Words That Men Live By
Will Rogers (1924)
NEW YORK, N. Y., Dec. 4, 1924 - Will Rogers, the cowboy sage who has become America's leading comedian through the simple technique of reading the newspapers and thereafter commenting upon events of the day from the stage of the Ziegfeld Follies, tonight made one of his rare "speeches" at a formal dinner. The occasion was a memorial to Alexander Hamilton arranged by Nicholas Murray Butler, university president.
While Mr. Rogers wove his theme largely around the wealth of the Columbia alumni among whom he sat - the poor boy from Claremore, Oklahoma - some of his auditors were aware of the fact that he long ago joined the ranks of millionaires himself.
President Butler paid me a compliment a while ago in mentioning my name in his introductory remarks, and he put me ahead of the Columbia graduates. I am glad he did that, because I got the worst of it last week. The Prince of Wales last week, in speaking of the sights of America, mentioned the Woolworth Building, the subway, the slaughterhouse, Will Rogers and the Ford factory. He could at least put me ahead of the hogs.Printable version
Everything must be in contrast at an affair like this. You know, to show anything off properly you must have the contrast. Now, I am here tonight representing poverty. We have enough wealth right here at this table, right here at the speaker's table alone-their conscience should hurt them, which I doubt if it does-so that we could liquidate our national debt. Every rich man reaches a time in his career when he comes to a turning point and starts to give it away. I have heard that of several of our guests here tonight, and that is one of the reasons I am here. I would like to be here at the psychological moment.
We are here, not only to keep cool with Coolidge, but to do honor to Alexander Hamilton. Now, he was the first Secretary of the Treasury. The reason he was appointed that was because he and Washington were the only men in America at that time who knew how to put their names on a check. Signing a check has remained the principal qualification of a U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
I am glad President Butler referred to it in this way. The principal reason, of course, was that the man he fought against wanted to be President. He was a Princeton man-or I believe it was Harvard-anyway it was one of those primary schools. In fighting a duel, he forgot that in America our men over here could shoot. So unfortunately one of them was killed, which had never happened in the old country. So they did away with dueling. It was all right to protect your honor, but not to go as far as you like.
If you are speaking of finance here tonight, I do not believe that you could look further than President Butler. Butler is the word - to dig up the dough. Columbia was nothing twenty years ago. Now, he has gone around and got over a hundred buildings, and has annexed Grant's Tomb. He was the first man to go around to the graduates and explain to them that by giving money to Columbia it would help on the income tax and also perpetuate their names.
We have an Alexander Hamilton Building. He landed these buildings and ran the place up to ninety millions or something like that.
There are more students in the university than there are in any other in the world. It is the foremost university. There are thirty-two hundred courses. You spend your first two years in deciding what courses to take, the next two years in finding the building that these courses are given in, and the rest of your life wishing you had taken another course. And they have this wonderful society called the Alumni Association, a bunch of men who have gone to school and after they have come out formed a society to tell the school how to run it.