William McKinley photo

Address at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska

October 12, 1898

Mr. President, Gentlemen of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, and Fellow-Citizens:

It is with genuine pleasure that I meet once more the people of Omaha, whose wealth of welcome is not altogether unfamiliar to me, and whose warm hearts have before touched and moved me. For this renewed manifestation of your regard, and for the cordial reception of today, my heart responds with profound gratitude and a deep appreciation which I cannot conceal, and which the language of compliment is inadequate to convey. My greeting is not alone to your city and the State of Nebraska, but to the people of all the States of the Trans-Mississippi group participating here, and I cannot withhold congratulations on the evidences of their prosperity furnished by this great exposition. If testimony were needed to establish the fact that their pluck has not deserted them, and that prosperity is again with them, it is found here. This picture dispels all doubt [Applause.]

In an age of expositions they have added yet another magnificent example. [Applause.] The historical celebrations at Philadelphia and Chicago, and the splendid exhibits at New Orleans, Atlanta, and Nashville, are now part of the past, and yet in influence they still live, and their beneficent results are closely interwoven with our national development. Similar rewards will honor the authors and patrons of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition. Their contribution will mark another epoch in the nation's material advancement.

One of the great laws of life is progress, and nowhere have the principles of this law been so strikingly illustrated as in the United States. A century and a decade of our national life have turned doubt into conviction, changed experiment into demonstration, revolutionized old methods, and won new triumphs which have challenged the attention of the world. This is true not only of the accumulation of material wealth, and advance in education, science, invention, and manufactures, but, above all, in the opportunities to the people for their own elevation, which have been secured by wise free government.

Hitherto, in peace and in war, with additions to our territory and slight changes in our laws, we have steadily enforced the spirit of the Constitution secured to us by the noble self-sacrifice and far-seeing sagacity of our ancestors. We have avoided the temptations of conquest in the spirit of gain. With an increasing love for our institutions and an abiding faith in their stability, we have made the triumphs of our system of government in the progress and the prosperity of our people an inspiration to the whole human race. [Applause.] Confronted at this moment by new and grave problems, we must recognize that their solution will affect not ourselves alone, but others of the family of nations.

In this age of frequent interchange and mutual dependence, we cannot shirk our international responsibilities if we would; they must be met with courage and wisdom, and we must follow duty even if desire opposes. [Applause.] No deliberation can be too mature, or self-control too constant, in this solemn hour of our history. We must avoid the temptation of aggression, and aim to secure only such results as will promote our own and the general good.

It has been said by someone that the normal condition of nations is war. That is not true of the United States. We never enter upon a war until every effort for peace without it has been exhausted. Ours has never been a military government. Peace, with whose blessings we have been so singularly favored, is the national desire and the goal of every American aspiration. [Applause.]

On the 25th of April, for the first time for more than a generation, the United States sounded the call to arms. The banners of war were unfurled; the best and bravest from every section responded; a mighty army was enrolled ; the North and the South vied with each other in patriotic devotion [great applause]; science was invoked to furnish its most effective weapons; factories were rushed to supply equipment; the youth and the veteran joined in freely offering their services to their country; volunteers and regulars and all the people rallied to the support of the republic. There was no break in the line, no halt in the march, no fear in the heart [great applause]; no resistance to the patriotic impulse at home, no successful resistance to the patriotic spirit of the troops fighting in distant water or on a foreign shore. [Continued applause.]

What a wonderful experience it has been from the standpoint of patriotism and achievement! The storm broke so suddenly that it was here almost before we realized it. Our navy was too small, though forceful with its modern equipment, and most fortunate in its trained officers and sailors. Our army had years ago been reduced to a peace footing. We had only twenty-eight thousand available troops when the war was declared, but the account which officers and men gave of themselves on the battlefield has never been surpassed. The manhood was there and everywhere. American patriotism was there, and its resources were limitless. The courageous and invincible spirit of the people proved glorious, and those who a little more than a third of a century ago were divided and at war with each other were again united under the holy standard of liberty. [Great applause.] Patriotism banished party feeling; fifty millions of dollars for the national defense were appropriated without debate or division, as a matter of course and as only a mere indication of our mighty reserve power. [Great applause.]

But if this is true of the beginning of the war, what shall we say of it now, with hostilities suspended, and peace near at hand, as we fervently hope! Matchless in its results! [Great applause.] Unequaled in its completeness and the quick succession with which victory followed victory! Attained earlier than it was believed to be possible; so comprehensive in its sweep that every thoughtful man feels the weight of responsibility which has been so suddenly thrust upon us. And above all and beyond all, the valor of the American army and the bravery of the American navy and the majesty of the American name stand forth in unsullied glory, while the humanity of our purposes and the magnanimity of our conduct have given to war, always horrible, touches of noble generosity, Christian sympathy and charity, and examples of human grandeur which can never be lost to mankind. [Prolonged applause.] Passion and bitterness formed no part of our impelling motive, and it is gratifying to feel that humanity triumphed at every step of the war's progress. [Applause.]

The heroes of Manila and Santiago and Porto Rico have made immortal history. They are worthy successors and descendants of Washington and Greene; of Paul Jones, Decatur, and Hull, and of Grant, Sheridan, Sherman, and Logan; of Farragut, Porter, and Cushing, of Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet. [Tremendous applause.]

New names stand out on the honor-roll of the nation's great men [applause], and with them, unnamed, stand the heroes of the trenches and the forecastle, invincible in battle and uncomplaining in death. [Great applause.] The intelligent, loyal, indomitable soldier and sailor and marine, regular and volunteer, are entitled to equal praise as having done their whole duty, whether at home or under the baptism of foreign fire. [Applause.]

Who will dim the splendor of their achievements!

Who will withhold from them their well-earned distinction? Who will intrude detraction at this time to belittle the manly spirit of the American youth and impair the usefulness of the American army? Who will embarrass the government by sowing seeds of dissatisfaction among the brave men who stand ready to serve and die, if need be, for their country 1 Who will darken the counsels of the republic in this hour, requiring the united wisdom of all? [Cheers and prolonged applause.]

Shall we deny to ourselves what the rest of the world so freely and so justly accords to us? [General cry of "No!"] The men who endured in the short but decisive struggle its hardships, its privations, whether in field or camp, on ship or in the siege, and planned and achieved its victories, will never tolerate impeachment, either direct or indirect, of those who won a peace whose great gain to civilization is yet unknown and unwritten. [Tremendous applause.]

The faith of a Christian nation recognizes the hand of Almighty God in the ordeal through which we have passed. Divine favor seemed manifest everywhere. In fighting for humanity's sake we have been signally blessed. We did not seek war. To avoid it, if this could be done in honor and justice to the rights of our neighbors and ourselves, was our constant prayer. The war was no more invited by us than were the questions which are laid at our door by its results. [Great applause.] Now as then we will do our duty. [Continued applause.] The problems will not be solved in a day. Patience will be required—patience combined with sincerity of purpose and unshaken resolution to do right, seeking only the highest good of the nation, and recognizing no other obligation, pursuing no other path, but that of duty.

Right action follows right purpose. We may not at all times be able to divine the future, the way may not always seem clear; but if our aims are high and unselfish, somehow and in some way the right end will be reached. The genius of the nation, its freedom, its wisdom, its humanity, its courage, its justice, favored by divine Providence, will make it equal to every task and the master of every emergency. [Long-continued applause.]

William McKinley, Address at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/360590

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