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Remarks at a Dinner Hosted by Governor John Dalton of Virginia in Williamsburg

October 18, 1981

President Mitterrand. Mr. Governor, dear friends, the warmth and the courtesy of your welcome here goes straight to my heart. And my wife and myself, we would like to thank you for the simplicity that one finds among old friends in exchanging sincere compliments at the end of the good and warm day.

Now, I know that you employ an expression which is a popular one in France and that you would recognize. I would say that here we feel entirely at home, here in Virginia, where we find the best of America and we find everything that we dreamed about in our youth and which still fills our imagination with so many beautiful images.

Now, you have not had time to grow old. We were already an old nation in 1781 when Lafayette and Rochambeau came to help you in the first war of liberation of modern times. But in order to quote something that was said by one of my predecessors, General De Gaulle, about the French Revolution, the flame of which was going to be lit by the flame of yours. Those were times when France was still young although she had already lived a lot. So, let us recover today this mutual youth which led to victory here when arm in arm, as we say, we went together, the youngest republic and the oldest monarchy of the world.

There are so many suffering, there is so much distress and anguish and violence on this unfortunate planet that we must recover the spirit of youth—well, the spirit of our youth, I would say—the guilelessness, the courage, the generosity which inspired here and very near here, yes, some of the most noble accents of the minds and conscience of men.

I have come here to ask you to give me the secrets that lie in the heart of Patrick Henry and Jefferson. And you have never kept those secrets to yourselves, and I'm sure that they will help me to find the words and to take the action that is required in order to respond to the new will of a France which is moving.

Long live Franco-American alliance forever and long live Williamsburg and Virginia.

President Reagan. Thank you, Governor Dalton. And good evening to all of you.

President Mitterrand, Madam Mitterrand, I know that I speak for everyone here when I say how much we appreciate your remarks, not to mention your timely visit coinciding with this historic occasion. This day has already been wonderful, and there's still more to come tonight and tomorrow.

I couldn't leave here this evening without giving a special word of praise and thanks to Governor Dalton and Lewis McMurran, the chairman of the Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission. The planning and the work that both of you and all of your associates put into these festivities is more than we'll ever know, but sometimes the spirit, the significance of an event is of such importance that it demands a celebration no one will ever forget, and that's what this bicentennial is all about. And believe me, you have acquitted yourselves with highest honors.

I wish I could take the time to salute all the rest of you individually, but where would I begin? If I may paraphrase a former President, this is the most extraordinary collection of human talent ever to gather in Williamsburg since Thomas Jefferson walked these streets alone.

Now, I know we're not supposed to take up too much of your time, so let us wish you an enjoyable evening and get on our way, and thank you again so much for your reception.

Thank you.

[At this point, Governor Dalton presented President Reagan and President Mitterrand with gifts on behalf of the people of Virginia and the Nation's Governors. President Reagan resumed speaking as follows.]

I shouldn't do this, but I just wanted to tell you that on the De Grasse today, having lunch with President and Mrs. Mitterrand, I learned a little bit of American history that maybe all of us or none of us know. I was told by the commander of the vessel there that when Washington went aboard that ship to speak to Rochambeau, who was a very tall man, and George Washington was tall, but not quite as tall—and as they met, in the amusement of everyone who then laughed at it, Admiral Rochambeau approached Washington, put his arms around him, embraced him and said, "Mon petit General." [Laughter]

Note: President Mitterrand spoke at 7:30 p.m. in the Virginia Room at the Williamsburg Lodge. He spoke in French, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

Earlier in the afternoon, President Reagan and President Mitterrand met at the Lightfoot House in Williamsburg, where President Reagan stayed during his visit to Virginia.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Dinner Hosted by Governor John Dalton of Virginia in Williamsburg Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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