John F. Kennedy photo

Toasts of the President and President de Gaulle at the Formal Dinner in the Elysee Palace

May 31, 1961

President de Gaulle, ladies and gentlemen:

It is naturally a great honor for any President of the United States to come to Paris. In this city in 1783, Benjamin Franklin signed the treaty which made us sovereign, independent and equal, and in addition, it is not difficult for this President of the United States to come to France. I sleep in a French bed. In the morning my breakfast is served by a French chef. I go to my office, and the bad news of the day is brought to me by my Press Secretary, Pierre Salinger, not in his native language, and I am married to a daughter of France. But I do not believe that sentiment is sufficient to explain the close relations which exist between the United States and France. There is no doubt that the early Revolutionary leaders paid due tribute to France, George Washington and the others, for the role which France played in the independence of our country. But it is an interesting fact in history that John Adams, who was also a Minister to France, and a successor to General Washington, should want as his epitaph to be written, "He kept the peace with France." So changes the times, and where once General Washington and Mr. Adams paid tribute to France, Mr. Adams could claim as his great contribution that he did not engage in war with this country. So that sentiment and friendship which come and go are not sufficient to explain the enduring ties which exist between France and the United States. It is something more substantial.

I live in a part of America which is the most eastern part, and I look across the ocean and the nearest country I can see is France. It has been in this century a strong conviction of the Presidents and the people of the United States that the security of my country would be directly threatened if France were not independent, strong, and sovereign. And so in this century, on two occasions, young men from my country have come to contribute to the maintenance of that independence and that sovereignty. And now in the most difficult era in the life of our two countries, this next decade, I believe the ties should be even more intimate. Benjamin Franklin once wrote in his diary, Poor Richard's Almanac, about a snake, which had one body and two heads and going to the river to get a drink it ran into a twig. One head went in one direction and one head went in the other, and ultimately he died of thirst.

I believe that we are one body. And it is my hope that on this visit we can contribute to the uniformity of view which will permit us to go to the river of peace and gain satisfaction from it. As an American I take pleasure in seeing people around the world salute the American Revolution and the principles for which we fought. As Frenchmen, I know that you take satisfaction that people around the world invoke your great motto of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. What counts, of course, is not merely the words, but the meaning behind them. We believe in liberty and equality and fraternity. We believe in life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And we believe that the rights of the individual are preeminent, not merely the slogans and the mottoes which are invoked across the globe by those who make themselves our adversary. We believe in the significance behind these great ideas. Therefore, I think it quite natural that in this most difficult decade of the 1960's France and the United States should be once again associated together.

It is a particular source of satisfaction to me as President of the United States that we should be associated with President de Gaulle. He stands now as the only great leader of World War II who occupies a position of high responsibility. The others have gone and he remains, and he stands true to the same concept which he fought for during the Second World War, the sovereignty of France, the community of the Western Nations. And therefore, as a junior figure on this field, which he has occupied for more than 20 years, I ask you to drink to the great Captain of the West, your President, General de Gaulle.

Note: A translation of General de Gaulle's response follows:

Mr. President:

France congratulates herself on your visit and fully realizes its meaning. Indeed, through your presence she feels directly linked with the United States, first because you are its President, but also because you seem to her to symbolize the great American Nation as it faces the harsh issues of our time.

For the United States--uniquely among the great powers--has never from its birth to this day found itself in conflict with France, nor has it seen even a momentary weakening of the deep friendship between our two countries, which share a common view of man's destiny.

And who among us has forgotten the glorious contribution of Americans to the victory which ended the First World War--or, in the Second, to the liberation and salvation of Europe which marked the triumph of our cause?

Nor are we in France unmindful of your own valiant combat service to that cause in the Pacific theater. These are for us as Frenchmen the strongest of reasons for happiness in welcoming you--reasons to which are added the honor and pleasure of seeing, joined to your energy and drive, the charm of Mrs. Kennedy.

Yet, great as have been the successes of the recent past, they cannot forever provide the answer to everything and everyone. In a world shaken by the gigantic forces of modern times and by totalitarian ambitions aimed at domination, America and France, together with the entire free world, are assailed by hard and dangerous problems.

How fitting it is--and, may I add, how gratifying-that you have wished to come and discuss them in person with us. Of course no one on either side can in the least question the necessary solidarity which joins our two peoples for good or ill. But our common objective of peace in freedom calls as well for the fullest possible mutual understanding and for effective harmony of concepts and actions. Such is the endeavor, Mr. President, to which you and I wish to devote ourselves, and it is one to which France assents with all her mind and heart.

Finally, if we value so highly the presence in Paris of a President of the United States, it is also because that President is yourself. Let me tell you how greatly Frenchmen have admired your intelligence and courage since you first grasped, in your turn and in today's heavy seas, the helm of the American ship of state. Already we have discerned in you the philosophy of the true statesman, who chooses his goal, who holds his course, who is neither halted nor diverted by vicissitudes, and who looks to no easy formula or expedient to lighten the responsibility which is his burden and his honor.

I raise my glass in honor of Mr. John Kennedy, the President of the United States of America, in honor of Mrs: Kennedy, in honor of the United States, whose steadfast and resolute friend and ally France has been, is now, and will remain.

John F. Kennedy, Toasts of the President and President de Gaulle at the Formal Dinner in the Elysee Palace Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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