Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Nevada State Legislature, Carson City, Nevada, February 1, 1960

It is an impressive experience to come from the heart of Massachusetts to the heart of Nevada. Much is different – but much is the same. You harvest the inside of the earth – we harvest the bottom of the sea. You send us copper and silver – we send you shirts and washing machines. You border the magnificent mountain ranges of the Sierra Nevadas – we border the smoky north Atlantic.

Much is different – yet much is the same. We share a common ancestry and a common destiny. Our forefathers in both states struggled to make a living on rocky soil, against overwhelming odds,

natural forces, and hostile neighbors. We share today a pride in our cities and schools, and in our contributions to the nation.

But perhaps most important of all is the similarity of qualities shared by our citizens – their character, their integrity, their industry – in their faith in God and in the teachings of their respective churches – in their determination to make their state and their nation a better place for themselves and their children.

It is also an impressive experience for any student of senatorial history to stand in this legislative hall in the historic State Capitol. Many great names in the history of this state and nation have stood in this hall – but I am thinking today of one in particular. Once a Republican Congressman, he became a prominent Democratic Senator. A native of Mississippi, he became a great Nevada statesman. A well-to-do attorney and businessman, he became a spokesman for those in poverty or debt whose recovery he felt was repressed by tight money policies. His name, of course, was Francis Griffith Newlands.

I think of Senator Newlands as the 1960 Presidential race begins. For it was the Presidential race of 1884 that first brought Francis Newlands to political prominence – not in Nevada, but in California, where he was then in the practice of law. That state’s Democratic Convention was determined to block the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Field – not because he lacked any qualification, not because he lacked ability or integrity, but simply because, as a Supreme Court Justice, he had protected the rights of ex-Confederate sympathizers and the rights of Chinese immigrants. To California in 1884, this was a dangerous man.

But Francis Newlands believed in a better, stronger America – a nation that could tolerate differences in viewpoints, race and culture, and protect the rights of all. Speaking out forcefully for Justice Field, he aroused that state convention to a bitter pitch. His words were drowned out. His very life was threatened by mob violence. But he stood his ground.

His calm determination won a new hearing for his cause and a new respect for himself – and he lived to translate his philosophy of national greatness into some of the most important statutes on the books today – the Reclamation Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Mediation and Conciliation Act, and our basic laws on railroads, rivers and harbors and the tariff. Because he had the courage to take an unpopular course – because he had the determination to win himself a hearing – because he had faith in the greatness of America – Francis Newlands survived that 19th Century battle to become a 20th Century statesman.

I think of Francis Newlands today because once again we live in a time for greatness. Once again we need leaders of his courage and wisdom.

For now once again the age of consolidation is over – the age of change and challenge has come upon us.

We are faced with a whole new set of problems – a whole new set of dimensions. We are at the edge of this nation’s greatest age of expansion, growth and abundance – at the edge of a new era for our nation, our world and all mankind.

Here at home, we are approaching the day of a two hundred million population, a five hundred billion dollar national income, a trillion dollar economy. Our nation is growing fast. The West is growing fast. Nevada is growing fast, faster perhaps than anyone.

But growth brings problems as well as promise. More people and more industries require more water, more power, more transportation and schools and roads. And all that costs more money.

And these problems are not only problems for those of us who serve in Washington. They are the problems of nearly every state legislature as well.

A study last year by the Bureau of the Census revealed that the revenue of our local and state governments in the last 15 years has more than tripled – expenditures have more than quadrupled – and state and local indebtednesses are more than two and one-half times their 1942 level. Problems of education, health, public assistance, highways and general fiscal policy are among those which plague legislative bodies on the state as well as the Federal level.

It is not enough to leave these problems up to Congress and the President. I have said in recent weeks that we need a strong President – a creative, forceful leader in the White House, a dynamic national government. But, under our Federal system, a strong national government is handicapped without strong state and local governments. We need creative men in Washington – but we need them in Carson City as well. This is a city of pioneers – and in the words of Franklin Roosevelt: “I do not believe that the era of the pioneer is at an end – I only believe that the area for pioneering has changed.”

Together, on the State and Federal level – in Carson City and in Washington – we must above all face up to the basic issue of our times – the issue of survival itself.

The hard, tough question for the next decade – for this or any other group of Americans – is whether any free society – with its freedom of choice – its breadth of opportunity – its range of alternatives – can meet the single-minded advance of the Communists.

Can a nation organized and governed such as ours endure? That is the real question. Have we the nerve and the will? Can we carry through in an age where we will witness not only new breakthroughs in weapons of destruction – but also a race for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the far side of space and the inside of men’s minds?

We travel today along a knife-edged path which requires leadership better equipped than any since Lincoln’s day to make clear to our people the vast spectrum of our challenges.

In these times, every legislative body would do well to recall the incident which took place in Hartford, Connecticut back in 1789.

Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 906, "Nevada State Legislature, Carson City, Nevada, 1 February 1960." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.