Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, State House, Columbia, SC - (Advance Release Text)
For 8 years, I have occupied the seat in the U.S. Senate once held by one of its most illustrious statesmen - Daniel Webster. He served at a time when the Senate had reached its pinnacle of power and glory - in the days of Clay and Benton and Sam Houston and Jeff Davis and Lewis Cass and many, many others. But of all these, none was considered by Daniel Webster to match the talent of the man he often opposed in debate: John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.
They were both born in the same year, 1782, Calhoun a native of Abbeville County here in the South Carolina uplands. They had both been educated in New England. They had both entered Congress as young men and served almost continuously, until they died within a few years of each other - while the Union they had labored to preserve was still intact. They worked together on foreign relations, fiscal policies, internal improvements, and the development of national transportation and public lands.
Each had served in the House as well as the Senate. Each had served as Secretary of State. They had many disagreements. They were on the opposite sides of many issues. But to his dying day, Daniel Webster considered John C. Calhoun to be "much the ablest man in the Senate" - as a man who "could have demolished Newton, Calvin, or even John Locke as a logician." He admired his powerful mind, his disciplined speeches, and his rugged courage.
And sitting as I do in the seat of Daniel Webster, I have shared his admiration for this great South Carolinian. When I wrote a book on profiles in courage, I cited the courage of Calhoun in refusing to repudiate an unpopular congressional pay raise. When I chaired a committee to select the five outstanding Senators in the Nation's history, the name of John C. Calhoun led all the rest. And I am here in South Carolina today - not to make vague promises or glittering predictions - but to express the hope that, in this election and in the years to come, the people of South Carolina and the people of every State will be guided by the spirit and the courage of John C. Calhoun.
I never know what South Carolina thinks of a measure---
he once told the Senate.
I act to the best of my judgment and according to my conscience. If she approves, well and good. If she does not, and wishes anyone to take my place, I am ready to vacate. We are even.
He demonstrated this as early as 1816, when an astounding wave of protest swept out of office almost every Congressman who had dared to raise his pay from $6 a day to the generous sum of $1,500 a year. Young Congressman Calhoun refused to promise repeal and was reelected anyway. And when other Members scrambled to denounce the measure, Calhoun shamed them all with these words:
This House is at liberty to decide on this question according to the dictates of its best judgment. Are we bound in all cases to do what is popular? Have the people of this country snatched the power of deliberation from this body? [If we act] * * * in opposition to conscience and reason * * * how are political errors, once prevalent, ever to be corrected?
That is the spirit of John C. Calhoun, the spirit of our greatest Democratic leaders, from Jefferson and Jackson to Roosevelt and Truman. That is the spirit in which I ask your help today. "Are we bound in all cases to do what is popular?" In the 1960's I do not see how we can. I do not see how, with our very survival at stake, with the cause of freedom endangered around the world, with new problems pressing in upon us both at home and abroad, what we must do as a Nation cannot always be made to coincide with what we would prefer to do as individuals.
The truth may not always be as pleasant as fiction, the right course may not always be the easiest. But if the political errors now prevalent are ever to be corrected, we must act according to the dictates of our best judgment as John Caldwell Calhoun recommended. And we must place in the seats of leadership those who appeal to conscience and reason, not merely to what is popular.
My opponent, Mr. Nixon, has taken a different course. For he does not belong to the party of Calhoun. He belongs to the party of Herbert Hoover, promising a chicken in every pot, to the party of Warren Harding, promising that America would go "back to normalcy," to the party of Dewey and Landon and Coolidge and McKinley.
Mr. Nixon is true to the tradition of his party. Popularity, not logic, is his standard. He promises a vast new Federal program for housing. He calls for a vast new Federal program for education. He pledges a vast new Federal program for health. He promises to outdo anything the Democrats can do in agriculture, public works, reclamation, foreign aid, defense, and all the rest. But then he journeys South and says that he is against Federal spending, against Federal bureaucracy, and against the Democratic Party because we are supporting these programs.
I believe the American people ought to be dealt with more frankly. I believe the American people are wise enough to know that either these promises are election year oratory - or they will require funds and effort by the Federal Government. I am just as opposed as Mr. Nixon to unbalanced budgets and centralized government. I do not believe that Washington should do for the people what they can do for themselves through local and private effort. There is no magic attached to tax dollars that have been to Washington and back. No expert in the Nation's Capital knows as much about your local problems and how to meet them as you do. Big government is just as much a threat to our liberties as too little government. But I said in Warm Springs this morning that I shared Franklin Roosevelt's belief that the Federal Government, representing all the people, must meet its responsibility in its area - "for the very simple reason," as he told a press conference there in 1934, "that if the Government does not do it, nobody else will or can."
I believe we must move ahead in this country, to strengthen our defenses, to build our alliances, to help our farmers, to care for the aged and infirm, to wage a full-scale attack on poverty and illiteracy and disease. I want as much of this done without Federal intervention as possible. I am against big government but I am for effective government. But only the Federal Government can build atomic weapons and interstate highways. Only the Federal Government can maintain a national tobacco program, a tariff on cotton, social security for retired mill workers, and protection for all Americans of every race in the enjoyment of their full constitutional rights - and only the President of the United States can provide the national leadership we must have in the 1960's to meet these and other needs.
These same campaign techniques - these same vague promises that refuse to face facts - have been tried by Mr. Nixon in many areas. He wants the United States committed to the defense of every rock and island around the world, but he is unwilling to admit that this may involve American boys in an unnecessary or futile war, as he sought to have us involved in Indochina in 1954. He feeds us reassuring sirup about the state of our defenses, our economic growth and our relations with other nations without any recognition of the cost, the dangers, and the difficulties which current Republican policies have brought us.
But the one area above all others where his campaign promises are based on popularity rather than validity is the area of American agriculture.
He has dressed it up with new, appealing slogans: Operation Consume and Operation Safeguard. He talks vaguely about the ideals of the free market. But his basic proposal, that of basing price supports on a percentage of the market price during the preceding years, can only mean lower and lower income for the farmer, just as it did when Mr. Benson proposed it for corn.
In short, this is not a new Nixon program. It is the old Benson program with new lighting and makeup.
Mr. Nixon also proposes an enormous soil bank program - a program which has already cost the American taxpayer more than anything of its kind in history, without making any appreciable difference in the surplus - and without any appreciable help to either the farmer or the consumer.
I believe it is time that we faced up to the facts of our farm situation. We cannot go on storing $9 billion worth of food and fibers, depressing market prices, and discouraging needy peoples throughout this Nation and world. I have proposed, therefore, a wholly new approach to the farm situation - a universally enforced program of supply management which will bring supply and demand into balance, while assuring our farmers of full parity income.
Mr. Nixon has complained about the effect of this program on the consumer. He does not know what the effect will be just as he does not mention the effect of his program on either the consumer or the taxpayer. But even if cotton prices were increased 20 percent by my program, the price of a $4 shirt would go up no more than 6 cents, for the cotton farmer gets only 29 cents out of that $4 shirt today.
I believe the cotton farmers and other farmers of South Carolina and the Nation know that it is time the laws of supply and demand were put to work for the farmer instead of always working against him. There are new problems in the cost of running a farm, new competition in the world market, new inroads by synthetic fibers. And it will take a new party in power to meet these problems while giving our farmers a parity income return.
On all of these issues, there will be disagreement. But we in the Democratic Party have learned to disagree constructivly and with dignity, to disagree within the party, just as John Calhoun wanted South Carolina to disagree within the Union. Daniel Webster recognized Calhoun's vision and dedication when he said:
There was nothing groveling or low, or nearly selfish that came near the head - or the heart - of Mr. Calhoun.
And Calhoun himself demonstrated his belief in bonds which were stronger than disagreement when he said of that other great member of the Senate triumvirate:
I don't like Henry Clay. I would not speak to him. But, by God, I love him.
I have confidence in South Carolina today - confidence in the decision you will make in November - because this is a great Democratic State - and because you joined in the formation of this Nation and will join in its preservation. I firmly believe that you will respect now, as you did five generations ago, a man who acts according to his best judgment and conscience. I believe you will have more confidence in a leader now, as you did then, who does not feel he is "bound in all cases to do what is popular." And should I be successful, I would ask from history nothing more than the judgment which one of our greatest historians, Allen Nevins, has placed on Calhoun of South Carolina, when he wrote:
Of all the Senators in the 19th century, he did the most to make men think clearly and carefully on fundamental political questions.
John F. Kennedy, Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, State House, Columbia, SC - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/274433