Nehru’s Word: Material progress cannot go far without moral principles
Those who are truly great have a message that cannot be confined to a particular country; it is for the entire world
Jawaharlal Nehru addressed both houses of the US Congress on 13 October 1949 during his first visit to America. In his address to the US Congress, which we reproduce here, he talked about the shared values of the two countries as expressed in the American Declaration of independence and the Preamble to the Indian Constitution, in the commitment to the federal principle, human rights, individual freedom and democracy. He also talked about the unique path of truth and peace shown by Mahatma Gandhi to India and the world.
I thank you for your warm words of welcome. I deem it a high honour and privilege to be given this opportunity of addressing this House… This House represents in a large measure this great republic which is playing such a vital part in the destinies of mankind today.
I have come to this country to learn something of your great achievements. I have come also to convey the greetings of my people and in the hope that my visit may help to create a greater understanding between our respective peoples and those strong and sometimes invisible links, stronger even than physical links, that bind countries together become stronger.
The President referred the day before yesterday, in language of significance, to my visit as a voyage of discovery of America. The United States of America is not an unknown country even in far-off India and many of us have grown up in admiration of the ideals and objectives which have made this country great.
Yet, though we may know the history and something of the culture of our respective countries, what is required is a true understanding and appreciation of each other even where we differ. Out of that understanding grows fruitful cooperation in the pursuit of common ideals.
What the world today lacks most is, perhaps, understanding and appreciation of one another among nations and people. I have come here, therefore, on a voyage of discovery of the mind and heart of America and to place before you our own mind and heart.
Thus, we may promote that understanding and cooperation which, I feel sure, both our countries earnestly desire. Already I have received a welcome here, the generous warmth of which has created a deep impression on my mind and, indeed, somewhat overwhelmed me.
During the last two days that I have been in Washington, I have paid visits to the memorials of the great builders of this nation. (Nehru visited the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Arlington National Cemetery and the Washington Monument.)
I have done so not for the sake of mere formality but because they have long been enshrined in my heart and their example has inspired me as it has inspired innumerable countrymen of mine.
These memorials are the real temples to which each generation must pay tribute and, in doing so, must catch something of the fire that burnt in the hearts of those who were the torch-bearers of freedom, not only for this country but for the world; for those who are truly great have a message that cannot be confined within a particular country but is for all the world.
In India, there came a man in our own generation who inspired us to great endeavour, ever reminding us that thought and action should never be divorced from moral principle, that the true path of man is the path of truth and peace. Under his guidance, we laboured for the freedom of our country, with ill will to none and achieved that freedom.
We affectionately and reverentially called him the father of our nation. Yet he was too great for the circumscribed borders of any one country and the message he gave may well help us in considering the wider problems of the world.
The United States of America has struggled to freedom and unparalleled prosperity during the past century and a half and today it is a great and powerful nation. It has an amazing record of growth in material well-being and scientific and technological advance. It could not have accomplished this unless America had been anchored in the great principles laid down in the early days of her history, for material progress cannot go far or last long unless it has its foundations in moral principles and high ideals.
Those principles and ideals are enshrined in your Declaration of Independence, which lays down as a self-evident truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It may interest you to know that, in drafting the Constitution of the Republic of India, we have been greatly influenced by your constitution. [In] the Preamble of our Constitution… you will recognise… an echo of the great voices of the founders of your Republic.
You will see that though India may speak to you in a voice that you may not immediately recognise or that may perhaps appear somewhat alien to you, yet that voice somewhat strongly resembles what you have often heard before.
Yet, it is true that India’s voice is somewhat different; it is not the voice of the old world of Europe but of the older world of Asia. It is the voice of an ancient civilisation, distinctive, vital, which, at the same time, has renewed itself and learned much from you and the other countries of the West. It is, therefore, both old and new. It has its roots deep in the past but it also has the dynamic urge of today.
But, however the voices of India and the United States may appear to differ, there is much in common between them. Like you, we have achieved our freedom through a revolution, though our methods were different from yours.
Like you, we shall be a republic based on the federal principle, which is an outstanding contribution of the founders of this great Republic. In a vast country like India, as in this great republic of the United States, it becomes necessary to have a delicate balance between central control and states’ autonomy.
We have placed in the forefront of our Constitution those fundamental human rights to which all men who love liberty, equality and progress aspire — the freedom of the individual, the equality of men and the rule of law. We enter, therefore, the community of free nations with the roots of democracy deeply embedded in our institutions as well as in the thoughts of our people.”
(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library)