Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address on Receiving an Honorary Degree from Notre Dame University

December 09, 1935

Cardinal Mundelein, President O'Hara, you, the members of the great Notre Dame family, of whom I am proud and happy to become a part today:

In acknowledging the honor which, through the granting of this Degree, the University of Notre Dame confers upon me, I wish first personally to thank your President, the Very Reverend John F. O'Hara, and all the members of your faculty. And I cannot, without feeling a little choke in my voice, thank my old friend, His Eminence, Cardinal Mundelein.

I deeply appreciate the honor and the accompanying citation. One in public life learns that personally he can never be worthy of the honors that come to him as an official of the United States Government. But it is equally true that I am most happy to be so honored. The honor places upon me an additional obligation to try to live up to the citation, both for the sake of my country and, also, as a new alumnus of the University of Notre Dame. I am especially happy to take part in this special convocation called to honor the new Commonwealth of the Philippines. And I am especially privileged to have heard that brilliant address of Mr. Romulo, who so well represents his Commonwealth.

It cannot seem so long because even I remember it; and yet it is almost forty years since the United States took over the sovereignty of the Philippine Islands. The acceptance of sovereignty was but an obligation to serve the people of the Philippines until the day they might themselves be independent and take their own place among the Nations of the world.

We are here to welcome the Commonwealth. I consider it one of the happiest events in my office as President of the United States, to have signed in the name of the United States the instrument which will give national freedom to the Philippine people.

The time is not given me to recite the history of these forty years. That history reveals one of the most extraordinary examples of national cooperation, national adjustment and national independence the world has ever witnessed. It is a tribute to the genius of the Philippine people. Subject to the Government of a country other than their own, they generously adjusted themselves to conditions often not to their liking; they patiently waited; they forfeited none of that essential freedom which is natively theirs as a people, a freedom which they have so definitely expressed with due regard for fundamental human rights in their new Constitution.

We have a clear right also to congratulate ourselves as a people because in the long run we have chosen the right course with respect to the Philippine Islands. Through our power we have not sought more power. Through our power we have sought to benefit others.

That both Nations kept to the policy leading to this most happy event is due to the fact that both Nations have the deepest respect for the inalienable rights of man. These rights were specifically championed more than a century and a half ago in our own Declaration of Independence. And again they have been championed in the new Constitution of the Philippine Commonwealth, a Constitution which I would like to have read and learned in every school and college of the United States.

There can be no true national life either within a Nation itself, or between that Nation and other Nations, unless there be the specific acknowledgment of, and the support of organic law to, the rights of man. Supreme among those rights we, and now the Philippine Commonwealth, hold to be the rights of freedom of education and freedom of religious worship.

This university from which we send our welcome to the new Commonwealth exemplifies the principles of which I speak. Through the history of this great Middle West—its first explorers and first missionaries—Joliet, Marquette, La Salle, Hennepin —its lone eagle, Father Badin, who is buried here- its apostolic Father Sorin, founder of the University of Notre Dame— its zealous missionaries of other faiths—its pioneers of varied nationalities-all have contributed to the upbuilding of our country because all have subscribed to those fundamental principles of freedom-freedom of education, freedom of worship.

Long ago, George Mason, in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, voiced what has become one of the deepest convictions of the American people:

"Religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience."

In the conflict of policies and of political systems which the world today witnesses, the United States has held forth for its own guidance, and for the guidance of other Nations if they will accept it, this great torch of liberty of human thought, liberty of human conscience. We will never lower it. We will never permit, if we can help it, the light to grow dim. Rather through every means legitimately within our power and our office, we will seek to increase that light, that its rays may extend the farther; that its glory may be seen even from afar.

Every vindication of the sanctity of these rights at home, every prayer that other Nations may accept them, is an indication of how virile, how living, how permanent they are in the hearts of every true American.

Of their own initiative, by their own appreciation, the people of the Philippine Commonwealth have now also championed them before all the world. Through the favor of Divine Providence may they be blessed as a people with prosperity. May they grow in grace through their own Constitution to the peace and well-being of the whole world.

Let me say, as I leave you, that I am happy to be here today, that I am proud of the great distinction which you have conferred upon me, that I was more touched than anything else by the little word of the President of Notre Dame when he said that I will be in your prayers. I appreciate that. I trust that I may be in your prayers.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address on Receiving an Honorary Degree from Notre Dame University Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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