Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at the Breakfast Meeting of Republican State Chairmen, Denver, Colorado.

September 10, 1955

THANK YOU very much, gentlemen. This is a special group and of course I feel especially honored at the privilege of meeting you. I understand that you are just new graduates, and I must say, in a way, it's the strangest kind of commencement exercise for me to attend, although I have made a number of commencement addresses.

What strikes me is this: governmental service is the temporary privilege of some people. But what you are doing is exercising the inherent right and performing the basic duties of citizenship. Every citizen owes it to himself and his country to participate individually, or of course through a political organization, in making certain that our country goes in the direction that conforms to his ideals and hopes for that government--for that country.

Now, if you will forgive me, instead of jumping into farm problems and Geneva problems, and things of that kind, which are discussed interminably, I am going to talk just a little bit of philosophy this morning--political philosophy. That is because of a very deep and abiding belief that if a political party is not held together by a common faith, a common conviction, in certain fundamentals, then it is not a true political party but it is merely a conspiracy to gain power.

If we are not held together by a cause, then we are not making of ourselves an agency to help the United States of America. It is merely another form of gaining distinction for ourselves, to get ourselves a pat on the back, and to appear important.

Now, the text I am going to take is one with which you are completely familiar. You have all used it a thousand times, but whether or not we have stopped to think sufficiently of what it means is another story.

Lincoln concluded his Gettysburg address: "... that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

The first thing I want to bring out is that he recognized that the possibility of this type of government perishing is always with us, and it is still with us.

The experiment in free government that was started by our Founding Fathers is still going on, and it will go on to the end of time, because the law of change is the law of life. No established philosophy or doctrine set up in 1737 could possibly apply in its detail today as it did then. It will be the same a hundred years hence.

"Of the people." Just exactly what do you think of when you say "government of the people"?

I think, in a simple sort of way, we could say, "of the people" doesn't mean a government of farmers, of labor bosses, of smart politicians, of businessmen, or of anybody else. It means a government of all types and classes of people, regardless of race or color or religion or everything else that tends to separate us in our social and ordinary lives. It means a government which, in its whole constitution, its whole concept and its aims, takes in the thoughts, the purposes, the ideals, the aspirations and the problems of today and 165 years ago.

And "by the people." "By the people" really means that every individual is participating in that government. Remember, Lincoln defined this government in three ways:, of, by and for, implying that if the people did not exercise their right to govern, it shall perish from the earth.

In the national elections, something like a little over 50 percent of all qualified electors vote and in State and local elections, I am told that it is frequently as low as 25 percent.

Well, government by the people would seem to be not flourishing as well as it should. Some politician some years ago said that bad officials are elected by good voters who do not vote.

If we are going to have government by the people, then the man who is trying to exercise his fights and duties as a citizen makes certain that others are voting--not only in order to promote the fortunes of his own political life, but to make sure that this type of government shall not perish from the earth.

Now, what did he mean by "for the people"?

It seems to me here is one of the tall riddles of free government. "For the people." We have seen the phrase tortured by demagogic types to mean that an over-wise and over-busy governmental bureaucracy takes over all the functions of living. They say, "Now go on, boys, do just what you are told and we will take care of the 165 million people." And they tortured the General Welfare Clause of the Constitution.

I don't believe that is what Lincoln meant at all. If we are for the people, which means for the individual as such, we go first to the ten first amendments of the Constitution--to the Bill of Rights. That was written for the people. That Bill of Rights does not guarantee to each of us a profitable living. It guarantees to each of us an equal opportunity with all others to earn our living for ourselves and for our families, and to protect our future.

We could discuss further what we mean by "for the people," but I refer to another quotation of Lincoln's which was generally to this effect: the function of government is to do for the people what the individual cannot do at all, or do so well for himself, and in all those things which the individual can do for himself the government ought not to interfere

Now I think today that is as good a presentation of the Republican case as I know how to make. It puts it in terms and in words that all of us not only understand, but which we can make others understand.

In attempting to summarize the philosophy of the Republican Party I, myself, have sometimes used such phrases as moderate progressive and dynamic conservative, because we want to be known for what we are, the party of progress. And if we are the party of progress, we must be the party of peace and prosperity, because this is implicit in the term "progress." But I don't believe that you can sloganize the kind of honest philosophy that the Republican Party is trying to promote in the United States. If we can live by that philosophy, however, then I think we have proved our worthiness to be the instrument through which the people of the United States carry on the job of government--of the people, by the people, and for the people. And representative government shall not perish from the earth.

We have a great cause for which to fight. Possibly this manner of cause, something in which you believe, is deeper with an old soldier than it is with some. In the military life you are required to study whole campaigns, the careers of leaders--how did they think, how did they produce the things they wanted?

One man who always attracted me because of his military career, rather than anything else, was old Cromwell. Cromwell's Army had the sternest and toughest discipline of any army that I know of in the world. It has been the belief that if you had that kind of discipline, you couldn't have enthusiasm. But he had it. He sent his Roundheads into battle singing hymns and chopping off the heads of cavaliers. Why? Because they believed in something. He told them, by golly, if you are going to fight under the Roundheads you will go straight to heaven; and whatever your desires were, you got them. He taught them to believe in something.

Now, what I am trying to get at is how do we get hold of something that we believe in so much that it shines in our faces every time we say it to anybody else?

It is not only what we believe. It is what we believe we live for. We say "for God and country." Our country was organized and defined, when you come down to it, on a very fervent and firm basic religious faith. Our founding documents maintained the only way you could explain our form of government was because "man was endowed by his Creator." On this principle our cause is founded.

How do we convince the people that we are for a cause? How do we go about this thing, believing in it as fervently as we do? How do we get the people to accept it and put into power the people who will exemplify and practice that kind of doctrine?

Well now, again you will have to let me go back to the military. After all, I have been in it much more than I have the political. Before every great battle, the commander gets together his corps commanders. This group here this morning numbers forty-eight. I suppose it would be about comparable to the number of corps commanders I had, finally, in the European campaign.

Now, to the corps commanders, the commander explains his plans. Everybody is indoctrinated. It is supposed to be a very useful performance.

But gentlemen, could you imagine a battle--and some of you here in this room were probably in the very campaigns of which I am talking--if the commanders all knew everything about what was going to be done, and they were all doing it, and they were all dedicated, and it started on down from there and finally got down to where there wasn't a corporal in the whole business that knew his job? You will forgive me for using military terms. Getting this information through the ranks is the corps commander's job.

Now, in volunteering for the work you have undertaken, you have undertaken one of the highest forms of duty which an American citizen performs. You are also taking on the tough job, just like a corps commander in battle, of making sure that his organization is ready to carry the fight right down on through. In your case, that means from the state chairman to the district chairman and the precinct chairman and all the workers in the ranks--and to each individual.

Unless you can take the fervor that you have, and carry it back to your State, and conduct the same effective campaign schools there--make sure that the spirit and know-how is going right on down through--it is all in vain. If you do the job right, it is government by the people. Let's emphasize people, not just us, not just a bunch of politicians seeking office. By the people.

So the object in the organization of a political party comes down to: how can I get to the last man living in my block, my apartment house? How can I get to him? Well, if you can get to him with your conviction, with your belief, with your fervor, with the leadership that you have exhibited by getting where you are today in this organization, you can win any election in the country. You can go down and reach that 50 percent of people who do not vote and get them to believe in some of the things that you believe in your own heart. The thing is done.

And incidentally, while I have been forbidden to mention this subject by your Chairman, I will bring up for a moment the question of one man and one man's value.

Now, I just want to point out to you that I greatly appreciated your telegram, particularly where you said, "I like Ike more than ever." May I return the compliment and say that when I see these faces before me, I like the Republican Party more than ever.

But we don't believe for a minute that the Republican Party is so lacking in inspiration, high quality personnel, and leadership that we are dependent on one man. We don't believe it for a minute.

Now as long as we have a man in the leadership position, why of course, as a party, we are going to be loyal, we are going to help in the fight.

But humans are frail--and they are mortal. Finally, you never pin your flag so tightly to one mast that if a ship sinks you cannot rip it off and nail it to another. It is sometimes good to remember that.

So I suggest that as a party everybody on down the line pledge to get a new recruit, a youngster, and make him a member of the party. Now, if you will carry that idea far enough, making each party member a vote-seeker as well as a voter, you have got elected a President of the United States.

The job of getting people really wanting to do something is the essence of leadership. And one of the things a leader needs occasionally is the inspiration he gets from the people he leads. The old tactical textbooks say that the commander always visits his troops to inspire them to fight. I for one soon discovered that one of the reasons for my visiting the front lines was to get inspiration from the young American soldier. I went back to my job ashamed of my own occasional resentments or discouragements, which I probably--at least I hope I concealed them.

The young American in action is something to inspire anybody. If you get these young men of zeal and vigor, pep and tireless energy, get them on your side and get them to going, you just have to keep a light rein on them, you don't have to use a spur or whip.

Let me give you a very quick application of this principle of getting young recruits. If you get a recruit my age, I am lucky if I can vote in two presidential elections. But if you get a recruit at 21, he can vote for you in 12 or 15.

Now gentlemen, I know you have discussed the problems-domestic and foreign--of the times. They are important. The National Committee will continue to give you literature that analyzes and shows what the Administration is trying to do, working with the leadership in the Congress, to bring these things about. All those things will be coming to you. That is ammunition for your guns, to show that you are working for the people, and that the party is of the people, and you are trying to get that kind of thing done by the people.

But underneath it all, just remember that the cause for which you are working is: to make certain that government is to do for the people those things which they cannot do themselves, or so well do, but we are not going to interfere with those things which are the proper province of the individual. With your other ammunition, you have got something that you can carry to the voters with a grin on your face. And for heaven's sake, don't forget the value of a grin ! Pessimism never won a battle.

One more point: there is no such thing as a hopeless State, or a hopeless district. They are Americans, aren't they?

The harder the fight in your State, in your district--wherever it is--the harder you ought to fight. You don't go into a battle and say to one division or one corps, "Oh, we don't care if you fight. Just stand there. It's all right. We know it's pretty tough stuff over there." You get everybody to operate for a common objective.

If you just increase the Republican vote by, let us say, 15 percent over what it was before in these difficult localities, you make the Republican party that much more respected there, and you increase the prospects of State victories.

So I just ask each one, don't believe in political defeatism. We have got a positive program, to develop, exploit, exemplify, the philosophy that Lincoln taught us. That is the positive thing. That means not merely in Kansas, or Pennsylvania, or Colorado, or anywhere else--but throughout the U.S.A.

Again, gentlemen, I refer to the telegram you sent me, and your expression of confidence.

To fail to say that I am complimented by such action on your part, fail to say that I am grateful, would be inexcusable. Of course I am. Any American would like to think that he has the confidence of his fellow Americans when he is trying to do a tough job. But, again I say, this country, this party, is not only big--it overshadows every individual and any individual in it.

We must set as a goal the extra 15 percent of recruits that we need--and are going to have--to make this party a perpetual agency for carrying out the kind of doctrine that Lincoln taught us, for the benefit of our children and all our grand-children.

I overlooked one thought: your attention to the character and quality of your candidates in every district. I mean not only Presidents and Vice Presidents, particularly--but gubernatorial, senatorial, congressional candidates--right on down.

Did you ever stop to think how important it is to a man to know who his councilman is going to be, or the type of man running for mayor? If the councilman is a personable and fine fellow, with a lot of vigor and ability, and you get him out where people can see him, I would say that that would be a reinforcing and an implementation of your leadership that would be most effective in the State and national contests.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at the Brown Palace Hotel, Denver, Colo., at 8:40 a.m

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the Breakfast Meeting of Republican State Chairmen, Denver, Colorado. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233584

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