Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at the Unveiling of the Cornerstone of the Everett McKinley Dirksen Congressional Leadership Research Center, Pekin, Illinois

June 15, 1973

Mrs. Dirksen, Governor Walker, my colleagues from the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States, and all of our very distinguished guests on this occasion:

Before Senator Dirksen died, I often talked to him about the foreign policy of the United States, and I told him that sometime during my term of office I hoped that we would be able to open a new relationship with the People's Republic of China and that I would be able to visit Peking. And the Senator, with that wonderful sense of humor of his, said, "Well, you know, Dick, I am sure Peking, China, is a great place, but you have really never seen anything until you have seen Pekin, Illinois."

After your very warm welcome today-and we give our distinguished chaplain the credit for the fact that the rain just stopped--I can say that I am very happy that while I was unable to visit Pekin, Illinois, while Senator Dirksen lived, that finally I have been able to come here. We are grateful for your welcome, and I hope sometime we can come back when this center is finished.

Some of you may recall the ceremony in the Rotunda of the Capitol when I paid the respects of the Nation to Senator Dirksen in a eulogy,1 and in those remarks I recalled the remarks of Daniel Webster in which he said, "Our great men are the common property of the country." And the passage of time has shown us how very true this is. For the memory of Everett Dirksen continues to live in every corner of America today. In death, as in life, he belongs to all of us.

1 See 1969 volume, Item 359.

I said then that it would be difficult to think of Washington without him. Well, in 4 years we have learned that he has not really left us. His great voice continues to echo through the halls of American government. What he did and said in nearly 40 years of public service continues to shape the future of America.

In recent years, our concern for the political past has led to creation of great Presidential libraries, as you know, and three of them are located here in the Middle West: the Hoover Library in Iowa, the Truman Library in Missouri, and the Eisenhower Library in Kansas. It is very fitting, and the people of Pekin should be very proud, that a new research center now is to be dedicated here in America's heartland for the study of Congressional history, and that it is to be named for one of the most beloved and influential Congressional leaders of this century.

This center will house Congressional papers going back to 1932, the year Everett Dirksen first entered Congress, and here the records of old controversies will become the raw materials for new discoveries.

Too often, those of us who studied the history of this country have viewed America's history through the single lens of the Presidency, and we see our past solely as a succession of Presidential administrations. As one who served on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue--as a Member of both Houses and the Presidency--I welcome the new balance that this center can bring to our understanding of American government.

When you study Everett Dirksen's life, it teaches us many things. In the first place, his career symbolizes the importance of a constructive, cooperative relationship between the Congress and the president, a relationship of mutual respect and mutual accommodation.

Some of the great moments in the recent history of this country came when Everett Dirksen rose in the Senate on behalf of such a relationship. And whether the President's name was Roosevelt or Truman, Eisenhower or Kennedy, Johnson or Nixon, whether he was a Democrat or Republican, that, to him, was not the important thing. The important thing, as Everett Dirksen saw it, was that progress was better than deadlock and that neither the Congress nor the executive could travel very far without the other.

Too often we think that a strong executive must mean a weak legislature, and that a strong legislature must mean a weak executive. Everett Dirksen knew better than that. He believed in both a strong Congress and a strong President. And he knew the risk if they became rivals. But he also knew the potential if they became partners.

Both that risk and that potential still exist today on one crucial issue after another. Now, more than ever, we need to foster between the executive and the Congress a spirit of responsible partnership. And responsible partnership must rest on the foundation of mutual respect between the executive and the legislature. This doesn't mean that the two branches must soft pedal their disagreements. We have had strong differences in the past; we will continue to have strong differences in the future.

We have fought hard for our positions. We will continue to fight for them. In fact, we have a duty to fight vigorously for those things we believe in; it is our constitutional responsibility. But as we battle for our views, let us remember that we can accommodate our positions without abandoning our principles.

Responsible partnership means recognizing that neither party can have his way all the time. It means developing a spirit of give and take--with both sides doing some giving and both sides doing some taking.

If we proceed in that spirit, then we will not regard our system of checks and balances as a source of frustration, but as an opportunity for consultation. Then the interaction between branches of the Government will not be seen as a process which dilutes and weakens policy, but as one that improves and strengthens it.

Senator Dirksen's life teaches us a great deal in another very important way. His life can help every one of us renew our pride in our country. Everett Dirksen believed in America. He often said that the only debt that was greater than the national debt was the debt that he owed to his country. And every one of us should agree with Everett Dirksen on that point.

He served this Nation through a time of remarkable challenge--through four wars, a great depression, through cold war tensions and domestic upheavals-but whatever the crisis, his faith in America never wavered a bit.

At a time when we are tempted to dwell on our Nation's problems, I believe Senator Dirksen would remind us of our Nation's strength, for he knew that unless we appreciate what is fight about America, we can't correct what is wrong. Our confidence in ourselves and our country does not mean that we should overlook our problems. To the contrary, it should help us look at our problems more realistically, to solve them more effectively.

Let me give you one example that we have discussed in the past few days. We have a serious problem with inflation in this country. We are moving ahead decisively to meet it at the national level, but we are doing so not by turning our economical system upside down, but by building on the strengths of that system. Why? Because when we look at what is right about America, we can be thankful that we have the best jobs, the best wages, the greatest opportunities of any system in the world and in history, and let us not spoil that in the United States of America.

None of us likes inflation. None of us, when he goes to the supermarket or the grocery store, likes to see those prices going up. But inflation, as we all know, is a byproduct of prosperity. Our booming economy--we are in the biggest boom in America's history--has encouraged people to buy more than they have ever bought before, and because supplies have been short, the demands have brought the prices up. So we are putting the brakes on these prices. But in applying the brakes, we have been careful not to throw our whole economy into a disastrous skid which could drive us off that highway to progress for America.

That is why 2 days ago I imposed a temporary freeze on prices and pledged that a new Phase IV would be set up after the freeze. But, as I emphasized then, that new Phase IV will be designed to get us out of a controlled economy and not to pull us further in. We must not destroy the freedom and flexibility that are the key to America's prosperity. We must not control the boom in a way that would lead to a bust, because over the long run, the answer to rising prices does not lie in rigid controls. The best way to hold down the family budget is to hold down the Federal budget and by working to expand the supply of needed goods.

I think if Everett Dirksen were here today, he would also say we should be confident about our political system, because he was proud to be known as a politician, and he gave new luster to that profession.

We live in a time when many people are cynical about politics and politicians. Such times have occurred before. In this profession, as in any, there is much that could be improved. But there is also very much to admire. And it would be a tragedy if we allowed the mistakes of a few to obscure the virtues of most who are in the profession of politics or if we let our disappointment with some aspects of the system to turn into despair with the system as a whole.

The American system is working, and we can be proud of that system, The way to make it work better is to bring more good people into it. And Everett Dirksen would tell us today--the cynics of the day--not to shun the system, but to share in it, to enter the political arena and to fight for their ideals. That is what he would say today.

As I look over this great audience here today and at those on the platform, I see one of Senator Dirksen's two grandchildren here. Her name is Cissy [Cynthia Baker]. That is a nickname, but that is what he always called her, and that is what I remember. As I see her, I am reminded, as many of you must be re- minded, of one of the most famous speeches he ever made--and he made so very many--a speech in which he talked about those grandchildren, the two of them, and their generation of Americans.

It was on the Senate floor in 1962. Listen to what he said: "I have a couple of grandchildren in Tennessee. They are growing up. They will be the custodians and trustees of this country when they grow up. I want them to have a country free, solvent, and secure, like the one their granddad had. Along with it, I want to vouchsafe to them as a legacy the last best hope of peace. What greater contribution can we make to those who will come after us than to enable them to summon up out of their souls all the talent the Lord gave them in an atmosphere of peace to achieve whatever a free country has to Offer."

I only regret that Senator Dirksen could not have lived to this day, because he believed in peace; he knew that it was not easy to attain or easy to retain once you got it. But I am sure that on this particular day, as he looked over the developments of particularly the last year, he would say, "My grandchildren, all the children of America, have a better chance for peace today than in any generation in this century."

For example, think of where we are. For the first time in 12 years, America is at peace in Vietnam, and we can be thankful for that. For the first time in 8 years, all of our prisoners of war are home here in America. We can be thankful for that.

And as I see so many of high school age, in their teens and, perhaps, early twenties--for the first time in a generation, no young American will be drafted for the armed services. He can volunteer. Now, those points I anticipated would all be applauded. Let me say to you, however, Senator Dirksen would have recognized that those achievements, great as they are--ending a difficult war, ending the draft--from the standpoint of his grandchildren and all of our children, are not nearly as important as two other significant developments of the last year.

I return again to Peking, China. I point out the fact that in February of last year, we opened a dialog with the leaders of the People's Republic of China. Many of my friends, many of Everett Dirksen's friends, didn't approve of that, because it is a Communist country, the leaders are Communists. We do not agree with their philosophy. But I made that move because I was thinking not just of this generation but of the next generation.

I made that move because one-fourth of all the people in the world live in the People's Republic of China. I made that move because those people who live there are among the ablest people in the world. And I knew that unless we in the United States moved to a dialog with them now, that there would be a deadly danger to peace and freedom in the years ahead. Now we are in a situation where we are talking about our differences and not fighting about them. That is vitally important, and it is also important in another way.

We must not think of that visit as designed solely to avoid war in the Pacific, but we must also think of its positive terms. Just a few days ago I welcomed 12 Chinese doctors who were here on an exchange visit. Two were women; 10 were men. Their interest, among many other things, was in our program to find a cure for cancer, or cures for various types of cancer. I told them about our program, and as I talked to them and as I thought of their genius and all they represented, it occurred to me that we are going to spend millions, hundreds of millions of dollars, and the best brains of America will be trying to find a cure for that deadly disease, as well as others. But how much better it is for those who are trying to find the cures for the deadly diseases that afflict mankind to share their knowledge with each other, to work together, because as far as we are concerned, if the genius that finds that cure is Chinese, fine; if he is Latin American, fine; if he is American, fine; because it will belong to the whole world, and it is good that we are now having that kind of association where we are sharing our knowledge with them in working against the common scourges of mankind.

The other event that Senator Dirksen would have recognized as being even more important than the ending of a difficult war and the ending of a draft is the second visit we will be having at the summit with Mr. Brezhnev in just 3 days. You remember the visit a year ago. More significant agreements were entered into at that time than we have ever had with the Soviet Union.

We anticipate that this next summit, which will last for a week, will also produce significant agreements. There will be some hard bargaining, and we are not making any easy predictions. But based on the attitude of Mr. Brezhnev, and my attitude, which we know from much correspondence and months of preparation, I can say to you today 'that you can have great hope that as a result of this meeting, the two great super powers of the world will make progress toward reducing the danger of war, and also progress toward limiting that deadly burden of nuclear arms which weights us down, and them, and other nations as well.

We will also make progress toward communication with the Soviets, and cooperation, progress not at the expense of any of our philosophies--they are Communist and we believe in a free system--and progress that will be made in our talks not at the expense of any other nation, neither its independence, its freedom, or in any other respect.

But let's look at what would have been the situation had we not met last year or this year. The United States would continue to develop its deadly power in the nuclear field. The Soviet Union would. We would continue to have those areas of the world where, as a result of rubbing together, the spark might come out which could bring a military confrontation.

We have reduced that danger now, and so I say to you today, because of these two great events--opening a dialog with the People's Republic of China and continuing a policy of negotiation with the leaders of the Soviet Union--Everett Dirksen's hope, his dream, expressed in that great Senate speech in 1962, that his grandchildren could grow up in a world of peace, has a much better chance to be realized.

I simply conclude by saying this: Every President, every Senator, every Congressman, I am sure, and every Governor is asked what he wants most, what legacy would he like to leave. And I would answer that question as Senator Dirksen did in his letter to his grandchildren: I want this country to be free. I want this country to be prosperous. I want every individual in this country to have an equal opportunity to go as high as his talents will take him. But above all, I want the children of America and the children of the world to grow up in peace.

We have had four wars in this century. Every generation has had a war, and now it is time that America, as the leader of the free world, help develop the policies that not only have ended one war but which will reduce the possibility of conflict between the great powers as far as future wars are concerned.

This will require, on our part, strength, because a strong America is a guarantee of peace, and a weak America would risk the peace. It requires, on our part, respect for America, and it requires on our part something that we best describe by the word "character." Whether America, at this critical time in the world's history, carrying the burdens that we do, whether we continue to exert world leadership, or whether we turn away from those responsibilities and leave a vacuum which others might be very willing to fill. I believe we have that character. You saw it today in Mr. Newell.2 Six years in a prison camp. Some were there 7 years, some 8, some 4; yet they came back to America, almost all of them, heads high, saluting the flag, loving this country.

2 S. Sgt. Stanley A. Newell, USA, of Pekin, had participated earlier in the cornerstone unveiling ceremonies.

I say thank God that America has produced such men, and with that kind of character we will provide the leadership that the world needs, which will keep freedom for America and allow our children and grandchildren to grow up in peace.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:45 a.m. at the site of the new research center and Pekin Public Library. An advance text of his remarks was released on the same day.

Following the ceremonies, the President and Mrs. Nixon visited Mrs. Lillie Carver, 97-year-old mother of Mrs. Everett McKinley Dirksen, at her home in Pekin, Ill.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at the Unveiling of the Cornerstone of the Everett McKinley Dirksen Congressional Leadership Research Center, Pekin, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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