John F. Kennedy photo

Address in Chicago at a Dinner of the Democratic Party of Cook County

April 28, 1961

Mayor Daley, Governor Kerner, Senator Douglas, Congressman Dawson, Chairman Cullerton, Alderman Keane, Members of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen:

I appreciate your generous welcome. This year I expect to attend two Democratic dinners, one in my home of Boston, Massachusetts, and the other in my second home of Chicago, Illinois.

I would not be here tonight without the strong support of your Mayor at the Convention, and your Senator and Governor during the campaign--your State Chairman. I do not know whether to thank you or not, but I am here and I expect to do my duty.

Some years ago, in the city of Fall River, Massachusetts, the Mayor was elected by one vote, and every time he went down the street, everyone would come up to him and say, "Dan, I put you in office." I feel a little like that in Chicago tonight. If all of you had voted the other way--there's about 5500 of you here tonight--I would not be the President of the United States. I campaigned down-state with the Senator and Governor and also with the Lieutenant Governor. Politics is a rather humbling experience. I introduced Sam Shapiro all over Illinois and I figured that I was really going to help him along, and he told me tonight that he won by 250 thousand--I grabbed Sam Shapiro's coat-tail and he dragged me in. In any case, I am delighted to be here tonight. I owe your Mayor a good deal. He is a valued friend. I have been proud of his support, and I am proud to be here with him tonight.

I am grateful for the generous words of Paul Douglas, who serves this State and country, and I know that he feels as I do about the passage of a bill on which he has worked for many years, which has now passed the United States Senate on three separate occasions, has now passed the House of Representatives and which I will look forward to signing into law next week--the Area Redevelopment Bill, which will mean much to the State of Illinois, and which he made possible.

And then Congressman Dawson, who speaks for this District and also for the country, and who is Chairman of a most important Committee of the House which recently sent to the desk of the President the reorganization bill which will make it possible for us to improve our Government. I am proud to share the program with him.

Above me is the Seal of the President of the United States, and in my State of the Union Address, I called attention to the fact that the American Eagle holds in his right hand the olive branch of peace and he holds in his left hand a bundle of arrows. I said in my State of the Union Address that we intended to give equal attention to both-and we intend to do so.

We live in a hazardous and dangerous time. I do not think it's possible to overstate it. We live in a world which has changed tremendously in our lifetime--history only will secure a full perspective on that change. But here is Africa, which was held by Western European powers for several centuries, now independent--which holds within its countries masses of people, many of them illiterate, who live on average incomes of 50 or 60 or 75 dollars a year, who want a change, who now are the masters of their own house but who lack the means of building a viable economy, who are impressed by the example of the Soviet Union and the Chinese, who--not knowing the meaning of freedom in their own lives--wonder whether the Communist system holds the secret of organizing the resources of the state in order to bring them a better life.

And what is true of Africa is true of Asia, and what is true of Africa and Asia is true in some degree of Latin America. The Communists move among them, disciplined, organized, subject to an international discipline, promising under their system that all will be well, knowing that if they can win just once, then the iron grip of the totalitarian state goes upon the population--those who resist become refugees, or are shot-and they manage to control the population.

Tonight, in Viet-Nam, where the President was reelected recently in the last 2 weeks by a majority of 75 to 80 percent, yet a small army of guerrillas, organized and sustained by the Communist Viet Minh in the north, control most of the countryside in the nighttime--in the last 12 months have assassinated over four thousand civil officers, two thousand state employees and two thousand police, believing if they can "spill the wine," that then they can win control of the population. And when they have won, they do not intend to give way.

Now our great responsibility is to be the chief defender of freedom, in this time of maximum danger. Only the United States has the power and the resources and the determination. We have committed ourselves to the defense of dozens of countries stretched around the globe who look to us for independence, who look to us for the defense of their freedom.

We are prepared to meet our obligations, but we can only defend the freedom of those who are determined to be free themselves. We can assist them--we will bear more than our share of the burden, but we can only help those who are ready to bear their share of the burden themselves.

The Russians and the Chinese, containing within their borders nearly a billion people, totally mobilized for the advance of the Communist system, operating from narrow, interior lines of communication, pressuring on Southeast Asia with the masses of the Chinese armies potentially ready to move-of the Russians who hold great power potentially in the Middle East and Western Europe--the United States stands as the chief defender of freedom.

I said in my Inaugural Address that no group of people in any generation since democracy was first developed by the ancient Greeks nearly twenty-four or -five hundred years ago, have ever borne a responsibility as great as ours. And I welcome it--and I welcome it tonight.

There is no easy answer to the dilemmas that we face. Our great ally is the fact that people do desire to be free, that people will sacrifice everything in their desire to maintain their independence. And as the true nature of the Communist conspiracy becomes better known around the globe, when people come to realize--as they surely will-that the Communist advance does not represent a means of liberation but represents a final enslavement, then I believe that they will rally to the cause to which we have given our support and our commitment.

I believe that we must build our country well, also. Senator Douglas described what we are attempting to do. The burdens are heavy upon us. We have to make this society an example to the world, strong enough to serve not only as an example but strong enough to maintain the commitments that we have assumed.

I am not satisfied, as an American, to see people who want to work can't find a job. I do not believe it saps the initiative of any American to pay him $1.25 minimum wage. I am not impressed by the argument that we are softening our society when we make it possible for older people to contribute to their own maintenance in their older age through medical care under social security. These are the things that any society must do, if it deserves its name. And I am particularly anxious that a free society of which we rightfully boast so much, that it does it better than anyone else does it.

I want our educational system to be the best in the world, because the responsibility upon the graduates of our schools is greater than it is upon any other society.

Mr. Khrushchev and the members of the Presidium make the final, ultimate decisions for the Soviet Union, and a similar group for the Chinese Communists. They are talented and able men, who have risen in a hard school to their present eminence.

A majority of the people--not a select few--a majority of the people make the final decision for us, and we want that majority to be well-educated, to be self-disciplined, to understand the true nature of our challenge, to be able to find work to strengthen themselves and their families, to build in this country a prosperous society which can demonstrate what free men and women can do.

I believe that our future can be bright. I do not take a depressed view of our society here, or of our prospects around the world. I believe we live in a hard and difficult era of history. I believe that we are going to fail as well as succeed, but I believe that we are at least going to make the effort. I believe that we are going to try, and we will take our setbacks as well as our successes, and we will continue to move here, and around the world. We will continue to demonstrate that we desire for other people what we desire for ourselves: the chance to build in this country a free society and under the shelter of our effort to permit others to do likewise.

The next decade offers us challenges enough--and opportunities enough, but I believe that we will meet our responsibilities.

So I come here to this city, which in its own way has demonstrated its confidence in the future--to the State of Illinois, which stands on the prairies of this country, in the heart of the Middle West--I come here as a citizen of the great Republic, and I believe that the future can belong to those who are free, because I believe it must belong to those who are free.

If we put our power and wealth, and capacity and courage and determination, to the single-minded service of freedom, then I believe with Francis Bacon "that there is hope enough and to spare, not only to make a bold man try, but also to make a sober-minded and wise man believe."

That is our opportunity, and that is our responsibility.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 p.m. at the McCormick Place Exposition Center in Chicago. In his opening words he referred to Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago; Otto Kerner, Governor of Illinois; Paul H. Douglas, U.S. Senator, and William L. Dawson, U.S. Representative, from Illinois; P. J. Cullerton, Assessor of Cook County and chairman of the fund-raising dinner; Thomas Keane, Chairman of the Finance Committee of the City Council of Chicago; and Lieutenant Governor Sam Shapiro, President of the Illinois State Senate.

Another text of this address was released by the White House prior to its actual delivery.

John F. Kennedy, Address in Chicago at a Dinner of the Democratic Party of Cook County Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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