The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• John F. Kennedy
Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Courthouse Steps, Dayton, Ohio
October 17, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mr. Patterson and, I hope, the next Congressman Gov. Mike Di Salle, distinguished county officials, ladies and gentlemen; I want to express my appreciation to all of you for being kind enough to come out and welcome us today. I come here as the Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I come here in 1960, just 40 years after a young man, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., came in 1920, to this State, to this city, to visit Governor Cox, who had been nominated for the office of President of the United States. After Franklin Roosevelt and Governor Cox met in 1920, they journeyed to Washington and there called on President Woodrow Wilson, who was then old and sick and finishing as President of the United States. When President Wilson described to them his view of a world at peace, a world in which the United States assumed the burdens of world peace, Governor Cox broke in and said, "President Wilson, we are with you 100 percent," and they ran on the Wilson program and were defeated. But they ran on that program because they felt it incumbent upon them to bear the burden of responsibility and to serve the Democratic Party for the people of this country. What good is a political party, Woodrow Wilson once said, unless it is fulfilling a great purpose for the Nation? And I want to make it clear, the basis upon which we run this year. Our argument with Mr. Nixon and the Republicans is very clear, and very important and very sharp and very distinct, and it involves the lives and the fortunes of everyone in this square. Mr. Nixon holds the view of the world which believes that the power of the United States is at its highest, that our power is steadily rising, that our influence is growing, and he points to our position at the United Nations, our position around the world, our military power, our economic growth, the strength of our educational system, our vitality as a Nation, to justify his argument that what we need is 4 more years of what we have had. [Response from the audience.]

I want to make it clear that I disagree with that view completely. [Applause.] I do not hold with the view that everything we are now doing is being done in good measure. I do not hold with the view that the relative power and influence of the United States is increasing in relation to that of the Communists. I do not hold with the view that we are growing sufficiently here at home to provide full employment for our people. I do not hold with the view that everything that should be done is being done, when 35 percent of our brightest boys and girls who graduate from high school never see the inside of a college. [Response from the audience.]

I do not hold with that view when I read this morning's paper from Cuba. I do not hold with that view when I look at the United Nations and see on the vote to admit Red China that we received the support of only two nations in all of Africa. I do not hold with that view that everything is proper and everything is secure when I see us using only 50 percent of our steel capacity. I hold the view that if we continue our present policies that the tide of American freedom will go out. I believe that this election is important, and I want to make it very clear that any American who, considering carefully our present position, who, considering carefully the needs of his State and the needs of his country and the position of freedom around the world, any American who can get reassurance from that view should vote for Mr. Nixon. [Response from the audience.]

But any American who holds the view that I hold, that what we are now doing is not good enough, that this is a great country but it must be greater, it is a powerful country but it must be more powerful, who holds the view that the tide of history can only move in our favor if we move here at home, who holds the view that the power of the United States in recent years has not grown sufficient to our needs, who holds the view that the image of America as a strong and vital and revolutionary country has begun to fade around the world, and that too many leaders in too many countries begin to look now to the East for the solution of their problems - this is the issue. It is as important an issue as any this country has faced in the last 100 years. If Mr. Nixon honestly believes that this is the position of our country in the world, then in my opinion he is either misinformed or he misleads, because you cannot possibly be a citizen of the United States - as Governor Rockefeller pointed out so many times before the Republican Convention this country needs to go ahead, this country cannot be satisfied with being second best.

This country cannot settle for being first, if; first, but; first, when; first, maybe. We want to be first on the far side of the moon and here in this country, and that is the issue. [Applause.]

As long as there are Americans who want to work and can't find it, as long as there are 15 million American homes which are substandard, as long as some of our brightest children never get to realize their opportunities, as long as there are some Americans who, because of their race or their color, are denied their chance to develop their talents, and that of their children, as long as those people to the south of us in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, who stand today on the razor edge of decision, and wonder whether they should move East or West, as long as the world stands poised as it now stands I believe there is need for action here in the United States, and I ask your help in that effort. [Applause.]

Abraham Lincoln put the issue 100 years ago when he said the question was whether this Nation could exist half slave and half free. Now the question is whether the world will exist half slave and half free, whether it will move in the direction of freedom, or whether it will move in the direction of slavery. And in the last 3 years, Cuba, now perhaps this week Laos, countries which have fallen into the sphere of Foreign influence, who fall into a position of supporting Communist policy, Guinea, to a degree Ghana, perhaps the Congo before we are finished in the fall - all this indicates a sense of vitality and motion in the Communist expansion which we have not matched. I hold the greatest possible confidence in this country. I do not believe that there are any problems which once set before us cannot be met. But what I object to is reassurances that everything is sound now and that no greater effort is needed. That is the issue which faces us. [Applause.] And you have an opportunity to choose. On November 8, you, individually, can make your judgment of what your country is, what it must be, what it should do, what responsibilities you are willing to assume, whether you feel individually - not because somebody says so, but because it is your judgment and you can make this judgment as well as anybody in the world - do you feel yourself that this country is moving the way it should? If you do, then, of course, there is no doubt of your decision. But if you hold with our view that action is required, the same kind of action that Franklin Roosevelt presented to the American people in the early years of the 1930's, the same kind of action which Woodrow Wilson presented to the American people in the new freedom away back in 1913 and 1914, if you hold with that view that the United States has stood still long enough and now once again we are about to begin a great march forward, on that basis I ask you to join with us. I ask you to join with us in moving this country forward again. [Applause.]

Let me make it very clear that this country will not be in a position of influence around the world, we will not be the great defender of freedom around the globe, unless we are strong here in the United States, unless we are moving here in this country. The reason Franklin Roosevelt was a good neighbor in Latin America was because he was a good neighbor here in the United States, because he set before our society its unfinished business. So I come to Dayton in the State of Ohio, which in the next 3 weeks will make the great judgment for the 1960's, and I come not with any alarm but with a sense of urgency, and ask you to join us, ask you to contribute to the welfare of this country, not merely as a great country, but also because what we do here, the vitality which we show here, then will really determine whether the world will exist free or slave.

One hundred years ago Lincoln wrote a friend, "I know there is a God and that he hates injustice. I see the storm coming, and his hand is in it. But if he has a place and a part for me, I believe that I am ready."

Now, 100 years later, we know there is a God, and we know he hates injustice, and we see the storm coming. But if he has a place and a part of us, I believe that we are ready. Thank you. [Applause.]

Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Courthouse Steps, Dayton, Ohio", October 17, 1960. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
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