Warren G. Harding photo

Address at the Unveiling of the Bolivar Statue in Central Park in New York City

April 19, 1921

Fellow citizens of America:

There is significance in dates, as though some days were destined for a high place in the history of human progress, also an abiding place in human affections. This day is the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, when the colonies of North America made their first sacrifice in blood for independence and new standards of freedom. On this same day, a generation later, Venezuela's struggle for freedom had its immortal beginning.

Today, in befitting celebration of freedom's triumphs, we are met to unveil this monument to Simon Bolivar, in whom the South American movement for liberty found its soul and inspiration, and to whom the liberty-loving heroes of Venezuela turned for triumphant leadership, just as the North American colonies pinned their faith in Washington.

There is further and highly interesting coincidence in dates and significance in achievement. Bolivar was born in 1783, the year in which our North American Revolutionary War was ended by the treaty which recognized our national independence: and the independence of Venezuela was formally proclaimed on July 5, 1811, on the day following the anniversary of a like proclamation by the North American colonies 35 years earlier. April and July have valid claim to our liberty-loving reverence.

I wish April 19th might have an added significance from this day on. Similarly born and dedicated to New-World freedom, I would like this date to mark anew for North and South America not alone the avowal of mutual trust in the fellowship of freedom and democracy, but a new confidence and a new mutuality of purpose in achieving the things which independence and fellowship so naturally inspire.

Having sacrificed in arms to establish the human inheritance belonging to free men, the American Republics may well touch elbows to prove their unselfishness and show to mankind that righteous achievement does not mean anybody's destruction, individually or nationally, but that real victory lies in that human progress wherein every contender, individual or national, may share as it is sought to merit it.

It is an interesting thing to compare the careers of the two great Fathers of American liberty—these stalwart founders of representative democracy in the Western Hemisphere—-Bolivar and Washington. Each wrought an empire of freedom, and builded more vastly than he dreamed. Each was brilliant and heroic in war, but vastly more concerned with the constructiveness of peace.

Their concept of liberty was not inspired in individual unrest. Each was wealthy, each rated among the personally fortunate, but a people's freedom was impelling. Each was accused of undue ambition, but it was a people's welfare that ever inspired.

Each knew the essentials of freedom, that liberty itself is the state of just restraint, and the fruits of revolution in the cause of freedom are garnered only in constitutional establishment, and preserved only when government is strong enough to guarantee them.

Both Bolivar and Washington were eminent in genius on the field of battle, both were rich in wisdom when it came to the more difficult problems of peace. War has its inspirations, when patriotism is aflame. Peace has its problems, where construction or reconstruction must be wrought in conviction and consecration.

Each of these national heroes, when his military tasks were finished, preferred retirement and the repose of private life. Each was promptly called to civic construction and administration through which alone the triumphs for which men sacrifice and die may be commemorated with the outstanding monuments of permanent institutions.

It is not too much to say that out of the liberations wrought by Washington and Bolivar grew the republican constitutional system which is America's gift to mankind. Our constitutions are the models after which are fashioned the fundamental laws of a world won to democracy. Whether they looked to the North or South, or whether the beacon fire was Pan-American, in the New World burned the great torch to light the way to constitutional freedom, and hope was assured by outstanding example.

These things are said with due deference to the older civilizations and the longer-established systems from which all America came, and to which we may trace back the inspiration which gave conception to the institutions of freedom to which we are dedicated. It is fine to be able to say that New-World temples of liberty were not wrought in destruction of the old. We speak historically of revolution, when in reality we mean severance and freedom for evolution. The world isn't calling today for destruction, it needs reconstruction, where the test of justice is applied to the things which were as well as the things which are to be.

The Western Continents afforded a favoring soil for marvelous developments. God had bestowed with limitless bounty, nature was prodigal with her offerings. The Americas held their virgin riches, conserved against the day when science, intellect, and spiritual ambition should impel men to seek new fields for new endeavors, new sites for new construction, new opportunities for new enterprises.

Trade was calling, learning encouraged, the adventuring navigators explored, and wherever they touched they stood only at some gateway, never dreaming of the reality. We do not measure the possibilities of the Americas even now, though more than four centuries have come and gone. But the great coincidence was in discovery revealing the opportunity for planting new states and trying new methods at the very time when the human mind was opening, or reopening, to new truths, new conceptions, and new motives.

Perhaps the miracle was in the divine plan, and the New-World marvel was an inevitable part in the supreme scheme for developing civilization. But we were, when Washington and Bolivar uttered American aspirations and battled for them, and are now so interlocked with the Old World from which our founders came, that independence does not make for aloofness, but the developments of civilization have brought us more closely together. Where ours has been the greater fortune, ours has become a greater responsibility, and the endurance of our institutions is no less important than their creation.

Liberty without security would be a barren boast, and inspiration without stabilization would challenge every claim of democracy. Nothing the Americas can do, nothing Pan-America may aspire to do, will surpass the contribution of our youth and resources and our steadfast allegiance to our newer institutions to help steady the world and prove the right of present-day civilization to go on.

Probably we see today the engrossing drama of mankind on the world-stage as intimately as General Bolivar saw the struggles of South America, only a little more than a century ago. He could meet the problems of that day and look well to the future, with such vision that a third of South America acclaims him liberator, and we join today to do reverence to his memory. Perhaps our greatest tribute lies in noting the world, war-wearied but more free than ever before, and resolving that where liberty inspires, peace and justice are the supreme fulfillment.

The struggles for independence in North and South America had differing backgrounds. The colonies north of the Rio Grande had developed under liberal institutions. They had enjoyed a large measure of autonomy and self-direction. Their grievances against European domination were small compared to the grievances of the South American colonies. North American colonies revolted against the exasperating assumption of a reactionary king; South America, against the tyrannies of a vicious, despotic, perpetual and self perpetuating system. Where the North American colonies were irked by minor impositions, those of the Southern Continent lived under a grinding oppression that sought to extract every particle of wealth that could be taken without literally destroying the capacity to produce more. The South American revolution was a desperate attempt to escape at whatever cost from a state of intolerable, unlivable oppression. Union and independent greatness were possible following the northern revolt. Geographical conditions and the long-time isolation of the southern colonies from one another made it well-nigh impossible to effect union among them. It was the dream of Bolivar, but even his genius was not equal to its accomplishment. Consequently our thirteen Colonies, when their revolt had succeeded, set themselves up, not as thirteen independent nations, but as one Nation comprised of thirteen Federated States. The sheer force of gravity has caused their union to expand.

But we would make a grave mistake, I think, if we concluded too readily that our North American experience had all the advantage on its side. While we of the Northern Continent have been demonstrating one great truth about the democratic form of government—that through representative institutions it can be expanded successfully to include a vast imperial dominion and indefinitely increasing populations, the Southern Continent has been proving another equally important hypothesis. It is, namely, that a family of States, entirely sovereign and independent, may live together in the same continental area, in prosperity and progress.

Neither continent has escaped from the misfortunes of war and revolution. We have had our contests, international and civil; but on the whole the tendency under our republican institutions has been toward establishment of those means of conciliation, arbitration, and judicial determination by which the menace of war is lessened. No American State succumbed to the temptation of that militaristic system which laid ever increasing burdens upon nations elsewhere, and which at last brought them to crisis in the Great War. In the last half century our American Commonwealths have not only been able to hold themselves aloof from competitions in armament, but they have built up a system of international arbitration and adjudication which has constantly lessened the danger of armed conflict. There is too little realization of the progress that has been made toward judicial and arbitral settlement of international differences by the American nations. It presents an example well worthy earnest consideration, and affords us an assurance which will justify our purpose to invite the present-day civilization to cast aside the staggering burden of armament.

Much of the New-World accomplishment is largely due to democratic institutions. We have not known the conflicting ambitions of dynasties. We have had little experience with secret alliances and devious diplomacies. In their very nature, our democratic institutions have tended to keep us aloof from these things.

With all humility, but in all sincerity and earnestness, feel that we Americans, North and South, are entitled to hold that our democracy has come as a light into the world of international relations, and that it will show us a way out of the world's present troubles into a day when mankind may know peace and plenty and happiness, and when the first duty of organized society may be to promote the welfare of its members rather than to array itself in power against the threat of its destruction.

The doctrine proclaimed under Monroe, which ever since has been jealously guarded as a fundamental of our own Republic, maintained that these continents should not again be regarded as fields for the colonial enterprises of Old-World powers. These have been times when the meaning of Monroeism was misunderstood by some, perverted by others, and made the subject of distorting propaganda by those who saw in it an obstacle to the realization of their own ambitions. Some have sought to make our adhesion to this doctrine a justification for prejudice against the United States. They have falsely charged that we sought to hold the nations of the Old World at arm's length, in order that we might monopolize the privilege of exploitation for ourselves. Others have protested that the doctrine would never be enforced if to enforce it should involve us in actual hostilities.

The history of the generations since that doctrine was proclaimed has proved that we never intended it selfishly; that we had no dream of exploitation. On the other side, the history of the last decade certainly must have convinced all the world that we stand willing to fight, if necessary, to protect these continents, these sturdy young democracies, from oppression and tyranny.

Surely we may contemplate with some satisfaction the vindication that our American system has won. Under it. in a period so brief that history records no parallel for the achievement, we have filled two continents with splendid and prosperous States. We have maintained ourselves independent of the older systems, aloof from their differences and struggles. We have erected in these continents a great power which, when civilization was at stake, we dared to cast into the scale on the side of right; and we have seen its weight have a deciding part in the cause of human justice.

This much our American system has wrought by way of its own justification. Surely we may look upon our work and decide for ourselves, whether it has been good. Believing that it has been good, we may well decide there can be no departure from the standards that were raised for us by the founding fathers.

If we could consult our Washington and our Bolivar to-day, and if they could advise us out of their wisdom and experience, they would tell us to go forward in firm confidence that ours is the right course. I believe they would admonish us to cling to that which has been tried, to hold fast to the institutions of moderation, of independence, of gradual but sure progress. If they, and all the other patriots who gave their blood, their genius and their lives to establish free institutions upon this continent, should be summoned to our council, they would survey what our system has accomplished for our own countries and for the world in the hour of its uttermost agony, and they would tell us that our generation had wrought into the substance of splendid achievement that which in their day was but hope's vision of a better world.

We have created no Utopia here in the New World, and I have small hope that we shall. We have accomplished something toward betterment of mankind, toward peace, prosperity and security; but we have yet far to travel. I bespeak mutual confidence and cooperation in dealing with these problems which are American problems, to be dealt with by us as Americans. We have gone far toward effective cooperation, and we ought to go farther and record greater accomplishment.

I know I may speak the spirit of the United States. No selfishness impels, no greed is urging, no envy incites, no hatred is actuating. There are here today the same aspirations as those which won enthusiasm of Simon Bolivar when he came to breathe his admiration for Washington in 1806. Washington was his inspiration, and after General Bolivar had made his surpassing contribution to country and humanity, an American naval surgeon attended and consoled him in his last hour. Perhaps there is the suggestion of an indissoluble tie in his wearing at his death a medal which Washington had given to Lafayette who in turn had given it to General Bolivar. The United States salutes Venezuela and the South American nations born of General Bolivar's offerings on the altars of freedom, and plights its devotion to the same liberty, the same justice, the same aspirations of national independence, the same forward look, in touching elbows while we advance to greater fulfillment.

We do not forget that in the United States today we have Latin- American devotion to the Stars and Stripes. Porto Rico is a part of us, under a permanent policy aimed at her prosperity and progress, and we see in our Latin-American State the splendid agency to help interpret the Americas to one another.

Our thoughts are mainly of the Americas today. They cluster about this statue of the great Bolivar, and the good omen it brings as the gift of a nation, which utters its gratitude to him, to another nation which has ever revered him, and joins Venezuela in protecting and perpetuating the work of free men. I rejoice in this testimony of the gratitude of Venezuela, and acclaim the statue as a symbol of the deep-lying sympathy and shared regard which cements the nations of these two continents. Let it stand out as an earnest of more effective cooperation and better understanding, and more intimate and ever-assuring friendship!

But we must also have a thought for all mankind. The world is torn and harassed, and Pan-Americanism means sympathetic and generous Americanism. The world needs the utmost of production, of restoration, of rehabilitation, of steadying influence, all that we can contribute to it. Our greatest service lies in standing firmly together, making ourselves strong that we may give our strength, rich that we may contribute of our riches, and confident, that we may inspire others with confidence.

The world needs, in order that its economic balance may be redressed, peace, enterprise, industry, frugality, and commercial development. Here we have two rich and mighty continents which, as a whole, have felt far less the effects of the Great War than have the older continental areas. To us the world is turning, with the plea that we draw upon the resources which nature and our common good fortune have assured to us, to aid those who have suffered more grievously than we.

Herein lie for us both duty and opportunity; duty to those whom we may help; opportunity, in helping others, also to help ourselves. The Great War has brought to us of the Americas a new conception of our place in the world, a larger appreciation of the opportunity which is ours. We are blest with natural wealth, with industrious populations, with every variety of soil and climate and opportunity. We have developed more nearly a realization of interdependence, a conception of something like economic, political and spiritual solidarity, than ever before. We need to know each other better; to understand institutions and peoples and methods more accurately; to develop the great producing and commercial possibilities of our own countries; to encourage the larger exchanges of our products, the most sympathetic appreciation of our varied relations to one another and to the rest of the world. By accomplishing these things we shall mightily strengthen ourselves to carry forward our tasks of today, and of all the tomorrows.

APP Note: The President made a brief visit to New York City and participated in the unveiling of the statue of Simon Bolivar, a gift to the United States from Venezuela. The statue is located on "Bolivar Hill" near the intersection of 6th Avenue and W. 59th Street.

Warren G. Harding, Address at the Unveiling of the Bolivar Statue in Central Park in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/359819

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