Richard Nixon photo

Address at the Dedication of the Karl E. Mundt Library at General Beadle State College, Madison, South Dakota.

June 03, 1969

Senator and Mrs. Mundt, Governor and Mrs. Farrar, all of the distinguished guests on the platform, and all of the very gracious guests in the audience:

I first want to begin with a personal note, responding to the very gracious remarks that have been made to me and about me by the Governor and by Karl Mundt, and, as I respond to them I want you to know that I feel very much at home here.

I feel at home here because I, too, grew up in a small town. I attended a small college, about the size of this one; and when I was in law school, at a much larger university, one of the ways that I helped work my way through that law school was to work in the law school library.

So I feel very much at home here before a great, new library, on the campus of a small college which is growing larger, and in a small town in the heartland of America.

I would like to relate what I have said a little more, perhaps, closely to this State. I suppose the best thing I could say would be that I was born in South Dakota. I was not. I was born in California. I could also say, possibly, that Mrs. Nixon was born in South Dakota. She was not. She was born in Nevada.

But I can go very close to that, because my wife's mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas [William] Ryan, were married and lived in their early years, before they moved to Nevada, in Lee, South Dakota. So we have a South Dakota background.

I should also point out that in the small estate that her father left was a mining claim in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We paid taxes on that in California for many, many years, and so we were South Dakota taxpayers.

No gold was ever discovered there, but when I returned to South Dakota as a candidate in 1960, I was presented with some Black Hills gold cuff links, and I am wearing them today to show my relationship to South Dakota.

Now an occasion like this does call for more than the usual informal remarks which, I think, are usually quite welcomed by an audience.

This is a solemn occasion. It is the beginning of a new institution as part of a larger institution.

I think as we dedicate this beautiful, new library, that this is the time and place to speak of some very basic things in American life. It is the time, because we find our fundamental values under bitter and even violent attack all over America. And it is the place, because so much that is basic to America is represented right here where we stand.

Opportunity for all is represented here. This is a small college, not rich and famous like Yale and Harvard, and not a vast State university like Michigan and Berkeley. But for almost 90 years it has served the people of South Dakota, opening doors of opportunity for thousands of deserving young men and women. Like hundreds of other fine small colleges across this Nation, General Beadle State College--soon to be known as Dakota State College--has offered a chance to people who might otherwise not have had a chance for an education. And as one who had such a chance at a small college, I know what that means.

The pioneer spirit is represented here, and the progress that has shaped our heritage. Because here in South Dakota we still can sense the daring that converted a raw frontier into part of the vast heartland of America. The vitality of thought is represented here.

A college library is a place of living ideas; a place where timeless truths are collected to become the raw materials of discovery. In addition, the Karl E. Mundt Library will house the papers of a wise and dedicated man who for 30 years has been at the center of public events. Thus, more than most, this is a library of both thought and action, containing and combining the wisdom of past ages with a uniquely personal record of the present time.

So today, as we dedicate this place Of ideas, I think we should reflect on some of the values we have inherited and which are now under challenge.

We live in a deeply troubled and profoundly unsettled time. Drugs and crime, campus revolts, racial discord, draft resistance--on every hand we find old standards violated, old values discarded, old precepts ignored. A vocal minority of our young people are opting out of the process by which a civilization maintains its continuity: the passing on of values from one generation to the next. Old and young across the Nation shout across a chasm of misunderstanding, and the louder they shout, the broader the chasm becomes.

As a result of all this, our institutions in America today are undergoing what may be the severest challenge of our history. I do not speak of the physical challenge, the force and threats of force that have racked our cities and now our colleges. Force can be contained. We have the power to strike back if need be, and we can prevail. The Nation has survived other attempts at insurrection. We can survive this one. It has not been a lack of civil power, but the reluctance of a free people to employ it, that so often has stayed the hand of authorities faced with confrontation.

But the challenge I speak of today is deeper--the challenge to our values and to the moral base of the authority that sustains those values.

At the outset, let me draw a very clear distinction. A great deal of today's debate about "values," or about "morality," centers on what essentially are private values and personal codes: patterns of dress and appearance, sexual mores, religious practices, the uses to which a person intends to put his own life.

Now these are immensely important, but they are not the values I mean to discuss here today.

My concern and our concern today is not with the length of a person's hair, but with his conduct in relation to the community; not with what he wears, but with his impact on the process by which a free society governs itself.

I speak not of private morality, but of public morality--and of "morality" in its broadest sense, as a set of standards by which the community chooses to judge itself.

Some critics call ours an "immoral" society because they disagree with its policies, or they refuse to obey its laws because they claim that those laws have no moral basis. Yet the structure of our laws has rested from the beginning on a foundation of moral purpose. That moral purpose embodies what is, above all, a deeply humane set of values--rooted in a profound respect for the individual, for the integrity of his person, for the dignity of his humanity.

At first glance, there is something homely and unexciting about basic values as we have long believed in them. And we feel apologetic about espousing them; even the profoundest truths become cliches with repetition. But these truths can be like sleeping giants: slow to rouse, but magnificent in their strength.

So today let us look at some of those values--so familiar now, and yet once so revolutionary in America and in the world:

--liberty, recognizing that liberties can only exist in balance, with the liberty of each stopping at that point at which it would infringe the liberty of another;

--freedom of conscience, meaning that each person has the freedom of his own conscience, and therefore none has the right to dictate the conscience of his neighbor;

--justice, recognizing that true justice is impartial and that no man can be judge in his own cause;

--human dignity, a dignity that inspires pride, is rooted in self-reliance, and provides the satisfaction of being a useful and respected member of the community;

--concern, concern for the disadvantaged and dispossessed, but a concern that neither panders nor patronizes;

--the right to participate in public decisions, which carries with it the duty to abide by those decisions when reached, recognizing that no one can have his own way all the time;

--human fulfillment, in the sense not of unlimited license, but of maximum opportunity;

--the right to grow, to reach upward, to be all that we can become, in a system that rewards enterprise, encourages innovation, and honors excellence.

In essence, these are aspects of freedom. They inhere in the concept of freedom; they aim at extending freedom; they celebrate the uses of freedom. They are not new, but they are as timeless and as timely as the human spirit, because they are rooted in the human spirit.

Our basic values concern not only what we seek, but how we seek it.

Freedom is a condition; it is also a process. And the process is essential to the freedom itself.

We have a Constitution that sets certain limits on what government can do, but that allows wide discretion within those limits. We have a system of divided powers, of checks and balances, of periodic elections, all of which are designed to insure that the majority has a chance to work its will but not to override the rights of the minority, or to infringe the rights of the individual.

What this adds up to is a democratic process, carefully constructed, stringently guarded. Now it is not perfect. No system could be. But it has served the Nation well, and nearly two centuries of growth and change testify to its strength and adaptability.

They testify, also, to the fact that avenues of peaceful change do exist in America. And those who can make a persuasive case for changes they want can achieve them through this orderly process.

To challenge a particular policy is one thing; to challenge the government's right to set that policy is another--for this denies the process of freedom itself.

Lately, however, a great many people have become impatient with this democratic process. Some of the more extreme even argue, with a rather curious logic, that there is no majority, because the majority has no right to hold opinions that they disagree with. Scorning persuasion they prefer coercion. Awarding themselves what they call a higher morality, they try to bully authorities into yielding to their "demands." On college campuses they draw support from faculty members who should know better; in the larger community, they find the usual apologists ready to excuse any tactic in the name of "progress."

It should be self-evident that this sort of self-righteous moral arrogance has no place in a free community in America, because it denies the most fundamental of all the values we hold--respect for the rights of others. This principle of mutual respect is the keystone of the entire structure of ordered liberty that makes freedom possible.

The student who invades an administration building, roughs up the dean, rifles the files, and issues "nonnegotiable demands" may have some of his demands met by a permissive university administration. But the greater his "victory," the more he will have undermined the security of his own rights. In a free society, the rights of none are secure unless the rights of all are respected. It is precisely the structure of law and custom that he has chosen to violate--the process of freedom--by which the rights of all are protected.

We have long considered our colleges and universities citadels of freedom, where the rule of reason prevails. Now both the process of freedom and the rule of reason are under assault. At the same time, our colleges are under pressure to reduce our educational standards, in the misguided belief that this would promote "opportunity."

Instead of attempting to raise the lagging students up to meet the college standards, the cry now is to lower the standards to meet the students. This is the old, familiar, self-indulgent cry for the easy way. It debases the integrity of the educational process because there is no easy way to excellence, no shortcut to the truth, no magic wand that can produce a trained and disciplined mind without the hard discipline of learning. To yield to these demands would weaken the institution; more importantly, it would cheat the student of what he comes to college for, a good education.

Now, no group, as a group, should be more zealous defenders of the integrity of academic standards and the rule of reason in academic life than the faculties of our great colleges and universities. But if the teacher simply follows the loudest voices, parrots the latest slogan, yields to unreasonable demands, he will have won not the respect but the contempt of his students; and he will deserve that contempt. Students have some rights. They have a right to guidance, to leadership, and direction; they also have a right to expect their teachers to listen and to be reasonable, but also to stand for something--and most especially, to stand for the rule of reason against the rule of force.

Our colleges and universities have their weaknesses. Some have become too impersonal, or too ingrown, and curricula have lagged. But let us never forget that for all its faults, the American system of higher education is the best in this whole imperfect world, and it provides in the United States today a better education for more students of all economic levels than ever before anywhere in the history of the world.

And I submit this is no small achievement. We should be proud of it. We should defend it and we should never apologize for it.

Often the worst mischief is done in the name of the best cause. In our zeal for instant reform we should be careful not to destroy our educational standards and our educational system along with it, and not to undermine the process of freedom on which all else rests.

The process of freedom will be less threatened in America, however, if we pay more heed to one of the great cries of our young people today. I speak now of their demand for honesty: intellectual honesty, personal honesty, public honesty. Much of what seems to be revolt is really little more than this: an attempt to strip away sham and pretense, to puncture illusion, to get down to the basic nub of truth.

We should welcome this. We have seen too many patterns of deception in our lives:

--in political life, impossible promises;

--in advertising, extravagant claims;

--in business, shady deals.

In personal life, we all have witnessed deceits that ranged from the "little white lie" to moral hypocrisy; from cheating on income taxes to bilking the insurance company.

In public life, we have seen reputations destroyed by smear, and gimmicks paraded as panaceas. We have heard shrill voices of hate shouting lies and sly voices of malice twisting facts.

Even in intellectual life, we too often have seen logical gymnastics performed to justify a pet theory, and refusal to accept facts that fail to support it.

Of course, absolute honesty, on the other hand, would be ungenerous. Courtesy sometimes compels us to welcome the unwanted visitor, and kindness leads us to compliment the homely girl on how pretty she looks. But in our public discussions we sorely need a kind of honesty that too often has been lacking: the honesty of straight talk, a careful concern with the gradations of truth, a frank recognition of the limits of our knowledge about the problems we have to deal with. We have long demanded financial integrity in private life. We now need the most rigorous kind of intellectual integrity in public debate.

Unless we can find a way to speak plainly and truly, unself-consciously, about the facts of public life, we may find that our grip on the forces of history is too loose to control our own destiny.

The honesty of straight talk leads us to the conclusion that some of our recent social experiments have worked and some have failed and that most have achieved something--but far less than their advance billing promised. This same honesty is concerned not with assigning blame, but with discovering what lessons can be drawn from that experience in order to design better programs next time. Perhaps the goals were unattainable; perhaps the means were inadequate; perhaps the program was based on an unrealistic assessment of human nature.

We can learn these lessons only to the extent that we can be candid with one another. We have and we face enormously complex choices. In approaching these, confrontation is no substitute for consultation; and passionate concern gets us nowhere without dispassionate analysis. More fundamentally, our structure of values depends on mutual faith, and faith depends on truth.

The values we cherish are sustained by a fabric of mutual self-restraint woven of ordinary civil decency, respect for the rights of others, respect for the laws of the community, and respect for the democratic process of orderly change. The purpose of these restraints, I submit, is not to protect an "establishment," but to establish the protection of liberty; not to prevent change, but to insure that change reflects the public will and respects the rights of all.

This process is our most precious resource as a nation, and it depends on public acceptance, public understanding, and public faith.

Whether our values are maintained depends ultimately not on government, but on people.

A nation can only be as great as the people want it to be.

A nation can only be as free as its people insist that it be. A nation's laws are only as strong as the people's will to see them enforced.

A nation's freedoms are only as secure as the people's determination to see them maintained.

And a nation's values are only as lasting as the ability of each generation to pass them on to the next.

We often have a tendency to turn away from the familiar because it is familiar, and turn to the new because it is new.

To those intoxicated with the romance of violent revolution, the continuing revolution of democracy may sometimes seem quite unexciting. But no system has ever liberated the spirits of so many so fully. Nothing has ever "turned on" man's energies, his imagination, his unfettered creativity, the way the ideal of freedom has. We can be proud that we have that legacy and that we celebrate it today.

Now there are some who see America's vast wealth and protest that this has made us materialistic. But we should not be apologetic about our abundance. We should not fall into the easy trap of confusing the production of things with the worship of things. We produce abundantly, but our values turn not on what we have but on what we believe.

And what we believe very simply is this: We believe in liberty, in decency, and the process of freedom. On these beliefs we rest our pride as a nation. In these beliefs we rest our hopes for the future. And by our fidelity to the process of freedom we can assure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of freedom.

I have spoken today of these basic values on this occasion because of the man we honor and also because of the place in which I stand. I know that many in this audience have shared the concern that I have shared, that in recent years, due to the fact that the spotlight has been turned on some public officials who have not reached the standard of integrity that we think they should have reached, we have tended to lose faith in the integrity of all of our institutions.

Let me, as one who for almost a quarter of a century has had the opportunity to meet Governors and Congressmen and Senators and State legislators and judges and public officials all over this land--as a matter of fact, I have probably met more than any living American--just let me say something based on my own observation.

There are men, some, who fail to meet the standards of integrity which should be met by a public servant, but I want this audience to know that as I look at the men who served in public life during my own generation, the great majority of Congressmen and Senators and Governors and State legislators and mayors and judges are honest, dedicated, decent men. And Karl Mundt represents that kind of honesty, decency, and honor. His public life stands for these values about which I have spoken. I am proud to have known him for 22 years. I am proud to have had his friendship and support in victory and also in defeat. And I am proud today to join with you in honoring him by dedicating in his name a library which will preserve those values for which and about which he has spoken so eloquently in 30 years of public life.

Note: The President spoke at 2:57 p.m. at the open-air dedication of the Karl E. Mundt Library before an audience of approximately 10,000 persons.

Frank Farrat was Governor of South Dakota.

Richard Nixon, Address at the Dedication of the Karl E. Mundt Library at General Beadle State College, Madison, South Dakota. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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