A memorial address for Woodrow Wilson by David H. Miller, delivered at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, 10 February 1924.
Eleanor Wilson McAdoo Papers, University of California, Santa Barbara
Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum
Memorial Address Delivered
Memorial Address Delivered
Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church,
February 10, 1924
DAVID HUNTER MILLER
Memorial Address Delivered at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, February 10, 1924.
It is said in the Scripture, "Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God."
Those were the words that came to my soul when I was asked to speak here on this Sabbath in memory of Woodrow Wilson; for of all the ages, he was foremost among those whom Jesus blessed, he was verily a child of God.
For a moment, but only for a moment, let us think of the man himself, of the human side of him. Others, many others, could here speak better and more worthily than I; for my knowledge of Woodrow Wilson rests not on long intimacy of personal friendship, not on decades of association, but rather on that revelation which comes during labors together in a common cause, that sensing of verities at crucial moments, when the inner soul of a man is bright as day to see.
If in a phrase I had to sum up that personal side, I should think of him as I knew him in Paris, as a Christian gentleman. At the height of his triumphs, when the cheers of the scores of thousands in the streets were echoed by admiring millions the world over, he issued his orders in the form of requests; he gave his thanks for services that were his due; and when his subordinates came to see him at his house, they had the precedence one shows to a guest.
Of course, you may say that these are little things, signs perhaps of nothing more than a kindly thoughtfulness of others even amidst the pressure of great duties; but I have mentioned one or two of these little things lest you might think that Woodrow Wilson sometimes forgot them; he never did.
But while these memories may mean something to me, there are others that will mean more to you; let us think of them a little.
The fame of this great man will rest primarily, I think, on his ideals; and foremost even among those, on his ideals of peace. For ideals are so much more powerful and even so much more real than realities themselves. Things as they ought to be are always more vital than things as they are. For things as they are together make up only this fleeting instant that we call the present as it is lost behind us; but things as they ought to be look forward to the eternal distances of God himself.
It is in the perspective of those distances that we must view the ideals of peace of Woodrow Wilson. Wonderful when we think of it. It was he who led this country into the greatest war of history. It was he who insisted on the use of every ounce of force, force to the utmost, righteous force as he called it, to win that war. It was he who made a fact of one impossibility after another; the miracle of the draft, the miracle of the four million men, the miracle of the two millions in Europe, the miracle of thirty billions of money; and through it all and despite the incredible burden of it all, the supreme miracle of winning the war by the irresistible force of those war papers and speeches which were acclaimed by all humanity, even by millions of the hostile forces themselves; we saw it, we lived through it, we were part of it, and so we cannot even dream what a marvel it was.
And yet, despite all this and while doing the work of ten strong men with the genius of a thousand, he was thinking most of all of those ideals of peace. They were not put aside to be brought out at a more convenient season; rather were they kept burning in his soul. In the summer of 1918, while the struggle was at its supreme crisis of terror, even then he was planning his covenants of peace, he was taking counsel with others, he was writing in its first form his greatest paper.
Woodrow Wilson, remaining steadfast and true to his ideals through all the horror and hate of the conflict, is a sublime figure.
Let me turn now for a moment to a darker picture. We must remember with shame that when the armistice let loose the frightened dogs of envy and malice, there were found among Americans and in the American press those who urged that Woodrow Wilson should abandon his ideals, break his solemn word, betray the honor of his country and leave the ruins of the war to smoulder in hate instead of building them into a monument of peace. Of course, to him such words meant nothing; but they were the aid to all who lacked his vision and the comfort of all who went about to do evil.
We must blush too, to remember that during that year Woodrow Wilson shared the fate of other great Americans, in being vilified and maligned by some of his own people. Some of the things then printed and said by public men about Woodrow Wilson and his work, bring to mind the bitter newspaper attacks on George Washington in 1794 and the venomous civil war pamphlets against Abraham Lincoln.
But, unswerved by calumny, Woodrow Wilson remained steadfast to the end. When he was told in the summer of 1919, as he started, worn out, on his last speaking trip, that it would kill him, he answered, "Well, I am perfectly willing to die for the League of Nations." He never wavered, never faltered. No doubt, you have been told that in making the Peace Treaties at Paris he compromised with his principles. I assert with every confidence of knowledge that he did not. Of course, he agreed to things which others did not approve, but that was inevitable in any event. That is no test. The test of moral character in such a case is this -Does a man bargain away something he himself thinks is vital? If not, he has to his own self been true; and that Woodrow Wilson ever was.
As Americans we can mourn proudly for Woodrow Wilson. A great man, surely, more than a great man, I think; for I believe that history will write him down as the greatest of all. Perhaps it is too soon to know the final verdict, but at least we can say that of all he was certainly the most famous. We have had great leaders of our nation, but never before did we have a leader who was at the same time the leader of the world.
His speeches were read by scores of millions of people in almost every known language. In the remote fastnesses of Africa, surrounded by miles of desert, live the tribes of the Senussi. Their chief told a friend of mine that he had read all the works of Woodrow Wilson. In Paris, I saw the cheering thousands greet him with a delirium of welcome never given to any one else; and the posters which were put up in that capital on his arrival, acclaimed him, not only as the leader of this country, but of all countries.
Truly when Woodrow Wilson spoke, his voice was heard around the world.
Nothing like it was ever before known. There have been men whose teachings in the course of generations or perhaps of centuries have swayed as much of mankind as did Woodrow Wilson within two years; and there have been men who in a short time were supreme at home or in a limited field; but this man almost overnight became the master of the soul of the civilized world; and from that time in 1917 until the day when the shadow of the Angel of Death first fell athwart his path, he was the leader and the ruler of all living, able to change and changing with a word, the destinies of mankind.
We think of the power of a President of the United States as very great, and we know that in war time it is of necessity enormously increased; but even that authority was only a fraction of the dominion of Woodrow Wilson. And the character of that authority, the moral leadership that was the vital part of it, has made its influence and its effects permanent. The principles of national freedom and of liberty that Woodrow Wilson laid down, are now written in the constitutions of many countries, they have become part of the public law of the world and, doubtless most important, they are guarded as precious treasures in the bosoms of millions of mankind.
Think, Americans, of the height to which Woodrow Wilson raised our country. First of all, he showed the world that this was the mightiest nation of the globe, that there was nothing that its strength might not achieve, no force that could prevail against it; and yet, with that giants strength disclosed, America, under Woodrow Wilson, was not feared, but only loved. Our word was law, our fiat was supreme, it was accepted without question, but not because it was announced as the decree of a dictator, but because it was revered as righteous, it was known as fair, it was lauded as unselfish, a stream from the very fountain of divine justice.
Never has the flag of any nation been raised to such a peak of glory as was the flag of America by Woodrow Wilson.
And yet you hear some say that he failedif such be failure, God grant me some small share of it as my success. Did he fail because he passed beyond before all that he dreamed and planned had come to pass? That is a fate common to us all; the supreme beauty of our task below is that it is always to be attempted, never to be finished, but only to be passed on to other workers, our successors in the unceasing and ever changing current of humanity.
It would ill become me, if in these few and feeble words of tribute, I said nothing of the League of Nations, that monument of Woodrow Wilson that will never die; for I sat at his hand while the Covenant was framed, I worked with him, I tried to help him; no memory in life or death could be as precious.
I saw him toil with all his wonderful vision, with all the energy of that marvelous intellect, with all the strength of that great mind, to make that document true and righteous; and I say to you that in that paper there is no thought unworthy, no word ignoble, no purpose selfish,
And when I say that that monument of Woodrow Wilson is imperishable, I leave aside those petty questions of form which have been so much debated by little minds. The Covenant is human; all things human must change and be made better, only the divine work is perfect; but the principles of the League of Nations, that conferences must take the place of war, that justice must prevail and not aggression, that law must rule and not mere might, are principles that will remain forever in the international structure, because they are divine principles of eternal truth.
But again some say that he failed, because, they say, there was a vote against that eternal charter of human peace, that sublime work of Woodrow Wilson, that Covenant of the League; well, this is no time for disputation, here is no place for argument or I might say something about that vote.
But there is a question that I want to put to you about ita question I have never heard asked; and for such a question I know of no time more appropriate than this day, and I know of no place more appropriate than this house of God.
The question that I put to you is this-
How would Christ vote on the League of Nations?
I say to you that until that question is answered, and until it is answered rightly, we need not think of other things.
"If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."
The noblest statesman known to history has gone to his rest. His life will be an eternal memory of honor to his country that he loved so well and served so truly, and his work will be an eternal benefit to humanity.
Woodrow Wilson was a friend of all the world; and those who knew him best loved him most.
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Madison Ave. Presbyterian Church, “Memorial Address for Woodrow Wilson, Madison Ave. Presbyterian Church,” 1924 February 10, WWP19622, Eleanor Wilson McAdoo Collection at the University of California-Santa Barbara, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.