Woodrow Wilson photo

Remarks at the Capitol in Rome, Italy

January 03, 1919

You have done me a very great honor. Perhaps you can imagine what a feeling it is for a citizen of one of the newest of the great nations to be made a citizen of this ancient city. It is a distinction which I am sure you are conferring upon me as the representative of the great people for whom I speak. One who has been a student of history can not accept an honor of this sort without having his memory run back to the extraordinary series of events which have centered in this place. But as I have thought to-day, I have been impressed by the contrast between the temporary and the permanent things. Many political changes have centered about Rome, from the time when from a little city she grew to be the mistress of an empire, and change after change has swept away many things, altering the very form of her affairs, but the thing that has remained permanent has been the spirit of Rome and of the Italian people. That spirit seems to have caught with each age the characteristic purpose of the age. This imperial people now gladly represents the freedom of nations. This people which at one time seemed to conceive the purpose of governing the world now takes part in the liberal enterprise of offering the world its own government. Can there be a finer or more impressive illustration of the indestructible human spirit, and of the unconquerable spirit of liberty?

I have been reflecting in these recent days about a colossal blunder that has just been made—the blunder of force by the Central Empires. If Germany had waited a single generation, she would have had a commercial empire of the world. She was not willing to conquer by skill, by enterprise, by commercial success. She must needs attempt to conquer by arms, and the world will always acclaim the fact that it is impossible to conquer it by arms; that the only thing that conquers it is the sort of service which can be rendered in trade, in intercourse, in friendship, and that there is no conquering power which can suppress the freedom of the human spirit.

I have rejoiced personally in the partnership of the Italian and the American people, because it was a new partnership in an old enterprise, an enterprise predestined to succeed wherever it is undertaken—the enterprise that has always borne that handsome name which we call "Liberty." Men have pursued it sometimes like a mirage that seemed to elude them, that seemed to run before them as they advanced, but never have they flagged in their purpose to achieve it, and I believe that I am not deceived in supposing that in this age of ours they are nearer to it than they ever were before. The light that shined upon the summit now seems almost to shine at our feet, and if we lose it, it will be only because we have lost faith and courage, for we have the power to attain it.

So it seems to me that there never was a time when a greater breath of hope and of confidence had come into the minds and the hearts of men like the present. I would not have felt at liberty to come away from America if I had not felt that the time had arrived when, forgetting local interests and local ties and local purposes, men should unite in this great enterprise which will ever tie free men together as a body of brethren and a body of free spirits.

I am honored, sir, to be taken into this ancient comradeship of the citizenship of Rome.

APP Note: President Wilson was made an honorary citizen of Rome.

Woodrow Wilson, Remarks at the Capitol in Rome, Italy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/317579

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