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Transcript of the Remarks of the Vice President at the 17th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, NY

October 19, 1960

The VICE PRESIDENT. Your Eminence, Cardinal Spellman; Mr. Silver, Senator Kennedy, Governor Rockefeller, Mr. Mayor, my colleagues in the Senate, Mrs. Warner, all of the distinguished guests in back of me and all of the distinguished guests in front of me: I want to say that I do appreciate the opportunity that Cardinal Spellman has afforded to me as an alumnus to come back to this dinner. As I told him just a few moments ago, I just had a telephone call from one who has twice been before this dinner, and who is quoted in the program. The President called me from California.

Incidentally, he said the weather was very good out there.

And he said, "Would you extend to Cardinal Spellman to all of his guests, all good wishes from the President of the United States?"

And so I do that.

Now, when he said "All good wishes," I said, "Well, do you know who's going to be there, Mr. President?"

And he said, "No."

I said, "Well, Senator Kennedy is going to speak, too."

He said, "Well, all good wishes, except one - of course, as far as Senator Kennedy is concerned."

But certainly the opportunity that both Senator Kennedy and I have had to appear previously is one that we have deeply appreciated and the fact that we have been invited back again, probably under circumstances that are quite unusual is one that we also have appreciated and looked forward to. For me, this is a special occasion, because I consider it a welcome interlude from campaigning, an interlude in which I have the opportunity to join with Senator Kennedy and Governor Rockefeller, the mayor, and all the rest of you, in honoring the very remarkable man who made "Smith" an uncommon name.

I have found, however, that the problem of the last speaker on a program is that all of his speeches are made by the time he gets up to speak.

I have been thinking up to this time about how much easier this campaign would be if I could have the mayor's speech writer, and Cardinal Spellman as my finance chairman.

I also, incidentally, have been thinking a great deal about what would be appropriate for me to say of a nonpolitical nature, what would be appropriate to say and still be true to my own conscience. Of course, I expect attacks in campaigns. One has been made upon me of which I have to take some recognition at this dinner. It was not made tonight, but made previously. I hesitate to do it. It is of such a serious nature, however, that I think before this particular audience what I consider to be one of the worst smears in American political history has got to be nailed.

I read it just a few days ago in the paper. I call it to your attention tonight. Dateline, Havana: Fidel Castro said: "The two men running for President of the United States are a couple of beardless youths."

Now, I resent that. I resent it because, as Senator Kennedy well knows, after my first television debate, my makeup man said I had the worst beard since Sal Maglie.

But that is the only one of the attacks that I think worth mentioning tonight.

I saw little reason to go to particularly great concern in attempting to honor the man whose dinner has become one of the most famous and certainly draws the most distinguished audience in all the world today. All the things that could be said about Al Smith had really been said most eloquently before I got up to speak. I have read his speeches too, because Al Smith is a man who is bigger than his party.

He is bigger than his party, and will be forever in the minds of the American people bigger than his party, because the ideals for which he stood were as big as America, itself. And Al Smith is most remembered for his campaign in 1928, for the very eloquent statement that he made at Oklahoma City, an example that all Americans, I would trust, would follow in all the generations to come on religious tolerance. He is also remembered perhaps less, but I would like to suggest that we remember him tonight for his service in later years, long after that campaign had become a less bitter memory to him and to the American people. The year - 1941 - Al Smith, speaking on the Columbia Broadcasting System.

You recall the time. The battle of France was over. The battle of Britain had begun, and America was shaping its own battle of conscience. "It wasn't our war," some said. "It was too far away. It couldn't happen here."

Al Smith speaking:

There is no political difference on the stand we must take in opposition to the dictators, in defense of our country, not only against their arms, but against their ideas.

I would like to speak to the latter part of that eloquent statement.

Religion should not be an issue in a campaign and it will not be, certainly, if those of us who are of good will, as Senator Kennedy is, and I am, and we would trust our supporters would be, can do everything we can to keep the real issues before the American people by not discussing religion.

Some of you may recall when I appeared before the American Association of Newspaper Editors earlier this year I made a statement with regard to religion in the 1960 campaign which was broadly criticized. I said that the only real and legitimate religious issue in an American political campaign would be or would arise if one of the candidates for the Presidency had no faith in God, if he had no religion. I was criticized on the ground that the Constitution, of course, does not apply and does not ask for or require any religious affiliation for any candidates for public office.

But my point was not that.

My point was that in these times, whoever is to lead America and the free world must be a man who, in addition to standing for a strong America economically and militarily is a man of faith:

Faith in God;

Faith in the rights of men.

He must be a man who has a belief that those rights that men have to freedom, to equality of opportunity, do not come from man, but that they come from God, and, therefore, cannot be taken away by man. He must be a man who believes that every nation has a right to be independent, that all peoples have a right to be free.

Some of these you could well say are not religious beliefs. Some of these ideals that I have described are and can be held by men who have no religious faith.

But let me say that, based on what I have seen in my travels about the world, America must never forget that this critical period of the sixties is going to be a test of faith as much or even more than it is a test of arms. And on our side will be our faith in God, the faith of all men and all women in this country, in God, and on our side that faith will prove to be decisive.

May I spell it out for just a moment? We hear a great deal, as we properly should, about the great battle going on in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America. It is true that the people in these countries want progress, and if the only choice they have is progress at the cost of freedom or staying where they are, they're going to take progress at the cost of freedom. It is this that the Communists offer.

Now we come to what we offer. It is not enough for America to go to the people and say "Communism is bad. We help you because we want to fight communism."

It is not enough to do that, because these people, very understandably, do not and should not be pawns in a struggle between two great world powers. And it is not enough to tell these people, "We help you because we want to help ourselves. We help you because we want to save freedom for America, save the prosperity, the good life that we have and expect to enjoy in the years ahead."

What I am trying to say, very simply, is this: If America is to win the struggle in the minds and the hearts and the souls of men that is going on in the world, we are not going to win it simply by fighting on the battleground that the militarists and materialists choose. We are going to win it by emphasizing our faith and our ideals.

And what does this have to do with religious faith, with religious ideals?

Look at the people of Africa, the people of Asia, the people of Latin America. When we help them, let it appear to them, as it is, that America is helping them because we care for them.

There are key words in all great religions. Cardinal Spellman described one and used one tonight - "charity" in its broadest sense. This is what America must convey in its foreign policy, in its individual policy.

There is the Quaker word "concerning," a concern for the problems of others, and there is the Hebrew word "Tziduckah" to do justly, not to help people because you're doing a favor to them, but to help them because you are doing justly. It is the right thing to do. All of this is part of the great Judeo-Christian heritage which is ours.

And, so, on this particular occasion, when we honor a man who was a great political leader, but a man also who had a great religious faith, America's lesson from him is this: Keep America strong militarily. Be sure that we are also the strongest nation in the world economically. But also, above everything else, remember that America must present to the whole world the image of a people concerned about the problems of the world because if poverty and misery and disease and tyranny exist we would be concerned even if there were no communism.

This is what we must convey, and this, through our religious faith, we will be able to convey much more effectively than simply through the actions of government or through what a President of the United States may be able to say.

And, so, in conclusion, I would add only this last thought: Many years have passed since the year 1928. Many memories have become less bitter through the years. Three weeks from today either Senator Kennedy or I will be the President-elect of this country, and then we will go our separate courses in the years to come. I've been trying to think how I could best close my remarks and refer to him and refer to me, and I go back to the campaign of 1928. Herbert Hoover was elected. Al Smith lost. But both of them lived many, many years longer, and both of them, the longer they lived, gained love and affection from the American people - and I would only hope tonight that, however this election turns out, Senator Kennedy and I in the years ahead will be able to conduct ourselves with the dignity, the decency which earned the esteem and the love of the American people for the two men who were engaged in that great campaign of 1928.

Richard Nixon, Transcript of the Remarks of the Vice President at the 17th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, NY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project