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Address at the Luncheon Tendered to the President by the Mayor's Committee in New York City

May 17, 1915

Mr. Mayor, Mr. Secretary, Admiral Fletcher, and Gentlemen of the Fleet: This is not an occasion upon which, it seems to me, it would be wise for me to make many remarks, but I would deprive myself of a great gratification if I did not express my pleasure in being here, my gratitude for the splendid reception which has been accorded me as the representative of the Nation, and my profound interest in the Navy of the United States. That is an interest with which I was apparently born, for it began when I was a youngster and has ripened with my knowledge of the affairs and policies of the United States.

I think it is a natural, instinctive judgment of the people of the United States that they express their power most appropriately in an efficient navy, and their interest in their ships is partly, I believe, because that Navy is expected to express their character, not within our own borders where that character is understood, but outside our borders where it is hoped we may occasionally touch others with some slight vision of what America stands for.

Before I speak of the Navy of the United States, I want to take advantage of the first public opportunity I have had to speak of the Secretary of the Navy, to express my confidence and my admiration, and to say that he has my unqualified support. For I have counseled with him in intimate fashion; I know how sincerely he has it at heart that everything that the Navy does and handles should be done and handled as the people of the United States wish it handled. Efficiency is something more than organization. Efficiency runs to the extent of lifting the ideals of a service above every personal interest. So when I speak my support of the Secretary of the Navy I am merely speaking my support of what I know every true lover of the Navy to desire and to purpose; for the Navy of the United States is, as I have said, a body specially entrusted with the ideals of America.

I like to image in my thought this idea: These quiet ships lying in the river have no suggestion of bluster about them, no intimation of aggression. They are commanded by men thoughtful of the duty of citizens as well as the duty of officers, men acquainted with the traditions of the great service to which they belong, men who know by touch with the people of the United States what sort of purposes they ought to entertain and what sort of discretion they ought to exercise in order to use those engines of force as engines to promote the interests of humanity.

The interesting and inspiring thing about America, gentlemen, is that she asks nothing for herself except what she has a right to ask for humanity itself. We want no nation's property. We mean to question no nation's honor. We do not wish to stand selfishly in the way of the development of any nation. We want nothing that we cannot get by our own legitimate enterprise and by the inspiration of our own example; and, standing for these things, it is not pretension on our part to say that we are privileged to stand for what every nation would wish to stand for, and speak for those things which all humanity must desire.

When I think of the flag which those ships carry, the only touch of color about them, the only thing that moves as if it had a subtle spirit in it in their solid structure, it seems to me that I see alternate strips of parchment upon which are written the rights of liberty and justice, and stripes of blood spilt to vindicate those rights; and, then, in the corner a prediction of the blue serene into which every nation may swim which stands for these things.

The mission of America is the only thing that a sailor or a soldier should think about. He has nothing to do with the formulation of her policy. He is to support her policy whatever it is; but he is to support her policy in the spirit of herself, and the strength of our polity is that we who for the time being administer the affairs of this Nation do not originate her spirit. We attempt to embody it; we attempt to realize it in action; we are dominated by it, we do not dictate it.

So. with every man in arms who serves the Nation; he stands and waits to do the thing which the Nation desires. Those who represent America sometimes seem to forget her programmes, but the people never forget them. It is as startling as it is touching to see how whenever you touch a principle you touch the hearts of the people of the United States. They listen to your debates of policy, they determine which party they will prefer to power, they choose and prefer as between men, but their real affection, their real force, their real irresistible momentum is for the ideas which men embody. I never go on the streets of a great city without feeling that somehow I do not confer elsewhere than on the streets with the great spirit of the people themselves, going about their business, attending to the things which immediately concern them, and yet carrying a treasure at their hearts all the while, ready to be stirred not only as individuals but as members of a great union of hearts that constitutes a patriotic people. This sight in the river touches me merely as a symbol of all this; and it quickens the pulse of every man who realizes these things to have anything to do with them. When a crisis occurs in this country, gentlemen, it is as if you put your hand on the pulse of a dynamo, it is as if the things that you were in connection with were spiritually bred, as if you had nothing to do with them except, if you listen truly, to speak the things that you hear.

These things now brood over the river; this spirit now moves with the men who represent the Nation in the Navy; these things will move upon the waters in the maneuvers—no threat lifted against any man, against any nation, against any interest, but just a great solemn evidence that the force of America is the force of moral principle, that there is nothing else that she loves, and that there is nothing else for which she will contend.

APP Note: Luncheon was at 12:30 pm in the Cascade Room of the Biltmore Hotel. The President was introduced by Acting Mayor George McAneny; he also referred to Admiral Frank Fletcher, Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet who had distinguished himself in combat with Mexico in 1914; and to Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels.

Woodrow Wilson, Address at the Luncheon Tendered to the President by the Mayor's Committee in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/318241

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