1. Editorial Note

Former California Governor Ronald Reagan declared his candidacy for the 1976 Republican Presidential nomination on November 20, 1975. In so doing, Reagan issued a challenge to incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford. Speaking at a news conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. that day, Reagan stated: “I’ve called this press conference to announce that I am a candidate for the Presidency and to ask for the support of all Americans who share my belief that our nation needs to embark on a new, constructive course.

“I believe my candidacy will be healthy for the nation and my party.

“I am running because I have grown increasingly concerned about the course of events in the United States and in the world.”

After commenting on the economy, the role of government, and U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources, Reagan continued: “A decade ago, we had military superiority. Today we are in danger of being surpassed by a nation that has never made any effort to hide its hostility to everything we stand for.

“Through détente we have sought peace with our adversaries. We should continue to do so, but must make it plain that we expect a stronger indication that they also seek a lasting peace with us.”

Reagan stressed that “the root of these problems” facing the United States stemmed from unresponsive leadership in Washington. He asserted: “If America is to survive and go forward, this must change. It will only change when the American people vote for a leadership that listens to them, relies on them, and seeks to return government to them. We need a government that is confident not of what it can do, but of what the people can do.”

Reagan concluded his statement by saying: “In the coming months I will take this message to the American people. I will talk in detail about responsible, responsive government. I will tell the people it is they who should decide how much government they want.

“I don’t believe for one moment that four more years of business-as-usual in Washington is the answer to our problems and I don’t think the American people believe it either.

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“We, as a people, aren’t happy if we are not moving forward. A nation that is growing and thriving is one which will solve its problems. We must offer progress instead of stagnation; the truth instead of promises; hope and faith instead of defeatism and despair. Then, I am sure the people will make those decisions which will restore confidence in our way of life and release that energy that is the American spirit.” (Statement, November 20, 1975; Reagan Library, Vertical File, Reagan, Ronald W.—Speeches and Articles (1974–1976))

Following the announcement, Reagan departed Washington for Miami, his first stop on a 2-day campaign tour of Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Illinois, and California. For additional information about the announcement and the campaign trip, see Jon Nordheimer, “Reagan Enters Campaign, Seeks a Curb on Spending,” New York Times, November 21, 1975, pages 1, 20, and Joseph Lelyveld, “Reagan Campaign Debut: A 2-Day TV Event,” New York Times, November 22, 1975, page 52.

Throughout the spring of 1976, Reagan competed against Ford in the Republican primaries. During the Republican National Convention, held in Kansas City, Missouri, August 16–19, 1976, delegates placed both Ford’s and Reagan’s names in nomination. On August 17, Reagan lost to Ford on the first ballot. Ford and Reagan subsequently took part in an exchange and question-and-answer session on the afternoon of August 19 at the Alameda Plaza Hotel, where Reagan was staying throughout the convention. Ford began the exchange by congratulating Reagan “on a very fine campaign.” Reagan responded: “Mr. President, my congratulations to you. It was a good fight, Mom, and he won. My congratulations.

“And, of course, you know that as we both agreed all the way from the very beginning, once the fight was over, we are on the same side, and we go forward together.” (Public Papers: Ford, 1976–1977, Book III, page 2149)

That evening, Reagan offered remarks to the convention delegates. After his initial comments, the former governor said: “May I just say some words. There are cynics who say that a party platform is something that no one bothers to read and it doesn’t very often amount to much.

“Whether it is different this time than it has ever been before, I believe the Republican Party has a platform that is a banner of bold, unmistakable colors with no pale pastel shades.

“We have just heard a call to arms based on that platform. And a call to arms to really be successful in communicating and reveal to the American people the difference between this platform and the platform of the opposing party, which is nothing but a revamped and a reissue and a running of a late, late show of the thing that we’ve been hearing from them for the last 40 years.

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“If I could just take a moment—I had an assignment the other day. Someone asked me to write a letter for a time capsule that is going to be opened in Los Angeles a hundred years from now, on our Tricentennial.

“It sounded like an easy assignment. They suggested I write something about the problems and issues of the day. And I said I could do so, riding down the coast in an automobile, looking at the blue Pacific out on one side and the Santa Ines Mountains on the other, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was going to be that beautiful a hundred years from now as it was on that summer day.

“Then, as I tried to write—let your own minds turn to that task. You’re going to write for people a hundred years from now who know all about us. We know nothing about them. We don’t know what kind of a world they’ll be living in.

“And suddenly, thought to myself as I write of the problems, they’ll be the domestic problems of which the President spoke here tonight; the challenges confronting us; the erosion of freedom that has taken place under Democrat rule in this country; the invasion of private rights; the controls and restrictions on the vitality of the great free economy that we enjoy. These are our challenges that we must meet.

“And then again there is that challenge of which he spoke, that we live in a world in which the great powers have poised and aimed at each other horrible missiles of destruction, nuclear weapons that can in a matter of minutes arrive in each other’s country and destroy virtually the civilized world we live in.

“And suddenly it dawned on me, those who would read this letter a hundred years from now will know whether those missiles were fired. They will know whether we met our challenge.

“Whether they had the freedom that we have known up until now, will depend on what we do here. Will they look back with appreciation and say, thank God for those people in 1976 who headed off that loss of freedom; who kept us now a hundred years later free; who kept our world from nuclear destruction? And if we fail, they probably won’t get to read the letter at all because it spoke of individual freedom and they won’t be allowed to talk of that or read of it.

“This is our challenge. And this is why here in this hall tonight. Better than we’ve ever done before, we’ve got to quit talking to each other and about each other and go out and communicate to the world that we may be fewer in number than we’ve ever been. But we carry the message they’re waiting for.

“We must go forth from here united, determined, that what a great general said a few years ago is true: There is no substitute for victory.” (Transcript of Reagan’s Remarks to the Convention; New York Times, August 20, 1976, page 12)