John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Houston Coliseum, Houston, TX

September 12, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mr. Jaworski, Senator Johnson, Speaker Rayburn, Lieutenant Governor Ramsey, Attorney General Wilson, Senator Yarborough, Congressman Wright Congressman Thomas, Congressman Casey, Congressman Brooks, Congressman John Young, Homer Thornberry - I came well attended before I came to Houston, Tex. [laughter and applause] - ladies and gentleman, we had the great honor and opportunity to - this is an emergency, to have Murphy Lively call Wayside 1-1380.

Ladies and gentlemen, we had an opportunity today to go to San Antonio and visit the great Texas shrine, the Alamo. You remember the very old story about a citizen of Boston who heard a Texan talking about the glories of Bowie, Travis, Crockett, and all the rest, and finally said, "Haven't you heard of Paul Revere?" The Texan said, "Well, he is the man who ran for help." [Laughter.]

I am down here in Texas running for help. [Applause.] And I must say we are getting it. [Applause.] Lyndon was up in Massachusetts last week and they turned out 10,000 people. I never got more than 1,000. Today we had 30,000 people in San Antonio, and he said he had never done that well. So I think in spite of all the people who have been burying the Democratic Party as a national party, it is still strong, in Texas and in Massachusetts and across the country. [Applause.]

I am delighted to be in this city named after a great Texan and a great American. Some years ago when I was out of the Senate for nearly a year, I wrote a book on eight Senators who I thought had shown unusual courage in serving not their private interest but the public interest. One of those Senators was the Senator from Texas, Senator Sam Houston. I did not select Senator Houston because of his bravery at the Battle of San Jacinto. I selected Senator Houston because in the 1850's, in the days before the Civil War, he had fought for the closer ties between Texas and the Union, in spite of the strong wave that was sweeping across Texas in support of the Confederacy. I did not make a judgment as to whether Senator Houston was right or wrong, but I did make a judgment that he demonstrated the kind of service to what he thought was right that I thought entitled him to a place of honor as a Senator of the United States, as well as a Senator from Texas. [Applause.]

It has been that kind of spirit - from my own State of Massachusetts, Senator Webster, Senator Clay of Kentucky, and the others, who stood powerfully for this country as a united party. I don't think that it is any inaccuracy that before this country broke up in 1861 the Democratic Party first broken up in Charleston, S.C., in 1860. I am a great believer in a national Democratic Party which includes in it [applause] - a Vice President from Texas and a President from Massachusetts [applause] - or I am happy to say in 1956 when the State of Texas under the leadership of Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson was generous enough to reach across the country and support me for the office of Vice President of the United States. [Applause.]

I was impressed by what Sam Rayburn said. I don't think there is any man in this century who has written more significant legislation of benefit to the people than Speaker Rayburn. He does it. He secures the support of the Members of the House of Representatives from all States of the Union. He secures the undeviating loyalty of the majority leader from Massachusetts, John McCormack, his strong right arm, because they know that he speaks not only for Bonham, Tex.; he speaks for the United States. [Applause.] And Lyndon Johnson, unanimously chosen on three different occasions by every Senator of the United States in the Democratic Party to be the majority leader, was chosen because he was not only a Senator from Texas, but a Senator of the United States.

I come today as a candidate for the office of the Presidency, who lives in Massachusetts, who is a Senator from Massachusetts, but who runs as a candidate for a united national Democratic Party. [Applause.] I know no North and South, East or West. I believe in a party which stretches from Texas to Maine, from Florida to Washington, which stretches all the way across the country, representing all groups, speaking for the people. That is the kind of party which I believe in and that is the kind of party which can lead this country. [Applause.]

Texas has sent two distinguished Senators, Ralph Yarborough, with whom I sit on the Labor Committee [applause] and 21 Democrats out of the 22 that represent the State of Texas. Can you tell me any reason why Texas should not elect a Democratic Governor, 21 Democratic Congressmen, 2 Democratic Senators, a Lieutenant Governor and an attorney general, and then turn around and reverse the whole procedure and elect a Republican President?

(Response from the floor.)

James Madison and John Quincy Adams and Benjamin Franklin wrote sufficient checks and balances into the American constitutional system without adding another one of a Republican President and a Democratic Congress. Everyone who wants to stand still, everyone who wants to look back, everyone who feels that everything that could be done has been done, that the best government is that which does not govern, they should vote for a system like that. But we think differently. We want to move ahead. We want to serve the great Republic. [Applause.] This is not a contest between Vice President Nixon and myself, between Henry Cabot Lodge and Lyndon Johnson. This is a contest between two great parties and the character and quality growing out of those two parties is written in the history books of the United States. It is written in the political slogans which they have carried in their campaigns. Listen to the Republican ones in this century, to stand pat with McKinley, to keep cool with Coolidge, to return to normalcy with Harding, a chicken in every pot with Herbert Hoover. Had enough, and no new starts. Look at the Democratic slogans of which we are proud. Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom; Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal; Harry Truman's Fair Deal. [Applause.] And now in 1960 we are going to take our place on the New Frontier. [Applause.]

Franklin Roosevelt said it for us in 1936 before 100,000 people speaking at Franklin Stadium in accepting his second presidential nomination, and in that speech he 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.

That is what we have had in the last 8 years. [Applause.]

And Robert Sherwood, the new President's friend in 1933, contrasted the two parties for all time:

"Plodding feet, tramp, tramp

The Grand Old Party breaking camp

Blare of bugles, din din,

The New Deal is moving in.',

Today on every major crisis that threatens us at home and abroad, from Cuba to Formosa, from Berlin to the Middle East, from Africa to Latin America, in the plight of our cities, the plight of our older cities, the lack of schools for our children, the decay of our agricultural income, we hear no blare of bugles, din din' we see only plodding feet, tramp, tramp, and the Grand Old Party breaking camp. [Applause.]

I do not run for the office of the Presidency and Lyndon Johnson does not run for the office of the Vice Presidency on these great and trying occasions saying that if we are elected life will be easy and all the problems which disturb the life of the people in Texas or in Massachusetts, or across the United States, will be solved. This is a most dangerous and hazardous time for us all, because what we do here, the kind of record we make in the United States the kind of vitality and leadership which we shown in our own country and around the world really can affect greatly the survival or the destruction of the cause of freedom. When the United States moves ahead at one-third of the rate of economic growth of the Soviet Union, when we graduate one-half as many scientists or engineers, when we find billions of dollars of food rotting in surplus cellars while hundreds of millions of people go hungry, when we see the Communists spreading their influence in Cuba, the Congo, and Laos, then it is not merely our people who suffer or our country; it is the cause of freedom. Thomas Paine said it in the Revolution of 1776. "The cause of America is the cause of all mankind." I think the cause of all mankind is the cause of America. I think it is our obligation. [Applause.] It is our obligation and our privilege to be the defenders of the gate in a time of maximum danger, to be the only hope for freedom. If we fail, all fail. If we succeed, all succeed. Has any people since the time of ancient Athens ever had a comparable opportunity, a comparable responsibility? I ask your help in this election. On behalf of the election of a Democratic administration which has the greatest possible faith in this country, which chief argument with the Republicans has been that they lack faith, that they have in the Prophet Isaiah, look backward that they have not grasped the future, realized the potential of this country, that they have not been willing as Franklin Roosevelt was, to look the future in the face and set before the American people the unfinished business of our society. We ask your help in this election. We do not promise that we can do everything overnight, but we do promise that if we are successful, this country will being to move again. In 1789 in Hartford, Conn., the skies at noon turned one day from blue to gray, and by midafternoon the city had darkened over so that in that religious age men fell on their knees and begged a final blessing before the end came. The Connecticut House of Representatives was in session, and many of the members clamored for an immediate adjournment. The speaker of the house, one Colonel Davenport, came to his feet, and he silenced the din with these words: "The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles be brought." [Applause.]

I hope in these trying days of the great Republic that all of us can bring candles to help illuminate our country's way. Thank you. [Standing ovation.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Houston Coliseum, Houston, TX Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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