John F. Kennedy photo

Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Convention Hall, Philadelphia, PA

October 31, 1960

Congressman (William J.) Green, Gov. (David L.) Lawrence, Senator (Joseph S.) Clark, Mayor (Richardson) Dilworth, Mrs. (Representative Kathryn E.) Granahan, Mr. (Representative James A.) Byrne, other distinguished Members of Congress, fellow Democrats of Philadelphia, ladies and gentlemen:

This, unfortunately, is not the fifth debate, but I'm glad to be here and have a chance to express my views on this occasion, and I wish the Vice President could have arranged his schedule to do likewise tonight.

There is only 1 week left beginning tomorrow morning - only 1 week left in this long campaign. Seven days from tomorrow, on November 8, you - and the people of the United States must make your judgment between the two candidates, between the two political parties, between the two philosophies. You must make your judgment as responsible citizens about where our country is now, where it must be, what it must do, what your vision is of its future. That is the most solemn and sober responsibility that a citizen of this great Republic has, and you must exercise it. Until November 8, I am going to continue to carry this campaign to the people of the United States, because I think this is an important election which involves great issues for the future security of the United States.

Our votes as citizens will be cast not only for ourselves but also for those who come after us. Not only for this Nation, but for every free nation stretching around the world who looks to us for their freedom with confidence and hope.

All America speaks on November 8. And we speak to all the world - to freedom fighters in a Polish attic; to Africans building a jungle school; to Latin Americans fearing the advent of other Fidel Castros; to Japanese mothers, still binding up the wounds of Hiroshima; to students in Bombay; to editors in Beirut; to all who wonder which way lies the future - with freedom or with slavery.

America will speak to all of them on November 8 - and to Mr. Khrushchev, too.

And our message on November 8 is going to be that this country is going to start moving again.

For unless we are moving here at home we cannot move the cause of freedom around the world. If we lack first-rate growing economy, we cannot sustain a first-rate defense. If we lack compassion for those who are sick and poor or aged here at home, we cannot convincingly show such compassion abroad. We cannot identify ourselves with the hundreds of millions of people to the south of us who fight not only communism but also misery, ignorance, starvation, disease.

If human rights and human dignity are not shared by every American, regardless of his race or his color, then those in other lands of other creeds and other colors, and they are in the majority, will treat our claims of a great democracy with suspicion and indifference.

If we demonstrate no vitality here in the United States, no leadership in our own country, no imagination in meeting our problems here at home, if great quantities of our food, for example, rot while the world goes hungry, if our people are complacent and self-satisfied, content with things as they are and unconcerned with things as they soon will be, then our prestige and our influence and our contribution to the cause of freedom will surely continue to decline.

There are those who say that this kind of talk downgrades America. I do not downgrade America, but I do downgrade the kind of leadership America's been getting.

Mr. Nixon says that this talk is irresponsible. But I do not need Mr. Nixon to tell me of my responsibilities to my country. I have served this country in Congress for 14 years, and 4 years before that in the service. And I run for the Presidency not to downgrade America, but to achieve the kind of America for which every American family fought and in which every American family believes.

I do not want it said - I do not want it said of our generation of Americans what T. S. Eliot said in his poem, "The Rock," of another group of people: "And the wind shall say these were a decent people, their only monument the asphalt road and a thousand lost golf balls". We can do better than that.

Tonight I want to tell you the kind of America that I believe in, not as a Democrat, not as a presidential candidate, but as a concerned citizen. I want to look beyond the name calling, the charges, the shooting stars and meteors of this campaign to the fixed stars that lie above, the basic principles by which we shall set our course, the kind of America that I want for my children and for yours.

I believe in an America where every man, or woman, who wants to work can find work - a full week's work for a full week's pay; where every man or woman of talent can use those talents; where the waste of idle men and idle machines, of steel mills half shut down, and coal mines boarded up, of chronic recessions and slumps, can be limited; where a growing economy provides new jobs and new markets for a growing nation, without inflating the consumer's prices beyond the reach of their budgets and their families.

I believe in an America where every child is educated not according to his means or his race, but according to his capacity; where there are no longer literacy tests for voting, because there are no illiterates; where children go to school for a full school day in a well-lit, well-heated, well-equipped classroom, paid- taught by well-trained, well-paid teachers; where there are enough colleges and classrooms and dormitories to make it possible for every young man and woman of talent to go to college - instead of, as today, nearly 35 percent of our brightest boys and girls who graduate from high school never see the inside of a college. What a waste of a great national resource that is.

Mr. Nixon would like us to forget his tie-breaking vote against aid for teachers' salaries, and for other educational assistance. But I think - I think, in this case, experience does count.

I believe in an America where one's latest years are the good years - years of security and dignity; where medical care for the aged is provided out of social security - a contribution of less than 3 cents a day during their working years; where older people can find decent housing, suitable to their needs; and where doors are not automatically shut in their face by any employer, including the Federal Government, for in those crucial years we need their wisdom and their counsel.

I talked recently to a grandmother in Dayton, Ohio, who could not bear to ask her children, with whom she was then living, for the $13 a week she needed for medicine, because they were giving so much up to sustain her at that time.

We provide, under the program that we are offering and have worked for in the Congress, medical care for the aged tied to social security. Mr. Nixon leads a party in this campaign that voted 90 percent in the mid-thirties against social security itself; and in the month of August 1960, voted 95 percent against medical care for the aged tied to social security.

I believe in an America where every family can live in a decent home in a decent neighborhood; where children can play safely; where no home is unsafe or unsanitary, and today there are 15 million American homes which are substandard, and yet, even though our population is increasing, we're building this year 30 percent less homes in the month of September than we did a year ago - partly, because this administration in the last 15 months has vetoed two housing bills - and we were unable to pass one in this session of the Congress.

That doesn't represent progress to me. That doesn't represent meeting the needs of the people. That doesn't represent building a strong and vital country.

I believe in an America of fair prices for the farmer, and fair profits for the businessmen, and fair wages for the worker; where those who are out of work or handicapped or disabled can receive a helping hand; where there are no longer chronic depressed areas; and no hungry children - like those I saw in West Virginia, where children take home part of their school lunch to feed one of their parents, who live on a surplus food package from our Federal Government which amounts to 5 cents a day per person - and nearly 5 million Americans live that way.

And yet this administration has twice vetoed bills, that this Congress has passed, to provide aid for distressed areas so that they can work for their people. Twice. And I don't care what last-minute reformations take place in the case of Mr. Nixon on the matter of distressed area - the people of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky, and Tennessee, and southern Illinois, and parts of Ohio know what the record is, and what the experience is.

And those who say that they will work wonders by visiting Eastern Europe after the election should first visit the coal and steel towns of eastern Pennsylvania before the election.

I believe in an America where the wonders of science are a blessing, not a curse - where automation brings benefits, not where a machine takes the job of ten men, and then those ten men are unemployed. Where farm abundance, stemming from a revolution in farm technology, brings more food to the world, not more hardship for our farmers.

I spent most of this winter in Wisconsin. The average wage for a dairy farmer in Wisconsin is about 52 cents an hour for a very, very, very long day. And what is true of Wisconsin is true of Minnesota. That is hard work - 52 cents an hour - well below the minimum wage of $1 an hour that's provided, which in itself is inadequate; where our great natural resources in our rivers and under our ground are fully used to benefit the Nation. But this means a change away from the Republican Party which even in this area pioneered by Theodore Roosevelt, by [Gifford] Pinchot, by Franklin Roosevelt - the development of our natural resources has been blocked by a policy of no new starts which will be a memorial to the last 8 years in the Western United States, which is our great natural resources belonging to all the people. The three Americans who did more to develop the resources of the United States all came from the East. The two Roosevelts from New York, Pinchot from Pennsylvania. They are national assets and should be developed for the Nation as our population begins to double in the next 40 years.

I believe in an America where the free enterprise system flourishes for all other systems to see and admire - where no businessman lacks either competition or credit - and where no monopoly, no racketeer, no government bureaucracy can put him out of business that he built up with his own initiative.

I believe in an America where the rights that I have described are enjoyed by all, regardless of their race or their creed or their national origin - where every citizen is free to think and speak as he pleases and write and worship as he pleases - and where every citizen is free to vote as he pleases, without instructions from anyone, his employer, the union leader or his clergyman.

Finally, I believe in an America with a government of men devoted solely to the public interests - men of ability and dedication, free from conflict or corruption or other commitment - a responsible government that is efficient and economical, with a balanced budget over the years of the cycle, reducing its debt in prosperous times - a government willing to entrust the people with the facts that they have - not a businessman's government, with business in the saddle, as the late Secretary McKay described this administration of which he was a member - not a labor government, not a farmer's government, not a government of one section of the country or another, but a government of, for and by the people.

In short, I believe in an America that is on the march - an America respected by all nations, friends and foes alike - an America that is moving, doing, working, trying - a strong America in a world of peace.

That peace must be based on world law and world order, on the mutual respect of all nations for the rights and powers of others and on a world economy in which no nation lacks the ability to provide a decent standard of living for all of its people.

But we cannot have such a world, and we cannot have such a peace, unless the United States has the vitality and the inspiration and the strength.

If we continue to stand still, if we continue to lie at anchor, if we continue to sit on dead center, if we content ourselves with the easy life and the rosy assurances, then the gates will soon be open to a lean and hungry enemy.

John Boyle O'Reilly years ago once, in a poem, said:

The world is large when weary leagues do loving hearts divide. But the world is small when your enemy is loose on the other side.

Our enemy is loose on the other side - the world is small - and the best is required of us.

And so I am unable to campaign for the Presidency telling you "you never had it so good" or telling you that life will be easy and soft in the great republic if I'm successful in this election.

The kind of America in which we believe lies beyond the new and challenging frontiers on which we now stand. New crises, new demands, new pressures, new problems, new opportunities must all be met before success can be finally realized. And they cannot be met by the President, by himself, they can be met by a united country moving forward, committed to progress.

So give me your help, your hand, your voice in the week ahead - and remember what the Bible tells us: "That whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." If in this coming week, and in all the coming weeks and years that follow, we can sow the seeds of dedication and effort, we shall surely reap a great victory for our country and serve importantly and significantly in our time and the whole cause of human freedom

Note: From the New York Times

John F. Kennedy, Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Convention Hall, Philadelphia, PA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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