John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the Wheeling Stadium, Wheeling, West Virginia

September 27, 1962

Governor Barron, Senator Randolph, Senator Byrd, Congressman Cleveland Bailey, Congressman Slack, Congressman Hechler, Congressman Staggers, Congressman Wayne Hays from the neighboring State of Ohio, ladies and gentlemen:

When I come back to West Virginia, I feel as if I was coming home. This, after all, is the State which sent me out into the world, and you are the people who made me the Democratic candidate for the President of the United States.

Sometimes when Senator Humphrey and I get together to discuss the crises which pile up on the President's desk, we may wonder which of us you did the greater favor for. But nevertheless, for better or for worse, I know that if it had not been for Wheeling, and a score of other West Virginia cities and towns, 21/2 years ago, I would not be here tonight. This is the place where the Democratic victory of 1960 had its start, and I can assure you that this is also the place where the Democratic congressional victory of 1962 will have its start.

The campaign of 1960 was important, and that included especially the primary campaign, because it provided an education, not just for the candidates who were involved, but also for the people of the United States. It reminded this Nation that even in America people through no fault of their own have had to live lives of hardship and want, and that even in America communities, through no fault of their own, have suffered from stagnation and age, and it reminded this Nation that an affirmative and progressive Government could do something about it.

To do something about it--that has been always the faith of the Democratic Party, and it is the issue in the 1962 election. For not everyone, even in America, welcomes change. Throughout our entire history there have always been people, and they are excellent people, who preferred to hold things as they were, who wanted to go back to some golden age which never was, and if change is inevitable, they want as little of it as possible. I do not agree. This has never been the view of the Democratic Party.

We believe that if men have the talent to invent new machines that put men out of work, they have the talent to put those men back to work, and that is the issue in this campaign.

The fact of the matter is that this State has a very clear contrast between these two points of view, because in the 1950's West Virginia was left on the beach, to decline, to rot. Then in January of 1961 a Government of veto and obstruction and do-nothingism was thrown out of office, and a Government here in this State of West Virginia, under your Governor, and a Government in Washington, committed to progress, began to work together for the State of West Virginia. And the result in that brief period has been a marked improvement in the economic climate of this State.

I do not claim for a moment that the problems of West Virginia are solved, but I say they've begun to be solved. I know that troubles and difficulties remain. I know that much more needs to be done, and that is the purpose of this meeting tonight, because we want your help in doing it, and that's why this election of November 1962 is so important.

Look at West Virginia today. Only 2 weeks ago the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, not an organization which is an arm of the Democratic Party, announced that in 1961 the economy of West Virginia had recovered from a recession to have the second best year in the history of West Virginia, and if progress continues, 1962 would be the best year in the history of this State. There has been in the last 20 months a decline of 37 percent in the number of unemployed in this State, and there are still too many, but at least we have begun, and I come here tonight to ask your help in finishing this job.

Why has it come about? Why have we been able to make this progress? It is because we have attempted in this State and in this country a comprehensive attack on the problems that face this State and Nation. West Virginia has been fortunate to have enjoyed the strong and progressive leadership of your Governor, and it has come about because a progressive Democratic administration in Washington, and a Democratic Congress, has worked to provide the people of West Virginia with the tools to do this job.

It is the people themselves who must do it, but it is the State Government and the National Government that can help provide an atmosphere that will make it possible to do the work. I am proud that the first thing I did on the Saturday morning after assuming the responsibility of President of the United States was to sit down at my desk and sign an Executive order doubling the amount of surplus food that could be distributed to the needy people of this State and other States.

But the job has only begun. In the fiscal year of 1960, the total of military contracts placed in West Virginia was $36 million, but since January of 1960 things have changed. The total in 1962 was four times as much as in 1960, and twice as much as in 1961. The increase from 1960 to 1962 has been 272 percent, and I might add that the neighboring States of Ohio and Pennsylvania, since January '61, defense contracts have totaled $1.5 billion in each of these States, and defense contracts are only a part of the story. A few years ago West Virginia was actually paying more money into the Federal Treasury as a State with most serious economic problems than most of the other States, and a good deal more than it was receiving back from the Federal Government. Your State in those Republican years bore far more than its share of the national burden. We have changed this situation. In the allocation of public works, in road building, especially the North-South highway project, in small business loans, in family farm loans, in the food stamp program, in health, education, and welfare grants, in emergency unemployment compensation, in area redevelopment projects, the Corps of Engineers projects, in flood prevention, watershed protection, forest management, public housing, and college housing, West Virginia has received increased grants, and this has stimulated and helps stimulate the West Virginia economy.

I know that there are those who are against this, and I know that there are those who say that people who are out of work should find it. But I believe that the free enterprise system means that there will be an opportunity for all people who want to work to find a job, and it is to that credo that this Government of ours is committed.

Two years ago I said that it was time to get this country moving again. In the last 2 years, we have made a start, but just a start. But we have begun to act, for no Congress in a generation has passed as much affirmative and constructive legislation as the present Congress. This Congress under Democratic leadership has passed a widespread housing bill, an increase in the minimum wage to $1.25, an area redevelopment act for depressed areas, a manpower retraining act to make it possible for those who are out of work to find new training and a new job, a bill preventing the distribution of harmful drugs, a farm act, relief for children of unemployed workers, and a trade bill, and these other bills which are important. But this is a beginning, and a beginning only. And that's why this election is important.

We have won fights by 3 or 4 votes in the House of Representatives, and we have lost fights by 3 or 4 votes. This is not a matter of personalities or merely parties. It is a question of whether the people of this district, rain or shine, will support people who believe in progress.

A few days ago we lost a bill for aid for higher education. We lost it by 32 votes; three-fourths of the Republicans voted against it. Last year 84 percent of the Republicans voted in the Senate against nationwide financing of unemployment compensation. Last month, 9 out of 10 Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee voted against a bill to provide temporary relief for those who have exhausted their unemployment compensation. Eighty-one percent of the Republicans in the House voted against the area redevelopment bill. Ninety-five percent of the Republicans in the House voted against the housing act; 80 percent voted against the minimum wage of $ 1.25--80 percent of the Republican Members of the House of Representatives voted against giving a man $1.25, for a 40-hour week, an hour.

Now this is the issue in this campaign. We want to finish the job that we have started here in West Virginia and in Ohio and Pennsylvania, because a good deal more needs to be done. But I can assure you that so closely divided is the House and Senate that we cannot do the job without the assistance of forward-looking Members of the House and the Senate. And this State of West Virginia has them. I am confident that Congressman Cleveland Bailey, with whom I served in the House of Representatives a decade ago, and your other Congressmen, Ken Hechler, Mrs. Kee, Congressman-well, they're all here--stand up, gentlemen-Harley Staggers--Wayne Hays of Ohio--with your two distinguished Senators-gentlemen, stand up--that they're going to be back. These men and others like them--and women--have stood for the passage of the kind of legislation which means so much to the State of West Virginia.

I have too high a regard for this State to have the rain fall upon all of you, but I want you to know how much I appreciate your coming here tonight in a cold, rainy night. You believe and I believe that it is the function of National and State Government to permit the people to develop their own resources. I can assure you that in January 1963 we shall send a program to the Congress of the United States that will continue the progress that we have begun to make. That program will be enacted into legislation only if we have Members of the House and Senate who share this same view of the future which the people of West Virginia have shared. This State, which for 10 years lay in the backwash, now knows that this State and others can move forward, and I come to West Virginia tonight for the purpose of asking your help in giving us the men and women who, joining together in Washington, can help West Virginia and the country move forward.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at the Wheeling Stadium at 5:45 p.m. His opening words referred to Governor William W. Barron, U.S. Senators Jennings Randolph and Robert C. Byrd, U.S. Representatives Cleveland Bailey, John M. Slack, Jr., Ken Hechler, and Harley O. Staggers, all of West Virginia, and to U.S. Representative Wayne L. Hays of Ohio. Later he also referred to U.S. Representative Elizabeth Kee of West Virginia.

Because of the heavy rain the President cut short his remarks. The remainder is from the prepared text:

"Progress is not only essential for the future of our people at home. It is also essential for our position in international affairs. Progress is the source of purpose, and it is the source of power; and purpose and power are the weapons with which we oppose communism and fight for peace and justice in the world.

"A stagnant nation, a torpid nation, a conservative nation, a nation committed to the past--such a nation could not hope to rally .the people of the world against communism. Only a strong nation, an active nation, a nation moving always ahead, a nation dedicated to the future can lead the peoples of a revived Europe and an emergent Asia and Africa and Latin America. Armed by purpose and power, we need have no fear about our capacity to deal with communism.

"This remains a dangerous world--and the only antidote to danger is strength. We have rebuilt the strength of our Nation in these 20 months. They all know--Castro, Khmshchev, Man Tsetung--that we stand ready to use that strength against aggression, whether in the Caribbean, in Berlin, or anywhere else on this earth. And they all know too that the purpose and power of free society will in the end override and defeat communism, in all its fanaticism and fury.

"As we are loyal to our own ideals, we generate the purpose and power which will lead the world to safe and lasting peace. What is happening in West Virginia shows the strength of these ideals. It shows how free government and free men, working in partnership, can overcome stagnation and want and keep America moving forever ahead.

"Americans have always believed in progress-Americans have always kept their eyes fixed on far horizons and new frontiers. If we are faithful to our past, we cannot be fearful of our future.

"This is what this election is all about--and, as I asked for your votes in 1960 to start America moving again, I ask today that you help return a Democratic Congress so that we can keep America moving ever more steadily ahead in the years of peril and promise to come."

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Wheeling Stadium, Wheeling, West Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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