Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Virginia Military Institute. Lexington, Virginia.

November 11, 1939

General Kilbourne, friends of Virginia Military Institute:

It gives me peculiar pleasure to participate in this observance of the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Virginia Military Institute. I very deeply regret that I cannot carry out my hope and expectation of being with you in person, but I know you will understand my difficulty of being away from Washington at this trying time and also my desire to attend the already historic simple ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington.

We, as a nation, like V.M.I., are determined to pursue our way within the Scriptural command not to "remove the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set." And like our ancestors we work for peace, we pray for peace, and we arm for peace.

The whole history of V.M.I. is a triumphant chronicle of the part which the citizen soldier can play in a democracy. V.M.I. bears eloquent witness to the necessity for institutions of learning which, while adhering to the primary purpose of preparing men for work in the arts and sciences, have also a by-product in their military training system. We need today as we have always needed, and always shall need, citizens trained in the art of military defense. By no other means can we hope to maintain and perpetuate the democratic form of constitutional representative Government.

On this account I greet V.M.I. as it celebrates the one hundredth anniversary of its beginning; and what associations come to mind as we commemorate this anniversary. We remember among countless others that the immortal name of "Stonewall" Jackson is part of the imperishable heritage of V.M.I. And we honor not less, the town of Lexington as the resting place of that superb soldier and his dauntless chief, that knightly figure without reproach and without fear, another of the great commanders of history, Robert E. Lee.

There is nothing inconsistent in saying a word about peace at this anniversary of a great school of arms. In our history, the two have always had a connection. We have never had the illusion that peace and freedom could be based on weakness.

Jackson and Lee, famous for their military courage, never lost sight of the fact that the only legitimate aim of armed force was to restore civil peace, in which armed force would no longer be needed.

The only object of arms is to bring about a condition in which quiet peace under liberty can endure. It is fitting to remember this today. In this season we have been used to celebrating the anniversary of the Armistice of the World War. Now we need a new and better peace: a peace which shall cause men at length to lay down weapons of hatred which have been used to divide them; and to forego purposeless ambitions which have created fear—ambitions which in the long run serve no useful end. We seek a language in which neighbor can talk to neighbor; in which men can talk to men; and by which the common and homely and human instincts which are found everywhere may reach expression through the elimination of fear.

I have sought and I still seek, in all simplicity, to try to find the road toward this peace. It must be the goal not only of men trained to arms, but of all of us everywhere, whose dearest desire is a quiet peace under liberty.

To all of you, Faculty, Students and Graduates of the Virginia Military Institute, I send my warm greetings on your Centennial. Live up to your great heritage, your noble record and your simple faith throughout the second century that lies before you.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Virginia Military Institute. Lexington, Virginia. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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