Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Address to the National Council of Catholic Women, Boston, Massachusetts.

November 08, 1954

Your Excellency, Madam Chairman, my friends:

First, I should like to thank His Excellency most profoundly--most sincerely--for the prayer he just offered before this congregation. Next, I should like to thank each of you for the cordiality of your welcome, and through you I should like to thank all those people that I saw along the streets as I came down from the airport.

There was an official representation participating in this welcome. There was your Mayor--Mayor Hynes, your Governor--Governor Herter, and Senator Saltonstall. And all of them expressed sentiments in which I am sure you would be glad to join, and that is that Senator Kennedy may soon be restored to full health, and he can be assured of our prayers to that happy event.

My visit today happily coincides with the tenth anniversary of Archbishop Cushing's formal installation as Archbishop of Boston. To him I offer my cordial felicitations. With you I most earnestly hope that a benign Providence will permit continuance of his splendid service for many years to come. This convention held in Boston under his auspices for the past 4 years typifies his great contributions to American spiritual strength.

Now, to appear before this national council, representative of millions of American women, at once brings to mind the problems and concerns of our Nation's families.

And this, in turn, brings to my mind two of the oldest stories in the world. One is a nation's search for a home--the story of the Israelites seeking the Promised Land. The other is the story of a wanderer who, after many hardships, returned home to find rest and peace. This is the story of the Prodigal Son.

The human feeling on which these stories rest is one of the deepest man can know. Reflected in them is love of family, love of hearth and home, and that tie between parent and child which is older than Abraham and Isaac, and as young as the newest-born infant.

To Americans, for more than three centuries, the love of home and family has been a source of the deepest, most intense spiritual strength. Of course the external characteristics of home are not the same for each of us. On the coasts of Maine, families may labor to bring in their livelihood from the gray sea. In the vast reaches of the West, many families live isolated from their neighbors. For each American, the meaning of home is unique and personal.

But something of its general meaning for most of us is bound up symbolically in two great religious holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Whatever our callings, wherever we pursue them, on those days we reunite with our loved ones. The spiritual ties which bind us are restored. The wanderer returns to home and family.

To our Nation this family emotion is profoundly important. Always it has been so. In 1837 a young immigrant observed that America's "domestic virtue" is "the principal source" of all her other qualities. "It acts," he said, "as a promoter of industry, as a stimulus to enterprise .... It ensures the proper education of children, and acts, by force of example, on the morals of the rising generation; in short, it . . . is a better guarantee for the permanency of the American government than any written instrument, the Constitution itself not excepted."

In our own time, we have seen a vast nation--which today threatens the free world--threaten the family structure within its own borders, and it has failed miserably in the attempt.

But in our own land, it is largely through the family that our national character is formed. Americans love fair play, bravery, hard work, and believe in human brotherhood because American fathers and mothers, by precept and example, teach these virtues to their children. So long as these ennobling qualities are passed from generation to generation in America, our Nation will remain strong and secure and great.

Faced with this fact, it is imperative that our Government never rest in its task of serving the American home. All of us must work to help remove from the shoulders of American families burdens which reduce their ability to live and to work happily within the home for one another as well as for their fellow-citizens. In every way possible, we must keep our families spiritually rich, strong, and free.

To this end many groups--health, educational, welfare, religious and, finally, governmental--must work together to supplement the efforts of the family itself. This work to strengthen the American home is not sheer humanitarianism on the part of any of these citizen groups or of the Government. It is done in clear appreciation of the great national need for keeping our families strong and healthy. The work of these groups and of the Government is a priceless investment in the national well-being.

Thus it is that our Government helps our disabled citizens to live more productive and happier lives for themselves and for those who are close to them--that our system of Social Security is being steadily expanded to help remove the fear of poverty of our elderly people--that through special tax relief and survivors' benefits we ease the heavy burdens borne by widows and working mothers with dependent children. Thus it is, too, that we actively combat the growing problem of juvenile delinquency-that we work continually to remove from among our people the fear of economic disaster through illness. These measures all evidence the fact that to keep America strong, our Government must have a heart and a head.

Even so, let us be clear that in this field the Government's action must remain secondary and of a buttressing nature. The primary initiative and effort rest with our people themselves, grouped into family units, private institutions and local, State, or national charitable organizations. These efforts the Government must supplement and advance, ever realizing that the Nation's first reliance is the continuing responsibility and self-reliance of our individual citizens.

Now, ladies, there is nothing accidental at all about my making-before such a group--the home as my principal topic of conversation, the sanctity of that home and the strength of the institution that is the family.

Not only have we always recognized that the woman--the mother-is the center of that institution, and the home, but possibly we have not recognized clearly enough how definitely the future of this Nation, in its character as a spiritual and intellectual and material, economic leader of the world, depends upon what we teach in our homes.

As we seek peace, unless peace is taught in the home by the mother, during that age where everything that is learned and absorbed stays with us so strongly, unless we do this, my friends, there is going to be no peace.

Peace is the problem of the American people.

Of course, we would like, through some engagement--some conference --to accomplish all these things in a single day, or a single month. We have not eliminated tuberculosis and cancer, and other dread diseases of mankind in a month. We still labor. We don't give up.

I say with all the earnestness that I can command, that if American mothers will teach our children that there is no end to the fight for better relationships among the people of the world, we shall have peace. Because, as they do this, other mothers will do it; and gradually the age-old longing of humankind for peace will be reflected in better governmental structures, governmental structures that will be forced to comply with the demands of the great and enlightened citizenry throughout the world.

And so, far greater in importance to every American family than any of these activities I have been describing, is the patient, tireless effort of our Government to establish a just peace among nations.

Now today presents another coincidence to me, though not so happy as the first I mentioned.

Twelve years ago today, the first American troops landed in North Africa. I was in command of those troops in the European theatre, and on that day started the great ground conflict by American troops in Europe that did not end until Hitler was dead and Germany had surrendered. Now as we look back on that day, and on the most terrible war in human history, we again resolve that there must never be another War.

Today the fathers and mothers of our land rejoice that the possibility of permanent peace is more promising than at any time in recent years. They are grateful for the ending of bloodshed in Korea and Southeast Asia, the repulse of communism in Guatemala, the easing of tensions in Iran, Suez and Trieste, and the promising agreement recently reached in Western Europe. They are heartened, too, by the building of strength where there was weakness throughout the Pacific. Despite such instances of provocation as that which occurred yesterday off the coast of Japan, all of us are profoundly thankful that the terrible specter of war looms less threateningly over all mankind.

Now to convert this uneasy global armistice to a lasting peace, with justice for all people everywhere, is the longing of the parents of America's children. To attain this enduring peace, while living in freedom, must ever be the overriding goal of our American foreign policy.

Without exciting fears or false hopes, without magnifying difficulties or dwelling upon mistakes, we must squarely face every obstacle to peace and attempt to overcome it. This means patience, courage, profound confidence in the common yearnings of the people of the world. This determination, this confidence, must become a spiritual and an instinctive part of each American beginning at every mother's knee.

Through the United Nations--through every possible means--we must strive to build an honorable peace. I know all Americans are hopeful that our proposal for an international pool of atomic energy will inaugurate a new phase in negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union. I deeply believe that, regardless of the Soviet decision, the cause of peace will be furthered as we go ahead with friendly nations to turn this new science to the arts of peace.

At the same time, we must strive to maintain the collective, united strength of free peoples. By broadening alliances, by strengthening our cultural ties with peoples of other lands, we build a firmer foundation for permanent peace throughout the world.

And it is not paradoxical in our peaceful efforts that we maintain powerful military forces. For in a world partly dominated by men who respect only guns, planes, and tanks, these weapons are essential to our survival.

And let us remember this: war and peace, struggle and resolution, hatred and concord are not merely the concerns of Government and diplomacy. They well up from the emotions and impulses in the hearts of individual men and women, in every nation of the world.

These emotions, from generation to generation, are passed on from parent to child. The problems these emotions create are incredibly complex. Why must a country fight to the death to hold seemingly worthless territory? Why must a nation passionately strive to maintain an apparently meaningless boundary? Why must the people of one nation continue to hate or fear the people of another, for reasons lost in the dimness of the past?

Solution of these problems requires more than skillful diplomacy. Essential to lasting peace is a genuine desire of the individual citizens of each nation to understand the traditions and hopes and desires of the citizens of all other nations. We in America must strive to understand the emotions and attitudes, instilled in other peoples from childhood, which lie at the heart of vexing international difficulties. Above all we need the religious quality of compassion--the ability to feel the emotions of others as though they were our own. If the mothers in every land could teach their children to understand the homes and hopes of children in every other land--in America, in Europe, in the Near East, in Asia--the cause of peace in the world would indeed be nobly served.

But still more is essential to our cause than the capacity to understand the motivations which, ingrained in nations, divide them. We must probe through these to the more fundamental urgings, the bonds which make brothers of all men.

The desire to be free, the desire to realize one's own capacities, the desire for justice, the respect for reason, willingness to sacrifice for one's children, love of home and love of peace--all these lie deep in the hearts of all peoples.

It must be so.

It is this Divinely inspired faith which gives promise to our quest for peace.

May this faith be ever nourished and strengthened in the families of America.

For these are the foundations, my friends, on which the men and women of our Nation and of all nations which cherish freedom and peace can build an abiding happiness, for themselves, and for their children.

And now, my friends, again my very earnest and humble thanks for the cordiality of your welcome, for the courtesy you have paid to me in listening to me so patiently. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke in Symphony Hall at 11:05 a.m. His opening words "Your Excellency, Madam Chairman" referred to The Most Reverend Richard J. Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, and to Mrs. William H. Dalton, President of the National Council of Catholic Women.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address to the National Council of Catholic Women, Boston, Massachusetts. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233225

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