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Letter to the Secretary of the Navy and Statement by the President on the Launching of the U.S.S. Sam Houston.

February 02, 1961

[ Released February 2, 1961 Dated February 1, 1961 ]

Dear Secretary Connally:

I deeply regret that I am unable to be present for the launching of the Sam Houston, particularly since it honors a man whose courage I have always admired.

Would you please read for me the enclosed statement at the launching ceremony and deliver the plaque which I am sending to your office.




This historic occasion has double meaning. It signals our determination to strengthen our military tools--to demonstrate to the world that our sea power, as are all elements of our national power, is a power for peace--a deterrent to any who would violate this eternal objective of God and man. It also allows us to do honor to a great American.

No Polaris submarine will be more appropriately named, for Sam Houston combined the moral courage to defend principle and the physical courage to defy danger. He was fiercely ambitious yet at the end he sacrificed for principle all that he had ever won or wanted. He was a Southerner, and yet he steadfastly maintained his loyalty to the Union. He was a slaveholder who defended the right of Northern ministers to petition Congress against slavery; he was a heavy drinker who took the vow of temperance; he was an adopted son of the Cherokee Indians who won his first military honors fighting the Creeks; he was a Governor of Tennessee but a Senator from Texas. He was in turn magnanimous yet vindictive, affectionate yet cruel, eccentric yet self-conscious, faithful yet opportunistic. But Sam Houston's contradictions actually confirm his one basic, consistent quality: indomitable individualism, sometimes spectacular, sometimes crude, sometimes mysterious but always courageous.

The contradictions of Sam Houston are repeated in the paradox of the Polaris submarine. It is at once a devastating instrument of incredible destructive power, but at the same time it is conceived with but one purpose--to preserve the peace.

When Sam Houston left the United States Senate, he said, "I wish no prouder epitaph to mark the board or slab that may lie on my tomb than this: 'He loved his country, he was a patriot; he was devoted to the Union.'"

It is my feeling that it would be far more fitting that these words should be inscribed on board this living memorial than on any slab or tomb. Here they will serve not only as a fitting eulogy to a great American, but as an inspiration to the men who serve in this mighty ship.

I have, therefore, delivered to the Secretary of the Navy a plaque bearing this inscription which I request he have mounted in a suitable place on board.

John F. Kennedy, Letter to the Secretary of the Navy and Statement by the President on the Launching of the U.S.S. Sam Houston. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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