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Contents > Author > Woodrow Wilson > Second Inaugural Address, 1917 1856- 1924
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Woodrow Wilson
Second Inaugural Address, 1917
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Monday, March 5, 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 forget. 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 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.

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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