Remarks of Representative John F. Kennedy at the National Maritime Day Program, Boston, Massachusetts, May 21, 1950

Ladies and gentlemen: It is well and fitting that those of us who are the sons and daughters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should on this national Maritime Day give thought to the importance of the Great Port of Boston in the development of our state and nation, and to its importance today to the prosperity and welfare of each one of us.

From the earliest days of our history ships of Massachusetts Bay carried the flag of the great republic across the seas of the world, and were the backbone of the newly developed American Merchant Marine.

It was in large part our ships which developed and maintained the world commerce of this new continent. Our flag flew highest with the development of the clipper ships. Nearly every Massachusetts schoolboy has seen a picture of one of the greatest of these ships – “The Flying Cloud”- whit every sail set and with a bone in her teeth, heading for the long voyage around Cape Horn.

Many of these ships were built in East Boston by Donald McKay, and in my office here in Washington, I have a model of one of his most famous clipper ships – “Glory of the Seas”.

In later years, however, the challenge of the push to the western frontiers occupied our national vigor, and the glory of American shipping dimmed.

During and after the First World War, However, there was a resurging of the American sea spirit. The shipping acts of 1916 and 1920 were designed to provide for the development of an American merchant marine worthy of past tradition. They did not achieve in full measure their aim, and in 1928 congress enacted the so-called Ocean Mail Contract Act, which was, in turn, replaced by the Shipping Act of 1936, referred to commonly as the Magna Carta of the American Merchant Marine.

When the emergency of the War in Europe broke upon us in May 1939 our yards, due to the shipping act, were already building ships. The tremendous expansion of this war time ship building program is familiar to us all. The contribution of the Merchant Marine to the great war effort was perhaps best summed up by Secretary of War Patterson who said shortly after the end of the war, “At no time during the war was there a surplus of shipping. Rather, there was a constant demand for more. It can truthfully be said that shipping was the key to our war effort”.

It is well that we take pride in the accomplishments of our ships and our Merchant Mariners during the difficult days of the war years. It would be dangerous, however, for us to delude ourselves that everything has been well with our Merchant Marine since then. This country today does not have the ships it needs for our protection in an emergency. It does not have the ships it needs for the maintenance of vigorous peace time world trade.

It is true that we did build some six thousand ships in the war years. These ships, however, to a great extent, are not suitable for peace time trading purposes. If we wish to carry on we must have the best, most modern types of ships to compete with foreign merchant fleets otherwise American commerce will be carried in foreign vessels.

It would be catastrophic to our nation’s safety and defense.

It was to bring home to us the unique position in our country’s history that is help by the American merchant marine that the congress of the United States by a joint resolution approved May 20, 1933 designated May 22nd as National Maritime Day. This date was selected because it is the anniversary of the first successful transoceanic voyage under steam propulsion, which was made on May 22, 1819 by the ship “Savannah”.

But of particular significance and importance to us on this Maritime Day of 1950 is our own city and port of Boston. It is indeed fitting this year, when the Boston Jubilee Celebration is being observed, that we bring renewed attention to our native port.

The Port of Boston does not now enjoy the prominence that once was its, but in the last years it has made a strong come-back.

But if Boston is to regain its rightful place among the ports of the world we must, all of us, as members of the Great Bay State, awaken and rekindle our interest and support for the welfare of the port. All of us must set our sights high, so that the Port of Boston may enjoy the eminence that once was hers.

Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. House of Representatives Files. Series 02. Speeches, 1946-1952. Box 93, Folder: "Maritime Day speeches, 22 May 1950 and 19 June 1949 ".