We can say with some assurance that, although children may be the victims of fate, they
will not be the victims of our neglect
In this speach, Kennedy delivered some of the basic themes he would use to win the 1960
election. To address the difficulties of a Catholic being elected he met the issue head-on. He
gave his evaluation of Richard Nixon, spoke of the balance of power and the spread of communism.
Perhaps this speech will best be remembered as the one where Kennedy introduced the concept of
the "New Frontier."
Governor Stevenson, Senator Johnson, Mr. Butler, Senator Symington, Senator Humphrey,
Speaker Rayburn, Fellow Democrats, I want to express my thanks to Governer Stevenson for his
generous and heart-warming introduction.
It was my great honor to place his name in nomination at the 1956 Democratic Convention, and
I am delighted to have his support and his counsel and his advice in the coming months ahead.
Let me say first that I accept the nomination of the Democratic Party.
I accept it 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
I am grateful too, I am grateful too, that you have provided us with such a strong platform
to stand on and to run on. 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 enthusiam and con-
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
spokesmen for our needs as a nation and as a people, Stuart Symington--and on that fighting
campaigner whos support I welcome, President Harry S. Truman--on my travelling companion in
Wisconson and West Virginia, Senator Hubert Humphrey. On Paul Butler, our devoted and courageous
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 full 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 place its confidence in the American people,
in their ability to render a free, fair judgement. And you, at the same time, placed your
confidence in me, and in my 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 14 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 and throw away his vote by voting either for me, or against me, because 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
conceivable be brought to bear on me. I am saying to you that my decisions on every public policy
will be my own--as an American, as a Democrat, and as a free man.
Under any circumstances, however, the victory 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 that 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 seemed to show charity toward none
and malice 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 that 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 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 8 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
Rebublican 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. We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle
that can guide us through the darkness to a safe and sane future. As Winston Churchill said on
taking office some twenty years ago: If we open a quarrel between the present and the past, we
shall be in danger of losing the future.
Today our concern must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending.
The old ways will not do.
Abroad, the balance of power is shifting. There are new and more terrible weapons--new and
uncertain nations--new pressures of population and deprivation. One third of the world, it has
been said, may be free--but one third is the victim of cruel repression-- and the other one is
rocked by the pangs of poverty, hunger and envy. More energy is released by the awakening of
these new nations than by the fission of the atom itself.
Meanwhile, Communist influence has penetrated further into Asia, stood astride the Middle
East, and now festers some 90 miles off the coast of Florida. Friends have slipped into
neutrality--and neutrals into hostility. As our keynoter reminded us, the President who began
his career by going to Korea ends it by staying away from Japan.
The world has been close to war before--but now man, who has survived all previous threats to
his existence, has taken into his mortal hands the power to exterminate the entire species some
seven times over.
Here at home, the changing face of the future is equally revolutionary. The New Deal and the
Fair Deal were bold measures for their generations--but this is a new generation.
A techonological revolution on the farm has led to an output explosion--but we have not yet
learned to harness that explosion usefully, while protecting our farmers rights to full parity
An urban population explosion has overcrowded our schools, cluttered up our suburbs, and
increased the squalor of our slums.
A peaceful revolution for human rights--demanding an end to racial discrimination in all parts
of our community life--has strained at the leashes imposed by timid Executive leadership.
A medical revolution has extended the life of our elder citizens without providing the dignity
and security those later years deserve. And a revolution of automation finds machines replacing
men in the mines and mills of America, without replacing their incomes or their training, or
their needs to pay the family doctor, grocer, and landlord.
There has also been a change--a slippage--in our intellectual and moral strength. Seven lean
years of drought and famine have withered a field of ideas. Blight has descended on our
regulatory agencies--and a dry rot, beginning in Washington, is seeping into every corner of
America--in the payola mentality, the expense account way of life, the confusion between what is
legal and what is right. Too many Americans have lost their way, their will, and their sense of
It is time, in short, for a new generation of leadership--new men to cope with new problems
and new opportunities.
All over the world, particularly in the newer nations, young men are coming to power--men
who are not bound by the traditions of the past--men who are not blinded by the old fears and
hates and rivalries--young men who can cast off the old slogans and delusions and suspicions.
The Republican nominee-to-be, of course, is also a young man. But his approach is as old as
McKinley. His party is the party of the past. His speeches are generalities from Poor Richard's
Almanac. Their platform, made up of left-over Democratic planks, has the courage of our old
convictions. Their pledge is a pledge to the status quo--and today their can be no status quo.
For I stand tonight facing West on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that
stretch 3000 miles behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort, and
sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West. They were not captives of their own
doubts, the prisoners of their own price tags. Their motto was not "every man for himself" --
but "all for the common cause." They were determined to make that new world strong and free, to
overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from without and
Today some would say that those struggles were over--that all the horizons have been explored--
that all the battles have been won--that their is no longer an American frontier.
But I trust that noone in this vast assemblage will agree with those sentiments. For the
problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won--and we stand today on the edge of
a new frontier--the frontier of the 1960s--a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils--a
frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.
Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom promised our Nation an new political and economic framework.
Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal promised security and succor to those in need. But the New Frontier
of which I speak is not a set of promises--it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I
intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride,
not to their pocketbook--it holds out the promise of more sacrifice, instead of more security.
But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are
the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets
of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to
shrink from that new frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good
intentions and high rhetoric--and those who prefer that course should not vote for me, or the
For I believe that the times require imagination, and courage and perseverance. I'm asking
each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young at heart, regardless of
age, to the stout in spirit, regarless of party, to all who respond to the scriptural call:
"Be strong and of good courage. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed."
For courage--not complacency--is our need today--leadership--not salemenship. And the only
valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously. A tired nation, said
David Lloyd George, is a Tory nation--and the United States today cannot afford to be either
tired or Tory.
There may be those who wish to hear more--more promises to this group or that--more harsh
rhetoric about the men in the Kremlin--more assurances of a golden future, where taxes are
always low and susidies ever high. But my promises are in the platform you have adopted--our
ends will not be won by rhetoric and we can have faith in the future only if we have faith in
For the harsh facts of the matter are that we stand on this frontier at a turning-point in
history. We must prove all over again whether this nation--or any nation so conceived--can long
endure--whether our society, with its freedom of choice, its breadth of opportunity, its range
of alternatives--can compete with the single-minded advance of the Communist system.
Can a nation organized and governed such as our 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's of mens minds?
Are we up to the task--are we equal to the challenge? Are we willing to match the Russian
sacrifice of the present for the future--or must we sacrifice our future in order to enjoy the
That is the question of the New Frontier. That is the choice our Nation must make-- a choice
that lies not merely between two men or two parties, but between the public interest and private
comfort--between national greatness and national decline--between the fresh air of progress and
the stale, dank atmosphere of "normalcy"--between determined dedication and creeping mediocrity.
All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we will do. We cannot
fail their trust, we cannot fail to try.
It has been a long road from that first snowy day in New Hampshire to this crowded convention
city. Now begins another long journey, taking me into your cities and homes all over America.
Give me your help, your hand, your voice, your vote. Recall with me the words of Isaiah:
"They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as
eagles; they shall run and not be weary."
As we face the coming challenge, we too, shall wait upon the Lord, and ask that he renew our
strength. Then we shall be equal to the test. Then we shall not be weary. And then we shall
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