Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Address at the New England "Forward to '54" Dinner, Boston, Massachusetts

September 21, 1953

My fellow Americans:

After the embarrassing generosity of the compliments that have been paid me this evening from this platform, you can well understand that I am in some danger of thinking a little too well of myself. Thank goodness, many years ago, I had a preceptor, for whom my admiration has never died, and he had a favorite saying, one that I trust I try to live by. It was: always take your job seriously, never yourself.

Now, in spite of this embarrassment, I would like on this occasion and in front of this audience, to say just a word of my obligation to some of the political leaders that have appeared here this evening, and who do us so much honor by their presence.

I have just been introduced by Senator Saltonstall, the Chairman of the great National Defense Senate Committee, and as such a crucial and key figure in that great body. Very naturally, I am happy to be with my colleague and old friend, Chris Herter, your Governor, whom I expect again to be Governor. And then John Lodge, Governor of Connecticut, and Governor Cross of Maine--and I shall not forget it is the northeastern of our States. And Senator George Aiken, Chairman of that great Agricultural Committee; and Secretary of Commerce, my colleague in Washington, Sinclair Weeks. And of course, every day each of us has many reasons for feeling indebted to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge for his work in the United Nations.

Of course, I cannot possibly list all of the great individuals who are here this evening, but certainly I must mention my friend Governor Gregg of New Hampshire, and Lieutenant Governor Johnson, Senator Flanders; and finally I think there must be something unique that we can have here on the platform this evening both the present and the future Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington, and the present and the next President Pro Tem of the Senate.

I suggest that a list of names such as I have just recited gives some idea of the brilliance of the political leadership that this great section of our country--the thumb of our country, if you please--has produced. I pay here my tribute to them.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, the Republican Party is nearing the 100th Anniversary of its founding.

Now, we would be wise, I think, to recall briefly the circumstances of that event, just a few months short of 100 years ago. It came with the meeting of a small group of rebellious Whigs and disenchanted Democrats in the little town of Ripon, Wisconsin. Other towns, understandably coveting the honors of history, dispute the particular claim of this Wisconsin community. And indeed political dissent and disillusion were seething in those years far across town limits and state borders. Everywhere the tremors of a divided nation were felt. To many, the drift toward civil war seemed fatefully sure. But there is no dispute as to the purpose inspiring the many groups who reached for a new hope and a new party which they called Republican. That purpose, everywhere plainly defined and passionately proclaimed, was to halt the extension of the institution of slavery.

We, who shall shortly be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of that party that came so to birth, find ourselves, too, living in a time dark with the shadow of dreaded war. It is a time, too, which has seen an institution of slavery--now elevated to the awful dignity of a political philosophy and inspired with the terrible ambition of world conquest--divide not a nation, but the world, against itself. And at this precise time again there has come the summons of the American people calling upon the Republican Party to redeem the hopes of the past and to save the promise of the future.

The circumstances of this anniversary, then, call for much more than the oratory of self-congratulation. They call for more than any display--however justified--of partisan pride. For even as we meet as Republicans, our minds are troubled by problems and stirred by sentiments far transcending the self-interest of a political party. Our hearts are filled with concern for the welfare and the safety of our country. Such concern instantly and inevitably involves attention to the strength and security of the whole free world. We therefore see our Party not as an end in itself but as a magnificent means--a means through which countless thousands of devoted citizens can cooperate in the conquering of problems that beset free men everywhere. I believe, therefore, you will agree that my duty as President is to address you, not as partisans, but first, and above all, as patriots of America and citizens of the world.

In this spirit, I suggest that there is one particular and indispensable way in which each one of us can take part in this Republican Centennial. This way has none of the color of a fireworks display, none of the thrill of a political convention. It is a simple matter of faith and purpose: to define clearly and honestly, in our own minds the kind of political party in which we believe and which we propose to maintain.

To do this is, of course, not simple at all. It is to define the political institution to which our energies are dedicated--and upon which can depend even the future of freedom itself.

What I presume to suggest to you, I cannot, of course, myself evade. As your guest this evening, I have accorded myself the privilege, therefore, of addressing aloud to you some of my own thoughts on the Party in which I believe.

It is logical to look for the clearest marks of a Party in its record in office. The record of the present Administration is too short to be anything like definitive. But the facts that are plain are also indicative of deeply held ideas of the widest meaning. There are, already in this record, these facts:

We have observed and practiced true bi-partisanship in international affairs, believing that no matter what domestic differences can create and animate parties at home we must present a substantially solid American front to all with whom we deal abroad.

We have seen a cessation of fighting in the Korean War, giving us relief from the pain of casualty lists and allowing us to work more effectively for the nation's security against threats originating anywhere in the world.

We have given to the world the clearest testimony to our firm allegiance to the common cause and needs of free peoples everywhere. We have sent shipments of wheat to Pakistan, medical and reconstruction supplies to Korea, food to Berlin. We have promised that our country will welcome tens of thousands of refugees from the terror of enslavement in lands of darkness. Recognizing that neither freedom nor safety can be found by any one nation alone, we have continued to build coalitions to promote, on a cooperative basis, the security of all.

We have lifted stifling artificial controls from our economy, counting upon the American genius for creative initiative to advance the frontiers of our prosperity beyond the hopes of past generations.

We have simplified customs regulations. Knowing that materials from abroad are as vital to our economy as foreign markets to receive our goods, we have initiated a review of our entire tariff policy. This looks toward the encouragement of greater and more equitable trade among all free nations. To permit time for this, the Congress extended the Reciprocal Trade Act.

We have used the legitimate and necessary authority of the Federal Government to steady farm prices, meanwhile blueprinting the extension of social security coverage to more than 10 million unprotected citizens.

Dedicated to the fullest use of the nation's resources for the welfare of all, we have redefined policy on public power to assure the maximum of local participation and decision in projects that require the partnership of national, state and local governments.

We are continuing to study and will submit to the next session of the Congress, recommendations for making more secure our industrial peace and productivity, more clear and explicit the rights of labor, its unions and its employers.

We have undertaken with determination the work of cleaning up governmental operations, and have made extraordinary progress with this job that so badly needed doing. We have reorganized more than half a dozen major departments and agencies of the Federal Government. The introduction of top business management methods into governmental activity--while it may be painful to some--is proving its worth daily in greater efficiency and lowered costs.

We have reduced government expenditures by billions of dollars--making a balanced budget something a bit nearer to realization than an accountant's dream. The many billions of dollars cut from the requests of the prior Administration have been referred to by Senator Bridges. In addition, 6½ billions have been taken from the former estimate of the current expenditures.

We have, in our respect for priceless civil and human rights, used the Federal authority, wherever it clearly extends, to erase the stain of racial discrimination and segregation. We are making certain that every government employee is a loyal American. But we have opposed the confusing of loyalty with conformity, and all misguided attempts to convert freedom into a privilege licensed by censors.

These are some of the deeds of this Administration which serve as witnesses to some of the truths we hold. They are eloquent enough, perhaps, in certain areas. But many are little more than fragments. They suggest rather than define the character and purpose of those who support or who belong to the Republican Party.

If we turn from the legislative record of one Congressional session to the Party history of a hundred years, we learn more that is indicative--and yet little that is conclusively clear and binding upon us today.

The fact is not surprising. A century of history records the changes in institutions: it does not fix their mold. And this was a century of shattering change: from before Bismarck to after Hitler, from the Third French Empire to the Fourth French Republic, from Disraeli to Churchill, from Tsar Nicolas I to Malenkov.

Over such a span of time, the only perfectly consistent institution was a dead institution. And the Republican Party was--and is--very much alive. A fact easily forgotten is that through all those years--from the first year of War Between the States in 1861 to the first year of the New Deal in 1933--the Republican Party was in office three-fourths of the time. It helped mold each age and was itself molded by each age--the extremist Party in one day, the champion of something called "normalcy" in another. With America and with the times, it restlessly changed; sometimes growing, sometimes faltering, sometimes partially divided--in short, behaving like a normal, healthy political party in a vital, thriving Republic.

The ascendancy of the Party through the great part of this great century is the clearest answer to the feeble but persistent myth that the Republican Party is simply a conspiracy against change. The century abounds with such answers. They begin with the Emancipation Proclamation. And they continue:

In the 1860's and '70's: the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments; the purchase of Alaska and the Midway Islands; the First Homestead Act;

In the 1880's and '90's: creation of the Civil Service Commission; the Sherman Anti-Trust Act; the declaration of the Open Door Policy in China; the first Inter-American Conferences; the beginning of a national conservation program with the establishment of the first national forests;

And from 1900 to the 1930's: establishment of a Department of Labor and a Department of Commerce; the Pure Food and Drug Act; the strengthening of the Interstate Commerce Commission; the breaking of the great trusts; the first Bureau of Housing in the Federal Government; the first gigantic multiple-purpose dam; the model Railway Labor Act; the Kellogg-Briand Pact; the creation of a Federal Power Commission.

These deeds are the record of a Party that has grown as America has grown--seeing and meeting its needs, its responsibilities, and its aspirations. It fears change no more than it fears life. It knows that the two are one and the same.

Now, my friends, from all this we learn one truth: the living definition of this Party, at this moment in our history, is not to be found in the fine print of a legislative record, nor beneath the dust of our historic archives. It can only be found in our own hearts and minds. Born of change--born to change--this Party is and it will be what we make it.

In this sense, let us speak of the Party in which we believe.

We can--I think--define this Party first by its spirit and secondly by its principles.

Its spirit has distinctive marks. It is young. It is sober. It is confident. And it is free.

Each of these marks means something quite specific.

This Party is--and must be--young in spirit and in thought. It must be young for the simplest of reasons: because it has been charged with the hopes of the youth of America. A new generation of Americans is looking toward us with a gaze--both hopeful and watchful--that can be neither ignored nor evaded. For this generation's hopes for peace, for jobs, for just wages and decent homes, depend upon our foresight, our candor, our courage. And to be worthy of this trust, we must, in the deepest sense, care more for their hopes than for their votes.

This Party is sober in spirit, for its sense of responsibility makes it so. We know of no great problem before us that can be solved by the invention of a slogan. We aspire to proving ourselves more gifted in civics than in theatrics. We are more concerned with today's cares than tomorrow's headlines. We believe that there is no cleverness of phrase that can cover shallowness of thought. We confess that if America--its government and its people--is bravely to meet the trials of this age of peril, we know of no substitutes for hard work, intensive thought, constructive criticism, and a readiness to sacrifice.

This Party is, at the same time and in the same degree, confident of the future. We believe that our thinking and our emotions are unclouded by various brands of cynicism that bear the label of political sophistication. We do not think that America is decadent--nor that free nations are incapable of achieving unity--nor that free peoples are too witless to govern themselves prudently. We are confident of the strength of our physical resources--the fullness of our harvests, the speed of our assembly lines, the skills of our scientists and the stamina of our soldiers. And we are no less confident of the resources in the hearts and minds of our people.

And this Party of ours is free. We are the political captives of no section or interest of our country--and we are the prisoners of no static political or economic dogmas ruling our decisions. As a result, it is inconceivable to us to address a single group or element as a political province or dependency. And we face and make decisions not in the light of some rigidly preconceived political axiom, but in the only light in which we can clearly discern what is just--the peace and the well-being of our whole people.

And so, if I have described, however inadequately, the spirit of this Party, this brings us logically and inevitably to the stating of its principles. These--however many they may seem to be upon analysis--I venture to summarize in this one statement of belief:

We are one nation, gifted by God with the reason and the will to govern ourselves, and returning our thanks to Him by respecting His supreme creation--the free individual.

Here we stand. Here, also--if you will--are the plain moral precepts, which define our cause and govern our conduct.

We are one nation and one people.

We--this American society--are not the product of some tentative, calculating, self-interested social contract or alliance between conflicting classes and sections. We are not some perilously balanced equation of political convenience in which labor plus farm plus capital plus management equals America.

In the American design--as we perceive it--each group in our nation has special problems. None has special rights. Each has peculiar needs. None has peculiar privileges.

We believe in people, in all the people: laborer and banker, preacher and teacher, doctor, lawyer, farmer, machinist, white collar worker, housewife, miner, artist, merchant, rancher, farm hand, switchman, clerk--all of them.

The supreme belief of our society is in the dignity and freedom of the individual. To the respect of that dignity, to the defense of that freedom, all effort is pledged.

This is no mere academic assertion. This sovereign ideal uncompromisingly decrees that, in this age of peril, the security of our whole nation--the preservation of our free system--must direct every thought and every decision. We know the enemies of freedom to be equipped with the most terrible weapons of destruction. We know, then, that we can meet them with only one answer: there is no sacrifice--no labor, no tax, no service--too hard for us to bear to support a logical and necessary defense of our freedom.

I repeat: this sovereign faith of ours in the freedom and dignity of the individual is infinitely more than a dry and lifeless philosophic doctrine. It is the nerve and the fiber of our very laws. This supreme ideal--not merely the votes of so many Congressmen or Senators--is what sends aid to drought-stricken areas, guarantees an income to farmers, banishes needless restrictions on individual enterprise, guards the free union of workers, extends the protection of social insurance to the aged and to the needy.

This sovereign ideal we believe to be the very source of the greatness and the genius of America.

In this, we proclaim nothing very new. It was seen clearly by a wise French visitor who came to America considerably more than a century ago. He patiently and persistently sought the greatness and genius of America in our fields and in our forests, in our mines and in our commerce, in our Congress and in our Constitution, and he found them not. But he sought still further and then he said:

"Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.

"America is great because America is good--and if America ever ceases to be good--America will cease to be great."

I read those words to such an audience as this once before. It was here in Boston, 11 months ago, in this hall. The utter truth they held for me then, they hold today.

But these words contain not only a promise but a warning. And as they apply to America, so they must apply no less to the political party which is America's chosen servant in these days.

No more as a party than as a nation can we expect to find our greatness in anything but dedication to the good of America.

We can destroy our cause--even with decent intent--in a number of ways. There are as many roads to disaster.

We must shun them all.

We must, even in our patriotism, guard against that prideful nationalism which impatiently breaks the bonds binding all free peoples. For, in our age, both just principle and selfish interest conspire to impress upon us one single truth: the cause of free men is one everywhere--and the whole suffers from a wound anywhere.

We must, even in our honest political fervor, fear neither partisan criticism nor self-criticism. For the pretense of perfection is not one of the marks of good public servants.

And we must, even in our zeal to defeat the enemies of freedom, never betray ourselves into seizing their weapons to make our own defense. A people or a party that is young and sober and confident and free has no need of censors to purify its thought or stiffen its will. For the kind of America in which we believe is too strong ever to acknowledge fear--and too wise ever to fear knowledge.

This is the kind of America--and the kind of Republican Party--in which I believe.

I do not know how to define it with political labels. Such labels are, in our age, cheap and abundant. But they mean as little as they cost.

We are many things.

We are liberal for we do believe that, in judging his own daily welfare, each citizen, however humble, has greater wisdom than any government, however great.

We are progressive--for we are less impressed with the difficulties we observed yesterday than the opportunities we envision tomorrow.

And we are conservative--for we can conceive of no higher commission that history could have conferred upon us than that which we humbly bear--the preservation, in this time of tempest and of peril, of the spiritual values that alone give dignity and meaning to man's pilgrimage on this earth.

So, in spirit, we go back through this century of wild and wondrous change, to find that, after all, certain truths have changed not at all. For the first Republican President asked himself: "What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence?" And Lincoln answered his own question.

"It is not our frowning battlements," he said, "our bristling seacoasts. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is in the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere."

This truth the whole last century could not change.

It is our prayer and our task that, one hundred years from now, the same can be said by this people--thankful and free and at peace.

For the great honor you have done me, ladies and gentlemen, in coming here and listening so courteously to me, I thank you humbly from the bottom of my heart.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 p.m. at the Boston Garden.

The dinner was sponsored by Republican Committees and by members of the Republican National Committees in the six New England States.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address at the New England "Forward to '54" Dinner, Boston, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232006

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