President Ronald Reagan gave this speech on June 26, 1984, when he posthumously awarded Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jackson’s wife, Helen Jackson, offered a brief reply.
The President: Well, ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, and Mrs. Helen Jackson, thank all of you for coming here today. Won’t you please be seated?
We’re here to honor Henry “Scoop’” Jackson, who was one of the great Senators in our history and a great patriot who loved freedom first, last, and always.
It’s less than a year since his death, but already we can define with confidence the lasting nature of his contribution. Henry Jackson was a protector of the Nation, a protector of its freedoms and values. There are always a few such people in each generation. Let others push each chic new belief or become distracted by the latest fashionable reading of history. The protectors listen and nod and go about seeing to it that the ideals that shaped this nation are allowed to survive and flourish. They defend the permanent against the merely prevalent. They have few illusions.
Henry Jackson understood that there is great good in the world and great evil, too, that there are saints and sinners among us. He had no illusions about totalitarians, but his understanding of the existence of evil didn’t sour or dishearten him. He had a great hope and great faith in America. He felt we could do anything. He liked to quote Teddy Roosevelt: “We see across the dangers the great future, and we rejoice as a giant refreshed … the great victories are yet to be won, the greatest deeds yet to be done.”
Scoop came to the Congress in 1941, a year when the locomotive of history seemed wrenched from its tracks. In Europe, the ideals of the West were under siege; in America, isolationists warned against involvement. Scoop watched history unfold. He watched Norway, the country of his immigrant parents, fall to Hitler. He came to see [some] conclusions about the world. And from then until the day he died, he rejected isolationism as an acceptable way for a great democracy to comport itself in the world. This view sprang from the heart of the F.D.R. tradition of foreign policy: We accept our responsibilities in the world; we do not flee them.
Henry Jackson absorbed within himself the three great strains of thought that go to the making of a noble foreign policy: a love of freedom; a will to defend it; and the knowledge that America could not and must not attempt to float along alone, a blissful island of democracy in a sea of totalitarianism.
Scoop Jackson was convinced that there’s no place for partisanship in foreign and defense policy. He used to say, “In matters of national security, the best politics is no politics.” His sense of bipartisanship was not only natural and complete; it was courageous. He wanted to be President, but I think he must have known that his outspoken ideas on the security of the Nation would deprive him of the chance to be his party’s nominee in 1972 and ‘76. Still, he would not cut his convictions to fit the prevailing style.
I’m deeply proud, as he would have been, to have Jackson Democrats serve in my administration. I’m proud that some of them have found a home here.
Scoop Jackson believed in a strong defense for only one reason: because it would help preserve the peace by deterring military violence. He believed in arms control, because he wanted a more secure world. But he refused to support any arms control initiative that would not, in his judgment, serve the security interests of the Nation and ensure the survival of the West. His command of the facts and his ability to grasp detail were legendary. At congressional hearings, people often learned more from his questions than they did from anyone else’s answers.
It was very much like Scoop to see that there was a growing problem in Central America — and to see that the challenge of protecting freedom and independence there would require the commitment of Democrats and Republicans alike. He conceived the Bipartisan Commission on Central America and became one of its most active leaders. He knew that stable, democratic institutions cannot be achieved in that region without the security that American assistance can provide. He saw the Commission’s work completed, and if he were alive today, he would be working tirelessly to get its recommendations accepted by the Congress.
Scoop helped shape national policy on dozens of complex issues — on strategic planning and arms control, on the Soviet Union and Central America, on human rights and Israel, and the cause of Soviet Jewry.
His support for Israel grew out of his knowledge that political decisions must spring from moral convictions. It wasn’t some grand geopolitical abstraction that made him back the creation of Israel; it was seeing the concentration camps firsthand at the end of the war. At Buchenwald he saw the evil, as he said, “written on the sky,” and he never forgot.
He said the Jews of Europe must have a homeland. He did everything he could to strengthen the alliance between the United States and Israel, recognizing that we are two great democracies, two great cultures, standing together. Today both nations are safer because of his efforts.
He never stopped speaking out against anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. And he was never afraid to speak out against anti-Semitism at home. And Scoop Jackson just would not be bullied. He conceived and fought for the Jackson amendment to the Trade Act of 1974. There’s hardly a soul among the hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews who later found freedom in the West who was not sustained in the struggle to emigrate by the certain knowledge that Scoop was at his side.
Scoop was always at the side of the weak and forgotten. With some people, all you have to do to win their friendship is to be strong and powerful. With Scoop, all you had to do was be vulnerable and alone. And so when Simas Kudirka was in jail in Moscow, it was Scoop who helped mobilize the Congress to demand his release. When Baptists in the Soviet Union were persecuted, it was Scoop who went again and again to the floor of the Senate to plead their cause. When free trade unionists were under attack in Poland, Scoop worked with the American labor movement to help them.
A few years ago, he was invited to visit the Soviet Union. The invitation was withdrawn when he said he could not go without calling on Andrei Sakharov. If Scoop were here today, I know he would speak out on behalf of Sakharov, just as Sakharov, a man of immense courage and humanity, stood up in Moscow and hailed the Jackson amendment as a triumph of “the freedom loving tradition of the American people.”
Scoop Jackson was a serious man — not somber or self-important, but steady and solemn. He didn’t think much of the cosmetics of politics. He wasn’t interested in image. He was a practitioner of the art of politics, and he was a personage in the affairs of the world. But there was no cause too great or too small for his attention.
When he wasn’t on the floor of the Senate or talking to the leaders of the world, he was usually in his office on the phone — consoling a constituent in a moment of grief, tracking down a lost social security check, congratulating an honor student, or helping a small businessman who was caught up in redtape.
The principles which guided his public life guided his private life. By the time he died, dozens of young men and women had been helped through school by a scholarship fund that he established and sustained. No one knew the money came from Scoop, until a change in the financial disclosure laws many years later forced him to ‘fess up. He had never told the voters; he’d never even told his own staff.
Other people were embarrassed when the disclosure laws revealed their vanities. Scoop was embarrassed when it revealed his virtues.
One night last September, Scoop worked a long day and went home with a cold. There he fell into the sleep from which he never emerged. The next day, it was as if Washington had changed. Something was missing, some big presence.
A few days later, in a eulogy for Scoop, it was pointed out that there’s a room in the Senate where members of the public are greeted. And on the walls of that room are the portraits of five of the greatest U.S. Senators, men chosen by the members of the Senate to reflect the best that chamber ever knew. There’s Robert Taft, who, like Scoop, was Mr. Integrity, and LaFollette, who, like Scoop, often swam against the tide. There’s Calhoun, who loved the South as Scoop loved the West, and Webster, who tried, like Scoop, to be a force to hold the Nation together, in spite of its differences. And there’s Henry Clay, a gifted man, who, like Scoop, would have been a great president.
It happens that there is no appropriate space on the walls of that room for another portrait. So, I’m joining those who would suggest to the majority leader that the Senate make room and commission a portrait so that Scoop Jackson can be with his peers. And when it’s all done and in place, I’d be very proud to be among those who would go to the Senate and unveil it, Republicans and Democrats alike, a bipartisan effort in memory of the great bipartisan patriot of our time.
And now I am deeply honored to present to you, Mrs. Helen Jackson, the Medal of Freedom in honor of your husband, Senator Henry Jackson of the State of Washington.
Let me read the citation.
Representative and Senator for more than four decades, Henry Martin Jackson was one of the greatest lawmakers of our century. He helped to build the community of democracies and worked tirelessly to keep it vigorous and secure. He pioneered in the preservation of the Nation’s natural heritage, and he embodied integrity and decency in the profession of politics. For those who make freedom their cause Henry Jackson will always inspire honor, courage, and hope.
Mrs. Jackson: Mr. President, I’m proud to accept this great honor the Nation has bestowed on my husband.
I accept this award not only on behalf of Anna Marie, Peter, and myself but also on behalf of all those who worked with Scoop and shared his causes and convictions over the years. As Scoop used to say, “If you believe in the cause of freedom, then proclaim it, live it and protect it, for humanity’s future depends upon it.”
Mr. President, we thank you for today from the bottom of our hearts.
Note: The President spoke at 1:32 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.