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Warren Harding Wartime Address Highlights: 7 Quotes from Speech

By    |   Thursday, 21 May 2015 04:51 PM

Warren Harding presided not over a nation at war but a nation recovering from one. In speeches as a candidate and as president, the newspaperman from Ohio sought to leave wartime with his famous “return to normalcy” and a backing off from a postwar arms race.

Here are excerpts from his speeches on the subject:

1. As a senator in 1920 with an eye on the White House, Harding called for a return to “normalcy” in a 1920 speech in Boston. “Let’s get out of the fevered delirium of war, with the hallucination that all the money in the world is to be made in the madness of war and the wildness of its aftermath. Let us stop to consider that tranquility at home is more precious than peace abroad, and that both our good fortune and our eminence are dependent on the normal forward stride of all the American people.” – Boston, Massachusetts, May 14, 1920

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2. In his inaugural address, President Harding sounded the note of hope after the devastation of World War I: “When one surveys the world about him after the great storm, noting the marks of destruction and yet rejoicing in the ruggedness of the things which withstood it, if he is an American he breathes the clarified atmosphere with a strange mingling of regret and new hope.” – Inaugural address, March 4, 1921.

3. Later in the address, he cautioned against both isolation and being drawn into future conflict. “Our eyes never will be blind to a developing menace, our ears never deaf to the call of civilization. We recognize the new order in the world, with the closer contacts which progress has wrought. But America ... can enter into no political commitments, nor assume any economic obligations which will subject our decisions to any other than our own authority.”

4. And in that speech, he also averred that a free people were the best at fighting a war when necessary, and recovering from one. “Perhaps we can make no more helpful contribution by example than prove a Republic's capacity to emerge from the wreckage of war. ... while it uncovered our portion of hateful selfishness at home, it also revealed the heart of America as sound and fearless, and beating in confidence unfailing.”

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5. Speaking at a ceremony in Hoboken, New Jersey to mark the arrival for burial of more than 5.000 bodies of U.S. military men who died in World War I, Harding mused on the then-unprecedented scale of the conflict. “Many sons and daughters made the sublime offering and went to hallowed graves as the Nation’s defenders. But we never before sent so many to battle under the flag in foreign land, never before was there the impressive spectacle of thousands of dead returned to find eternal resting place in the beloved homeland. The incident is without parallel in history that I know.” – Speech at Hoboken, May 23, 1921, quoted by The Miller Center.

6. Later in the Hoboken speech, Harding mulled on the worthiness and necessity of fighting: “I would not wish a Nation for which men are not willing to fight and, if need be, to die, but I do wish for a nation where it is not necessary to ask that sacrifice. I do not pretend that millennial days have come, but I can believe in the possibility of a Nation being so righteous as never to make a war of conquest and a Nation so powerful in righteousness that none will dare invoke her wrath. I wish for us such an America.”

7. Welcoming international delegates to the Washington Conference
on arms limits in 1921, Harding called for mutual reduction of arms without loss of sovereign rights: “I can speak officially only for our United States. Our hundred millions frankly want less of armament and none of war. Wholly free from guile, sure in our own minds that we harbor no unworthy designs, we accredit the world with the same good intent. So I welcome you, not alone in good will and high purpose, but with high faith.” – Washington Conference welcome speech, Nov. 12, 1921.

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Warren Harding presided not over a nation at war but a nation recovering from one. In speeches as a candidate and as president, the newspaperman from Ohio sought to leave wartime with his famous "return to normalcy" and a backing off from a postwar arms race.
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