This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. Two carbons of the reading copy of the speech exist in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library. Page images of carbon copies one and two of the reading copy are available.
The Road to Victory
We meet together on the eve of the great campaign of 1960. That campaign will decide whether the Democratic Party is at last to have a sufficient margin in the House of Representatives. That campaign will decide whether the Democratic Party can increase its margin in the Senate. That campaign will decide whether those who administer our state and local governments in the coming years will be imbued with the principles of the Democratic Party. And finally - and perhaps most important - that campaign will determine whether a Democrat will once again lead this nation - in the most important office in the world - in the office of President of the United States.
We have every reason to be confident as this election approaches. Less than two years ago we won tremendous victories in the House, in the Senate and in Governors' Mansions and State Legislatures all over the country. In fact, since the Democrats last met in a national convention in July 1956, 47 out of the 50 states - including the new states of Alaska and Hawaii - have elected either a Democratic Governor, a Democratic Senator or a Democratic Congressman-at-large. In 47 states, a statewide electorate has chosen the Democratic Party. In every state except New York, Illinois and New Hampshire, the elections of the past three years have demonstrated that a Democrat can carry that state. And we are going to carry those states - and the other three - in 1960.
For this Spring - in the Presidential primaries - we have again seen the unmistakable signs of a great Democratic march toward the White House - the signs that tell us that the American people are ready for a change - and we Democrats are ready to give them that change.
In New Hampshire more Democratic votes were cast than ever before in the history of that state's primary. In Wisconsin the Democratic vote more than doubled the Republican total. In Massachusetts it was nearly double. In Pennsylvania more Democrats took the trouble to write in a candidate's name than ever before in history. In Nebraska more Democrats voted in the Presidential primary than at any time since 1940 and F.D.R. In Indiana and in Maryland we broke the all-time record for a Democratic vote. In Oregon we reduced the Republicans to one of the lowest proportions they have ever had in that state. And in West Virginia, the Democrats went to the polls in record numbers. And the Democrats are going to go to the polls in record numbers again in November - when we will have a national victory.
These records are not the work of any one man or the result of any one issue. Nor are they merely a tribute to our Party. They reflect instead a growing dissatisfaction with things as they are - they reflect a cry for leadership in Washington. They reflect the dismay of Wisconsin farmers whose income has declined 20% under the Eisenhower-Nixon-Benson Administration. They reflect the plea of one-quarter of a million West Virginians who are dependent on government food hand-outs - $20 a year worth of surplus flour, rice and cornmeal, with some dried eggs, milk and lard for special occasions. The steelworker in Indiana, the coal miner in Pennsylvania, the rancher in Nebraska, voters all over the nation have demonstrated in one primary after another their desire for a change - and that change is to a Democratic Administration.
But we cannot yet take this victory for granted. Let us recall some sobering statistics on the other side. Let us recall that our national ticket in 1956 carried only seven states and lost 41. Let us remember that our national ticket has not carried a single northern state since 1948. Let us remember that our national ticket has not obtained a clear majority of the popular vote since 1944. But let us also remember that we are going to get that majority in 1960.
But let us also face frankly the advantages which the Republicans possess. They are in power nationally, controlling the executive branch - and that means power to channel defense contracts, award patronage, purchase surplus commodities, file criminal indictments and hold Presidential press conferences. Of course it also means - as we have recently seen - the power to make costly and harmful blunders. The Republicans in addition have a great asset and a great campaigner in the current President of the United States. And Mr. Nixon himself is a skillful campaigner, an experienced political fighter, and a candidate with tremendous financial and newspaper backing. Although the Democrats - not Mr. Nixon - will have the people's backing in November.
But the Democratic Party has two important assets of its own - assets which will be decisive if we know how to use them. The first is the record of eight years of Republican rule - the second, the Democratic Party's tradition of a dynamic, progressive man in the White House - a tradition which the sixties demand. And a tradition which - with your help - the sixties will have.
For today our very survival depends on the man in the White House - on his strength, his wisdom and his creative imagination.
We can not afford a William McKinley, whose backbone according to Teddy Roosevelt was "as firm as a chocolate eclair."...
We can not afford a Calvin Coolidge, who caused a White House usher with 42 years service to say: "No other President in my time ever slept so much"...
We can not afford a Warren G. Harding, who reportedly said he saw no real problem in the Middle East "that the Arabs and Jews couldn't settle around a table, in the good old Christian way"...
We can not afford a Ulysses S. Grant, complaining that he didn't want to be President - he just wanted to be the Mayor of Galena, Illinois long enough to build a sidewalk from his house to the station...
And we can not afford a James Buchanan, whose performance caused Ohio's Senator Sherman to say: "The Constitution provides for every accidental contingency in the Executive - except a vacancy in the mind of the President."
But the facts of the matter are that only a creative national party can provide a strong, creative President. The Republican Party is not a national party. It does not represent all sections, all interest groups, all voters. And that is why - historically and inevitably - the forces of inertia and reaction in the Republican Party oppose any powerful voice in the White House, Republican or Democratic, that tries to speak for the nation as a whole.
Theodore Roosevelt discovered that. Herbert Hoover discovered that. And this year Nelson Rockefeller discovered it.
But the Democratic Party is a national party - it believes in strong leadership - and, with your help, we will give the nation that leadership in January 1961.
But to send that Democrat to the White House we have to win. And I don't believe any talk that we cannot win. I think we can win. I think we will win. I think the American people - after "eight gray years", to use F.D.R.'s phrase - will know that, for their own future and their children's future, we must win.
But we are not going to win by mocking Republican slogans - by putting the budget ahead of our security - by raising interest rates instead of production - by substituting pageants for policy in world affairs. And we are not going to win by dodging the real issue of this campaign - the Republican record itself.
Mr. Nixon said recently that he wants to carry on the Republican policies. Let us hold him to that statement. For I cannot believe that the voters of this country will accept four more years of the same tired policies - four more years of Mr. Benson's high farm surpluses and low farm income - four more years of neglected slums, overcrowded classrooms, underpaid teachers and the highest interest rates in history - and four more years of dwindling prestige abroad, dwindling security at home, and an inability to solve the great world problems of our time.
Mr. Nixon said he wants to carry on the Eisenhower policies. I say the country cannot afford it. Perhaps we could afford a Coolidge following Harding. And perhaps we could afford a Pierce following Fillmore. But after Buchanan this nation needed a Lincoln - after Taft we needed a Wilson - after Hoover we needed Franklin Roosevelt. And after eight years of Republican leadership, this nation needs a strong, creative Democrat in the White House.
I recognize President Eisenhower's great popularity in the polls - the strength of his personal appeal - the magic of his name. But I also firmly believe that the American people next November will respect that candidate and that political party which have the courage to speak the truth - to tell the people the grim facts about what has happened to America, and what we must do to survive.
The Republican "peace and prosperity" is a myth. We are not enjoying a period of peace - as we have seen so dramatically demonstrated in Paris - but only a period of stagnation and retreat, while America becomes second in missiles - second in space - second in education - and, if we don't act fast and effectively - second in production and industrial might.
And they talk about their prosperity ...but it is a prosperity for some, not for all. And it is an abundance of goods, not of courage.
We have the most gadgets and the most gimmicks in our history, the biggest TV and tail-fins - but we also have the worst slums, the most crowded schools, and the greatest erosion of our natural resources and our national will. It may be, for some, an age of material prosperity - but it is also an age of spiritual poverty.
The American people, in my opinion, are going to vote for a change - for a President willing to move ahead - for a President with new ideas and real courage. And I would remind them that just 100 years ago, a great Presidential candidate achieved national fame by speaking at the Cooper Union in New York. He best demonstrated his concept of the Presidency when he summoned his war-time Cabinet to a meeting on the Emancipation Proclamation. That Cabinet had been carefully chosen to please and reflect the many elements in the country. But "I have gathered you together," Lincoln said, "to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter - that I have determined for myself."
And later, when he went to sign it after several house of exhausting handshaking that had left his arm weak, he said to those present: "If my name goes down in history, it will be for this act. My whole soul is in it. If my hand trembles when I sign this Proclamation, all who examine the document hereafter will say: 'He hesitated':
But Lincoln's hand did not tremble. He did not hesitate. He did not equivocate. For he was the President of the United States.
Our next Chief Executive must also be the President of the United States.