President's Address, Fourth International Congress, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, May 1, 1924



Women's International League For Peace and Freedom

Jane Addams

President's Address [page 2]

President's Address

Washington, D.C., May 1-7, 1924

It gives me great pleasure to announce the opening of the Fourth Congress of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, which we can almost call our fifth, as we also convened the emergency conference held at The Hague in December, 1922. Will you permit me to report, in the midst of chaos and disaster still obtaining in many parts of the world, here and there an attempt to live according to the principles of a New International Order. 

Austria has freely renounced a piece of Hungarian territory assigned her by the Peace Treaty; we recall the success in Holland of opposition to the proposed naval expansions; the decision of the British Government to abandon the construction of a naval base at Singapore; Gandhi's has shown ↑demonstration↓ that a national movement for self-determination may be successfully conducted by moral energy ignoring brute force; the Conference on Naval Disarmament in Washington with its practical results; the withdrawal of the Japanese from the Chinese province of Shantung; the rising peace movement throughout the churches and theological schools; the "No More War" movement, rapidly increasing in so many countries; the Peace resolutions of the International Education Conference held in San Francisco in 1923; the new note of decision in the Peace committees connected with all women's organizations; the announcement of President Coolidge ten days ago that he contemplates calling a world conference for further limitation of armaments and the initiation of plans for the codification of international law.

In offering you this welcome I am speaking in a dual capacity, as it were. First, as your international officer and servant, and second, as an American citizen. To my mind these dual roles do not conflict. I am not of those who believe that devotion to international aims interferes with love of country, any more than devotion to family detracts from good citizenship; rather, as Mazzini pointed out the duties of family, nation, and humanity are but concentric circles. In this latter capacity, I am sorry to speak a word of apology. Ever since you landed some of you must have felt certain currents of intolerance never before encountered at our previous congresses. May I assure you that Americans are not by nature and training less tolerant than the people in those other countries, who treated us with such fine and unvarying courtesy. But a survival of war psychology is an unaccountable thing; it constitutes a new indictment, if one were needed, of the devastating effects of war upon human character. Perhaps it was too soon to hold our Congress on American soil. Possibly we ought to have accepted the invitation of our British [page 3] Section to meet in London, where free speech and free assemblage are once more firmly reestablished. In this situation there may be local features. A newspaper in Washington and one in Cincinnati, published by the same man, may have special reasons for diverting attention from national affairs to international dangers, quite as foreign wars have been fomented when the demands for internal reforms have become uncomfortably pressing. 

But I beg of you not to take this situation too seriously. The American delegation does not, for it knows only too well how easily newspaper attack are manufactured and how ephemeral is the consequence of such attacks. Perhaps you will permit me to illustrate this: When in the interests of the League I was in London in 1915, the business portion of that great town was everywhere placarded by huge posters, black on a yellow ground, which fairly shouted to the passerby "To the Tower with Ramsay MacDonald," "The Pacifist to the Tower," etc. These placards had been put up by one Horatio Bottomley, the editor of John Bull, who is, as our English delegates know, at present in jail, in the Tower himself, so to speak, while at the same moment Ramsay MacDonald is Prime Minister of England. It proves once more, does it not, that this old world of ours, which does not always progress, certainly always turns around, and that night and day alternate with fair regularity. 

One thing I should very much deprecate: I should be in despair if you were frightened and inhibited so that instead of a real Congress with a genuine discussion, we should have a sort of dress parade Congress, with a pretended discussion and an expression of half-convictions. The world does not need more of that kind of talk and our League is much too serious and too vital to indulge in it. You European women from Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Turkey, and the rest have suffered too much, you have known war and starvation too intimately to come here to merely say that which will placate and reassure us. May I also add, that as you speak from your hearts, from the depths of your own experiences, as you have in other congresses, that you will find a tremendous response throughout the length and breadth of this wide land of ours. In churches, in colleges, in cities and on farms there is at last arising an overwhelming demand that war shall cease, and, more than that, that the United States shall lead in a movement to this end.

This beautiful capital city of ours does not always know what the people want, although it tries so hard to find out!

My father was a warm friend of Abraham Lincoln, his colleague in the Illinois legislature. He brought up his children in the belief that Lincoln's kindliness and tolerance and understanding of all men, including his official enemies, represented the highest point of achievement on the American continent. May I open this Congress, therefore, with Lincoln's words, in the form of a prayer, if you will, for although we swear not at all, we do sometimes say our prayers:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on * * * to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting Peace among ourselves and with all Nations."