John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Treadway Inn, Niagara Falls, NY

September 28, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mayor Wagner, Mr. Prendergast, Arthur Levitt, Mr. Jordan, ladies and gentlemen I hope the mayor, who is a distinguished Republican, I understand [laughter] will not take my key away if I make a few unkind remarks about his party. [Applause.] I won't include him in them at all. [Laughter.]

There is an old saying that you have not seen any falls until you have seen Niagara Falls. I hope they will also say that we have not seen any victory until we see the Democratic victory on November 8 this year.


Some of you who are here today are working on the power project, and I appreciate very much your coming over here during this period of time. I think your presence here, and I hope my presence here, indicates that we take this election seriously, and I think it is a serious election because the United States is moving in a serious time. I have never thought that the President of the United States was in difficulty. I have always thought that the United States, itself, faced serious problems and serious challenges. You cannot live in this country during the last 2 weeks and possibly feel reassured about the course of world events, and you cannot live in western New York and possibly feel confident that in the next 3, 4, and 5 years we are going to maintain the economic growth and full employment of this section of the State. [Applause.]

I think this State and this country have been made by people who were not satisfied.

Mr. Nixon has said that I am downgrading the United States. I am not at all. I could not possibly feel stronger about this country and about what it can do. But I think the Republicans have put limitations on what we can do. We want to upgrade the leadership. We want to made this country in a position of unmatched security, both at home and abroad.

I stand today as the Democratic nominee for the Office of the President, and where I stand other Americans have stood, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman [applause] and I stand for the things for which they stood. Mr. Nixon has said in recent weeks that party labels don't mean very much in 1960. Republicans say that every 4 years, but in the intervening 3 years they never do anything in the Congress which would make you think that party labels aren't important. [Applause.]

During the August session of this Congress - I don't think a party label means anything unless the parties mean something, and I think the parties do mean something. I think the Republicans do stand for something. It is not what I stand for, but they do stand for something, and it is against these programs which I think are in the interest of the people of this country. We don't have to go back to Franklin Roosevelt, and we don't have to go back to Harry Truman.

We can go back to the August session of this Congress when there were three bills, which I think tell very well what the issues are in this campaign.

One was medical care for the aged tied to social security. Forty-four Democratic Senators supported it, only one Republican, and it is a fact that in the last 7 days the Governor of this State, a Republican, has attacked the program which was passed in this last session of the Congress, because it was not tied to social security. Everybody here pays social security, but everybody here when they retire can look forward to some assistance. If we can tie medical care to social security, then when we are retired, when we do reach the age of 65 for men or 62 for women, you do not have to worry about medical care. The fact of the matter is that older people in this country, and I am vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Aged, are hard hit by the problem of finding decent housing and paying for their medical bills.

Under the bill which the Congress passed, anybody before 65 who needs medical care who has $800 or $1,000 saved up must first spend that money, exhaust their savings, take an oath that they are needy, and then they will get some assistance. I believe the other way, and that is the way the Democratic Party favors it. [Applause.]

The second bill that was up and which is an issue in this campaign was a bill to provide $1.25 minimum wage. Four-fifths of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, including the Congressman of this district, who is chairman of the congressional committee for all Republicans, voted against the $1.25 minimum wage for a 40-hour week, not for a business which is only ten, fifteen, or twenty-five thousand dollars a year, but for a business which makes more than $1 million a year, we wanted to pay them $1.25 by 1962, not this year, but 1962, and to pay those that were not covered by 1964 $1.25, and four-fifths of the Republicans voted against it. I think these issues are important, not because the minimum wage is maybe the most important issue in the United States today, and not because medical care for the aged itself may be the most important issue, and not because aid to education itself may be the most important issue. I think the most important issue is the security of the United States and the peace of the world. But I don't think we are going to be secure, and I don't think we are going to maintain our freedom unless we are building in this country a strong society on all fronts. As long as there are 15 million American homes in the United States substandard, as long as there are 5 million American homes in the cities of the United States which lack plumbing of any kind, as long as 17 million Americans live on inadequate assistance when they get older, then I think we have unfinished business in this country. If we build a strong society here, we are strong abroad. Franklin Roosevelt was a good neighbor to Latin America because he was a good neighbor in the United States. People around the world want the same things that we want. They want freedom, they want security for themselves and their families, they want opportunities and they want peace. If the United States stands for freedom as we do, if the United States is strong as we are and can be, if the United States is building a vigorous society and maintaining employment and solving its problems, then people in Latin America and Africa and Asia, faced with Castro's example or our example, will come with us. But if Castro stands for a movement forward, however abhorrent it is to us, and we stand still, then he raises the banner of revolt all over Latin America. We want for other people what we want for ourselves, and I think that is the most effective foreign policy that we can carry out. [Applause.]

A hundred years ago during the election of 1860, Lincoln wrote to a friend, "I know there is a God, and that He hates injustice. I see the storm is coming, but if He has a place and a part for me, I believe that I am ready." Now, 100 years later, when the issue is still freedom or slavery, the same issue Lincoln fought, we know there is a God and we know He hates injustice. We see the storm coming, but I think if He has a place and a part for us, I believe that we are ready. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Treadway Inn, Niagara Falls, NY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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