contact with them is comparatively very small. Even then, such knowledge probably relates to only one or two countries. What the people of our country as a whole know of contemporary actions of other countries is gained entirely from the public prints. Of course, the press is justified in placing the very highest estimation upon America. No one should complain because our journalists represent our country as having the best of institutions. They are the best for us. But this does not require that other countries and other institutions should be disparaged.
One of the very gravest responsibilities of the Government is the creation and preservation of friendly relations with all foreign countries. One reason for this is our foreign trade. It is true that we have the natural resources to make ourselves very nearly self-sustaining, but nevertheless our commerce with other nations in what we buy and sell is very large and very important, both in the promotion of our material prosperity and as an enormous enlightening and civilizing influence. Undoubtedly trade will go to a large extent where it can secure the greatest advantage, but it is influenced in no small degree by good will.
International friendship and good will are of very large money value. They can not be promoted by misrepresentation and caricature of foreign people. The cultivation also of such an attitude of mind on the part of our people is an exhibition of hostility. It is sowing the seeds of war. We ought to realize that other nations have their rights and are justified in promoting their interests by all fair means. We can not cultivate the arts of peace by entertaining emotions of suspicion, distrust, and hatred. We can not be a great people by yielding such unworthy sentiments. We ought to rise above that and be ready to attribute the same good faith and fair motives to other governments and other peoples which we claim for ourselves. No basis for harmony, tranquillity, honorable dealing, and peace has ever been better expressed than that which is contained in the golden rule.
Without a friendly attitude of mind on the part of our people, which can be very largely advanced by the action of the press, all effort on the part of the Government to maintain harmonious international relations will be of little avail. Of course the most worthy intentions, the best of sentiments, the highest ideals are not themselves sufficient. They must be accompanied by proper instruments and institutions. It is useless to love liberty unless we establish laws. It is futile to cherish justice unless we provide courts. Our country has lately recognized this important principle by signifying its determination to promote international justice by adhering to the World Court. This has been done under reservations which adequately safeguard American rights and also tend to strengthen the independence of the court. Our Government has taken this step because it believed that it was the most practical method by which it could exercise its great influence in establishing the principle of a reign of international law under which disputes and differences would be adjusted, not by force but by reason. We ought to be ready to assume that in undertaking to discharge this same obligation other countries have been animated by the same motives which have inspired us.
While we have clearly declared our wish to assist in promoting justice among nations, we have just as clearly declared our intention to refrain from interfering in the political affairs of others by refusing to adhere to the League of Nations. It will be of great benefit, if the people can be informed that we take part in administering international justice because it affects us. We do not become involved in the political controversies of other countries because they are none of our affair.
We are likewise seeking, by what appears at the present time the only practical method, to promote international limitation of armaments. It has often been suggested that before land and naval forces can be reduced there must be an intellectual and moral disarmament. Of course, this is true. So long as there is enmity toward each other in the hearts of different peoples, it is useless to expect disarmament. To create a better understanding in this direction we are almost entirely dependent on our editors and publishers. The good they can do in promoting better understanding by supporting faith and good will and peace can not be estimated.
These are some of the methods by which the American press can perform a very large service for humanity. No other journalists ever had a like opportunity. In financial resources, in absolute independence, in the reaction of an enlightened public opinion to right and truth and justice, the position which they occupy in this country stands unrivaled in all history.
There is another side to journalism perhaps most important of all. No enterprise can obtain a success which is worth anything unless it appeals to the spiritual nature of mankind. No matter how secular the efforts may be of a publication, it will fail of the largest attainments, will not meet the highest requirements, will not secure the widest influence unless it is moved by a reverence for religion. Our country is a reverent country and our people are a reverent people. Our institutions must rest on that foundation. The press must minister to that spirit. Their great work must go on like all other great works, in reliance upon a divine purpose. If the corner stone which we are laying to-day is to endure, it must represent these principles. "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it."