Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks to the First National Conference on the Spiritual Foundations of American Democracy.

November 09, 1954

Dr. Lowry, ladies and gentlemen:

It is one of the happier duties that devolve upon the President that he is privileged occasionally to greet and welcome to this city--to the Capital City of our country--groups that have joined together in some great civic enterprise.

Usually there is some thought that occurs to me, when I perform this pleasant duty, that I think is appropriate to the occasion. But I must confess, I am having a little trouble today.

We are talking about the spiritual foundations of our form of government, and I meet with the spiritual leaders of the Nation, and I am one of these poor laymen, and it looks to me it's a little bit like Daniel in the lion's den in reverse.

Now Dr. Lowry said something about my having certain convictions as to a God in Heaven and an Almighty power. Well, I don't think anyone needs a great deal of credit for believing what seems to me to be obvious.

I remember once that Carter Glass was given a decoration, an honorary doctorate at a university, and the citation read in his behalf stressed very greatly that he was an honest man. And finally, when he got up, he said he thought he ought to decline this decoration because if the United States had gotten to the point that they had to decorate a man because he was honest, well, he despaired of the Republic.

Now it seems to me that this relationship between a spiritual faith, a religious faith, and our form of government is so clearly defined and so obvious that we should really not need to identify a man as unusual because he recognizes it.

Now I am not going to go into any long dissertation today. That is not my purpose in coming and telling you how much I support the work that you are now initiating. I do believe we need this kind of thing. But as we go back and trace, let us not go back to the Judeo-Christian tradition and try to introduce it into the forms of man's attempts at self-government, but let us just come down to modern times since the Reformation.

Milton asserted that all men are born equal, because each is born in the image of his God. Our whole theory of government finally expressed in our Declaration, you will recall, said--and remember the first part of the Preamble of the Declaration was to give the reasons to mankind why we had established such a government: "Man is endowed by his Creator." It did not assert that Americans had certain rights. "Man" is endowed by his Creator--or "All Men" I believe was the expression used.

So this connection is very, very clear. And no matter what Democracy tries to do in the terms of maximum individual liberty for an individual, in the economic and in the intellectual and every other field, no matter what it tries to do in providing a system of justice, and a system of responsibility--of public servants to all the people--and identifying the people as the source of political power in that government, when you come back to it, there is just one thing: it is a concept, it is a subjective sort of thing, that a man is worthwhile because he was born in the image of his God.

And so it seems to me that the spiritual foundation is not so much the effort we have now, to prove it, as it is to make people recognize it and live accordingly. Because if we are going to have maximum freedom in carrying on the business of government, then there must be self-discipline, a fervor that establishes self-discipline; because if we don't, freedom runs so far that we cannot meet the challenges of today.

The challenges of today, I think, probably are of two kinds, one from within ourselves, because our fervor, our strength, in our spiritual convictions as to the worth-whileness of this form of government, weakens; and on the other side we are attacked by the Communists who in their own documents state that capitalism--Democracy--carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction, and give, as you know, several reasons why they claim that.

So we are under tremendous attacks. But it is not that we have just to establish the fact. We have to establish the fervor, the strength of our convictions, because fundamentally Democracy is nothing in the world but a spiritual conviction, a conviction that each of us is enormously valuable because of a certain standing before our own God.

Now, any group that binds itself together to awaken all of us to these simple things, and to discover new ways and means by which they are brought home to us through our surroundings, through our relationships with other nations, our relationships with one another, and through our peering into the future, any organization such as that is, to my mind, a dedicated, patriotic group that can well take the Bible in one hand and the flag in the other, and march ahead.

Now that is what I am for. And I am delighted, therefore, that you have met here, that you are having this kind of convention which I hope will, as one of its results, grow and grow and grow until this kind of thing is habitual in every city, town, and hamlet of the United States, back to the remotest village.

Again my thanks for your welcome. I will watch with keen interest the outcome of your work, and I am sure that the United States cannot fail to prosper through what you are doing.


Note: The President spoke at 12:02 p.m. at a luncheon meeting at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel in Washington. His opening words "Dr. Lowry" referred to the Rev. Charles W. Lowry, chairman of the Foundation for Religious Action in the Social and Civil Order, which sponsored the conference.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks to the First National Conference on the Spiritual Foundations of American Democracy. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233269

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