Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy on the Saint Lawrence Seaway before the Senate, Washington, D.C., January 14, 1954

This is a redaction of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. One draft of the speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library. Page images of the speech can be found here.

(1) I am frank to admit that few issues during my service in the House of Representatives or the Senate have troubled me as much as the pending bill authorizing participation by the United States in the construction and operation of the St. Lawrence Seaway. As you may know, on 6 different occasions over a period of 20 years, no Massachusetts Senator or Representative has ever voted in favor of the Seaway; and such opposition on the part of many of our citizens and officials continues to this day. I shall discuss the bases of that opposition subsequently; but in initiating a comprehensive study on this issue, I limited myself primarily to two questions which have not previously been before those Massachusetts Senators and Representatives opposing the Seaway, two questions which are indeed facing all Members of the Congress on this issue:

First, is the St. Lawrence Seaway going to be built, regardless of the action taken in the United States Senate on this bill?


Secondly, If so, is it in the national interest that the United States participate in the construction, operation and administration of the Seaway?

A careful, and I believe thorough and objective, study of this issue has fully satisfied me that both of these questions must be answered in the affirmative.

(2) The evidence appears to be conclusive that Canada will build the Seaway. Although they frequently overlook this fact, Seaway opponents now appear to take this for granted. I have studied the Act passed by the Canadian Parliament authorizing the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway by Canada, which was dependent only upon the United States participation in the power project. As you all know, such participation is now assured through the license granted by the Federal Power Commission to the New York State Power Authority, subject only to rejection of a final attempt at litigation which is practically assured in the Court of Appeals. Construction has been delayed only pending this final step. The Canadian law entitled "An Act to Establish the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority" (15-16 George VI, Ch. 24, 1950), and the official statements of the Canadian Government, make it clear that Canada will build the Seaway alone and cooperate on the power project with New York, although the door is left open for American participation if we should so decide at this session of Congress. Indeed, the Toronto Telegram stated in an editorial of January 9 following the State of the Union message that "President Eisenhower's call to Congress to get cracking on the Seaway arouses only a mild and skeptical interest in this country, because Canadians have made up their minds that the best thing for them to do is to build the Seaway themselves." We can no longer doubt that the Seaway will be built, regardless of how we vote today.

(3) We are then confronted only with the second question, is it in the national interest of the United States that we participate in the construction, operation and administration of the Seaway as authorized by the Wiley Bill? That question has been answered in the affirmative by every President, Secretary of Army and Defense, Secretary of Commerce, National Security Council, National Security Resources Board, and other administration officials for the past 30 years, including President Eisenhower and other representatives of his administration. The President stated in that part of his message on national defense:

"Both nations now need the St. Lawrence Seaway for security as well as for economic reasons. I urge the Congress promptly to approve our participation in its construction."

Mr. President, our ownership and control of a vital strategic international waterway along our own border would be lost without passage of this bill. If Canada builds the seaway alone, it may not only be a more expensive proposition, due to the difference in topography, requiring higher tolls over a longer period of time, but the Seaway will still be paid for to a great extent by the American interests whose use thereof will be many times greater than the Canadians. Thus the economy of the United States will have paid for the greater part of the Seaway at a higher cost, but the United States Government will have no voice in the decisions regarding tolls, traffic, admission of foreign ships, defense and security measures, and priorities. Inasmuch as the United States is going to benefit both economically and militarily from the construction of the Seaway, and inasmuch as the Wiley Bill provides that the Seaway will be self-liquidating, and require comparatively small appropriations over a 5-year period, I believe that our participation is in the national interest, and therefore should not be defeated for sectional reasons.

(4) I refer to "sectional reasons" because I have been urged to vote against the Seaway, on two other grounds, neither of which is related to the unchangeable fact that Canada will otherwise build it alone and that our participation is important. These two points of opposition, entirely sectional in nature, are:

1. The Seaway will work an economic hardship upon Massachusetts,


2. The Seaway will be of no direct economic benefit to Massachusetts.

I would like to discuss each of these questions briefly, inasmuch as they not only explain the basis of much of the traditional opposition to this measure in my state and other states, but also, I believe, because they involve the very nature and responsibility of the United States Senate and our Federal Union.

(5) First, will the Seaway work an economic hardship on Massachusetts?
Of course, inasmuch as the Seaway is to be built anyway, regardless of American participation, such arguments are of necessity only academic; for the issue here is not whether the Seaway should be built, but whether the United States should participate in that project. However, inasmuch as I have devoted considerable time and effort in the Senate to an analysis and alleviation of some of the economic problems now troubling New England, I am especially concerned with these many predictions of injury to my state and region resulting from the Seaway.

(6) The Port of Boston.
The primary attention in this discussion of the Seaway's effect upon our economy has centered upon the Port of Boston; and I have therefore analyzed carefully figures on Port traffic, largely furnished me by the Boston Port Authority. In the first place, at least 75% of the Port traffic is coastwise, intraport and local, which no one has claimed will be affected by the Seaway. Of the remaining foreign traffic, an examination of imports reveals that practically all of it is coal, fuel oil, petroleum, food products, beverages and other items for consumption within the New England area. Other raw materials used by New England manufacturers, such as wool and rubber, make up a large part of the remainder of this import traffic. It is obvious that none of this traffic will be diverted by the Seaway.

(7) With respect to goods shipped by rail out of the New England area, I have had the opportunity to see a comprehensive analysis of New England's chief rail exports, and only a small portion of these were foreign-made imports arriving through the Port of Boston; and even a smaller portion of these few items went to the area which the St. Lawrence Seaway would serve. Consequently, only an extremely small percentage of foreign import trade will be lost to the Port of Boston at most. Even if as much as 22% of these imports were lost, as has been alleged by some but which the figures do not support, even if all of this were lost, the total loss in tonnage would be less than 5% of the annual traffic handled by the Port.

(8) With respect to exports, which total less than 2% of Port traffic, opponents of the Seaway have suggested only that the export grain trade might be affected once the Seaway is in operation. The analysis of New England rail traffic bears this out. It cannot be denied that some or all of the Port's export grain trade may be affected by the Seaway. However, in 1952, in terms of tonnage handled, this trade amounted to only 9/10 of 1% of the total traffic in the Port of Boston; and due to the mechanical nature of the operation, involved only a small number of employees. Thus, although grain as a bottom cargo has some significance beyond its own tonnage, nevertheless, even if the entire export grain trade was lost to the Port, the over-all effect upon its traffic, and the economy of Boston and New England, would be almost negligible.

(9) In short, even if the Port of Boston were to lose all of its export grain, and as much as 22% of all foreign import trade as the result of the Seaway, a figure which exceeds the claims of its strongest opponents and cannot be supported by the traffic analysis, even under such circumstances the over-all decline in terms of total traffic at the Port would be less than 6%; and since 1945 the variations in the Port's traffic from year to year have been practically always greater than 6%.

(10) There has been some speculation that if the Seaway is not built by Canada and the iron ore begins to move out of Labrador, the Boston Port would receive this traffic. However, the rail haul from Boston to the steel-producing areas in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois is considerably greater than that from the competing ports in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York; and, although the latter may be affected by a current Interstate Commerce Commission case, it is even clearer that the newer steel developments in Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will be served by ports considerably closer than Boston. I think it is not only speculative but overly optimistic to hope that Boston would get any substantial share of this trade if the Seaway were not built. Of course, as I have already indicated, the Seaway is going to be built, and will then provide for the transportation of iron ore over a water haul equal to the haul from Labrador to Boston, and a rail haul of approximately 20% the distance from Boston to Youngstown. No Atlantic port would carry such ore then; and it is therefore extremely doubtful whether either the Port of Boston or the New England railroads would wish to make considerable expenditures in adapting their facilities to handle this iron ore traffic when it will most certainly be carried by the Seaway within a period of several years.

(11) In short, I do not feel that the effect of the Seaway upon the Port of Boston will be of any lasting significance; and there are some who believe that in the long run traffic at the Port will be stimulated. What is more important to the Port of Boston, as pointed out by the President's Committee on the New England Economy, is the fact that a 1948 sampling of New England firms showed that 81% of their exports were shipped out of New York instead of Boston. If those in New England who have decried the loss to the Port of Boston resulting from the Seaway would only divert their own export traffic to the Port, the gain would be many times as great as any loss suffered by construction of the Seaway,

(12) New England Railroads
For these same reasons, I have been unable to find any serious injury to the New England railroads resulting from the construction of the Seaway. The analysis of New England's rail traffic, which I mentioned before, indicates that New England's chief rail exports were largely consumption goods or highly manufactured industrial products and equipment which have a high unit value in which the cost of transportation is a relatively small portion. It is doubtful that these goods would be shipped over 1500 miles to the Gaspe Peninsula, to go over the Seaway instead of the quicker and more direct route via rail. Moreover, only a small portion of these goods go to the area to be served by the Seaway; and whenever any goods are so diverted, of course, it will be a further gain for the Port of Boston.

(13) With respect to goods shipped by rail into New England, by far the largest single item is coal from West Virginia, Kentucky, and other coal producing states; and this, like most of the other items which are shipped into the region by rail, will continue to come by this more direct route. Again, any Seaway diversion of goods for consumption in Massachusetts and New England will be a gain for the Port of Boston. The only major exception is grain, and I have already discussed the fact that export grain may be lost to the New England railroads and ports, but this represents only 1/3 of 1% of the entire rail traffic handled by the New England railroads. The other 90% of the grain shipped into New England would not be affected by the Seaway, inasmuch as present routes utilizing the Erie Canal and railroads are considerably shorter and more economical than even the Seaway will provide. On the contrary, the increased industrial activities in the Middle West may well build markets for New England manufacturers, and traffic for the New England railroads and ports. But permit me to repeat the one unchangeable fact which makes discussion of possible gain or loss to Massachusetts irrelevant to the pending measure; namely, that the Seaway is going to be built, its economic consequences are going to be felt, whether beneficial or not, regardless of the vote in the United States Senate.

(14) However, this discussion of the possibilities of economic gain to the Port and railroads leads to the other "sectional question", namely how will the St. Lawrence Seaway help Massachusetts? There have been a great many claims advanced along the lines that it would be of help to my state; but I have studied them with care and must say in all frankness that I think they are wholly speculative at best. I know of no direct economic benefit to the economy of Massachusetts or any segment thereof from the Seaway, and I have been urged to oppose the Seaway on these grounds, inasmuch as the initial investment, even though repaid, will come in part from Massachusetts tax revenues.

(15) But I am unable to accept such a narrow view of my functions as United States Senator; and in speaking on the Senate floor on behalf of the New England economy I stressed my opposition to the idea that "New England's interest is best served by opposing Federal programs which contribute to the well-being of the country, particularly when those programs increase the purchasing power of New England's customers. Where Federal action is necessary and appropriate, it is my firm belief that New England must fight for those national policies."

(16) Moreover, I have sought the support of Senators from all sections of the country in my efforts on behalf of New England, pointing out to them not only the concern which they should have for an important region in our country, but also the fact that an increase in economic activity in New England would benefit the nation as a whole. For these reasons, I cannot oppose the Seaway because the direct economic benefits will go largely to the Great Lakes and Middle Western areas. I could not conscientiously take such a position, and at the same time expect support from the Senators in the Middle West or any other part of the country for those programs and projects of aid to New England.

(17) The Seaway is going to be built; the only question is the part we shall play in opening our fourth coastline. To those in my state and elsewhere who oppose our participation in the construction of this project for national security merely because the economic benefits go elsewhere, I would say that it has been this arbitrary refusal of many New Englanders to recognize the legitimate needs and aspirations of other sections which has contributed to the neglect of, and even opposition to, the needs of our own region by the representatives of other areas. We cannot continue so narrow and destructive a position. As was so well stated by a famous Massachusetts Senator over 100 years ago, our aim should not be "States dissevered, discordant, (or) belligerent"; but "One country, one Constitution, one destiny."