The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

Eleanor Roosevelt
Speech before Kennedy for President Rally
St. Louis, Missouri
October 27, 1960

Introduction:[1] . . . a sense of honor that I present to you one of the best loved women in the world today, a woman who has given so much of herself, to her country and to the world, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. [Applause]
Eleanor Roosevelt: Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be back in St. Louis. I seem to come here, campaigning since the days I was in the White House. And I 'm always very happy to be here. As most of you know, I wanted very much, before the Convention, to have a ticket composed of Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy.[2] Those at the Convention decided otherwise. And I have watched with great care our candidate, our Democratic candidate, through the past campaign. And I've come to have great faith in him. [Unintelligible]
. . . and which I find the heads of these have not mentioned very much, but which, of course, I've seen mentioned in, I can't point exactly to the cover, but by many groups, some of whom with real hatred, introduced this religious question. And I thought that I would just like to say to you that I have been through Al Smith's campaign. I do not think his religion [Unintelligible] defeated Al Smith. I think that he was too much of a New Yorker. He knew only New York; he didn't know the rest of the country at all. But I think that I've seen great difference in this campaign. There is less of the type of literature which I became very familiar with in that campaign. There is some of it. I suppose there will always be people who like to get out hate literature.
And there is, of course something. I guess you know last Sunday there was held what was to be, what was heralded as being, a real attack on having a Catholic for President.[3] And therefore, I like to remind every audience I have an opportunity to remind that this country was actually settled by people who came to get away from persecution and to gain more freedom of religion. That was one of the basic things on which our country was founded. And it was not to be freedom for one religion. It was to be freedom for all religions. And so it seems to me that we should remember this. And we should remember that in our Constitution, the men who wrote that Constitution and were so near to the people who founded, came here to found our country, they said that no one running for office should be questioned as to his race or his religion. And I saw a letter written by George Washington, just a few days ago in New York - a very treasured letter, long hand - in which he made the point, in writing to the small, Jewish, first Jewish synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island in Touro, that we had written a Constitution that would prevent bigotry in this country for all times.[4]
And I think we're apt to forget this. Now I also think that most of us who are afraid, are afraid of something which we really haven't thought through very carefully. We are afraid that we cannot preserve the separation between church and state. Now that is preserved, actually, by watching all church organizations -- and remember, I said all church organizations -- and seeing that they do not try through law, either state or national, to gain special privileges. This has been something, that, as far as I know, almost every church organization at some point has tried to do. The effort is made through a state or local or national law to get some particular privilege for all denomination, or your special religious organization. Now this, I think you watch for, and if you think something really harmful is being done, you should have organizations that watch legislation. You should have people alerted so that when they really think something which infringes on that separation of church and state is happening, they will try and prevent it. This is a perfectly legitimate thing. People differ quite often, but this is a difference that we can argue and settle among ourselves, by majorities. But to say to any American citizen, "You may go to war for us, you may die for us: we won't ask what race or religion you belong to. But if you aspire to a public office, we are going to ask you those questions." I think it's beneath contempt, and I hope very much that we are going to settle that question once and for all on November 8th. [Applause] I think, I hope that no last-minute efforts will be successful.
Somebody in Illinois last week asked me if I thought that there was still apt, if we were still apt to have any changes between now and election day. And I said, "Of course! I don't ever, being a pessimist, I don't ever count my votes until they are actually all in." And I'm perfectly willing to say that wherever I've been just lately, people have been very hopeful for the Democratic ticket. They've been enthusiastic. They have said they've never had such good meetings; that wherever Senator Kennedy has been, he's had crowds of people, and the people feel is that victory is in the air.
Well, I don't believe in being complacent until the very last minute, and I said to some of these people, "You must watch [Unintelligible], because I happened to look in the New York Times today, and I see that Mr. Nixon has announced that, if elected, he will go to the satellite countries of Eastern Europe[5] and bring the message of freedom. Now that may well be the beginning of promises. Of course, if you think it over, you wonder just how he will fulfill that promise because you do have to be invited. [Laughter] And I doubt very much whether the invitation will be forthcoming if he announces beforehand that he's going to bring a message of freedom." [Laughter]
But there will undoubtedly be a number of things tried. I was on the West Side of New York City just yesterday afternoon, and they brought me a four-page leaflet which was just being circulated. Now this leaflet amused me very much because it was an attack on Senator Kennedy's father. And if you read it carefully, you realized that nothing in it was actually a quotation from his father. It was all something which had been said by the German ambassador to Great Britain during the War.[6] And the German ambassador was quoted as having said that he had seen the American ambassador, and he was sympathetic to all their difficulties in Germany, and he understood their problems, particularly with the Jews.
Well, this to me was very amusing because I knew quite well that Senator Kennedy's father had been persuaded by Mr. Lindbergh that it was impossible for us to build the air force to meet the German air force.[7] Mr. Lindbergh was persuaded of this; he believed that we should make peace with Germany, and he persuaded the ambassador in London, Ambassador Kennedy, that we should make peace with Germany. And the ambassador talked about it considerably in London, much to their horror.
And my husband sent for him. The day he came to Hyde Park, the first I knew that anything was going on was that I was asked to come to my husband's study. And when my husband was very much wrought up, he became extremely cold and icy. And he turned to me, and he said, "You will please take the Ambassador over to the cottage and give him lunch, and then you will see him to his train." And I thought, "Oh goodness! What . . ." [Laughter]
I hadn't been [Unintelligible]. I [Unintelligible] on the way to the cottage when I knew because the ambassador began to tell me the way he felt, and I knew quite well how Franklin had reacted to this, and how he would have just scorned the idea that we were not able to do whatever was required of us. And, if you remember, a great many people said we couldn't build fifty thousand airplanes, and we did. And we really can do, as a people, whatever we have to do when we put our backs into it. And I couldn't help but be amused when I looked at this pamphlet and thought, "This is all old stuff. Why is it being raked up now? It had nothing to do with Senator Kennedy. He was at that time a little boy; what is all this being brought up?" And then I suddenly realized,"Oh! Why it's circulating in the West Side of New York[8] where they think it will reach people who will be affected by it even now." And I couldn't help feeling that this was the kind of low-down tactics that we've seen in many campaigns. We probably may see some more things like it.
But I don't think any more that the American people are easily fooled by any of these things. You've had a chance to watch on television four meetings. I wish they'd been real debates; I would have liked it much better. But nevertheless, it at least gave millions of people who would never have had a chance to see their candidates, to actually hear his views, and see the two candidates together so that they could compare them in their presentations. And I think it was a milestone in television news coverage and also in processes of democracy because it made possible for many people who would otherwise not have known what their candidates were like, to form some idea of the men that they had running for the Presidency in this country.
Now, the next President of the United States is not going to have an easy time. We have problems of foreign relations; we have problems here at home. I don't know for instance, whether here you have yet felt any of the results of automation,[9] but this is coming. And automation has got to be met with planning; it's an extension of the growth of the machine which we've watched over a long period of time, but to a very much greater extent. Now unless we plan, unless industry, labor, and government come together on planning new industries, on arranging for retraining of workers, we could easily have in this industrial revolution some conditions resembling the first Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. Only our consciences would not allow us to let people starve by the thousands, as they did when the machines first took the place of people in the mills of Great Britain. Now, this is a case of forethought. This is a case of seeing what is inevitably coming, of preparing for it, and of cooperation of the government saying to industry and labor, "This is your problem. You get together, and you decide what must be done on the financial and the industrial side. If you need the cooperation of government, government is ready to help you." And that is the only way, as far as I can see, that we can meet this problem of automation, and meet it so that our people do not suffer.
Now we can get a great deal that is good out of automation. Suddenly masses of people will have the leisure which only the rich have had in the past. But, in order to really make people better citizens, make it useful to them, we must have much change in our education, both for adults and for our young people, because in the past only the rich could really enjoy the arts. Now, everyone isn't going to become a great painter, or a great dancer, or a great musician, but they can learn appreciation. If you just use all this extra leisure time to watch television a few more hours a day, to go to more spectator sports, you won't be really any better citizens. One of the things it will give us time to be is really to be better citizens. And so I have a feeling that again in this field, we need someone to lead with imagination, with the power to look forward and to prepare, to know that we can become a better people, but we have to have the opportunity.
And I think these are areas in which there is much to be done because with automation, men are going to find that in their work they watch a machine do what perhaps they did themselves. Now it take good men to watch the machine, but it's not the same thing as producing the product from beginning to end and having the satisfaction of creation. All of us have that instinct of creation, and I think that means that we must have a vastly better understanding of all the different problems.
We must give all of our people an opportunity to learn products, new skills, so that they may still satisfy the desire for a creative occupation even though the way they earn their living requires just the watching of a machine.
Now these are all things that we have to think about, we have to plan for, but we have to be led. And we have to be led by someone who has the ability to make us feel that we are needed. We never would have pulled ourselves out of our economic difficulties in the Depression if the people hadn't regained confidence in themselves and felt that they could do the things that were asked. And I think we are facing times, both at home and abroad, which require this confidence all over again. And I hope very much that when you go to the polls on November the 8th, you will think of the value of youthful leadership, of leadership that has energy and force and drive.
I want to tell you a little incident. Some of the reporters were talking to me about the session which is now going on at the United Nations.[10] Now the beginning of that session was marked by having more leaders, heads of nations, at the United Nations than had ever been there before. And Mr. Krushchev was partly responsible for this because the minute he announced he was coming and the satellite leaders were coming, all the others came. Now, he had never before sat in a parliamentary body where he had to listen to people who thought differently from the way he did. And this was very loathsome to him. He was very angry, and had come to the very notion of destroying the United Nations and, if possible, getting rid of the secretary-general, Mr. Hammarskjold, whom he calls "tool of the imperialists." He behaved as boorishly and as rudely as he could possibly behave, and never without really a clear knowledge of what he was doing. The best speech for the West that was made, when all the heads of the nations were here, was made by Prime Minister Macmillan of Great Britain. And as Mr. Krushchev listened, he knew that this speech would make front-page news all over the country, and he determined that at least he would share part of that front-page news.
So he behaved worse through that speech than he had behaved at any time before. And he succeeded. He got at least half of the front-page news. [Laughter]
And so, I think, we have to remember what the reporters said. They said to me, "Here was a man who was rude and boorish, and he didn't win what he came for, which was the African states,[11] but he got across the idea that he had drive and force and conviction in his beliefs, that communism was the future of the world." And they said, "Oh, if we had a spokesman in the West who could speak for democracy with the same conviction, with the same drive and force." Well, that's what I hope we will have.
And so I have a clear conscience in asking you all to go out and work between now and election day as hard as you possibly can, and let us win on November 8th on the Democratic ticket, both locally and in the nation. [Applause]
     [1.] There is no record of who introduced ER.
     [2.] Before the 1960 Democratic National Convention nominated John Kennedy Wednesday, July 13th, ER had opposed his nomination believing him too inexperienced and ambitious and instead promoted the renomination of Adlai Stevenson, who had twice lost the presidency to Dwight Eisenhower. ER spearheaded the Draft Stevenson committee and flew to Los Angeles to lobby convention delegates to support a Stevenson-Kennedy ticket. She left the convention after Stevenson announced he would not accept a draft and released those delegates committed to him. [Allida M. Black, Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), pp. 178-180.]
     [3.] Reformation Sunday, see "My Day" 11/2/60, n1.
     [4.] George Washington wrote the small Jewish congregation of Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, to say the government "gives bigotry no sanction" and that the government only requires its people to comport themselves as good citizens and support their government. Dedicated December 2, 1763, and named in honor of its first officiating rabbi, Isaac Touro, the Touro Synagogue became the first Jewish house of worship established on American soil. Soon the synagogue's surrounding area bore the name of Touro as well. [Leonard Everett Fisher, To Bigotry No Sanction: The Story of the Oldest Synagogue in America (New York: Holiday House, 1999), passim; "George Washington to Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, 17 August 1790." The Papers of George Washington. Internet on-line. Available From]
     [5.] At the end of the campaign, Nixon promised that, if he were elected, he would visit all of the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. Journalist Theodore H. White reported that just days before the election, Nixon declared that, as president, he would send the three ex-presidents, Hoover, Truman, and Eisenhower, to bolster his theme of "peace without surrender." [Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1960 (New York: Atheneum Press, 1988), p.314.]
     [6.] Herbert von Dirksen, German Ambassador to the Court of St. James from February 1938 until the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, began "meeting quietly" with his American counterpart, Joseph P. Kennedy, shortly after presenting his credentials in London. When Dirksen reported on this meeting, some of Dirksen's cables to Berlin suggested that Kennedy had made remarks which "amounted to acceptance of the German policy toward the Jews." [Michael R. Beschloss, Kennedy and Roosevelt: The Uneasy Alliance (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1980), pp. 164-165.]
     [7.] Lindbergh met with Kennedy on the evening of September 21, 1938, at the height of the diplomatic crisis over Czechoslovakia. Counseling appeasement of Hitler's demands for the Czech Sudetenland, Lindbergh convinced Kennedy that the West lacked the ability to oppose successfully Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe. The ambassador advised Lindbergh to draft a letter airing these views and promised to forward copies to both the British and American governments. [Beschloss, Kennedy and Roosevelt, pp. 176-177.]
     [8.] The West Side of New York comprises the section of Manhattan that lies west of Fifth Avenue, beginning in Lower Manhattan at Washington Square and terminating in Upper Manhattan at its intersection with East 139th Street. While the lower and middle sections of the West Side remained largely commercial and industrial through the 1970s, the Upper West Side housed much of the section's population. Home to a wide variety of communities from the arts and the theater to business and politics, the Upper West Side also continues to hold one of the largest concentrations of New York's Jewish population. [Kenneth T. Jackson, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 622, 1218.]
     [9.] Automation most often means "the substitution of machines for workers," a process that usually improves the efficiency of producing goods and delivering services. The quality of automation technology improved dramatically during World War II, and its application grew in popularity following the war's conclusion. Viewed by some as a "second industrial revolution," the expansion of automation technology in the post-war era also aroused fears about the threat it posed to the livelihood of millions of skilled workers. In 1955, Congress held hearings on the implications of automation for American society, concluding that its economic benefits were incontrovertible, but that increased efficiency had come at the price of displacing large numbers of American workers. [Paul S. Boyer, et al., eds., The Oxford Companion to United States History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 55-56.]
     [10.] The general debate that opened the General Assembly's fifteenth plenary session in October 1960 drew more heads of state and government than any previous convocation. It took place against the backdrop of a diplomatic battle between the United States and the Soviet Union over Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold's administration of the United Nations Operation in the Congo. Although the Soviet Union had voted in favor of deploying UN forces to the Congo in July 1960, the Soviet government had become displeased with Hammarskjold's decision to allow Belgian colonial forces to remain within the Congo's borders. Seeking to remove him from office, Khrushchev expressed his displeasure with the Secretary-General by removing his shoe and banging it loudly on a table in the General Assembly chamber. The United States, on the other hand, had collaborated closely with Hammarskjold and dismissed any attempts to replace him with a candidate more amenable to Soviet interests. [Brian J. Urquhart, Hammarskjold (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994), pp. 434-436.]
     [11.] Khrushchev believed that the newly independent peoples of Africa and Asia represented a group of natural allies for the Soviet Union and that the emerging Afro-Asian bloc had the potential to tip permanently the balance of world power in the Soviet Union's favor. As a result, Khrushchev inaugurated the Soviet Union's presence in sub-Saharan Africa in 1958, extending President Sekou Toure of Guinea a generous foreign aid package. Nonetheless, by 1960 Toure remained the only black African leader who had openly joined the Soviet camp. Seeking to expand his influence in Africa and to tout the Soviet Union's accomplishments as a friend of formerly colonial peoples, Khrushchev sought a contentious opening session at the UN that would highlight the differences between the United States and the Soviet Union. [Madeline Kalb, The Congo Cables: The Cold War in Africa - From Eisenhower to Kennedy (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1982), pp. xii-xv.]