John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Armory, Springfield, IL

October 03, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mr. Kerner, Senator Douglas, Congressman Mack, Mr. Ronan, distinguished guests, Mrs. Price, ladies and gentlemen, in 1936, in accepting, his second Presidential nomination before 100,000 people, in Philadelphia, Pa., Franklin Roosevelt said:

Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine Justice weighs the sins of the coldblooded and the sins of the warmhearted in a different scale. Better the occasional faults of a government living in the spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. [Applause.]

I don't believe that the American people in 1960, in these dangerous years of our days, are going to elect a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. I think the American people are going to choose to move forward. [Applause.]

I come here to Illinois tonight and ask your help in this campaign ask your help in moving this country forward again. [Applause.] Some people have said that this campaign is 1928 all over again. For the sake of the farmer, the worker, the merchant, and the teacher, for the sake of those who remember 10-percent interest and 10-cent corn, I trust it will not be 1928 all over again. I trust it will be 1948 all over again. [Applause.]

Last Thursday night in my own city of Boston, Mr. Nixon dismissed me, and I will quote him, "as just another Truman." I regard that as a great compliment. [Applause.] And I have no hesitation in returning the compliment, I believe Mr. Nixon is another Dewey. [Applause.] Like Mr. Dewey, he represents a do-nothing Republican leadership. Like Mr. Dewey he is a say-nothing candidate. Like Mr. Dewey, he will win nothing in November. [Applause.]

I cannot believe that even the Republicans can be happy about a candidate who runs on the slogan "Party Labels Don't Mean Anything." I believe party labels do mean something, because they tell us something about the candidates, and they tell us something about the philosophy. They tell us something about the future. They tell us how a candidate stands on the great progressive measures which face our country and which must be enacted if our country is going to move forward.

In 1948 the people of Illinois made two significant contributions to the future of this country. They not only played a major role in the election of President Truman, but they also sent to Washington a great U.S. Senator, Paul Douglas. [Applause.] And you elected a great Governor in 1948, Adlai Stevenson. [Applause.] And I know in 1960 that this State is going to elect another great Governor, Otto Kerner. And I am confident that the people of this district will send back to the House of Representatives, where he speaks for them and speaks for the country, will reelect your Congressman, Peter Mack. [Applause.]

It is traditional for presidential candidates who come to Springfield, Ill., to invoke the name of Abraham Lincoln, and I invoked his name the other night, on Monday night, in the so-called debates or discussions, the precedent of which was, of course, the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 102 years ago. I pointed out that in that 102-year-ago discussion that Abraham Lincoln set the issue here in Springfield, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

"I believe this Government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free."

Today I am convinced that the basic issue which faces the American people and, indeed, the people of the world, is whether the world can exist half slave and half free, whether it will move in the next decade in the direction of freedom or whether it will move in the direction of slavery. That is the great issue which transcends all others. The next President of the United States, whether he is a Republican or a Democrat, must face up to that issue with, to the extent possible, the same vision and courage which Lincoln showed in a comparable case 100 years ago.

Some may say that a Democratic candidate for the Presidency has no right to invoke the name of Lincoln. I disagree. Abraham Lincoln belongs to the ages, and he belongs to all Americans, regardless of their party. [Applause.] His boyhood idol was Andrew Jackson. The principles of Jefferson were in his political career and he was nominated and renominated and reelected under the Union Party label. Nevertheless, it is true that the Democrats have never claimed Abraham Lincoln. That has been largely an act of generosity on our part. We can point to Jefferson and Jackson and Wilson and Roosevelt, and Truman.

Now, what are we going to do with the Republicans? They can point to Benjamin Harrison, who, according to legend, saw a man forced by the depression to eat grass on the White House lawn, and had only one suggestion for him, that he go around to the back where the grass was longer. [Laughter and applause.]

They cannot mention William McKinley who, according to Theodore Roosevelt, had a backbone as firm as a chocolate eclair. [Laughter.] They cannot mention Warren G. Harding who made the Teapot Dome famous. They cannot mention Calvin Coolidge from Massachusetts, who caused a White House usher to say, "No other President in my time ever slept so much." [Laughter.] No wonder Coolidge said when they came to him to tell him in the twenties that farm prices were dropping, he said, "Farmers never made much money. I don't think there is much we can do about it." And they have not done anything about it since then. [Applause.]

They don't often mention Herbert Hoover, and they can't mention Theodore Roosevelt, because he left the party in 1912. [Applause.] And I would like to emphasize tonight that I do not believe that Mr. Nixon can claim wholly the mantle of Abraham Lincoln. One hundred years ago Abraham Lincoln was not running on a platform of experience. It was clear that his opponent had far greater experience, as Lincoln's experience was confined to a few obscure years in the House of Representatives. But the country was then suffering from a President with experience, James Buchanan, who had been Congressman, Senator, Ambassador, and Secretary of State. He had been in public service for almost 42 years.

Herbert A. Garth, the historian, has written, and he mistakenly believed that he had been learning all the time [laughter], "I don't think experience necessarily counts" [applause].

The three great qualities which characterized Lincoln's Presidency were leadership, courage, and foresight, the three qualities that the next President of the United States is going to need in full measure if this country is going to meet the challenges at home and abroad. When he called his wartime Cabinet together to discuss the Emancipation Proclamation, he faced a group of men who were carefully chosen to reflect all views in the country. But Lincoln did not ask them for a compromise, a halfway measure, a consensus. "I have gathered you together," he said, "to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter. That I have determined for myself." This Nation needs that kind of leadership in 1961 from the next President of the United States. [Applause.] And no one needs it more than the farmers of Illinois. [Applause.] I can assure them that they will not find that leadership in a candidate who once praised Mr. Benson as one of the great Secretaries of Agriculture in history, who said in 1958, and I quote Mr. Nixon accurately, "that the farmer has never had it so good," and who revealed his farm policy 2 weeks ago to be a collection of the old Benson fables under new Nixon labels.

[Response from the audience.]

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. Nixon's farm program consists of this one basic principle, that the support price for commodities shall be based on the preceding average market price for the past 3 years. In 1952, corn was selling for $1.50. In Sanborn, Minn., on Friday, it sold for 85 cents. The support price for corn under the Nixon program will be tied to the average market price of the preceding 3 years, and as that price drops, so will the support price, down, down, down, and you have not seen the bottom yet. You have not seen the bottom at 85 cents because there is nothing to prevent it from going down and down as corn comes out of our ears, which it will this year as a result of the Benson program. [Applause.] And this is not a problem just for the farmers of Illinois or the farmers of the United States.. Here in Illinois, International Harvester is shutting down, for various periods of time this fall, seven out of eight plants, throwing 12,400 men out of work. Some of these plants may never reopen. Some of these men may not find a job for a long time. Some of them will be unable to meet their bills on Main Street. And soon hard times will have spread from the farm to the town, from the town to the city, as it did in the twenties. Our farmers are the No.1 customer for Detroit and the automobile industry. Detroit is the No.1 market for the steel industry, and when the farmer ceases to buy equipment, and when he ceases to buy automobiles, and Detroit starts to close down, the steel mills of this country, which are operating today at 54 percent of capacity you cannot tell me that this matter is of concern only to those who live on the farm. It is of concern to all Americans who want our country to fulfill its responsibility, and I cannot believe that in 1960 the farmers of Illinois, Missouri, or any other State are going to vote for more of the same, and that is what they will get. [Applause.]

When Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, he had confidence in the people who till our soil, and in my judgment the next farm program should have two features in it: First, a provision tying support prices to a parity price, so that the farmer has assurances that the price will remain in relationship to the things he has to buy, and, secondly, that there will be controls over production which will prevent these surpluses from hanging over the market and breaking the price. A balance between supply and demand and a support price that protects them is the Democratic program. [Applause.]

Secondly, Abraham Lincoln had courage and the next President of the United States will need courage. He knew the storm that would be raised by the Emancipation Proclamation. But when he went to sign that historic document, exhausted from several hours of shaking hands at the White House, he said to those present, "If my name goes down in history it will be for this act. My whole soul is in it. If my hand trembles when I sign this proclamation, all who examine this document hereafter will say, 'He hesitated'."

But Lincoln's hand did not tremble. He did not hesitate. He did not equivocate, because he was the President of the United States. The Lincoln tradition is not found in a man who considers $1.25 minimum wage to be, and I quote him "extreme." The Lincoln tradition of courage [applause] is not found in a man who considers Federal aid for education and teachers salaries to be "extreme," and I quote him accurately, and who calls helping our older citizens through the medium of social security to provide medical care for their aged life - who considers that to be "extreme."

I do not regard these measures which help our people, including the measure for rebuilding our surplus labor areas, I do not regard them as extreme. I do not regard cleansing our rivers rebuilding our economy, fighting our slums, to be extreme measures. [Applause.]

I stand where Franklin Roosevelt stood, and I think in the next few years here in this country we should build a better society, where all Americans, regardless of their race, of their creed and their color, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, have an equal oppportunity to develop their talents. That is what we stand for in 1960. [Applause.]

Finally, I said that Abraham Lincoln believed in foresight. During the darkest days of the Civil War, many were fearful of the outcome, and when a delegation called upon the President to express their fears, Lincoln told them of a youthful experience. "One night in November," he said, "when I was a boy, a shower of meteors fell from a clear November sky. A friend standing by was panicked, but I looked up and between the falling stars, I saw the fixed stars, shining serene in the firmament, and I said, 'Let us not mind the meteors; let us keep our eyes on the stars.'"

In the 1960's this country will need leadership that will keep its eyes on the stars, on the fixed constellations which have guided this country in so many difficult times in the long history, and what are the fixed stars of our constellation? They are confidence in our country, a sense of the progressive, a sense of the new, a sense of willingness to break new ground, a sense of confidence in the people to meet the great problems that face them, a confidence in freedom, a confidence in a free society. If we in this country can build a strong and free society, if we can maintain employment, if we can provide a better life for our farmers, if we can provide an educational system second to none, if we can meet the needs of our older citizens, then our system will ornament the cause of freedom.

We sit in 1960 on a most conspicuous stage. We are the great defenders of freedom. If we fail here in this country, we fail around the world, because people in Africa and Asia and Latin America, who are attempting to make their judgment which road they shall take, they look to us. When we are moving they have confidence, when we stand still they begin to wonder whether the world is moving in the direction of the Communists. I say in 1960 that we have to move again, that we have to build in this country a strong and vital society, that when we are a good neighbor in the United States, we shall be a good neighbor around the world.

I come in this campaign to this old State and this old capital and ask your help. I ask you to join me. I ask you to give us your hand, your voice. I ask you to give us your support. I ask you to help us lead this country. [Applause.]

We say to you, those of us who seek high office and high responsibility in this somber time in the life of our country, we are reminded what Lincoln said when he left this city to go to Washington:

My friends, I now leave with a task before me greater than any which has rested upon any President since the time of Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being who attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail.

In that spirit in 1960, we come here tonight and dedicate ourselves to this country, dedicate ourselves to its future, dedicate ourselves to moving this country forward again. Thank you. [Standing ovation.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Armory, Springfield, IL Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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