Address to the Nation: “Look to the Future”

November 2, 1972


Good evening:

I am speaking to you tonight from the library of the White House. This room, like all the rooms in this great house, is rich in history.

Often late at night I sit here thinking of the crises other Presidents have known–and of the trials that other generations of Americans have come through.

I think, too, of the Presidents who will be sitting here a generation from now, and how they will look back on these years. And I think of what I want to accomplish in these years. I would like to share some of those thoughts with you this evening.

Above all, I want to complete the foundations for a world at peace–so that the next generation can be the first in this century to live without war and without the fear of war.

Beyond this, I want Americans–all Americans–to see more clearly and to feel more deeply what it is that makes this Nation of ours unique in history, unique in the world, a nation in which the soul and spirit are free, in which each person is respected, in which the individual human being, each precious, each different, can dare to dream and can live his dreams.

I want progress toward a better life for all Americans–not only in terms of better schools, greater abundance, a cleaner environment, better homes, more attractive communities, but also in a spiritual sense, in terms of greater satisfaction, more kindness in our relations with each other, more fulfillment.

I want each American–all Americans-to find a new zest in the pursuit of excellence, in striving to do their best and to be their best, in learning the supreme satisfaction of setting a seemingly impossible goal, and meeting or surpassing that goal, of finding in themselves that extra reserve of energy or talent or creativity that they had not known was there.

These are goals of a free people, in a free nation, a nation that lives not by handout, not by dependence on others or in hostage to the whims of others, but proud and independent–a nation of individuals with self-respect and with the right and capacity to make their own choices, to chart their own lives.

That is why I want us to turn away from a demeaning, demoralizing dependence on someone else to make our decisions and to guide the course of our lives. That is why I want us to turn toward a renaissance of the individual spirit, toward a new vitality of those governments closest to the people, toward a new pride of place for the family and the community, toward a new sense of responsibility in all that we do, responsibility for ourselves and to ourselves, for our communities and to our communities, knowing that each of us, in every act of his daily life, determines what kind of community and what kind of a country we all will live in.

If, together, we can restore this spirit, then 4 years from now America can enter its third century buoyant and vital and young, with all the purpose that marked its beginning two centuries ago.

In these past 4 years, we have moved America significantly toward this goal. We have restored peace at home, and we are restoring peace abroad.

As you know, we have now made a major breakthrough toward achieving our goal of peace with honor in Vietnam. We have reached substantial agreement on most of the terms of a settlement. The settlement we are ready to conclude would accomplish the basic objectives that I laid down in my television speech to the Nation on May 8 of this year:
–the return of all of our prisoners of war, and an accounting for all of those missing in action;
–a cease-fire throughout Indochina; and
–for the 17 million people of South Vietnam, the right to determine their own future without having a Communist government or a coalition government imposed upon them against their will.

However, there are still some issues to be resolved. There are still some provisions of the agreement which must be clarified so that all ambiguities will be removed. I have insisted that these be settled before we sign the final agreement. That is why we refused to be stampeded into meeting the arbitrary deadline of October 31.

Now, there are some who say: “Why worry about the details? Just get the war over!”

Well, my answer is this: My study of history convinces me that the details can make the difference between an agreement that collapses and an agreement that lasts–and equally crucial is a clear understanding by all of the parties of what those details are.

We are not going to repeat the mistake of 1968, when the bombing halt agreement was rushed into just before an election without pinning down the details.

We want peace–peace with honors peace fair to all and a peace that will last. That is why I am insisting that the central points be clearly settled, so that there will be no misunderstandings which could lead to a breakdown of the settlement and a resumption of the war.

I am confident that we will soon achieve that goal.

But we are not going to allow an election deadline or any other kind of deadline to force us into an agreement which would be only a temporary truce and not a lasting peace. We are going to sign the agreement when the agreement is right, not one day before. And when the agreement is right, we are going to sign, without one day’s delay.

Not only in America, but all around the world, people will be watching the results of our election. The leaders in Hanoi will be watching. They will be watching for the answer of the American people–for your answer–to this question: Shall we have peace with honor or peace with surrender?

Always in the past you have answered “Peace with honor.” By giving that same answer once again on November 7 you can help make certain that peace with honor can now be achieved.

In these past 4 years, we have also been moving toward lasting peace in the world at large.

We have signed more agreements with the Soviet Union than were negotiated in all the previous years since World War II. We have established the basis for a new relationship with the People’s Republic of China, where one-fourth of all the people in this world live. Our vigorous diplomacy has advanced the prospects for a stable peace in the Middle East. All around the world, we are opening doors to peace, doors that were previously closed. We are developing areas of common interest where there have been previously only antagonisms. All this is a beginning. It can be the beginning of a generation of peace—of a world in which our children can be the first generation in this century to escape the scourge of war.

These next 4 years will set the course on which we begin our third century as a nation. What will that course be? Will it have us turning inward, retreating from the responsibilities not only of a great power but of a great people—of a nation that embodies the ideals man has dreamed of and fought for through the centuries?

We cannot retreat from those responsibilities. If we did America would cease to be a great nation, and peace and freedom would be in deadly jeopardy throughout the world.

Ours is a great and a free nation today because past generations of Americans met their responsibilities. And we shall meet ours.

We have made progress toward peace in the world, toward a new relationship with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, not through naive sentimental assumptions that good will is all that matters, or that we can reduce our military strength because we have no intention of making war and we therefore assume other nations would have no such intention. We have achieved progress through peace for precisely the opposite reasons: because we demonstrated that we would not let ourselves be surpassed in military strength and because we bargained with other nations on the basis of their national interest and ours.

As we look at the real world, it is clear that we will not in our lifetimes have a world free of danger. Anyone who reads history knows that danger has always been part of the common lot of mankind. Anyone who knows the world today knows that nations have not all been suddenly overtaken by some new and unprecedented wave of pure good will and benign intentions. But we can lessen the danger. We can contain it. We can forge a network of relationships and of interdependencies that restrain aggression and that take the profit out of war.

We cannot make all nations the same, and it would be wrong to try. We cannot make all of the world’s people love each other. But we can establish conditions in which they will be more likely to live in peace with one another. Tonight I ask for your support as we continue to work toward that great goal.

Here at home, as we look at the progress we have made, we find that we are reaching new levels of prosperity.
We have cut inflation almost in half. The average worker has scored his best gains in 13 years in real spendable earnings. We are creating record numbers of new jobs. We are well on the way to achieving what America has not had since President Eisenhower lived here in the White House: prosperity with full employment, without inflation and without war.

We have lowered the level of violence, and we are finally turning the tide against crime.

I could go on with what we have done–for the environment, for the consumer, for the aging, for the farmer, for the worker, for all Americans but now we must not look backward to what we have done in the past, but forward to what we will do in the future.

It is traditional for a candidate for election to make all sorts of promises about bold new programs he intends to introduce if elected. This year’s Presidential campaign has probably established an all-time record for promises of huge new spending programs for just about anything and everything for everybody imaginable. I have not made such promises in this campaign. And I am not going to do so tonight. Let me tell you why.

In the first place, the sort of bold new programs traditionally promised by candidates are all programs that you–the taxpayer–pay for. The programs proposed by our opponents in this campaign would require a So-percent increase in Federal taxes, in your taxes. I think your taxes are already too high. That is why I oppose any new program which would add to your tax burden.

In the second place, too many campaign promises are just that–campaign promises. I believe in keeping the promises I make, and making only those promises I am confident I can keep. I have promised that I will do all in my power to avoid the need for new taxes. I am not going to promise anything else in the way of new programs that would violate that pledge.

In the third place, my own philosophy of government is not one that looks to new Federal dollars–your dollars–as the solution of every social problem.

I have often said that America became great not because of what government did for people, but because of what people did for themselves. I believe government should free the energies of people to build for themselves and their communities. It should open opportunities, provide incentives, encourage initiative–not stifle initiative by trying to direct everything from Washington.

This does not mean that the Federal Government will abdicate its responsibilities where only it can solve a problem.

It does mean that after 40 years of unprecedented expansion of the Federal Government, the time has come to redress the balance–to shift more people and more responsibility and power back to the States and localities and, most important, to the people, all across America.

In the past 40 years, the size of the Federal budget has grown from $4.6 billion to $250 billion. In that same period, the number of civilian employees of the Federal Government has increased from 600,000 to 2,800,000. And in just the past 10 years, the number of Federal grant-in-aid programs has increased from 160 to more than 1,000.

If this kind of growth were projected indefinitely into the future, the result would be catastrophic. We would have an America top-heavy with bureaucratic meddling, weighted down by big government, suffocated by taxes, robbed of its soul.

We must not and we will not let this happen to America. That is why I oppose the unrestrained growth of big government in Washington. That is why one of my first priorities in the next 4 years will be to encourage a rebirth and renewal of State and local government. That is why I believe in giving the people in every community a greater say in those decisions that most directly affect the course of their daily lives.

Now, there will be those who will call this negative, who call it a retreat from Federal responsibilities.

I call it affirmative–an affirmation of faith in the people, faith in the individual, faith in each person’s ability to choose wisely for himself and for his community.

I call it an affirmation of faith in those principles that made America great, that tamed a continent, that transformed a wilderness into the greatest and strongest and freest nation in the world.

We have not changed. The American people have not grown weak. What has grown weak is government’s faith in people. I am determined to see that faith restored.

I am also determined to see another kind of faith restored and strengthened in America. I speak of the religious faith, the moral and spiritual values that have been so basically a part of our American experience. Man does not live for himself alone, and the strength of our character, the strength of our faith, and the strength of our ideals–these have been the strength of America.

When I think of what America means, I think of all the hope that lies in a vast continent–of great cities and small towns, of factories and farms, of a greater abundance, more widely shared, than the world has ever known, of a constant striving to set right the wrongs that still persist–and I think of 210 million people, of all ages, all persuasions, all races, all stations in life.

More particularly, I think of one person, one child–any child. That child may be black or brown or white, rich or poor, a boy whose family came here in steerage in 1920, or a girl whose ancestors came on the Mayflower in 1620. That one child is America, with a life still ahead, with his eyes filled with dreams, and with the birthright of every American child to a full and equal opportunity to pursue those dreams.

It is for that one child that I want a world of peace and a chance to achieve all that peace makes possible. It is for that one child that I want opportunity, and freedom, and abundance. It is for that one child that I want a land of justice, and order, and a decent respect for the rights and the feelings of others.

It is for that one child that I want it said, a generation from now, a century from now, that America in the 1970’s had the courage and the vision to meet its responsibilities and to face up to its challenges-to build peace, not merely for our generation but for the next generation; to restore the land, to marshal our resources, not merely for our generation but for the next generation; to guard our values and renew our spirit, not merely for our generation but for the next generation.

It is for that one child that I want these next 4 years to be the best 4 years in the whole history of America.

The glory of this time in our history is that we can do more than ever before-we have the means, we have the skills, we have an increasing understanding of how the great goals that we seek can be achieved.

These are not partisan goals. They are America’s goals. That is why I ask you tonight, regardless of party, to join the new American majority next Tuesday in voting for candidates who stand for these goals. That is why I ask for your support–after the election–in helping to move forward toward these goals over the next 4 years.

If we succeed in this task, then that one child–all of our children–can look forward to a life more full of hope, promise, than any generation, in any land, in the whole history of mankind.
Thank you, and good evening.

Citation: Richard Nixon: “Address to the Nation: “Look to the Future.”,” November 2, 1972. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.