Harry S. Truman photo

Remarks Upon Receiving an Honorary Degree From the University of Kansas City

June 28, 1945

Mr. President, members of the Faculty, and Board of Trustees of the University of Kansas City:

I can't tell you how very much I appreciate this first honorary degree that you have conferred. I appreciate it more than I can tell you. I have been overwhelmed, since I have been back in Jackson County, to find out just what kind of fellow I am. You have been exceedingly kind to me. You have absolutely disproved that maxim, that a prophet is not without honor save in his own country. You certainly have honored me with everything possible. I hope I can deserve it.

I have a tremendous--a tremendous task, one that I dare not look at too closely, for the simple reason that it is one that no man can do by himself. I must have the wholehearted--the unqualified support of the country, to win the Japanese war, and then to win a peace.

And there is one thing we must learn. It has been a most difficult task for us to learn it; and that is that it is absolutely necessary for the greatest Republic that the sun has ever shone upon to live with the world as a whole, and not by itself.

It is difficult for us to appreciate the age in which we live. It is an attempt at an adjustment in this age that has brought about this terrible disaster through which we have just passed in the European situation, and through which we are now passing in the Pacific.

The night before last, I arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah, at 10 p.m. from San Francisco, which I had left on the same time schedule at 8 p.m. I left Salt Lake City the next morning after breakfast--and oh, what a breakfast that was!--and arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, in exactly three hours and a half.

My grandfather made that trip time and again from 1846 to 1854, and again from 1864 to 1870, and when he made that trip it took him exactly 3 months to go, and 3 months to come back.

That is the age in which we live. The time is coming when that trip, in my opinion, will be made in one hour and a half, instead of three hours and a half. The time is coming when we will be transporting the freight of the world, and the express of the world, and the mail of the world on a schedule that will be almost up with the travel of the earth in its turn on its axis.

We must become adjusted to that situation. No further from here to Salt Lake City, or Salt Lake City to San Francisco, than it was from here to Lonejack in Eastern Jackson County, when we used to go to the picnics there on the sixteenth of August to celebrate the beginning of the Democratic campaign in the fall.

I am anxious to bring home to you that the world is no longer county size, no longer state-size, no longer nation-size. It is one world, as Willkie said. It is a world in which we must all get along.

And it is my opinion that this great Republic ought to lead the way. My opinion is that this great Republic ought to carry out those ideals of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

It was my privilege to be present at the signing of the Charter in San Francisco, which is the first step toward the accomplishment of world peace. Back in 1787 and 1788, our forefathers wrote a Constitution for thirteen independent States. They considered that Constitution imperfect. They had to go out on a selling program to get enough States to ratify that Constitution to put it into effect. One of those thirteen States did not ratify that Constitution until it was actually put into effect.

We are going to have to ratify this Constitution of San Francisco, and I want to see the United States do it first.

I am standing here with the degree of Doctor of Laws. That means that we live, in this country at least, in an age of law and an age of reason, an age in which we can get along with our neighbors.

Now we must do that internationally. It will be just as easy for nations to get along in a republic of the world as it is for us to get along in the republic of the United States.

Now, if Kansas and Colorado have a quarrel over a watershed they don't call out the National Guard of each State and go to war over it. They bring suit in the Supreme Court and abide by its decision. There isn't a reason in the world why we can't do that internationally.

There were two documents signed at San Francisco. One of them was the Charter of the United Nations. The other was the World Court. It will require the ratification of both of those Charters, and the putting of them into effect, if we expect to have world peace for future generations.

That is one of the tasks which have been assigned to me. I am accepting the responsibility. I am going to try to carry it out.

First, we must win the war with Japan, and we are winning it.

Then, we must win the peace in the world. And unless we lead the way, there will be no peace in the world.

Again, I can't tell you how much I appreciate this privilege, how much I appreciate the honor. I went to the Kansas City School of Law for two years and a half. As I told the Alumni this afternoon, I might have been able to finish that course in another year and a half--I say I might have been--if it hadn't been for the fact that at that time I was a public servant here in Jackson County--Judge of the County Court for the Eastern District; and I had so many people interested in the welfare of the county who wanted to see me that I couldn't study law.

Now I have just about--oh, I was going to say maybe a thousand times that many people who are interested in the welfare of the United States, but they have a much more difficult time discussing that with me individually than they did when I was a County Judge.

So here I am--on a half-finished course--a Doctor of Laws! And I sure appreciate it. I just didn't know how easy it was going to be to get that degree. I come back here as President of the United States, and I get the first honorary degree of Kansas University; and that certainly is appreciated by me.

When I come to Jackson County, I can't realize that I am the President of the United States. I feel like I am just one of your fellow citizens. I see the same faces, and I try to talk to the same people. But, you know, there is one thing that I have found it impossible to do, and that is to shake hands with and talk to five hundred thousand people in 3 days. I just can't do it, much to my regret. I wish I could shake hands with everybody here tonight, and listen to your tales of woe, if you have one, as I used to do; but that is impossible. I just can't do it.

So I want you to consider that, because I have come here and have seen all of you face to face, that I have theoretically shaken hands with every one of you, and you can go home and say that you have done it.

You want me to be physically able to carry out this tremendous task that has devolved upon me. I must be physically able to do that; and I can't possibly see everybody and talk to everybody in Jackson County and go back to Washington and convince the Senate that they ought to ratify this treaty. I know the Senate, because I worked in the Senate for about 10 years.

Again I want to thank you. I can't thank you enough. I don't dare to stop and think about it, because I would just stand up here and shed tears; and that is not what you want to see me do. I do appreciate that more than I can tell you.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke in the Municipal Auditorium at Kansas City, Mo. His opening words "Mr. President" referred to Clarence R. Decker, president of the University.

Harry S Truman, Remarks Upon Receiving an Honorary Degree From the University of Kansas City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232427

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