"I thank you, Mr. Chairman; I thank you, gentlemen—all of you—for your too generous and amiable welcome. I esteem it a great privilege to meet so many representatives of an estate which, more than any other, at this hour controls the world. It is my daily duty in Washington to confer with the able and distinguished representatives of civilized sovereigns and states. But we are all aware that the days of personal government are gone forever; that behind us, and behind the rulers we represent, there stands the vast, irresistible power of public opinion, which in the last resort must decide all the questions we discuss, and whose judgment is final. In your persons I greet the organs and exponents of that tremendous power with all the respect which is due to you and your constituency, deeply sensible of the honor which has been done me in making me the mouthpiece of the sentiment of appreciation and regard with which the nation welcomes you to this great festival of peace and of progress.
It is possible—if you will pardon a personal word from me—that the circumstances of my life may have commended me to the notice of President Francis, and may have led him to invite me here to-night to take part in this occasion in the dual capacity of host and guest. My years of newspaper work might entitle me to a modest place in your membership, while the valley of the mighty river which rolls by the wharves of St. Louis can never be considered by me otherwise than as my home. The years of my boyhood were passed on the banks of the Mississippi, and the great river was the scene of my early dreams. The boys of my day led an amphibious life in and near its waters in the Sumner time, and in the winter its dazzling ice bridge, of incomparable beauty and purity, was our favorite playground; while our imaginations were busy with the glamour and charm of the distant cities of the South, with their alluring French names and their legends of stirring adventure and pictures of perpetual summer. It was a land of faery, alien to us in all but a sense of common ownership and patriotic pride. We built snow forts and called them the Alamo; we sang rude songs of the canebrake and the cornfield; and the happiest days of the year to us who dwelt on the northern bluffs of the river were those that brought us, in the loud puffing and whistling steamers of the olden time, to the Mecca of our rural fancies, the bright and busy metropolis of St. Louis.
The historical value of the Mississippi is not less than its geographical and natural importance. Its course through the pages of our country's story is as significant as the tremendous sweep of its waters from the crystal lakes which sleep beneath the northern stars to the placid expanse of the Gulf of Mexico. Its navigation was a prize fiercely contended for by every chancellery of western Europe. Many suitors have looked upon it since that gallant Prince Charming, Hernando de Soto, parted the curtains of its repose, and all have found it fair. It aroused equally the interest of the Briton, the I berian, and the Gaul. When by virtue of one of the strangest caprices of the great game of diplomacy ever known it became our cherished possession, it gave rise to the fiercest political contests, the most far-reaching combinations. When the accumulated passions and purposes of a hundred years at last burst forth in a tempest of war, it became the center of a world's breathless interest and was flooded with the fatal and terrible light which plays about the battlefields of fame and "shines in the sudden making of splendid names." So long as its waters roll to the sea, so long will the world remember the high resolution with which Grant and Sherman hewed their way southward and the chivalrous courage with which Johnston and Pemberton opposed them. So immense is the value of that silver bar that binds together the framework of the wedded States.
We celebrate this year, with the generous assistance of a friendly world, the most important event in the history of this great valley, an event which in far-reaching and lasting results is surpassed by few in the life of the nation. It is perhaps true that to the philosophic mind all periods are critical— that every hour is the end of an era and the beginning of a new order of ages. But to us ordinary observers there occurs from time to time crises in history when the line of cleavage between the old and the new is clear and distinct, where the aloe blooms, where the avalanche leaves the mountain top, where the leisurely march of events is quickened to the dynamic rush of irresistible destiny. The transfer of this imperial domain from European to American control was one of those transactions which render the period of their accomplishment memorable for all time. In no other act did the men who made the Revolution—"men," as Lowell called them, "with empires in their brains"—more clearly show their marvelous prophetic insight. The United States was, in 1803, a feeble folk, with hardly enough population to occupy the long Atlantic seacoast; with the great spaces of the Middle West scarcely yet picketed by adventurous pioneers; with imperfect means of defense against a world which still looked askance at the half-known upstart which might prove dangerous hereafter; with the heavy cares incident to the building of a new nation upon yet untried foundations. But weighty as were their responsibilities they did not hesitate to assume others weightier still. To an undeveloped empire they seized the occasion to add another still wilder and more remote. To their half-finished task they undauntedly superimposed another full of exacting and perilous possibilities. In their robust faith in the future—their fearless confidence in the force of the new democracy—difficulties were not considered and the impossible did not exist. To men of that strain, in an enterprise which promised usefulness and glory, toil and danger were only irresistible attractions.
While we should give due credit to the individual instrumentalities by which this great transaction was brought about, we should not forget the overwhelming influence exerted by the unseen Director of the Drama. Whether we call it the spirit of the age, or historic necessity, or the balance of power, or whether we reverently recognize in the matter the hand of that Providence which watched over our infancy as a people, we can not but admit that the acquisition of this vast territory was, in one way or another, sure to come. A wise diplomacy hastened it; a timid conservatism might have delayed it; but it was written in our horoscope. The surest proof of this lies in the eminent personalities by whom the purchase and sale were made. Jefferson was the last man in America of whom we could have expected this departure on the field of illimitable expansion, and Napoleon was, of all the sovereigns of Europe, the least likely to give up so vast an extent of empire.
One of the most brilliant and tenacious dreams of Bonaparte was to establish on the right bank of the Mississippi a Latin empire reaching from the Gulf to the Pacific Ocean, extending in future ages the glories of France to the sunset seas. The principle dearest to the heart of Jefferson was that of a strict construction of the Constitution, which in his view forbade the exercise by the General Government of anything but expressly delegated powers. It would have seemed like a contradiction in terms to expect either of these statesmen to agree upon a proposition which radically contravened the inmost convictions of each of them. But the nature of things was more powerful than either a Bonaparte or a Jefferson. No human influence could have controlled either of them, but the stars in their courses were still stronger, and they gladly obeyed the mandate of fate, which was in each case the mandate of an enlightened patriotism. France, divesting herself of this rich encumbrance, was the better fitted for the supreme gladiatorial effort that awaited her, and Jefferson gained an immortal fame by preferring an immense benefit to his country to consistency in a narrow construction of the written law.
No man, no party, can fight with any chance of final success against a cosmic tendency; no cleverness, no popularity, avails against the spirit of the age. In obeying that invincible tendency, against all his political convictions, Jefferson secured a conspicuous place in history; while the Federalist politicians who should have welcomed this signal illustration and proof of the truth of their theory of the power of the Government they had framed, through the influence of party spirit faltered in their faith and brought upon their party a lasting eclipse through their failure to discern the signs of the times. President Roosevelt, in the memorable address with which he dedicated last year this exhibition, used, in relation to this subject, these striking words:
"As is so often the case in nature, the law of development of a living organism showed itself in its actual workings to be wiser than the wisdom of the wisest."
A glance at the map of Europe gives an idea of the vastness of this acquisition. It covers a space greater than that occupied by France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, and Portugal; it overlaps the familiar world of history and literature. In its ample field grew up fourteen of our Commonwealths; a taxable wealth of seven thousand millions of dollars accumulated there and a population of sixteen million souls have there found their home, drawn not only from our elder communities, but from the teeming hives of humanity—the officinae gentium—in every land beneath the quickening sun,
But more important than the immense material increase in the extent and resources of the new Republic was this establishment of the principle, thus early in its career, that it was to assume no inferior position to other nations in its power to acquire territory, to extend its influence—in short, to do all that any independent, self-respecting power might do which was in accord with public morals, conducive to the general welfare, and not prohibited by the Constitution. Though the Federalists failed to embrace this great opportunity and thereby brought upon their party an Iliad of woes, the precedent had been set for all time for their successors. The nation had outgrown its swaddling clothes. Even the most impassioned advocates of strict construction felt this time that it was the letter that killeth and the spirit that giveth life. The nation moved on its imperial course. The new chart and compass were in our hands. The national principle once established, other things were naturally added unto us. Lewis and Clarke, following and illustrating the great law of westerly migration, pushed through the wilderness and planted our banners by the shores of the Peaceful Sea. In the process of years Texas and the wide expanse of New Mexico came to us, and California, bringing a dower of the countless riches that for unknown ages had veined her hills. Even the shores of the ocean could not long check the Eagle in his marvelous flight. The isles of the uttermost seas became his stepping-stones.
This, gentlemen, is the lesson which we are called to contemplate amid the courts and the palaces of this universal exhibition : that when a nation exists, founded in righteousness and justice, whose object and purposes are the welfare of humanity, the things which make for its growth and the increase of its power, so long as it is true to its ideals, are sure to come to pass, no matter what political theories or individual sentiments stand in the way. The common good will ultimately prevail, though it "mock the counsels of the wise and the valor of the brave." I know what snares may lie in this idea—how it may serve as the cry of demagogues and the pretext for despots. Woe be unto the nation which misuses it! but shame and disaster is also the portion of those who fear to follow its luminous beaconing.
From every part of the world you have gathered to share in this secular festival of historic memories. You represent not only the world-wide community of intelligence, but the wonderful growth in these modern days of universal sympathy and good will— what our poet Bayard Taylor, speaking on a similar occasion in Vienna and adding, I believe, a new word to the German language, called Weltgemuethlichkeit. Of all the phenomena of the last hundred years there is none more wonderful than that increase of mutual knowledge which has led inevitably to a corresponding increase in mutual toleration and esteem. The credit of this great advance in civilization belongs to the press of the world. It is true that it is the modest boast of modern diplomacy that its office is the removal of misunderstandings, that so far as intentions go its ways are pleasantness and its paths are peace; but how slight are the results that the best-intentioned diplomat can attain in this direction, compared with the illuminating blaze of light which the press each morning radiates on the universe. We can not claim that the light is all of one color, nor that there are not many angles of refraction; but, from this endless variety of opinion and assertion, truth at last emerges, and every day adds something to the world's knowledge of itself. There is a wise French proverb, "to understand is to pardon," and every step of progress which the peoples of the earth make in their comprehension of each other's conditions and motives is a step forward in the march to the goal desired by men and angels, of universal peace and brotherhood.
Upon none of the arts or professions has the tremendous acceleration of progress in recent years had more effect than upon that of which you are the representatives. We easily grow used to miracles; it will seem a mere commonplace when I say that all the wonders of the magicians invented by those ingenious oriental poets who wrote the Arabian Nights pale before the stupendous facts which you handle in your daily lives. The air has scarcely ceased to vibrate with the utterances of kings and rulers in the older realms when their words are read in the streets of St. Louis and on the farms of Nebraska. The telegraph is too quick for the calendar; you may read in your evening paper a dispatch from the antipodes with a date of the following day. The details of a battle on the shores of the Hermit Kingdom—a land which a few years ago was hidden in the mists of legend—are printed and commented on before the blood of the wounded has ceased to flow. Almost before the smoke of the conflict has lifted we read the obituaries of the unsepultured dead. And not only do you record with the swiftness of thought these incidents of war and violence, but the daily victories of truth over error, of light over darkness; the spread of commerce in distant seas, the inventions of industry, the discoveries of science, are all placed instantly within the knowledge of millions. The seeds of thought, perfected in one climate, blossom and fructify under every sky, in every nationality which the sun visits. With these miraculous facilities, with this unlimited power, comes also an enormous responsibility in the face of God and man. I am not here to preach to you a gospel whose lessons are known to you far better than to me. I am not calling sinners to repentance, but I am following a good tradition in stirring up the pure minds of the righteous by way of remembrance. It is well for us to reflect on the vast import, the endless chain of results, of that globe-encircling speech you address each day to the world. Your winged words have no fixed flight; like the lightning, they traverse the ether according to laws of their own. They light in every clime; they influence a thousand different varieties of minds and manners. How vastly important is it, then, that the sentiments they convey should be those of good will rather than of malevolence, those of national concord rather than of prejudice, those of peace rather than of hostility. The temptation to the contrary is almost irresistible. I acknowledge with contrition how often I have fallen by the way. It is far more amusing to attack than to defend, to excite than to soothe. But the highest victory of great power is that of self-restraint, and it would be a beneficent result of this memorable meeting, this ecumenical council of the press, if it taught us all— the brethren of this mighty priesthood—that mutual knowledge of each other which should modify prejudices, restrain acerbity of thought and expression, and tend in some degree to bring in that blessed time—
When light shall spread and man be liter man
Through all the season of the Golden Year.
What better school was ever seen in which to learn the lesson of mutual esteem and forbearance than this great exposition? The nations of the earth are met here in friendly competition. The first thing that strikes the visitor is the infinite diversity of thought and effort which characterizes the several exhibits; but a closer study every day reveals a resemblance of mind and purpose more marvelous still. Integrity, industry, the intelligent adaptation of means to ends, are everywhere the indispensable conditions of success. Honest work, honest dealing, these qualities mark the winner in every part of the world. The artist, the poet, the artisan, and the statesman, they everywhere stand or fall through the lack or the possession of similar qualities. How shall one people hate or despise another when we have seen how like us they are in most respects, and how superior they are in some! Why should we not revert to the ancient wisdom which regarded nothing human as alien, and to the words of Holy Writ which remind us that the Almighty has made all men brethren?
In the name of the President—writer, soldier, and statesman, eminent in all three professions and in all equally an advocate of justice, peace, and good will—I bid you a cordial welcome, with the prayer that this meeting of the representatives of the world's intelligence may be fruitful in advantage to the press of all nations and may bring us somewhat nearer to the dawn of the day of peace on earth and good will among men. Let us remember that we are met to celebrate the transfer of a vast empire from one nation to another without the firing of a shot, without the shedding of one drop of blood. If the press of the world would adopt and persist in the high resolve that war should be no more, the clangor of arms would cease from the rising of the sun to its going down, and we could fancy that at last our ears, no longer stunned by the din of armies, might hear the morning stars singing together and all the sons of God shouting for joy."