Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at a Rotary Club Meeting, Nashua, New Hampshire, January 25, 1960

THE PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY – AND YOUR VOTE

You all know what brings me to this state: I am a candidate in your primary for President of the United States. And I would like to take this opportunity to talk with you – not about my own candidacy, but about that Presidential primary, how important it is and how important your individual vote will be. For I strongly urge every citizen of this state – Republicans, Democrats or Independents – whomever they may support – to go to the polls this spring and cast that all-important vote.

"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 during the coming year we will select not merely a party favorite, but a potential national leader for the fabulous sixties. We will not merely reward faithful service – we will choose a man to be the center of energy and activity in our entire governmental system. Only if the parties choose their candidates well – only then will the American people next November be able to select a man equipped with the qualities which our country, and our age, demand.

In this all-important process of nomination 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 they 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 Republican 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.

THE NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY

In this important primary process, the state of New Hampshire has played a consistently vital role. You are not only the first state to hold a primary in each Presidential election year. This state led the historic fight for the right of the people to nominate. In 1832, disgusted with the machinations of party chieftains, your State Legislature issued a call for the first national convention of a major political party. And it was that convention that nominated our first strong, popular President: Andrew Jackson. Again, in the early 1900’s, when it became apparent that the conventions themselves were sinking under boss rule, New Hampshire was in the forefront of the wave of reform which led to the Presidential primary system.

It was here in 1920 that Hiram Johnson’s chances for the Republican nomination were dimmed by defeat in the primary. It was here in 1932 that Franklin Roosevelt won an important victory over Al Smith. Adlai Stevenson will always remember New Hampshire – and, for similar reasons, so will Jim Farley and Wendell Willkie and Bob Taft. And President Eisenhower will always respect the importance of this primary, which started him on his road to the White House.

The New Hampshire Primary is an important one – in the nation, in our political history, in its recognition of the voters’ rights. No serious Presidential candidate should pass up this primary – and no serious citizen of New Hampshire should pass up his chance to vote on March the 8th.

For even if the choice of candidates is limited, this primary campaign is important to every voter in this state. Only by taking part in this historic event can the people of New Hampshire express their views on those critical issues of the sixties which so vitally affect the welfare of your state:

Whether we can achieve a durable and safe peace to replace the fantastically expensive and destructive arms race in which we are now engaged and in which we are constantly falling further behind.

Whether we are to continue to accept a stagnant national economy or embark on a program of economic growth which will provide a better life for all Americans.

Whether your shoe factories, textile mills and other industries must continue to suffer because the government is unwilling to ensure that all workers, in all parts of the country, will receive a living minimum wage.

Whether the great power resources of your rivers will be harnessed in order to lower the cost of power and build a more productive nation – and whether we will continue to destroy this great natural resource by permitting our rivers and harbors to become clogged with the wastes of modern industry.

Whether the older citizens of New Hampshire, and of the entire country, are to be provided with adequate medical care, and retirement compensation sufficient to allow them to live in the face of today’s inflationary spiral.

Whether your children are to be provided with a decent education. Here in Nashua, for example, I understand that you have a public library with a charter dating back to the time of George II. Surely a state so devoted to learning cannot take lightly the failure of the nation to provide adequate classrooms and competent, well-paid teachers for its youth.

Whether we are to build the better roads and provide the adequate rail and air transportation which New England needs if she is to survive and grow.

Whether we are to continue to let huge agricultural surpluses rot in our warehouses while people go hungry all over the world.

Whether we are to continue the destructive policy of ever-mounting interest rates, driving the price of money higher and higher, making it impossible for small businesses to obtain capital and frustrating the hopes of those who would like to build new homes.

EDUCATING THE CANDIDATES

These are some of the issues of importance to your state in 1960. These are some of the issues I intend to discuss. And I regret that more candidates in both parties will not join me here in that discussion. For primary contests not only educate the public – they educate the candidate as well.

For if a candidate wishes to understand the needs and aspirations of the people he seeks to serve – he must go among them. He must view the cities and towns and factories and farms first hand – not merely read second-hand reports from local supporters, or look at the nation through the wrong end of a television camera. He must campaign in all sections of the country – the East, the West, and the Far West – if he is to understand the problems of all sections – and not merely his own. He must listen as well as talk, see as well as be seen, learn as well as teach. And the primary is the greatest instrument there is for that kind of education. For after the nomination it is often too late – for the candidate and for the country.

I am sorry that in 1960 there are some in both parties who regard Presidential primary contests with indifference. They have forgotten the lessons of history – that only those candidates with faith and confidence in the people and their wisdom can count on receiving that faith and confidence at the polls in November. 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 this primary. He would have urged you to cast your ballot in it. I hope you will be true to that heritage.

Sources: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 905, "Rotary Club, Nashua, New Hampshire, 25 January 1960"; David F. Powers Personal Papers, Box 32, "Rotary Club, Nashua, NH, 25 January 1960." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.