John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at a Luncheon for Sponsors and Editors of Historical Publications

June 17, 1963

Ladies and gentlemen:

I wonder if all of you would join me in drinking a toast to someone who I am sure would appreciate all that we are trying to do today: former President of the United States, Herbert Hoover.

I want to welcome all of you and express a very warm appreciation to this combination of unlimited wealth and scholarship. [Laughter] It's a very happy occasion-both groups are happiest when with each other, so that I think it's appropriate that we meet together today.

I want to express the high esteem I feel for the National Historical Publications Commission. President Truman gave it a new life in 1950. And I think that the work they have done since then, and this very exceptional report which I would hope would be read by a good many Americans who are interested in the past and the future. I think it tells the story of what the Commission is trying to do and what our unfinished business is and what our responsibilities are.

The Commission has made three proposals which I have strongly endorsed and which I think the American people will, as they become increasingly acquainted with the extraordinary accomplishments of the men who began the priority projects: Mr. Boyd--Professor Boyd--Jefferson; Mr. Labaree-Franklin; Lyman Butterfield--Adams; Harold Syrett--Hamilton; William Hutchinson, William Rachal--Madison; Robert Cushman--the Constitution and the first ten Amendments. Then we have additional guests here: Mrs. Green, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her volume on the city of Washington, Arthur Link, who's the editor of the Wilson papers, Paul Freund, who's the editor of the History of the Supreme Court, Mr. Adams of the Massachusetts Historical Society, of which I'm a paying and active member. [Laughter] Also others who have worked in this vineyard.

I also want to express great appreciation, which I am sure the country shares, to those who have supported their work: some of the magazines, newspapers, foundations which have made possible what really is a most extraordinary act of scholarship and also, I think, act of self-preservation. We want these records to be kept in a place where they can be maintained and also in a place where they can be used and where they can provide guidance for the future.

Dr. Boyd called attention to the letter which appeared from Mrs. Adams in the Washington Post this morning which might otherwise have been lost. But, because it was available, because work is being done on these papers, because we know what's in those papers, this came to the surface at a most opportune moment in our country's history.

I don't know the complete explanation of why these extraordinary men appeared on the scene at one time in a very small country, a very distant country from the center of what was then regarded as Western civilization. But they came and they have left a very lasting imprint on all of our actions. I run into the results of their work every day. The more we can know what they really thought, the more we can follow their extraordinary careers, almost day by day, the more, it seems to me, the American people are given a certain sense of confidence in their past which in turn gives them confidence in their future. If we don't know anything about our past, then we don't really have any base from which to move in the days ahead. So I think that this is most important work. And a good many of you have been in it long before some of the rest of us came on the scene.

But I think these recommendations should be endorsed by private foundations to the limit of their ability. As I say, private foundations have been sustaining this work in the past, and I think that the Congress of the United States and, therefore, the people should also play their proper role. It should not be left solely to the scholars and to the foundations and to the newspapers and to the magazines. Therefore, beginning with hearings tomorrow under Congressman Brooks--who's just been given a very large lunch, naturally therefore we expect him to do his duty. [Laughter] Senator Saltonstall is a man of tremendous influence in the Senate and, therefore, I am confident that the recommendations of the Commission will be endorsed. These are:

1. That the five top privately financed projects now under way--Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Hamilton, and Franklin be endowed by private philanthropic sources with sufficient additional funds to assure completion. The Commission estimates that this would require about five million dollars of endowment funds.

2. That a minimum of one million dollars in matching funds be made available each year to the Commission over a ten year period for a grant-in-aid program to stimulate the collection, editing, and publication of materials. And of this one million dollars, half would be appropriated by the Congress and the other half be provided by private sources.

3. That legislation be sought to authorize the grant-in-aid program and to permit payment of expenses for necessary advisory committees.

And it goes on to say in this instruction or memorandum to me: "Hearings to be on Tuesday before the subcommittee, and Jack Brooks, the Subcommittee Chairman, will be present at the luncheon." [Laughter] You are looming very large today, Jack, and I know that you share our strong feeling that this is a great opportunity for us. And I am confident that the Congress is going to do it.

And what we are most indebted to are the scholars who have spent their time with rather an uncertain future. We don't want these basic projects to run out of money before they are finished. I've seen some of the volumes already and they promise to be an ornament to our society, civilization, culture, and progress. And I think all of us are going to be proud that we have had some small part, however small it may be, in making sure that this work is finished.

We are very much indebted to the men who are laboring in the field, not only on the basic five projects, but also on all the others. All this effort to go through the past is the best insurance for a very prosperous and happy and, I think, unified future. All of us--those of us who are making it--would on occasion like to rewrite history. I think it very important that we are not permitted to! [Laughter] And, therefore, I want to say that what we are doing now goes to the very basic substance of our free society.

So I want to express my appreciation to all of you who have been working in the past, and to the Publications Commission for giving us guidance for the future. It has strongly endorsed this effort to urge that the foundations within the limits of the very many, many demands made on them continue their help and those who are not doing it, to join in this effort; that publications such as Time--Life magazine which has worked on two or three of them, the New York Times, and others continue their support. And I must say that I can't think of anything that they can do that will reap a greater harvest for our country.

So I want to express our appreciation to you gentlemen; and I want you to know, those of you who are scholars, that we will be with you in the years ahead as you unfold the past.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. Early in his remarks he referred to the National Historical Publications Commission's report submitted January 10, 1963 (see Item 26 above). He later referred to Dr. Julian P. Boyd of Princeton University; Dr. Leonard W. Labaree of Yale; Dr. Lyman H. Butterfield, editor of the Adams papers for the Massachusetts Historical Society; Dr. Harold Syrett of Columbia; Dr. William T. Hutchinson of the University of Chicago; Dr. William M. E. Rachal of the Virginia Historical Society; and Dr. Robert E. Cushman, formerly head of the Department of Government at Cornell. He also referred to Dr. Constance M. Green, author of "Washington: Village and Capital, 1800-1878"; Dr. Arthur S. Link of Princeton; Dr. Paul A. Freund of the Harvard Law School; Thomas Boylston Adams, President of the Massachusetts Historical Society; U.S. Representative Jack Brooks of Texas, Chairman of the Government Activities Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations; and U.S. Senator Leverett Saltonstall of Massachusetts, a member of the National Historical Publications Commission.

The newly discovered letter to which the President referred is dated February 13, 1797. It was written from the family home in Quincy, Mass., by Abigail Adams to her husband John, then Vice President and President-elect, at the capital in Philadelphia. In it Mrs. Adams told of a contemporary school integration crisis in Quincy.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at a Luncheon for Sponsors and Editors of Historical Publications Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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