The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

My Day

ST. LOUIS. -- Reformation Sunday is past and our Protestant ministers have divided. Some preached anti-Catholic sermons and some did not,1 and I am rather glad that we are not united in opposing our Constitution.

I think it is time for us to face the fact that our country was founded on religious freedom. People came here from many countries to escape persecution and some of these were Protestants as well as Roman Catholics and Jews and Quakers and other denominations.

Are we now at this late date to say that this is not the land of religious freedom?

When we wrote our Constitution and ratified it, did we not say a man should not be questioned on race or religion in the matter of holding public office?

We have been remiss enough in the case of race. We have allowed citizens to die for our country and still we have limited them in many ways and kept them from enjoying full citizenship. Included in full citizenship is the right to run for any public office that one aspires to and that the people think one is qualified to hold.

Our forefathers carefully left out of the Constitution qualification on either race or religion and stated that no citizen should be questioned. Men have died in innumerable wars without ever being questioned as to their fitness to serve and die. Now when it comes to a question of serving and living some wish to set up a limitation on religion.

I think we have never really clarified for ourselves what it is that we are afraid of. We believe in the separation of church and state, and we do not want any religious organization to have special privileges in our country. But this is not attained by saying that this man or that man, because he happens to belong to this race or this or that religion, cannot run for office. It is attained by having all organizations constantly on the watch so that laws are not passed to allow church organizations special privileges.

The Roman Catholics have tried to get the same privileges for parochial schools as the public schools have and in most of our states as well as at the national level we have been able to prevent this because we feel it would be an infringement on the separation of church and state.2 And I have known, too, many Protestant denomination have tried to get privileges for their churches or their schools or their properties in some particular area which happened to interest them.

If we really want to prevent special privileges being given to any church organization we must keep a close watch on both state and national legislation, and we must be alert enough as citizens to respond and fight against things that we do not think should be allowed. But this is not a one-way guard against any one organization. It is a stand against all church organizations when they try to obtain special privileges.

The election of a man even to the high office of President would do very little to enhance the special privilege of any church. We have not seen it under a Protestant and I doubt very much if we would see it under a Roman Catholic or Quaker or member of any other denomination that may have a President elected at some time in the future.

* * * *

I do not know what will happen on November 8 any more than anybody else knows, but as I go around the country and hear about crowds that have greeted Sen. John F. Kennedy and the smaller crowds that have greeted Vice-President Richard Nixon, one interesting observation is forcing itself upon me. The crowds that greet Mr. Kennedy want to shake him by the hand, or sometimes they just want to touch him, or sometimes they just want to look at him.3 This, I think, means a sense of identification between the people and the candidate.

Mr. Nixon has tried to be outgoing and his pretty wife says she loves campaigning because she loves people. But from all that I hear the feeling of the crowd is very different, and I know of only one thing that makes this difference. It is this: when the people finally decide that someone is their man -- that he understands4 them and cares about them -- though they may not agree with everything he says or does, they are still close to him and they trust him and they believe in him.

If I am right in this analysis perhaps we are going to have someone who can draw from the people of the United States the greatness that underlies all their everyday concerns. We need it badly at the present time. No one man can meet the problems that are going to face the next President. He must have around him people who are conscious of their greatness, and if we are watching this sense of identification with their candidate and their trust in him we will see a great people rise to the challenge presented in the very difficult days that face us at home and abroad.

This will mean for the U.S. the greatest opportunity to serve the world that any nation has had and I hope we accept it and rise to the best that is in us as a nation.


     1. October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his critique of the medieval Catholic Church (often called Luther's Ninety-five Theses) to a church door in Wittenberg, an act that is credited with starting the Protestant Reformation. Protestant churches celebrate Luther's act with special services on Reformation Sunday, the Sunday nearest October 31st. On Reformation Sunday, October 30, 1960, clergy affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, Protestants, and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Dallas-based Citizens United for a Free America used their sermons to urge their congregations to vote against Kennedy and thereby "keep any Catholic from being elected President of the United States – ever." The New York Times reported that Harvey H. Springer, the Southern Baptist turned "cowboy evangelist," planned to release 1.5 million volunteers "to call on voters and give them our literature on Kennedy" and that he had "a secret little letter that is going to defeat him." However, some Protestant clergy, such as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, retracted early anti-Catholic statements while other clergy preached religious tolerance and advocated respect for freedom of worship. ["Reformation Day." The Presbyterian Church of the United States. Internet on-line. Available From; Stephen E. Ambrose, Nixon: Volume I-The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), pp. 566-568; John Wicklein, "Vast Anti-Catholic Drive Is Slated Before the Election," The New York Times, 16 October 1960, pp. 1, 56.] See also Anti-Catholicism and ER's speech in St. Louis, 10/27/60.
     2. Federal aid to parochial schools tested the doctrine of separation of church and state more than any other legislative issue. Both ER and JFK remained firmly opposed to the use of federal funds to support non-public education and both received great criticism for their positions. In 1958, Kennedy introduced a bill increasing federal aid to education; however, when Senator Wayne Morse offered an amendment to extend this aid to non-public schools, Kennedy was not only the only Democratic presidential candidate to oppose the bill, he was the only Catholic member of Congress to vote against it. In a "My Day" published June 23, 1949, ER endorsed the Barden Bill, a congressional proposal providing federal funds for public but not parochial schools, arguing that the nation established public schools to strengthen democracy rather than a specific faith and that using public funds to support religious schools violated the principle of separation of church and state. Her public support so angered Francis Cardinal Spellman that he instructed clergy in his diocese to denounce ER from the pulpits. After a month of escalating controversy, Spellman, acting on instructions from the Vatican, apologized to ER. The Barden bill died in committee. [Allida M. Black, Courage in a Dangerous World: The Political Writings of Eleanor Roosevelt (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), pp. 253-259; Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor: The Years Alone (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1972), pp. 155-168; Theodore Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Harper & Row. 1965), pp. 9-16.] See also "My Day," 7/21/60.
     3. Typographical error "thim" corrected.
     4. Typographical error "understnads" corrected.

Index to this Document: 1960 presidential election: religion and; ER, predictions of; Anti-Catholicism: 1960 presidential election and; ER on; Barden Bill: defined; Francis Spellman and; ER's criticism of; Citizens United for a Free America; Kennedy, John F.: as presidential candidate; Luther, Martin; Morse, Wayne; My Day; National Association of Evangelicals; New York Times; Nixon, Pat; Nixon, Richard: as presidential candidate; ER's assessment of; Peale, Norman Vincent; Reformation Sunday: definition of; ER's assessment of; Roosevelt, Eleanor: on 1960 presidential election; on anti-Catholicism; Barden Bill and; on freedom of religion; on leadership; on Nixon; on Reformation Sunday; on separation of church and state; Francis Cardinal Spellman, political clashes with; on U.S. Constitution; Separation of church and state: ER on; Southern Baptist Convention; Spellman, Francis: Barden Bill and; ER's disagreement with; Springer, Harvey H.; U.S. Constitution: on freedom of religion; qualifications for office; race and; ER on

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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