William Howard Taft

Address at the Catholic Summer School of America in Cliff Haven, New York

July 07, 1909

Your Eminence, Governor Hughes, Dr. McMahon and my Fellow Citizens of the Catholic Summer School of America:

Governor Hughes and I are going through these three or four days delivering speeches at each other, and expressing our opinions of each other in a way that will enable us, when we get through, to do it with greater facility. The truth is that the gift of eloquence and speech which Governor Hughes has needs no practice, but I have to have a little.

I would be without that which makes a man if I did not appreciate to the full the kindly words of your distinguished Governor, and if I did not congratulate the State of New York on having a Governor who represents the highest ideals. One is almost carried off his feet before such an audience. There is something in the atmosphere that suggests a flying machine, as if you were all so full of joy that that element in you could raise you up, and that is the way you ought to be, and I congratulate you that such is the feeling.

The combination of work and pleasure, the cultivation of health on the one hand and of intellect on the other, and of religious faith above all under such beautiful surroundings is calculated to make every one enthusiastic, and I share that enthusiasm to the full.

I am not a Catholic, but I have had in the last ten years a great deal to do with the Catholic Church. My lot did not carry me into a part of the world that made me as familiar with the French Explorers, the French leaders of civilization, like Champlain, as it did into the regions of those leaders that came from Spain—into the Philippines where the same influence that carried Champlain here and the same ideal that controlled him, controlled men equally brave, and in certain respects more successful. There was Magellan and later Legaspi who came out to the Philippines and with four or five Augustinian monks converted to Christianity that entire Archipelago now having some seven or eight million souls, and then perhaps 500,000—the only community, the only people in the entire Orient that to-day as a people are Christians. There is on the Luneta, the great public square facing the ocean in Manila, a statue carved by a great Spanish sculptor, Querol, in which there are two figures, Legaspi, holding the standard of Spain and with his sword drawn, and behind him Urdeneta, a Recolleto monk, holding aloft behind all the cross, and there is in that statue such movement, such force, such courage that I used to like, even in the hot days of Manila, to stand in front of it and enjoy, as I thought I got, the spirit that the sculptor had tried to put in there, of loyalty to country and faith in God.

I think we are reaching a point in this country where we are very much more tolerant of everything and everybody than in the past, and where we are giving justice where justice ought to be given. We are no longer cherishing those narrow prejudices that came from denominational bigotry, and we are able to recognize in the past those great heroes of any religious Christian faith and appreciate the virtues they exhibited as examples for us.

Religious tolerance is rather a modern invention. Those of us of Puritan ancestry have been apt to think that we were the inventors of religious tolerance. Well, as a matter of fact, what we were in favor of, if I can speak for Puritan ancestry, was having a right to worship God as we pleased, and having everybody else worship God in the same way. But we have worked that out now; and there has been a great change, I am sure His Eminence the Cardinal will agree with me, even in the last twenty-five years. I have had personal evidence of it in some of the work that we had to do in the Philippines. Fifty years ago if it had been proposed to send a representative of the Government to the Vatican to negotiate and settle matters arising in a country like the Philippines between the Government and the Roman Catholic Church, it would have given rise to the severest condemnation and criticism on the part of those who would have feared some diplomatic relation between the Government and the Vatican contrary to our traditions; but within the last ten years that has been done, with the full concurrence of all religious denominations, believing that the way to do things is to do them directly, and when a matter is to be settled that it should be settled with the head of the church who has authority to act. And so it fell to my lot, my dear friends, and in that respect just by good luck, I came to be an exception, which will perhaps stand for many years as the sole exception, of being the representative of the United States at the Vatican. There I had the great pleasure of meeting that distinguished statesman and pontiff, Leo XIII., a man of ninety-two, whom I expected to find rather a lay figure directed by the council of the Cardinals than one active in control of the church. But I was most pleasantly disappointed, for even at ninety-two he was able to withstand an address of mine of twenty minutes, to catch the points of that address, and to respond in a speech of some fifteen minutes, showing how fully he appreciated the issue that there was and its importance.

We did not succeed in bringing about exactly the agreement which we asked, and he realized that, but he was full of friendly enthusiasm for the settlement of the issue and after two audiences which I had the honor of holding with him, at the close of the second one, he said, "You haven't, got exactly what you want in exactly the way you want it, but," said he, "I am going to send a representative of mine to the Philippines with instructions to see that the matter is settled justly in accordance with the wishes of the Government of the United States." And it was so settled. I am gratified to say that now every question between the Church and the State in the Philippine Islands, which were so closely united that it seemed almost impossible to make a separation of the two as it ought to be made under our Constitution, has been settled fairly and justly to both sides, and that no bad taste or feeling of injustice exists on either side with respect to those questions.

And now, my dear friends, I ought to talk about Champlain, and I would talk something about him because I appreciate as highly as any one can those motives that governed him and his high character as a man and the obstacles that he had to overcome; but when I get up to talk on any subject, I am a little bit in the attitude of the doctor who could cure fits and that is all he could cure and so he wanted to throw his patients into that condition. I can only talk about the Philippines, and that is what I have done, but I hope they have some application to the thoughts of the morning.

I thank you, my dear friends, I thank the reverend fathers and His Eminence the Cardinal, for the cordial reception that you have given to the civil head of New York and to the civil head of the Nation.

William Howard Taft, Address at the Catholic Summer School of America in Cliff Haven, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365238

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