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Address at the Grand Army of the Republic Celebration at Camp Emery in Washington, DC

September 28, 1915

Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen of the Grand Army of the Republic, Ladies, and Gentlemen:

I bid you a very cordial welcome to the capital of the Nation, and yet I feel that it is not necessary to bid you welcome here, because you know that the welcome is always warm and always waiting for you.

One could not stand in this presence without many moving thoughts. It is a singular thing that men of a single generation should have witnessed what you have witnessed in the crowded fifty years which you celebrate to-night. You took part when you were young men in a struggle the meaning of which, I dare say, you thought would not be revealed during your lifetime, and yet more has happened in the making of this Nation in your lifetime than has ever happened in the making of any other nation in the lifetime of a dozen generations.

The Nation in which you now live is not the Nation for whose union you fought. You have seen many things come about which have made this Nation one of the representative nations of the world with regard to the modem spirit of that world, and you have the satisfaction, which I dare say few soldiers have ever had, of looking back upon a war absolutely unique in this, that instead of destroying it healed, that instead of making a permanent division it made a permanent union. You have seen something more interesting than that, because there is a sense in which the things of the heart are more interesting than the things of the mind. This Nation was from the beginning a spiritual enterprise, and you have seen the spirits of the two once divided sections of this country absolutely united. A war which seemed as if it had the seed of every kind of bitterness in it has seen a single generation put bitterness absolutely out of its heart, and you feel, as I am sure the men who fought against you feel, that you were comrades even then, though you did not know it, and that now you know that you are comrades in a common love for a country which you are equally eager to serve.

This is a miracle of the spirit, so far as national history is concerned. This is one of the very few wars in which in one sense everybody engaged may take pride. Some wars are to be regretted; some wars mar the annals of history; but some wars, contrasted with those, make those annals distinguished, show that the spirit of man sometimes springs to great enterprises that are even greater than his own mind had conceived.

So it seems to me that, standing in a presence like this, no man, whether he be in the public service or in the ranks of private citizens merely, can fail to feel the challenge to his own heart, can fail to feel the challenge to a new consecration to the things that we all believe in. The thing that sinks deepest in my heart as I try to realize the memories that must be crowding upon you is this: You set the Nation free for that great career of development, of unhampered development, which the world has witnessed since the Civil War; but for my own part I would not be proud of the extraordinary physical development of this country, of its extraordinary development in material wealth and financial power, did I not believe that the people of the United States wished all of this power devoted to ideal ends. There have been other nations as rich as we; there have been other nations as powerful; there have been other nations as spirited; but I hope we shall never forget that we created this Nation, not to serve ourselves, but to serve mankind.

I love this country because it is my home, but every man loves his home. It does not suffice that I should be attached to it because it contains the places and the persons whom I love—because it contains the threads of my own life. That does not suffice for patriotic duty. I should also love it, and I hope I do love it, as a great instrument for the uplift of mankind; and what you, gentlemen, have to remind us of as you look back through a lifetime to the great war in which you took part is that you fought that this instrument meant for the | service of mankind should not be impaired either in its material or in its spiritual power.

I hope I may say without even an implication of criticism upon any other great people in the world that it has always seemed to me that the people of the United States wished to be regarded as devoted to the promotion of particular principles of human right. The United States were founded, not to provide free homes, but to assert human rights. This flag meant a great enterprise of the human spirit. Nobody, no large bodies of men, in the time that flag was first set up believed with a very firm belief in the efficacy of democracy. Do you realize that only so long ago as the time of the American Revolution democracy was regarded as an experiment in the world and we were regarded as rash experimenters? But we not only believed in it; we showed that our belief was well founded and that a nation as powerful as any in the world could be erected upon the will of the people; that, indeed, there was a power in such a nation that dwelt in no other nation unless also in that other nation the spirit of the people prevailed.

Democracy is the most difficult form of government, because it is the form under which you have to persuade the largest number of persons to do anything in particular. But I think we were the more pleased to undertake it because it is difficult. Anybody can do what is easy. We have shown that we could do what was hard, and the pride that ought to dwell in your hearts to-night is that you saw to it that that experiment was brought to the day of its triumphant demonstration. We now know, and the world knows, that the thing that we then undertook, rash as it seemed, has been practicable, and that we have set up in the world a government maintained and promoted by the general conscience and the general conviction.

So I stand here not to welcome you to the Nation's capital as if I were your host but merely to welcome you to your own capital, because I am, and am proud to be, your servant. I hope I shall catch, as I hope we shall all catch, from the spirit of this occasion a new consecration to the high duties of American citizenship.

APP Note: Camp Matthew G. Emery was in Washington DC at the corner of B and First Streets NW. B Street NW was renamed as Constitution Avenue in 1931.; The 49th National Encampment of the GAR was from September 27 – October 2 1915.

Woodrow Wilson, Address at the Grand Army of the Republic Celebration at Camp Emery in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/318196

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