John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA

September 09, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Governor Brown, Attorney General Mosk, Senator Jackson, Mrs. Engle, first, I would like to have you meet - well, my wife is home having a baby. [Laughter.] I want you to meet my sister, Patricia Lawford, who had the somewhat limited judgment in moving from Massachusetts and Coming to Los Angeles. [Laughter and applause.] I think you met my brother-in-law earlier. [Laughter.]

Governor Brown and I have been pushing a train all the way down from the Oregon border, since yesterday morning, and picking up olives, grapes, bananas, corn, and one thing or another all the way down the rich State of California. I am reminded somewhat of an expedition which Thomas Jefferson and James Madison took in the 1790's when they went on a botanical expedition up the Hudson River to find fish and flowers, and coming down the river they stopped in New York. They met Aaron Burr and the Knights of St. Tammany and they formed a link between the rural United States and the cities of the United States; they formed the Democratic Party. [Laughter.]

I have come 3,000 miles and I am not chasing butterflies. I am here asking for your support. [Applause.] I think that this State of California is a good place to settle this election, right here in the Vice President's own backyard. [Applause.]

I think that this is an important election. In many ways it is more important than any election since 1860. In that election you will recall Abraham Lincoln said that the great question which faced the United States was whether this country could exist half slave and half free. I think the great question in the election of 1960, 100 years later, is whether the world will exist half slave or half free, or whether we will begin to move in the direction of freedom or in the direction of slavery. That is the great issue of this campaign. [Applause.]

Therefore, the issues in this campaign, in a very real sense, transcend the traditional issues which have separated our two parties. The great question now for all Americans, regardless of party, is whether they can make freedom work, whether they can make this system work in a difficult and dangerous period, whether they can demonstrate to a watching world that we represent the way to the future and the Communist system represents a system as old as Egypt. I think it does. And my chief argument with the Republican Party has been that they have not had faith in the free system. Where we would set before the American people the unfinished business of our society, this administration has set ceilings and has set limitations.

I think the record of the two parties, and its promise for the future, can be told pretty well from its record of the past. Mr. Nixon and I, and the Republican and the Democratic Parties, are not suddenly frozen in ice, or collected in amber since the two conventions. We are like two rivers which flow back through history, and you can judge the force, the power and the direction of the rivers by studying where they rose and where they ran throughout their long course. You can tell in this country, by contrasting the slogans of the two parties what the two parties stand for. McKinley, "Stand Pat With McKinley"; "Retain Normalcy With Warren G. Harding"; "Keep Cool With Coolidge." [Laughter.] "Had Enough?" "Time for a Change." The weakest slogans in the history of American politics. [Applause.]

Contrast the slogans of which we are proud: Woodrow Wilson's "New Freedom"; Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal"; Harry Truman's [applause] - Harry Truman's "Fair Deal." [Applause.] And Adlai Stevenson's "New America." [Applause.]

And I will respectfully contrast the so-called slogans of the 1960 campaign: The Vice President's "Send a Man To Do a Man's Job" versus a slogan of a "New Frontier" for the United States. [Applause.] The fact of the matter is that all the issues which we discuss in this campaign are issues which we have fought out through this entire century, even though we all recognize that the great issue is the struggle for peace, the struggle for survival, the question of whether we and the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communists can inhabit the same globe, defend our interests, and still live in peace with both sides having a hydrogen capacity - that is the great question that we face.

But everything that we do in the United States, every issue which we now discuss, every fight held in the last month of the Congress, all go to this question of our ability to survive in a difficult and dangerous world. If the United States is unable to solve its agricultural surpluses, if we waste food while people go to bed hungry every night, can you say that this is a domestic problem of no importance around the world? If the United States increases its economic growth one-third that of the Soviet Union, if we last year were the lowest of any major industrialized society in the world, can you say that is a matter of just importance to us and not to the people of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Western Europe? If we turn out one-half as many scientists, engineers, and teachers as the Soviet Union, can we say that that is a domestic matter, that it doesn't make any difference in our fight for peace, in our fight for survival? If the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communists bring thousands more students from Africa and Asia to study in Moscow and Peiping than we do in this country, when we can't even afford to bring over 300 Africans to study in our country this summer, then can we say truthfully that that is important only to us?

I think this is an important election. I ask your help in this election, not just in a contest with Mr. Nixon, but in a contest for the future of this country. [Applause.]

And the third issue which I think has great implications around the world is the whole question of religious and racial freedom here in the United States. [Applause.] Can we honestly say that it doesn't affect our security and the fight for peace when Negroes and others are denied their full constitutional rights, when we in this country [Applause] when we in this country who are a white minority around the world, are asking for the friendship of Negroes and colored people stretching all around the globe, whose good will, whose support, whose common interest we seek to develop in the coming years? Can we say that when we deny a child the right to a decent education because of his color that it is of no importance to us in the fight for peace? [Applause.]

So let us make it very clear that when the Democratic Party wrote its platform in July it meant it in September and in November and in January. [Applause.]

In 1961 I intend to see that those commitments are carried out. [Applause]

When our next President takes office in January 1961, he must be prepared to move forward in the field of human rights in three general areas: As a legislative leader, as Chief Executive, and as the center of the moral power of the United States. [Applause.]

First, as a legislative leader, the President must give us the legal weapons necessary to carry on and enforce the constitutional rights of every American. [Applause.] We must wipe out discriminatory poll taxes, we must provide effective antibombing and antilynching legislation - [applause] - and we must continually strengthen the legal framework which permits us all to move forward toward our full constitutional, economic, and political rights.

Secondly, as Chief Executive, the next President must be prepared to put an end to racial and religious discrimination in every field of Federal activity - [applause] - by issuing the long-delayed Executive order to putting an end to racial discrimination in federally subsidized and supported housing, by revitalizing and making significant the Vice President's Commission on Contracts, so that those who receive contracts from the Federal Government shall not at the same time practice discrimination in the hiring and in their employing. [Applause.]

Third, as a moral leader, the next President must play his role in interpreting the great moral issues which are involved in our crusade for human rights. He must exert the great moral and educational force of his office to help bring equal access to public facilities from churches to lunch counters, and to support the right of every American to stand up for his rights, even if on occasion he must sit down for them. [Applause.] For only the President, not the Senate and not the House, and not the Supreme Court, in a real sense only the President can create the understanding and tolerance necessary as the spokesman for all the American people, as the symbol [applause] as the symbol of the moral imperative upon which any free society is based. This is a great issue which transcends in many ways many of the issues which we debate in the Congress and debate through the States. It is the question of whether we believe the precepts upon which this democracy was founded. Do we honestly believe what the Declaration of Independence said, that all men are created equal? [Applause.] That they are endowed not by the Constitution and not by the Supreme Court, they are endowed by their Creator with these rights? [Applause.]

The day before he died, Franklin Roosevelt wrote, "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." I must say, looking at the power in this great country of ours, after having traveled in nearly every State in the last 12 months, and spending a great deal of time in some States in the primaries, I have come to have the greatest possible confidence, not only in our country, but in our system of government. I think as time goes on, that if we play our role, if we meet our responsibilities, if we measure up not only in the public sense, but in the private sense, to the opportunities that we have, if we recognize that freedom is not licensed, and that liberty calls for certain qualities of self-restraint and character which go with self-government, I am confident that the future can belong to those who believe in freedom. [Applause.]

I think in a very real sense what we have here really is the final flowering of the human experience. I don't think the world is moving in the direction of communism. I think in time it will move in the direction that we have followed. I think that that is particularly true if we are willing to meet our responsibilities. If we recognize that what we have now is good, but that we can do better, if we recognize that our past experience is great but that our future possibilities are even greater, if we recognize that in a very serious way all of us hold office, that it is just not merely one candidate running for office, all of you in a sense will in 1961 hold office in the great Republic, upon all of you in your own way and in your own life great responsibilities will be placed upon you. I don't run for the office of the Presidency saying that life in the 1960's will be easy because I don't think it will be. I think it will be a very dangerous time for us all. But I do run for the Presidency in the 1960's having the greatest possible confidence in our country, in our system, in our ability to meet these challenges. I think of the office of the Presidency in the same way that Franklin Roosevelt thought of it and Woodrow Wilson, in the sense that they felt the chief task of the President was to set before the American people the things that they must do, the responsibilities that they must meet. [Applause.]

If the President does not set those standards, if he does not set our national goals, then a Senator from Massachusetts, or a Senator from California, or the Governor of California, or a Congressman, or a newspaper editor, or a system cannot do it. Only the President speaks for the people. Therefore, the President must speak with the people and for the people in setting before them the unfinished agenda. [Applause] upon you to join me in this election on our journey to the new frontier, recognizing that what we do here will finally determine the fate of freedom around the world. Thomas Paine said in the Revolution of 1775 that the cause of America is the cause of all mankind. I say in this revolution that the cause of all mankind is the cause of America. [Applause.] You will remember that Benjamin Franklin said on that occasion that "Where liberty lives, there is my home," and Thomas Paine replied, "Where liberty does not live, there is my home."

I think that together this great country, fighting for a great cause, standing for great moral principles, I think that we can make a contribution to the freedom of the world and to our own security, and to the peace of the world that will cause historians at a later date to say, "There were the great years of the American life, the 1960's. Give me those years." [Applause.]

In 1886, Abraham Lincoln wrote to a friend, "I know there is a God and He hates injustice." He said, "I see the storm coming. If He has a place and a part for me, I am ready." Now, in 1960, we know there is a God, and we know He hates injustice, and we see the storm coming. We say, "If He has a place and part for us, we are ready." Thank you. [Standing ovation.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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