William Howard Taft

Address at Glenwood Mission Inn in Riverside, California

October 12, 1909

Mr. Governor and Bishop and Gentlemen of Southern California:

This dinner has assumed a phase that I did not expect.

The truth is that the honor of unveiling the tablet to the Rev. Father Serra was one that I had not anticipated, but which I was glad to perform, but had I known what was to come I should have prepared myself with some investigation and some knowledge of the history of the country of that interesting period in California's life when the missions began and continued down to the time that we from the East came into California.

Bishop Conaty has been good enough to refer to some of our experiences in the Philippines, and that enables me to say something appropriate of the settlement by monks of Southern California. I there became aware of the great work which had been done by the missions not only of the Franciscans, but of the Jesuits, the Recolletos, the Dominicans and the Augustinians in the Philippines. I became acquainted with the Spanish character and was made to know its heroic side by a study of what the Spaniards had to do to accomplish what they did accomplish in the Philippine Islands in the 15th and 16th centuries. We are in the habit, we Anglo-Saxons, of looking back to our ancestors with a smug satisfaction and thinking that no one has exactly the right to that pride of ancestry that we have, and I think it reduces our heads somewhat and gives a proper sense of proportion to become aware of the fact that there were others than Englishmen in the 15th and 16th and 17th centuries who were making for progress in the world and were fighting the battles of civilization under the burdens that it now seems impossible for them to bear. When you consider the voyages that were taken by the Spanish and Portuguese sailors, when you consider the hardships that were undergone by the Spanish monks, in advancing the cause of Christian civilization, it is hard to believe the story in the Philippines. They made a people a Christian people, who were the only Christian people, and continue down to to-day to be the only Christian people, in the Orient. Now I have to-day enjoyed the privilege of seeing as much of Southern California as one man could see in twelve hours and I think it fitting that the journey should end in a building like this constructed to commemorate the missions that formed so important a part in the history of this region which we have been privileged to visit to-day. I fully sympathize with the desire to preserve as historical memorials worthy of preservation those missions and the style of architecture that those missions represent. I sympathize with the people of Riverside in desiring their government building to be erected on the mission plan. When we have any past of a picturesque character we ought not to destroy it, and California is one of the few States that reaches back far enough into the past to have an ancient picturesque architecture with which she can well make her present architecture accord.

I have at another time and place delivered myself on the subject of foreign missions, and I am not sure that the time to-night will permit me to go into that subject. My association with the churches in the Philippines and with the Bishops of the various churches and the fortuitous preaching that I have had to do as President of the United States at times makes me feel a little bit like a Bishop. But I know this and I know it from actual experience in the Orient, that the progress of modern Christian civilization is largely dependent on the earnest hard work of the Christian missions of every denomination. The truth is, gentlemen, that where we are advancing the cause of Christian civilization it does not help us to introduce to those whom we would convince of the benefits of Christian civilization, the persons who represent the seamy side of our civilization, and those I am sorry to say, with the exception of the missionaries, are the only persons that advance themselves into heathendom. They go there for the purpose of buying or getting from the heathen what the heathen regards as but little, and what they know to be valuable. In other words, they are there for trading purposes, and when our non-Christian friends say that in those that represent us there is a great deal of guile it does not convince them of the disinterested character of Christian civilization. It is only through the foreign missionaries who go there pledging their lives to the cause of the advancement of Christianity that we have presented to those whom we would convince of the strength and efficacy of Christian civilization that there is in that Christian civilization a living spirit that they ought to embrace.

Now there is another note in the Bishop's address to-night which I listened to with pleasure, and that is that in Southern California there is a broad tolerance between all denominations which willingly gives credit to the representative of any one who as a man and as a Christian has done all that he could and offered himself up for the advance of the race, and I was glad to note that of those who were interested in preserving the missions in Southern California there were 90 per cent. who were not members of the Catholic Church. The truth is, gentlemen, we are making progress in Christian tolerance, in the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God, and those who have any responsibility at all in the government of men welcome the progress of all churches as the greatest support of government and of peace on earth and good will to men.

Now I want to respond to what the Governor has said with respect to California. I have valued much and appreciate greatly as an honor his company from one end of California to the other, and during the week that I have spent within the hospitable borders of this State I have felt deeply the welcome of all Californians. I know that welcome is sincere. I don't misconstrue it, but I know that Californians are loyal to the backbone and they are glad to welcome to the borders of their great State the representative of the Nation of which they are proud to be a part. Perhaps you are rather warmer in your welcome, perhaps you are more intense in your hospitality, because you are so far removed from Washington. If I were an every day story, if you had to see me every week, things might be different But as it is, I am delighted to take advantage of the fact that you don't know me very well, and therefore that your welcome is entirely unqualified.

But jesting aside, my dear friends, there is no experience in my life more delightful than that which I have had in California. It has been somewhat strenuous, but so life is generally strenuous if it is worth having at all, and I am glad to get out of California with the sweet and pleasant memory of this function held in such a beautiful mansion and suggestive of all the sweet romance of the early history of the State.

William Howard Taft, Address at Glenwood Mission Inn in Riverside, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365222

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