This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A copy of the text of this speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library.


“In every American election,” wrote James Bryce more than 80 years ago, “there are two acts of choice, two periods of contest. The first is the selection of the candidate from within the party by the party; the other is the struggle between the parties for the place. Frequently the former of these is the more keenly fought over - (and) the more important.”

Never was this process of selecting a candidate more important - more meaningful - than today. For we are not only selecting a party favorite, but a potential national leader for the fabulous sixties. We are not merely rewarding faithful service - we are choosing a leader of the free world - the man who will be the center of energy and activity in our entire governmental system.

That is why this Wisconsin primary is so important - because the nomination is important - and because in that nominating process the American people are entitled to a voice. The people of this state - and the people of other states - are entitled to be heard.

Fifty years ago, when New Jersey was attempting to establish a Presidential Primary law, one well-known political boss was indignant. The Legislature, he said, as a spokesman for the voters, “has no more right to attempt to fix by law the method of selecting delegates to a national convention than it has to attempt to fix the method of selecting delegates to an Eagles Convention or a Rotary conclave.”

But today we know that national conventions are not social gatherings. Political parties are not private clubs. They are at the heart of the democratic process - they are the instrument of the popular will - they are the method, and the best method yet devised, by which the people rule. When convention delegates act, they act not merely for themselves but for millions. And their actions must be responsive to the will and needs of those they represent.

The days when Presidential candidates - unknown and untested - can be nominated in smoke-filled rooms, by political leaders and party bosses, have forever passed from the scene. Our last experience with such a nomination resulted in the disaster of the Harding Administration. But even Harding entered and won at least one contested primary.

For 50 years, no Republicans or Democrat has reached the White House without entering and winning at least one contested primary. No man has won a national election who was unwilling to test his candidacy with the people. No man has occupied the post of Chief Executive until he first occupied one of several places on the primary ballot.

It is true that conventions have occasionally chosen a candidate who never ran in a contested primary - but such conventions have never produced a President.

So primaries are important - historically, politically and necessarily important. And the Wisconsin primary is clearly the most important of all:

historically, because here is where it all started, back in 1905, when Bob LaFollette was so angered by the Republican Convention of 1904 that he vowed the people, not the politicians, would pick Wisconsin’s delegates thereafter; and

politically and necessarily important this year because this is by all accounts the toughest, closest,  meaningful 1960 primary of them all.

Monday’s Wall Street Journal states: “If Kennedy wins the Wisconsin primary next week and the West Virginia primary early next month - and he must take both of them - the Democratic Presidential nomination is his. If he loses either one to Humphrey, his only official foe in these primaries, the nomination will go not to the Minnesota Senator but to Symington of Missouri.”

I regret - as I stated when announcing - that “my chief competitors in the convention remain safely on the sidelines, hoping to gain the nomination through manipulation of the convention.” They are trying to dismiss this primary as unimportant. They are hoping for a stalemate in the delegate results, as the new rules make possible even when one candidate receives a clear popular majority. They are hoping you and your neighbors and your friends and relatives and family will not take the trouble to vote - or get others to vote.

But I am asking for your time and effort next Tuesday, to complete the time and effort which all of us have invested in this primary, working for our common goals.

I have talked about those goals throughout Wisconsin for the last ten weeks. I deeply believe in them. They were not mere campaign oratory. They were not slick slogans or easy solutions. Let me sum them up for you now.

If the people of this state and nation see fit to elect me President of the United States,

I pledge every effort and energy to working toward world disarmament - an end to nuclear tests - and a world of peace and freedom in place of missile gaps and Iron Curtains.

I pledge every effort and energy to securing for our farmers their fair share of the national income - protection against the cost-price squeeze - and an end to the bitter paradox of $9 billion of surplus foods rotting in storage while people go hungry here and around the world.

I pledge every effort and energy to the improvement of human rights in this country - to make certain that no one is ever denied his full civil rights as an equal American citizen because of his race or his color or his creed.

I pledge every effort and energy to improve the safeguards protecting the income of our working men and women - strengthening responsible unionism - raising the minimum wage to $1.25 - providing nationwide standards for unemployment compensation - and passing the Forand-Kennedy bills providing medical insurance for those over the age of 65.

Finally, I pledge every effort and energy to improve the public schools of the nation - to see that every child attends classes in a decent, adequate, well-equipped classroom - to see that every teacher is sufficiently well-paid to attract and hold the very best talent for shaping the minds of our children.

These are some of the pledges I make to you tonight. These are some of America’s most vital needs as we move into the sixties. And these are some of the reasons why this election - and that means this primary - are so terribly important in 1960.

Those who do not understand its importance - those who seek to dismiss it - those who avoid the voters in April, hoping to deal only with the delegates in July - they have all forgotten the lessons of history. They have forgotten the words of Thomas Jefferson that there are always, in effect, “two parties: those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to (take) all power from them - (and) those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, and consider them as the most honest and safe…depository of the public interest.”

Jefferson would have approved of the Wisconsin primary. He would have urged every citizen to cast his ballot next Tuesday. I hope you will all be true to that heritage.