Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Address at the Closure Ceremonies at Garrison Dam, North Dakota.

June 11, 1953

Mr. Chairman, Governor Brunsdale, General Sturgis, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans:

It is a great honor to be here with you at this significant ceremony in the development of the Garrison Dam--the closure ceremonies of the dam.

I hope as I start expressing to you a few of the facts that cross my mind on this significant occasion you will allow me first to reminisce a bit.

I was raised on one of the major tributaries of the Missouri River--in the Kaw Valley in Kansas. There was a great flood in 1903--50 years ago this year--almost 50 years ago this day. It was a terrific thing and it covered that whole valley.

I was in the midst of it. I've tried to cast my mind back today to the thoughts of that time. Certainly the last thing that would have occurred to us living in the midst of that flood was that man would ever have the temerity to try to harness the Big Muddy.

I might say also that the furthest thing from my mind was that I personally would ever be present at a ceremony where we were celebrating or commemorating such a successful effort. Who would have thought then of a loudspeaker, or of a radio that carries voices today all over this Nation even as we sit here on this pleasant sunny countryside?

Now, when we think of how far man has come in those 50 years it is almost frightening to project our minds 50 years in advance. And so, I want to address myself first to those doubters who say, "What can be the use of this enormous structure with its 000,000 acre-feet of water stored behind it, with all of the dreams that people have had who designed it, or for its use in flood control, irrigation, regulating navigation further downriver and for the uses of the power?"

And even already, I am told, there have been more requests for power than they contemplate producing in this mighty dam. But beyond all of the immediate uses, think of what it's going to mean to the people who in some similar occasion and some other spot stand 50 years from now to celebrate some other significant development of this kind.

The improvement in our cultivation, the improvement in control of floods that are now so destructive will then probably become commonplace. They will accept them as a part of their lives. They will no longer question the usefulness of these great dams.

Now, I believe that every part of our Government and of our people have a role to play in the development of this kind of conservation effort. The Federal Government, with its great reserves of credit and of money, must participate because out of these things comes a direct and great benefit to the Federal Government.

First, we must recall that our population is increasing now at the rate of about 3,000,000 a year. Certainly before long the rate of increase will be in excess of that number.

Now we talk about our surpluses. Within a matter of a couple of decades the problem will be--where is our wheat, our meat, our grain, our fibers? Where are they coming from? We will have to develop all of these lands so far as the available water will permit so as to bring production to a maximum rate rather than what we sometimes now call a controlled rate.

Everywhere there will be need for the power, for the controls of flood waters, for the irrigation water and for the navigation that will travel our streams.

Now, possibly it would be appropriate for me to express here just a bit of my own philosophy as to the kind of partnership that would develop these great works. As I said, I believe that the Federal Government has a major role to play. But we must not forget that our Founding Fathers found and believed it necessary that in diffusing and dispersing power--the control over our lives in this country--it wasn't enough to disperse it and diffuse it functionally in the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial. They felt it also necessary to diffuse it geographically.

In other words, the State has not only a traditional but a very necessary function to perform in our country if we are to be assured of remaining the kind of people under the kind of governmental system that we now enjoy and which has brought us to this point.

And so I believe that in a great work, a great development such as this, the State has a very distinct function and it must be performed. Else too much power will be concentrated in Washington and all people will have to look to that far off place to say, "What may I do and what may I not do," whether you be an industrialist in the city or a farmer tilling the soil.

And in the same way the community, the municipality has a function. And finally there is always a place in our country for private enterprise. Indeed, when that function disappears then we will be under some other alien form of government and one that we would not recognize now.

I wonder if you would allow me for a moment to read an observation from one of the greatest Presidents our country has produced--Abraham Lincoln. He said once, "The legitimate object of Government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot do so well. In all that the people can individually do so well for themselves Government ought not to interfere."

So far as I'm concerned, I am going to make no attempt to improve on Mr. Lincoln's philosophy.

But obviously Garrison Dam is something that the community-the people here--could not do for themselves. And I am proud, indeed, to be here to symbolize today in a small way the Federal Government's part in this great development. But the dam was built with people's money. Its benefits shall go to the people.

One of the functions that this dam will perform is providing power for this great area. Already there are in this area facilities by which that power is distributed. There are facilities that belong to municipalities; there are REA co-op facilities; there are private power companies. All should be utilized. What man has produced we don't destroy; we don't throw it away. They are here to serve these communities. We could use them all because all have proved their usefulness.

Now, in using the things that already have been produced for the benefit of all people, we will conserve tax dollars at a time when the security of this great Nation--the security that permits this kind of development is demanding 2 out of every 3 tax dollars we pay.

It is no time to be spending money uselessly. It is time to be doing those things which the needs of today--and even more so the needs of the next 10 years--demand that we do in order that we may stay prosperous and do our work economically and in timely fashion so that the urgency of an immediate need will not drive us into extra cost.

Now, this brings us up to another aspect of this kind of work. It is not something to be conceived of all alone. It is part of a great conservation work that all parts of our Nation must benefit from and must participate in, in order that we must get these things when we need them.

Because; let us take one of these great dams. In itself it possibly is not directly concerned in soil conservation. But if we do not have soil conservation practices up above these great dams they will certainly fill up more rapidly than if we do act intelligently in this fashion and keep these dams for the purposes for which they were intended.

Already some of the earlier dams, constructed as early as 1903 and 1904, in the early part of the century, I am told are showing the results of filling up. So there must be coordination between this kind of work and the other practices that we have in soil, water, timber, wildlife conservation. Happily, this dam is going to serve all of these functions.

Now, my friends, in these days and times we know how necessary it is that we don't forget the spiritual strength of America. We know how necessary it is that we inform ourselves of the facts of the world situation and how we rededicate ourselves to the status of our country in order that we may stand fearless, unafraid, and secure in this troublous time, when we are threatened both from without and from within.

Many men have seen their need for a spiritual renaissance--a rekindling of the kind of spirit that made Patrick Henry say "Give me liberty or give me death." That is one side of the rededication to America that we must never forget, and certainly it is the most important in the sense that all improvements in this world that man now enjoys have come from the heart and the soul of man. Unless he wanted something--unless he demanded something-it did not come about to satisfy his material, his intellectual or his spiritual needs.

At this same time we are here engaged in something else just as important--the material strength of America. Man is both a spiritual being and a material being. He needs and requires his daily bread; he requires his clothing, his shelter and other things that come from the material resources of America and of the world.

We must conserve; we must dedicate ourselves to keeping America--America's soil, America's water--at its very highest level of efficiency. We must improve it where it is possible because the Nation, like each of us, is both a material thing and it is a spiritual thing.

It is spiritual in that it represents for all the world hope--hope of living and freedom, hope of living peacefully, justly, to be spared the great burdens of wars, turmoils, and destruction. But it is also something whose major economic, industrial and material strength must support this purpose throughout the world.

I mean it in this way: if the United States is going to remain free other great areas of this world must remain free. To remain free they must be both spiritually and materially strong just as must we. Since we today are the most powerful nation in the world--the leaders of the world--we must support those who, like us, are determined to observe the dignity of man to make him and respect him rather as made in the image of his God--the equal with all other people.

If we are going to do that we must be materially strong; we must be spiritually strong. I firmly believe that the kind of thing we see today is one of the major efforts that we are making now and we will continue to make in increasing number to keep our material strength great. That is what will keep our spirit and our strength able to say to all others, "Do not attack us except at your peril because we are going to live under God as a free, secure, and peaceful people."

I should like, before I say goodby, to assure you again of the great honor I feel in the invitation to come out here today to be with you to celebrate this significant milestone in the development of this Nation's material strength.

Goodby and good luck.

Note: In his opening words the President referred to Governor Norman Brunsdale of North Dakota and Maj. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis, Jr., Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army. Lt. Gov. C. P. Dahl introduced the guests and R. Fay Brown served as master of ceremonies.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address at the Closure Ceremonies at Garrison Dam, North Dakota. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231584

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