This is excerpted from a speech he gave in the summer of 1960 as he accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party. He’s talking about the need for the American people to look forward, to strive for greatness instead of resting on their laurels. Say what you want about Kennedy, the man could really deliver a speech!
I stand tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch three thousand miles behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their own lives to build a new world here in the West. They were not the 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 within.
Today some would say that those struggles are all over – that all the horizons have been explored – that all the battles have ben won – that there is no longer an American frontier.
But I trust that no one in this vast assemblage will agree with those sentiments. For the problems are not all solved and the battlers are not all won – and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier – the frontier of the 1960’s – a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils – a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.
Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom promised our nation a 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 back from that 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 cast their votes for me regardless of party.
But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age – to all who respond to the Scriptural call: “Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.”
For courage – not complacency – is our need today – leadership, not salesmanship. 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 subsidies 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 ourselves.
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 ours 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 of men’s 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 present?
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.
As we face the coming challenge, we too shall wait upon the Lord, and ask that he renew our strength, Then shall we be equal to the test. Then shall we not be weary. And then we shall prevail.
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