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Statement of Senator John F. Kennedy, Message of Senator John F. Kennedy to the Nation's New Voters

October 05, 1960

During the past 30 days, the energetic young men and women of the Young Democratic Clubs of America and other branches of our campaign organization have been canvassing neighborhoods, campuses, farms, and other living units throughout our Nation. They have been engaged in a sustained effort to locate and register as many as possible of the almost 8 million young men and women who are eligible to vote for the first time in a presidential election, and to find and record on the pollbooks as many of the almost 40 million other Americans who have been eligible for some time, but who, nonetheless, have failed to vote. All reports to date indicate that this drive has been highly successful.

While it is our objective as Americans to see that every citizen exercises, and is given a chance to exercise, his precious privilege of casting an American ballot, it is to the first voters of the Nation, those who are eligible to vote for the first time, that I wish to address a few words on this occasion.

Casting your first vote in a presidential election is a great and memorable experience. I can very well remember casting mine for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. I am very proud of that vote, for F.D.R. was one of our Nation's greatest Presidents, and his election in that year was instrumental to the cause of Allied victory in one of the greatest struggles against tyranny the world has ever known. I know that you want to be able to remember your first vote with the same pride and sense of importance.

That is why I know you are going to think very seriously about your choice.

Today the young men and women of America have a greater opportunity than ever before to help shape the course of human affairs, for the world is changing rapidly. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.

All over the world a new generation of leadership is emerging, new men to cope with new problems and new opportunities. These younger men who are coming to power are men not bound by the traditions of the past, men who are not blinded by the old fears and hates and rivalries, but young men of vigor and imagination who can cast off the old slogans and delusions and suspicions.

And if this world is witnessing a new birth of youthful leadership, it is also observing the birth of even newer nations. Since 1945, a brief 15 years ago, 34 new nations have come into being; 15 of these proudly unfurled their national banners in 1960 alone; and in the course of 1 month, August 1960, 10 new countries on one continent gained their national independence.

Never before in the history of the world has such a phenomenon occurrcd. Never before has the course of events moved so swiftly. Never before have so many millions achieved human freedom and the dignity of national independence in such a short span of time.

This revolution in nationhood has been but one of several other revolutions, all of which have been going on at the same time - and all of tremendous importance to history. There is the revolution in transportation and communication which is shrinking our world with every passing day; there is the revolution in medicine which is enabling human beings to become healthier and live longer; the revolution in automation, which increases our abundance, but also our unemployment; the revolution of farm production, which could bring the eventual elimination of hunger in the world, but which so far has only brought disaster to the farm family; the revolution of our exploding urban population which brings with it the problems of overerowded schools, urban blight, and crowded slums. There is the revolution in education, which sees more and more of our young people going to college, while two-thirds of the world's population still remains illiterate; the tremendously exciting revolution in space, which will soon carry man to other worlds undreamed of; and the equally exciting and morally refreshing revolution for human rights for all citizens here at home.

Yes, we do live in a fantastically revolutionary era, but one of the biggest and most significant revolutions is the revolution of young people throughout the world, and the new frontiers which they are establishing.

Young people have suddenly became very important in the world. The are the ones who are largely the prime movers in the creation of the new nations. They are among the few who have the privilege of higher education. They are the ones who bridle most at the thought of foreign domination. They are the ones who are dreaming of new worlds and new frontiers of opportunity, whose hearts beat with the fervor of dedication to a great cause, whose impatience to achieve tomorrow is today shaking the world.

They are the ones who in Asia and Africa and Latin America are administering justice, teaching schools, training armies, leading nations, and sometimes overthrowing governments. Often their leadership is amazingly wise and mature; occasionally it is not so wise and not so mature; but wise or unwise, responsible or irresponsible, young leadership is there, and it is going to be reckoned with.

Nor are the only young people who are creating new frontiers found abroad. Fortunately, young Americans have no need to resort to revolutions to replace an incumbent government, since our forefathers wisely provided ballot boxes for that purpose. But no less revolutionary, no less exciting, no less significant to the course of history have been the wondrous achievements of the young men who are leading our Nation's efforts at space exploration. They are indeed pioneers of a new frontier. Equally thrilling have been the moving examples of moral courage manifest on the new frontiers of human rights, the peaceful demonstrations for first class citizenship which had their birth in the hearts and actions of our young people here at home.

Such action inevitably involves some unrest and tension, but that is part of the price of change, and I think that the change which it has brought about has been a change for the better. These peaceful demonstrations have not been something to be lamented, but a great sign of responsibility, of good citizenship, of the American spirit. It is the American tradition to stand up for one's rights, even if the new way to stand up for one's rights is to sit down, and it took the youth of our Nation to remind us again of this fact.

Yes, young people have become very important in the world not only abroad but here at home. And in the days ahead, they are going to be a lot more important. The age of the frontier, which has meant so much to the history of America, is not dead, my friends. The challenges which face your generation today are every bit as exciting, indeed, I believe even more so, than those which faced the young pioneers of another generation.

The New Frontier of America is found in the classrooms and laboratories of her colleges and universities, in the offices and on the assembly lines of her new industries, in the creativity of her city planners her State and local officials, and her high governmental servants; in the cooperation of the families and the agricultural extension services; in the laboratories and launching platforms of our space scientists; and no less on the lunch counters of bus stations, the church pews of Christian churches, the muddy villages and field hospitals of the world's underdeveloped nations.

In all of these areas, some young Americans are now writing, and many millions more can and will write, new chapters in the history of mankind's triumph over ignorance, disease, poverty, and the ravages of nature.

We must start, in America, to pay a good deal more attention to our young people. We must start to plan much more systematically to open up the channels and to provide greater opportunities for each young American to develop his own God-given talents to the fullest of his capacity and his initiative. Above all we must provide the kind of leadership which will challenge the very best that is within our young people, and will guide them to the execution of the vital tasks which the common welfare of men on earth demands.

For this reason, I have proposed a program to create a new frontier of opportunity for young Americans by:

Substantially expanding our rate of economic growth to provide new job opportunities for the greatly increased number of young adults who will be entering the working force in the near future. We need to create 25,000 jobs each and every week in the next 10 years to provide full employment.

Expanding educational opportunity at all levels through Federal aid to build schoolrooms and college facilities; to pay teachers better salaries; to provide loans and scholarships to the academically talented; and to repeal the disclaimer affidavit required of applicants for student loans.

Reversing the artificially high interest rate policies of this administration, thus creating the fullest possible opportunities for our young couples to obtain liberal credit to start raising a family, purchasing a home, a farm, or a business.

Establishing a youth conservation corps to combat juvenile delinquency and to provide healthful and useful opportunities for young people in our Nation's parks and forests.

Using the full moral and political power of the Presidency to obtain for all young Americans, and others similarly affected, equal access to the voting booth, the schoolroom, to jobs, to housing, and to public facilities, including lunch counters.

And, finally, but by no means least importantly, I would suggest a proposition originally offered by my Democratic colleagues, Senator Humphrey and Representative Reuss, that some appropriate way be found to take advantage of the skills, the talents, the devotion and the idealism which is inherent in America's young people; and to utilize the services of these properly trained, on the new frontiers of the underdeveloped world, which are in fact the new frontiers of humanity, to aid in building dams, teaching schools, operating hospitals, establishing irrigation projects, and to generally help other people to help themselves.

Should I be selected to provide the presidential leadership of our Nation for the next 4 years, I would explore thoroughly the possibility of utilizing the services of the very best of our trained and qualified young people to give of from 3 to 5 years of their lives to the cause of world peace by forming themselves into a Youth Peace Corps, going to the places that really need them and doing the sort of jobs that need to be done. Such an example of young Americans helping young nations to pioneer new fields on the world's underdeveloped frontiers would, in my opinion, be not only a great assistance to such nations and a great example to the world, but the greatest possible growing experience for the new generation of American leadership which must inevitably lead the free world coalition. Such service would be considered service in the national interest. Might it not make the normal military obligation unnecessary?

These are indeed challenging times in which to live. At times, the magnitude of what is at stake is even frightening - for the destructive potential of modern day weapons is almost unbelievable. As one who, as a young man, has known firsthand the gruesomeness of war, I cannot but have a profound regard for the necessity of peace. Yet to maintain peace, it is necessary to remain strong and to be willing to fight to defend freedom, should no other course be available. It is also possible to lose a war, especially a cold war, without firing a single shot on either side. But defeat in the cold war would be just as catastrophic as if it were suffered on the battlefields, for the price of defeat in both contests is slavery.

Therefore, it is our task - yours and mine - to see that humanity survives, and that freedom survives along with it. This requires strength, and it requires flexibility, a willingness and an ability to negotiate where negotiation is possible. In such negotiations, it is not the table pounders or the breast beaters or the debaters or those who shake the finger the most, who are successful, but those who are capable of dealing coolly, calmly, and decisively from a position of strength.

But if the future holds great potentialities for destruction, the possibilities for a better life, for human dignity, and for a real enduring peace are even greater, if we but have the will, the patience, and the skill to bring them about.

That's what your first vote is all about. From here on out, you are the decisionmakers, you are the writers of history.

Twenty years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt said to the young people of America "Our fight, yours and mine, is to keep democracy safe, by keeping it moving forward. In such a fight, it is an unhappy place to be on the sidelines." To the young people of America I say: "Join with us; ours is the real struggle to continue and preserve democracy in America."

Today, I ask you the young men and women of America to join wth us, as pioneers of a New Frontier, to establish a new concept of opportunity, a new dedication to the public interest, a new level of national greatness for our Nation, and the nations of the free world.

I believe that America's young people are interested in shaping the course of human events, are interested in pioneering on the world's new frontiers, and that they will rise as no other generation has yet risen to the tasks required of them.

On this belief, I place my faith and my hope.

See to it that your decision is made to count. Make your vote your investment in your future by registering now and voting on election day.

John F. Kennedy, Statement of Senator John F. Kennedy, Message of Senator John F. Kennedy to the Nation's New Voters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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