Secretary Trowbridge, Dr. Eckler, ladies and gentlemen:
I understand that the Census Bureau misses some people in its count and the 200 millionth American was really born some time ago. As it happens, a few weeks ago I selected a commission to do a little study to find out actually who that lucky baby was. Surprisingly enough, when they ran through all the computer tapes, they found that he was born on June 21st, at Seaton Hospital in Austin, Texas.
Back when our country began, in 1776, there were around 1 1/2 million Americans in this land--in the Thirteen Colonies--about the same number of people who live in Brooklyn today.
The first time an American census counted heads on this continent--in 1790--there were not quite 4 million of us then. That is about the population of Detroit today.
As the years passed--and as our numbers climbed to 200 million--we began to work out a new idea of man and nation on this continent. We said that all men--of all ethnic backgrounds, of all religions, of all races-ought to be free--ought to be truly free--to stand as tall as they could stand.
To an unparalleled degree, I think we have been succeeding in that objective.
We see a nation today that is rapidly approaching the time when more of her young people will be attending college than will not. That is a most revolutionary concept in the history of man.
We see a nation of unimagined wealth and increasing opportunity for most of our people. Sometimes we forget that the term "middle class" used to be a term that described a small minority.
But today we see a nation that is ready to fly to the moon and ready to explore the depths of the ocean. We see a nation fiat, having begun its own climb up the mountain, has neither forgotten nor has it forsaken those people throughout the world who want to grow and who want to prosper in their own ways.
We see a nation that is catapulted to world leadership: a nation that has exercised leadership without thought of conquest or without thought of enrichment, but with only the thought to establish a free and a stable world for ourselves and for other human beings who live in that world.
To put it in a sentence, we have seen success in America beyond all of our wildest dreams.
And we owe it to ourselves, I think, to note and to remember that--as we welcome this 200 millionth American into our midst on the eve of our third century as a nation, that if we only congratulate ourselves on what we have done, we will really miss its meaning, which was that for 200 years our people constantly said: "Make this Nation better. Work for the future. Don't quit until the doors are open to everybody."
We have asked ourselves three fundamental questions in the past 200 years.
At the beginning, we said, "Shall we be a free nation?" A hundred years ago we asked ourselves, "Shall we be one nation?" Thirty-five years ago we asked ourselves, "Shall we then be a humane nation?"
We answered each of these questions once. But once was not enough. They had to be answered again and again by each succeeding generation.
To this hour the answer has always been the same: The answer has been "Yes." "Shall we be a free nation? Shall we be one nation? .... We shall be free. We shall be one nation. We shall be a humane nation. We shall be a responsible people."
Now we are coming to grips with the fourth question. It may be the hardest one of all of the four. It may be the most difficult one we have ever tried to answer. But the fourth question is "Shall we be a great nation?"
That is the question for the third century-and for the next 100 million Americans.
We know we are going to be an urban people for a long time to come. What about the quality of life, then, for the millions who are going to inhabit the cities of the future? If it is good--if it is life-enhancing--then we may be a great nation. But we are going to find a lot of answers to a lot of hard questions before we are sure we are going to be a great nation.
We know that our young people get more schooling than any other young people in all the world, but we have not yet seen whether mass education in America can really be quality education, too.
We know that two races can live in the same country, but we have not seen yet that they can live constructively and that they can live harmoniously among each other in the same country.
We know that we can produce the steel and the cars and the chemicals to make us a mighty powerful and wealthy nation. But we have not yet seen that we can keep our air and our water pure and healthy while we do it.
We know that we can tame the wilds of nature so that men can farm them and can build upon them. But we do not know yet that we can preserve the wilds of nature so that city men and their families may know the release and the refreshment of the earth as it was made.
We know that we can, if we will, provide decent housing for all American families, and thus transform our cities. But we do not yet know how to help people find a sense of community in the impersonal life of cities.
So those are just a few of the challenges that will confront us as we go from 200 million Americans to 300 million Americans-as we begin our third century of life in this land. They are mighty challenges that are hurled at us by the past and by the very swift march of progress in this country.
I wish I could, but I cannot tell you this morning that we are going to be able to meet successfully all of these challenges. I can only tell you that when men are free, and that when men are prosperous, and when people are educated as they are in America-it does seem sense to me for them to try; for them to plan; for them to work for progress-and not just for progress--but to work for greatness.
That is what we are trying so hard to do with your help.
Thank you very much.