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Excerpts of Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy, New York Coliseum, New York, NY

November 05, 1960

* * * In less than 60 hours the polls open - and there is still much work to be done. I ask your help in finishing the work of this campaign.

No other task is more important. For remember that the polls will not open next Tuesday, or any other day in any real sense, in Moscow or in Peiping - or in Mr. Castro's Cuba - or in the so-called satellite nations where I found no satellite peoples.

We must vote on behalf of those peoples next Tuesday as well as ourselves - on behalf of all those who want to vote for the cause of freedom but lack the freedom to vote. And for their sake, as well as ours, let us vote to get this country moving again.

And let us remember, when the last hurrah is over and the confetti is swept away, that this is a solemn decision. We are not engaged in a name-calling contest - we are not voting for an image or a team, or a protégé. We are choosing a President of the United States.

Tonight, as this campaign comes to a close, I want to talk about the central issue I discussed when it opened - the Presidency. For the last 3 months, in outlining the programs I believe this country needs, I have in effect answered the question why I want to be President. I hope I have made it clear that I want to be President - not because that will be an easy task in the 1960's - on the contrary it will, in many ways, be more difficult than at any time since Lincoln - but because after 14 years in Washington I know this office must provide the main force in moving this country ahead in these critical years. Tonight, instead of repeating why I want to be President, permit me to discuss what kind of President I want to be.

Should I be successful next Tuesday, I want above all else to be a President known - at the end of 4 years - as one who not only prevented war but won the peace - as one of whom history might say: he not only laid the foundations for peace in his time, but for generations to come as well.

If I am elected next Tuesday, I want to be a President known - at the end of 4 years - as one who not only held back the Communist tide but advanced the cause of freedom and rebuilt American prestige - not by words but by work - not by stating great aims merely as a good debater, but by doing great deeds as a good neighbor - not by tours and conferences abroad, but by vitality and direction at home. My opponent promises, if he is successful, to go to Eastern Europe, to go perhaps to another summit, to go to a series of meetings around the world. If I am successful, I am going to Washington, D.C., and get this country to work.

I want to be a President who will regain that office for the people. I have no wish to be known as a narrowly partisan President, or as a private-interest President - I want to be President of all the people.

But I do not intend, if successful, to ignore party leadership or party responsibility - and I do not intend to forget that I am a Democrat.

I want to be a President who has the confidence of the people - and who takes the people into his confidence - who lets them know what he is doing and where we are going, who is for his program and who is against. I hope to set before the people our unfinished agenda - to indicate their obligations - and not simply follow their every whim and pleasure.

I want to be a President who acts as well as reacts - who originates programs as well as study groups - who masters complex problems as well as one-page memorandums. I want to be a President who is the Chief Executive in every sense of the word - who responds to a problem, not by hoping his subordinates will act, but by directing them to act - a President who is willing to take the responsibility for getting things done, and take the blame if they are not done right.

For I am not in this campaign merely to win an election - I seek election in order to carry out our program.

I am not promising action in the first 100 days alone - I am promising you 1,000 days of exacting Presidential leadership.

For I know what happens to a Nation that sleeps too long. I saw the British deceive themselves before World War II, as Winston Churchill tried in vain to awaken them and while England slept, Hitler armed; and if we sleep too long in the sixties, Mr. Khrushchev will "bury" us yet. That is why the next President must be more than a mere bookkeeper, getting the numbers on the balance sheet to come out even - he must be commander in chief of the grand alliance for freedom.

If I am successful next Tuesday, I want to be a President who believes in working full time when millions of men and women are forced to work part time.

I want to be a President who cares, not only about the Nation's loss of gold, but about 4 million men losing their jobs and income.

I want to be a President who is concerned, not only about the Government balancing its budget, but about the housewife balancing hers.

I want to be a President who recognizes every citizen's rights as well as his obligations - particularly when one stroke of the pen on an Executive order could assure all citizens that every door will be open - in Government employment, in Federal jobs, and to federally financed homes.

I want to be the President of a country which raises the farmer's income instead of his costs - which sends more children to college and fewer oldsters to the poorhouse - which provides higher pay for our teachers and lower interest rates for small business.

In short, I believe in a President who will formulate and fight for his legislative policies, and not be a casual observer of the legislative progress.

A President who will not back down under pressure, or let down his spokesmen in the Congress - a President who does not speak from the rear of the battle but who places himself in the thick of the fight.

But I also believe in a President who fights for great ideals as well as legislation - a President who cares deeply about the people he represents - their right to a full-time job with full-time pay - to raise their children in a decent neighborhood - to send their children to a good school - to share in the benefits of our abundance and our natural resources - and to retire to a life of dignity and health.

And above all I believe in a President who believes in the national interest - who serves no other master - who takes no instructions but those of his conscience - who puts no personal interest, no public pressure, no political hopes, and no private obligation of any kind ahead of his oath to promote the national interest.

If I should be successful next Tuesday, I want to be that kind of President. I want to try to set as my standard the day Abraham Lincoln called his wartime Cabinet together to read to them his draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. They represented a coalition of differing interests and views - but Lincoln knew that only he had the final responsibility. "I have gathered you together," he said, "to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter - that I have determined for myself."

And later, as he went to sign it, exhausted by several hours of ceremonial handshaking, Lincoln remarked: "If my name goes down in history, it will be or this one act. My whole soul is in it. If my hand trembles when I sign this proclamation, all who examine the document hereafter will say: 'He hesitated'."

But Lincoln's hand did not tremble. He did not hesitate. For he was not only the Chief Executive of the land. He was the President of the United States.

And if I am successful on Tuesday, it is my intention to be, in the fullest measure of the word and office, the next President of the United States - and I shall, without hesitation or reservation take a solemn oath on the 20th of January 1961 to "solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution * * * So help me God."

John F. Kennedy, Excerpts of Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy, New York Coliseum, New York, NY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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