John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Eugene, OR, Courthouse Square

September 07, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Attorney Frye, Mr. Green, my sister Pat, Monroe Sweetland, Jebby Davidson, Democratic candidates, ladies and gentlemen, the sun shines bright today but I have been here enough times to know that the sun does not always shine in the city of Eugene. [Laughter.] But that is what makes the woods grow and that is what makes this State a rich State. I am delighted to be here in this campaign. I spent a good many days of my life in the primaries, traveling around the State of Oregon, and I am delighted as a candidate to come back to this State, which played a major role in hoping me get nominated at Los Angeles. [Applause.]

You may recall the writing of Henry Thoreau in Massachusetts about 100 years ago, when he said, "Eastward I go only by force. Westward I go free. I must walk toward Oregon and not toward Europe."

I have followed that advice again on this occasion.

Mr. Cook mentioned the participation of the university at least in Rome yesterday. They are engaged in a direct competition, representing themselves, sports, and also the United States. We are engaged in our own kind of competition. We compete not merely with the Soviet Union, but we compete with ourselves, to make this a better country, to make this a stronger country, to make sure that those who come after us enjoy the same benefits that we enjoy.

This is a great country, but I believe it can be a greater country, and I think it is our responsibility to join in that great effort. [Applause.] There are many areas of our national life where I think we could do better, but I am concerned today in this State, in this town, with one area which I believe to be almost the most important, and that is how can we improve our educational system so that we can train our people in those qualities of self-discipline and self-restraint and personal character which makes it possible for us to maintain a free society. A free society is the most difficult of all kinds of government to maintain, and it can only be done if we have the best educated and the best trained citizens.

I am proud of the fact that my own State of Massachusetts, away back in the early days of the 17th century, was the first State in the Union to establish the American public schools system, and it is a fact that settlers from New England came to this valley and participated in the establishment; of the educational system in the State of Oregon, which I think is so impressive.

Now the job is for us, in our own generation, to meet our own responsibilities, and you in the State have heavy responsibilities to meet. I want to make it clear that unfortunately or fortunately, we are going to have heavy responsibilities to meet in the future. For example, here in your State it will be necessary for you to build two classrooms every day if you are going to make up in the next year for the present classroom shortage. And yet you are making a greater effort nearly than any State in the Union. Compared to many States, this State pays its teachers almost better than any, but the top three or four States in the Union, and yet it is a fact that this country pays a majority of its teachers less than $4,500 a year. Many of our teachers must take two jobs in order to maintain themselves. It is also a regrettable fact that here in the richest country on earth 150,000 of our brightest students are unable to go to college every year because they cannot afford it. It is an unfortunate fact, and I don't like to keep bringing home these unpleasant facts, but that is the only way we improve ourselves, that one out of every five men failed the Selective Service mental test.

I think we can do a better job than that. Only one out of three of our high school and college students could identify and write theses on the American Bill of Rights. I think we are going to have to do better in this country. I think we are going to have to maintain, in a country which is going to double its population, we are going to have to maintain the best school System in the United States.

It was a source of regret to me that this last session of the Congress failed to pass a Federal aid to education bill; that we failed by a single vote to pass in the Senate of the United States a bill which would have provided aid for teachers' salaries; and that we failed, after passing a school construction bill in the Senate, to pass out of the House Rules Committee, and every Republican on the house Rules Committee voted against it, to send a Federal aid for school construction to the floor of the House of Representatives. This is the most important subject that we have. Unless we have a good and increasing educational system, we are not going to have a strong democratic society. I therefore suggest four proposals:

First, that we launch a program of Federal aid to education for school construction and for teachers' salaries, to help the United States make up for the present classroom shortage.

Second, we must recognize that in our colleges and universities in this State and country in the next 10 years, to make and take care of our college population, we are going to have to build in 10 years as many dormitories and classrooms as have been built in this country since 1775. We are going to have to do that in one decade. I think that one of the most effective means are loans for college dormitories at a low rate of interest. It is an unfortunate fact that that bill which was passed last year was vetoed by the President of the United States. I think we can do this job. I think we can move ahead. This is only one of the great areas which I think disturbs the American life. I run for the office of the Presidency realizing that in the next 4 years it is going to be the most difficult years that we have ever had. In many ways, the most difficult years since the election of 1860 of Abraham Lincoln. In that election, what was at stake was the issue which he put before us, that this Nation cannot exist half slave and half free. I don't think in this election we must face - I don't think the world can exist in the long run half slave and half free. The real issue before us is how we can prevent the balance of power from turning against us, how we can begin to move it in our direction, in Latin America and Africa and Asia, to impress people all over the world that we are a young and strong and vital country.

Mr. Khrushchev has said that while we are Democrats and believe in freedom, that our children are going to be Communists. I don't believe this. I think we represent the best system, but I think it is up to us to do the best for our system and for our country. I don't hold the view that our best day is somewhere in the past and that the future belongs to the Communists. I think the future belongs to us. But if we are going to realize that future, if we are going to cross into the new frontiers of the 1960's, then we have to recognize that things in this country now are not as good as they can be, that we can do a better job on education, on economic growth, in developing our economy, that we can strengthen our defenses, that we can present a better image to the world of vitality and strength.

That is the issue of this campaign. I think anyone who is satisfied with things as they are should continue the present Republican leadership. But those who share a feeling that we can do better, that we must do better, that we must move ahead, that things are not perfect the way they are, I want them to joint with us in this crusade to make this country move again. [Applause.] I don't run for the office of the Presidency promising that life is going to be easier. I think in many ways the 1960's are going to be the most difficult years of our lives. But I can promise you that if I am elected we shall proceed ahead, and I think we shall not only endure, but prevail. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Eugene, OR, Courthouse Square Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives