Robert Kennedy’s Speech in Hartington, Nebraska on April 20, 1968
There aren’t many transcripts of Robert Kennedy’s speeches in Nebraska. Most of what we have are small excerpts of his addresses reported by the Nebraska newspapers.
One of the few transcripts that exist is the speech he gave in Hartington, Nebraska on April 20, 1968. This speech is fairly representative of his rhetoric in Nebraska. On this date, Kennedy spoke in Scottsbluff and three small towns in northeastern Nebraska, including Hartington. (A transcript of the Scottsbluff address has been preserved.)
The transcript of this remarkable speech is as follows:
I am very very pleased to be in Hartington. I am grateful to see such a large crowd. Been very nice to me, and I’m very grateful to Mr. Rossiter for the kind introduction and his undertaking the efforts to direct my campaign in this county and area. I am very please to see all of you and in a personal way, I feel very close to you.
Hartington was named after Lord Hartington and my sister Kathleen married Lord Hartington. (loud cheer) And no other candidate can match that record. My daughter has been named Kathleen Hartington Kennedy. Some people think if is after my brother-in-law but its really after Hartington, Nebraska. (loud cheer)
I said I heard about Hartington, Nebr. and I wanted one of our children named after that community. All those marvelous people out there. So if anybody votes for anybody else other than me it shows real ingratitude. And I’ll change her name to Kathleen Omaha Kennedy, or Lincoln or something.
And I also feel very close to you for another reason. Based on my family record I am doing more for the farmers than any other candidate running for president of the United States. Personally, I look at my breakfast table and I know I am doing more for the farmer. (loud cheer)
You have a great hog producing area. Great milk producing area. Nobody matches my family among those running for president. And they can all come and make a lot of promises what they are going to do when they are president. But when they come here and none of them have been here before since William Jennings Bryan and you know what happened to him. If they come ask what they are doing right now and ask if they can match my record by the time the primary comes along. How many bottles of milk will they consume in their household? I think I contribute a high percentage of the income of Hartington, Nebraska and the whole state of Nebraska just by what we eat and drink at my house. (loud cheers)
But I am very pleased to be here. I am very pleased to see all of you. It has been a great inspiration for us. We came from two large cities from San Francisco and Los Angeles and from the beginning of the week from New York and Washington.
And to come out here into the country and see all of you, to come out into the rural areas of the United States and have this opportunity as we have today to drive through Nebraska is a great inspiration and a great honor for all of us. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. (loud cheers)
Actually, I didn’t tell you the truth. I wasn’t driving. Just seeing your marvelous people and seeing your marvelous landscape. I had an ulterior motive which was to try to get your votes, but in any case why we did it, it was truly a great inspiration to see the country and to see this land. I think we lose sight of that. You live in the east and you live in these cities and some of them are distinguished from one another only by the poison content of the air. When you stay in the city of New York you breath 750 pounds of waste every year. So to come out here takes a deep breath. Smells of hogs but it’s different.
But it’s a great pleasure for the and a great pleasure to see all of you. I think we have problems as Mr. Rossiter said facing this country and we have deep divisions within the United States. I don’t think we can look back upon the period of the last weekend and see and read in our papers and on television that violence and the lawlessness and the disorder that took place in some 60 communities across the rest of the United States is a matter of concern for us as American citizens because we are bound together so closely and the fact that we had to have 12,000 troops occupy our nation’s capital that we had such death and destruction and rioting and arson must be a matter of concern not only to those who live in Washington, but a matter of concern to all of us across the rest of the country.
I don’t think we can tolerate the violence or the lawlessness or disorder or violence. I think we read about a high administration official who says we can expect this kind of action and this kind of activity summer after summer. I don’t think we have to accept that in this country. I think we need a change. I think we have to make it absolutely clear that we are not going to tolerate this kind of lawlessness. That it is not going to be accepted here in this United States of America. And I run for President of the United States on that basis. (loud cheer)
And I run also on the basis that we are not going to have injustices. That we are not going to have the injustices that have existed for such a long period of time toward our black people. That they are going to have an opportunity to have decent educations. That they are going to have an opportunity for have a decent job. A decent job and decent wages and not just rely on welfare and the dole, that they have been relying on over the period of the last 30 years.
I think we can get away from that. And we can find people with decent employment decent jobs and the kind of honorable employment so that they can raise their families with dignity and honor and give their children a satisfactory and adequate future. I stand for that also — equality for all of our people and I think the people of the state of Nebraska stand for that also. (loud cheer)
And I stand for something more than that. I stand for decency and honorable income for those who are the backbone of the United States, the people who live in our rural areas of our country and our farmers. I think he is the forgotten and neglected man. I think there are other groups also that are neglected. But I don’t think there is any question of our farmers, of the suffering that he has undertaken over the period of the last 30 years. When you consider his purchasing power now, the farmer in the United States is the same as it was during 1936. You know that we can’t go on and continue like this or we are going to drive thousands and thousands more of our young farmers from their farms. I don’t think this is acceptable and it is again a reason why I run for President of the United States. (loud cheers)
When you consider that the net farm income is down almost 5%, down almost 5% from what it was in 1947. I know that we know that that is unacceptable. I know that we need more attention on these programs. When you consider that the prices that farmers pay for their tractors, for their plows and all of the things that they desperately need have gone up 16% and 17% of what they have returned to them only increased 6%, you know that it is unsatisfactory. It is unsatisfactory for the young man living in the city of New York who can’t find a job. But it is unsatisfactory for a farmer living in Nebraska who is making only 60% of what an industrial worker makes, a non farm worker makes. And I think that is unsatisfactory and I think he should receive a full return for his labor. And if I’m elected President of the United States I am going to make that effort. (loud cheer)
I think farmers should have the right to join together and to bargain so that they can work together and make themselves more powerful. And I think the federal government can help and protect the right to bargain. (Cheer) I thought you were a little slow clapping that time. What do you think Mr. Rossiter? Don’t you think they should clap here? Mr. Rossiter answers affirmatively. Mr. Rossiter knows.
And I also think the 1955 act, back again in 1959, should be passed in 1968. I don’t think farmers should have to wait until 1969 to find out what is going to happen. I think we should take action in 1968 so the farmers can plan. And I think parity payments should be much higher than they are at the present time. I stand for that as well. (loud cheer)
I think one of the major problems is the fact that interest rates are so high 7, 8, 9% at the present time. I don’t know how a farmer can borrow the money and so much of what he has to do must be borrowed. How can he borrow under these kind of circumstances?
I have introduced and cosponsored legislation in the Senate of the United States which would lower interest rates through the Farmers Home Loan Administration so that young farmers in particular and others as well would get interest rates at lower rates than they are at the present time. I think that is important because I think money and finance must be available to our farmers throughout the state of Nebraska and across the rest of the country. (loud cheer)
And I’m going to continue to eat a lot. And I think we should expand our program into the state of Mississippi and eastern Kentucky. I have seen young children starving in eastern Kentucky. I’ve seen families that get by on 10 cents a meal, 30 cents a day — bread and gravy for breakfast, beans for lunch and bread and gravy for diner. I’ve seen children in the state of Mississippi get by on two meals a day. Here we have this great harvest in the state of Nebraska. I think we should be able to arrange ourselves and organize ourselves so that we have enough food for our hungry people here in the United States to eat it would be helpful here in the state of Nebraska and it would give our young people and elderly people here in the United States enough to eat. I think we should focus our attention on our problems here within our own country. And that is what I plan to do. (loud cheer)
I think we should expand our food for peace and I think we should do all in our power to insure that we have markets abroad for our farm products. There are some of the things that I think should be done.
And let me say ladies and gentlemen, I think progress can be made. I don’t think we have to accept the status quo. Though beginning in 1961, 1962, 1963 we acted and I don’t say all the problems disappeared, but you can remember back there on that day when we faced the problems that existed in our country and we did something about it. We were the slowest growing economic nation in the world in 1960. By 1963 we were the fastest growing economic nation in the world. And it was affecting our economy all across the United States. That’s what I would like to do again. I think there is a lot we can do within our own country.
I think there is a lot we can do for peace around the globe. My reservations about the war in Vietnam have not been the fact that we unilaterally withdraw from South Vietnam. But rather the fact that I think we should appraise it . That this was the war of the South Vietnamese, that we could go in and help them, but we couldn’t win it for them. And yet we have Americanized the war so that our fatalities go higher up than the South Vietnamese. I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think that American men should be fighting and dying while South Vietnamese fail to get into the army. That’s what I object to. (loud cheer)
I don’t think Americans have looked at the figures. The number of young men who died in 1967 doubled over 1965. During the same period of time the South Vietnamese casualties and deaths were going down until they were less than ours. You look at the period since the Tet Offensive, Many weeks went by where our casualties and deaths were 3, 4 and 5 times as much at the South Vietnamese army. I think they should be the fighters. We can go in and help them. I don’t object to that. I think they should carry the major burden of the lifting. That’s what I stand for. I think they should end the corruption and dishonesty. I think that while we are drafting our young men to go over and fight in Vietnam, they should draft their young men as well. (loud cheer)
I’m glad they started to take that step in the last month. I’m glad they took the step of drafting their 18 and 19 year olds. But you can remember back two months ago you can remember back at the beginning of the year, that they refused to draft their 18 and 19 year olds because they were saying in the assembly “Why should young Vietnamese go out and fight and die for Americans in America’s war?” I therefore, don’t think we have the right kind of policy. I don’t think we have to accept that the commissioner of customs is the government of South Vietnam is the greatest smuggler of gold and opium. I think for us to point that out is not unpatriotic. I think we should move on it. How are we ever going to get the support of the people in South Vietnam to fight and die on the behalf of that country if it is filled with corruption and dishonesty and cares nothing about the people? I think we should focus attention on that. And not just Americanize the struggle and minimize the struggle and cause us to say we can win it by ourselves. That is the mistake and we have seen the error in our ways and I think that policy should change. That’s what I’m in favor of. (loud cheer)
I’ve seen what can happen. I’ve seen how important it is to stand up to the communists, to stand up to our adversaries. I thought it at the time of the Test Ban Treaty in which I was intimately involved. And finally after four weeks, we were able to force the Russians to remove their missiles from Cuba. We were able to accomplish that without the death of an American. We were able to accomplish that by the strength of the United States. So I know how important it is for us to be strong and to stand up to those who do not wish us well.
But I also know how important is is to keep peace throughout the world. And the Test Ban Treaty of 1963 which prevented testing in the atmosphere which has affected this generation of Americans and the next generation after that, that’s important. That’s what I want to see returned to the United States. I want to see peace and tranquility returned to our own country. I want to see jobs for men. I want to see decent incomes for our farmer, who is the backbone of this United States and the backbone of our country and the rural areas of the United States. (loud cheer)
And I want this country to remember and live as its principle, those words of Thomas Jefferson that were the last, best home of mankind. That’s our responsibility around the rest of the globe. Other people will follow up — by what we do here in the United States, by the fact that people can make decent incomes, that they can work on the land. I saw them in Soviet Central Asia working on the land and producing a fifth of what you do here in the state of Nebraska. I’ve seen this happen in other countries. Why we are strong and why we are powerful is really because of what the rural areas of the United States have done. China and the Soviet Union have both produced atomic weapons. But neither one of those countries, none of the other countries of the world have done what our farmers have done here in the United States of America.
I think we should recognize that and it should be recognized right from the top, from the President of the United States, by everybody in the executive branch of the government and it will be recognized when I’m president. (loud cheer)
…We can turn this country around. We can start to focus some attention on your problems and on the problems that exist in the United States and the problem in Vietnam that can save us 85 million dollars a day, 600 million a week, 30 billion a year and start spending it on our own people here in the United States. That’s what I would like to do. (loud cheer)
In closing, Senator Kennedy stated “Some people see things as they are and ask why? I see things that have never been and ask why not?”
Source: “Over 4,000 Greet Senator R.F. Kennedy,” Cedar County News, April 24, page 7.