Woodrow Wilson photo

Address at Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England

December 30, 1918

My Lord Mayor, Ladies, and Gentlemen—perhaps I may be permitted to add Fellow Citizens:

You have made me feel in a way that is deeply delightful the generous welcome which you have accorded me. Back of it I know there lies the same sort of feeling for the great people whom I have the privilege of representing. There is a feeling of cordial fraternity and friendship between these two great nations, and as I have gone from place to place and been made everywhere to feel the pulse of sympathy that is now beating between us, I have been led to some very serious thoughts as to what the basis of it all is. For I think you will agree with me that friendship is not a mere sentiment. Patriotism is not a mere sentiment. It is based upon a principle— upon a principle that leads a man to give more than he demands. And, similarly, friendship is based not merely upon affection, but upon common service. A man is not your friend who is not willing to serve you, and you are not his friend unless you are willing to serve him, and out of that impulse of common interest and a desire of common service rises that noble feeling which we have consecrated as friendship.

So it has seemed to me that the theme that we must have in our minds now in this great day of settlement is the theme of common interest and the determination of what it is that is our common interest. You know that heretofore the world has been governed, or at any rate an attempt has been made to govern it, by partnerships of interest, and they have broken down. Interest does not bind men together. Interest separates men, for the moment there is the slightest departure from the nice adjustment of interests jealousies begin to spring up. There is only one thing that can bind peoples together and that is a common devotion to right. Ever since the history of liberty began men have talked about their rights, and it has taken several hundred years to make them perceive that the principal part of right is duty, and that unless a man performs his full duty he is entitled to no right. This fine correlation of the two things of duty and of right is the equipoise and balance of society. So when we analyze the present situation and the future that we now have to mold and control, it seems to me that there is no other thought than that that can guide us.

You know that the United States has always felt from the very beginning of her history that she must keep herself separate from any kind of connection with European politics, and I want to say very frankly to you that she is not now interested in European politics. But she is interested in the partnership of right between America and Europe. If the future had nothing for us but a new attempt to keep the world at a right poise by a balance of power, the United States would take no interest, because she will join no combination of power which is not the combination of all of us. She is not interested merely in the peace of Europe, but in the peace of the world. Therefore it seems to me that in the settlement that is just ahead of us something more delicate and difficult than was ever attempted before is to be accomplished, a genuine concert of mind and of purpose. But while it is difficult there is an element present that makes it easy. Never before in the history of the world, I believe, has there been such a keen international consciousness as there is now. Men all over the world know that they have been embarrassed by national antagonisms and that the interest of each is the interest of all, and that men as men are the objects of government and international arrangements. There is a great voice of humanity abroad in the world just now which he who can not hear is deaf. There is a great compulsion of the common conscience now in existence which if any statesman resist he has gained the most unenviable eminence in history. We are not obeying the mandates of parties or of politics. We are obeying the mandates of humanity. That is the reason why it seems to me that the things that are most often in our minds are the least significant. I am not hopeful that the individual items of the settlements which we are about to attempt will be altogether satisfactory. One has but to apply his mind to any one of the questions of boundary and of altered sovereignty and of racial aspiration to do something more than conjecture that there is no man and no body of men who know just how it ought to be settled. Yet if we are to make unsatisfactory settlements, we must see to it that they are rendered more and more satisfactory by the subsequent adjustments which are made possible.

So that we must provide a machinery of readjustment in order that we may have a machinery of good will and of friendship. Friendship must have a machinery. If I can not correspond with you, if I can not learn your mind, if I can not cooperate with you, I can not be your friend, and if the world is to remain a body of friends it must have the means of friendship, the means of constant friendly intercourse, the means of constant watchfulness over the common interest—not making it necessary to make a great effort upon some great occasion and confer with one another, but have an easy and constant method of conference, so that troubles may be taken when they are little and not allowed to grow until they are big. I never thought that I had a big difference with a man that I did not find when I came into conference with him that, after all, it was rather a little difference and that if we were frank with one another, and did not too much stand upon that great enemy of mankind which is called pride, we could come together. It is the wish to come together that is more than half of the process. This is a doctrine which ought to be easy of comprehension in a great commercial center like this. You can not trade with men who suspect you. You can not establish commercial and industrial relations with those who do not trust you. Good will is the forerunner of trade, and trade is the great amicable instrument of the world on that account.

I feel—I felt before I came here—at home in Manchester, because Manchester has so many of the characteristics of our great American cities. I was reminded of the anecdote of a humorous fellow countryman who was sitting at lunch in his club one day and a man whom he did not like particularly came by and slapped him on the shoulder. "Hello, Ollie, old fellow, how are you?" he said. Ollie looked at him coldly and said, "I don't know your face; I don't know your name; but your manners are very familiar." I don't know your names, but your manners are very familiar. They are very delightfully familiar. So that I feel that in the community of interest and of understanding which is established in great currents of trade, we are enabled to see international processes perhaps better than they can be seen by others. I take it that I am not far from right in supposing that that is the reason why Manchester has been a center of the great forward-looking sentiments of men who had the instinct of large planning, not merely for the city itself, but for the Kingdom and the Empire and the world, and with that outlook we can be sure that we can go shoulder and shoulder together.

I wish that it were possible for us to do something like some of my very stern ancestors did, for among my ancestors are those very determined persons who were known as the Covenanters. I wish we could, not only for Great Britain and the United States, but for France and Italy and the world, enter into a great league and covenant, declaring ourselves, first of all, friends of mankind and uniting ourselves together for the maintenance and the triumph of right.

APP Note: The President referred to John Makeague, Lord Mayor of Manchester

Woodrow Wilson, Address at Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/317565

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