Robert F. Kennedy
Let us live while we live.Philip Doddridge
- The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use — of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.
- "I Remember, I Believe", The Pursuit of Justice (1964)
- When there were periods of crisis, you stood beside him. When there were periods of happiness, you laughed with him. And when there were periods of sorrow, you comforted him.
- Tribute to John F. Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention, speech, Atlantic City, New Jersey (1964-08-27)
- Now I can go back to being ruthless again.
- After winning his race for a seat in the US Senate. Esquire (April 1965)
- A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough — But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.
- Speech in the US Senate (9 May 1966)
- At the heart of that Western freedom and democracy is the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, all groups, and states, exist for his benefit. Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any Western society.
- Our answer is the world's hope; it is to rely on youth. The cruelties and the obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger which comes with even the most peaceful progress. This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.
- "Day of Affirmation", speech, University of Capetown, South Africa (1966-06-06)
- First is the danger of futility; the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills -- against misery, against ignorance, or injustice and violence. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and 32-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal. "Give me a place to stand," said Archimedes, "and I will move the world." These men moved the world, and so can we all.
- "Day of Affirmation", speech, University of Capetown, South Africa (1966-06-06)
- [Gross national product] measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
- Speech at the University of Kansas at Lawrence (1968-03-18)
- Every dictatorship has ultimately strangled in the web of repression it wove for its people, making mistakes that could not be corrected because criticism was prohibited.
- "Value of Dissent" speech Nashville, Tennessee (1968-03-21)
- My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
- Statement on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Indianapolis, Indiana (1968-04-04) This is a slight misquote of Aeschylus.
- Victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one can be certain who next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed, and yet it goes on, and on, and on, in this country of ours. Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily, whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, whenever we do this, then the whole nation is degraded. Too often, we honour swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives from the shattered dreams of other human beings. But this much is clear, Violence breeds violence, repression breeds retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our souls. For when you teach a man to hate and to fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color, or his beliefs or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you, threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens, but as enemies. To be met not with co operation but with conquest, to be subjugated, and to be mastered. We learn at the last to look at our brothers as aliens. Alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community. Men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. Our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done is too great. But we can perhaps remember, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life that they seek as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, surely this bond of common fate, this bond of common roles can begin to teach us something, that we can begin to work a little harder, to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
- For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.
This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.
- "On the Mindless Menace of Violence" speech, City Club of Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio (1968-04-05)
- Something about the fact that I made some contribution to either my country, or those who were less well off. I think back to what Camus wrote about the fact that perhaps this world is a world in which children suffer, but we can lessen the number of suffering children, and if you do not do this, then who will do this? I'd like to feel that I'd done something to lessen that suffering.
- In an interview shortly before he was killed, responding to a question by David Frost about how his obituary should read.
- Are we like the God of the Old Testament, that we in Washington can decide which cities, towns, and hamlets in Vietnam will be destroyed? Do we have to accept that? I don't think we do. I think we can do something about it.
- About the Vietnam War, in his last speech at the Senate on the subject
Day of Affirmation Address (1966)
- This is a Day of Affirmation, a celebration of liberty. We stand here in the name of freedom.
At the heart of that Western freedom and democracy is the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit. Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any Western society.
The first element of this individual liberty is the freedom of speech: the right to express and communicate ideas, to set oneself apart from the dumb beasts of field and forest; to recall governments to their duties and obligations; above all, the right to affirm one's membership and allegiance to the body politic — to society — to the men with whom we share our land, our heritage, and our children's future.
- The essential humanity of men can be protected and preserved only where government must answer — not just to the wealthy, not just to those of a particular religion, or a particular race, but to all its people.
And even government by the consent of the governed, as in our own Constitution, must be limited in its power to act against its people; so that there may be no interference with the right to worship, or with the security of the home; no arbitrary imposition of pains or penalties by officials high or low; no restrictions on the freedom of men to seek education or work or opportunity of any kind, so that each man may become all he is capable of becoming.
These are the sacred rights of Western society.
- The road toward equality of freedom is not easy, and great cost and danger march alongside us. We are committed to peaceful and nonviolent change, and that is important for all to understand — though all change is unsettling. Still, even in the turbulence of protest and struggle is greater hope for the future, as men learn to claim and achieve for themselves the rights formerly petitioned from others.
- All do not develop in the same manner, or at the same pace. Nations, like men, often march to the beat of different drummers, and the precise solutions of the United States can neither be dictated nor transplanted to others. What is important is that all nations must march toward increasing freedom; toward justice for all; toward a society strong and flexible enough to meet the demands of all its own people, and a world of immense and dizzying change.
- Each nation has different obstacles and different goals, shaped by the vagaries of history and of experience. Yet as I talk to young people around the world I am impressed not by the diversity but by the closeness of their goals, their desires and their concerns and their hope for the future.
- I think that we could agree on what kind of a world we would all want to build. it would be a world of independent nations, moving toward international community, each of which protected and respected the basic human freedoms. It would be a world which demanded of each government that it accept its responsibility to insure social justice. It would be a world of constantly accelerating economic progress — not material welfare as an end in itself, but as a means to liberate the capacity of every human being to pursue his talents and to pursue his hopes. It would, in short, be a world that we would be proud to have built.
- The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger which comes with even the most peaceful progress.
- It is not realistic or hardheaded to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aims and values, although we all know some who claim that it is so. In my judgment, it is thoughtless folly. For it ignores the realities of human faith and of passion and of belief — forces ultimately more powerful than all of the calculations of our economists or of our generals. Of course to adhere to standards, to idealism, to vision in the face of immediate dangers takes great courage and takes self-confidence. But we also know that only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly.
- Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.
- Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. And everyone here will ultimately be judged — will ultimately judge himself — on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.
- All great questions must be raised by great voices, and the greatest voice is the voice of the people - speaking out - in prose, or painting or poetry or music; speaking out - in homes and halls, streets and farms, courts and cafes - let that voice speak and the stillness you hear will be the gratitude of mankind.
- All of us, from the wealthiest to the young children that I have seen in this country, in this year, bloated by starvation — we all share one precious possession, and that is the name American. It is not easy to know what that means. But, in part, to be an American means to have been an outcast and a stranger, to have come from the exiles' country, and to know that he who denies the outcast and the stranger still amongst us, he also denies America.
- Variation: All of us, from the wealthiest and most powerful of men, to the weakest and hungriest of children, share one precious possession: the name American. (New York, 12-14-67)
- Another great task is to confront the poverty of satisfaction--a lack of purpose and dignity--that afflicts us all. Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. (Univ of Kansas, 3-18-68)
- As long as America must choose, that long will there be a need and a place for the Democratic Party. We Democrats can run on our record but we cannot rest on it. We will win if we continue to take the initiative and if we carry the message of hope and action throughout the country. Alexander Smith once said, "A man doesn't plant a tree for himself. He plants it for posterity." Let us continue to plant, and our children shall reap the harvest. That is our destiny as Democrats.
- As long as men are hungry, and their children uneducated, and their crops destroyed by pestilence, the American Revolution will have a part to play. As long as men are not free — in their lives and in their opinions, their speech and their knowledge — that long will the American Revolution not be finished. (NYC, 6-15-65)
- But suppose God is black? What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?
- Democracy is no easy form of government. Few nations have been able to sustain it. For it requires that we take the chances of freedom; that the liberating play of reason be brought to bear on events filled with passion;that dissent be allowed to make its appeal for acceptance; that men chance error in their search for the truth.
- Each generation makes its own accounting to its children.
- Fear not the path of truth, for the lack of people walking on it.
- Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
- I am not one of those who think that coming in second or third is winning.
- I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.
- I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and I have such strong feelings about what must be done.
- On running for the Presidency
- I think we can end the divisions within the United States. What I think is quite clear is that we can work together in the last analysis. And that what has been going on with the United States over the period of that last three years, the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society, the divisions - whether it's between blacks and whites, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups, or in the war in Vietnam - that we can work together. We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country. And I intend to make that my basis for running.
- I thought they'd get one of us, but Jack, after all he's been through, never worried about it. I thought it would be me.
- I was the seventh of nine children. When you come from that far down you have to struggle to survive.
- I'm tired of chasing people.
- If any man claims the Negro should be content... let him say he would willingly change the color of his skin and go to live in the Negro section of a large city. Then and only then has he a right to such a claim.
- "If men do not build," asks the poet, "how shall they live?" (12-10-1966)
- In this entire century the Democratic Party has never been invested with power on the basis of a program which promised to keep things as they were. We have won when we pledged to meet the new challenges of each succeeding year. We have triumphed not in spite of controversy, but because of it; not because we avoided problems, but because we faced them. We have won, not because we bent and diluted our principles, but because we stood fast to the ideals which represent the most noble and generous portion of the American spirit.
- It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
- It is more important to be of service than successful.
- It is not enough to understand, or to see clearly. The future will be shaped in the arena of human activity, by those willing to commit their minds and their bodies to the task.
- It is one thing to assure a man the legal right to eat in a restaurant; it is another thing to assure that he can earn the money to eat there.
- Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
- Men without hope, resigned to despair and oppression, do not make revolutions. It is when expectation replaces submission, when despair is touched with the awareness of possibility, that the forces of human desire and the passion for justice are unloosed. (Berkeley, 10-22-1966)
- My views on birth control are somewhat distorted by the fact that I was seventh of nine children.
- Nations around the world look to us for the leadership not merely by strength of arms but by strength of our convictions.
- Nations, like men, often march to the beat of different drummers, and the precise solutions of the United States can neither be dictated nor transplanted to others. What is important is that all nations must march toward a increasing freedom; toward justice for all; toward a society strong and flexible enough to meet the demands of all of its own people, and a world of immense and dizzying change.
- On this generation of Americans falls the burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say all men are created free and are equal before the law. All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.
- One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time.
- Our attitude toward immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as their talent and energy allow. Neither race nor place of birth should affect their chances.
- Our brave young men are dying in the swamps of Southeast Asia. Which of them might have written a poem? Which of them might have cured cancer? Which of them might have played in a World Series or given us the gift of laughter from the stage or helped build a bridge or a university? Which of them would have taught a child to read? It is our responsibility to let these men live....It is indecent if they die because of the empty vanity of their country. (Vietnam War speech, Calif, 3-24-68)
- Our gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worth while. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans. (University of Kansas, 3-18-67)
- See above under Sourced quotes for speech 3-16-68.
- Parties are instruments of government....The business of parties is not just win elections. It is to govern. And a party cannot govern if it is disunited. (Kings County Democratic dinner Brooklyn, NY, 1965)
- People are selfish, but they can also be compassionate and generous, and they care about the country. But not when they feel threatened. That's why this is such a crucial time. We can go in either direction. But if we don't make a choice soon, it will be too late to turn things around. I think people are willing to make the right choice. But they need leadership. They're hungry for leadership.
- People say I am ruthless. I am not ruthless. And if I find the man who is calling me ruthless, I shall destroy him.
- While on a campaign "whistle stop tour" which reporters had dubbed "The Ruthless Cannonball."
- Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.
- Punishment is not prevention. History offers cold comfort to those who think grievance and despair can be subdued by force.
- Since the days of Greece and Rome when the word "citizen" was a title of honor, we have often seen more emphasis put on the rights of citizenship than on its responsibilities. And today, as never before in the free world, responsibility is the greatest right of citizenship and service is the greatest of freedom's privileges.
- That which unites us is, must be, stronger than that which divides us. We can concentrate on what unites us, and secure the future for all our children; or we can concentrate on what divides us, and fail our duty through argument and resentment and waste.
- The advice "bomb them back to the Stone Age" may show that the speaker is already there himself, but it could, if followed, force all of us to join him.
- The Democratic Party...presents its case on a strong platform and strong candidates, on a proven record of past accomplishment, on the evidence that it alone has the vision and boldness to meet the challenge of leadership of the free world. (Boston 8-2-1960)
- The free way of life proposes ends, but it does not prescribe means.
- The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of bold projects and new ideas. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the great enterprises and ideals of American society.
- The future is not a gift: it is an achievement. Every generation helps make its own future. This is the essential challenge of the present.
- The plight of the cities--their physical decay and human despair that pervades them--is the great internal problem of the American nation, a challenge which must be met. (Buffalo NY, 1-20-67)
- The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use -- of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.
- The sharpest criticism often goes hand in hand with the deepest idealism and love of country.
- There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of the comfortable past which , in fact, never existed. (6-8-64)
- Together, we can make ourselves a nation that spends more on books than on bombs, more on hospitals than the terrible tools of war, more on decent houses than military aircraft.
- Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.
- We can master change not though force or fear, but only though the free work of an understanding mind, though an openness to new knowledge and fresh outlooks, which can only strengthen the most fragile and most powerful of human gifts: the gift of reason.
- We in Government have begun to recognize the critical work which must be done at all levels—local, State and Federal—in ending the pollution of our waters.
- We know that if one man's rights are denied, the rights of all are endangered. (5-6-1961)
- We must recognize the full human equality of all our people - before God, before the law, and in the councils of government. We must do this not because it is economically advantageous - although it is; not because the laws of God and man command it - although they do command it; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.
- What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason. Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.
- What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists, is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.
- What we need in the United States is not division, what we need in the United States is not hatred, what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but it's love, peace, and compassion towards one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white, or whether they be black.
- Whenever men take the law into their own hands, the loser is the law. And when the law loses, freedom languishes.
- You knew that what is given or granted can be taken away, that what is begged can be refused; but that what is earned is kept. (12-10-1966)
- There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?
- Variant: "Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?"
- Though Kennedy stated that he was quoting George Bernard Shaw when he said this, he is often thought to have originated the expression, which actually paraphrases a line delivered by the Serpent in Shaw's play Back To Methuselah : “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’".