Mr. Carmichael, our beloved Chief Justice, members of the Board of Regents, ladies and gentlemen:
The gathering of knowledge is the supreme achievement of man.
Four hundred years ago, Francis Bacon could immodestly declare: "I have taken all knowledge to be my province." Bacon would find this new Museum of History and Technology of the Smithsonian Institution to his taste, and to his aims.
For I believe this new museum will do that which causes us all to celebrate: it will excite a thirst for knowledge--and to promote it for all the people.
My earliest predecessor, George Washington, in a letter to the officers of the American Philosophical Society, founded in Philadelphia by Franklin, wrote these
"If I have a wish ungratified, it is that the arts and sciences may continue to flourish with increasing lustre."
It was also Washington who said, in his Farewell Address:
"Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it should be enlightened."
So it pleases me a great deal tonight to come here to perform the role of dedicator in this building of knowledge which is the inheritor of all that has gone before.
Here, for all to see and for all to absorb, will be exhibited the pageant of history of a youthful nation that is today as it was when Jefferson described it: "In the full tide of successful experiment."
I would hope that there will come to this building the children of the Nation. For here is recorded, as William Faulkner expressed it, the agony and the sweat of the human spirit, the victory of the freedom and the genius of our country. Here, young children see, with their own eyes, yes, even touch with their own hands, the ripe fruit of America's historical harvest.
Whitney's cotton gin, Singer's sewing machine, McCormick's reaper, Edison's phonograph, Bell's telephone--they are all here, a part of this treasure-house of our inheritance.
The more we understand the meaning of the past, the more we appreciate the winning of the future.
I hope that every schoolchild who visits this Capital, every foreign visitor who comes to this First City, and every doubter who hesitates before the onrush of tomorrow will, some way, spend some time in this great museum. In truth, this new museum could become an open window through which could look the children of Asia and Western Europe and South America and the Soviet Union.
What greater thrust toward peace is there than the invitation to young people of the world, particularly those behind the Iron Curtain, to come visit us and to see this museum of history ?
Why not open our historical doors and let the visitors see what kind of people we really are--and what sort of people we really come from?
They would instantly realize that we were not always the affluent nation and the powerful nation and the fortunate nation. From the exhibits in this museum they would learn that the demagogues' dingy slogans around the world have no real basis in fact.
Our ancestors moved across the prairies, working to build something where nothing existed before. Yes, this museum would show to the skeptics and the doubters that what we have today was wrenched out of the earth and the sweat of pioneers who, in the face of a thousand disappointments, refused to ever abandon the American dream.
We would show the visitors from the newly emerging nations that their labors are not in vain--for the future belongs to those who work for it. Let them go back to their home secure in the knowledge that from coarse and barren beginnings come the fulfillments of hope. They will have seen the evidence here.
If this museum did nothing more than illuminate our heritage so that others could see a little better our legacy, however so small the glimpse, it would fulfill a most noble purpose.
I am so glad to be here with you tonight.
I am always glad to be where America is.