Richard Nixon photo

Remarks to Delegates of the 25th Annual Boys Nation Convention.

July 22, 1970

Commander Patrick, all of the delegates to the Boys Nation Convention, and the newly elected president and vice president of Boys Nation:

I am very honored to welcome you here to the White House, to congratulate you for having been elected at your various State conventions, and to also invite you, after my brief remarks, to visit the Cabinet Room and then my office as well.

Before that, however, I would like to say a word about the election that you have held. I understand that anyone in this group could have been a candidate for president or vice president, probably several of you were. And these are the two that happened to come through.

In congratulating the winners, I'd like to say just a word about those who have lost. I have been in both positions, so I know how you feel. I think that the important item to remember is that you learn many things from an organization like Boys Nation. You learn about our Government. You are being briefed, as any group of our older people would be briefed, on defense matters and State Department matters and matters involving domestic policy in this country.

But also you learn something in Boys Nation which is even more important and more lasting than the current Government problems. You learn about life in the real sense. You learn about winning and you also learn about losing. And you learn that what really matters is coming back, if you happen to lose, and to continue to fight because that is the process.

That brings me to this whole matter of process. I am sure most of you have noted, because you come from all of the States of the Union and you are having an opportunity and have had an opportunity to see some of the argument that goes on in the country today, in our colleges and our universities and in our high schools about the American political system. And there are those who say that the system doesn't work, that the system is wrong, that the system ought to be abolished.

I would like to put that in perspective. There are a lot of things wrong about this country, but let's never forget that there are also a lot of things right about America, and let's speak about those things as we think about what is wrong.

Let us remember that the greatness of America is that for 190 years we have had a process by which, through peaceful means, we can change those things that are wrong and those things that we don't like and we can make them right. And that's what, of course, the system is about.

Now, sometimes when you have an election and there are winners like those that are elected president and vice president, and losers like the rest of you who may have run, those who lose would throw up their hands and say, "The system is no good because I lost." That isn't true. That doesn't prove the system isn't any good. That only proves something about that particular contest: you lost, the other fellow won.

But another contest will come. Next time you might win, he might lose. The system isn't what is wrong. What is wrong is simply that in that particular contest, by reason of the votes that were counted, what you stood for didn't prevail; and so it is in this country.

We all have different ideas about what is the best solution to our problems abroad and at home. We have a chance to fight for those ideas, to argue for them, to debate them, to vote for candidates that stand for our points of view.

Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. When we lose and our candidate may not win, or our program may not win, then the thing to do is not to throw up our hands and say, "The system is wrong because I lost and we will destroy the system." The thing to do is to continue fighting for what you believe in because there will be another chance, and when that next chance comes around what you try to do is to win and make your point of view prevail.

What I am really saying today is this: You and your colleagues, young Americans all over this country--you're the future of America and, also, in a very real sense you may well be the future of peace and freedom in the world. Your commander has spoken eloquently on that point--your commander, my commander. As a matter of fact, I became a member of the American Legion 25 years ago, the very year that Boys Nation was founded.

So, I feel very close to this organization and very close to those of you who are members of the organization. I simply want to say that as we look at our young generation today, I can realize the terrible disappointment and frustration that particularly young people have when they see the ideals that they believe in not being accepted and then there is an understandable tendency when what you want, the man you want, or the program you want doesn't win, to say, "Well, what is wrong is that the system is wrong." And so you throw your hands up and you either bug out of the system or you attempt to overturn it through even nonpeaceful means.

But that isn't the way. We have always had, throughout our Nation's history, times when men who were highly idealistic lost battles. But after losing them, they continued to fight, and years later they came back to win them.

I simply want to say that Boys Nation is an organization which proves that this system does work. You have learned about it. I want you to believe in the American system, believe in it not because you are always going to win with your man or your program, but believe in it because win or lose, you know that there is a process, a great, free, democratic process, where if you happen to lose you can come back and fight again and eventually, perhaps, prevail.

If you have that chance and then don't win, then of course, all of us, as good Americans, accept the result--accept the result recognizing that we have had the chance. That is what self-government is about.

We sort of take it for granted here in this country, many of us. But having traveled to over 60 countries in the world, let me say that you really don't realize what a great and good country this is until you have been to some countries in which those who lose battles never have a chance to fight again.

The glory of America is that you can win and be elected or you can lose and then come back and be elected next time. I know, and I hope all of you know this, too.

Incidentally, I thought I would like to meet each of you. I am going over to my other office in the Executive Office Building for a meeting and I thought that that would give each of you an opportunity to go into the Cabinet Room to look at all of those Cabinet chairs and pick out the one you want to be sitting in about 10 years or 15 years from now. And then also, after that I am leaving the formal office of the President, the famous Oval Office, open so that you can go in there because I figure one of you probably plans to sit there in the next 25 years or so and I wanted you to see the office before you got there.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:17 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House to 100 delegates of Boys Nation, an organization sponsored by the American Legion.

J. Milton Patrick was the national commander of the American Legion.

Richard Nixon, Remarks to Delegates of the 25th Annual Boys Nation Convention. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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