John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Riverside Drive Rally, Memphis, TN

September 21, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Senator Gore, your distinguished Governor, Congressman Cliff Davis, Congressman Everett, Rev. James Elder, ladies and gentlemen, I want to express my appreciation to Albert Gore, who has traveled with me through Tennessee today and traveled with me a great many legislative battles over the past 14 years, to your distinguished Governor who has shown us constant support and friendship to both Senator Johnson and myself during the days since the end of the convention and in the days to come until the election, and to your mayor, who was a shipmate of mine during World War II, and to Reverend Elder, all of whom have held out the hand of friendship to me in Tennessee today. I want you to know I am most grateful. I hope though I come from a State which is over 2,000 miles from Tennessee, the State of Massachusetts, that I do not come as a stranger, because I come as the standard bearer for the Democratic Party and Tennessee is the State that was the native home of one of the two founders of the Democratic Party, Andrew Jackson. [Applause.]

Nearly 75 years ago a great southerner, Henry Grady, used to tell a story about a poor Arkansas farmer who died across the river in our neighboring State. When they buried him, Mr. Grady said, his tombstone was made of Vermont marble, his coffin was made of wood from Oregon, the nails were of iron from Pittsburgh, he wore shoes from Boston, he wore a shirt from Cincinnati, and his suit came from New York, and all the South contributed, Mr. Grady said, was the hole in the ground.

Those days are gone forever. [Applause.] Those days when the needs of the South were ignored, those days before the administrations of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt who helped rebuild the South and the country.

I come to you today as a candidate for the Democratic Party and in the next 6 weeks the people of Tennessee and of Arkansas and of the entire United States must make a judgment between Mr. Nixon and myself. We have both emerged on the scene as the standard bearers for our two parties. But Mr. Nixon and I did not commence in the last 6 weeks. The story of this campaign did not commence 14 years ago when we both came to Congress. The position of the candidates and their story and the viewpoint they hold for the future can best be determined by the record of the two parties during the years of their existence. It is on that basis the Democratic Party and the Republican Party which have flowed like two rivers through the history of the United States and by their fruits you shall know them. I put the record of the Democratic Party before the people of Tennessee and the people of Arkansas and I ask you what has the Republican Party ever done for the people of these two States? [Applause.]

The Tennessee Valley was built by the work of the people of this valley and by the vision of Franklin Roosevelt. [Applause.] This administration has substituted that policy, the policy of no new starts, and the contract that is so famous in the city of Memphis for which you are paying and the American people are paying, Dixon-Yates.

I think the decision is very clear, because I think in many ways that we begin in the sixties and particularly in 1960, another great milestone in the story of American development. In some ways this is 1932 and 1912 and 1948. I think that in the 1960's this country is going to have to begin a great new movement forward. I don't think we can live off the accomplishments of past generations. Franklin Roosevelt said in his first inaugural, "This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny." I think this generation in 1960 also has a rendezvous with destiny, a rendezvous far more trying, far more hazardous, far more fraught with danger for us all, but also filled with opportunity, than any rendezvous this group of Americans or any group of Americans has ever faced.

We stand today as the only sentinel at the gate in the great struggle for freedom, freedom here in the United States and freedom around the world. I see an America which will reestablish itself as a great symbol in the battle for men's minds, in the battle for freedom, all over the globe.

Mr. Khrushchev, after his visit to the United States, said that the United States is a sick and dying and faltering horse that is about to collapse into the ground. I don't hold that view at all. I think our brightest days are ahead. I think our high noon can be in the future, not in the past.

Yesterday, speaking in Michigan, Mr. Nixon suggested that those who were going around the country saying the United States is second, and that we are weak, are giving aid and comfort to Mr. Khrushchev. I do not say we are second, and I do not say we are weak. I say we are a great country that can be greater. We are a powerful country. [Applause.] We are a powerful country that can be more powerful. I don't think that there is anything that we have said or that we will say that gives any comfort at all to Mr. Khrushchev because our program is a simple one: To strengthen the United States, to make it more powerful, here at home and around the world, to check the advance of the Communists, to have a defense second to none, and to reestablish ourselves in the imagination of people all over the world. I want Mr. Khrushchev to hear that message. I want him to know that there is a free election in the United States, and that the Democratic Party, the party of Wilson and Roosevelt and Truman, wants to move forward, that we are not a sick and dying and faltering horse, but, instead, a country which is on the move again. [Applause.]

We do not fool Mr. Khrushchev. We confine him to Manhattan and we confine Mr. Castro there, but they know that they are on the move. I am not satisfied, and I think this is the basic question which the American people must decide - are they satisfied with the position of the United States today? Do they feel that the relative power and strength and prestige of the United States is growing in comparison to that of the Communist world? Do they think that the position of the United States in Latin America is stronger than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Do they think the people of Africa who used to quote Franklin Roosevelt and Jefferson and Lincoln - do they think they quote American leaders today? Do you think the people of Asia who stand on the razor edge of decision, do they look to us or do they look to the Communist world? If you feel that what we are doing now is right, that we can do no better, I suggest you vote for an administration whose motto has been "No New Starts." But if you feel we can do better, if you feel that this is a great country, which deserves the united effort of all of us, if you feel that we can move in the sixties, that we can bring a better life for our people, that we can provide security for the farmers of Tennessee and Arkansas, that we can develop our resources, that we can use our steel capacity instead of 50 percent of it, that we can provide for a more secure life for our older citizens, that we can provide the best educational system in the world, that we can move, I want you to join with us. I want you to help us. [Applause.]

I want to see an America which is free for everyone, which develops the constitutional rights of all Americans, which will serve as our own symbol, our own identification, with the cause of freedom. The hard, tough question for the next decade, for this or any other group of Americans, is whether a free society with its freedom of choice, its breadth of opportunity, its range of alternatives, can meet the single-minded advance of the Communists. Can a nation organized and governed such as ours endure? Can we carry through at an age where never before we will witness not only new development of weapons not only of destruction, but also a race for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the far side of space, and the inside of men's minds. We and the Russians now have the power to destroy at one blow, one-quarter of the earth's population, a feat not accomplished since Cain slew Abel. We need leadership better equipped than any we have had in 100 years, if the United States is not only going to survive but prevail. It is to that great cause that I ask your help. It is to the future that I ask you to give ourselves. It is to this campaign that I ask your assistance. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Riverside Drive Rally, Memphis, TN Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives