Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at the Republican Campaign Picnic at the President's Gettysburg Farm

September 12, 1956

Mr. Chairman, my fellow platform-sitters, my fellow Americans and all the people that you represent in your official and personal capacities:

Unfortunately, the Chairman did not allot me time. I have no idea how long I am supposed to talk, but I have so many things on my mind. If I get to wandering around too freely, I hope that some of my friends here in front will have the good judgment to act a little impatient--possibly I shall notice it.

I want, first of all, to answer a question I have been asked every day for just about a year:

Ladies and gentlemen, I feel fine.

And now, in acknowledging the very gracious and complimentary things that have been said about me today, and more particularly the latest remarks by the Vice President, I want to say this: there is no man in the history of America who has had such a careful preparation as has Vice President Nixon for carrying out the duties of the Presidency, if that duty should ever fall upon him.

For four solid years there hasn't been a principal administrative meeting among the heads of government that he has not attended as an active participant. He has gone, on behalf of the United States, to many foreign countries on many trips. And in every country that he has visited the reports have been that the United States has gained many additional friends.

I have called upon him to serve on numerous committees where people have banded together looking toward the solution of some problem important to our country, one of the most important of which was that looking toward the elimination of discrimination in governmental contracts, and the success attained is a tribute to his dedication and to his wisdom.

Now the first thing that I want to say to you personally is that I hope each of you has enjoyed the day as much as Mrs. Eisenhower and I have enjoyed having you out here. It has been a great privilege for us, and I have particularly enjoyed listening to the people who told us something of the mechanics of winning elections, and working in the precincts, and so on.

I subscribe to every bit of it.

I would like to tell here just a little incident that occurred not long ago in the White House one evening. There was a caller from nearby Maryland, and she said, "Twice Democratic workers have called at my door and wanted to talk government and politics. No Republican has yet called."

I would venture one word of advice on top of all that you have so far heard: when you go to that door and ring that bell, go with a smile on your face. Pessimism has never yet won a battle.

Now I should like to talk a little bit more about the fundamental reasons that we are here today. Now the obvious one is: we want to elect the Republican Party to the position of leadership in our municipalities, our counties, our States and our national government.

But I want to point out that an election in itself is not the victory. The election rather is a mandate that is placed upon a party and upon its candidates by the people of the United States. An election is a beginning. It's more like the battle orders that a commander gives to a unit as he sends it into battle: to do something constructive for the great people that we call the American nation.

Now of course, this election concerns the important business, almost the life and death business, of 168 million people. It is a fantastically complex organization--an economy producing at the extraordinary rate of four hundred billions a year, with every kind of craft and science and profession represented among our people, and each having its own special relations with government.

So, knowing and hearing today the practical means by which we win elections, let us never forget why we are winning: what do we want to accomplish?

We want to accomplish giving to the United States of America, in all levels of government, honest government, government of good judgment, government of tolerance, of conciliation, that has very definite views about the relationship of government to the individual and faithfully follows them.

So let us not forget: we are not winning an election merely because we happen to like one individual or two individuals or the individuals and their families. We are winning an election to give America a chance to go forward along a path that we believe to be best for her, and because it is best for her, it is best for the world.

We have four great objectives immediately in front of us. First, we want to arouse consciousness of the vast stakes that hang upon this election. We want Americans to understand how much it means to them to keep on going down the straight road of prosperity and peace.

We want, then, to generate a conviction. We want to generate the conviction that the Republican Party, by reason of its Platform, its record of the past four years and beyond, the people that it offers you as candidates all the way from Councilman all the way up, represents the best hope of America to follow that great and broad forward way.

We want to ignite a zeal so that we can make converts, make converts among every class of people, not asking a person whether he is a Republican, whether he is an independent, or whether he is a Democrat. We say to them: "Do you believe this--do you believe this? These facts being so, you must vote Republican."

So our idea is to get all of these converts understanding what we do about our country, about the capacity of the Republican Party to lead based upon its record--and get them to vote that way.

And of course we want to fortify their determination to prepare themselves for voting. If we do--and by this I mean, of course, registration--if we do all of these things I point out, we transform a campaign into a crusade, we change a political platform into a cause, a cause that makes people jump up and want to work.

It is useless for the chairman, or any of us on this platform, to say to you: "Just go work." If the leaders of the party do not provide for the workers an understanding that puts a light in the eye and some joy in the heart--there's no sense of going out and working.

As a matter of fact, unless we had a cause that would do those things, I declare to you, never could I have accepted the nomination. And I know that none of you would be here today. You have made the long trek, some of you from California, to come here and meet with people of your kind and with the rest of us, to talk over these problems. It is because you do have something of that in your heart and in your eye, you can give it to every worker.

Now of course in this job, there is nothing chronological--there is nothing really very systematic about it, for the reason you can't talk about human morale in terms of push buttons and call bells. You have got to reach down into the hearts of people. That is what we are talking about. It has got to be a real cause for which they are ready to work.

What we are really talking about is, a day-to-day way of life on the part of leaders. And who are leaders? Anybody that can influence any other single person in this world--that's a leader.

Even down in the squad, in the Army, you not only have the squad leader, but you have the assistant squad leader and the technician. Each has his little job. Why do you pick him? First, because he can get others to work with him. The essence of leadership is to get others to do something because they think you want it done and because they know it is worth while doing--that is what we are talking about.

By this day-to-day way of life, I mean using every opportunity to tell the truth, to expose falsehood, to stimulate thinking, to overcome prejudice, dealing with fellow citizens as equals in their rights and responsibilities, not playing a demagogue or the boss, or the "I know better than you" big-brother role.

We want to emphasize the principles that distinguish the Republican Party from our opponents. Now these principles concern, first, the purpose of government, and next the nature of government.

Here the Republican Party is fortunate that in its first great leader they received an axiom that has never been improved upon since his time, when Abraham Lincoln said, "The role of government is to do for people what they cannot do at all for themselves, or so well do in their individual capacities." "And," he said, "in all those things where people can do these things for themselves, government ought not to interfere."

And in a subsequent talk on this very battleground, he said the nature of government is of, by and for the people.

There is no better way to describe the nature of government that the Republican Party adheres to, and its purpose.

Great books have been written in extension of President Lincoln's statements. More will probably be written, but the nub of them, I think, is something like this: The Republican Party demands that our system be so conducted as to:

Assure the individual his right to reach the heights that his ambitions and his talents permit, without infringement on his fellow citizens' equal right.

Next, to protect the individual against falling into the depths of poverty and misery through no fault of his own. Next, to foster the individual's will to join with his neighbors in making their community and State worthy and respectable members of the Republic. Next, to assist them in the achievement of that objective when on their own resources alone they cannot do the job.

The Republican Party stands for thrift and integrity in government and against centralization of power in big government. But it believes that government must neither pinch pennies where the security of the nation is concerned nor weakly compromise principle under pressures however massive or powerful they may be.

The Republican Party insists that the conduct of American world leadership be marked by an open diplomacy that permits no secret treaties, no covenants that violate decency or justice or the rights of even the weakest nation. For peace can be achieved and preserved only by international agreements based on moral principles that can stand the scrutiny of all mankind.

Finally, to the Republican Party from its very beginning, one man is equal in his dignity and in his rights to all other men.

Now, our fundamental purpose--immediate purpose--is to persuade everybody to vote Republican.

And there has been some talk about a phrase that I used at San Francisco, and it must have been a very fortunate one because it has been quoted, "discerning Democrats."

One accosted me here today. He came up and said "I am one of those discerning Democrats, and I assume that from this platform I would hear a statement from one of them." But that gentleman--I have unfortunately forgotten his name--I want to thank him at least for giving me an individual report on what was doing.

Now again, I come back to registration. This campaign will be a tragic exercise in futility if we should succeed in generating the zeal, the beliefs, the convictions, among all America that we want to generate, and then find on election day that half the people that we have converted couldn't vote.

Let us insist now, therefore, that everybody register--telling them very frankly: "We want you to register. If you find it necessary to vote against us, all right. We would rather have you do that than not vote at all--because we want the decision of America, not the decision of a minority."

I have talked to great TV executives, and they say they are going to help. They are putting on little spot programs. I have talked to radio people--movie people. All of them say they are going to help. I don't believe there's any election that will be as effective as what we ourselves can do: telephoning our friends, calling on those we don't know, introducing ourselves, as I say, with a grin, and let's get along with the business of getting them down there and getting them ready to vote.

Now I am going to read you the shortest editorial I have ever read on this business of registration. It reads:

"If you live behind the iron curtain, you do not have to register--you vote as you're told, when you're told. If you are an American citizen, you do not have to register. Period.

"In either case, somebody else runs your country."

Now let me mention one other thing. I would not admit that there is any community, any county, any State, any section of this country, to be written off as hopeless. We had the report from the enthusiastic Southerner, who said we are growing in the South. Well, if you grow far enough you are going to pass somebody that is not growing.

We have a great Party. We have got individuals in this Party right now working in the cities all the way from the Puget Sound down to Miami--from Los Angeles to Maine. That's a bad word, isn't it! (Much laughter)

You know, since I was allotted no definite portion of time, I am going to take some of this time to tell just a little bit of a story.

When we went into the African campaign, as all of you know, all our troops were green, and the normal American boy seemed to think that some rules applied in war that were something, possibly, like football or baseball, or rules that applied to any other contest. They thought there was time to fight and time to sleep, and so on. They had, in other words, taken their training lightly.

We had the battle of Kasserine Pass that came about because of surprise and greenness of the commanders and troops, and we took a real beating before we recovered ourselves and were able to drive the enemy back from whence he came.

But there was no lesson in the whole campaign--in all of the campaigns in which I was concerned--so valuable as that. Never again did you find American troops casually sitting on the side of a hill and assuming that the Germans wouldn't attack at two a.m. From that time on they were real soldiers.

I think maybe Maine has a lesson in it.

So our tactics, then, are to reach every last woman and man-and child, indeed, because a child's enthusiasm can be important--in your block, in your apartment house--reach every one of them and convince them of the solidity of your views, the dedication that you have to your cause. We will reach all of these people, we will convince them, because we are leaders.

I want to say one more word about leadership. I told you I was going to wander all over the countryside. The tactical schools used to tell us that a commander visited his troops in order to inspire them; they fight better. From the beginning of my soldier experience, I learned this: I loved those visits, but it was I that gained the inspiration. There is no American that can't take inspiration from young 20-year-olds, if he will watch them in action. They bring to a cause in which they believe an energy, a zeal, a belief, a conviction, that is inspiring to watch, and it sends each of us back doing our work better.

Now, in conclusion, you know the problems. You must receive constant information from your headquarters. That information is rather like the ammunition which you use in a campaign. Use it usefully. It's to prove that the Republican Party is dedicated to the welfare of all the people of America, and to an honorable and just peace abroad. And remember, let us make sure that everybody has a right to exercise the ballot, because I would say that a voter without a ballot is like a soldier without a bullet. Let's make sure that every man on election day is armed and ready to do his part with his own ballot.

Note: The President spoke at 5:30 p.m. His opening words "Mr. Chairman" referred to Leonard W. Hall, Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the Republican Campaign Picnic at the President's Gettysburg Farm Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233164

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives