Address at Guild Hall in London, England
Mr. Lord Mayor:
We have come upon times when ceremonies like this have a new significance, and it is that significance which most impresses me as I stand here. The address which I have just heard is most generously and graciously conceived and the delightful accent of sincerity in it seems like a part of that voice of counsel which is now everywhere to be heard.
I feel that a distinguished honor has been conferred upon me by this reception, and I beg to assure you, sir, and your associates of my very profound appreciation, but I know that I am only part of what I may call a great body of circumstances. I do not believe that it was fancy on my part that I heard in the voice of welcome uttered in the streets of this great city and in the streets of Paris something more than a personal welcome. It seemed to me that I heard the voice of one people speaking to another people, and it was a voice in which one could distinguish a singular combination of emotions. There was surely there the deep gratefulness that the fighting was over. There was the pride that the fighting had had such a culmination. There was that sort of gratitude that the nations engaged had produced such men as the soldiers of Great Britain and of the United States and of France and of Italy—men whose prowess and achievements they had witnessed with rising admiration as they moved from culmination to culmination. But there was something more in it, the consciousness that the business is not yet done, the consciousness that it now rests upon others to see that those lives were not lost in vain.
I have not yet been to the actual battlefields, but I have been with many of the men who have fought the battles, and the other day I had the pleasure of being present at a session of the French Academy when they admitted Marshal Joffre to their membership. That sturdy, serene soldier stood and uttered, not the words of triumph, but the simple words of affection for his soldiers, and the conviction which he summed up, in a sentence which I will not try accurately to quote but reproduce in its spirit, was that France must always remember that the small and the weak could never live free in the world unless the strong and the great always put their power and strength in the service of right. That is the afterthought—the thought that something must be done now not only to make the just settlements, that of course, but to see that the settlements remained and were observed and that honor and justice prevailed in the world. And as I have conversed with the soldiers, I have been more and more aware that they fought for something that not all of them had defined, but which all of them recognized the moment you stated it to them. They fought to do away with an old order and to establish a new one, and the center and characteristic of the old order was that unstable thing which we used to call the "balance of power"—a thing in which the balance was determined by the sword which was thrown in the one side or the other; a balance which was determined by the unstable equilibrium of competitive interests; a balance which was maintained by jealous watchfulness and an antagonism of interests which, though it was generally latent, was always deep-seated. The men who have fought in this war have been the men from free nations who were determined that that sort of thing should end now and forever.
It is very interesting to me to observe how from every quarter, from every sort of mind, from every concert of counsel, there comes the suggestion that there must now be, not a balance of power, not one powerful group of nations set off against another, but a single overwhelming, powerful group of nations who shall be the trustee of the peace of the world. It has been delightful in my conferences with the leaders of your Government to find how our minds moved along exactly the same line, and how our thought was always that the key to the peace was the guaranty of the peace, not the items of it; that the items would be worthless unless there stood back of them a permanent concert of power for their maintenance. That is the most reassuring thing that has ever happened in the world. When this war began the thought of a league of nations was indulgently considered as the interesting thought of closeted students. It was thought of as one of those things that it was right to characterize by a name which as a university man I have always resented; it was said to be academic, as if that in itself were a condemnation, something that men could think about but never get. Now we find the practical leading minds of the world determined to get it. No such sudden and potent union of purpose has ever been witnessed in the world before. Do you wonder, therefore, gentlemen, that in common with those who represent you I am eager to get at the business and write the sentences down; and that I am particularly happy that the ground is cleared and the foundations laid—for we have already accepted the same body of principles? Those principles are clearly and definitely enough stated to make their application a matter which should afford no fundamental difficulty. And back of us is that imperative yearning of the world to have all disturbing questions quieted, to have all threats against peace silenced, to have just men everywhere come together for a common object. The peoples of the world want peace and they want it now, not merely by conquest of arms but by agreement of mind.
It was this incomparably great object that brought me overseas. It has never before been deemed excusable for a President of the United States to leave the territory of the United States; but I know that I have the support of the judgment of my colleagues in the Government of the United States in saying that it was my paramount duty to turn away even from the imperative tasks at home to lend such counsel and aid as I could to this great, may I not say, final enterprise of humanity.
APP Note;: The President referred to Sir Horace Brooks Marshall, Lord Mayor of London.
Woodrow Wilson, Address at Guild Hall in London, England Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/317540