John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks on the Occasion of the Celebration of the Centennial of Italian Unification.

March 16, 1961

Congressman Anfuso, Your Excellency, the Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Ambassador Dr. Martino, Mr. Secretary, Senator Pastore, distinguished Members of Congress, Ambassadors, and ladies and gentlemen:

Many of us who are here today are not Italian by blood or by birth, but I think that we all have a more than passing interest in this anniversary. All of us, in a large sense, are beneficiaries of the Italian experience.

It is an extraordinary fact in history that so much of what we are and so much of what we believe had its origin in this rather small spear of land stretching into the Mediterranean. All in a great sense that we fight to preserve today had its origins in Italy, and earlier than that in Greece. So that it is an honor as President of the United States to participate in this most important occasion in the life of a friendly country, the Republic of Italy.

In addition, it is one of the strange facts of history, that this country of ours, which is important to Western civilization, was opened up first by a daring feat of navigation of an Italian, Christopher Columbus. And yet this country was nearly a century old when modern Italy began.

So we have the old and the new bound together and inextricably linked--Italy and the United States, past, present, and we believe future.

The Risorgimento which gave birth to modern Italy, like the American Revolution which led to the birth of our country, was the re-awakening of the most deeply-held ideals of Western civilization: the desire for freedom, for protection of the rights of the individual.

As the Doctor said, the state exists for the protection of those rights, and those rights do not come to us because of the generosity of the state. This concept which originated in Greece and in Italy I think has been a most important factor in the development of our own country here in the United States.

And it is a source of satisfaction to us that those who built modern Italy received part of their inspiration from our experience here in the United States--as we had earlier received part of our inspiration from an older Italy. For although modern Italy is only a century old, the culture and the history of the Italian peninsula stretches back over two millenia. From the banks of the Tiber there rose Western civilization as we know it, a civilization whose traditions and spiritual values give great significance to Western life as we find it in Western Europe and in the Atlantic community.

And to this historic role of Italian civilization has been added the strengthening in the life of this country of millions of Italians who came here to build their homes and who have been valued citizens--and many of their most distinguished sons sit on this platform today.

These ancient ties between the people of Italy and the people of the United States have never been stronger than they are today, and have never been in greater peril. The story of postwar Italy is a story of determination and of courage in the face of a huge and difficult task. The Italian people have rebuilt a war-torn economy and nation, and played a vital part in developing the economic integration of Western Europe.

Surely, the most inspiring experience of the postwar era: Italy has advanced the welfare of her own people, bringing them hope for a better life, and she has played a significant role in the defense of the West.

As we come to this great anniversary in 1961, we realize that once again new and powerful forces have arisen which challenge the concepts upon which Italy and the United States have been rounded. If we are to meet this new challenge, we--Italy and the United States--must demonstrate to our own people and to a watching world, as we sit on a most conspicuous stage, that men acting in the tradition of Massini and Carour and Garibaldi and Lincoln and Washington can best bring man a richer and fuller life.

This is the task of the new Risorgimento, a new re-awakening of man's ancient aspirations for freedom and for progress, until the torch lit in ancient Torino one century ago guides the struggle of men everywhere--in Italy, in the United States, in the world around us.

Note: The President spoke at 11:13 a.m. in the Department of State Auditorium. In his opening words he referred to Victor L. Anfuso, U.S. Representative .from New York, who presided over the celebration; His Excellency Manlio Brosio, Italian Ambassador to the United States; Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson; the Honorable Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Ambassador Gaetano Martino, head of the Italian delegation to the United Nations Assembly and former Italian Foreign Minister; Secretary of State Dean Rusk; and John O. Pastore, U.S. Senator from Rhode Island.

A White House release dated March 15 announced that the Centennial Celebration would be held under the joint sponsorship of the Italian Embassy and the American Honorary Committee, consisting of Members of Congress and Governors of Italian descent, under the chairmanship of Congressman Anfuso, with Senator Pastore as honorary chairman.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks on the Occasion of the Celebration of the Centennial of Italian Unification. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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