William Howard Taft

Remarks at the Dedication of the Gift Chapel at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas

October 17, 1909

Mr. Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Ogden, Clergymen of the City of San Antonio, Ladies and Gentlemen:

You will hardly believe me when I tell you that this ceremony and the burden that I am now trying to discharge came to me but to-day. My itinerary in the last month has been so varied and I have been trying to catch up with it with so much energy that "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," and I have had to meet the tasks as they have come; but I should be certainly wanting in power of expression, and in that heartfelt sympathy which makes expression, if I could not say something on this occasion which awakens so many pleasant thoughts in my mind.

The first thought that comes to me is that the exceptional circumstances by which this beautiful building has been contributed by the city of San Antonio, by the people of that city, to the army post here, speaks wonders, both for the people of the city of San Antonio and for the Army of the United States which has been stationed here. It has not always been so at every post, but that you should love the army and that the army should love you under the conditions is a noteworthy fact in which I rejoice. This is a beautiful post. I fear there are some parts of the country which might say that this post has been unduly favored by reason possibly of the assiduity of the Congressman who represented you, and the weakness of the Secretary of War whom he influenced. I am prepared to defend my successor, Mr. Dickinson, who accompanies me and who fortified me in the policy which led to the establishment and the improvement of this great post; and the visit here convinces me that those representatives of the army—officers and enlisted men—who have had the good fortune to be stationed at San Antonio vindicated the reputation of the army and entitled themselves to the consideration, association and friendship of the people of San Antonio. There are places in the country that do not value such association as this which you have in San Antonio, but they make a great error. You have seen the benefit, have encouraged the coming, have made this post a delightful post for every one in the army connected with it, and by the gift of this building, devoted to religion and morality and the rational amusement of a library, you show what you regard as the highest standard of an army and what it should be.

We do not unite officially under our Constitution Church and State, and sometimes it has been supposed that that indicates a coldness on the part of our government toward religion and morality based on religion. You know and I know that nothing is farther from the truth, but that the government does depend and rest on morality and religion and is anxious in every way possible, except the selection of a particular religion and making it a State religion, to encourage religion and morality in every department, and among all its peoples.

Now, when it comes to the treatment of an army, when we take over a great body from thirty, to sixty, to one hundred thousand men, and house them and feed them and clothe them, give them the places in which to live and surround them with those limitations and restrictions that are necessary for the discipline of the army, as in the navy as well, it becomes the part of the government to furnish to those men the opportunities for the worship of God and for the pursuit of rational amusement in such a way as not to lead them to retrograde steps, and hence it is that we appoint chaplains of different denominations and pay them out of the treasury of the United States; both in the army and the navy, and in the charitable and other institutions of the government. And this is not regarded as uniting Church and State.

I have said that this is a testimony to the generosity and appreciation of the people of San Antonio. It is. It is an expression of generosity that means such and shows that you have a community here that first appreciates a good thing when it sees it and then is willing to go down into its pockets and show that it really feels as it says.

I can not now forbear to speak a word about the Army of the United States of which temporarily I have the honor to be Commander-in-Chief. I am not a member of the army and therefore can speak of it with an entire disinterestedness and impartiality.

The army does not get its share of praise. It sometimes falls to a man in Congress or elsewhere to take what he calls a fall out of the army officer or out of the army establishment and we do not rush forward to defend it as we ought. Army officers by reason of the discipline that must be maintained are obliged to keep quiet and not defend themselves and the establishment as they might. Now, I have no such limitation. I have a right to say what I think about that army of devoted men. I know something about it. I was in the Philippines when they were going through a campaign that in its way was as dangerous to life and limb as any campaign that any army went through. I was there when they had to exercise that self-restraint under provocation that no man can know except the one exposed to the dangers that they there suffered, and I know what efficiency they showed both in the upholding of quasi-civil government and in the pursuit of the men who were seeking to kill them on the one hand and having their children educated in the towns on the other at the same time by the very army which they were attempting in every way to decimate. The army went to Cuba. It stayed there two years. It was extended all over the Island; in every hamlet, in every large town was a detachment of troops. Did you hear of a single trouble occurring in a foreign population guarded by that army? Not one. Of what army in the world can you say that but the army of the United States? In the Philippines it was so that they had to be divided up in 500 different posts. They had to be commanded by captains, and first lieutenants, and second lieutenants, and some posts even by sergeants, and the enlisted men showed there the capacity for leadership. Each man at the head of a post was conceiving a campaign against the enemy in the neighborhood, and they were there. That spirit of self-restraint, intelligent self-reliance, that every American soldier has, is exceptional in the history of the armies of the world. The extension of the members of the army over the entire world now has broadened its knowledge. I don't think we can afford to reduce the army at all. I think we need an army of this character of not more than 100,000 in ninety millions of people. Of course there are some distinguished statesmen who see in that 100,000 a threat to our institutions. Well, I leave it to the people of San Antonio whether the presence in their neighborhood of these men to whom they have given this beautiful evidence of their appreciation—whether they fear that the free institutions of this country are endangered by the existence of an efficient army of 100,000 men.

The occasion to-night is one that fills me with personal pleasure, because it fell to my official lot to have to do with the improvement of this post, and to come here and find not only a beautiful climate in which the army can exercise and drill the year around, but to find a beautiful atmosphere of association with the people of the community that makes every one who knows anything about it glad to increase the post because the people want it, gratifies me very much.

I don't know that I am making a speech that is exactly adapted to the dedication of a church. I have not been long in the business of preaching, but I am glad here in the name of the people of the United States to receive from the people of San Antonio this beautiful building, this evidence of their love and appreciation of the army and this token that they desire to help the army in its standards of high morality and in religion, and this applies I know both to the officers and enlisted men. It is a most appropriate building for all these purposes, and will remain here as long as the other buildings put up by the government, to show the attachment and loyalty of the people of San Antonio both to the government and to those representatives of the government whose fortune it is to live in this neighborhood.

I now dedicate this edifice to peace, good will and humanity.

William Howard Taft, Remarks at the Dedication of the Gift Chapel at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365218

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