Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention, International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, August 16, 1956

Fellow Delegates and Fellow Democrats:

We have come here today not merely to nominate a Democratic candidate, but to nominate a President of the United States.

Sometimes in the heat of a political convention, we forget the grave responsibilities which we as delegates possess. For we here today are selecting a man who must be something more than a good candidate, something more than a good speaker, more than a good politician, a good liberal, or a good conservative. We are selecting the head of the most powerful nation on earth, the man who literally will hold in his hands the powers of survival or destruction, of freedom or slavery, of success or failure for us all. We are selecting here today the man who for the next four years will be guiding, for good or evil, for better or worse, the destinies of our nation and, to a large extent, the destiny of the free world.

I ask you, therefore, to think beyond the balloting of tonight and tomorrow – to think beyond even the election in November – and to think instead of those four years that lie ahead, and of the crises that will come with them.

Of overwhelming importance are the ever-mounting threats of our survival that confront us abroad, threats that require a prompt return to firm, decisive leadership. Each Republican year of indecision and hesitation has brought new Communist advances – in Indo-China, in the Middle East, in North Africa, in all the tense and troubled areas of the world. The Grand Alliance of the West – that chain for freedom forged by Truman and Marshall and the rest – is cracking, its unity deteriorating, its strength dissipating. We are hesitant on Suez, silent on colonialism, uncertain on disarmament, and contradictory on the other major issues of the day. And, I regret to say that once we are able to cut through the slogans and the press releases and the vague reassurances, we realize to our shock and dismay that the next four years of this hydrogen age represent the most dangerous and the most difficult period in the history of our nation.

And, consider, too, the four years that face us as a nation at home. For here, too, the absence of new ideas, the lack of new leadership, the failure to keep pace with new developments, have all contributed to the growth of gigantic economic and social problems – problems that can perhaps be postponed or explained away or ignored now – but problems that during the next four years will burst forth with continuing velocity. The problem of the nation's distressed farmers – the problem of our declining small business – the problem of our maldistribution of economic gains – the problem of our hopelessly inadequate schools – and the problem of our nation's health – and many more. Conferences are held, to be sure – commissions are convened – but no new steps are taken and no bold programs are effected.

These are problems that cry out for solution – they cry out for leadership – they cry out for a man equal to the times. And the Democratic Party can say to the nation today – we have such a man!!

We can offer to the nation today a man uniquely qualified by inheritance, by training and by conviction, to lead us out of this crisis of complacency, and into a new era of life and fulfillment. During the past four years his wise and perceptive analyses of the world crisis have pierced through the vacillations and the contradictions of official Washington to give understanding and hope to people at home and abroad. And his eloquent, courageous and experienced outlook on our problems here at home have stood in shining contrast to the collection of broken promises, neglected problems and dangerous blunders that pave the road from Gettysburg to the White House.

Of course, in a democracy, it is not enough to have the right man – for first he must be elected, he must show the nation that he is the right man, he must be a winner. And I say we have a winner – in the man who became Governor of this state in 1948 with the largest majority in the history of Illinois – in the man who in 1956 has shown in primary after primary that he, and only he, is the top vote getter in the Democratic Party today.

And let us be frank about the campaign that lies ahead. Our party will be up against two of the toughest, most skillful campaigners in its history – one who takes the high road, and one who takes the low. If we are to overcome that combination in November this Convention must nominate the candidate who can best carry our case to the American people – the one who is by all odds and by all counts our most eloquent, our most forceful, our most appealing figure.

The American people saw and heard and admired this man for the first time four years ago, when, out of the usual sea of campaign promises and dreary oratory and catchy slogans, there came something new and different – something great and good – a campaign and a candidate dedicated to telling the truth. Sometimes the truth hurt and sometimes it wasn't believed – sometimes it wasn't popular – but it was always the truth, the same truth, North, South, East and West. It was a campaign that brought home to the American people two great qualities of the candidate – his natural talent for Government, which had previously been demonstrated in his able, efficient and economical administration of the State of Illinois – and, secondly, his natural talent for campaigning, for meeting people of all kinds, under all circumstances, with a zest for hard work and a will to win.

These are, as I have said, critical times – times that demand the best we have – times that demand the best America has. We have, therefore, an obligation to pick the man best qualified, not only to lead our Party, but to lead our country. The nation is entitled to expect that of us. For what we do here today affects more than a nomination, more than an election – it affects the life and the way of life of all of our fellow-Americans.

The time is ripe. The hour has struck. The man is here; and he is ready. Let the word go forth that we have fulfilled our responsibility to the nation.

Ladies and gentlemen of the convention: it is now my privilege to present to this convention, as candidate for President of the United States, the name of the man uniquely qualified – by virtue of his compassion, his conscience, and his courage – to follow in the great traditions of Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson, Roosevelt, and the man from Independence. Fellow Delegates, I give you the man from Libertyville – the next Democratic nominee and the next President of the United States – Adlai E. Stevenson.

Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 895, "Nominating Stevenson for President, Chicago, Illinois, 16 August 1956." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.