The Challenge of Newer Days


By WENDELL L. WILLKIE, Former Presidential Candidate

Delivered at Lincoln Day Dinner held in New York City, February 12, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 309-311.

I RECENTLY had the very stimulating privilege of spending a week-end with the man who I think is the greatest public figure in the world—Winston Churchill. With that gracious, complimentary hospitality for which he is famous, he proceeded into a discussion of the respective operations of the American constitutional system and the English constitutional system, in order to demonstrate that

under the English system, defeated candidates for high office remain connected with government, while under the American system they retire to private life.

An he was lamenting, as a complimentary gesture to me, the difference in the American system that required the retirement of Presidential candidates to other occupations.

I suggested to him as a loyal American, in defense of oursystem, that perhaps ours had the advantage because they had with them political figures always, while we had a convenient method of retiring them.

We meet here this evening as members of the Republican party, and people all over the country are meeting as members of the Republican party, to honor the name of Abraham Lincoln. And also citizens who are not members or active members of political parties are likewise paying their respects to that immortal figure.

Sees Need for Heroes

It's good for a nation to have its heroes. It's fine for the people of a nation to turn in reverence toward those heroes.

We in America have three distinguished political figures, three persons that instinctively everybody, every year, turns to.

Frequently in the last several years when I've had to visit Washington, as all people must these days, and when the smoke has gotten too thick, and the conversation too heavy at night, I've climbed into a cab and I've driven past the Washington Monument, and Lincoln's Memorial, and on out to Arlington to the tomb of Robert E. Lee.

These are the men, irrespective of politics, that all American hearts turn to as the three great figures of our public life. And the qualities that made of them the heroes of this country are as much a compliment to the people of this country as they are to the men themselves. And the three of them had one common quality. And that was the quality of magnanimity.

George Washington said that "without more tolerance for the views of others this nation cannot survive." And Robert E. Lee said: "Although I've fought the North because I thought it was seeking to take from us our most cherished right, I have never seen a night that I have not prayed for the people of the North." And Abraham Lincoln said: "With malice toward none, with charity for all."

Faith Is Strengthened

And so, as I say, a thousand times at least, I've gone by that tall shaft that pierces the sky, and that classic temple with the simple brooding figure of Lincoln contained in it, and on to the stately home of Robert E. Lee. I have caught a spiritual value and a real faith that the American people after all worship most, not partisanship, nor bitterness, nor vindictiveness in their public leaders, but love of mankind and magnanimity and tolerance and understanding.

Those men, and each of them also, had another faith and another belief. George Washington, without whose talent, without whose sacrifice, and without whose ability this nation could not have been created, struggled throughout his public career to bring the people into union.

And although Robert E. Lee, giving one of the finest minds and the utmost energy in the struggle for the political beliefs that he believed in, yet when the arbitrament of battle went against him, he settled down to a simple job, and preached to all who would listen to him that America must be united.

And Abraham Lincoln—his whole career was to build of these United States a united country.

Eighty years ago tonight Abraham Lincoln, on his way to be inaugurated as President, was traveling across my home State of Indiana to make a speech in Cincinnati.

He had lived in that State twenty-five years before as a boy. And I think we all can see him now, that simple soul, that great mind, that man who could love even those he fought, and knew how to fight without vindictiveness. We can see him now, the great brooding figure praying

somehow that through these difficult times a united America will arise that will save us in this world of turmoil.

Parties Born in Crises

The history of party government in the United States follows a fairly simple pattern. Parties in the United States are born in times of great crisis and struggle. Perhaps sometimes they're reborn in such periods. The first two political parties were the Federalists and the Democratic Party, or as it then was called, the Republican Party. And they grew out of the struggle and the necessary problems in connection with the establishment of our government.

And in a few years the Federalist party died and the Democratic party went on because the Federalist party became a party of negation, while the Democratic party, under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson, remained a positive party.

And then in the time of Andrew Jackson there arose the Whig party, a party of opposition, a party of negation, a party that offered no other program to Jackson's except that Jackson was wrong, and it existed for some twenty-five years and then a great moral issue arose in America. And because the Whig party found nothing in that issue except compromise, except the adoption of cliches, except the playing to local prejudices, it passed away.

And in its place in the struggle for freedom came the Republican party. We were founded to preserve freedom. That was the reason for our coming into being, and if we will but remember that we cannot fail. But if we become like the Whig party, merely the party of negation, merely the party of opposition, merely those who find fault and who in one of the critical moments of history find nothing nobler to do than compromise, this great party will pass from the scene.

And I am here to speak to you tonight to challenge you to a higher destiny than the destiny of compromise and negation and failure and death.

Miss Boothe has said it so well here tonight. The Democratic party in the struggle out of which the Republican party was born as the champion of freedom, the Democratic party was the champion of slavery, but at least it was a champion of something and it survived.

Here we are, at this moment, in this peaceful ballroom, untouched, happy, gay, buoyant, little troubled, and yet, within a distance that I recently traveled by a roundabout way within three days, bombs are dropping, destroying cities, lived in by free men, free men like us, and some men rise and say "That's no problem of ours. Let's preserve America alone."

Although he made some stops on the way, it took Abraham Lincoln eleven days to travel from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D. C, to be inaugurated President of the United States.

And it took George Washington, I believe, if my historical remembrance is correct, eight days to travel from Mount Vernon to New York to be inaugurated.

As I say, within the last two weeks, by a roundabout way, I traveled ten, twenty, thirty times as far as they went in three days, and thus the world has collapsed in size.

I doubt if in the history of parties any party had such a golden opportunity as presents itself to the Republican party tonight.

Where is the Republican that's not enamoured of it? Where is the Republican that doesn't want to meet the challenge of this newer day?

Finds Opportunity Great

If the Republican party now tonight, and tomorrow, and the next day begins to preach a positive doctrine, if we begin to say that here are free men like ourselves struggling to preserve themselves; here is a war that will determine the course of American history; here is a war the outcome of which will determine whether or not the standard of living of every man in the world will be raised or lowered; here is an international situation that by reason of its very chaos offers the opportunity to America for world leadership, then there can follow this war not alone an economic system in America but an economic system throughout the world that will offer to all men a fuller life than has ever been known or ever can be achieved within the narrow limits of any nation.

It's always true in times of trouble that real opportunities come. Just as a party cannot live in negation so a system or an ideology cannot live in negation. Look back across the pages of history. Any ideology, any belief, any religion, any system of government or of life that begins to contract and to narrow itself begins to die.

Here is the democratic way of life and men say—I hear them argue it seriously—that it can die in Belgium, in Holland, in Norway, in France, it can even die in England and still we can preserve it in America. If we can, we render false all the pages of history.

And yet we have the opportunity. If we but adequately and immediately give to those fighting men of Britain merely the equipment with which they can win we can make of democracy not a dying doctrine but an expanding doctrine, and we can be the arbitrators, we can be the dictators, we can be the ones who determine that there shall be a peace where all men will have the right to live under freedom and not under slavery.

Attacks New Deal

There is a party in power, a party not the Democraticparty—the New Deal party, without faith in people because its idea of winning elections and controlling votes is by the method of government pressures and expenditures. We have a party in power that does not understand the basic functioning of the free enterprise system; we have a party in power, although today it has at last grasped the meaning of the international situation, yet no later than 1933 or 1934 dumped the London Economic Conference that might have saved all of this chaos of war and confusion and death and bombing.

Here lies our opportunity. We know how the free enterprise system operates. We know that if it's permitted to function it can create for all men more than any man has heretofore known of those who must work. Here we are. We know what the international situation is. We know the necessities of a program to save those fighting men. People of the Republican party, I give to you this challenge in the year 1941: Have we the vision, have we the ability, have we the leadership to take America down this glorious path that's offered to us? I have no doubt that we have.

I remember when I was serving in the previous war. I was in the Field Artillery and there was a boy in my battery who was transferred to the infantry. We had a sergeant in my battery who was what we call hard-boiled, and his way of training the men was to keep shouting at them as they failed in their drills: "Have you got it in you! Have you got it in you!"

And this boy in my battery who was transferred to the infantry was trained under that sergeant. And after he was transferred to the infantry he was sent out on a wire-cutting expedition in No Man's Land. As he got part way out he began to lose his nerve and then he could hear as though it was whispered on the voice of the wind, "Have you got it in you! Have you got it in you!" and he went on and today he's the proud wearer of the Croix de Guerre.

Republicans of 1941, have you got it in you? Thank you very much.