...on this day in 1961 Congress approved a bill to establish the Peace Corps, and President Kennedy signed it into law. Less than a year earlier, then-Senator Kennedy was in the middle of an exhausting campaign tour. On October 13th, Kennedy wrapped up his third debate against Nixon and flew from New York to Michigan. He delivered a campaign speech at the airport, and another at Eastern Michigan University. His stops took longer than expected, so he arrived at the University of Michigan late — at about 2 a.m. — where he was hoping to get some sleep before the next day's campaign stops. He had no intention of giving a speech there, but when he got out of his car, he found thousands of students who had waited up in the cold and drizzle to see him. He started his standard campaign speech, but changed his mind and began to improvise. He challenged the college students, asking how many of them would be willing to give up part of their careers to volunteer abroad on behalf of their country. The audience was so enthusiastic that they sent him a petition with the names of 1,000 students who were willing to do exactly that. He continued to campaign around this idea, and eventually received more than 25,000 letters in support of this "peace corps" of young Americans.
Kennedy took office in January, and a few days later commissioned a Peace Corps Task Force. By March, he had issued an executive order establishing the Peace Corps on a temporary basis.
Over the summer, Kennedy tried to convince Congress to adopt the Peace Corps permanently, but many members of Congress opposed the idea, especially Republicans. They didn't think taxpayers should have to pay for it, and one Republican senator called the Peace Corps a "utopian brainwash." But Republican representative Marguerite Stitt Church had traveled extensively in Africa, and she disagreed. She gave a speech and said: "Here is something which is aimed right, which is American, which is sacrificial — and which above all can somehow carry at the human level, to the people of the world, what they need to know; what it is to be free; what it is to have a next step and be able to take it; what it is to have something to look forward to, in an increase of human dignity and confidence." Her speech changed the opinion of many Republicans and the bill to establish the Peace Corps was passed on this day with wide bilateral support.
This text is from The Writer's Almanac.
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During its existence the Peace Corps has helped Communities all over the world. A force for good?
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