2012 JFK Symposium

Welcoming Remarks from the Director of the JFK Presidential Library

On behalf of Caroline Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Library Foundation Board of Directors, and all of my Library and Foundation colleagues, I want to welcome you to this fiftieth anniversary symposium on President Coolidge. 

While we can’t call him a native son, I appreciated reading in the biography in your program of how proud President Coolidge was of Massachusetts as an example to the nation of an enlightened and progressive state.  And we, in turn, are proud of Mr. Coolidge and so pleased that you’ve chosen the Kennedy Library as the site for your conference.

President Kennedy was fond of referring to President Coolidge and, like others, his famed reticence.  In an address on June 20th, 1960, JFK recounted,

Calvin Coolidge was not a man of many words.  Once, when his wife pressed him to tell her what the minister had talked about in church, Mr. Coolidge said ‘sin.’  When she insisted he tell her what the minister had said about sin, Mr. Coolidge replied ‘he was against it.’

In an address in 1963 in Wisconsin, JFK told his audience,

I am, I think the second president to spend the night in Ashland, Wisconsin.  Calvin Coolidge was here for days and did not speak a word.  I was here for one night and spoke all the time.

In her opening, Amity Shlaes mentioned that the key innovation of President Coolidge’s time was growth and development of electricity, something that President Kennedy referred to when lighting the White House Christmas tree, noting that Calvin Coolidge had been the first president to do so.

And while they might have differed on economic policy, JFK often did so with a playful spirit.  First, in a televised presidential conference, a fairly aggressive reporter once asked JFK, “There’s a feeling in some quarters, sir, that big business is forcing you to come to terms with them.  Businessmen seem to have the attitude ‘now we have you where we want you.’  What do you have to say to that?”  To which President Kennedy retorted, “I can’t believe that I am where big business wants me to be.”

In that same vein, JFK accepted an invitation to the notoriously pro-business National Association of Manufacturers in 1961.  He opened by stating, up front, that he had not always considered the NAM as among his strongest supporters, and did not assume that the individuals gathered in that room had approached the new frontier with the greatest of enthusiasm.  In doing more research, he learned that the NAM had once decried “governmental paternalism and socialism” and denounced “swollen bureaucracy within the U.S. government that would have been seen as a triumph by Karl Marx.”  “I was comforted,” President Kennedy went on, “when reading this familiar language, to note that I was in very good company.  The first attack was on Herbert Hoover, and the second, on President Coolidge.”

Just as you are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Coolidge Memorial Foundation, we are celebrating a series of fiftieth anniversaries of the 1960 campaign and the Kennedy presidency.  One such upcoming event will be the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s farewell address to the state of Massachusetts, where he addressed the state legislature in which Calvin Coolidge so nobly served as a legislator, lieutenant governor and governor.  I wanted to quote, just briefly, from that speech.  In it, JFK asks questions that, I imagine, guide your deliberations concerning Calvin Coolidge today. 

For those of us to whom much is given, much is required.  And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us, our success or failure will be measured by the answers to these four questions:

First, were we truly men of courage – with the courage to stand up to one’s enemies – and the courage to stand up, when necessary, to one’s associates – the courage to resist public pressure as well as private greed?

Secondly, were we truly men of judgment – with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past – of our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others – with enough wisdom to know that we did not now, and enough candor to admit it?

Third, were we truly men of integrity – men who never ran out on either the principles in which they believed, or the people who believed in them, men who believed in us – men who neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust?

And, finally, were we truly men of dedication – with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest?

Courage, judgment, integrity, dedication – these are the historic qualities of the Bay Colony and the Bay State, the qualities which this state has consistently sent to this chamber on Beacon Hill, here in Boston, and to Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C.

In that last remark, clearly JFK could have been referring to his predecessor from Massachusetts and our nation’s highest office, Calvin Coolidge.  Like Coolidge, John F. Kennedy was very close to his father, who thought the speech to the Massachusetts General Assembly was outstanding, but chided his son for using up all of his best lines just weeks before he was due to give his Inaugural.  As we all know, Joseph Kennedy’s fears were unmerited, for JFK had a few good lines left for that now famous Address.

So, once again, I welcome you all to the Kennedy Library and I wish you the very best for the rest of the day’s proceedings and for the continued flourishing of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation which serves President Coolidge and his legacy so well. 

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