The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

Eleanor Roosevelt Press Conference
Kennedy for President Campaign, October 28, 1960
Chicago, Illinois

Eleanor Roosevelt:

. . . of this, that's all that they can do, because the whole world is watching them, and the meaning of Democracy is painted here in every community, and they compare it with what's been shown by Communism. Now, Communism promises only material things, but we have to promise not only material things, but something more. We have to promise recognition of the individual, and, importantly, his right of participation in our government and whether they find [Unintelligible]. . . . because newly free countries,1 above everything else, they fought for freedom and equality. And now, they have all the problems and difficulties of setting up a government. They want help; they want it through the U.N. And we can give it through the U.N. And we can really help, but they have to trust us. They have to believe that what we are offering, we really mean. If they find that we don't live the way we talk,2 then it hurts our leadership very much indeed. So that I think the things that are of paramount importance for us are really to make our country the very best country, for all the people we can possibly make it; and show that even if we haven't achieved a perfect democracy, we are trying to do so. And then, I think, we have to remember that when we try for better housing, better schools, better recreational facilities, we're not only doing the thing for our own communities and our own children, we are showing the world the standards that we believe human beings are entitled to have.

So, I think that the continuing [intelligible] in the way that people are accepting Senator Kennedy comes from the fact that they are beginning to understand that we have a candidate who does care about people. And this I think is the distinguishing mark of the Democratic Party through its history. All these things such as Social Security were begun in the Democratic Administrations. And, while the Republicans say many things against them, they very rarely repeal them. [Laughter/Applause] And what we need is to improve, because new circumstances have arisen, new conditions [Unintelligible].

And so, I just want to congratulate you on the political birth-to-be, and I hope with all my heart that Senator Kennedy will be elected on November 8th, and that we will have an Administration that cares about the people of our country, and because we do things for our own people, we will be helping the world." [Applause]

[Prolonged interruption and conversation in audience before question and answer session.]

Q: My question is, what can we do to stem Communism in Latin America?"3

A: The question is, all the things that we can do to stem Communism in Latin America. There are things we can do to stem Communism in Latin America. They are very largely things that we do at home. What we paint of the United States as going on, in the United States, has great effect in Latin America. For instance, if we make, in this campaign a tremendous religious issue, it has a bad effect in countries, not only in Latin America, but the countries of Europe, and of other parts of the world, because they feel that they know an enormous amount. This is a very curious thing. They know a great deal about our Constitution. And, in fact, our Bill of Rights is one of the things that you will find repeated many, many times in countries all over the world. And they say, "But, you say that a man shall not be asked about his race or religion. You let your citizens go to war and die for your country, but you're not going to let them serve their country as public servants." This has a very bad effect in countries that have different religions from ours. And I think that one of the things that we can do is to show that we really understand the difference between a man's right to run for office and to be elected to public service, and our belief in the division of church and state, which is a question of not allowing any church organization, religious organization to obtain special privileges by law.

I just this morning read of the, I think it was a Baptist group in Tennessee, that have a lot of taxes taken out of the locality, because they get tax exempt on a number of things which are really businesses. Now, all church organizations are going to do this, but it's up to us as good citizens to see that they do not get special privileges, either by state or national law, because we believe in a division of church and state. That's what we're really afraid of. We're not afraid of the election of a man to office; he has a right to this. But we're afraid of the laws which church organizations will try to pass. And this you can watch, through organizations. If you're an alert citizen, you will fight it. And you can prevent it. But you don't prevent it by going against your Constitution, and saying that any man doesn't have a right to serve his country in public."

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, I have a question on the religion field. Many observations are made, that it is considered wrong to vote against Senator Kennedy because of his religion, but many people plan to vote for him because of his religion. Would you comment on that?

Well, I would not think that his religion should come into your reasons at all. I think his ability, and what he proves himself to be, as he goes about the country, and as he tells you what he hopes to do, are the criterions that you should use in making up your mind who you want to vote for. Religion is not a good criterion, either for or against.

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, there are quite a few women here from organized labor. How do you think the labor issue is shaping up in this campaign? What are the major differences as expressed between the candidates?

A: Well, I don't think, we've had, now, quite a long period of Republican office-holders. We are told that labor never had a better situation, that they are better off than they ever were. But, we know that in the automobile industry and in the steel industry, automation has already begun to be felt. And there are pockets in this country, not only of depressed areas, but where there is great unemployment. Now, labor people should be deeply interested in how automation is going to be handled. Now, automation is nothing more than a development of the machine, but it's a development very rapidly coming, and in much major proportions to what this coming implies. Now, this is going to require cooperation between industry and labor, and government, because people are going to have to be retrained, plans are going to have to be made for new industries, which should be begun before automation is put in, in old industries. And people should not be just thrown out of a job. We're not in the period of the first industrial revolution. We are in a period of industrial revolution, or we are coming to the full feeling of it. And in the first Industrial Revolution in England, when the first machines came into the textile industry, people died of starvation by the thousands. Fortunately, our education, our conscience has improved somewhat, and we would not feel that we could do, we could allow that today. But this is going to take knowledge, planning, retraining. It can't be met, as was done in a rather haphazard way in the past because this is a great change. And a great deal goes with it; it can be of great value to masses of people, masses of people who never had the opportunity to enjoy certain things in life, with proper changes in our education, can now enjoy all the things that the rich people alone could enjoy in the past. But you have to have education, you have to have changes in the type of education, because you have to be able to appreciate the things, or you can't enjoy them. And you don't hear anybody . . . .

Have you heard anyone telling you what was coming, and what should be done, and what we should be thinking about? No. Now, I think the Democrats know, and I think Senator Kennedy, while, wisely, he's not laying down any details to be torn apart, has a consciousness that there is a problem before us. And we've been going along as though there was no problem.

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, are you at all concerned with the possibility that the federal payroll will grow by thousands and thousands and thousands of people as government takes over more supervision of . . .

A: No, it's grown much more in the last eight years than it did before [Laughter], and government will not take over and does not have to take over more supervision. Government can cooperate without taking over more supervision.

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, to get back to the religious issue, if we could for a moment, you said that the discussion of religion in a political campaign alarms people overseas. Do you feel that the religious issue in this political campaign to date has damaged American prestige overseas, simply by its very discussion, its very existence?

A: I hope not. But I think people overseas wonder about us, whether we're mature, whether we really have the tolerance that we say we have.

Q: On the other hand, Mrs. Roosevelt, there are parts of the world where separation of church and state has not been effectivee. And perhaps in those lands people are rather grateful that we are making this a very clear issue. Is that not possible, or are they always resentful?

A: It is possible. It is possible. There are certain places where church supercedes government, and where that happens, then you will find people unhappy.

Q: Will you tell us briefly what you do between now and November 8th, and where you will be on election day?


A: I'll be at Hyde Park in the morning to vote, and I'll be in New York in the afternoon. And between now and election day, I will be in a number of places.

Q: The Middle West primarily, or Middle West and East, or . . .

A: Middle West and New York.4

Q: Could you give us any idea, Mrs. Roosevelt, of how long a working day you're putting in now? This is four years later than . . . .

A: Oh, no, no . . .

Q: It's still a pretty long one?

A: Fair.

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, you're surrounded by the labor movement, here. These are all women from organized labor. . . .

A: Yes, I do belong to a union,5 but it happens to be that on that work I don't put in my long working day. [Laughter]


Q: . . .that our prestige throughout the world is at an all-time low.

A: [Unintelliglble]

Q: But Senator Kennedy has made that a major part of his campaign. He has said that our prestige is low throughout the world.

A: You can't be [Unintelligible].

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, why are you in the Midwest? Is Jack in trouble in the Midwest?

A: No, I don't think so. I think that it's probably quite unnecessary to be here, but it so happens that I was here to give some lectures, which I would do in any case. And so then naturally [Unintelligible].

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, how many presidential campaigns does this make for you?

A: Oh, I haven't the faintest idea. I began with the vice-presidential campaign in 1920. I have seen a good many.

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, do you think that the religious issue in this campaign has hurt our prestige, for example in Latin American countries, in Catholic countries?

A: Yes.

Q: How?

A: Well, they think our Constitution a very important thing, because our Constitution and our Bill of Rights are better known in foreign countries than almost any other document, except possibly the Charter of the United Nations, the preamble to the Charter, which was cited by Truman in a speech. But probably outside of that, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights are the best known documents anywhere, in almost every country, Asia, South America, or Africa. And so we feel that since the Constitution says we will not ask anybody of their race or their religion [Unintelligible].

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, do you feel that the televised debates between the two candidates are bringing the campaign to the people better than during your husband's campaign?

A: I think it was a milestone in the usefulness of television and I think millions of people have seen their candidate [Unintelligible]. And I think it has an enormous effect on both the knowledge of the voter and the people.

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, in recent weeks, perhaps the last week, nationwide polls almost unanimously show that Senator Kennedy is well out in front of his opponent. Now, number one, I'd like to know if you agree with that, and number two, if you think that is really a good thing, I mean, for a poll to show a man out in front, thereby making the other man an underdog?

A: I don't think you can help it. After all, you have to get [Unintelligible] of what the facts are. So, I don't know whether the polls are a good thing. But if you're taking polls, you've to say what it would show. And so, I'm afraid [Unintelligible] I have no, have not any idea whatsoever, really, about, I would say areas that I know perhaps there's a chance [Unintelligible].

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, can you give us any idea how much campaigning you're doing on behalf of Mr. Kennedy?

A: [Unintellible] I'm trying to just do what I can, and what his people will let me. [Unintelligible]

Q: How do you see your New York State? [Unintelligible] Do you see going for. . .

A: I would say New York is even. [Unintelligible] Now that doesn't mean anything [Unintelligible]

Q: Mrs. Roosevelt, four years from now, one of these two gentlemen will be the President, and will be running for re-election. Do you think that the President of the United States should get into a debate on national television and radio with another candidate?

A: Well, if he's planning to [Unintelligible] it's the only thing, what is happening, and where business has got to be [Unintelligible] you have an educator in the White House, who will take the people into his confidence, and will tell them the truth about what is going on, and not just happy [Unintelligible]. But if you really tell them what's happening in the world, then I think [Unintelligible].

Q: In other words, you'd like to see more Fireside Chats 6 by the new President, similar to those of Mr. Roosevelt?

A: I think it's almost essential. Because there's nobody else in the United States [Unintelligible] the reality of the world situation and the [Unintelligible] except the President.

Q: Thank you, Mrs. Roosevelt.

Q: Thank, you, Mrs. Roosevelt. One more question. Are [Unintelligible] of the Nixon-Lodge field campaign organization say they feel that themselves two-to-one pending election.What's your reaction to this?

A: I doubt it.

Q: Thank you very much.


     1. In 1960, seventeen African states achieved independence, including Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, and Niger (all former French colonies). Nigeria (a former British colony), Somalia (a former Italian colony), Togo (a former German colony), and Zaire (a former Belgium colony). Cyprus left Greece and joined the British commonwealth.
     2. ER often argued that the developing world, especially Africa and the Middle East, used America's commitment to civil rights enforcement as the standard by which they judged American democracy.
     3. Angered by American support of anti-communist dictatorship and frustrated by volatile economies, nationalist, reform, and revolutionary factions within many Latin American nations turned against U.S. policies, a situation that Eisenhower and Nixon feared communists would exploit. In 1954, the administration helped overthrow the left-leaning Guatemalan government. After the fall of Juan Peron in 1957, the Venezuelan and Peruvian mob attacks on Richard Nixon in 1959, and Castro's rise to power in 1959, Eisenhower visited Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to announce increased foreign aid. However, the fragile Latin American economy and repressive dictatorships spurred rival parties and coups, giving the impression that it was a continent ripe for Soviet influence. [Stephen G. Rabe, Eisenhower and Latin America: The Foreign Policy of Anticommunism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1988), passim.]
     4. ER campaigned for Kennedy in Chicago, Illinois; Indianapolis, Indiana; Detroit, Michigan; and St. Louis, Missouri, where she focused on securing votes from African American, labor, and pro-United Nations communities. In New York, she recorded campaign commercials (see and listen to three campaign ads: 1, 2, & 3), attended numerous fund-raisers, and headlined a get-out-the-vote rally held in Madison Square Garden. She also traveled to Los Angeles, California, as part of a last minute campaign swing. [Allida M. Black, Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), p. 192.]
     5. ER belonged to the Newspaper Guild.
     6. FDR, who had used radio successfully while governor of New York, made thirty-one radio broadcasts explaining specific policy issues in terms average radio listeners would understand and support. FDR prepared for each broadcast by imagining that he was in Hyde Park, sitting in front of his fireplace, talking with his tenant farmer. Dubbed "the Fireside Chats" because of their informal, low-key nature, the talks would become one of the most successful tools Roosevelt used to build popular support for his legislative agenda. [Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny (Boston: Little Brown, 1990), p. 95.]

Index to this Document: 1960 presidential election: organized labor and; Africa: aid to newly independent states; ER on; U.S. Constitution and; Anti-Catholicism: as campaign issue; international repercussions of; Automation: as campaign issue; as second Industrial Revolution; job training for; ER on; unemployment and; Churches: as tax exempt organizations; Democratic Party: Social Security and; Eisenhower, Dwight D.: Latin America policies of; ER on; Fireside Chats: as campaign tool; definition of; ER on; Independent states: defined; Industrial Revolution: automation compared to; ER on; Kennedy, John F.: ER on labor policies of; ER's campaign trips for; ER's endorsement of; Labor: 1960 presidential election and; Latin America: Eisenhower's policy on; ER on; Lodge, Henry Cabot; Newspaper Guild: ER's membership in; Nixon, Richard: ER's assessment of; Republican Party: accomplishments of; positions taken by; Roosevelt, Eleanor: on Africa; on African states; on American prestige; on automation; on communism; on democracy; on educational opportunity; on Eisenhower; on Fireside Chats; on Industrial Revolution; JFK, campaigns for; JFK, labor policies of; JFK, religion and; on Kennedy-Nixon debates; on Latin America; on leadership; Newspaper Guild and; Nixon, labor policies of; political advice of; on polls; press conference of; on role of government; on FDR; on separation of church and state; on size of government; on television and politics; on usefulness of television; union membership of; U.S. Constitution, on Bill of Rights; Separation of church and state: ER on; Social Security: Democratic Party and; Truman, Harry S.: UN Charter cited by; UN Charter: cited by Truman; international awareness of; United Nations (UN): aid to developing nations; U.S. Constitution: Africa and; Bill of Rights, ER on; international awareness of

Published by the Model Editions Partnership

Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .

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