The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

My Day

BOSTON -- The two rival candidates, Vice-President Nixon and Senator Kennedy, are vacationing in Florida.1 For Mr. Nixon it will doubtless be a real vacation. For President-elect Kennedy, it will be a ceaseless round of work.

Too few of us think of the responsibility facing the man who will be President of the U.S. and of all its people on his inauguration, January 20. The crowds that have surrounded him during the past year, the feel he has had of the people who did support him -- all this will now seem far away as he sits down to appraise the whole situation before him. Consistently through his campaign Senator Kennedy tried to tell the people of the country what many of them quite evidently did not want to hear -- namely, that we were facing a very serious world situation and that we had not been taken into the confidence of our leaders. In spite of this he seems to have gained enough support from people who are uneasy without knowing just what it is that makes them uneasy.

The Senator has broken the religious taboo2 and brought us again to the position of being a country which cherishes freedom of religion. People will be busy analyzing this election for a long while. Judging by the states which went for Mr. Nixon, I surmise they will find that the people against Senator Kennedy are the people in this country who get limited information on the world in general and even on the national affairs -- and who therefore center on their own interests without any realization that their own interests are now tied to the interests of the world.

I thought of this aspect while spending last Friday in Maine. It is such beautiful country, it was such a beautiful day, and Maine people are such nice, staunch, independent people. As you look at some of the houses you wonder if life at times is not perhaps a little grim and, though good and solid and enduring, not very outgoing or very broad in its interests. How these people shy away from anything new, whether it is an idea or a change of habit! While the shock of a changing world has been absorbed by other areas of the country, they have been left to the pleasant dream that life will be kept as it always has been.

I do not know whether in the four years to come Senator Kennedy can educate the people of Maine and the other areas of the country which are not so very far removed from the same type of people. These are good people and one likes them enormously. But they are not attuned to the world in which they live, and in the months to come one of the most difficult tasks of the President will be this process of education -- this bringing to the understanding of those of us who are still asleep the knowledge that we cannot sleep in safety any longer.

The whole of history points to the fact that when people attain the knowledge of destruction3 they use it. We have that knowledge and we are desperately trying not to use it; and even our opponents in the Soviet Union, led by Mr. Khrushchev, are trying not to use it. Will we succeed? On our success depends the survival of the present civilization of the world. Some may say we have done so little with our opportunities that, if we cannot learn to preserve ourselves, we deserve to be destroyed. Too few people, however, realize the great effort that must be made to bring about peace, to change the present trend of building up to a final explosion. One man will sit in the White House after January 20 on whose wisdom, power of communication and patience will depend the outcome of our future. By that I mean really the world's future, because destruction means world destruction and not just the destruction of any one nation.

Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, it seems to me this question of how we approach saving the world and its people from themselves is not a partisan question. For eight years our President has genuinely believed that he and his Administration were doing all they possibly could to keep war away from our country, but the realization never seemed to be brought to us that this was not a question just of saving ourselves. This was a question of saving the whole of civilization, and it could not be done without bringing the best brains to work regardless of party, without trying new ways and taking some new risks.

Senator Kennedy took a risk in his campaign when he telephoned and promised to help the Rev. Martin Luther King.4 He might have lost those Southern states he so sorely needed in the campaign. But he took the risks and he did not lose those states. It may well be that similar risks will have to be taken to save humanity from itself. If so, I hope they will be taken with the same background of principle and high purpose, because that is the only way in which the people can be brought to understanding and to action of their own in support of their leader.


     1. Kennedy vacationed with his family in Palm Beach while the Nixons rested on Key Biscayne, an island ten miles southeast of Miami. Kennedy would meet with Nixon the following day. [W. H. Lawrence, "Kennedy to Meet with Nixon Today in Move for Unity," The New York Times, 14 November 1960, pp. 1, 26.]
     2. John Kennedy was the first Catholic elected president of the United States. See Anti-Catholicism.
     3. ER referred to the arms race in general and the atomic and hydrogen bombs in particular.
     4. October 25th, DeKalb County judge J. Oscar Mitchell sentenced Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been arrested October 19th during a sit-in urging the desegregation of Rich's department store lunch room, to four months in a south Georgia prison for violating the conditions of the parole Mitchell set for King when King was arrested for driving with an expired driver's license. While Nixon's press secretary, Herb Klein, blocked recommendations and calls for Nixon's intercession, Coretta Scott King, six months pregnant and fearful that her husband would be killed in an Atlanta jail, called Harris Wofford, whom she heard had tried to get King released the week before, to ask his help. When Mrs. King learned that guards had moved her husband to the state prison in Reidsville, she phoned Wofford again. Wofford, who wanted to do more than calm King's distraught wife, called Kennedy brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, who was traveling with Kennedy, to ask Shriver to get Kennedy to call Mrs. King. Kennedy, who had been impatiently waiting for the Democratic governor Ernest Vandiver to resolve the matter, promptly called, expressed his concern, and told her she "should not hesitate to call" if there was anything he could do "to ease her burdens." Mrs. King then reported the conversation to Martin Luther King, Sr., who announced that Kennedy's concern was enough to make him leave the Republican party and vote for Kennedy. [David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: William Morrow, 1986), pp. 14-147.]

Index to this Document: 1960 presidential election: anti-Catholicism and; arms race and; foreign policy and; MLK Jr. arrest and; Maine voters and; religion and; ER, on; southern voters and; Anti-Catholicism: 1960 presidential election and; Arms race: Eisenhower policies concerning; JFK and; Khrushchev and; ER on; world awareness of; Eisenhower, Dwight D.: arms race policies of; Freedom of religion; Kennedy, John F.: arms race and; challenges confronting; Florida vacation of; foreign policy views of; Coretta Scott King and; MLK, Jr. and; Nixon, compared to; ER's support for; Khrushchev, Nikita: arms race and; King, Coretta Scott: JFK phone call to; MLK Jr. arrest and; ER and; Ernest Vandiver and; King, Martin Luther, Jr.: arrest of, 1960 presidential election and; JFK's outreach to; J. Oscar Mitchell and; Nixon and; Republican Party and; Sargent Shriver and; Harris Wofford and; Southern States and; King, Martin Luther, Sr.: MLK Jr. arrest and; Republican Party and; Klein, Herb: Nixon and; Maine: 1960 presidential election and; Nixon and; ER on; political character of; Mitchell, J. Oscar: MLK Jr. and; My Day; on JFK; Nixon, Richard: core support for; Florida vacation of; JFK compared to; Herb Klein and; MLK Jr. arrest and; Maine and; ER's criticism of; Republican Party: MLK Jr. arrest and; MLK Sr. and; Roosevelt, Eleanor: on 1960 presidential election; on arms race; JFK, leadership of; JFK, popular support for; on Coretta Scott King; MLK Jr. arrest and; on leadership; on Maine; on Nixon; southern voters and; Shriver, Sargent: MLK Jr. and; U.S. Government: foreign policy of, 1960 presidential election and; President of the United States, challenges confronting; Vandiver, Ernest: Coretta Scott King and; MLK Jr. arrest and; Wofford, Harris: MLK Jr. and

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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