John F. Kennedy photo

Excerpts from Senator John F. Kennedy's Speech Prepared for Delivery at Convention Hall, Philadelphia, PA - (Advance Release Text)

October 31, 1960

There is one week left in this campaign - and in that week I need your help.

For this election is all important. Our votes will be cast not only for ourselves, but for our children - not only for this Nation, but for every free nation. All America speaks on November 8 - and we speak to all the world - to freedom fighters in a Polish attic - to Africans building a jungle school - to Latin Americans fearful of more Fidel Castros - to Japanese mothers still binding up the wounds of Hiroshima - to students in Bombay, to editors in Beirut, to all who wonder which way lies the future. America will speak to them all on November 8 - and to Mr. Khrushchev, too - to Chou En-lai, to Castro and Tito and Nasser and Nehru - and our message must be: America is going to start moving again.

For unless we are moving at home, we cannot move the cause of freedom around the world. If we lack a first-rate growing economy, we cannot sustain a first-rate growing defense. If we lack compassion for those who are sick or poor or aged here, we cannot convincingly show much compassion abroad. If human dignity and human rights are not shared here by every American of every color and faith, then those in other lands of other races and creeds - and they constitute a majority - will treat our pleas for democracy with suspicion and indifference. If we demonstrate no vitality, no leadership, no imagination in meeting our problems here at home - if great quantities of our food, for example, are rotting in storage while a hungry world watches - if our people are complacent, self-satisfied, content with things as they are and unconcerned with how they soon may be - then our prestige and our influence abroad will surely continue to decline.

There are those who say that this kind of talk downgrades America. I do not downgrade America - but I do downgrade the kind of leadership it has been getting from the Republican Party.

Mr. Nixon says this talk is irresponsible. But I do not need Mr. Nixon to tell me my responsibilities to this Nation. I have served this country for 14 years in the Congress, and for 4 years in the war. My father served before that in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. My brothers all served overseas. And I run for the Presidency - not to downgrade America - but to achieve the kind of America for family believes.

Tonight I want to tell you what kind of America I believe in - not as a candidate, not as a Democrat, but as a citizen of the United States. I want to look beyond the name calling, the charges, the shooting stars and meteors of this campaign to the fixed stars that lie above - the basic principles by which we must set our course - the kind of America I want for my children and yours.

I believe in an America where every man or women who wants to work can find work - a full week's work for a full week's pay - where every man or woman of talent can use those talents - where the waste of idle men and idle machines, of steel mills half shut down and coal mines boarded up, of chronic recessions and slumps, can be almost completely eradicated - where a growing economy provides new jobs and new markets for a growing nation, without inflating the consumer's prices beyond the reach of his family budget.

I believe in an America where every child is educated, not according to his means or his race, but according to his capacity - where there are no literacy tests for voting that mean anything because there are no illiterate citizens - where children go to school for a full schoolday, in a well-lit, well-heated, well-equipped classroom, with enough best paid, best trained teachers to give every child's individual needs some individual attention - where there are enough college classrooms, dormitories, loans, and scholarships to enable every bright student to pursue his education, instead of wasting in lesser positions almost half of our abler students who are unable to go on to college today.

I believe in an America where one's later years in life are the best years - years of dignity and security and recognition - where medical care in retirement is provided for in advance by a few cents laid aside each day of work, under the social security system - where older people can find housing and recreation suitable to their needs - where doors are not automatically shut in their faces by any employer, including the Federal Government - for in these crucial years, we shall need their wisdom and counsel.

I believe in an America where every family can live in a decent home in a decent neighborhood - where children can play in parks and playgrounds, not the streets of slums - where no home is unsafe or unsanitary, on the farm or in the city - where a good doctor and a good hospital are neither too far away nor too expensive, and new research is daily reducing suffering - where modern cities, with modern transportation, enjoy clean, new business districts, downtown as well as in suburbia - and where the water is clean and the air is pure and the streets are safe at night.

I believe in an America of fair prices for the farmer, fair profits for the businessmen, fair wages for the worker - where those who are out of work or handicapped or disabled can receive a helping hand - where there are no long-neglected depressed areas, and no hungry children taking their school lunch to a parent trying to get by on a Government package containing 5 cents a day worth of dried surplus food - for this is America I'm talking about, not some country in Africa or Asia.

I believe in an America where the wonders of science are a blessing; not a curse - where automation and atomic energy mean greater growth and greater consumption, not fewer jobs - where farm abundance stemming from the revolution in farm technology, means more food for all the world, not more hardship for our farmers - and where our great natural resources, in our rivers and under our ground, are fully used to benefit all the Nation.

I believe in an America where free enterprise flourishes for all other systems to see and admire - where no businessman lacks either competition or credit - and where no monopoly, no racketeer and no Government bureaucracy can put him out of the business he has built with his own initiative.

I believe in an America where the rights I have described are equally enjoyed by all, regardless of race or creed or national origin - where every citizen is free to think and speak and write and worship as he pleases - and where every citizen is free to vote as he pleases, without instructions from anyone.

Finally, I believe in an America with a government of men devoted solely to the public interests - men of ability and dedication, free from conflict, corruption, or other commitment - a responsible government that is efficient and economical, with a balanced budget over the years of the cycle, reducing its debt in prosperous times - a government willing to entrust to the people with the facts on where we stand - not a businessman's government, not a labor government, not a farmer's government, but a government of, for, and by the people.

In short, I believe in an America that is on the march - an America respected by all nations, friends and foes alike - an America that is moving, choosing, doing, dreaming - a strong America in a world of peace.

That peace must be based on world law and order, on the mutual respect of all nations for the rights and power of others, and on a world economy in which no nation lacks the ability to provide a decent standard of living for all its people.

But we cannot have such a world - we cannot win such a peace - unless the United States has the strength and vitality to provide both inspiration and leadership. If we continue to stand still - if we stay grounded on deadcenter - if we content ourselves with our material goods and our easy life and our rosy reassurances - then the gates will soon open to a lean and hungry enemy.

And so I am unable to campaign for the Presidency telling you "you never had it so good" or telling you life will be easy in the great Republic if you make me your President. The kind of America in which we believe lies beyond the new and challenging frontier on which we now stand. New crises, new demands, new pressures, new problems must all be met before our dreams can be realized. And they cannot be met by one man alone.

Give me your help. Give me your hand and your heart in the week ahead - and remember what the Bible tells us: That "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." If in this coming week, and in all the weeks and years that follow, we can sow the seeds of dedication and effort, we shall surely reap a great victory for our country.

John F. Kennedy, Excerpts from Senator John F. Kennedy's Speech Prepared for Delivery at Convention Hall, Philadelphia, PA - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives