Presidential campaign speech at Scottsbluff, Nebraska

April 20, 1968


Scottsbluff, NE

John Adams once said that he considered the founding of America part of “a divine plan for the liberation of the slavish part of mankind all over the globe.”

This faith did not spring from grandiose schemes of empires abroad. It grew instead from confidence that the example set by our nation—the example of individual liberty fused with common effort—would spark the spirit of liberty around the planet; and that once unleashed, no despot could suppress it, no prison could restrain it, no army could withstand it.

It is easy to forget, in the midst of a difficult struggle abroad that we have not won, and a struggle at home that we have not begun—it is easy to forget that the history of America is in large measure the redemption of the faith of the Founding Fathers.

For at every critical mark in our history, Americans have looked beyond the narrow borders of personal concern, remembering the bonds that tied them to their fellow citizens…

These efforts were not acts of charity.

They sprang from the recognition of a root fact of American life: that we all share in each other’s fortunes; that where one of us prospers, all of us prosper; and where one of us falters, so do we all.

It is this sense, more than any failure of goodwill or of policy, that we have missed in America.

As our nation—and its problems—have grown, we seem to have grown apart from one another.

We seem, through no fault of our own, to look only the short distance; to turn away from the far horizon; to work, each of us, on building a piece of our country.

And the pieces do not match…

We became separated from one another, treating those of different races, or religions, or calling, as adversaries instead of allies…

The first step in this task is to remember what our government should be…a reflection of a common effort, a means of aspiring greater individual opportunity for our citizens…

The goal of an active federal effort in our social dilemmas must be to let loose the talent and energy of the people themselves, not to channel that energy along rigidly preconceived paths.

What we see is not just greater programs but greater participation—by putting our resources directly into communities, both urban and rural, where the citizenry can determine how best to use those resources.

It is true that town-hall America may be gone; but that is no reason why small groups of people cannot plan for their own future, and decide their own fate, if government remembers how effective citizen participation can be.

It is time—indeed, the time is long since past—that the government begins to accommodate itself to the requirements of its citizens, instead of the other way around.

There is nothing sacred about government procedure.

There is nothing irrevocable about an old structure which forces small communities without resources to hire lobbyists, to deal with twenty different federal agencies in a frustrating, fruitless search for assistance.

Here is where executive leadership can help—and where it will help if I am the next president.

The final necessity is for understanding. No leadership can separate itself from the people’s hope and wants. For the first task of any new leadership will be to rally the diverse forces within America to that common effort all of us require.

That is why, if I am chosen as your president, I pledge to you to go out among you: to meet with you, not as a speaker, but as a listener; to open again those channels of communication so vital to a democracy.

So, if I become your president, I intend to travel regularly across America, talking with the people of our country…I intend not only to make government more responsive to the people, but to reach out beyond the apparatus of government, talking directly with the people themselves and giving them the opportunity to talk with me.

That is the kind of leadership we need. That is the leadership I intend to offer. There is much to be done in America. But with leadership confident in our citizens, these tasks can be done, this country can be put back together, and we shall in fact become “the last, best hope of man.”