John F. Kennedy photo

Toasts of the President and the Emperor of Ethiopia at a Dinner at the White House

October 01, 1963

Ladies and gentlemen:

I know I speak on behalf of all of us in expressing our great satisfaction and our appreciation of the honor which has been done to us by the visit of our distinguished guest. There is really no comparable figure in the world today who held high responsibilities in the thirties, who occupied and held the attention and the imagination of really almost all free countries in the mid-thirties, and still could in the summer of 1963 in his own capital dominate the affairs of his continent. This is an unprecedented experience in the 20th century, and I know of only a few experiences in recent history which are in any way similar.

So, I think that the welcome today in Washington, which is really, I think, almost unprecedented--the number of people who came, the warmth of their greeting to His Imperial Majesty, even though Ethiopia is a long way from the United States--shows that the country and its leader have occupied a position of importance in the life of our own country.

Fate and geography and time and necessity have made the United States and Ethiopia very closely associated in the years since the end of the Second World War. We value that association. We value the position of responsibility and leadership which His Majesty occupies.

I hope he comes here on this occasion, 10 years after his first visit, and realizes how warm are the sentiments and how genuine is the feeling.

Speaking personally, Your Majesty, having grown up in a sense, as a good many others here, in your shadow, having seen the photographs when you spoke to the League, having read your speech some years ago, and now having you here tonight is an historic occasion for us all.

So, in asking my fellow Americans to join in drinking to the prosperity of the people of Ethiopia, I know that in a very real sense all of the American people join us in drinking to the health of His Imperial Majesty.

Note: The President proposed this toast at a dinner in the State Dining Room at the White House.

In his response Emperor Haile Selassie voiced his gratitude and that of his people for American friendship and understanding. "I recall with most poignant emotion," he continued, "the moral support which Ethiopia received from the United States in the dark hour when my country was ravished by fascism 27 years ago and the steadfast refusal of the American Government to recognize the occupation of Ethiopia. It is surely to be regretted not merely by Ethiopia but by the entire world that the United States was not represented in the League of Nations to which I addressed my futile appeal in 1936."

The Emperor also recalled his meetings with President Roosevelt at the Suez conference in 1945 and with President Eisenhower in 1954. He stated that his present visit had brought him "calm certainty that the United States will continue to fulfill the destiny which has fallen to its lot in the modern world ."

Ethiopia, the Emperor said in conclusion, is old in history but "young in modernity. If Ethiopia does not yet enjoy all the blessings of the modern world, if we have further to go to achieve the level of economic and social development which this country has achieved, it is because we have been a landlord country, and although never colonized, we have been engaged in a never-ending struggle to maintain our freedom and independence .... But this is the goal that we have set for ourselves, and in our efforts to obtain it, we have benefited greatly from the assistance which the United States of America has made available to us."

The Emperor closed with a toast to the friendship which had so long endured between the two nations, to the ideals of peace and liberty to which both were equally dedicated, and to the President's personal health and well-being.

John F. Kennedy, Toasts of the President and the Emperor of Ethiopia at a Dinner at the White House Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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