What follows is the text of a speech -- actually given by its author, Hendrik Hertzberg -- to the Judson Welliver Society, a society of former White House speechwriters (Truman through Reagan). Mr. Hertzberg was chief speechwriter in the Carter administration.
We come tonight to honor many things and many people. We honor our host and founder, Brother William Safire. We honor the profession of speechwriting. We honor the statesmen and politicians, great and small, for whom we have toiled in that trade. But most of all, we come to honor -- to praise, even to revere -- ourselves. Because if we don't do it, nobody else will.
As part of honoring ourselves, we honor the man whose quiet, selfless, pioneering work made it all possible for us who followed him.
Now, I know that there are those who say that Alexander Hamilton, not Judson Welliver, was the first White House speechwriter. And it must be admitted that on occasion Hamilton did work up some language for his boss, President Washington. (By the way, if you think I had problems, imagine trying to write a speech for a guy who had wooden teeth.)
But we know better than to accord Hamilton the honor. First of all, there was no White House back then, so by definition there could be no White House speechwriter. And second, Hamilton was not a speechwriter at all but was in fact the natural enemy of the presidential speechwriter -- one of the many natural enemies of the presidential speechwriter -- a Cabinet officer.
No, it was Judson Churchill Welliver -- may his name henceforth be as famous as it has heretofore been obscure -- who was the first person in the history of the republic ever to be employed in the capacity already mentioned. Our source for this is no less than Irwin Hood "Ike" Hoover, whose service as Head Usher stretched from the presidency of Benjamin Harrison to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Permit me to read, in very nearly its entirety, a short chapter from Ike Hoover's memoir, "42 Years in the White House." The chapter is entitled "A New White House Office: The Professional Speech-Writer":
"Until the time of Harding, all the Presidents, so far as I know, wrote their own speeches. With his coming a man was appointed to prepare whatever set and formal speeches he was called upon to make. The first man to hold this office was Judson Welliver, a widely known newspaper man. He had been with the President through the campaign, being close to the throne, so to speak, and naturally came along to the White House. No doubt he had made himself useful along this very line during the campaign and it was most natural that he should be kept on.
"When Coolidge came, he found Welliver on the job and continued to employ him, no doubt finding him a very handy man. . . .
"As the whole scheme was a new one, there were many embarrassments for the individual holding down this job. For example, there was no legal appropriation for his salary. It was skimmed from here, there, and everywhere. At one time it was taken from the fund for the payment of chauffeurs and the upkeep of the garage.
"Much jealousy was also aroused by this office. The regular secretaries seemed to resent the fact that, owing to the confidential nature of the work, the man holding this job had an entr,ee to the President which they themselves did not enjoy. He seemed always to be a separate part of the Executive Offices, under orders of no one but the President."
The life of Welliver, like the life of any saint, is well worth studying. We know as yet relatively little about this great man, for the field of Welliver studies is still in its infancy. We do know that he was born on Aug. 13, 1870, in Aledo, Ill. We know that he worked for newspapers as varied as the Sioux City Journal, the Des Moines Leader and the Sioux City Tribune. We know that in the first decade of this century he served as an editorial writer for The Washington Times -- a position that even today would be regarded as ideal preparation for White House service. And finally, we know that the most inspiring and exemplary moment of his career came immediately after the White House years, in 1925, when he resigned from the service of President Coolidge to accept the position of public relations director for the American Petroleum Institute. Here truly was a man ahead of his time -- a man of genuinely modern sensibilities -- a man, indeed, who would be comfortable here in this room tonight.
So much, then, for the man. What of the work?
Most of Welliver's finest work as a speechwriter was done in the service of candidate and then President Warren Gamaliel Harding. And so, while Welliver is properly revered by all speechwriters, he is especially sacred to those scribes who have written for that select group of presidents who -- whether deservedly or not -- are seldom if ever quoted by their successors. Judson Welliver is indeed the patron saint of the unquotables. It is now more than 60 years since the Harding administration was so tragically cut short. Despite the unkind things said about the prose of that administration by H. L. Mencken and others, the work of Harding and Welliver is coming to be recognized and appreciated by specialists. For example, as noted in the authoritative reference "Safire's Political Dictionary," Harding and thus Welliver coined the term "Founding Fathers." Yet even the passage of six decades has not made it any easier for a tired speechwriter, groping for a peroration at 3 o'clock in the morning, to end a draft by inserting some appropriate quote introduced by the phrase, "In the immortal words of Warren G. Harding . . . "
Tonight, let us right this great wrong. Let us quote Warren G. Harding -- or, rather, let us quote our own Founding Father, Judson Welliver, as he spoke through the strangely marionette-like figure of the great Gamaliel.
On world trade:
"The United States should adopt a protective tariff of such a character as will help the struggling industries of Europe get on their feet."
On the legacy of the 1914-1918 war:
"Here is the chief difficulty of the world today. In the turbulence and upheaval of World War, when all humanity was distracted and distressed, the vandals who operate amid calamity have sought to hoot suffering civilization."
"Have sought to hoot suffering civilization" -- what a marvelous phrase.
On the duties of the press:
"There's good in everybody. Boost -- don't knock."
"We know little about Japan."
"Normal thinking will help more. And normal living will have the effect of a magician's wand, paradoxical as the statement seems. The world does deeply need to get normal, and liberal doses of mental science will help mightily."
On normalcy -- from perhaps Welliver's finest speech, the address to the Home Market Club of Boston on May 14, 1920:
"America's present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality."
Finally, let me conclude with a passage from a lesser-known but perhaps more typical work of Welliver, the address at the General Grant Dinner -- edited very slightly to remove gratuitous partisan references. Savor, if you will, its sublime, incomparable emptiness. Truly, this is a speech for all seasons:
"Mr. Toastmaster, in that retrospection which makes for inspiration, there grows the conviction that . . . progress, written in half a century of . . . accomplishment, seems more like the miracle of a national destiny than the story of a political party and its tasks in statecraft. But the truth abides, incomparable and incontrovertible. We have not only made a nation, rough-hewn and popularly governed, the marvel of development among great nations; we have contributed to the uplift . . . and elevated the standard of living; we have not only become leaders in finance and industry; we have not only become equals in education and rivals in art, but we are the inspiration and example of other republics, and ought to be, could be, influencing the idealization of the government of the earth. . . . It justifies our pride in the past, explains the nation-wide turning to the party for the country's restoration, and gives every assurance of glorious triumphs in the future."
Now that's what I call speechwriting.