Having listened to many political speeches recently, I was surprised to see the text of this speech given by FDR at my Alma Mater appear in my inbox to day. He was in the area to officially open the Thousands Island Bridge between Ontario and New York State.
When I read his words I cannot decide if he was amazingly prescient or incredibly naive. The notes of this speech now rest in the Archives at Queen’s. A gift from Bill Clinton to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who made a gift of them to the archives on the anniversary of FDR’s visit.
Here is what he said in August 1938 – 70 years ago.
FDR Address at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, August 18, 1938
Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Principal, Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Prime Minister, my new found Associates of Queen’s University:
To the pleasure of being once more on Canadian soil where I have passed so many happy hours of my life, there is added today a very warm sense of gratitude for being admitted to the fellowship of this ancient and
famous University. I am glad to join the brotherhood which Queen’s has contributed and is contributing not only to the spiritual leadership for which the college was established, but also to the social and public
leadership in the civilized life of Canada.
An American President is precluded by our Constitution from accepting any title from a foreign Prince, potentate or power. Queen’s University is not a Prince or a potentate but, assuredly, it is a power. Yet I can
say, without constitutional reserve, that the acceptance of the title which you confer on me today would raise no qualms in the august breast of our own Supreme Court.
Civilization, after all, is not national-it is international-even though that observation, trite as it is to most of us, seems to be challenged in some parts of the world today. Ideas are not limited by territorial borders; they are the common inheritance of all free people. Thought is not anchored in any land; and the profit of education redounds to the equal benefit of the whole world. That is one form of free trade to which the leaders of every opposing political party can subscribe.
In a large sense we in the Americas stand charged today with the maintaining of that tradition. When, speaking a little over a year ago in a similar vein in the Republic of Brazil, I included the Dominion of
Canada in the fellowship of the Americas, our South American neighbors gave hearty acclaim. We in all the Americas know the sorrow and the wreckage which may follow if the ability of men to understand each other
is rooted out from among the nations.
Many of us here today know from experience that of all the devastations of war none is more tragic than the destruction which it brings to the processes of men’s minds. Truth is denied because emotion pushes it
aside. Forbearance is succeeded by bitterness. In that atmosphere human thought cannot advance.
It is impossible not to remember that for years when Canadians and Americans have met they have lightheartedly saluted as North American friends with little thought of dangers from overseas. Yet we are awake to the knowledge that the casual assumption of our greetings in earlier times, today must become a matter for serious thought.
A few days ago a whisper, fortunately untrue, raced ’round the world that armies standing over against each other in unhappy array were about to be set in motion. In a few short hours the effect of that whisper had
been registered in Montreal and New York, in Ottawa and in Washington, in Toronto and in Chicago, in Vancouver and in San Francisco. Your businessmen and ours felt it alike; your farmers and ours heard it
alike; your young men and ours wondered what effect this might have on their lives.
We in the Americas are no longer a far away continent, to which the eddies of controversies beyond the seas could bring no interest or no harm. Instead, we in the Americas have become a consideration to every
propaganda office and to every general staff beyond the seas. The vast amount of our resources, the vigor of our commerce and the strength of our men have made us vital factors in world peace whether we choose it
Happily, you and we, in friendship and in entire understanding, can look clear-eyed at these possibilities, resolving to leave no pathway unexplored, no technique undeveloped which may, if our hopes are
realized, contribute to the peace of the world. Even if those hopes are disappointed, we can assure each other that this hemisphere at least shall remain a strong citadel wherein civilization can flourish unimpaired.
The Dominion of Canada is part of the sisterhood of the British Empire. I give to you assurance that the people of the United States will not stand idly by if domination of Canadian soil is threatened by any other
We as good neighbors are true friends because we maintain our own rights with frankness, because we refuse to accept the twists of secret diplomacy, because we settle our disputes by consultation and because we discuss our common problems in the spirit of the common good. We seek to be scrupulously fair and helpful, not only in our relations with each other, but each of us at home in our relations with our own people.
But there is one process which we certainly cannot change and probably ought not to change. This is the feeling which ordinary men and women have about events which they can understand. We cannot prevent our
people on either side of the border from having an opinion in regard to wanton brutality, in regard to undemocratic regimentation, in regard to misery inflicted on helpless peoples, or in regard to violations of
accepted individual rights. All that any government, constituted as is yours and mine, can possibly undertake is to help make sure that the facts are known and fairly stated. No country where thought is free can prevent every fireside and home within its borders from considering the evidence for itself and rendering its own verdict; and the sum total of these conclusions of educated men and women will, in the long run,
rightly become the national verdict.
That is what we mean when we say that public opinion ultimately governs policy. It is right and just that this should be the case.
Many of our ancestors, your ancestors and mine, and, by the way, I have loyalist blood in my veins too, came to Canada and the United States because they wished to break away from systems which forbade them to think freely, and their descendants have insisted on the right to know the truth-to argue their problems to a majority decision, and, if they remained unconvinced, to disagree in peace. As a tribute to our likeness in that respect, I note that the Bill of Rights in your country and in mine are substantially the same.
Mr. Chancellor, you of Canada who respect the educational tradition of our democratic continent will ever maintain good neighborship in ideas as we in the public service hope and propose to maintain it in the field
of government and of foreign relations. My good friend, the Governor General of Canada, in receiving an honorary degree in June at that University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to which Mackenzie King and I
both belong, suggested that we cultivate three qualities to keep our foothold in the shifting sands of the present-humility, humanity and humor. I have been thinking in terms of a bridge which is to be
dedicated this afternoon and so I could not help coming to the conclusion that all of these three qualities imbedded in education, build new spans to reestablish free intercourse throughout the world and
bring forth an order in which free nations can live in peace.