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Speech at the College of William and Mary1
June 9, 1941 Williamsburg, Virginia
I am happy for the opportunity to be here this morning. There is so much of uncertainty in obligations these days that it is impossible for me to be sure of personal plans more than a few hours in advance of the scheduled moment. I am deeply gratified by the honor of the degree that has just been conferred on me. The distinction of this degree particularly appeals to me because of the implications to be drawn from the history of this institution in relation to the situation in which this country now finds itself.
If you will pardon me for being a little personal in developing my thoughts this morning, I first acquired a special interest in this college following a visit to the site of old Fort Kaskaskia in southern Illinois. To my surprise I learned that that remote locality was once conceived to be a part of the State of Virginia. The instructions which led to the dramatic capture of that picturesque little garrison led me back to Williamsburg, to the Governor of that day, Patrick Henry, and his advisers at the moment, Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe, I believe, and I found myself in the atmosphere of the early days of the College of William and Mary.
Incidentally, that famous expedition of George Rogers Clark involves some curious contrasts to similar affairs today. He received his orders from Patrick Henry here in Williamsburg on January 2nd . He started bare-handed, without troops, without equipment or munitions—all had to be organized or created. Six months later, on July 4th he had traversed nearly a thousand miles, surprised and captured his objective. The troops had been organized, armed, trained, and provided with ammunition and supplies. Each man provided his weapons, I suppose. Here is the curious phase of contrast—the necessary armed force could be created, equipped within sixty days, and carried 1,000 miles to its objective within six months; today it might cover one thousand miles in a matter of three hours, but the provision of the equipment would involve several years.
You young ladies and gentlemen have a great tradition for your guidance, a great heritage. At no previous moment in our history, I believe, has this held more of importance or significance. The founder of this institution, a determined and hard-headed cleric, went to London to secure the charter and funds. England was at war; money for educational purposes was out of the question. Yet he secured the charter and arranged for the financing of the college; he would not be denied. This college is older than the flag it flies. More than once it has been burnt and rebuilt, more than once it has been taken over by enemy forces and later reconditioned. Its history is the exemplification of the persistence of an ideal. Its graduates have performed more important duties in the development of this country than the graduates of any other institution. Whether they served their community or their country, in the state or the church, in the school or in the professions, they all demonstrated that outstanding quality of integrity. Their friends could depend on them; their country, which acknowledged their leadership, could depend on them. I wish those of our people today who are weak in spirit could be here this morning to derive inspiration from these surroundings.
It is true that we are living in a strange and unpredictable period. No idea seems too preposterous, no theory has not its defenders. At a time when civilization, according to our crude appreciation, reached a summit in achievements, we find ourselves in a great catastrophe, in which all our ideals are in dispute, the relationship between the individual and the community, between citizens and the government, between men and their God—all are questioned, all are attacked. The things of the spirit which have enabled this college to endure, which guided the great men of its early days, these seem to be trembling on the verge of the discard. The times demand courageous men with unselfish purpose and truly great ideals.
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed draft.
1. Following the awarding to him of a Doctor of Laws degree, Marshall delivered the commencement address at the college.
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 530-531.