Woodrow Wilson photo

Remarks at Mansion House in London, England

December 28, 1918

Mr. Lord Mayor, Your Royal Highness, Your Grace, Ladies and Gentlemen:

You have again made me feel, sir, the very wonderful and generous welcome of this great city, and you have reminded me of what has perhaps become one of the habits of my life. You have said that I have broken all precedents in coming across the ocean to join in the counsels of the peace conference, but I think those who have been associated with me in Washington will testify that that is nothing surprising. I said to members of the press in Washington one evening that one of the things that had interested me most since I lived in Washington was that every time I did anything perfectly natural it was said to be unprecedented. It wars perfectly natural to break this precedent, natural because the demand for intimate conference took precedence over every other duty. And, after all, breaking of precedents, though this may sound strange doctrine in England, is the most sensible thing to do. The harness of precedent is sometimes a very sad and harassing trammel. In this case the breaking of precedent is sensible for a reason that is very prettily illustrated in a remark attributed to Charles Lamb. One evening in a company of his friends they were discussing a person who was not present, and Lamb said, in his hesitating manner, "I h-hate that fellow. " "Why, Charles, " one of his friends said, "I didn't know that you knew him. " "Oh, " he said, "I-I-I d-don't; I c-can't h-hate a man I-I-I know." And perhaps that simple and attractive remark may furnish a secret for cordial international relationship. When we know one another we can not hate one another.

I have been very much interested before coming here to see what sort of person I was expected to be. So far as I can make it out, I was expected to be a perfectly bloodless thinking machine; whereas, I am perfectly aware that I have in me all the insurgent elements of the human race. I am sometimes by reason of long Scotch tradition able to keep those instincts in restraint. The stern covenanter tradition that is behind me sends many an echo down the years.

It is not only diligently to pursue business but also to seek this sort of comradeship that I feel it a privilege to have come across the seas, and in the welcome that you have accorded Mrs. Wilson and me you have made us feel that that companionship was accessible to us in the most delightful and enjoyable form. I thank you sincerely for this welcome, sir, and am very happy to join in a love feast which is all the more enjoyable because there is behind it a background of tragical suffering. Our spirits are released from the darkness of clouds that at one time seemed to have settled upon the world in a way that could not be dispersed; the suffering of your own people, the suffering of the people of France, the infinite suffering of the people of Belgium. The whisper of grief that has blown all through the world is now silent, and the sun of hope seems to spread its rays and to change the earth with a new prospect of happiness. So our joy is all the more elevated because we know that our spirits are lifted out of that valley.

APP Note: The President referred to Sir Horace Brooks Marshall, Lord Mayor of London and to Prince Arthur of Connaught (Arthur Frederick Patrick Albert).

Woodrow Wilson, Remarks at Mansion House in London, England Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/317544

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