The Worlds Famous Orations. Continental Europe (3801906). 1906.
France and the United States
Paul Henri Benjamin, Baron dEstournelles de Constant (18521924)
Born in 1852; Chargé dAffaires in Tunis, Montenegro and Holland; first elected to the French Chamber in 1895; represented France at the Court of the Hague in 1899; a Minister Plenipotentiary of France of the first class.
BETWEEN1 France and America immense material progresses have been attained. It seemed once that a deep, bottomless gulf, an abyss, was separating for ever our two continents. Now thousands of bonds unite one to the other; the obstacles which separated them disappear. The ocean, daily traversed by steamers as big as floating hotels, as thick as cars on a tramway line, has been converted into a great roadway and is destined to become soon a crowded avenue. Distance has been annihilated. One thing still remains between our countries: ignorance. That is the veritable abyss, the ocean that has to be effaced. We do not know America. You do not know France. We see you through the mists of our prejudices. You believe we are very old. We believe you are very young. We are both wrong.
For centuries past, long before the Hundred Years War, France has passed from crisis to crisis, each one so terrible that it threatened to be the last. During the religious wars, after the death of Louis XIV., after the death of Louis XV., before and after the first empire, before and after the second empire, prophets of evil have invariably despaired of her, and yet they all proved wrong. Every time she resurrected, young, elastic, living, eager to be useful. To be useful, that is her admirable tho ungrateful mission. France is the country of peculiar fruits; her soil, her climate, her unique geographical situation, the originality of her national character and her combination of enthusiasm and reflection make her a land of predilection; nature has blessed her. But in exchange for her advantages, she has great duties to accomplish; she has to contribute a large share to the development of universal progress in every shape. That is the mission which seems to superficial persons to keep her in a state of perpetual agitation. In fact, she is aglow with vitality; what seems to be convulsions are but her labor pains, and in the agony of her conflicts between caution and enthusiasm, the generous ideas which torment her triumph with so much the more expansion. France is open to ideas: she loves them, she discusses them, she fights for them; she experiments with them; she conceives or she harbors them, whether they be the noble thoughts that inspired the great Revolution, whether they be practical inventions of science and industry.
No, France is not old; all that she needs is self-confidence. Come to visit her; you will render her the most important service by revealing to herself the resources she has not yet developed. Come all of you, not to Paris only, but to the towns of our provincesfrom the ocean beaches to the shore of the Mediterranean, from the Alps to the Pyrenees, from Brittany to Provence, from Touraine to Dauphine; regions which are already rich, not only in incomparable memories of the pastmuseums, castles, cathedralsbut in promises and hope. Come, you will be received fraternally, with open arms; you will see that France, far from being a country coming to an end, opens, on the contrary, to the future; veritable garden of Europe; holiday country, nursery of ideas and of inventions; land of rest and labor; an oasis where every man in the world who works ought, some day or another, to come to renew his activity. Come and bring back some of us with you to your own land. We have moved far, to-day, from the times of Christopher Columbus; and it is here in Chicago, of all places, that one feels this most.
America, during the last fifty years, seems to have been metamorphosed as by the touch of a magicians wand. Fifty years ago Europe flattered herself that she had discovered America. To-day she may continue to flatter herself, but her self-satisfaction is not unmixed with alarm. She is proud of her discovery of America, but she is alarmed at American discoveries. Fifty years ago you were her customers; to-day you have become her competitors. You have increased your production, both industrial and agricultural, in a few years, to such a point that our European markets are crowded with your merchandise, harvests, fruits, butters, tools, machinery, engines. You have grown so alarmingly quick, during these last fifty years, that it seems to me you are not so very young as we think.
Your marvelous progress, however, ought to surprise no one; for we say in France: Good blood can not lie, and you have the best blood in Europe. Ignorant people call you Anglo-Saxons, but you protest; you know well that in your veins flows the blood of the most energetic and enterprising sons of the Old World. No doubt you have English blood, but the English themselves admit that the purest and the best of their blood is Norman. You have the blood of Hollandthe name of your President Roosevelt is Dutch; you have the blood of Germany, of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, but how much more you have of the blood of France. With what emotion I find everywhere among you the living trace of our fathers; from the South to the North, from New Orleans to St. Louis; yes, as far north as the State of Maine, which reminds me of my own natal province that I represent in the Parliament of Paris, as your Maine is represented in Congress at Washington.
We are of the same family; the only difference between us is that you made the journey here before me and in a time less refined which prepared you, by a merciless selection, to the great and universal struggle of life. So we may look at your progresses without alarm, for in you we find ourselves. Your progresses may perhaps alarm Europe, but not France, guaranteed as we are by the inimitable specialty of our production; there is no real competition possible between France and the United States; and it is Europe, not France, that may be threatened by American competition. And yet this need not be an economic evil, it might become a positive good; for your progress will oblige European nations to abandon their old-fashioned ideas. their red tape, their sterile antagonisms, in order to keep to the level of your economical development, or to find themselves distanced in the race, and thus the fear of American competition may be the beginning of European wisdom. You will have rendered an inestimable service to humanity if that so-called American peril may be transformed into the American cure. You will not confine yourself to selling your goods to Europe; you will give us your examples, the example of your energy and of your wisdom.
We understand that so well in France that we send you more and more frequently delegates to study your science, your industry, your agriculture, and we are trying, just now, to found a French school or something of that kind in America. Why not? We have French schools in Italy, in Greece, in Egypt, where the elite of our youth studies the past; why should we not have in America similar schools looking forward to the future?
It is a true saying that a good deed is never lost. We helped you, of old, in the conquest of liberty, but you, in revenge, have taught us how it can be preserved. You have given us a type of the modern hero, whom I have come from so far to celebrate here to-dayWashington, your Chevalier sans peur et sans reproche. Washington put his sword to the noblest use by fighting for your independence, but this independence, once assured, he respected. His victories have made him great, but he is greater still by his renunciation. Once his cause triumphant, he aimed not at power, but at retirement. Power weighed heavily upon him; he used it for the safety of the Republic, not, as so many others, for its destruction. Admirable example to those, countries where conquerors of another type have sought, not to secure liberty, but to defeat it; admirable example to offer to the world, a hero who was in turn a conqueror and liberator, and who crowned Glory with Peace.
He did not destroy; he created. You are his handiwork. Let us unite, gentlemen, to honor his memory. Let us unite without distinction, French, Americans, all civilized nations. Washington is too great to belong to one nation only. He has served his country well, but he also served humanity. Humanity claims him, and just as you faithfully bring up your children to respect his French companions, Lafayette and Rochambeau, so we, also, teach ourselves, that the life of Washington is the most beautiful of which a good citizen can dream. And there springs up a new tradition, and this tradition, worthy of the new times upon the threshold of which we stand, arouses, in its turn, new ambitions, for the influence of great men survives them.
It is this influence that animated your representatives at the Congress of The Hague. Those who judge of things by appearances, the impatients, the restless, who want an oak to grow as fast as a blade of grass, are astonished that the conference at The Hague has not yet produced results. The present time is too near to permit of our judging of its work. No one flatters himself that war can be rendered impossible, but a great change has taken place, and this change marks the opening of a new era in the world.
All the civilized powers have officially recognized the necessity of instituting an international tribunal. A court of arbitration has been created. The governments, it is true, are extremely slow in appealing to it, but public opinion, little by little enlightened as to its duties and its interests, will soon knock itself at her doors, and it is we, Americans and French, who will lead opinion along this way.
Our Washington, our Lafayette, must never cease to be our guides; their voice bids us still to follow their flag, still to continue their work; let us harken to them. We are friends, but it is not enough to be friends; let us also be fellow soldiers. They gave to their descendants Liberty; we must give Peace to ours.