333. Remarks by President Reagan 1

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville

[Omitted here are the President’s introductory remarks and his comments about President Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia.]

Well, that was politics in 1800. So, you see, not all that much has changed. [Laughter] Actually, I’ve taken a moment for these brief reflections on Thomas Jefferson and his time precisely because there are such clear parallels to our own. We too have seen a new populism in America, not at all unlike that of Jefferson’s time. We’ve seen the growth of a Jefferson-like populism that rejects the burden placed on the people by excessive regulation and taxation; that rejects the notion that judgeships should be used to further privately held beliefs not yet approved by the people; and finally, rejects, too, the notion that foreign policy must reflect only the rarefied concerns of Washington rather than the common sense of a people who can frequently see far more plainly dangers to their freedom and to our national well-being.

It is this latter point that brings me to the University of Virginia today. There has been much change in the last 8 years in our foreign relations; and this September, when I spoke to the United Nations,2 I summarized much of the progress we’ve seen in such matters as the human rights agenda, arms reduction, and resolving those regional conflicts that might lead to wider war. I will not recite all of this here again today, but I do want you to know I found in the delegates afterward a warmth that I had not seen before—let me assure you, not due to any eloquence on my part but just a simple perception on their part that there is a chance for an opening, a new course in human events. I think I detected a sense of excitement, even perhaps like that felt by those who lived in Jefferson’s time: a sense of new possibilities for the [Page 1543] idea of popular government. Only this time, it’s not just a single nation at issue: It is the whole world where popular government might flourish and prosper.

Only a few years ago, this would have seemed the most outlandish and dreamiest of prospects. But consider for just a moment the striving for democracy that we have seen in places like the Philippines, Burma, Korea, Chile, Poland, South Africa—even places like China and the Soviet Union. One of the great, unnoticed—and yet most startling—developments of this decade is this: More of the world’s populace is today living in relative freedom than ever before in history; more and more nations are turning to freely elected democratic governments.

The statistics themselves are compelling. According to one organization, Freedom House, in the past 15 years the number of countries called not free declined from 71 to 50. And the countries classified as free or partly free increased from 92 to 117. When you consider that, according to the Freedom House count, 70 percent of those not living in freedom are in China and the Soviet Union—and even in those nations, as I say, we see glimpses of hope—the picture is even brighter. The most dramatic movement of all has taken place: More than 90 percent of the people are now living in countries that are democratic or headed in that direction.

This democratic revolution has been accompanied by a change in economic thinking comparable to the Newtonian revolution in physics, and that is no accident. Free-market economies have worked miracles in several nations of East Asia. A U.N. General Assembly special session on Africa has called for more market-oriented structural reform in that region.3 In Europe the tide is against state ownership of property. And even in China and the Soviet Union the theoretical underpinnings of Socialist economics are being reexamined.

In this atmosphere, we’ve continued to emphasize prudent but deepening development of economic ties which are critical to our economic health in the conduct of our foreign policy. In our own hemisphere, we’re about to implement an historic free trade agreement between the United States and Canada that could well serve as a model for the world.4

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These democratic and free-market revolutions are really the same revolution. They are based on the vital nexus between economic and political freedom and on the Jeffersonian idea that freedom is indivisible, that government’s attempts to encroach on that freedom—whether it be through political restrictions on the rights of assembly, speech, or publication, or economic repression through high taxation and excessive bureaucracy—have been the principal institutional barrier to human progress.

But if this remarkable revolution has not been obvious to many, certainly one other eye-opening change has been self-evident. Consider for just a moment the sights we’ve seen this year: an American President with his Soviet counterpart strolling through Red Square and talking to passers-by about war and peace; an American President there in the Lenin Hills of Moscow speaking to the students of Moscow State University,5 young people like yourselves, about the wonder and splendor of human freedom; an American President, only last week, with a future American President6 and the President of the Soviet Union standing in New York Harbor, looking up at Lady Liberty, hearing again the prayer on the lips of all those millions who once passed that way in hope of a better life and future—a prayer of peace and freedom for all humanity.

And, yes, even this week in the devastation of Armenia, Americans and Russians making common cause,7 as we once made common cause against another terrible enemy 44 years ago. But it’s not the visuals and the sound bites that matter. Behind all of this is a record of diplomatic movement and accomplishment.

One of those visuals you’ve seen in the last year is the signing of accords between Mr. Gorbachev and me and the destruction of American and Soviet missiles. It was more than just good television, more than just action news. The INF treaty is the first accord in history to eliminate an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles. And the [Page 1545] START treaty, which deals with far larger arsenals of long-range—or what the experts call strategic—weapons, calls for 50-percent reductions in such weapons.

In Geneva, where the portions of the draft treaty disputed by one side or the other are put in brackets, we are slowly seeing those brackets disappear. So, the treaty is coming closer. And so, too, there’s progress on nuclear-testing agreements and chemical weapons, and we’re about to begin new negotiations on the conventional balance in Europe. Mr. Gorbachev’s recent announcement at the U.N. about troop reductions was most welcome and appreciated, but it’s important to remember this is a part of and the result of a larger disarmament process set in motion several years ago.8

Another area where the achievements are visible is that of regional conflicts. In Afghanistan, we’ve seen a settlement leading towards Soviet withdrawal. In Cambodia, the first steps have been taken toward withdrawal of Vietnamese troops.9 In Brazzaville, just this Tuesday, an American-mediated accord was signed that will send some 50,000 Cuban soldiers home from Angola10—the second reversal of Cuban military imperialism after our rescue of Grenada in 1983.

In the matter of human rights, we’ve also seen extraordinary progress: the release of some political prisoners in the Soviet Union, initial steps toward a reduction of state economic controls and more politically representative forms of government, some greater scope to publish and speak critically, an increase in emigration, and visible steps toward greater religious freedom.

And finally, in our bilateral exchanges, we’re seeing more Soviet and American citizens visiting each other’s land and a greater interchange of scientific, cultural, and intellectual traditions. The summits themselves are indications of the progress we’ve made here. I look to the day when the meetings between the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States will be regular and frequent and maybe not quite so newsworthy.

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Where we’re strong, steadfast; we succeed. In the Persian Gulf, the United States made clear its commitment to defend freedom of navigation and free world interests. And this helped hasten an end to the Gulf war. And the country stood firm for years, insisting that the PLO had to accept Israel’s right to exist, sign on to Resolutions 242 and 338, and renounce terrorism. And now that resolve has paid off.

Now the democratic revolution that I talked about earlier and all the change and movement and, yes, breakthroughs that I’ve just cited on the diplomatic front can be directly attributed to the restoration of confidence on the part of democratic nations. There can be little doubt that in the decade of the eighties the cause of freedom and human rights has prospered and the specter of nuclear war has been pushed back because the democracies have recovered their strength—their compass.

Here at home, a national consensus on the importance of strong American leadership is emerging. As I said before the Congress at the start of this year: No legacy would make me more proud than leaving in place such a consensus for the cause of world freedom, a consensus that prevents a paralysis of American power from ever occurring again.11

Now, I think much of the reason for all of this has to do with the new coherence and clarity that we’ve brought to our foreign policy, a new coherence based on a strong reaffirmation of values by the allied nations. The same idea that so energized Mr. Jefferson and the other founders of this nation—the idea of popular government—has driven the revival of the West and a renewal of its values and its beliefs in itself.

But now the question: How do we keep the world moving toward the idea of popular government? Well, today I offer three thoughts—reflections and warnings at the same time—on how the Soviet-American relationship can continue to improve and how the cause of peace and freedom can be served.

First, the Soviet-American relationship: Once marked by sterility and confrontation, this relationship is now characterized by dialog—realistic, candid dialog—serious diplomatic progress, and the sights and sounds of summitry. All of this is heady, inspiring. And yet my [Page 1547] first reflection for you today is: All of it is still in doubt. And the only way to make it last and grow and become permanent is to remember we’re not there yet.

Serious problems, fundamental differences remain. Our system is one of checks and balances. Theirs, for all its reforms, remains a one-party authoritarian system that institutionalizes the concentration of power. Our foreign relations embrace this expanding world of democracy that I’ve described. Theirs can be known by the company they keep: Cuba, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Libya, Vietnam, North Korea. Yes, we welcome Mr. Gorbachev’s recent announcement of a troop reduction, but let us remember that the Soviet preponderance in military power in Europe remains, an asymmetry that offends our Jeffersonian senses and endangers our future.

So, we must keep our heads, and that means keeping our skepticism. We must realize that what has brought us here has not been easy, not for ourselves nor for all of those who have sacrificed and contributed to the cause of freedom in the postwar era.

So, this means in our treaty negotiations, as I’ve said: Trust, but verify. I’m not a linguist, but I learned to say that much Russian and have used it in frequent meetings with Mr. Gorbachev: “Dovorey no provorey.” It means keeping our military strong. It means remembering no treaty is better than a bad treaty. It means remembering the accords of Moscow and Washington summits followed many years of standing firm on our principles and our interests, and those of our allies.

And finally, we need to recall that in the years of détente we tended to forget the greatest weapon the democracies have in their struggle is public candor: the truth. We must never do that again. It’s not an act of belligerence to speak to the fundamental differences between totalitarianism and democracy; it’s a moral imperative. It doesn’t slow down the pace of negotiations; it moves them forward. Throughout history, we see evidence that adversaries negotiate seriously with democratic nations only when they knew the democracies harbor no illusions about those adversaries.

A second reflection I have on all this concerns some recent speculation that what is happening in the Soviet Union was in its way inevitable, that since the death of Stalin the Soviet state would have to evolve into a more moderate and status quo power in accordance with some vague theory of convergence. I think this is wrong. It’s also dangerous, because what we see in the Soviet Union today is a change of a different order than in the past.

For example, whatever the Khrushchev era may or may not have represented in Soviet internal politics, we know how aspirations for greater freedom were crushed in Poland and Germany and, even more bloodily, in Hungary. We also saw the construction of the Berlin Wall. [Page 1548] We saw Cuba become an active client state, a client state spreading subversion throughout Latin America and bringing the entire world to the brink of war with the “missiles of October.”

And let me assure you, Mr. Khrushchev gave no speeches at the U.N. like that recently given by Mr. Gorbachev. As one British U.N. official said about Khrushchev appearances there: “We were never quite sure whether it was, indeed, Mr. Khrushchev’s shoe being used to pound the Soviet desk or whether Mr. Gromyko’s shoe had been borrowed or whether there was an extra shoe kept under the Soviet podium especially for banging purposes.” [Laughter]

Now, all of this was hardly encouraging for the growth of freedom and the path to peace. We know too what happened in the Brezhnev era: greater and greater expansionism; Afghanistan; economic decay and overwhelming corruption; a greater and greater burden on the peoples of the Soviet Union, on all the peoples of the world.

Now this is changing. How much and how fast it will change we do not know. I would like to think that actions by this country, particularly our willingness to make ourselves clear—our expressions of firmness and will evidenced by our plain talk, strong defenses, vibrant alliances, and readiness to use American power when American power was needed—helped to prompt the reappraisal that Soviet leaders have undertaken of their previous policies. Even more, Western resolve demonstrated that the hardline advocated by some within the Soviet Union would be fruitless, just as our economic successes have set a shining example. As I suggested in 1982, if the West maintained its strength, we would see economic needs clash with the political order in the Soviet Union. This has happened. But it could not have happened if the West had not maintained—indeed, strengthened—its will, its commitment to world freedom.

So, there was nothing inevitable about all of this. Human actions made the difference. Mr. Gorbachev has taken some daring steps. As I’ve said before, this is the first Soviet leader not to make world revolution a priority. Well, let us credit those steps. Let us credit him. And let us remember, too, that the democracies, with their strength and resolve and candor, have also made a difference.

And this is the heart of my point: What happens in the next few years, whether all this progress is continued or ended—this is, in large part, up to us. It’s why now, more then ever, we must not falter. American power must be exercised morally, of course, but it must also be exercised, and exercised effectively. For the cause of peace and freedom in the eighties, that power made all the difference. The nineties will prove no different.

And this brings us to my third point: the relationship between the Executive and the Congress. It’s precisely where Congress and the [Page 1549] President have worked together—as in Afghanistan and Cambodia, or resolved differences, as in Angola, the Persian Gulf, and many aspects of U.S.-Soviet relations—precisely there, our policies have succeeded, and we see progress. But where Congress and the President have engaged each other as adversaries, as over Central America, U.S. policies have faltered and our common purposes have not been achieved.

Congress’ on-again, off-again indecisiveness on resisting Sandinista tyranny and aggression has left Central America a region of continuing danger. Sometimes congressional actions in foreign affairs have had the effect of institutionalizing that kind of adversarial relationship. We see it in the War Powers Resolution,12 in the attempted restrictions on the President’s power to implement treaties, and on trade policy. We see it in the attempt to manage complex issues of foreign policy by the blunt instrument of legislation—such as unduly restrictive intelligence oversight, limits on arms transfers, and earmarking of 95 percent of our foreign assistance—denying a President the ability to respond flexibly to rapidly changing conditions. Even in arms reduction, a President’s ability to succeed depends on congressional support for military modernization—sometimes attempts are made to weaken my hand.

The Founding Fathers understood the need for effectiveness, coherence, consistency, and flexibility in the conduct of foreign affairs. As Jefferson himself said: “The transaction of business with foreign nations is Executive altogether. It belongs, then, to the head of that department, except as to such portions of it as are specially submitted to the Senate. Exceptions are to be construed strictly.”

Well, the President and the Vice President are elected by all the people. So, too, is the Congress as a collegial body. All who are elected to serve in these coordinate departments of our National Government have one unmistakable and undeniable mandate: to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. To this—this foremost—they must always be attentive. For a President, it means protecting his office and its place in our constitutional framework. In doing that, the President is accountable to the people in the most direct way, accountable to history and to his own conscience.

The President and Congress, to be sure, share many responsibilities. But their roles are not the same. Congress alone, for example, has the power of the purse. The President is chief executive, chief diplomat, and commander in chief. How these great branches of government perform their legitimate roles is critically important to the Nation’s ability to succeed, nowhere more so than in the field of foreign affairs. They [Page 1550] need each other and must work together in common cause with all deference, but within their separate spheres.

Today we live in a world in which America no longer enjoys preponderant power, but must lead by example and persuasion; a world of pressing new challenges to our economic prosperity; a world of new opportunities for peace and of new dangers. In such a world, more than ever, America needs strong and consistent leadership, and the strength and resilience of the Presidency are vital.

I think if we can keep these concerns in mind during the coming years public debate and support will be enhanced and America’s foreign policy will continue to prosper. All of us know the terrible importance of maintaining the progress we’ve made in the decade of the eighties. We’re moving away from war and confrontation toward peace and freedom, and today toward a future beyond the imaginings of the past. These are the stakes. Some may find such prospects daunting. I think you should find them challenging and exciting. And I think you can see that in all of this you and your country will have a special role to play.

The issue before the world is still the same as the one that Jefferson faced so squarely and so memorably: Can human beings manage their own affairs? Is self-determination and popular, representative government possible? Mr. Jefferson’s work and life amounted to a great, mighty assent to that question. So, too, will yours and America’s if we can keep in mind the greatest and last lesson of Jefferson’s life. And it has something to do with what I just spoke to—about the Executive and Congress.

I’m fond of recollecting that in the last years of their lives John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who had worked so hard and well together for the Nation’s independence, both came to regret that they had let partisan differences come between them. For years their estrangement lasted. But then, when both retired, Jefferson at 68 to Monticello and Adams at 76 to Quincy, they began through their letters to speak again to each other, letters that discussed almost every conceivable subject: gardening, horseback riding, even sneezing as a cure for hiccups—[laughter]—but other subjects as well: the loss of loved ones, the mystery of grief and sorrow; the importance of religion; and, of course, the last thoughts, the final hopes of two old men, two great patriarchs, for the country that they had helped to found and loved so deeply.

“It carries me back,” Jefferson wrote about his correspondence with his cosigner of the Declaration of Independence, “to the times when, beset with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man: his right to self-government. Laboring always at the same oar, with some wave [Page 1551] ever ahead threatening to overwhelm us and yet passing harmless we rowed through the storm with heart and hand.”

It was their last gift to us, this lesson in tolerance for each other, in charity, this insight into America’s strength as a nation. And when both died on the same day, within hours of each other, the date was July 4th, 50 years exactly after that first gift to us: the Declaration of Independence.

A great future is ours and the world’s if we but remember the power of those words Mr. Jefferson penned not just for Americans but for all humanity: “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.”

Thank you, and God bless you.

  1. Source: Public Papers: Reagan, 1988–1989, Book II, pp. 1631–1638. All brackets are in the original. The President spoke at 10:35 a.m. at Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia. The text of the question and answer session following the President’s remarks is ibid., pp. 1638–1641. In his personal diary entry for December 16, the President wrote: “The old school abounds with tradition & the spirit of Thomas Jefferson who founded the U. I addressed about 700 students in an historic old hall introduced by the U. Pres. Sen. John Warner, Cong.man Slaughter & Gov. Baliles were on the Dais. After my speech which was carried live by CNN & outside to the whole Student body—I took 6 Q’s. It was a tremendous success.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. II, November 1985–January 1989, pp. 995–996)
  2. See footnote 8, Document 330.
  3. See footnote 7, Document 275.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 316. On September 28, the President signed into law P.L. 100–449 (H.R. 5090), the United States-Canada Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act of 1988. In remarks made during a Rose Garden signing ceremony, the President stated: “This is a moment future historians will cite as a landmark, a turning point in the forward march of trade, commerce, and even civilization itself. That’s a dramatic statement, I know, but I think everyone here is aware of the historical import of what we do today.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1988–1989, Book II, p. 1232)
  5. See Document 326.
  6. Reference is to President-elect Bush. On December 7, Reagan and Bush met with Gorbachev at the Commandant’s residence on Governors Island, New York, following Gorbachev’s address before the UN General Assembly. For the memoranda of conversation held at the residence, see Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. VI, Soviet Union, October 1986–January 1989, Documents 180181. For the memorandum of conversation during Gorbachev’s car ride back to the ferry, see Document 332.
  7. At the beginning of the December 7 luncheon held on Governors Island (see footnote 6, above), Gorbachev indicated that an earthquake had struck Armenia. According to the memorandum of conversation, Gorbachev explained that “on the ferry over to the island, he had had a telephone conversation with Moscow. The earthquake had also affected Azerbaijan and Georgia, but with many fewer casualties. In Armenia there had been vast destruction.” ( Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. VI, Soviet Union, October 1986–January 1989, Document 181) Gorbachev subsequently decided to curtail his trip to the United States, in addition to his visits to Cuba and the United Kingdom, and return to Moscow. The morning of December 8, President and First Lady Nancy Reagan telephoned Gorbachev and Raisa Gorbachev to express their sympathies for the loss of life. For the memorandum of conversation of the telephone call, see ibid., Document 182.
  8. In his December 7 address before the UN General Assembly (see footnote 6, above), Gorbachev announced troop reductions of half a million soldiers, including divisions based in Eastern Europe. (Michael Dobbs, “Soviet Leader Speaks of Hope, Meets With Reagan and Bush,” Washington Post, December 8, 1988, pp. A1, A30) In remarks made before the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy that evening, the President referenced the announcement, commenting: “About the Soviet unilateral troop reduction, I can only say that if it’s carried out speedily and in full, history will regard it as important, significant.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1988–1989, Book II, p. 1595)
  9. See footnote 2, Document 331.
  10. December 13. Reference is to the Protocol of Brazzaville, signed by representatives of the governments of Angola, Cuba, and South Africa. The text of the agreement is printed in Department of State Bulletin, February 1989, p. 11.
  11. Reference is to the State of the Union address; see footnote 2, Document 318. The full statement reads: “We’ve seen such changes in the world in 7 years. As totalitarianism struggles to avoid being overwhelmed by the forces of economic advance and the aspiration for human freedom, it is the free nations that are resilient and resurgent. As the global democratic revolution has put totalitarianism on the defensive, we have left behind the days of retreat. America is again a vigorous leader of the free world, a nation that acts decisively and firmly in the furtherance of her principles and vital interests. No legacy would make me more proud than leaving in place a bipartisan consensus for the cause of world freedom, a consensus that prevents a paralysis of American power from ever occurring again.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1988–1989, Book I, p. 90)
  12. See footnote 5, Document 191.