“THE RECTOR HAS EXPLAINED HOW RARELY THIS DISTINCTION IS GIVEN, AND ESPECIALLY IN CASES LIKE MINE.”
The decision to make me a Doctor of Laws is deeply valued by me. The Rector has explained how rarely this distinction is given, and especially in cases like mine. It has to be proved that the recipient, by his moral qualities, his attitude, and character has influenced the course of history in a favourable sense.
I felt this might be a rather difficult task for the promoter to prove, but the promoter’s reasoning with his logic and deduction seems to be very good. As he proceeded my natural modesty was undermined, and I will confess to this august assembly that I allowed myself to be convinced by him. [Laughter.]
Six years ago on this very day of the week the treacherous onslaught was made on Holland. In the morning this onslaught was made. In our country I became prime minister that evening. I think of all we have gone through in our different ways since then—our trial in Britain and yours over here. Yours was to be restrained and dominated for those long five years by vile and brutal tyranny, to have all the evils of oppression, and to find solace only in the glories of revolt and secret association and preparation.
The nightmare has ended. The land is clear, the tyrant is overthrown. The victors have overthrown the arbiters. The great wheel has swung full circle. One can see the awful finger of destiny or providence working here in this sphere of transient life, where generations so swiftly succeed one another, carrying forward their message and bearing their tribulation as they can.
Rector Magnificus, a great responsibility is felt by you and those associated with you in guiding this torch to young men and women at universities. You have indeed at this time a special measure of responsibility. We must make sure that one form of tyranny is not succeeded by another.
I am opposed, and always have been, to tyranny in every guise. It makes no difference to me what dress it wears, what slogans it mouths. I consider it a supreme duty of the individual subject or citizen to do his utmost to guard not only the liberty of his country, but the liberty of the individuals dwelling under the constitution of his native land. The motto of your university, which is among the most ancient and most democratic of the universities, is: “Let Freedom Reign.” That is the motto I will accept for myself with the diploma you have so kindly just given me.
This and the foregoing speeches republished by kind permission of the Churchill Literary Estate and Randolph S. Churchill. Note: It would seem that WSC slightly mistranslated the motto of Leiden University, which is Praesidium Libertatis (Bastion of Freedom). Of course he would say, “it is all the same thing.”
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