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A solemn date for all those in our nation who love political oratory to recall.  It was, of course, on this date in 1919, a short time before his death, that the great orator that was Sir Wilfrid Laurier delivered what is believed to be his final major speech.

Perhaps the greatest Parliamentarian of our history – I would also give Arthur Meighen an honourable mention here – Laurier’s speeches are ones I hope Canadians forever will recall.

So with that, I’ll let Sir Wilfrid speak for himself.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, circa 1906.

ADDRESS TO THE EASTERN ONTARIO LIBERAL ASSOCIATION

OTTAWA, ONTARIO JANUARY 14, 1919

Resolution: That the Eastern Ontario Liberal Association take advantage of the opportunity afforded by this its first meeting, to place upon its records the unfaltering confidence of members in The Right Honourable Sir Wilfrid Laurier as the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and to congratulate him upon the fact that, thanks to his moderation and wisdom, the ranks of Liberalism are rapidly reuniting, and that in the conflict that lies close at hand between the forces of progress and the advocates of class privilege and reaction, the Liberal Party, with strength renewed, will again lead the van in asserting the rights of Canadian Democracy.

Laurier’s closing address:

. . . . We are entering upon a new era. We trust that the war which was lately devastating the world will not have to be fought again. But it is not enough that we have defeated the autocratic Government of Germany and that the ruins of that autocracy lie in the dust; it is not enough that . . . we have accomplished that which we had determined to accomplish, that is, to prevent the dismem­berment of France and to restore to France her lost provinces; it is not enough that England is maintained in the proud position which she held before the war, [and] is raised today to an even prouder position than ever before, the great champion and defender of free­dom and civilization; it is not enough even if we realise our great hope that all this shall be crowned by the forming of a League of Nations to prevent reoccurrence of war and to stand against any force that would bring war again.

And as to that, let me say that if conditions are not ripe for such a league of nations as we should like to see, yet we may joyfully believe that if there is today the beginning of a league of nations in the alliance which now exists between England, France, Italy, the United States and Japan, on the part of these nations, at least, I hope, a league will be formed at this Peace Conference under which it shall be provided that, so far as they are concerned, war shall not be permitted, so that if one country wishes to raise war against another the league will interfere to maintain peace. . . .

Sir, you have passed another resolution. I referred to it this afternoon. Let me speak of it once more. You spoke of myself and expressed your satisfaction with the leadership I have given to the Liberal Party. I am conscious that I have made many mis­takes. I know also that occasions there have been when I had to disappoint some of my friends. But, Sir, if another had been in my place who knew this country as I know it, from end to end, and in all its component elements and without boasting I state that perhaps I know it better than any other Canadian then, even though he and I might have differed, I am sure that he would have realized that, acting as I did, my aim was to win the war and that was my aim and to promote the highest interests of Canada.

At the same time I realize . . . that it is still the privilege of every Liberal to have his own opinion, that in entering an association such as ours he does not rein in his conscience into the hands of another, but keeps it, to account of it to his Maker and to Him alone. I have had the confidence of the Liberal Party, I think, as much as any leader of a party ever had in this country. But there is not a man in the party who will say that I ever tried to influence his conscience. Upon every question that arose, I always told those who did me the honour to call me their leader that it was for each one to judge, and if his judgment should be contrary to mine, he would be my friend still, just as though our opinions were in accord. That is my policy still.

Some have differed with me in the past, in the recent past. But that difference was upon a transient question, and one that will not arise again, for has not Lloyd George pledged himself to “no con­scription?” Then, I say, let the past be forgotten, and let us be all Liberals again, actuated only by conscience. If a man comes to me and tells me, “I was a Unionist at the last election,” I will tell him, “I will not rebuke you for it; you have rebuked yourself. Give me your hand. We do not look to the past, but to the future; only in that direction is the horizon for us as Liberals.”

I was placed at the head of the Liberal Party a great many years ago so many that I had better not count them. I feel every day that I am getting riper and riper for Heaven. I would gladly resign the position which I owe to the confidence and friendship of the Liberals of Canada and leave the task to younger hands. But, so long as God gives me the health which I now enjoy though I cannot say that it is as good as it was at one time, yet I believe has left in me a kick which I can use on occasion I will remain and do my share. I will do my share in any position which is assigned to me by the party, whether it be that of general, captain or private in the ranks. Whatever my place may be I will do my duty cheerfully, happily. Nothing would be of greater satisfaction to me, now that I have begun to feel the weight of years, than, as I have said, to leave the task of leadership to a younger general. That satisfaction may be another, but keeps it, to account of it to his Maker and to Him alone. I have had the confidence of the Liberal Party, I think, as much as any leader of a party ever had in this country. But there is not a man in the party who will say that I ever tried to influence his conscience. Upon every question that arose, I always told those who did me the honour to call me their leader that it was for each one to judge, and if his judgment should be contrary to mine, he would be my friend still, just as though our opinions were in accord. That is my policy still.

Some have differed with me in the past, in the recent past. But that difference was upon a transient question, and one that will not arise again, for has not Lloyd George pledged himself to “no con­scription?” Then, I say, let the past be forgotten, and let us be all Liberals again, actuated only by conscience. If a man comes to me and tells me, “I was a Unionist at the last election,” I will tell him, “I will not rebuke you for it; you have rebuked yourself. Give me your hand. We do not look to the past, but to the future; only in that direction is the horizon for us as Liberals.”

I was placed at the head of the Liberal Party a great many years ago so many that I had better not count them. I feel every day that I am getting riper and riper for Heaven. I would gladly resign the position which I owe to the confidence and friendship of the Liberals of Canada and leave the task to younger hands. But, so long as God gives me the health which I now enjoy though I cannot say that it is as good as it was at one time, yet I believe has left in me a kick which I can use on occasion I will remain and do my share. I will do my share in any position which is assigned to me by the party, whether it be that of general, captain or private in the ranks. Whatever my place may be I will do my duty cheerfully, happily. Nothing would be of greater satisfaction to me, now that I have begun to feel the weight of years, than, as I have said, to leave the task of leadership to a younger general. That satisfaction may be given me or it may not; but my duty still is to fight, and fight I will as long as God gives me health.

I regret that I am not some twenty years younger, and that I cannot carry on the fight with the same vigour I could have carried it on twenty years ago. Still our cause remains, and with the horizon broadening day by day, our ideals are higher and higher every day. So great is that cause and so high those ideals that no one has the right to falter, but everyone must do his bit according to his ability. And, looking to the future, my hope is that the day is not far distant when we shall hear again in the heavens the hopeful message brought years ago by the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to all men.”

Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist.  He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy.  A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel. 

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