John F. Kennedy photo

Address in the Assembly Hall at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt.

June 25, 1963

Dr. Gerstenmaier, President Kiesinger, Vice Chancellor Erhard, Minister-President Zinn, Mayor Bockelmann, ladies and gentlemen:

I am most honored, Mr. President, to be able to speak in this city before this audience, for in this hall I am able to address myself to those who lead and serve all segments of a democratic system--mayors, governors, members of cabinets, civil servants, and concerned citizens. As one who has known the satisfaction of the legislator's life, I am particularly pleased that so many members of your Bundestag and Bundesrat are present today, for the vitality of your legislature has been a major factor in your demonstration of a working democracy, a democracy worldwide in its influence. In your company also are several of the authors of the Federal Constitution who have been able through their own political service to give a new and lasting validity to the aims of the Frankfurt Assembly.

One hundred and fifteen years ago a most learned Parliament was convened in this historic hall. Its goal was a united German Federation. Its members were poets and professors, lawyers and philosophers, doctors and clergymen, freely elected in all parts of the land. No nation applauded its endeavors as warmly as my own. No assembly ever strove more ardently to put perfection into practice. And though in the end it failed, no other building in Germany deserves more the title of "cradle of German democracy."

But can there be such a title? In my own home city of Boston, Faneuil Hall-once the meeting-place of the authors of the American Revolution--has long been known as the "cradle of American liberty." But when, in 1852, the Hungarian patriot Kossuth addressed an audience there, he criticized its name. "It is," he said, "a great name-but there is something in it which saddens my heart. You should not say 'American liberty.' You should say 'liberty in America. Liberty should not be either American or European--it should just be 'liberty.'"

Kossuth was right. For unless liberty flourishes in all lands, it cannot flourish in one. Conceived in one hall, it must be carried out in many. Thus, the seeds of the American Revolution had been brought earlier from Europe, and they later took root around the world. And the German Revolution of 1848 transmitted ideas and idealists to America and to other lands. Today, in 1963, democracy and liberty are more international than ever before. And the spirit of the Frankfurt Assembly, like the spirit of Faneuil Hall, must live in many hearts and nations if it is to live at all.

For we live in an age of interdependence as well as independence--an age of internationalism as well as nationalism. In 1848 many countries were indifferent to the goals of the Frankfurt Assembly. It was, they said, a German problem. Today there are no exclusively German problems, or American problems, or even European problems. There are world problems--and our two countries and continents are inextricably bound together in the tasks of peace as well as War.

We are partners for peace--not in a narrow bilateral context but in a framework of Atlantic partnership. The ocean divides us less than the Mediterranean divided the ancient world of Greece and Rome. Our Constitution is old and yours is young, and our culture is young and yours is old, but in our commitment we can and must speak and act with but one voice. Our roles are distinct but complementary--and our goals are the same: peace and freedom for all men, for all time, in a world of abundance, in a world of justice.

That is why our nations are working together to strengthen NATO, to expand trade, to assist the developing countries, to align our monetary policies and to build the Atlantic Community. I would not diminish the miracle of West Germany's economic achievements. But the true German miracle has been your rejection of the past for the future--your reconciliation with France, your participation in the building of Europe, your leading role in NATO, and your growing support for constructive undertakings throughout the world.

Your economic institutions, your constitutional guarantees, your confidence in civilian authority, are all harmonious with the ideals of older democracies. And they form a firm pillar of the democratic European Community.

But Goethe tells us in his greatest poem that Faust lost the liberty of his soul when he said to the passing moment: "Stay, thou art so fair." And our liberty, too, is endangered if we pause for the passing moment, if we rest on our achievements, if we resist the pace of progress. For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.

The future of the West lies in Atlantic partnership--a system of cooperation, interdependence, and harmony whose peoples can jointly meet their burdens and opportunities throughout the world. Some say this is only a dream, but I do not agree. A generation of achievement--the Marshall plan, NATO, the Schuman plan, and the Common Market--urges us up the path to greater unity.

There will be difficulties and delays. There will be doubts and discouragement. There will be differences of approach and opinion. But we have the will and the means to serve three related goals--the heritage of our countries, the unity of our continents, and the interdependence of the Western alliance.

Some say that the United States will neither hold to these purposes nor abide by its pledges--that we will revert to a narrow nationalism. But such doubts fly in the face of history. For 18 years the United States has stood its watch for freedom all around the globe. The firmness of American will, and the effectiveness of American strength, have been shown, in support of free men and free government, in Asia, in Africa, in the Americas, and, above all, here in Europe. We have undertaken, and sustained in honor, relations of mutual trust and obligation with more than 40 allies. We are proud of this record, which more than answers doubts. But in addition these proven commitments to the common freedom and safety are assured, in the future as in the past, by one great fundamental fact--that they are deeply rooted in America's own self-interest. Our commitment to Europe is indispensable--in our interest as well as yours.

It is not in our interest to try to dominate the European councils of decision. If that were our objective, we would prefer to see Europe divided and weak, enabling the United States to deal with each fragment individually. Instead we have and now look forward to a Europe united and strong-speaking with a common voice--acting with a common will--a world power capable of meeting world problems as a full and equal partner.

This is in the interest of us all. For war in Europe, as we learned twice in 40 years, destroys peace in America. A threat to the freedom of Europe is a threat to the freedom of America. That is why no administration-no administration--in Washington can fail to respond to such a threat--not merely from good will but from necessity. And that is why we look forward to a united Europe in an Atlantic partnership--an entity of interdependent parts, sharing equally both burdens and decisions, and linked together in the tasks of defense as well as the arts of peace.

This is no fantasy. It will be achieved by concrete steps to solve the problems that face us all: military, economic, and political. Partnership is not a posture but a process-a continuous process that grows stronger each year as we devote ourselves to common tasks.

The first task of the Atlantic Community was to assure its common defense. That defense was and still is indivisible. The United States will risk its cities to defend yours because we need your freedom to protect ours. Hundreds of thousands of our soldiers serve with yours on this continent, as tangible evidence of that pledge. Those who would doubt our pledge or deny this indivisibility--those who would separate Europe from America or split one ally from another--would only give aid and comfort to the men who make themselves our adversaries and welcome any Western disarray.

The purpose of our common military effort is not war but peace--not the destruction of nations but the protection of freedom. The forces that West Germany contributes to this effort are second to none among the Western European nations. Your nation is in the front line of defense--and your divisions, side by side with our own, are a source of strength to us all.

These conventional forces are essential, and they are backed by the sanction of thousands of the most modern weapons here on European soil and thousands more, only minutes away, in posts around the world. Together our nations have developed for the forward defense of free Europe a deterrent far surpassing the present or prospective force of any hostile power.

Nevertheless, it is natural that America's nuclear position has raised questions within the alliance. I believe we must confront these questions--not by turning the clock backward to separate nuclear deterrents--but by developing a more closely unified Atlantic deterrent, with genuine European participation.

How this can best be done, and it is not easy--in some ways more difficult to split the atom politically than it was physically, but how this can best be done is now under discussion with those who may wish to join in this effort. The proposal before us is for a new Atlantic force. Such a force would bring strength instead of weakness, cohesion instead of division. It would belong to all members, not one, with all participating on a basis of full equality. And as Europe moves towards unity, its role and responsibility, here as elsewhere, would and must increase accordingly.

Meanwhile, there is much to do. We must work more closely together on strategy, training, and planning. European officers from NATO are being assigned to the Strategic Air Command Headquarters in Omaha, Nebr. Modern weapons are being deployed here in Western Europe. And America's strategic deterrent--the most powerful in history--will continue to be at the service of the whole alliance.

Second: Our partnership is not military alone. Economic unity is also imperative-not only among the nations of Europe, but across the wide Atlantic.

Indeed, economic cooperation is needed throughout the entire free world. By opening our markets to the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, by contributing our capital and our skills, by stabilizing basic prices, we can help assure them of a favorable climate for freedom and growth. This is an Atlantic responsibility. For the Atlantic nations themselves helped to awaken these peoples. Our merchants and our traders ploughed up their soils--and their societies as well--in search of minerals and oil and rubber and coffee. Now we must help them gain full membership in the 20th century, closing the gap between rich and poor.

Another great economic challenge is the coming round of trade negotiations. Those deliberations are much more important than a technical discussion of trade and commerce. They are an opportunity to build common industrial and agricultural policies across the Atlantic. They are an opportunity to open up new sources of demand to give new impetus to growth, and make more jobs and prosperity, for our expanding populations. They are an opportunity to recognize the trading needs and aspirations of other free world countries, including Japan.

In short, these negotiations are a test of our unity. While each nation must naturally look out for its own interests, each nation must also look out for the common interest--the need for greater markets on both sides of the Atlantic--the need to reduce the imbalance between developed and underdeveloped nations--and the need to stimulate the Atlantic economy to higher levels of production rather than to stifle it by higher levels of protection.

We must not return to the 1930's when we exported to each other our own stagnation. We must not return to the discredited view that trade favors some nations at the expense of others. Let no one think that the United States--with only a fraction of its economy dependent on trade and only a small part of that with Western Europe--is seeking trade expansion in order to dump our goods on this continent. Trade expansion will help us all. The experience of the Common Market--like the experience of the German Zollverein--shows an increased rise in business activity and general prosperity resulting for all participants in such trade agreements, with no member profiting at the expense of another. As they say on my own Cape Cod, a rising tide lifts all the boats. And a partnership, by definition, serves both partners, without domination or unfair advantage. Together we have been partners in adversity--let us also be partners in prosperity.

Beyond development and trade is monetary policy. Here again our interests run together. Indeed there is no field in which the wider interest of all more clearly outweighs the narrow interest of one. We have lived by that principle, as bankers to freedom, for a generation. Now that other nations--including West Germany--have found new economic strength, it is time for common efforts here, too. The great free nations of the world must take control of our monetary problems if those problems are not to take control of us.

Third and finally: Our partnership depends on common political purpose. Against the hazards of division and lassitude, no lesser force will serve. History tells us that disunity and relaxation are the great internal dangers of an alliance. Thucydides reported that the Peloponnesians and their allies were mighty in battle but handicapped by their policy-making body--in which, he related "each presses its own ends... which generally results in no action at all... they devote more time to the prosecution of their own purposes than to the consideration of the general welfare--each supposes that no harm will come of his own neglect, that it is the business of another to do this or that-and so, as each separately entertains the same illusion, the common cause imperceptibly decays."

Is this also to be the story of the Grand Alliance? Welded in a moment of imminent danger, will it disintegrate into complacency, with each member pressing its own ends to the neglect of the common cause? This must not be the case. Our old dangers are not gone beyond return, and any division among us would bring them back in doubled strength.

Our defenses are now strong--but they must be made stronger. Our economic goals are now clear--but we must get on with their performance. And the greatest of our necessities, the most notable of our omissions, is progress toward unity of political purpose.

For we live in a world in which our own united strength will and must be our first reliance. As I have said before, and will say again, we work toward the day when there may be real peace between us and the Communists. We will not be second in that effort. But that day is not yet here.

We in the United States and Canada are 200 million, and here on the European side of the Atlantic alliance are nearly 300 million more. The strength and unity of this half-billion human beings are and will continue to be the anchor of all freedom, for all nations. Let us from time to time pledge ourselves again to our common purpose. But let us go on, from words to actions, to intensify our efforts for still greater unity among us, to build new associations and institutions on those already established. Lofty words cannot construct an alliance or maintain it--only concrete deeds can do that.

The great present task of construction is here on this continent where the effort for a unified free Europe is under way. It is not for Americans to prescribe to Europeans how this effort should be carried forward. Nor do I believe that there is any one right course or any single final pattern. It is Europeans who are building Europe.

Yet the reunion of Europe, as Europeans shape it--bringing a permanent end to the civil wars that have repeatedly wracked the world--will continue to have the determined support of the United States. For that reunion is a necessary step in strengthening the community of freedom. It would strengthen our alliance for its defense. And it would be in our national interest as well as yours.

It is only a fully cohesive Europe that can protect us all against the fragmentation of our alliance. Only such a Europe will permit full reciprocity of treatment across the ocean, in facing the Atlantic agenda. With only such a Europe can we have a full give and-take between-equals, an equal sharing of responsibilities, and an equal level of sacrifice. I repeat again--so that there may be no misunderstanding--the choice of paths to the unity of Europe is a choice which Europe must make. But as you continue this great effort, undeterred by either difficulty or delay, you should know that this new European greatness will be not an object of fear, but a source of strength, for the United States of America.

There are other political tasks before us. We must all learn to practice more completely the art of consultation on matters stretching well beyond immediate military and economic questions. Together, for example, we must explore the possibilities of leashing the tensions of the cold war and reducing the dangers of the arms race. Together we must work to strengthen the spirit of those Europeans who are now not free, to reestablish their old ties to freedom and the West, so that their desire for liberty and their sense of nationhood and their sense of belonging to the Western Community over hundreds of years will survive for future expression. We ask those who would be our adversaries to understand that in our relations with them we will not bargain one nation's interest against another's and that the commitment to the cause of freedom is common to us all.

All of us in the West must be faithful to our conviction that peace in Europe can never be complete until everywhere in Europe, and that includes Germany, men can choose, in peace and freedom, how their countries shall be governed, and choose-without threat to any neighbor--reunification with their countrymen.

I preach no easy liberation and I make no empty promises; but my countrymen, since our country was founded, believe strongly in the proposition that all men shall be free and all free men shall have this right of choice.

As we look steadily eastward in the hope and purpose of new freedom, we must also look--and evermore closely--to our trans-Atlantic ties. The Atlantic Community will not soon become a single overarching superstate. But practical steps toward stronger common purpose are well within our means. As we widen our common effort in defense, and our threefold cooperation in economics, we shall inevitably strengthen our political ties as well. Just as your current efforts for unity in Europe will produce a stronger voice in the dialog between us, so in America our current battle for the liberty and prosperity of all of our citizens can only deepen the meaning of our common historic purposes. In the far future there may be a great new union for us all. But for the present, there is plenty for all to do in building new and enduring connections.

In short, the words of Thucydides are a warning, not a prediction. We have it in us, as 18 years have shown, to build our defenses, to strengthen our economies, and to tighten our political bonds, both in good weather and in bad. We can move forward with the confidence that is born of success and the skill that is born of experience. And as we move, let us take heart from the certainty that we are united not only by danger and necessity, but by hope and purpose as well.

For we know now that freedom is more than the rejection of tyranny--that prosperity is more than an escape from want-that partnership is more than a sharing of power. These are, above all, great human adventures. They must have meaning and conviction and purpose--and because they do, in your country now and in mine, in all the nations of the alliance, we are called to a great new mission.

It is not a mission of self-defense alone-for that is a means, not an end. It is not a mission of arbitrary power for we reject the idea of one nation dominating another. The mission is to create a new social order, rounded on liberty and justice, in which men are the masters of their fate, in which states are the servants of their citizens, and in which all men and women can share a better life for themselves and their children. That is the object of our common policy.

To realize this vision, we must seek a world of peace--a world in which peoples dwell together in mutual respect and work together in mutual regard--a world where peace is not a mere interlude between wars, but an incentive to the creative energies of humanity. We will not find such a peace today, or even tomorrow. The obstacles to hope are large and menacing. Yet the goal of a peaceful world--today and tomorrow-must shape our decisions and inspire our purposes.

So we are all idealists. We are all visionaries. Let it not be said of this Atlantic generation that we left ideals and visions to the past, nor purpose and determination to our adversaries. We have come too far, we have sacrificed too much, to disdain the future now. And we shall ever remember what Goethe told us--that the "highest wisdom, the best that mankind ever knew" was the realization that "he only earns his freedom and existence who daily conquers them anew."

Note: The President spoke at 4:30 p.m. before an invited audience. His opening words referred to Dr. Eugen Gerstenmaier, President of the Bundestag; Dr. Kurt-Georg Kiesinger, President of the Bundesrat and Minister-President of Wiirtenberg-Baden; Dr. Ludwig Erhard, Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economics; Dr. Georg August Zinn, Minister-President of Hesse; and Werner Bockelmann, Mayor of Frankfurt.

John F. Kennedy, Address in the Assembly Hall at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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