Woodrow Wilson photo

Address at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California

September 18, 1919

Dean Jones, Mr. Mayor, ladies and gentlemen, I feel an old feeling come over me as I stand in this presence, and my great danger and temptation is to revert to type and talk to you as college men and women from a college man. I was reminded as I received your very generous welcome of a story told of Mr. Oliver Herford, a very delightful wit and artist. He was one day sitting in his club, and a man came by who did not know him very well, but who took many liberties. He slapped him on the back and said, "Hello, Ollie, old boy, how are you?" Herford writhed a little under the blow, looked at him a little coldly, and said: "I don't know your name; I don't know your face; but your manners are very familiar." I can say to you young ladies and gentlemen, I do not know your names or your faces, but your manners are very familiar, and very delightfully familiar. I think also of a rebuke I used often to address to my classes. I used to say that the trouble about the college youth of America was that it refused to grow up; that the men and women alike continued to be schoolboys and schoolgirls. I used to remind them that on the continent of Europe revolutions often began in the universities, and statesmen were nervous of nothing so much as of the concerted movements of opinion at the centers of learning; and I asked them what Cabinet at Washington ever cared a peppercorn what they were thinking about. It is your refusal, my fellow students, to grow up. One reason I am glad to see that the boys who have been at the front come back is that they have grown up; they have seen the world; seen it at its worst, but nevertheless seen it in action; seen it with its passions in action; seen it with its savage and its liberal passions in action. They have come back to know what they are preparing for, to know the kind of world that they are going to go out in, not to do physical fighting, but to do the kind of thinking that is better than fighting, the kind of thinking that makes men conscious of their duties, the kind of thinking that purifies the impulses of the world and leads it on to better things.

The burden that is upon my heart as I go about on this errand is that men are hesitating to give us the chance. We can not do any effective thinking for the world until we know that there is settled peace. We can not make any long plans for the betterment of mankind until these initial plans are made, and we know that there is going to be a field and an opportunity to make the plans that will last and that will become effective. That is the ground of my impatience with the debate. I admit that there are debatable things, but I do not admit that they need be debated so long. Not only that, but I do insist that they should be debated more fairly. A remark was repeated to me that was made after the address I made in San Francisco last night. Some man said that after hearing an exposition of what was really in the treaty he was puzzled; he wondered what the debate was about; it all seemed so simple. That was not, I need not assure you, because I was misleading anybody or telling what was not in the treaty, but because the men he had heard debate it, some of the newspapers he had heard debate it, had not told him what was in the treaty. This great document of human rights, this great settlement of the world, had been represented to him as containing little traps for the United States. Men had been going about dwelling upon this, that, and the other feature and distorting the main features and saying that that was the peace proposed. They are responsible for some of the most serious mistakes that have ever been made in the history of this country; they are responsible for misleading the opinion of the United States; It is a very distressing circumstance to me to find that when I recite the mere facts they are novel to some of my fellow citizens. Young gentlemen and young ladies, what we have got to do is to see that that sort of thing can not happen. We have got to know what the truth is and insist that everybody shall know what the truth is, and, above all things else, we must see that the United States is not defeated of its destiny, for its destiny is to lead the world in freedom and in truth.

[ ] Louis Bartlett was mayor of Berkeley, and [ ] William Carey Jones was Dean of the Law School and chairman of the Administrative Board of the University. It had been announced the President Wilson would be unable to speak, but he did speak in response to the tremendous ovation.

Woodrow Wilson, Address at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/318084

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