John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Raleigh, NC, Coliseum

September 17, 1960

Here in North Carolina - in 1585 - 108 brave men established the first English-speaking colony of the New World. When the next settlers arrived that colony had disappeared. But the daring of those men - the spirit which conquered America's first frontier - has never disappeared from North Carolina or from America. And I come here today to summon those same qualities of courage and strength and determination to the conquest of America's new frontier - the frontier of the sixties.

The pioneering of America's first settlers - from Roanoke Island in North Carolina to Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts - forms a historic link between your State and mine - between North and South. But there is another tie that binds us together just as firmly - and that is the Democratic Party. For it was two Great Southerners, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who in 1791 sailed up the Hudson River in what they described as a "botanical expedition" - to find new plants and catch butterflies - and there they met with New York political leaders, and founded the most enduring, the most progressive, and most effective political alliance in American history - the alliance of men of faith and foresight from the urban industrial North and the rural South - the alliance which was to become the only truly national party in our history - the Democratic Party. And I am not here to catch butterflies either - but to reaffirm that historic alliance and lead it to a great victory in 1961.

But I am not in search of victory alone. For, as Woodrow Wilson reminded us, "The success of a party means little except when the Nation is using that party for a large and definite purpose." Today, in 1960, I believe that the Democratic Party has such a purpose.

I believe that our success in November will mean the fulfillment of that purpose. And I believe that all America - North, South, East, and West - can unite to carry out that purpose. For we intend to build a strong and growing and prosperous America which can be the protector of freedom for all the world. That is the goal of the Democratic Party - that is the goal of North Carolina - and that is why we are going to have a Democrat in the White House in 1960.

And America needs a Democratic victory. We are a great and strong country - perhaps the greatest and strongest in the history of the world. But greatness and strength are not our natural right. They are not gifts which are automatically ours forever. It took toil and courage and determination to build this country - and it will take those same qualities if we are to maintain it. For, although a country may stand still, history never stands still.

Thus, if we do not soon begin to move forward again, we will inevitably be left behind. And I know that Americans today are tired of standing still - and that we do not intend to be left behind.

But effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction. For, as Socrates told us, "If a man does not know to what port he is sailing, no wind is favorable." But today we Democrats know to what port we are sailing - we have mapped our destination and we know what kind of America we want the sixties to bring.

First, we want an America which is using all its resources - the natural wealth and skills of every region - to stimulate our free enterprise economy to new heights of production and abundance. Today our economy is growing more slowly than that of almost any other industrial nation in the world. We have more than 4 million unemployed - small businesses are failing at a record rate - and there is poverty and distress on our farms. These are failures of the Republican Party - a party which lacks faith in our capacity to grow - and which has adopted policies designed to protect what we have rather than to add to our abundance. These failures must and will be reversed.

And America can find the model for its future growth here in the South. For the most dramatic economic advance of the past decade has been the steady expansion of the modern, vigorous South - the growth of industry - and the steady rise in your standard of living. Today the South is determined to continue that advance - to add to its industry - and restore prosperity to its farms. That is why the South has such a great stake in our desire to build a growing America - for if America grows, the South will also grow - and our programs for developing natural resources, low interest rates, expanding markets, expanding purchasing power, and all the rest are programs which will bring new prosperity, new jobs, and new income to the South, as well as to all America.

Secondly, we want an America whose ability to meet its responsibilities at home makes it a model for all the nations of the world. Today our slowed down economy, our overcrowded schools, our poor and our unemployed, our spreading slums and our thousands of abandoned farms are visible, tangible evidence of our failure to meet those responsibilities. And those failures are defeats for the cause of freedom. For today the Communists are determined to convince the emerging and developing nations of Asia and Africa and Latin America that only communism will eliminate their poverty and hunger and disease - that the Communist road is the only road to a better life. We know that this is not true - for our own greatness is living proof that the road to abundance is freedom's road. And we intend to build a still greater America where every man has a chance to work, a decent house to live in, and decent schools for his children because we believe in a decent life for all our citizens - and because we who first lit man's hope for the good life are determined that freedom shall continue to show the way to progress.

Third, we want an America which has a military strength second to none - strength sufficient to convince any enemy that an attack would bring disaster. To do this we need two things: an invulnerable atomic striking force which can survive an enemy attack and still remain in possession of its ability to retaliate, and a modern conventional force of sufficient strength, firepower, and mobility to intervene quickly and effectively to halt Communist aggression in any quarter of the globe. Only when we attain both of these objectives - and our enemies know and respect our strength - can we hope to talk successfully with Mr. Khrushchev about peace.

Fourth, we want an America whose qualities of initiative and leadership have earned the respect of the entire free world - not merely because of our size or strength, but because we stand for freedom and progress and the pursuit of peace. This means that we must help the developing and newly emerging nations of the world to achieve the economic progress on which their political freedom depends. We must be sure that they are strong and stable enough to resist the steady and ruthless infiltration of Communist subversion. We must be ready with bold and imaginative new programs to help eliminate poverty and hunger throughout the world.

We must also be ready to reassume the initiative in the conduct of our foreign affairs - or act to spread freedom as well as to react against the spread of communism. We must propose new and workable programs for disarmament, for banning nuclear testing, for reducing tensions in the many trouble spots around the world from Berlin to the Formosa Straits. For only an America which is applying its full resources of imagination and thought and strength to the resolution of the world's great problems - only such an America will be able to maintain its position as the champion of peace and the protector of freedom everywhere.

These are our goals for America - this is the large and definitive purpose toward which our victory is directed. And if we pursue these goals with energy and determination then the next decade will see a still greater America - an America whose strength is unchallenged.

And only a stronger America can hope to maintain its freedom and the freedom of the world. We are faced with an enemy which now commands a vast empire from the Formosa Straits to Berlin - an enemy whose agents of subversion are penetrating into Africa, into Asia, and now stand only 90 miles from our shores in Cuba - an enemy which is convinced of its ultimate victory - which believes, to quote Mr. Khrushchev, "that the old and the rotten will always fight with the newly emerged, but it is a law of history that the new will always win." But it is freedom that is new, and despotism and tyranny that is as old as civilization is - and it is freedom that will win - not because of any law of history - but because we will have the strength and the determination that will bring the victory.

But to do so we must begin moving again. We must reverse the drift and complacency which has slowed down our growth at home and permitted our prestige and our strength to decline abroad. We must reverse the failures of imagination which have allowed the Russians to be the first on the moon - and the first to return passengers safely from outer space. We must reverse the policies which have confined Mr. Khrushchev to Manhattan - but which have not kept him from moving in Africa and Asia and Latin America.

And we cannot do this by trading insults with Mr. Khrushchev or by arguing against his policies - or by talking tough. We talked tough when the people of Hungary revolted - but he crushed the revolt. We talked tough when communism began to grow in Cuba - but Cuba is a Communist satellite today. We have talked tough about the need for disarmament - but the arms race is more intense than ever. We have a magnificent record of talking tough - but we do not have a magnificent record of halting the advance of communism and strengthening the spread of freedom. That will be done through the strength which alone can answer Mr. Khrushchev's threats and ambitions.

I come here to North Carolina to set before you the goals for America and to ask you to join with me in rebuilding our strength in leading America across its new frontier. For, as a New Englander, I recognize that the South is still the land of Washington, who made our Nation - of Jefferson, who shaped its direction - and of Robert E. Lee who, after gallant failure, urged those who had followed him in bravery to reunite America in purpose and courage.

I cannot assure you that the road ahead is an easy one - because I know it will not be easy, and our journey will require effort and sacrifice. But I believe that the people of this State - and the people of all America - are ready to work together so that America can again begin its forward march. For I believe that we all share the faith of a great son of North Carolina, Thomas Wolfe, when he wrote:

I think the true discovery of America is before us.

I think the true fulfillment of our spirit, of our people, of our mighty and immortal land, is yet to come.

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

Simple Search of Our Archives