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Richard Nixon: Remarks at Honor America Day Ceremonies in Huntsville, Alabama.
Richard Nixon
48 - Remarks at Honor America Day Ceremonies in Huntsville, Alabama.
February 18, 1974
Public Papers of the Presidents
Richard Nixon<br>1974
Richard Nixon

United States
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Governor and Mrs. Wallace, Governor and Mrs. Waller, Governor and Mrs. Dunn, Senator and Mrs. Sparkman, Senator Allen, Congressman Robert E. Jones, Congressman lack Edwards, Mayor Davis, Mr. Chairman1 and all of these very distinguished guests who are here on this occasion:

I was speaking to Governor Wallace just before he got up to make his very gracious introduction, and I told him that I had read someplace that Huntsville was the first capital of Alabama for 2 years. I would like to say today that Huntsville, which was the first capital of Alabama many, many years ago--it was capital, as I understand, for only those 2 years-today certainly, in terms of the size of this turnout, is the first city of America in its devotion to America and in honoring America.

1 Lou Azar was chairman of the Honor America Day Committee.

And as we speak of honoring America today, I think there is something symbolic about those who are on the platform together. When I saw the guest list, I realized that there were three Governors here--from Mississippi, from Tennessee, and Alabama--which makes this broader than simply an Alabama affair. And I also saw that in terms of the American political scene we had an interesting point to make.

It was 22 years ago that Senator Sparkman and I were opponents for the Office of Vice President of the United States, and in 1968, Governor Wallace and I were opponents in seeking the Office of President of the United States. And now here today we are joined together and we meet together not as northerners and southerners or easterners and westerners, not as Democrats or Republicans, but we meet today as Americans first, honoring America, which surmounts all other differences we may have.

And I would like to say that in terms of the Senators and Congressmen who are here, as Governor Wallace has already implied, that when the great issue before the Congress does involve the defense of America, when it involves the honor of America, I find that those lines between the parties certainly begin to be erased away. And these men, particularly, have been ones who have stood up for America whenever there has been a test and have not allowed partisanship to interfere.

You can be very proud of the representation you have in the Senate and also the House of Representatives.

The president of the Sertoma Club has already eloquently indicated the purpose of this celebration, and there is perhaps not too much that I can add in that respect.

But what I would like to emphasize today is a point that he alluded to, and that is that we live in one of those periods in American history when there is a tendency for there to be a great deal of handwringing and pessimism about the future of America.

It is not unusual and it often occurs after the end of a war, but the point that I wish to make is that it is very well on an occasion like this when we honor America that after hearing so much about what is wrong with America, we hear a little bit about what is right about the United States of America.

Those in this audience are well aware of how fortunate we are to live in America. I look at all of the young people here, the young football players who will be in the Sugar Bowl someday, I suppose. I think, too, of their future, and as I see these young people, I think of all the nations of the world, and I want to say one thing to the young people today. You will read sometimes about mistakes our country has made in the past and in the present. You will read sometimes about things that are wrong about America, and you should find out what is wrong so you can correct them. But let me tell you this: If you had to pick a country into which to be born, a country where you had the greatest freedom and the greatest opportunity to go as high as your talents will take you--and I have seen most of the countries in the world--believe me, you would all pick the United States of America. You should be thankful every day that you live here.

We have a lot to be thankful today as Americans, thankful, for example, for the fact for the first time in 12 years, America is at peace with every nation of the world and all of our prisoners of war are home where they belong.

We also have much to be thankful for in terms of the fact 'that we enjoy the highest standard of living, which we all know, that more Americans have better jobs and higher wages than any country in the world, that there is more freedom, more opportunity in America than any place in the world. Oh, these things we always hear and sometimes take for granted, and I would not, in mentioning them, suggest that we did not also have problems.

But let us be thankful that the problems we have today are the problems of peace and not the problems of war. For example, people are concerned, as they should be, about the high cost of living-prices are too high---but what we are trying to build in America is something that we haven't had for the last 12 years, and that is a new prosperity without war, without inflation. What we are trying to do is to stop the rise in prices without a recession and without the domination of big government on top of all of the American economy. I think we can do it. And I believe we can achieve that goal.

And then I know too that many Americans here are concerned, as I am, as Governor Wallace and our other colleagues are, about the energy crisis. Let me put it in another sense, if I may. The other evening at the White House there was a very distinguished group of visitors. The foreign ministers from all of the major industrial countries of the world were there--the British, the French, the Italians, the Germans, the Japanese--and as I thought of the countries that they represented and I thought of America, I realized that of the major industrial countries of the world, the United States, insofar as the free world is concerned, is the only free world country of those major countries that has the resources to become totally independent of any other nation as far as their energy is concerned.

Let me point out why: We have coal resources, we have untapped resources in natural gas, we have the genius of those who develop peaceful uses for our nuclear power, and we have other areas in which we can develop that independence from any other nation. And I say that as we get prepared to celebrate America's 200th anniversary of its independence, just 3 years from now, let us also set as our goal-which we can reach by the year 1980-that the United States will be completely independent of any other nation for the energy we need to provide our jobs and to move our cars and to heat our homes.

So you see, while we do have problems, they are problems that are challenges, they are the problems of peace, and they are problems that we can solve.

And now I would like to turn, if I could, to what I believe is terribly important for us to think of on a day like this, and that is, why is America a great country? Sometimes the quick answer to that, "Why, we are great because we are the strongest country in the world." We are. And others say we are great because we are the richest country in the world, and that is true, too. But the secret of America's greatness goes far beyond its wealth and far beyond its strength.

Think back a moment two centuries ago, think back to the days of George Washington whose birthday we will celebrate in just a few days and that we are symbolically celebrating today. Two hundred years ago, America had 3 million people, there were 13 colonies, it was a weak country, and it was a poor country. But some way that weak America and that poor America caught the imagination of the world. Why? Because America stood for something more than wealth, something more than strength.

There are these elements that I think we should all bear in mind that America has stood for from the time of its beginning, which has meant that we had an appeal to the world and still have it, if we never forget the real sources of our strength. First, because America has always had what we call in a general sense the Spirit of '76 which we are now recapturing 200 years later in 1976, and that Spirit of '76 means, first, the spirit of freedom for all people. Second, it means the spirit of opportunity for all people. And third, it means a spirit of self-reliance.

When I look over the history of [this] country, of the United States--and I think all of you, as you look at it, will agree with this--America became the strongest and the richest and the freest country in the world not because of what government did, but because what people did. People made America, and that is what we must remember today. I refer to the spirit of self-reliance that has built this great country, but the spirit of people who asked not what is the government going to do for me, but what can I do for myself and for my country. That is what built America, and that is what will build it in the future.

And there is another spirit which also has always characterized the American scene, and it is this--Governor Wallace referred to the space program: No nation can be great if it gives up in the race to explore the unknown.

Clearly apart from anything we gain militarily from our exploration of space, we must remember that whether it was exploring the world in which we live, or whether it is now exploring the heavens and the new worlds in the years ahead, America must never settle for second best.

We must seek to be number one, and we shall be number one. Because when a nation fails to seek to do its best, when a people fail to do everything that they can to achieve the ultimate in their greatness, they cease to be a great people.

And then there is another spirit about America that I would characterize as part of the Spirit of '76 and it is this: Americans have always had strength in adversity. In 200 years we have had 12 wars. In 200 years we have had many great depressions. There have been times of discouragement in America. But the American spirit was such that we always became stronger when the going got tougher.

The American people are not a nation of quitters. We are a nation that will keep fighting on until we succeed. As Winston Churchill once said, speaking in another context, he said we did not journey all this way across the centuries, across the oceans and across the mountains and across the prairies because we were made of sugar candy.

It is that character, self-reliance, the character that I have also mentioned in terms of strength in adversity that has made America great, and we must always revitalize it on an occasion like this.

I think, for example, of that character in the personal terms of the individual who has introduced me so eloquently a few moments ago. I think he will remember the day I visited him at the hospital shortly after the totally senseless attack was made on his life.

I went in and talked to him for a few moments, and afterwards--Mrs. Wallace will remember--I came out and gave her my appraisal, not as a doctor, but as a layman, of how he was doing.

And I said, "I know nothing about the physical prognosis, but I know one thing, there is nothing wrong with his spirit. He has the will to live. He will come back, he is going to make it." And he did, because he has got that strength.

And so, when any of you may have your concerns about this setback or that, remember that there have been men and women in our history who have survived great problems, and the more difficult they are, the stronger they become. That is what made America.

And then there is one final element of the greatness of this country that I refer to, and it is this: America has always been driven forward by a sense of destiny. Thomas Jefferson said when this country was being founded, when the Declaration of Independence, which is inscribed behind us here at this park, when it was written, he said we act not for ourselves alone, but for the whole human race.

When you stop to think about it, that was a rather presumptuous thing for a man to say at that time, speaking of a weak, poor country like America. But Jefferson, and Washington before him, and other Presidents after them, also had that sense of vision, and today it is true. And I want to say something again, particularly to our young people and to all of us who have responsibility for your children and grandchildren in the years ahead: What America does or fails to do will determine the peace of the world for generations to come. Maybe some of us would not want it that way. I know that many, after the difficult experiences of a war in Vietnam and before that Korea and before that World War II and before that World War I, we say, let us put down the mantle of leadership, let someone else have the responsibilities to maintain the strength that keeps freedom possible here and in many nations throughout the world.

But I can say to you that unless America maintains its strength and meets the responsibilities to defend freedom, which we are doing throughout the world, it means that freedom not only will be endangered, but the peace of the world will be no longer secure.

And on this occasion then, let us dedicate ourselves to the kind of peace we want. It is good that the peace of the world is in our hands. I say that from the standpoint of other nations, because we seek not to enslave them, we seek not any domination over them, we seek only for themselves what we have, the right to independence, to freedom for all of our people.

And it is also good for us, because when a nation and a people seek great goals, they are a great people, and when it refuses to accept the challenge to seek great goals, they no longer are a great people.

And I can say to you today, my friends here in Alabama, that as we look toward the end of this century and as I think of the role America can and will play, I am confident we can build a new world, a new world in which nations will have differences, but in which we can have peace among peoples, a new world in which America will benefit a great deal from it, because we will have what we want, that prosperity without war here in the United States of America.

There is one final thought that I would leave with this great audience today. It also has been alluded to by the president of the Sertoma Club, and it is this--When we think of America and other civilizations, we must have a concern about this nagging fact of history: Most civilizations or nations run out their course in about 200 years, and the reason is not because they became poor and not because they became weak, but because they lost the will to be great. They turned inward and the divisions destroyed them. In other words, a great nation sometimes cannot afford all of the problems that wealth and richness bring, and what we must remember is that we cannot let this happen in America.

We are strong and we are rich, but there is so much more work left to be done here at home to build better opportunities for our children for education and health and all the other areas that we want for them. And abroad there is so much more to be done that only America can do to leave a legacy for generations to come of a peaceful world.

This is the destiny of America. This is why God has blessed this country as richly as He has, and this is why on this Honor America Day we are going to be worthy of that challenge.

And finally, ladies and gentlemen, a personal note, and I think most of my colleagues from Washington will agree with this. Washington is a great capital, it is the first capital in the world, and it is a great city, but sometimes those of us who live there and work there find that in the Nation's Capital there is a tendency for partisanship to take over from statesmanship. In the Nation's Capital sometimes there is a tendency in the reporting of news--and I do not say this critically, it is simply a fact of life--that bad news is news and good news is not news. And as a result, those of us who work there and try to develop the policies for the Nation may get a distorted view of what is America and what it is really like. It is there you hear more than any place in the world that America is sick, that there is something wrong with this country that cannot be corrected.

Just let me say this one thing, and I say it in a very personal sense. I thank you for coming out in such great numbers to welcome me and Governor Wallace and the other guests on this occasion, but I thank you for reminding all of America that here in the heart of Dixie we find that the heart of America is good, the character of America is strong, and we are going to continue to be a great nation when we are 200 years old.

[At this point, the President received a plaque from Gerald A. Ludick, president of the Madison County Sertoma Club, which sponsored the second annual Honor America Day celebration. The President then resumed speaking.]

Thank you very much and I would like to say just a word about the Sertoma Club. As you know, it is a service club. It is not America's oldest service club, it is not its longest service club, but I can say to you, Mr. President, in terms of the contribution that any service club makes to patriotism in America, there is no service club in America that equals the Sertoma Club.

Note: The President spoke at 1:52 p.m. at Big Spring International Park.
Citation: Richard Nixon: "Remarks at Honor America Day Ceremonies in Huntsville, Alabama.," February 18, 1974. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=4352.
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