Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at the Convention of the National Association of Retail Grocers

June 16, 1954

I THANK YOU SINCERELY, ladies and gentlemen, for the cordiality of your welcome. I feel that I can claim at least one specific item of kinship with this organization. We were both born in 1890.

I suppose there is no individual closer to the affairs, the business, and the feelings of a community than is the local grocer.

There are many other things about your industry that makes this a very wonderful occasion for me. When I was a boy, I was one of six in my family. We had a quarrel daily as to who could go up and do the chore of bringing the groceries down home. They had a practice then, in grocery stores, that I understand growing efficiency has eliminated-always hoping that the grocer would say you can have one of the dried prunes out of the barrel over there. But better than that was the dill pickle jar that you could dive into, sometimes arm deep almost, and try to get one. I understand that they are not that accommodating anymore; we have got too efficient. When you go around picking things off the shelf, you pay for them. These, you understand, were free. That meant a lot to young boys to whom a nickel looked about as big as a wheel on a farm wagon.

So, you people--you representative people--have .been not only sort of a social center for small boys and the rest of the community, particularly in the smaller communities, but they are serving a function in the operation of our economy which is almost unique. Traditionally they are small businesses, they are businesses where Americans are displaying their traits of initiative and courage in taking a risk and doing the job themselves, working for themselves with the greatest kind of independence, and always performing a service for those around them.

The groceryman is, of course, the bridge between the farmer and the consumer, and as such must be acquainted with the desires and the needs of both. He is also a local power, a local figure. Because of this position of his, he exercises influence in our local political life. It is as such that I unashamedly bring to your attention this morning--indeed proudly bring to your attention--the fact that there are now programs before the Congress of the United States which if pushed, as they should be, by every single grocer in our Nation, I am sure will result in laws, in developments in this country, that will do much to insure jobs. It will make certain that this country continues on a high level of economic activity and does so without infringing upon the liberties of the grocer, or the farmer, or the working man--or anybody else.

Now, among other things that this program does, is to reduce the amount of the taxes taken from the entire citizenry. Of course, reducing of taxes is always an acceptable sort of move. We believe that at a time when the Government expenditures are high, and if we are going to continue and improve, support, increasing economic activity, we have got to allow people to have more of their own money to spend instead of spending it through governmental agencies.

Fully as important as tax reduction is tax reform--to try to begin the process of differentiating between the fields of taxation that should pertain to the Federal Government, State government, and local, so that every department of government, and particularly the local departments of government, can do their jobs and have the money with which to finance them.

Indeed, let us not forget this: when we read our Constitution we find that it says there that all powers not herein specifically given to the Federal Government are reserved to the States and to the people. We can observe that meticulously. But if we use the taxing powers so that we take away all of the available taxable revenue from the States and localities, where indeed are the localities and the States going to get the wherewithal to exercise their legitimate functions?

In other words, the taxing power, if not wisely used, will result in centralization of authority, in dependence upon Washington. That is the very thing we are trying to prevent and reverse--a trend which has certainly existed in the past.

Now, on the farm program: the farm program is designed, with the help of every kind of farming expert--in the colleges, in different farming areas, with the help of businessmen, retailers and wholesalers, with every kind of individual we could get that knew something about this problem--for one reason: to take the production of America and move it into markets, into consumption, domestic and foreign, and out of storage. Now, it is just as simple as that.

We must quit piling up storage that alarms everybody, and upsets the business and farming community, and get things to be used--to find, establish, and sustain markets everywhere. We must quit encouraging the production of things that we can't handle for the moment, and get things we do need.

To my mind, unless we can get these existing surpluses isolated from the markets, unless we can stop their inordinate growth, there is just no program in the world that can avoid having its back broken after awhile. Then we will have something disastrous for all of us.

We want to sustain a reliable farm income everywhere, doing it without taking the risk of just breaking the back of a program through accumulating surpluses.

Now, as I see it, it is the kind of government that wants to leave in the hands of all citizens the maximum possible amount of their own money to spend, that wants to emphasize the local responsibility and authority in government, that nevertheless wants to do those things that the Federal Government should properly do to help citizens advantage themselves, to encourage them to take risks and to exercise their own initiative. That is the kind of government that I believe is truly liberal.

With respect to this question, Lincoln said: one of the functions-speaking of functions of Government--is to do for people those things which they cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves as can the Government.

Now, if we take that as the limit as to how the Federal Government should participate with States and localities through loans or anything else, there is no question we will get our necessary highways, we will get our schools, we will get everything, because there will be the wherewithal in the localities to do it. The policy of our Government will continue to support and encourage the growth of our economy. There will be more revenues for local, State, and national, each echelon of government to do its job. And we will go ahead with strength at home and security abroad.

Now that, my friends, that is "once over lightly" what this program before our Congress is intended to do. It has in mind every individual of 160 million. It tries to think of the man who has been physically disabled, and how he can be rehabilitated. It tries to think of those who suffer the awful scourge of chronic illness--incurable, chronic illness. It tries to think of our education. But it tries to do these things by encouraging people, so far as possible, to do these things for themselves, but to put behind them the full power and authority of the Federal Government so that everybody knows he is getting the right kind of assistance, the right kind of help, when the burden becomes too great for the localities to handle themselves.

That is the whole theory. That is the whole purpose. That is the kind of thing that I ask you to get busy, to put your shoulders to the wheel and help get across. We need it, and we need it now. The time is late.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at the National Guard Armory in Washington.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the Convention of the National Association of Retail Grocers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232172

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