Randolph Macon College


Randolph Macon College


Grayson, Cary T. (Cary Travers), 1878-1938




1924 June 9


Cary T. Grayson gives a speech at Randolph Macon College urging the exercise of voting rights as a key component of citizenship.


Cary T. Grayson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, Staunton, Virginia





Doctors and naval officers are supposed to be silent men, doing rather than talking, but for the second time in about a week I am making a speech in this strip of Old Virginia. I hesitated to come but Congressman Drewry told me that he wanted me to come and that I ought to come. Like the man in Oscar Wilde’s play, I can resist anything except temptation. And the temptation is especially strong when a good friend informs me that it is his wish and my duty that I should do a certain thing. Moreover, Congressman Drewry is a member of the Naval Committee, and his desire is in the nature of a command to me, an officer of the Navy.

However, I cannot pose as a martyr to duty in this case. As a matter of fact, it is a great pleasure for me to be here today. First, because it brings me again to my native State, which I love as all true Virginians love the Old Commonwealth. Secondly, because I have a great many pleasant and strenuous recollections of Randolph Macon. There was a baseball team here more years ago than I like to remember, against which the William and Mary team, of which I was a member, played. That old rivalry produced a strong bond of friendship between the two colleges. In the third place, I have a great many warm personal friends who are alumni of this College. I cannot call the roster - it would take too long - but among them is Claude A. Swanson, the senior Senator from this State, who, together with his colleague, Carter Glass, is doing so much to maintain the reputation of Virginia in Congress -- two bold, strong figures always on the side of the right and never afraid to say what they think.

There is a fourth reason why I take personal pleasure in being here, and that is because it was from this College that there was graduated Walter Hines Page. There must have been some great teaching in this College judging by the quality of trained intelligence and culture of the eminent men who have studied in these halls. President Wilson paid to Mr. Page the great compliment of saying that Mr. Page was the best letter writer he had ever known. Such praise from such a source is a mortal immortal praise. Less than a year ago when I was chaperoning former Premier David Lloyd George through portions of Virginia we stopped here. It afforded Mr. Lloyd George a great deal of pleasure to say a few words to the student body of Randolph Macon because of his association with Mr. Page, whom he regarded as a great American, and who, like his great chief, President Wilson, sacrificed his life to the cause of the Great War for the maintenance of civilization.

My great chieftain, your great chieftain, the world’s greatest chieftain, Woodrow Wilson, who was great in education as he was great in so many fields, always insisted that the primary business of an American college was to train young people for citizenship and leadership. Thomas Jefferson had a similar idea when he founded the University of Virginia. I believe that our Virginia colleges and universities have been faithful to this ideal. From Virginia have gone forth scores of national leaders, millions of pure American citizens. We have been more fortunate than some of our northern and eastern sister States in that we have not been flooded with immigration, which has made the problem of pure American citizenship so difficult. But this happy circumstance does not liberate us from taking our share in the solution of the problem which is becoming more pressing every year, for it is an American problem, and we Virginians are Americans as well as Virginians, even, as General Lee himself said after the war, that we ought to be.

You see I am drifting into the subject of citizenship as a topic on which I want to talk very briefly to you today. Congressman Drewry told me that I could talk about anything that I wanted to talk about. He said, “Talk, for instance, about Christianity or Citizenship”. I told him that either was a large order, and I have chosen citizenship as being a little less tremendous than Christianity.

There was an original idea that the United States should be an asylum for the peoples of all lands. It was a beautiful idea, for it meant that we offered liberty in a new home to those who had been unable to find it in their old homes. But it is an idea which we find needs modoification, because older nations of other lands took selfish advantage of it and made us a dumping ground for their own incapables and undesirables, and hence the agitation of recent years, and particularly of the last Congress to set a sharp limitation upon immigration. I will not say that no inujustice has been committed by our recent immigration measures. I think that the claims of humanity should be recognized and that children and parents should not be separated in ruthless fashion in which they have sometimes been separated in our entry ports. But, as I understand it, the new bill seeks to correct this injustice by weeding out the immigrants at the source, by keeping them from embarking for America instead of sending them back after they have landed here.

But amid all this talk about the peril of the immigrant, we are in danger of losing sight of the fact that the native born American himself is frequently to blame in that he neglects to exercise that primary function of citizenship, namely, the franchise. An expert in these matters has said that there is an appalling lack of interest on the part of more intelligent citizens in availing themselves of the great sovereign right which American citizenship confers. In 1920 there were 54,000,000 persons of voting age in the United States, and of these only 26,000,000 voted. In 1922 only 22,000,000 voted. In a survey of one of our larger cities 80 ministers of the gospel were questioned after an election. Of those 80, twelve had registered and six had voted. In that same city 97 per cent of the foreign born population had voted. In view of facts like these, have we the right to charge the foreign born with all of our political troubles? They have been organized and influenced to vote, while we, who call ourselves educated, have remained unorganized and have regarded election day not as a day of duty but as a holiday. Instead of going to the polls, too many of us have gone hunting. Our forefathers of the pure stock, which we call Anglo-Saxon, did not behave like that. To them participation in political activity was a primary duty, which they performed as they would performaa religious observance.

Though I am not going to deal very much in statistics, there is one other item that I want to set before you. It will probably surprise you as it surprised me. A Virginian never likes to hear Virginia criticized, and it comes much easier to me to say fine things about Virginia than to point out any faults in my own State. But I was looking over some statistics in preparing this talk and I found that in the Presidential election of 1920 only ten and nine tenths per cent, let us say eleven per cent, of Virginians who were eligible to vote went to the polls. In the neighboring state of Maryland fifty-two per cent voted in that same election. In North Carolina, just to the south of us, forty-four per cent voted. In Tennessee, across the mountains, 35 per cent voted. In West Virginia, which used to be a part of our beloved State, 71 per cent voted. There were only three States in the Union in which a lower percentage than in Virginia voted - Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina. There may have been special reasons for these stay-at-homes in 1920, but in my judgment the people ought to go to the polls in every election, particularly in every Presidential election, and register some choice. Of course, the negro population of Virginia is large, and that makes some difference, but the proportion of colored people in Virginia is certainly not larger than the proportion of negroes in Alabama, yet 21 per cent in Alabama voted.

That will be enough of figures. The lesson is obvious. This pure Virginia stock ought to be at the polls on voting day, registering the sovereign will of Virginia in the selection of our Chief Magistrate and the policies of the coming four years.

The first commandment of good citizenship is to vote. I do not know just what we should call the second commandment, whether it is to obey the laws, or to make good laws worthy of obedience, or to select capable political leaders. But all these things belong to good citizenship, and all these things are in part the result of concerted, intelligent education.

As we try to shift the responsibility for poor citizenship upon the aliens, so we sometimes try to shift the responsbility for inferior government upon political office-holders. But is it not the business of college-bred men and women to be political leaders? We often hear educated and refined people say that they would not go into politics for any consideration. As long as they take that stand, leadership will tend to deteriorate. In its Federal offices Virginia has produced recently, as it produced in the past, a fine quality of leadership. Her representation in Congress is of a high order and Randolph Macon can be proud of the men that she has furnished to this representation. Senator Swanson and Congressman Drewry have not shrunk from the responsibilities and the annoyances incident to holding public office. They have inherited and carried on the Virginia tradition. Back in the old days when the Union was forming and Virginia was taking the lead in national affairs, the best that Virginia had was none too good for Virginians to elect to office. Politics of a high order has been indigenous to the Virginia soil.

As a native Virginian, and as an officer in the United States Navy, I take personal pride in the fact that Senator Swanson is a member of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs, and Congressman Drewry, as I have already said, is a member of the House Committee on Naval Affairs. The history of the United States Navy is in part the history of Virginians who have enlisted in that branch of the service. In the recent Great War there was less opportunity for personal outstanding distinction among Navy men than among Army men, but posterity will never forget the great service rendered by the Navy in transporting troops across the ocean to the scene of conflict. Without the hardihood and technical skill of the Navy it would have been impossible for our troops to play the great role that they played in the war. Never in the history of the world has navigation been so perilous as it was during those momentous days when we were getting our soldiers to European ports, and yet the Navy accomplished this task so splendidly that not a soldier was lost by submarine attack.

Public service, whether in the Navy or in the Army, or in the civil branches of our government, has been a Virginia ideal, to which Virginians ever run true. It always makes me proud as a Virginian to remember that five of the Presidents of the United States were simon-pure Virginians, and that three others were born in Virginia, though they moved away and are accredited as Presidents to other States. I love Virginia so much that I love to call over the names of Virginia towns and Virginia counties. Those names are sweet on the tongue. Just recently without reference to any book or map I found that I was able to name 83 of the 100 counties in Virginia. Can you do that? And I like to name the counties where this great Presidential timber was rooted:

Washington and Monroe in Westmoreland County; Jefferson in Albemarle County; Madison in King George County; Harrison and Tyler in Charles City County; Taylor in Orange County; and, last, that great President who has recently gone to his rest and whose name will always be associated with the name of Washington as one of the supremely great Presidents of our country - Woodrow Wilson - who was born and lived for two years in Augusta County.

Patriotism and the idea of political service it too in-bred in Virginians ever to be lost. Virginians have served their State and their country, not only in the Presidential office, but in the judiciary and in the legislative halls -- John Marshall, Patrick Henry, George Mason, John Randolph, and a long list of famous men who have gone to join the choir invisible and whose names are inscribed in the Book of Fame. And when the great issue arose between federal and state sovereignty, how the South looked to Virginia for military leadership - Lee and Jackson and Stuart!

But I am not here to recite the history of Virginia. I am only calling attention to the fact that Virginia in the past has taken her political and military responsibilities seriously, and I want that old tradition of service to the Commonwealth and the Nation to continue in its pristine glory in Virginia. It seems to me that the colleges have laid upon them a very definite responsibility for education in good citizenship. I believe in the old classical education. I believe in the study of the literatures and the natural sciences. But I do not think any college curriculum is complete that does not incorporate and the study, both theoretically and practically, of the ideas, the purposes and the methods of good citizenship.

I think that I can bring to Randolph Macon alumni and students no more serious message than this - that upon their Alma Mater, as upon mine, which was William and Mary, and upon the University of Virginia, and upon all the many educational institutions for which this State is famous, there rests this responsibility to inspire the young people with a passion for service to the State and to the Nation. It is not sufficient for Virginia to send to Congress and the United States Senate eminent individuals, but all the offices in the State from the highest to the lowest should be filled with people who understand that public office is a public trust.

And speaking of the colleges reminds me to say this - that the women’s colleges of Virginia are also very famous, and to them also the message applies. The women of Virginia during the Revolutionary War and during the Civil War were as patriotic, were as courageous, were as long-enduring as were the men. They understood public responsibility. Women by and large now should understand it, for we now have woman suffrage. And I note too much tendency not in Virginia merely but all over the country on the part of many women to neglect their opportunities and their obligations as voting, working, planning citizens. Even some of the women who worked hard to secure the suffrage see seem to feel that, having secured it, their work is done. They are resting on their oars. They are not particularly interested in educating women to a higher conception of citizenship, and, speaking in plain terms, in getting out the women vote on election day. That was a good thing President Coolidge said to the Daughters of the American Revolution recently when he urged them, irrespective of party, to exercise their right of franchise.

As the population becomes more dense and as the economic problems grow more intricate, there is more and more necessity of study of the duty of the individual to the state, and the state to the individual. This study has already been taken into the schools below the college grade, and there is, therefore, more demand upon the normal schools and the teachers’ training schools to produce a type of teacher who can inculcate in young minds the basic principles of citizenship. In the long run sound citizenship must be based upon sound education, and this education must be moral as well as intellectual, for after all, a fundamental quality of good citizenship is a sense of justice. This quality of justice, as well as the trained ability to think through his problems, distinguished President Wilson as a great citizen and a great administrator. At the root of Mr. Wilson’s thinking and action in behalf of his own country and in behalf of other countries was the great principle of justice. He was the most just man that I ever knew, - a man of strong feeling, ardent purpose and wide vision. But he never allowed passion and prejudice to run away with his sense of justice. Whether he was dealing with the question of pardoning a federal prisoner, or framing a federal banking act, or interpreting a treaty with a foreign nation, he was always a man of justice. Hence that calm exterior which he presented to the world. Only we who knew him well were aware of the volcanic fires that were seething beneath the poised and controlled surface. His iron will kept in subjection emotions that were powerful in order that he might deal even-handed justice to all men. Posterity will view him from many angles, for he was a complex man living and working amid complex conditions. But one aspect of him will certainly appeal to future generations. He was the defender of the weak against the strong because of his passion for justice. It was his aim, in the language of the Bible, to “execute judgment and justice in the earth”.

An American poet said that --“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime;
And departing leave behind us
Footsteps in the sands of time”.

That idea is not merely “poetical” - it is also practical. But, like many other golod old-fashioned practices, is less observed in these modern, critical, scientific times than ituused to be.

The foundation of the Christian Church was in large part based upon the study of the character of Christ. It was part of the education of a boy in ancient Greece to study the lives and characters and deeds of those who had made the history of Greece illustrous. During the early period of the history of our Nation, there was a similar study by American youths of American forefathers. Such education is based upon the soundest psychology, the ennobling effect of association with a great character. I can testify that eleven years of close companionship with one of the greatest men that ever lived taught me to think more highly and more widely than I used to think.

In this matter of citizenship I believe that the principle is most important. The study of a great citizen in concrete is of necessity to the study of the principles of citizenship. One way to become good citizens is to study and reflect upon the lives, the motives, the conduct of the greatest and best citizens. Virginia has given us some of these for emulation. We cannot all be as great as they were, but we can all strive to be as steadfast as they were in the purposes and pursuit of citizenship.

At Mount Vernon and at Mount Saint Albans are two tombs which are visited by multitudes every week, and will be places of visitation as long as the American Republic lasts. People will repair to each to do reverent homage to two American immortals, will recall their services to the United States and to the idea of republican government throughout the world. At the same time they will gather fresh inspiration for the virtues of steadfast and lofty citizenship, for among the greatest citizens of all the world are George Washington and Woodrow Wilson.




Grayson, Cary T. (Cary Travers), 1878-1938, “Randolph Macon College,” 1924 June 9, WWP16557, Cary T. Grayson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.