Richard Nixon photo

Speech of Vice President Nixon, Woodrow Wilson Park, Birmingham, AL

August 26, 1960

Thank you very much.

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Mayor, distinguished guests, and my friends here in Alabama -incidentally, I heard some folks say to put down the banners. They want to see Pat, and I don't blame 'em.

So may I thank all of you for bringing the banners and may I particularly thank all of you for coming out today and welcoming us as graciously and in such a hospitable fashion as you have.

This is a wonderful crowd, far exceeding our expectations and we thank you for giving up a bit of your noon hour so that we could get a chance to meet you and to talk to you. We only wish the time were such that we could shake hands with everybody here but we can't quite do it and so thank you for coming and giving us the chance to speak to such a representative group of the citizens of this great State.

I first have a great privilege and that is to bring you a greeting directly from a man who has visited this State - the greetings and best wishes of President Eisenhower to the people of Alabama.

I also - may I say that I also want to bring greetings from another man who is the President's good right arm, the man who is his chief administrative assistant, who has done a remarkably able and effective job assisting the President, Jerry Persons, a native of Alabama, who sends his greetings, too.

When I left Washington this morning I had heard from Jerry and unfortunately the business was so great at the White House that he couldn't come. But I'm sorry that he can't be here because he had told me what a wonderful welcome we would receive and I shall report to both him and to the President when I return.

And now, if I might begin my remarks today by answering a question.

A few days ago when we announced that we were going to be able to visit Alabama on this trip an individual came up to me who was interested in our success in this campaign and he said: "Mr. Vice President, why are you going down there?" He said: "If President Eisenhower, who is the most popular man ever to run for President in this century, who got the biggest majority that any President ever got - 9 million votes in 1956 - if he couldn't carry Alabama, why are you going to Alabama?"

And so I answered him and I am going to answer that question to you.

I did a little studying after that. I checked to see what had happened in Alabama in the last 30 years. In those 30 years not one Democratic candidate for the Presidency has bothered to come to Alabama to campaign.

As a matter of fact I am proud to say that in those 30 years the only candidate to come to Alabama to campaign was President Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.

And I want to say to you today that I think that situation is wrong. It's wrong for Alabama and it isn't good for the United States. It's wrong, it seems to me, that a situation has existed for 30 years that the candidate of one party didn't find it necessary to come at all and the candidate of the other came only once.

And so I say it's time for a change. It's time for the Democratic candidate for the Presidency to quit taking Alabama and the South for granted.

Just to keep this on a good bipartisan level, it's time for the Republican candidate for the Presidency to quit conceding Alabama and the South to the Democratic candidate.

I announced - as you may recall in my acceptance speech - I announced that I was going to go to every one of the 50 States in this campaign. And certainly, if Pat can hold out, and she's stronger than I am, we're going to make it. And I want to tell you that I hope that all future candidates for the Presidency of both parties will carry their campaigns to every one of the 50 States.

I believe this is in the best interest of the States. I think it's in the best interests of the country. And I believe that it is essential that the people of this State - the people of all the Southern States, the people of all the Nation - exercise the right of choice - a choice between the candidate of the one party, the Democratic Party, and the candidate of the other party, the Republican Party, for the Presidency. And to exercise that choice you've got to hear 'em. You have to see 'em. You have to know what they stand for.

Let me tell you why I think that choice is so tremendously important to you and to the Nation.

It is important because the man this country elects next November 8 has to lead this Nation and the free world in the next 4 years.

And the leadership we provide must be the best that the American people can select. And that is why all the people of all the States should participate intelligently in that decision.

And so I say to you today - I say to those of you who are Republicans - don't vote for me simply because I happen to be in the same party. To those of you who are Democrats I say: Don't vote simply for your party label. I say to all of you: Vote not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans. Don't vote on the basis of age, of personality, or religion, or party labels, but select the man who agrees with you on the great issues confronting America and the world.

This is what America needs. This is the message that I am carrying to every State in this Union, North, South, and East and West. Vote on the basis of the issues, not on the label, not on the other matters which do not matter as much as do the issues themselves.

And now I come to a second question. I have indicated that the people of this State should exercise a choice between the two candidates. And right after our convention I got a few letters from - quite a few as a matter of fact - from some of my friends down in the South saying: "Well, you didn't leave us any choice after that convention." In effect these letters said: "A plague on both your houses. We don't see any difference between the two parties."

Now obviously those letters refer to one issue in which a great number of the people of this State, and for that matter of other States, find the positions of both parties not to their liking. I refer, of course, to the issue of civil rights.

You know my position on that issue. I expressed it again when I was in Greensboro just last week. It is the position of conviction. It is one that I will only mention at this time to this extent by saying that I recognize that this is not just a southern problem. But it is a problem in my State of California, and in New York and in all the States of the Union as well. It isn't going to be solved by demagoguery, but it's going to be solved by men and women of good will, sitting down and working out these complex problems. And I would hope that the next President of the United States, whoever he may be, will be able to give the kind of leadership that will reach solutions and make progress in this field in the American tradition.

And so on that issue I am sure that many of you would say: "We see very little to choose between the Republicans and the Democrats."

What is your choice, then? And my answer is: Consider not just one issue, consider them all. Consider, for example, what is perhaps and in my opinion certainly is the greatest, most important overriding issue of our times and of this campaign.

You know what it is?

It's the future of those youngsters down there holding the signs.

My Tricia and Julie, incidentally, we saw a sign coming in "We Want Julie" on the way down and another for Tricia, so we can see that the children are well represented here, too.

It's their future. And when I speak of their future, what do I mean?

You know we can have the best jobs and the best social security, the best housing that any of us can imagine and it isn't going to make any difference if we're not around to enjoy it.

And so, my friends, Democrats, Republicans, all of you, remember this: The most important decision you make this November is which of the two candidates for the Presidency and the Vice Presidency can best lead America in the next 4 years and keep the peace for America without surrender of principle or territory. This is the greatest decision.

Now on this issue I happen to believe that our ticket offers a better case - a better case on the record. I think it's a better case in terms of experience and a better case in terms of a program.

One, the record.

We're proud of the fact that under the leadership of President Eisenhower we got the United States out of one war; we've kept it out of other wars and we do have peace without surrender today. And this we're proud of as Americans.

As far as leadership is concerned, and experience, it would be presumptuous for me to refer to my own experience. That is for you to judge. But speaking of the vice-presidential candidate may I say that I don't believe that there's a man in the world today who has more experience and who is more capable of handling the Communist leaders at the conference table and in working for peace without surrender than our vice-presidential candidate, Henry Cabot Lodge, who has represented us at the U.N.

And I can assure you that he will work, if we have the opportunity, as a partner with the President for this cause of peace without surrender in these next 4 years.

As far as the future is concerned, what do we stand for? The things that all of you believe in. One, if we are to have peace we must begin with military strength that is not only second to none, but that is ahead of that of any potential aggressor.

What does this mean? It means that the United States must always have enough strength militarily that, regardless of what a potential enemy has, if he should launch a surprise attack, we have enough left to knock out completely his warmaking capability.

Now you have heard some comments about the weakness of America militarily and I just want to set the record straight here today. Make no mistake about it. America today is the strongest nation in the world militarily. We have the kind of strength that I have referred to and we can and will maintain that level of strength in the years ahead.

And I say that American strength must come before all other considerations and I know that both Democrats and Republicans agree with me when I make that statement.

Now, it isn't enough however, just to have a great, strong military strength to which Alabama has contributed so much, incidentally - Huntsville and other great bases here in this State - and to which you will continue to make a contribution, I can assure you, in our next administration.

What we have to combine strength with, and I speak with some experience here, we have to combine strength militarily with firmness diplomatically. Let me point it up this way: We deal with the Communist threat today, one which threatens the peace and security of the world. And in order to avoid war and avoid surrender, we have to be firm but at the same time we must not be belligerent.

Let me tell you what I think was the way we should handle Mr. Khrushchev at the conference table. You recall the recent summit conference in Paris. He went into a tantrum. He blew up the conference. He called the President of the United States names such as no chief of state has ever used against another in the history of civilization. What did the President do? Well some criticize the President for not answering back in kind. And I want to tell you that I think the President was right and I'll tell you why.

When you're strong and when you're confident you do not have to answer insult with insult. You maintain your dignity as President Eisenhower did in Paris.

There are others, however, who criticized the President on the other score. They said: "Well now, maybe the President made a mistake, Maybe he should have saved that conference or could have saved it by apologizing to Mr. Khrushchev for the U-2 flight or expressing regret for these flights." [Cries of "No!" "No!"]

Well, I think your answer is certainly indicative of the viewpoint of most Americans. And it is the correct answer.

It's correct on two scores. First, may no President of the United States, Democrat or Republican, ever feel it necessary to apologize for attempting to protect the United States against surprise attack.

But you know it's wrong on a more significant score even than that. An apology to Mr. Khrushchev or expressing regret to him would have been just exactly the wrong thing to do. It would not satisfy him. It only whets his appetite. You must be firm. You must negotiate, but you must never make concessions without getting a concession in return. This is the only kind of language he understands and that's the kind of leadership we need at the conference table to keep the peace and to keep it without surrender for America.

Now if I may turn to a second issue. And here in the domestic field - and here is one where we have a great difference between the Democratic platform - at least the one adopted in Los Angeles - and the platform of the Republicans at Chicago.

I refer to platforms because both their candidates, as he very well should and does, stands by their platform as I stand by ours. What is the difference?

The difference is not in the goals we seek. I know that our opponents, just as we do, want all the good things of life for the American people. We want better health for our people, better housing, better education. We want progress and jobs, a rising standard of living. We want America to continue to lead the world in all these areas.

But you see the question is not what you want at the end but how do you get there. What road should America take to get the housing and the education, the jobs, all the good things of life that we want?.

And here the answers are very different.

They say that the way to get all these things is to increase spending at the Federal level by billions of dollars and by increasing the size and the functions of the Federal Government. And we say that the way to get progress for America is the way we have been following in the past 8 years - a way that has resulted in the greatest progress in history - the highest standard of living in history. And what is that way? A way not of increasing the functions of the Federal Government but by increasing the opportunities for investment and contributions of millions of individual free Americans. This is the way to progress.

And we say further - and here is another great difference between our approaches - we say that when we have a problem, whether it's in education or health and the like, that we should attempt to solve those problems not by turning it over always and starting with the Federal Government, but by starting at the other end of the spectrum, by recognizing and respecting the rights of the States and the local governments and the individuals rather than turning it over to the Federal Government.

I think Thomas Jefferson put it as well as anybody when he said that States should be left to do whatever acts they can do as well as the Federal Government. And I am proud to say that our platform is based on that Jeffersonian principle, while the platform of our opponents completely denies it.

Now let me tell you why this principle is so important First because the way to the greatest progress is through government which is closest to the people whenever that is possible, through local government and State government. Yet the Federal Government must step in with projects in the West, with TVA and others, where the State and local governments can't do the job. But where it can be done in the local or State level, it's done better there where you have more control over it.

And then there's another reason, a terribly important one.

Some people have said: "Well, wouldn't it be a lot simpler, Mr. Vice President, if we just didn't take all this education and say: 'Let the Federal Government do it. Then we'd have a standard salary for our teachers, standards of what everybody is to be taught, the same for everybody all over the country. And we'd get away from 50 State systems in this field.'"

And other people have said in the field of health that we just recently considered: "Wouldn't it be a lot easier, Mr. Vice President, just to have one Federal health program for our older people, rather than the kind of a program that the administration stands for, which is a Federal-State program with State responsibility as well as Federal?"

And my answer is, yes. It would be simpler. It would be easier to turn all our problems over to the Federal Government. But you know what would be even simpler. To do away with the Congress, too, just to have one man at the top determine everything. That's the simplest way.

But you see, the reason why we believe in strong local government, in strong State government, State responsibility, rather than turning over to the Federal Government is this: Jefferson knew this. The American people must be reminded of it. The best guarantee of freedom is local government and diffusion of power. And when you allow all the power to be centered in Washington you attack the very fundamentals of freedom itself.

Now I suppose some of the folks in this audience say: "Well, which one is the Republican and which is the Democrat?" And all that I can say is this: That the issues I have been talking about are bigger than the Republican Party, of which I am proud to be a member; they are bigger than the Democratic Party. They are as big as America itself. And I am proud that my party takes this position. And I say, my friends, that this November millions of Democrats all over America will vote for our ticket not because they are deserting their party but because their party deserted their principles at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles.

And now, may I tell you again how deeply I have appreciated your standing and listening, for considering the case that I have presented, and I ask you to think in these terms of these great issues as you go to the polls on election day.

But I would not want to leave this great city without a word of faith about the future. I have had a great honor and responsibility, together with my wife, Pat, in the last 8 years to represent America with her all over the world.

We have visited 55 countries and we've always been tremendously proud of the country that we represented and of the principles for which she stands. You hear these days that America's prestige has slipped; that America is disliked throughout the world and not respected.

Let me just suggest that, some of those who say that, ought to travel a little abroad. Oh, you will find the Communists, yes. They will be doing what they did to us at Caracas and what they were trying to do to the President in Tokyo. But let me tell you this: America can be proud of the fact that in nations throughout the world and among peoples on both sides of the Iron Curtain, people respect this country, not just for our wealth and not just for our military strength but because America stands for more than that, because we stand for spiritual and moral values that caught the imagination of the world 180 years ago.

And, my friends, may I leave this final message with you: This is an exciting time in which to live. Oh, the problems are great. In Cuba, in the Congo, in the Near East, all over the world, there are problems with which we are confronted and we will continue to be confronted with them in the years ahead. But the opportunities are even greater. America today is the leader of the world. We must be worthy of that leadership. We must be worthy of our faith and to be worthy of that leadership this means that we must never lose confidence in ourselves, in our strength, in our ideals.

And so I say to you as I leave today: Show your faith in America; show your belief in America in everything you do. You students in your schools do the best that you can so that you can contribute the most to your country when you enter life later on. And all of you in your jobs, do the best that you can so that America can retain its lead in the world. And putting it in terms of this election, may each and every one of you who vote go to the polls on election day; go into that polling booth and consider the issues and vote not for the party, not for the man, but vote for America.

And if you vote for America it will be good for you and for Alabama.


(After being thanked by the mayor of Birmingham at the conclusion of his address, Mr. Nixon added the following:)

Thank you.

Well, Mr. Mayor, I think that this great audience - that was as fine a demonstration as I can think of, that when it comes to hospitality there's nothing partisan about it. And certainly we do appreciate your welcome and I want to say while I'm here that I've seen many city halls and I've been in many mayors' offices but never in a finer one than you have. It's a lot better than I have as Vice President of the United States.

Thank you.

Richard Nixon, Speech of Vice President Nixon, Woodrow Wilson Park, Birmingham, AL Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project