This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A single copy of the speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library.
Senator Douglas, Otto Kerner, the next Congressman from this district, Dick Eskett, ladies and gentlemen: I come here this noon, to this community of Peoria, and ask your support in this campaign. (Applause) I come here as the Standard Bearer for my party, as a member of a party which believes in progress, which believes it vitally important that this city and this state and this country begin again a great movement forward. If you live in Peoria or Illinois or in the United States, you know what what this administration has done, the basis upon which Mr. Nixon runs for the Presidency, that we have never had it so good, is wholly wrong. This country cannot afford to stand still any more. (Applause) I believe the choice is very clear and very sharp. The areas of disagreement between Mr. Nixon and I involve very importantly the welfare of this country. Mr. Nixon runs on the slogan, "We've never had it so good", and I run on the slogan that we are going to have to do better. (Applause)
As citizens of this country, all we can do is try to present the issues and the different positions we take on the great matters that disturb our country. But you as citizens on November 8 must make your judgment of what you want this community to be, what you want this state to be, what you believe we must do as a nation, what responsibilities and obligations we must meet as citizens. And I believe the choice is between those who feel that what we are now doing is good enough, who feel that there is no urgency to the great matters which face us at home and abroad, who are not concerned to be second in outer space, who are not concerned about our deteriorating position around the world, who are not concerned that we are moving into a period when we may be second best to the Soviet Union even in military power.
Well, I am concerned, and I believe that you are concerned, and that this country of ours, which deserves the best from us, can not possibly in the early revolutionary years of the Sixties be led by people who are indifferent to the great problems which sweep across the horizon of the United States. (Applause)
I want to make it very clear that the problems which will disturb us as Americans are difficult. We are going to have to find 25,000 new jobs a week every week for the next ten years in order to maintain full employment. Our farm income in the last eight years has dropped 25 per cent. We are now using our steel mills only 50 per cent of capacity. Here in this community, where you rely on building, road building material, you have laid men off. Seven out of the eight International Harvester plants in Illinois have laid men off in this month of October because the farmers' income has dropped. We are producing today half as many scientists and engineers as the Soviet Union. Our rate of economic growth is one third theirs. We have nearly four and a half million people out of work and 3 million working part time. I don't think this is good enough.
We represent not only ourselves, but we represent the hope of freedom around the world, and this country, I believe, and this is the issue, has to pick itself up and start moving forward again. (Applause) If you are satisfied with administration policy on agriculture, if you feel that employment security in this community and the country is sufficiently good, if you feel that the United States is moving ahead around the world, that our prestige has never been higher, then I would vote for Mr. Nixon. (Response from the audience. But if you believe we can build a better society, that we can provide better opportunity for our people, that we can enforce constitutional rights for all Americans, regardless of their race and regardless of their religion, if we choose to build in this country the kind of society which causes people around the world to say, "There is where I want to go", that is the example I want to follow – we are a revolutionary country. Mr. Khrushchev's system is as old as Egypt. But unfortunately, in recent years his outward thrust has had more vitality. People around the world have the image of America as a middle aged society which has seen its brightest days. I don't agree with that view. I want Mr. Khrushchev to know, and I want Mr. Castro to know, and I want people around the world to know, that a new generation of Americans is going to lead this country. (Applause)
The Republican Party and the Democratic Party have entirely different histories and an entirely different approach. We stand as we stood in other years, in the other great years of our history, we stand for the forward look beyond the horizons of present experience. I believe that the 1960's are going to be the most challenging in our history, but I believe they can also be our brightest days. We have been chosen by history to be the great defenders of freedom at a time when freedom is under attack all around the globe. The next ten years may well be decisive, and I don't think any American wants historians to write that these were the years when the tide began to run out for the United States. I believe Americans want to say again that we believe in this country, that our ability to meet our assignments is unlimited, that our brightest days are still ahead, and that we are going to go to work again. (Applause)
I ask your help in this campaign. I believe this choice is between those who are comfortable and those who are concerned, those who want to serve our country and those who believe that now is good enough. I hold the view, whether I am elected President of the United States or whether I continue as a Senator, I hold the view that we wish to serve our country, that it deserves the best from us, that what we are now doing is not good enough, that we need the best education, that we must be first in outer space, that we must be first in outer space, that we must build our economy, that we must provide employment for our people, that we must move again, and I ask you to move with us. I ask you to join Senator Douglas and Otto Kerner, and your next Congressman in strengthening this country, in restoring its vigor, in restoring its vitality, in placing before the American people the unfinished business of our society. All around the globe we hear the rumble of distant drums. I want to beat that drum here in the United States. I want us to begin to sing again that this society of ours and this economy can provide for our people and provide an example to freedom all around the globe, and on that basis and on that issue I ask your support and help in this campaign. (Applause)
In 1789, in Hartford, Connecticut, the skies at noon turned one day from blue to gray and by midafternoon the city had darkened over so densely that in that religious age men fell on their knees and begged a final blessing before the end came. The Connecticut House of Representatives was in session, and many of the members clamored for an immediate adjournment. The Speaker of the House, one Colonel Davenport, came to his feet and he silenced the din with these words: "The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that candles may be brought."
I hope that all of us in a somber time in the life of our country may bring candles to help illuminate our country's way. Thank you. (Applause)