John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Iam Convention, Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, MO

September 14, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mr. Hayes, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honor to come to this convention to join my colleagues in the Congress, Congressman Sullivan, Congressman Karsten, Congressman Mel Price, and it is an honor and a pleasure to be before this Machinists Union. I come here this morning not only to salute you in the work that you have done for the members of your union, but I also salute you for the work that you have done for labor as a whole and for the general public. This union has had a long and laudable history. Its leaders, like M Hayes, Alvin Walker, and Roy C. Miller, have served this country in important positions in war and peace, during World War II and during the Korean war. Therefore, as a member of the Labor Committee of the Congress for the past 14 years, I am honored to be here this morning. [Applause.]

I come here this morning to ask you to join me on the great task which lies before the American people, and that is the task of responsibility of rebuilding the strength, vitality, and the energy of the great Republic of the United States. The effort to which I summon you will not be easy. The road ahead for America is perilous. But I believe that with your help and with the help of all Americans, we will find that our real greatness and our finest years lie ahead in the 1960's.

My campaign for the Presidency is founded on a single assumption, the assumption that the American people are tired of the drift in our national course, that they are weary of the continual decline in our national prestige, a decline which has led to economic injustice at home and peril abroad, and that they are ready to move again. [Applause.]

This is the central issue in this campaign, the willingness of the American people to accept the great challenges which now confront them, and to rise to those challenges with effort and dedication. I believe that the guide that the American people will have to the choice that they must make in November can be found in the history of the two political parties. Mr. Nixon and I, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, have not been collected in amber nor frozen in ice or suddenly emerged on the political scene. Our parties are like two histories, two rivers, which flow back through our history, and you can judge the force, the power, and the direction of those rivers by studying where they rose, where they flow, and the course of those rivers throughout the history of the United States. There is no better guide to the history of our two political parties than to study their campaign slogans in the 20th Century - "Stand Pat With McKinley," "Keep Cool With Coolidge," "Return to Normalcy With Harding," "A Chicken in Every Pot With Hoover," "Time for a Change." [Laughter and applause.]

These are the weakest and least constructive slogans in the history of American political thought. Contrast those slogans with the slogans which we Democrats are proud of: Woodrow Wilson's "New Freedom," Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" [applause], Harry Truman's "Fair Deal," and Adlai Stevenson's "New America" [applause]. And you can contrast the slogans of this campaign, the Republican slogan, "You Never Had It So Good," with the Democratic slogan of "The New Frontier." [Applause.]

We are not talking just about political slogans. We are talking about the spirit behind those slogans, what they represent for our country, what actions were taken under them, what they meant to the future of the American people.

The history of the Democratic Party is founded in progress in this century, from the beginning until today, but the story of the Republican Party is a different story. There is no new Republican Party, no old Republican Party. There is only the same Republican Party which for a half century has opposed every major piece of social legislation passed by the Congress and approved by Democratic administrations. [Applause.] A party which opposed social security, which tried to repeal it, a party which opposed minimum wage and tried to repeal it, a party which has opposed our efforts to pass in this Congress medical care for the aged to the social security. [Applause.]

Franklin Roosevelt put it to us in 1936, when before 100,000 people in Franklin Field, Philadelphia, he accepted 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." [Applause.]

I think in the last 8 years we have had a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. Where Franklin Roosevelt set before our country its unfinished business the agenda of our people, this administration has set ceilings and limitations. I think it is time we started to move again. I think it is time that the Democratic Party reasserted its full vigor and vitality. [Applause.]

As long as there are 15 million Americans who live in substandard housing, 5 million American families which lack plumbing of any kind who live in our cities, as long as 9 million of our older citizens receive an income of less than $20 a week, as long as there are millions of Americans who lack the protection of even an inadequate minimum wage of $1, as long as there are millions of Americans who lack an opportunity to develop their full resources, as long as there are 100,000-odd families in the State of West Virginia receiving inadequate surplus food packages, so long as there is need for us to recognize there is unfinished business in our society, in our generation, in our day. [Applause.]

I think with the help of the American people we can return to the spirit of the Full Employment Act of 1946. We can make our economy not the lowest in percentage of economic growth, which it was last year, of any major industrialized society in the world, but instead we can unleash its energy and start this country on the upward climb. We can meet the problems which face the United States at home and abroad by strengthening our economy, by assisting those who are old to meet their problems, by educating our children, by moving this country ahead here at home, we shall move this country at home and abroad. The reason that Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Harry Truman were successful in their foreign policy was because they were successful here in the United States. [Applause.]. Because they held out a sympathetic hand to the people of this country, because their country had a sense of direction and purpose, then people around the world wanted to be associated with a vital and progressive country. But now people of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, who stand today on the razor edge of decision, they look at us and they look at the vitality of the Communist system, and they wonder which way the future lies. I think the future lies with us, but we must help that future we must work for it, we must not say we have never had it so good. We must say we can do better. [Applause.]

I don't run for the office of the Presidency in these difficult times saying that if I am elected life will be easy. I think for Americans life will be more difficult and challenging in the 1960's than it has ever been in the past. But I do say that if we are successful that I think it is possible for this country to regain its sense of national purpose. We are the great defenders of freedom, not only here in the United States, but all around the world. During the American Revolution, Thomas Paine said, "The cause of America is the cause of all mankind." I think today that the cause of all mankind is the cause of America. [Applause.] And I don't think that there is any American who would not be willing to bear burdens and meet his responsibilities if he can insure the freedom of his own country and the success of freedom around the world. That, in my opinion, is the great issue of the 1960 election - which party and which candidates can build a stronger America and in building a stronger America can advance the cause of freedom. [Applause.]

I call upon all of you to join us in a journey to the new frontier. The voyage is a long and hazardous one, but we are all partners in a great and historic journey. I think in many ways that the brightest days of this country can be ahead. In the election of 1860, Lincoln said, "This Nation cannot exist half slave and half free." I don't think the world can exist indefinitely half slave and half free. I think it is going to move by the end of this century in the direction of freedom or in the direction of slavery. I think it is up to us to determine which way it will go. I think it is up to the American people. [Applause.] During that same election 100 years ago, Lincoln wrote to a friend, "I know there is a God and He hates injustice. I see the storm coming, but if He has a place and a part for me, I am ready." In 1960, we know there is a God, and we know He hates injustice, and we see the storm coming. But if he has a place and a part for us, I believe we are ready. Thank you. [Standing ovation.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Iam Convention, Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, MO Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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