John F. Kennedy photo

Statement by Senator John F. Kennedy on Citizenship Day

September 17, 1960

It is very fitting that we celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States by honoring Americans who have come here as immigrants to become citizens.

The greatness of our Constitution comes not so much from the words that it contains. It is great because of the people who have lived and worked under it to add to its framework of words and ideas the work and sacrifice and passionate devotion of many generations of Americans. Men and women came here from every corner of the world, from every nation and every race to live together as parts of one great, unified nation.

Our Constitution is founded on the principle that all men are equal as citizens, and entitled to the same rights, whether they achieved citizenship by birth, or after coming here as immigrants, seeking to find in America new freedom and new opportunities.

In the divided world of today, it is important that we live evermore closely by these principles. The future peace of the world depends upon our carrying abroad this concept of freedom and of equality, which we know will prevail over all the doctrines of dictatorship and totalitarianism, wherever the two are free to compete in the marketplace of public opinion.

We must present to the world a concept of freedom which has not been diluted by the evils of prejudice and discrimination. As Woodrow Wilson once said in an address on citizenship:

No amount of dwelling upon the idea of liberty and of justice will accomplish the object we have in view, unless we ourselves illustrate the idea of justice and liberty.

We cannot afford, for example, to continue to keep on our books an immigration law which rates people of one national Origin as better than people of another national origin. Such a law is not in keeping with the ideals of American democracy, not with the spirit of the American Constitution.

There is no place in America for any concept of second-class citizenship. Our Constitution defines as citizens "all persons born or naturalized in the United States" - and they are and ought to be entitled to all of the same rights and privileges.

Too long we have permitted biased legislation to deny some of these rights to those who came here by their own free choice, as immigrants, and who became citizens through naturalization, also by their own free choice. The division of citizens into classes is alien to America. As we honor all new citizens from whatever land they may come, let us resolve to strike from our statute books the outmoded laws which deny to our immigrant citizens any of the rights to which every American is properly entitled.

John F. Kennedy, Statement by Senator John F. Kennedy on Citizenship Day Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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