Speech of President Dwight D. Eisenhower

to Polish American Congress, Chicago, IL
September 30, 1960

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Mr. Rozmarek, distinguished guests, and my fellow Americans:

First of all, I must thank you personally, Mr. Rozmarek, for the very generous terms in which you have introduced me.

I want to say, first, that I am especially delighted to have a chance to meet briefly with the Polish-American Congress. This is not a mere formality, because from time immemorial, the people of Poland have shown such a fierce dedication to the conception of liberty and personal freedom, that they have been an example for all the world.

We must remember that spirit is, after all, the major force that animates all human action. Material strength we have, and we are fortunate in having it; we have economic strength and intellectual strength but what is in the heart of the human is, after all, the thing we must seek when we say he is our friend or our ally, or our brother in the convictions and beliefs that we hold.

So, from the days of Kosciuszko (and here I must pause for a moment, because once in Poland they used that name quite often, and it was a whole day before I knew what they were saying, but my pronunciation is Kosciuszko) from the day he came to help in our struggle for independence in this country, there has never been a time when the Polish people and Polish fortunes have been absent from the hearts and minds of the American people.

Only in the time of Woodrow Wilson, one of his Fourteen Points that he laid out as his formula for peace with Germany after World War I, was the permanent independence and the territorial integrity of Poland.

That the people of our country and the people of Poland have been akin in spirit, I think was again demonstrated very definitely when Vice President Nixon went to that country only a year or so ago, and had a quarter of a million people cheering him, voluntarily bringing in arms of flowers to throw in his path, trying to let him know that through him they hoped to send a message to America, "We still, with you, believe in freedom."

In 1952, I promised the American people that whatever I could do by peaceful means would be done, in order that those people who are held in bondage by a tyrannical dictatorship might finally have the right to determine their own fates by their own free votes. This is still a tenet in the faith of every right-thinking American. It is as yet unachieved, but this does not mean that anyone must give up hope. We must continue, by our unity and freedom throughout the world, to oppose the bloc that by making the State a deity and the individual just a plodding animal do the bidding of that State.

So, just as we keep faithful to our religious teachings, and the religious background on which this Nation was formed, we keep faithful to that ideal of freedom, well realizing that freedom and peace are in the long run indivisible.

There must be peace for the world, or no nation can truly enjoy it. People of your blood have come to this country. You are citizens of the United States. Your loyalty to the United States is exactly as that of your forefathers, of yourselves, to your mother country. But citizenship is not a mere matter of expressing our pride in our traditions, in our historical figures. Citizenship is the carrying forward of the ideals on which nations based on freedom are maintained and sustained. It is a matter of discharging our responsibilities.

The individual's way of discharging his responsibilities is found in many channels. It is in obedience to the law; it is performing with others the cooperative works of communities and sects and organizations that have to do with the alleviation of suffering. But there is one thing that right now is uppermost in our minds: it is discharging your responsibility of expressing your view about the political future or the immediate political future of our country.

This you do by registering and by placing your vote in the ballot box.

It makes no difference, so far as I am concerned-but I don't mean to say I am disinterested-but it makes no difference for what individual or party you vote, as long as you are voting your own honest convictions. And if you do not do that, you are not discharging your responsibilities either to this great country, or to the traditions that you have brought with you from the culture from which you came.

I cannot tell you what great importance I attach to this business of making certain that our government is surely a representative one. It is not representative of us at all if anyone fails to perform this duty. You know, after I go, but before you people leave this room, I would like each person here to turn to his two neighbors or her two neighbors and say, "Have you registered? Are you going to vote?" If you can get a hundred percent "yes," this will be one of the most magnificent meetings that I have ever attended - and it will be an example for all the United States. And then, as you go out, and you meet two other people in your home, at your work, wherever you are living-and say "Have you registered and are you going to vote?" This is truly what we must do, if self-government, representative government, is going to exist permanently and healthily.

Because, if you are doing this, you are also thinking of what are the issues, who are the leaders you want to follow. You are going to do it thoughtfully, you are not going to let a brand name, or anything else, influence you. And I cannot tell you how earnestly I pray that every person here will do just that.

Now there's one other phase of this relationship among free countries that I should like to mention, before I close these brief and very informal remarks.

I was told the other day that there are 213 nationalities recognized by our Immigration Service - 213 nationalities that have in some way or other contributed to the development of our civilization in this country. There is one point I want to make. Our country has found it necessary to establish quotas, quotas on immigration. Whether or not you and I happen to think that quotas are correct at this time, and used properly, or we may think they are not generous enough, the fact is we have had quotas.

Has any Communist country had to establish quotas to keep people from immigrating to their nation?

So when we talk about this prestige between free countries and Communist countries, I would like to make that simple test: how many of you here want to apply for passports and visas to go to Russia?

In other words, we are not only proud of our citizenship, we are proud of every nation that, with us, gives the opportunity to the individual to realize the most out of his talents and his opportunities. In other words, it is the human spirit that must be free. And this is the thing that brings 213 nationalities finally into one single nation.

I think that each of these nations should be proud of its heritage. It should be proud of the traditions and the faiths that it brings, because with that kind of pride in traditions it helps to build our country. Our country is a great amalgamation, and we each live with the other in friendship with mutual self respect, and because we find that in this great mixture of cultures and thinking, and traditions and history, each of us is enriched.

Now among the free nations of the world, we have got to have something of that kind of spirit. We must not, as I see it, appear superior to any other country that is, like ourselves, working for the same kind of civilization which respects the dignity of men. We must not be either patronizing, resentful, or either because of race or religion or color or background or some other inconsequential factor treat them as a stranger or enemy.

Just as we seek peace and order and progress and greater unification among our own people, we must seek it through all those people who like ourselves believe in God and base their whole ideals concerning humanity on that faith.

Now, my friends, I was told I was to come over here and just greet you, and wish you well, but I guess possibly I have been so long in political life that I can't help, when I've got an opportunity, to just start talking.

But I might tell you one little story about that. We had one State that had in its laws a provision that anyone convicted for murder and was to be executed, was to be given 5 minutes to say anything he wanted to, before the final act. And there was in this State a man who was so convicted and was just about on the brink. And the sheriff, in front of the assembled crowd and they had come from everywhere to see this thing-offered this man very solemnly and officially his 5 minutes. Well, the man promptly refused it. But another man in the gathering jumped up quickly and says he's running for Congress, "Can I have the 5 minutes?"

I didn't mean to take the time that somebody else should have had although not in those circumstances, of course. But I cannot tell you how much I wish you well, how proud I am of the record of your country, its convictions, of the great contributions the people of Polish extraction have brought to this New World.

And again to say, don't forget to make sure that you have registered and your two neighbors have. And vote for somebody!

Thank you very much indeed.

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