National Geographic Magazine/Volume 31/Number 4/Our Heritage of Liberty

Our Heritage of LibertyEdit

By René Viviani, President of the French Commission to the United States

An address before the United States Senate, May 1, 1917

Mr. President and Senators:

Since I have been granted the supreme honor of speaking before the representatives of the American people, may I ask them first to allow me to thank this magnificent Capital for the welcome it has accorded us? Accustomed as we are in our own free land to popular manifestations, and though we had been warned by your fellow-countrymen who live in Paris of the enthusiasm burning in your hearts, we are still full of the emotion raised by the sights that awaited us.

I shall never cease to see the proud and stalwart men who saluted our passage; your women, whose grace adds fresh beauty to your city, their arms outstretched, full of flowers; and your children hurrying to meet us as if our coming were looked upon as a lesson for them—all with one accord acclaiming in our perishable persons immortal France.

And I predict there will be a yet grander manifestation on the day when your illustrious President, relieved from the burden of power, will come among us bearing the salute of the Republic of the United States to a free Europe, whose foundations from end to end shall be based on right.

It is with unspeakable emotion that we crossed the threshold of this legislative palace, where prudence and boldness meet, and that I for the first time in the annals of America, though a foreigner, speak in this hall which only a few days since resounded with the words of virile force.

A magnificent example for all democraciesEdit

You have set all the democracies of the world the most magnificent example. So soon as the common peril was made manifest to you, with simplicity and within a few short days you voted a formidable war credit and proclaimed that a formidable army was to be raised. President Wilson's commentary on his acts, which you made yours, remains in the history of free peoples the weightiest of lessons.

Doubtless you were resolved to avenge the insults offered your flag, which the whole world respected; doubtless through the thickness of these massive walls the mournful cry of all the victims that criminal hands hurled into the depths of the sea has reached and stirred your souls; but it will be your honor in history that you also heard the cry of humanity and invoked against autocracy the right of democracies.

And I can only wonder as I speak what, if they still have any power to think, are the thoughts of the autocrats who three years ago against us, three months ago against you, unchained this conflict.

Ah! doubtless they said among themselves that a democracy is an ideal government; that it showers reforms on mankind; that it can in the domain of labor quicken all economic activities. And yet now we see the French Republic fighting in defense of its territory and the liberty of nations and opposing to the avalanche let loose by Prussian militarism the union of all its children, who are still capable of striking many a weighty blow.

And now we see EngIand, far removed like you from conscription, who has also, by virtue of a discipline all accept, raised from her soil millions of fighting men. And we see other nations accomplishing the same act; and that liberty not only inflames all hearts, but coördinates and brings into being all needed efforts.

And now we see all America rise and sharpen her weapons in the midst of peace for the common struggle.

Organizing the federation of the worldEdit

Together we will carry on that struggle, and when by force we have at last imposed military victory our labors will not be concluded. Our task will be—I quote the noble words of President Wilson—to organize the society of nations.

I well know that our enemies, who have never seen before them anything but horizons of carnage, will never cease to jeer at so noble a design. Such has always been the fate of great ideas at their birth; and if thinkers and men of action had allowed themselves to be discouraged by skeptics, mankind would still be in its infancy and we should still be slaves. After material victory we will win this moral victory.

We will shatter the ponderous sword of militarism; we will establish guaranties for peace; and then we can disappear from the world's stage, since we shall leave at the cost of our common immolation the noblest heritage future generations can possess.

Source: René Viviani (April 1917), “Our Heritage of Liberty”, The National Geographic Magazine 31(4): 365–367.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1925, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.