Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Toast at a State Dinner for the President of Iceland.

August 24, 1944

ONLY four members of my Cabinet are here tonight; the others are off on holiday or for some other reason, but I am glad to say that half of them have been in Iceland. The Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Treasury have been there, so in having been there they know more about Iceland personally than I do. However, as I said to the President, I have always been a student of Iceland.

About two years ago there was put up to me the great question as to where Iceland was. Was it in the European hemisphere or the American hemisphere? And I used the judgment of Solomon, I said it was in both hemispheres—which is true. To be quite frank, chiefly for practical reasons. But it belongs in both hemispheres, it belongs to the life of both hemispheres. And in the future—this is a prediction—I think that Iceland will always be considered, for certain practical reasons, a part of the Americas, and a part of Europe.

For practical reasons we all know Iceland is necessary to our defense, illustrated some three years ago when there was real danger, when Germany was not only on the offensive but was overrunning a greater part of the world every day. And there was the danger in those days- when all of us were on the defensive, and I am speaking from the American point of view that Iceland would be occupied by the Germans.

And on that particular occasion, whether it was constitutional or not the historians will determine a hundred years from now, the State Department took up with the Icelandic Government-which was then closely associated with Denmark—the possibility of our making sure, by sending troops to Iceland, that Germany could not use it as a "fait accompli" against this continent. We were selfish. We couldn't afford to let Germany use Iceland as a base from which to bomb or send expeditions against the American continent.

And therefore, because of the cordial relations that existed, we were able to make a perfectly legal agreement with the Government of Iceland by which we sent in our troops. We said quite frankly, and we meant it as the President knows, that when this danger of a German occupation of Iceland was over and the world returns to peace, we not only would recognize but we would work for the complete independence of what is the Iceland, not of today but of a thousand years back, the Iceland that essentially has always been independent, a Nation—and this is something that perhaps some people could use to some advantage—Irish in its origin.

I was asking the President, who incidentally is the first President of their Republic—we haven't had many, thirty-two, that's all—who were the first people in Iceland, were they Esquimaux? No, an Esquimau was never there. He said the first people in Iceland were the Irish, which is extremely interesting. Not only the Irish, by the founding of a monastery in Iceland, but the first white people- as we call them—in Iceland were the Irish, followed after that, after the Vikings had come—by another influx of Irish, including an Irish princess, the President said. So there you are.

And from that time on, for more than a thousand years- we celebrated their thousandth anniversary a short time ago- we have had an independent Nation in Iceland, the oldest of our civilization in all the world, with a parliamentary government, with complete independence in the best sense of the word, not only making their own laws but living their own lives, not only their own government but a people's government, who said what they wanted, and who always had their way, including the right to elect the present President, who incidentally- probably a good thought, which I won't press- was elected unanimously. (Laughter) I catch the eyes of Senator Vandenberg. (More laughter) But that is the way they elected their first President.

And, of course, we did, too, in 1788-9. We elected George Washington unanimously, and he was the first and the last that was thus elected. So I warn you for my colleagues, if you should run for a second or a third or a fourth term, you mustn't expect to be elected unanimously. (More laughter)

And so Iceland is a great deal more than a name in mythology. In the last few years, Iceland was a name to us. One and eight tenths percent of our trade to Iceland went that way. Things differ from time to time. Today it is 58 percent, something like that, due primarily to the war—we might just as well admit that. But at the same time, and thinking of the future, we want to keep Iceland on the map, that is the great point, always. The whole of civilization wants Iceland as the cradle of the oldest Republic that has ever happened—something to teach the world a lesson. You run your own universities, you are friends with all the Scandinavians, and those who are in Iceland too.

But you run into the curious fact that last year or the year before—a few years ago—Sweden issued stamps to celebrate the freedom of the Swedes from Danish control. Remember that. The Norwegians have insisted on their independence from Sweden. The Norwegians and the Danes are first cousins. You have Scandinavian blood, with a very good Irish admixture. And, on the whole, in the family of Nations, the American people have a great deal of Scandinavian blood in them, a lot of them—there are a great many Swedes, and Norwegians, and some Danish and a few Icelanders here. But we want the future to look at it from the point of view that we are all of the same basic stock, fundamentally.

And we want intermarriage. I am alluding now to a number of people—several thousand have already—who are now under the jurisdiction of Secretary Stimson, who are related by marriage with Icelandic girls, and who are going to stay in Iceland, if you let them, after the war. It's all right. Now, I don't protest against that one bit. We like it, and we hope that some of their children will come over here and become a part of the American family.

Now on the other more practical things, like trade, I was saying to his Minister a few minutes ago there is an American habit of cocktails, but we haven't yet acquired the Scandinavian habit of the things that go before cocktails. Don't sell us cod liver oil, I don't like cod liver oil—(laughter)—but go into the things that pay more money. Send us some smoked salmon, and things of that kind that go well before the cocktails. In that way you can help, and we can help, by general trade between Iceland and the United States. After all, things are going to go by trade a great deal in the future.

It has been easier, because of the shorter distance, to send your hors d'oeuvres to England, but they don't know a good hors d'oeuvre when they see it. Please send us some, for we are very fond of them. And specialize in them, not the vulgar stuff, but the specials. You can send us wool, for you have a special kind of wool we don't know of here. And so trade, if we go at it from the point of view of building it up on special lines—Iceland is small, and therefore you have to specialize- I think it can be done.

And in the days to come—I am not speaking about this treaty or that treaty or the other treaty they are talking about now, but it depends very largely on the spirit, very much on the spirit. If the spirit is all right behind the objective, greater friendship and greater trade, we can get somewhere. You have your politics, Mr. President, and you have a legislature, the oldest legislature in the world, incidentally. Over here I have my politics—I am not taking a very. great part in them—and I have a legislature, a very young legislature, it's only 160 years old. They learn with age. (Laughter) And so I have great hopes that when this thing comes up, the Senate of the United States which has a great deal to do with foreign policy will accept a treaty of trade and friendship,—all-inclusive—with the Republic of Iceland, without saying "No" just because they don't like the President of the United States.

Now that's an ideal, and perhaps my hope will be justified. Time alone will tell.

But, at least, in welcoming you to Washington, you know that the present President has his heart in the right place.

And so I drink to the first President of Iceland.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Toast at a State Dinner for the President of Iceland. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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