Tribute to John F. Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention

August 27, 1964


Atlantic City, NJ

Mr. Chairman, I wish to speak just for a few moments.

I first want to thank all of you delegates to the Democratic National Convention and the supporters of the Democratic Party for all that you did for President John F. Kennedy.

I want to express my appreciation to you for the efforts that you made on his behalf at the convention four years ago, the efforts that you made on his behalf for his election in November of 1960, and perhaps most importantly, the encouragement and the strength that you gave him after he was elected President of the United States.

I know that it was a source of the greatest strength to him to know that there were thousands of people all over the United States who were together with him, dedicated to certain principles and to certain ideals.

No matter what talent an individual possesses, what energy he might have, no matter how much integrity and how much honesty he might have, if he is by himself, and particularly a political figure, he can accomplish very little. But if he is sustained, as President Kennedy was, by the Democratic Party all over the United States, dedicated to the same things that he was attempting to accomplish, he can accomplish a great deal.

No one knew that more than President John F. Kennedy. He used to take great pride in telling of the trip that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison made up the Hudson River in 1800 on a botanical expedition searching for butterflies; that they ended up down in New York City and that they formed the Democratic Party.

He took great pride in the fact that the Democratic Party was the oldest political Party in the world, and he knew that this linkage of Madison and Jefferson with the leaders in New York combined the North and South, and combined the industrial areas of the country with the rural farms and that this combination was always dedicated to progress and all of our Presidents have been dedicated to progress.

He thought of Thomas Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase, and also when Jefferson realized that the United States could not remain on the Eastern Seaboard and sent Lewis and Clark to the West Coast; of Andrew Jackson; of Woodrow Wilson; of Franklin Roosevelt who saved our citizens who were in great despair because of the financial crisis; of Harry Truman who not only spoke but acted for freedom.

So, when he became President he not only had his own principles and his own ideals but he had the strength of the Democratic Party. As President he wanted to do something for the mentally ill and the mentally retarded; for those who were not covered by Social Security; for those who were not receiving an adequate minimum wage; for those who did not have adequate housing; for our elderly people who had difficulty paying their medical bills; for our fellow citizens who are not white and who had difficulty living in this society. To all this he dedicated himself.

But he realized also that in order for us to make progress here at home, that we had to be strong overseas, that our military strength had to be strong. He said one time, “Only when our arms are sufficient, without doubt, can we be certain, without doubt, that they will never have to be employed.” So when we had the crisis with the Soviet Union and the Communist Bloc in October of 1962, the Soviet Union withdrew their missiles and bombers from Cuba.

Even beyond that, his idea really was that this country, that this world, should be a better place when we turned it over to the next generation than when we inherited it from the last generation. That is why—with all of the other efforts that he made—the Test Ban Treaty, which was done with Averell Harriman, was so important to him.

And that’s why he made such an effort and was committed to the young people not only of the United States but to the young people of the world. And in all of these efforts you were there, all of you.

When there were difficulties, you sustained him.

When there were periods of crisis, you stood beside him. When there were periods of happiness, you laughed with him. And when there were periods of sorrow, you comforted him. I realize that as individuals we can’t just look back, that we must look forward. When I think of President Kennedy, I think of what Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet:

“When he shall die take him and cut him out into stars and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”

When there were periods of crisis, you stood beside him. When there were periods of happiness, you laughed with him. And when there were periods of sorrow, you comforted him. I realize that as individuals we can’t just look back, that we must look forward.

I realize that as individuals, and even more important, as a political party and as a country, we can’t just look to the past, we must look to the future.

So I join with you in realizing that what started four years ago—what everyone here started four years ago—that is to be sustained; that is to be continued.

The same effort and the same energy and the same dedication that was given to President John F. Kennedy must be given to President Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey.

If we make that evident, it will not only be for the benefit of the Democratic Party, but, far more important, it will be for the benefit of this whole country.

When we look at this film we must think that President Kennedy once said:

“We have the capacity to make this the best generation in the history of mankind, or make it the last.”

If we do our duty, if we meet our responsibilities and our obligations, not just as Democrats, but as American citizens in our local cities and towns and farms and our states and in the country as a whole, then this generation of Americans is going to be the best generation in the history of mankind.

He often quoted from Robert Frost—and said it applied to himself—but we could apply it to the Democratic Party and to all of us as individuals:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Mrs. Kennedy has asked that this film be dedicated to all of you and to all the others throughout the country who helped make John F. Kennedy President of the United States.

I thank you.