Photo of Alf Landon

Address Accepting the Republican Presidential Nomination in Topeka, Kansas

July 23, 1936

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Notification Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I accept the nomination of the Republican Party for the Presidency of the United States. In accepting this leadership I pray for Divine Guidance to make me worthy of the faith and the confidence which you have shown in me.

This call, coming to one whose life has been that of the everyday American, is proof of that freedom of opportunity which belongs to the people under our government. It carries with it both an honor and a responsibility. In a republic these cannot be separated.

Tonight, facing this honor and responsibility, I hope for the gift of simple and straightforward speech. I want every man and woman in this nation to understand my every word, for I speak of issues deeply concerning us all.

The citizen who assumes the direction of the Executive branch of our Government, takes an oath that he will "faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will," to the best of his ability, "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." This oath carries the obligation, so to use executive power that it will fulfill the purposes for which it was delegated.

No man, in common good faith to his fellow citizens, may rightfully assume the duties of the high office of Chief Executive and take the oath that goes with the office, unless he shall intend to keep and shall keep his oath inviolate.

It is with a full understanding of the meaning of this oath that I accept this nomination.

The 1936 platform of the Republican Party has my complete adherence. It sets out the principles by which we can achieve the full national life that our resources entitle us to enjoy.

There is not time to lay our whole program before you tonight; I can touch only upon a few phases of it. The others, I hope to discuss with you in detail as the campaign progresses.

I intend to approach the issues fairly, as I see them, without rancor or passion. If we are to go forward permanently, it must be with a united nation—not with a people torn by appeals to prejudice and divided by class feeling.

The time has come to pull together.

No people can make headway where great numbers are supported in idleness. There is no future on the relief rolls. The law of this world is that man shall eat bread by the sweat of his brow. The whole American people want to work at full time and at full pay. They want homes, and a chance for their children, reasonable security, and the right to live according to American standards. They want to share in a steady progress. We bind ourselves with a pledge we shall not ignore, thrust aside, or forget, to devote our whole energy to bringing these things about.

The world has tried to conquer this depression by different methods. None of them has been fully successful. Too frequently recovery has been hindered, if not defeated, by political considerations.

Our own country has tried one economic theory after another. The present Administration asked for, and received, extraordinary powers upon the assurance that these were to be temporary. Most of its proposals did not follow familiar paths to recovery. We knew they were being undertaken hastily and with little deliberation.

But because the measures were supposed to be temporary, because everybody hoped they would prove successful, and because the people wanted the Administration to have a fair trial, Congress and the country united in support of its efforts at the outset.

Now it becomes our duty to examine the record as it stands. The record shows that these measures did not fit together into any definite program of recovery. Many of them worked at cross-purposes and defeated themselves. Some developed into definite hindrances to recovery. They had the effect generally of extending control by Washington into the remotest corners of the country. The frequent and sudden changes in the Administration's policy caused a continual uneasiness.

As a result, recovery has been set back again and again. This was not all of the failure. Practical progressives have suffered the disheartening experience of seeing many liberal objectives discredited during the past three years by careless thinking, unworkable laws and incompetent administration.

The nation has not made the durable progress, either in reform or recovery, that we had the right to expect.

For it must be remembered that the welfare of our people is not recorded on the financial pages of the newspapers. It cannot be measured in stock market prices. The real test is to be found in the ability of the average American to engage in business, to obtain a job, to be a self-supporting and a self-respecting member of his community.

Judged by the things that make us a nation of happy families, the New Deal has fallen far short of success. The proof of this is in the record. The record shows that in 1933 the primary need was jobs for the unemployed. The record shows that in 1936 the primary need still is jobs for the unemployed.

The time has come to stop this fumbling with recovery. American initiative is not a commodity to be delivered in pound packages through a Governmental bureau. It is a vital force in the life of our nation and it must be freed!

The country is ripe for recovery. We are far behind in expenditures for upkeep and improvements and for expansion. The total of this demand—in industry, in new enterprises, in our homes and on our farms—amounts to billions of dollars. Once all this consumer demand is released, the problem will be not where to find work for the workers, but where to find workers for the work.

One of the signs of the ending of past depressions was the launching of new business ventures. It is true that most of them were small. Altogether, however, they provided work for many millions of people. In the present depression this demand for work has not yet appeared. Few new ventures have been started. Why? Because the small business man, the working man who would like to become his own boss—the average American—has hesitated to start out for himself. He lacks confidence in the soundness of Federal policy; he is afraid of what may come next.

We must dispel his fear, restore his confidence and place our reliance once more in the initiative, intelligence and courage of these makers of jobs and opportunities. That is why I say, in all earnestness, that the time has come to unshackle initiative and free the spirit of American enterprise.

We must be freed from incessant governmental intimidation and hostility. We must be freed from excessive expenditures and crippling taxation. We must be freed from the effects of an arbitrary and uncertain monetary policy. And, through a vigorous enforcement of the anti-trust laws, we must be freed from private monopolistic control.

Once these things are done, the energies of the American economic system will remedy the ravages of depression and restore full activity and full employment.

Out of this depression has come, not only the problem of recovery but also the equally grave problem of caring for the unemployed until recovery is attained. Their relief at all times is a matter of plain duty.

We of our Party pledge that this obligation will never be neglected. In extending help, however, we will handle the public funds as a public trust. We will recognize that all citizens, irrespective of color, race, creed or party affiliation, have an equal right to this protection. We would consider it base beyond words to make loyalty or service to party a condition upon which the needy unemployed might obtain help. Those who use public funds to build their political machines, forfeit all right to political consideration from true Americans.

Let me emphasize that, while we propose to follow a policy of economy in Government expenditures, those who need relief will get it. We will not take our economies out of the allotments to the unemployed. We will take them out of the hides of the political exploiters. The question is not as stated by the Administration—how much money the American people are willing to spend for relief. The question is how much waste the American people are willing to stand for in the administration of relief.

The destruction of human values by this depression has been far greater than the American people suffered during the World War. When the depression began millions of dependable men and women had employment. They were the solid citizenry of America; they had lived honestly and had worked hard. They had dealt fairly with the Government which, in turn, had depended upon their support.

Then they found themselves deprived of employment by economic forces over which they had no control. Little by little they spent their life savings while vainly seeking new jobs.

We shall undertake to aid these innocent victims of the depression.

In addition, we shall amend the Social Security Act to make it workable. We recognize that society, acting through government, must afford as large a measure of protection as it can against involuntary unemployment and dependency in old age. We pledge that the Federal Government will do its proper share in that task.

But it must be kept in mind that the security of all of us depends on the good management of our common affairs. We must be able to produce and accumulate enough to finance our normal progress, as well as to take care of ourselves and of those entitled to protection.

Mounting debts and increasing taxes constitute a threat to all of these aims. They absorb the funds that might be used to create new things or to reduce the cost of present goods. Taxes, both visible and invisible, add to the price of everything. By taking more and more out of the family purse, they leave less for the family security. Let us not be misled by those who tell us that others will be made to carry the burden for us. A simple inquiry into the facts and figures will show that our growing debts and taxes are so enormous that, even if we tax to the utmost limits those who are best able to pay, the average taxpayer will still have to bear the major part. While spending billions of dollars of borrowed money may create a temporary appearance of prosperity we and our children, as taxpayers, have yet to pay the bill. For every single dollar spent we will pay back two dollars!

Crushing debts and taxes are usually incurred, as they are being incurred today, under the guise of helping people—the same people who must finally pay them. They invariably retard prosperity and they sometimes lead to situations in which the rights of the people are destroyed. This is the lesson of history, and we have seen it occur in the modern world.

Our party holds nothing to be of more urgent importance than putting our financial house in order. For the good of all of us, we must re-establish responsibility in the handling of Government finances. We must recognize that a government does not have an unlimited supply of money to spend. It must husband its resources just as truly as does the head of a family. Unless it follows such a course it cannot afford the services which the people themselves expect.

No sound national policy looking to the national welfare will neglect the farmer. This is not because the farmer needs or wishes to be coddled, or that he asks for undue help. It is necessary because the needs of a great nation require that its food producers shall always stand upon a social and economic plane in keeping with the national importance of their service.

The present Administration's efforts to produce this result have not been successful. Payments under the Triple-A did help to tide farmers over a difficult period. But, even before it was ruled out by the Supreme Court, the Triple-A was rapidly disorganizing American agriculture. Some of its worst effects continue. By its policies the Administration has taken the American farmer out of foreign markets and put the foreign farmer into the American market. The loss of markets, both at home and abroad, far outweighs the value of all the benefits paid to farmers.

Worse than this, from the standpoint of the public, is the fact that the Administration, through its program of scarcity, has gambled with the needed food and feed supplies of the country. It overlooked the fact that Mother Nature cannot be regimented.

The time has now come when we must replace this futile program with one that is economically and socially right.

The wealth of our soil must be preserved. We shall establish effective soil conservation and erosion control policies in connection with a national land use and flood prevention program—and keep it all out of politics.

Our farmers are entitled to all of the home market they can supply without injustice to the consumer. We propose a policy that protects them in this right.

Some of our farmers, dependent in part upon foreign markets, suffer from disadvantages arising from world disorder. Until these disadvantages are eliminated we propose to pay cash benefits in order to cushion our farm families against the disastrous effects of price fluctuations and to protect their standard of living.

The American people, now as always, are responsive to distress caused by disasters, such as the present drouth. Our platform reflects that spirit. We shall fulfill its pledge to give every reasonable assistance to producers in areas suffering from such temporary afflictions, so that they may again get on a self-supporting basis.

Our farm program as a whole will be made to serve a vital national purpose.

The family type of farm has long constituted one of the cherished foundations of our social strength. It represents human values that we must not lose. Widespread ownership of moderate-sized tracts of land was the aim of the Republican Homestead Act. This conception of agriculture is one phase of the general principle that we stand for—preserving freedom of opportunity in all walks of life.

The benefits which will be paid under our program will go no higher than the production level of the family type of farm.

Another matter of deep concern is the welfare of American labor. The general well being of our country requires that labor shall have the position and rewards of prosperity to which it is entitled. I firmly believe that labor has the right to protect this position and to achieve those rewards by organizing in labor unions. Surely the history of labor in the United States has demonstrated that working conditions, wages and hours have been improved through self-organization.

The right of labor to organize means to me the right of employees to join any type of union they prefer, whether it covers their plant, their craft or their industry. It means that, in the absence of a union contract, an employee has an equal right to join a union or to refuse to join a union.

Under all circumstances, so states the Republican platform, employees are to be free from interference from any source, which means, as I read it, entire freedom from coercion or intimidation by the employer, any fellow employee or any other person.

The Government must maintain itself in the position of an umpire: First, to protect the public interest, and second, to act as a mediator between conflicting groups. One of the greatest problems of this country is to develop effective methods of conciliation.

Taking a dispute, after it gets into a tangle, and rushing it to the doorstep of the President is a bad way to handle a labor situation or any other situation.

In international affairs, also, the Republican Party has always worked for the advancement of justice and peace. Following the early tradition of our country, it has consistently urged the adjustment of international disputes in accordance with law, equity, and justice. We have now again declared our continual loyalty to this principle.

Republican presidents sent delegates to the Hague conferences and one of them took the leading part in the termination of the Russo-Japanese war. Another Republican President called a conference which, for the first time, produced a reduction and limitation of arms on a wide scale. Still another led in securing the treaty outlawing wars.

In purpose and achievement, our party has a record which points the way to further helpful service in creating international understanding, in removing the causes of war, and in reducing and limiting arms.

We shall take every opportunity to promote among the nations a peace based upon justice and human rights. We shall join in no plan that would take from us that independence of judgment which has made the United States a power for good in the world. We shall join in no plan that might involve us in a war in the beginning of which we had no part, or that would build a false peace on the foundation of armed camps.

I turn now to the basic principles upon which our Nation is founded. America has always stood, and now stands, first of all for human rights, for "the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" of the great Declaration. The prime needs of men have not changed since that Declaration, though new means from time to time may be necessary to meet those needs. But the great safeguards against tyranny and oppression must not be cast away and lost. They must be saved that men may live free to pursue their happiness, safe from any kind of exploitation.

One cannot face this occasion and the prospect flowing from it without a sobering reflection upon the beginnings, growth, and destiny of our nation. Our Government was founded to give life to certain vital principles. The people embodied these basic principles of human rights in the Federal and State Constitutions. Thus, the people themselves, of their own free will, set up this Government. And it is still the Government of the people. Any change which the people want they can have by following the procedure they themselves laid down.

But for any official or branch of Government to attempt such a change, without authority from the people, is to do an unwarranted and illegal act. It is a substitution of personal for Constitutional Government. If added power is needed, the people have set out how that authority may be had from them if they wish to give it.

This, in its broad essentials, is the basic structure of our Government.

As our economic life has become more complex and specialized some need, real or apparent, has often been urged as an excuse for a further grant of power from the people. They have sometimes given, sometimes withheld, the desired power.

There has now appeared in high places, however, a new and dangerous impulse. This is the impulse to take away and lodge in the Chief Executive, without the people's consent, the powers which they have kept in their state Governments or which they have reserved in themselves.

In its ultimate effect upon the welfare of the whole people, this, then, is the most important question now before us: Shall we continue to delegate more and more power to the Chief Executive or do we desire to preserve the American form of government? Shall we continue to recognize that certain rights reside with the people, that certain powers are reserved for the States, and that certain functions are delegated to the Federal Government?

Now I know that many of us, at one time or another, have become dissatisfied and impatient with the efforts of our local and State administrations to solve our difficulties.

At such times it has seemed to us that only a larger, more powerful unit of Government could meet the need.

For those who have followed such a line of reasoning I have the understanding that comes from experience. As a young man I was attracted to the idea of centralizing in the Federal Government full power to correct the abuses growing out of a more complex social order. When the people rejected this alternative, I was as disappointed as anyone. But in spite of this rejection, I have lived to see many of those abuses substantially corrected by the forty-eight state legislatures in their fields and by the Federal Government in its field of interstate commerce.

More recently, as a small independent oil producer, I saw my industry ask for Federal regulation because of a selfish exploitation of a natural resource, which, once wasted, cannot be replaced. When Federal regulation failed, the industry made progress in the solution of the problem, by turning to State action, supplemented with interstate compacts as provided by the amazing foresight of the makers of the Constitution.

It is not my belief that the Constitution is above change. The people have the right, by the means they have prescribed, to change their form of Government to fit their wishes. If they could not do this, they would not be free. But change must come by and through the people and not by usurpation. Changes should come openly, after full and free discussion, and after full opportunity for the people to express their will.

The Republican Party, however, does not believe that the people wish to abandon the American form of Government.

We propose to maintain the constitutional balance of power between the States and the Federal Government.

We propose to use the full power of the Federal Government to break up private monopolies and to eliminate private monopolistic practices.

In other words, the Republican Party proposes to restore and to maintain a free competitive system—a system under which, and only under which, can there be independence, equality of opportunity, and work for all.

A free competitive system is necessary to a free government. Neither political nor civil liberty long survives the loss of economic liberty. Each and all of these liberties, with the precious human rights which they involve, must be preserved intact and inviolate.

If I am elected Chief Executive of this nation I propose to restore our Government to an efficient as well as Constitutional basis.

I shall call to my aid those men best qualified to conduct the public business—and I mean just that.

I shall stand back of them.

I shall hold them responsible for doing their jobs.

I shall cooperate wholeheartedly with Congress in an effective reorganization of the numerous Government agencies, to get rid of those that are not necessary, to eliminate duplication, to insure better administration, and to save the taxpayers' money.

I hold that it is the right of our people to have their greatest public service enterprise—their government—well administered.

These are some of the aims and proposals of a Republican administration that would enter office under a pledge to conduct the public business with honesty, frugality, courage and common sense.

In common with all my countrymen, I look forward to the America that is to be.

It should be a nation in which the old wrong things are going out and the new right things are coming in.

It should be a country which produces more and more until there is plenty for all, with a fair chance for all to earn their share.

It should be a land in which equal opportunity shall prevail and special privilege shall have no place.

It should be an America that shall bring to bear the whole of her great spiritual force in a common effort to drive the curse of war from the earth; an America that, for the sake of all mankind as well as ourselves, shall never lose the faith that human freedom is a practical ideal.

It is in these aims and in these works that I vision the manifest destiny of America. Everything we need for their realization we can find, I firmly believe, within the principles under which this nation has grown to greatness. God grant us, one and all, the strength and the wisdom to do our part in bringing these.

Source: Kansas Historical Society

Alf Landon, Address Accepting the Republican Presidential Nomination in Topeka, Kansas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project