Carrie Chapman Catt

Address at Sixth Anniversary of the League of Nations - 1926

Carrie Chapman Catt
January 11, 1926— New York City
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January 11, 1926. 7 o’clock P.M.

Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt Presiding

The Rt. Rev. G. Ashton Oldham asked the blessing.

After dinner Mrs. Catt made a short address:

“We are gathered here tonight to celebrate the sixth birthday of a great idea transformed into a reality. It is impossible for us to give honor to the person who originated that idea because nobody knows who it was. I suppose that sometimes some of those explorers who are digging up the world all around us will find some relic of that departed and forgotten one, for the League of Nations was a dream in the minds of men for centuries but the world believed there was nothing practicable about it and it took the most terrible war in history to give mankind resolution to undertake to form a reality out of that fact, the greatest idea that history has ever known, the greatest event in the history of the world. We have today organized common sense and hope and faith to combat with the problem we know as war. I am wondering why we have not had a birthday before but in those years when about half of our people insisted there was no League and the other half admitted there was but would not be for long, we hesitated to send out invitations lest it might disappear before the party came off. We meet tonight with a great deal of confidence, do we not? Is there anyone who has not faith in it? Peace is an adventure in faith, and though I do not think it a demonstration of very much of an adventurer yet I may say for myself that my faith is such as to believe that the League of Nations is as dependable as the Rock of Gibraltar.

You know it is often said that history repeats itself. As a matter of fact history never does really repeat itself. What does happen is that when a drama seems to appear on the human stage and with different personalities who say precisely the same thing, why, we imagine history is repeating itself. And I have found what we are repeating tonight is a bit of American history of say 137 years ago – not very long ago – it might have been a time when your grandfather or great-grandfather were living – that here in this City of New York there met the first Congress under the Constitution. You remember that with all their great wisdom they made a mistake in the first effort of framing a Constitution and had to make a second. You will remember that ratification of that Constitution was a very painful process. They were unable to secure thirteen states without providing reservations in the form of promised amendments to the Constitution. There were many in all of the states who believed that that Constitution would never work. I might quote to you a speech that I once knew but have now forgotten, made by a man in the Legislature of South Carolina, the most eloquent of those in opposition to the Constitution, wherein he declared that the proudest moment of his life was when he had voted against this menace to American liberty, and he wished that it should be written upon his tombstone that he had voted against the Constitution; begged those who knew him to forget everything else about him and remember that one immortal greatness – that he had stood fast against the Constitution. When Congress met in New York under that Constitution, six men came on the date when called. One by one others straggled in, and they put their heads together and sent letters to all the other members who had been elected telling them to hurry up. At the end of a month they were able to call to order the first Congress and to elect a President. During that month wonderful things happened, and men who have descendants now whose names are equally familiar in American politics lost heart and actually said that they believed the new Constitution would be as great a failure as the one that had preceded it and that we never could have a working Government. Now these men who are the descendants of the weak-hearted ones of 137 years ago, so far as I have been able to trace them, are all men who believe that the Constitution of the United States is so sacred that it is untouchable, and therefore I dare make the prediction that if you give the Constitution of the League of Nations, knows as its Covenant, and today regarded with suspicion by many of our people, but 37 years – we will cut off the 100 – and those bearing the names of Lodge and Borah and Moses, etc. will be among the ones who will protest against any amendment to that Constitution presented on the part of people who will be bound to say that a Constitution 40 years old must be out of fashion; but we may rely upon the irreconcilables or their descendants to protest it.

Every new idea is attacked. It is ridiculed. When an idea is silly it is laughed out of sight. If it stands ridicule it proceeds to another stage. Have you not observed that if the stage of ridicule is passed the next stage is opposition and argument. We still have some of that but the other day I had a letter from a quite eminent man in the West, wherein he said, “Out here the whole question of peace is one we dodge”; and I said, “Thank God, the third stage is coming”; for when they cease to argue and begin to dodge, then we are almost there.

We have tonight one speaker and the story of the League of Nations in a picture. I scarcely need to introduce to you Dr. Shotwell because you all know him. He is a man who knows more than anyone else about a great many things, and I am always reminded of the quotation of “how could one small head contain all it does.” When Dr. Shotwell has completed his address then we are to have the picture.”

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