Second Inaugural Address

Woodrow Wilson

March 05, 1917

My fellow citizens:

The four years which have elapsed since last I stood in this place have
been crowded with counsel and action of the most vital interest and
consequence. Perhaps no equal period in our history has been so
fruitful of important reforms in our economic and industrial life or so
full of significant changes in the spirit and purpose of our political
action. We have sought very thoughtfully to set our house in order,
correct the grosser errors and abuses of our industrial life, liberate
and quicken the processes of our national genius and energy, and lift
our politics to a broader view of the people’s essential interests. It is a record of singular variety and singular distinction. But I
shall not attempt to review it. It speaks for itself and will be of
increasing influence as the years go by. This is not the time for
retrospect. It is time, rather, to speak our thoughts and purposes
concerning the present and the immediate future.

Although we have centered counsel and action with such unusual
concentration and success upon the great problems of domestic
legislation to which we addressed ourselves four years ago, other
matters have more and more forced themselves upon our attention,
matters lying outside our own life as a nation and over which we had no
control, but which, despite our wish to keep free of them, have drawn
us more and more irresistibly into their own current and influence.

It has been impossible to avoid them. They have affected the life of
the whole world. They have shaken men everywhere with a passion and an
apprehension they never knew before. It has been hard to preserve calm
counsel while the thought of our own people swayed this way and that
under their influence. We are a composite and cosmopolitan people. We
are of the blood of all the nations that are at war. The currents of
our thoughts as well as the currents of our trade run quick at all
seasons back and forth between us and them. The war inevitably set its
mark from the first alike upon our minds, our industries, our commerce,
our politics, and our social action. To be indifferent to it, or
independent of it, was out of the question.

And yet all the while we have been conscious that we were not part of
it. In that consciousness, despite many divisions, we have drawn closer
together. We have been deeply wronged upon the seas, but we have not
wished to wrong or injure in return; have retained throughout the
consciousness of standing in some sort apart, intent upon an interest
that transcended the immediate issues of the war itself.

As some of the injuries done us have become intolerable we have still
been clear that we wished nothing for ourselves that we were not ready
to demand for all mankind — fair dealing, justice, the freedom to live
and to be at ease against organized wrong.

It is in this spirit and with this thought that we have grown more and
more aware, more and more certain that the part we wished to play was
the part of those who mean to vindicate and fortify peace. We have been
obliged to arm ourselves to make good our claim to a certain minimum of
right and of freedom of action. We stand firm in armed neutrality since
it seems that in no other way we can demonstrate what it is we insist
upon and cannot forego. We may even be drawn on, by circumstances, not
by our own purpose or desire, to a more active assertion of our rights
as we see them and a more immediate association with the great struggle
itself. But nothing will alter our thought or our purpose. They are too
clear to be obscured. They are too deeply rooted in the principles of
our national life to be altered. We desire neither conquest nor
advantage. We wish nothing that can be had only at the cost of another
people. We have always professed unselfish purpose and we covet the
opportunity to prove our professions are sincere.

There are many things still to be done at home, to clarify our own
politics and add new vitality to the industrial processes of our own
life, and we shall do them as time and opportunity serve, but we
realize that the greatest things that remain to be done must be done
with the whole world for stage and in cooperation with the wide and
universal forces of mankind, and we are making our spirits ready for
those things.

We are provincials no longer. The tragic events of the thirty months of
vital turmoil through which we have just passed have made us citizens
of the world. There can be no turning back. Our own fortunes as a
nation are involved whether we would have it so or not.

And yet we are not the less Americans on that account. We shall be the
more American if we but remain true to the principles in which we have
been bred. They are not the principles of a province or of a single
continent. We have known and boasted all along that they were the
principles of a liberated mankind. These, therefore, are the things we
shall stand for, whether in war or in peace:

That all nations are equally interested in the peace of the world and
in the political stability of free peoples, and equally responsible for
their maintenance;

That the essential principle of peace is the actual
equality of nations in all matters of right or privilege;

That peace
cannot securely or justly rest upon an armed balance of power;

That
governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the
governed and that no other powers should be supported by the common
thought, purpose or power of the family of nations;

That the seas
should be equally free and safe for the use of all peoples, under rules
set up by common agreement and consent, and that, so far as
practicable, they should be accessible to all upon equal terms; that
national armaments shall be limited to the necessities of national
order and domestic safety;

That the community of interest and of power
upon which peace must henceforth depend imposes upon each nation the
duty of seeing to it that all influences proceeding from its own
citizens meant to encourage or assist revolution in other states should
be sternly and effectually suppressed and prevented.

I need not argue these principles to you, my fellow countrymen; they
are your own part and parcel of your own thinking and your own motives
in affairs. They spring up native amongst us. Upon this as a platform
of purpose and of action we can stand together. And it is imperative
that we should stand together. We are being forged into a new unity
amidst the fires that now blaze throughout the world. In their ardent
heat we shall, in God’s Providence, let us hope, be purged of faction
and division, purified of the errant humors of party and of private
interest, and shall stand forth in the days to come with a new dignity
of national pride and spirit. Let each man see to it that the
dedication is in his own heart, the high purpose of the nation in his
own mind, ruler of his own will and desire.

I stand here and have taken the high and solemn oath to which you have
been audience because the people of the United States have chosen me
for this august delegation of power and have by their gracious judgment
named me their leader in affairs. I know now what the task means. I realize to the full the
responsibility which it involves. I pray God I may be given the wisdom
and the prudence to do my duty in the true spirit of this great people.
I am their servant and can succeed only as they sustain and guide me by
their confidence and their counsel. The thing I shall count upon, the
thing without which neither counsel nor action will avail, is the unity
of America, — an America united in feeling, in purpose, and in its vision
of duty, of opportunity, and of service. We are to beware of all men who would turn the tasks and the
necessities of the nation to their own private profit or use them for
the building up of private power; beware that no faction or disloyal intrigue break the harmony or embarrass the spirit of our people; beware that our government be kept pure and incorrupt in all its parts.United alike in the conception of our duty and in the high resolve to
perform it in the face of all men, let us dedicate ourselves to the
great task to which we must now set our hand. For myself I beg your
tolerance, your countenance, and your united aid. The shadows that now lie dark upon our path will soon be dispelled, and
we shall walk with the light all about us if we be but true to
ourselves, — to ourselves as we have wished to be known in the counsels
of the world and in the thought of all those who love liberty and
justice and the right exalted.

 

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