It warms my heart that you should give me such a reception, but it is
not of myself that I wish to think to-night, but of those who have just
become citizens of the United States. This is the only country in the
world which experiences this constant and repeated rebirth. Other
countries depend upon the multiplication of their own native people.
This country is constantly drinking strength out of new sources by the
voluntary association with it of great bodies of strong men and
forward-looking women. And so by the gift of the free will of
independent people it is constantly being renewed from generation to
generation by the same process by which it was originally created. It is
as if humanity had determined to see to it that this great nation,
founded for the benefit of humanity, should not lack for the allegiance
of the people of the world.
You have just taken an oath of allegiance to the United States.
Of allegiance to whom? Of allegiance to no one, unless it be God.
Certainly not of allegiance to those who temporarily represent this
great Government. You have taken an oath of allegiance to a great ideal,
to a great body of principles, to a great hope of the human race. You
have said, "We are going to America," not only to earn a living, not
only to seek the things which it was more difficult to obtain where you
were born, but to help forward the great enterprises of the human spirit
- to let man know that everywhere in the world there are men who will
cross strange oceans and go where a speech is spoken which is alien to
them, knowing that, whatever the speech, there is but one longing and
utterance of the human heart, and that is for liberty and justice.
And while you bring all countries with you, you come with a
purpose of leaving all other countries behind you - bringing what is
best of their spirit, but not looking over your shoulders and seeking to
perpetuate what you intended to leave in them. I certainly would not be
one even to suggest that a man ceases to love the home of his birth and
the nation of his origin - these things are very sacred and ought not to
be put out of our hearts - but it is one thing to love the place where
you were born and it is another thing to dedicate yourself to the place
to which you go. You cannot dedicate yourself to America unless you
become in every respect and with every purpose of your will thorough
Americans. You cannot become thorough Americans if you think of
yourselves in groups. America does not consist of groups. A man who
thinks of himself as belonging to a particular national group in
America, has not yet become an American, and the man who goes among you
to trade upon your nationality is no worthy son to live under the Stars
My urgent advice to you would be not only always to think first
of America, but always, also, to think first of humanity. You do not
love humanity if you seek to divide humanity into jealous camps.
Humanity can be welded together only by love, by sympathy, by justice,
not by jealousy and hatred. I am sorry for the man who seeks to make
personal capital out of the passions of his fellow men. He has lost the
touch and ideal of America, for America was created to unite mankind by
those passions which lift and not by the passions which separate and
We came to America, either ourselves or in the persons of our
ancestors, to better the ideals of men, to make them see finer things
than they had seen before, to get rid of things that divide, and to make
sure of the things that unite. It was but an historical accident no
doubt that this great country was called the "United States," and yet I
am very thankful that it has the word "united" in its title; and the man
who seeks to divide man from man, group from group, interest from
interest, in the United States is striking at its very heart.
It is a very interesting circumstance to me, in thinking of those
of you who have just sworn allegiance to this great Government, that you
were drawn across the ocean by some beckoning finger of hope, by some
belief, by some vision of a new kind of justice, by some expectation of
a better kind of life.
No doubt you have been disappointed in some of us; some of us are
very disappointing. No doubt you have found that justice in the United
States goes only with a pure heart and a right purpose, as it does
everywhere else in the world. No doubt what you found here didn't seem
touched for you, after all, with the complete beauty of the ideal which
you had conceived beforehand.
But remember this, if we had grown at all poor in the ideal, you
brought some of it with you. A man does not go out to seek the thing
that is not in him. A man does not hope for the thing that he does not
believe in; and if some of us have forgotten what America believed in,
you, at any rate, imported in your own hearts a renewal of the belief.
That is the reason that I, for one, make you welcome.
If I have in any degree forgotten what America was intended for,
I will thank God if you will remind me.
I was born in America. You dreamed dreams of what America was to
be, and I hope you brought the dreams with you. No man that does not see
visions will ever realize any high hope or undertake any high
Just because you brought dreams with you, America is more likely
to realize the dreams such as you brought. You are enriching us if you
came expecting us to be better than we are.
See, my friends, what that means. It means that America must have
a consciousness different from the consciousness of every other nation
in the world. I am not saying this with even the slightest thought of
criticism of other nations. You know how it is with a family. A family
gets centered on itself if it is not careful and is less interested in
the neighbors than it is in its own members.
So a nation that is not constantly renewed out of new sources is
apt to have the narrowness and prejudice of a family. Whereas, America
must have this consciousness, that on all sides it touches elbows and
touches hearts with all the nations of mankind.
The example of America must be a special example. The example of
America must be the example not merely of peace because it will not
fight, but of peace because peace is the healing and elevating influence
of the world and strife is not.
There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is
such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to
convince others by force that it is right.
So, if you come into this great nation as you have come,
voluntarily seeking something that we have to give, all that we have to
give is this: We cannot exempt you from work. No man is exempt from work
anywhere in the world. I sometimes think he is fortunate if he has to
work only with his hands and not with his head. It is very easy to do
what other people give you to do, but it is very difficult to give other
people things to do. We cannot exempt you from work; we cannot exempt
you from the strife and the heartbreaking burden of the struggle of the
day - that is common to mankind everywhere. We cannot exempt you from
the loads you must carry; we can only make them light by the spirit in
which they are carried. That is the spirit of hope, it is the spirit of
liberty, it is the spirit of justice.
When I was asked, therefore, by the Mayor and the committee that
accompanied him to come up from Washington to meet this great company of
newly admitted citizens I could not decline the invitation. I ought not
to be away from Washington, and yet I feel that it has renewed my spirit
as an American.
In Washington men tell you so many things every day that are not
so, and I like to come and stand in the presence of a great body of my
fellow-citizens, whether they have been my fellow-citizens a long time
or a short time, and drink, as it were, out of the common fountains with
them and go back feeling that you have so generously given me the sense
of your support and of the living vitality in your hearts, of its great
ideals which made America the hope of the world.
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