Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Address on Freedom Celebration Day, Charlotte, North Carolina.

May 18, 1954

Governor Umstead, members of this distinguished gathering:

First, may I pay to each of you my personal thanks for the cordiality of your welcome. To each of you who along the street or in this gathering has given me a smile or a wave, I am eternally grateful, and I say this most feelingly and most sincerely.

Any American with a modicum of modesty would at times be overwhelmed by the intensity and the importance of the problems that he would meet, if he were called upon to serve in the chief official position of this country. He would find, as I have found, and as all before me in the same office have found, that his great inspiration, his great source of help is going back and meeting his friends in the street, in gatherings such as this, so that he may know that the heart of America is always sound, and America's judgment--when based on information--is always correct.

If he can carry that conviction into international conference, into domestic discussion with political and business and other leaders, he can be certain that in the long run, if he hews to that line, he will have done his duty, insofar as his God gave him the ability to do it.

And so you may understand something, then, of the true pleasure I feel in being with you here today, to join with you, my own fellow Americans, in saluting, first, our armed services, those men and women of ours who have worn the uniform of our country, proudly, well, and effectively--who have defended our flag at home and abroad for lo all these decades since the founding of our country--in whose accomplishments we have always found tremendous pride and satisfaction.

Today, as in all other decades of our history, we are still confident of our armed services, from their secretaries and high commanders on down to the last private in the ranks.

And it is not difficult to understand this pride, because these people are of us. They are Americans. They come from this crowd. They sit among you people, who have worn that uniform. There are others who will. Some of you in that great throng this day are in the service, and serving your country. Still others have sons and brothers and husbands and sweethearts serving. We know that they are sound, because they are America.

And we have met, in addition, for the traditional purpose of honoring those men of long ago--patriots in their time--who signed the Mecklenburg Convention. Now the historical record of that particular moment in history 179 years ago has been disputed by some, particularly those who claim that they are the descendants of the true authors of all early historical documents of that kind. Now, to me, that is not important. The important thing is that here, this great segment of America wants to be known as the originators of our historical documents of freedom.

Did you take no pride in freedom today, why would you meet to claim such an honor? I will tell you this: in my States of Texas and Kansas, could we today prove that there were at least three settlers in each of those States, today we would prove to you that we not only started the Revolutionary War, wrote all the documents, won the war, but started the Nation. And I thoroughly believe, as long as all Americans are anxious to claim kinship, not necessarily by blood descent, but by spirit, by admiration, by closeness of feeling with those men who did those great deeds, then indeed is America safe.

And so it matters not exactly how many men were gathered in that cabin to sign a document. It matters not that part of the document had to be reconstructed from memories of those who were present, the fact is that it was an immortal step in our development, because today people venerate the occurrence.

As we today worship freedom as they worshipped freedom, we are doing our part, as they did theirs, in sustaining it for all, both of this generation and those to come.

And that, my friends, is the great problem, is the great task, of this generation of America. The world has practically eliminated physical barriers as among nations and among continents. But, the world today, although joined physically by a few hours of flight or by an instant in telecommunications, is further apart in idea, in political belief, in basic philosophy, than it ever was--even before the discovery of the Western World.

There are two camps, one which believes--as did the men of Mecklenburg--that government should be rounded and should be sustained to serve people--in other words, that the most important element of a nation is the individual that composes it; another doctrine, discarding and rejecting all thought of spiritual values on which such a concept is based, saying the only values in the world that mean anything are materialistic values, and so, in order that they may survive, they intend to destroy the whole concept that those forefathers of yours handed on down, and in which you meet here today.

Indeed, the gathering of such a group as we have here is in itself a monument to what has happened in America, a monument to the type of civilization and government under which we live.

If such a meeting should occur in the Soviet country, it would be there to hear a doctrine propounded by the dictator. It would come there by the routes laid out by the dictator. It would cheer when told to cheer, and leave when told to leave, and go exactly to where its members were told to go.

Here we do not do that. And so we have the true value of a meeting fully expressed, because people are here--because they want to.

I realize that in the time and life such as ours, all of us are torn by worries as we meet, no matter how uncomplainingly--the problems of living, the problems of paying the taxes, the payments on the car, maybe the mortgage on the house, of educating the children. We are still torn by the worries that come about with the knowledge that science has brought us a great power for self-destruction in this world, even while no one has seemed, yet, to devise a means whereby we can escape the consequences of such discoveries and devote them exclusively to the betterment of mankind.

At this time and place, I cannot outline in detail what your Government is trying to do in this regard. But I do want to leave with you today one pledge: your Government, in all its parts, is devoted to one thing, and one thing only, a fair and just peace for all mankind.

Every move--every move that it makes on the international checkerboard, every program that it devises and supports for enactment at home, is to seek that road toward peace, with an America that is strong, in its spirit, in its devotion to freedom, intellectually--in its educational and mental attainments, economically strong, with a wide distribution of all the productivity of this great country; and finally, militarily strong so that we may be secure and safe as we seek out this road and make more certain that we can find it.

In a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen, that is what all of us joined together in Washington are trying to do. Despite the arguments that you see in your headlines, despite all the things that distract us from these important aims and purposes of Government, that basic thought, that basic aim, is there--always.

Ninety-nine percent of all the public officials that you have in city councils, in your State governments, in your Governors chairs, and in Washington, are devoted to that one purpose, because all Americans know that until we have peace, we cannot march forward to attain the dream that was held--and so clearly stated--by the men of Mecklenburg.

And now, permit me again a personal reference, before I go and start my journey back to Washington. From the moment I stepped off my plane to meet your Governor, I have met many old friends. Everywhere I have encountered nothing but warm hospitality. I thank the people who served the lunch, the orchestras, and the choirs that entertained us with their art. I thank five old classmates of mine from West Point who came here today to give me a chance to say Hello to campaigners of 1911. Everybody here--to each of you, my thanks.

Good luck, and I hope I will be seeing you.

Note: The President spoke in Freedom Park at 2:40 p.m.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address on Freedom Celebration Day, Charlotte, North Carolina. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232010

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