ACCEPTANCE SPEECH OF JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY, Part 1
Equal to the Challenge
by John F. Kennedy
Delivered on 15 July 1960
"Governor Stevenson, Senator Johnson, Mr. Butler, Senator Symington, Senator Humphrey, Speaker Rayburn, Fellow Democrats, I want to express my thanks to Governor Stevenson for his generous and heart-warming introduction.
"It was my great honor to place his name in nomination at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, and I am delighted to have his support and his counsel and his advice in the coming months ahead.
With a deep sense of duty and high resolve, I accept your nomination.
I accept it with a full and grateful heart – without reservation – and with only one obligation – the obligation to devote every effort of body, mind and spirit to lead our Party back to victory and our Nation back to greatness.
"I am grateful too, that you have provided me with such an eloquent statement of our Party’s platform. Pledges which are made so eloquently are made to be kept. “The Rights of Man,” – the civil and economic rights essential to the human dignity of all men – are indeed our goal and our first principles. This is a platform on which I can run with enthusiasm and conviction.
"And I am grateful, finally, that I can rely in the coming months on so many others – on a distinguished running mate who brings unity to our ticket and strength to our Platform, Lyndon Johnson – on one of the most articulate statesmen of our time, Adlai Stevenson – on a great spokesman for our needs as a Nation and a people, Stuart Symington – and on that fighting campaigner whose support I welcome, President Harry S. Truman – on my traveling companion in Wisconsin and West Virginia, Senator Hubert Humphrey. On Paul Butler, our devoted and courageous Chairman.
"I feel a lot safer now that they are on my side again. And I am proud of the contrast with our Republican competitors. For their ranks are apparently so thin that not one challenger has come forth with both the competence and the courage to make theirs an open convention.
"I am fully aware of the fact that the Democratic Party, by nominating someone of my faith, has taken on what many regard as a new and hazardous risk – new, at least since 1928. But I look at it this way: the Democratic Party has once again placed its confidence in the American people, and in their ability to render a free, fair judgement – to uphold the Constitution and my oath of office – and to reject any kind of religious pressure or obligation that might directly or indirectly interfere with my conduct of the Presidency in the national interest. My record of fourteen years supporting public education – supporting complete separation of church and state – and resisting pressure from any source on any issue should be clear by now to everyone.
"I hope that no American, considering the really critical issues facing this country, will waste his franchise by voting either for me or against me solely on account of my religious affiliation. It is not relevant. I want to stress, what some other political or religious leader may have said on this subject. It is not relevant what abuses may have existed in other countries or in other times. It is not relevant what pressures, if any, might conceivably be brought to bear on me. I am telling you now what you are entitled to know: that my decisions on any public policy will be my own – as an American, a Democrat and a free man.
"Under any circumstances, however, the victory that we seek in November will not be easy. We all know that in our hearts. We recognize the power of the forces that will be aligned against us. We know they will invoke the name of Abraham Lincoln on behalf of their candidate – despite the fact that the political career of their candidate has often served to show charity toward none and malice toward for all.
"We know that it will not be easy to campaign against a man who has spoken or voted on every known side of every known issue. Mr. Nixon may feel it is his turn now, after the New Deal and the Fair Deal – but before he deals, someone had better cut the cards.
That “someone” may be the millions of Americans who voted for President Eisenhower but balk at his would-be, self-appointed successor. For just as historians tell us that Richard I was not fit to fill the shoes of bold Henry II – and that Richard Cromwell was not fit to wear the mantle of his uncle – they might add in future years that Richard Nixon did not measure to the footsteps of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"Perhaps he could carry on the party policies – the policies of Nixon, Benson, Dirksen and Goldwater. But this Nation cannot afford such a luxury. Perhaps we could better afford a Coolidge following Harding. And perhaps we could afford a Pierce following Fillmore.
"But after Buchanan, this nation needed a Lincoln – after Taft, we needed a Wilson – after Hoover we needed Franklin Roosevelt . . . And after eight years of drugged and fitful sleep, this nation needs strong, creative Democratic leadership in the White House.
"But we are not merely running against Mr. Nixon. Our task is not merely one of itemizing Republican failures. Nor is that wholly necessary. For the families forced from the farm will know how to vote without our telling them. The unemployed miners and textile workers will know how to vote. The old people without medical care – the families without a decent home – the parents of children without adequate food or schools – they all know that it’s time for a change.
But I think the American people expect more from us than cries of indignation and attack. The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high – to permit the customary passions of political debate."
End of Part 1