Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson (27 August 1908 – 22 January 1973), often referred to by his initials LBJ, was an American politician. After serving a long career in U.S. legislatures, Johnson became the vice president of the United States of America under John F. Kennedy, from 1961 to 1963. A Democrat, Johnson became the 36th U.S. president, from 1963 to 1969, after Kennedy's assassination.
- Making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg. It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.
- Private comment, as quoted in Name-Dropping (1999) by John Kenneth Galbraith, p. 149.
- If the circumstances make it such that you can't fuck a man in the ass, then just peckerslap him. Better to let him know who's in charge than to let him get the keys to the car.
- Private comment, found in White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President (2003) edited by John Prados.
- Eisenhower used to tell me that this place was a prison. I never felt freer.
- As quoted in "What a Real President Was Like: To Lyndon Johnson, the Great Society Meant Hope and Dignity", by Bill Moyers, The Washington Post (13 November 1988)
- [Gerald] Ford's economics are the worst thing that's happened to this country since pantyhose ruined finger-fucking.
- As quoted in Fuck (2005)
- This civil rights program about which you have heard so much is a farce and a sham; an effort to set up a police state in the guise of liberty. I am opposed to that program. I fought it in the Congress. It is the province of the state to run its own elections. I am opposed to the anti-lynching bill because the federal government has no business enacting a law against one kind of murder than another ... If a man can tell you who you must hire, he can tell you who not to employ. I have met this head on.
- This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep, personal tragedy. I know the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best; that is all I can do. I ask for your help and God's.
- First official statement as President after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, televised live from Andrews Air Force Base (22 November 1963)
- I am so proud of our system of government, of our free enterprise, where our incentive system and our men who head our big industries are willing to get up at daylight and work until midnight to offer employment and create new jobs for people, where our men working there will try to get decent wages but will sit across the table and not act like cannibals, but will negotiate and reason things out together.
- "Transcript of Television and Radio Interview Conducted by Representatives of Major Broadcast Services.," (15 March 1964), online at The American Presidency Project by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley
- The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization….
The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.
The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.
It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.
But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.
- Remarks at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (May 22, 1964). Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, book 1, p. 704
- The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a Nation.
- Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and learning must offer an escape from poverty.
- Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked good ... We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me talk about democracy, parliament and constitution, he, his parliament and his constitution may not last long ...
- Comment to the Greek ambassador to Washington, Alexander Matsas, over the Cyprus issue in June 1964. As quoted in I Should Have Died (1977) by Philip Deane, pp. 113-114
- Our government is united in its determination to take all necessary measures in support of freedom and in defense of peace in Southeast Asia.
- Report on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (4 August 1964)
- And I just want to tell you this — we're in favor of a lot of things and we're against mighty few.
- Campaign statement (1964), as quoted in The Making of the President, 1964 (1966) by T. H. White, p. 413.
- There are no problems which we cannot solve together, and there are very few which any of us can settle by himself.
- President Johnson's thirty-fourth news conference was held on the front lawn at the LBJ Ranch, Johnson City, Tex., at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday, November 28, 1964. Source: Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference at the LBJ Ranch. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley from The American Presidency Project.
- I am going to build the kind of nation that President Roosevelt hoped for, President Truman worked for and President Kennedy died for.
- The Sunday Times (27 Dec 1964)
- The same society which receives the rewards of technology must, as a cooperating whole, take responsibility for control. To deal with these new problems will require a new conservation. We must not only protect the countryside and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities. Our conservation must be not just the classic conservation of protection and development, but a creative conservation of restoration and innovation. Its concern is not with nature alone, but with the total relation between man and the world around him. Its object is not just man's welfare, but the dignity of man's spirit.
- Message to Congress on Conservation and Restoration of Natural Beauty written to Congress (8 Feb 1965), in Lyndon B. Johnson: Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President (1965), Vol.1, 156. United States. President (1963-1969 : Johnson), Lyndon Baines Johnson, United States. Office of the Federal Register — 1970
- The American city should be a collection of communities where every member has a right to belong. It should be a place where every man feels safe on his streets and in the house of his friends. It should be a place where each individual’s dignity and self-respect is strengthened by the respect and affection of his neighbors. It should be a place where each of us can find the satisfaction and warmth which comes from being a member of the community of man. This is what man sought at the dawn of civilization. It is what we seek today.
- Special message to the Congress on the nation's cities (March 2, 1965); reported in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, book 1, p. 240
- We don't propose to sit here in our rocking chair with our hands folded and let the Communists set up any government in the Western Hemisphere.
- Remarks to the 10th National Legislative Conference, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO (May 3, 1965); reported in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, book 1, p. 480
- You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying, "Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please."
You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "You are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.
Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. And this is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights.
We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact, and equality as a result.
- Statement on affirmative action in the LBJ Commencement Address at Howard University (4 June 1965)
- We do not want an expanding struggle with consequences, that no one can perceive, nor will we bluster or bully or flaunt our power, but we will not surrender and we will not retreat, for behind our American pledge lies the determination and resources, I believe, of all of the American nation.
- I do not find it easy to send the flower of our youth, our finest young men, into battle.
- I hope that you of the IPA will go out into the hinterland and rouse the masses and blow the bugles and tell them that the hour has arrived and their day is here; that we are on the march against the ancient enemies and we are going to be successful.
- Remarks to the International Platform Association (August 3, 1965); reported in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, book 2, p. 822
- We know that most people's intentions are good. We don't question their motives; we've never said they're unpatriotic, although they say some pretty ugly things about us. And we believe very strongly on preserving the right to differ in this country, and the right to dissent; and if I have done a good job of anything since I've been president, it's to ensure that there are plenty of dissenters.
- What did you expect? I don't know why we're so surprised. When you put your foot on a man's neck and hold him down for three hundred years, and then you let him up, what's he going to do? He's going to knock your block off.
- Regarding rioting (1968), as quoted in Judgment days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the laws that changed America (2005), by Nick Kotz, Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 417
- Make no mistake about it. I don't want a man in here to go back home thinking otherwise; we are going to win.
- Our society is illuminated by the spiritual insights of the Hebrew prophets. America and Israel have a common love of human freedom, and they have a common faith in a democratic way of life.
Memorial Day speech (1963)Edit
- Remarks of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Memorial Day, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (May 30, 1963). Source: Press Release, "5/30/63, Remarks by Vice President, Memorial Day, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania," Statements File, Box 80, LBJ Library.
- On this hallowed ground, heroic deeds were performed and eloquent words were spoken a century ago. We, the living, have not forgotten–and the world will never forget–the deeds or the words of Gettysburg. We honor them now as we join on this Memorial Day of 1963 in a prayer for permanent peace of the world and fulfillment of our hopes for universal freedom and justice.
- We are called to honor our own words of reverent prayer with resolution in the deeds we must perform to preserve peace and the hope of freedom. We keep a vigil of peace around the world. Until the world knows no aggressors, until the arms of tyranny have been laid down, until freedom has risen up in every land, we shall maintain our vigil to make sure our sons who died on foreign fields shall not have died in vain.
- As we maintain the vigil of peace, we must remember that justice is a vigil, too — a vigil we must keep in our own streets and schools and among the lives of all our people — so that those who died here on their native soil shall not have died in vain.
- One hundred years ago, the slave was freed. One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin. The Negro today asks justice. We do not answer him — we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil — when we reply to the Negro by asking, "Patience."
- It is empty to plead that the solution to the dilemmas of the present rests on the hands of the clock. The solution is in our hands. Unless we are willing to yield up our destiny of greatness among the civilizations of history, Americans — white and Negro together — must be about the business of resolving the challenge which confronts us now.
- Our nation found its soul in honor on these fields of Gettysburg one hundred years ago. We must not lose that soul in dishonor now on the fields of hate. To ask for patience from the Negro is to ask him to give more of what he has already given enough. But to fail to ask of him — and of all Americans — perseverance within the processes of a free and responsible society would be to fail to ask what the national interest requires of all its citizens.
- The law cannot save those who deny it but neither can the law serve any who do not use it. The history of injustice and inequality is a history of disuse of the law. Law has not failed — and is not failing. We as a nation have failed ourselves by not trusting the law and by not using the law to gain sooner the ends of justice which law alone serves. If the white over-estimates what he has done for the Negro without the law, the Negro may under-estimate what he is doing and can do for himself with the law.
- If it is empty to ask Negro or white for patience, it is not empty — it is merely honest — to ask perseverance. Men may build barricades — and others may hurl themselves against those barricades — but what would happen at the barricades would yield no answers. The answers will only be wrought by our perseverance together. It is deceit to promise more as it would be cowardice to demand less.
- The Negro says, "Now." Others say, "Never." The voice of responsible Americans — the voice of those who died here and the great man who spoke here — their voices say, "Together." There is no other way.
- Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. To the extent that the proclamation of emancipation is not fulfilled in fact, to that extent we shall have fallen short of assuring freedom to the free.
Telephone call with Senator Richard Russell (May 27, 1964)Edit
- As quoted in "The Vietnam War Transcript Trump Needs to Read" Politico Magazine, Jeff Green Field, September 27, 2017
- Johnson: What do you think about this Vietnam thing? I’d like to hear you talk a little bit.
- Russell: Well, frankly, Mr. President, it’s the damn worse mess that I ever saw, and I don’t like to brag and I never have been right many times in my life, but I knew that we were going to get into this sort of mess when we went in there. And I don’t see how we’re ever going to get out of it without fighting a major war with the Chinese and all of them down there in those rice paddies and jungles. I just don’t see it. I just don’t know what to do.
- Johnson: Well, that’s the way I have been feeling for six months.
- Russell: Our position is deteriorating and it looks like the more we try to do for them, the less they are willing to do for themselves. It is a mess and it’s going to get worse, and I don’t know how or what to do. I don’t think the American people are quite ready for us to send our troops in there to do the fighting. If I was going to get out, I’d get the same crowd that got rid of old Diem [the Vietnamese prime minister who was overthrown and assassinated in 1963] to get rid of these people and to get some fellow in there that said we wish to hell we would get out. That would give us a good excuse for getting out.
- Johnson: How important is it to us?
- Russell: It isn’t important a damn bit for all this new missile stuff.
- Johnson: I guess it is important.
- Russell: From a psychological standpoint. Other than the question of our word and saving face, that’s the reason that I said that I don’t think that anybody would expect us to stay in there. It’s going to be a headache to anybody that tries to fool with it. You’ve got all the brains in the country, Mr. President—you better get ahold of them. I don’t know what to do about this. I saw it all coming on, but that don’t do any good now, that’s water over the dam and under the bridge. And we are there.
- Johnson: Well, they’d impeach a president, though, that would run out, wouldn’t they?
- Russell: I don’t think they would. I don’t know how in hell you’re going to get out, unless they [the South Vietnamese government] tell you to get out.
- Johnson: Wouldn’t that pretty well fix us in the eyes of the world and make us look mighty bad?
- Russell: Well, I don’t know, we don’t look too good right now, going in there with all the troops, sending them all in there, I’ll tell you it'll be the most expensive adventure this country ever went into.
Civil Rights Bill signing speech (1964)Edit
- President Lyndon B. Johnson's Radio and Television Remarks Upon Signing the Civil Rights Bill (July 2, 1964). Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-64. Volume II, entry 446, pp. 842-844. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1965.
- Americans of every race and color have died in battle to protect our freedom. Americans of every race and color have worked to build a nation of widening opportunities. Now our generation of Americans has been called on to continue the unending search for justice within our own borders. We believe that all men are created equal. Yet many are denied equal treatment. We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights. We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty. Yet millions are being deprived of those blessings — not because of their own failures, but because of the color of their skin. The reasons are deeply imbedded in history and tradition and the nature of man. We can understand — without rancor or hatred — how this all happened. But it cannot continue. Our Constitution, the foundation of our Republic, forbids it. The principles of our freedom forbid it. Morality forbids it. And the law I will sign tonight forbids it.
- The purpose of the law is simple. It does not restrict the freedom of any American, so long as he respects the rights of others. It does not give special treatment to any citizen. It does say the only limit to a man's hope for happiness, and for the future of his children, shall be his own ability. It does say that there are those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public.
- We must not approach the observance and enforcement of this law in a vengeful spirit. Its purpose is not to punish. Its purpose is not to divide, but to end divisions — divisions which have all lasted too long. Its purpose is national, not regional. Its purpose is to promote a more abiding commitment to freedom, a more constant pursuit of justice, and a deeper respect for human dignity.
- Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our Nation whole.
Inaugural address (1965)Edit
- We are one nation and one people. Our fate as a nation and our future as a people rest not upon one citizen, but upon all citizens. This is the majesty and the meaning of this moment.
- For every generation, there is a destiny. For some, history decides. For this generation, the choice must be our own. [...] Our destiny in the midst of change will rest on the unchanged character of our people, and on their faith.
- They came here—the exile and the stranger, brave but frightened—to find a place where a man could be his own man. They made a covenant with this land. Conceived in justice, written in liberty, bound in union, it was meant one day to inspire the hopes of all mankind; and it binds us still. If we keep its terms, we shall flourish.
- First, justice was the promise that all who made the journey would share in the fruits of the land. In a land of great wealth, families must not live in hopeless poverty. In a land rich in harvest, children just must not go hungry. In a land of healing miracles, neighbors must not suffer and die unattended. In a great land of learning and scholars, young people must be taught to read and write.
- Justice requires us to remember that when any citizen denies his fellow, saying, "His color is not mine," or "His beliefs are strange and different," in that moment he betrays America, though his forebears created this Nation.
- Liberty was the second article of our covenant. It was self-government. It was our Bill of Rights. But it was more. America would be a place where each man could be proud to be himself: stretching his talents, rejoicing in his work, important in the life of his neighbors and his nation. This has become more difficult in a world where change and growth seem to tower beyond the control and even the judgment of men. We must work to provide the knowledge and the surroundings which can enlarge the possibilities of every citizen. The American covenant called on us to help show the way for the liberation of man. And that is today our goal. Thus, if as a nation there is much outside our control, as a people no stranger is outside our hope.
- We are all fellow passengers on a dot of earth. And each of us, in the span of time, has really only a moment among our companions. How incredible it is that in this fragile existence, we should hate and destroy one another. There are possibilities enough for all who will abandon mastery over others to pursue mastery over nature. There is world enough for all to seek their happiness in their own way.
- We aspire to nothing that belongs to others. We seek no dominion over our fellow man, but man's dominion over tyranny and misery. But more is required. Men want to be a part of a common enterprise—a cause greater than themselves. Each of us must find a way to advance the purpose of the Nation, thus finding new purpose for ourselves. Without this, we shall become a nation of strangers.
- The third article was union. [...] By working shoulder to shoulder, together we can increase the bounty of all. We have discovered that every child who learns, every man who finds work, every sick body that is made whole—like a candle added to an altar—brightens the hope of all the faithful. So let us reject any among us who seek to reopen old wounds and to rekindle old hatreds. They stand in the way of a seeking nation. Let us now join reason to faith and action to experience, to transform our unity of interest into a unity of purpose. For the hour and the day and the time are here to achieve progress without strife, to achieve change without hatred—not without difference of opinion, but without the deep and abiding divisions which scar the union for generations.
- I do not believe that the Great Society is the ordered, changeless, and sterile battalion of the ants. It is the excitement of becoming—always becoming, trying, probing, falling, resting, and trying again—but always trying and always gaining.
- In each generation, with toil and tears, we have had to earn our heritage again. If we fail now, we shall have forgotten in abundance what we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, that freedom asks more than it gives, and that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored. If we succeed, it will not be because of what we have, but it will be because of what we are; not because of what we own, but, rather because of what we believe. For we are a nation of believers. Underneath the clamor of building and the rush of our day's pursuits, we are believers in justice and liberty and union, and in our own Union. We believe that every man must someday be free. And we believe in ourselves.
- Our enemies have always made the same mistake. In my lifetime—in depression and in war—they have awaited our defeat. Each time, from the secret places of the American heart, came forth the faith they could not see or that they could not even imagine. It brought us victory. And it will again. For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say "Farewell." Is a new world coming? We welcome it—and we will bend it to the hopes of man.
- To these trusted public servants and to my family and those close friends of mine who have followed me down a long, winding road, and to all the people of this Union and the world, I will repeat today what I said on that sorrowful day in November 1963: "I will lead and I will do the best I can." But you must look within your own hearts to the old promises and to the old dream. They will lead you best of all.
Special message to Congress on the right to vote (1965)Edit
- Written document Lyndon B. Johnson: "Special Message to the Congress on the Right To Vote" (15 March 1965) online at The American Presidency Project by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley
- In this same month ninety-five years ago-on March 30, 1870 — the Constitution of the United States was amended for the fifteenth time to guarantee that no citizen of our land should be denied the right to vote because of race or color. The command of the Fifteenth Amendment is unequivocal and its equal force upon State Governments and the Federal Government is unarguable. Section 1 of this Amendment provides: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
- By the oath I have taken "to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," duty directs — and strong personal conviction impels — that I advise the Congress that action is necessary, and necessary now, if the Constitution is to be upheld and the rights of all citizens are not to be mocked, abused and denied. I must regretfully report to the Congress the following facts:
1. That the Fifteenth Amendment of our Constitution is today being systematically and willfully circumvented in certain State and local jurisdictions of our Nation.
2. That representatives of such State and local governments acting "under the color of law," are denying American citizens the right to vote on the sole basis of race or color.
3. That, as a result of these practices, in some areas of our country today no significant number of American citizens of the Negro race can be registered to vote except upon the intervention and order of a Federal Court.
4. That the remedies available under law to citizens thus denied their Constitutional rights — and the authority presently available to the Federal Government to act in their behalf — are clearly inadequate.
5. That the denial of these rights and the frustration of efforts to obtain meaningful relief from such denial without undue delay is contributing to the creation of conditions which are both inimical to our domestic order and tranquillity and incompatible with the standards of equal justice and individual dignity on which our society stands.
I am, therefore, calling upon the Congress to discharge the duty authorized in Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment "to enforce this Article by appropriate legislation."
- The essence of our American tradition of State and local governments is the belief expressed by Thomas Jefferson that Government is best which is closest to the people. Yet that belief is betrayed by those State and local officials who engage in denying the right of citizens to vote. Their actions serve only to assure that their State governments and local governments shall be remote from the people, least representative of the people's will and least responsive to the people's wishes.
- The challenge now presented is more than a challenge to our Constitution — it is a blatant affront to the conscience of this generation of Americans. Discrimination based on race or color is reprehensible and intolerable to the great American majority. In every national forum, where they have chosen to test popular sentiment, defenders of discrimination have met resounding rejection. Americans now are not willing that the acid of the few shall be allowed to corrode the souls of the many.
- The purposeful many need not and will not bow to the willful few.
- In our system, the first right and most vital of all our rights is the right to vote. Jefferson described the elective franchise as "the ark of our safety." It is from the exercise of this right that the guarantee of all our other rights flows. Unless the right to vote be secure and undenied, all other rights are insecure and subject to denial for all our citizens. The challenge to this right is a challenge to America itself. We must meet this challenge as decisively as we would meet a challenge mounted against our land from enemies abroad.
- In the world, America stands for — and works for — the right of all men to govern themselves through free, uninhibited elections. An ink bottle broken against an American Embassy, a fire set in an American library, an insult committed against our American flag, anywhere in the world, does far less injury to our country and our cause than the discriminatory denial of the right of any American citizen at home to vote on the basis of race or color.
- The issue presented by the present challenge to our Constitution and our conscience transcends legalism, although it does not transcend the law itself. We are challenged to demonstrate that there are no sanctuaries within our law for those who flaunt it. We are challenged, also, to demonstrate by our prompt, fitting and adequate response now that the hope of our system is not force, not arms, not the might of militia or marshals-but the law itself.
- Unless we act anew, with dispatch and resolution, we shall sanction a sad and sorrowful course for the future. For if the Fifteenth Amendment is successfully flouted today, tomorrow the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment-the Sixth, the Eighth, indeed, all the provisions of the Constitution on which our system stands — will be subject to disregard and erosion. Our essential strength as a society governed by the rule of law will be crippled and corrupted and the unity of our system hollowed out and left meaningless.
- Our purpose is not — and shall never be-either the quest for power or the desire to punish. We seek to increase the power of the people over all their governments, not to enhance the power of the Federal Government over any of the people. For the life of this Republic, our people have zealously guarded their liberty against abuses of power by their governments. The one weapon they have used is the mightiest weapon in the arsenal of democracy — the vote. This has been enough, for as Woodrow Wilson said, "The instrument of all reform in America is the ballot."
- A people divided over the right to vote can never build a Nation united.
- We cannot have government for all the people until we first make certain it is government of and by all the people.
The American Promise (1965)Edit
- Address to the US Congress Lyndon B. Johnson: "Special Message to the Congress: The American Promise" (15 March 1965) online at The American Presidency Project by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley
- I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.
I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.
At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many were brutally assaulted. One good man, a man of God, was killed.
- Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man.
In our time we have come to live with moments of great crisis. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues; issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression. But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, our welfare or our security, but rather to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved Nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation. For with a country as with a person, "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?".
- There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans — not as Democrats or Republicans-we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.
- This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: "All men are created equal" — "government by consent of the governed" — "give me liberty or give me death." Well, those are not just clever words, or those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries, and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty, risking their lives.
Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man's possessions; it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, and provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.
To apply any other test–to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race, his religion or the place of his birth — is not only to do injustice, it is to deny America and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom. Our fathers believed that if this noble view of the rights of man was to flourish, it must be rooted in democracy. The most basic right of all was the right to choose your own leaders. The history of this country, in large measure, is the history of the expansion of that right to all of our people.
- Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument : Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.
Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.
Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists, and if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name or because he abbreviated a word on the application.
And if he manages to fill out an application he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of State law. And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write.
For the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin.
- Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books-and I have helped to put three of them there — can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it.
In such a case our duty must be clear to all of us. The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution. We must now act in obedience to that oath.
- Open your polling places to all your people.
Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin.
Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land.
There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain.
There is no moral issue. It is wrong — deadly wrong — to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.
There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.
- The last time a President sent a civil rights bill to the Congress it contained a provision to protect voting rights in Federal elections. That civil rights bill was passed after 8 long months of debate. And when that bill came to my desk from the Congress for my signature, the heart of the voting provision had been eliminated.
This time, on this issue, there must be no delay, no hesitation and no compromise with our purpose.
We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in. And we ought not and we cannot and we must not wait another 8 months before we get a bill. We have already waited a hundred years and more, and the time for waiting is gone.
- But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.
- As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil I know how agonizing racial feelings are. I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society. But a century has passed, more than a hundred years, since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight. It was more than a hundred years ago that Abraham Lincoln, a great president of another party, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact. A century has passed, more than a hundred years, since equality was promised. And yet the Negro is not equal. A century has passed since the day of promise. And the promise is unkept. The time of justice has now come. I tell you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back. It is right in the eyes of man and God that it should come. And when it does, I think that day will brighten the lives of every American.
- For Negroes are not the only victims. How many white children have gone uneducated, how many white families have lived in stark poverty, how many white lives have been scarred by fear, because we have wasted our energy and our substance to maintain the barriers of hatred and terror? So I say to all of you here, and to all in the Nation tonight, that those who appeal to you to hold on to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future. This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all: black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They are the enemies and not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too, poverty, disease and ignorance, we shall over, come.
- For at the real heart of battle for equality is a deep-seated belief in the democratic process. Equality depends not on the force of arms or tear gas but upon the force of moral right; not on recourse to violence but on respect for law and order.
- We must preserve the right of free speech and the right of free assembly. But the right of free speech does not carry with it, as has been said, the right to holler fire in a crowded theater. We must preserve the right to free assembly, but free assembly does not carry with it the right to block public thoroughfares to traffic. We do have a right to protest, and a right to march under conditions that do not infringe the constitutional rights of our neighbors. And I intend to protect all those rights as long as I am permitted to serve in this office. We will guard against violence, knowing it strikes from our hands the very weapons which we seek — progress, obedience to law, and belief in American values.
- In Selma as elsewhere we seek and pray for peace. We seek order. We seek unity. But we will not accept the peace of stifled rights, or the order imposed by fear, or the unity that stifles protest. For peace cannot be purchased at the cost of liberty.
- All Americans must have the privileges of citizenship regardless of race. And they are going to have those privileges of citizenship regardless of race. But I would like to caution you and remind you that to exercise these privileges takes much more than just legal right. It requires a trained mind and a healthy body. It requires a decent home, and the chance to find a job, and the opportunity to escape from the clutches of poverty. Of course, people cannot contribute to the Nation if they are never taught to read or write, if their bodies are stunted from hunger, if their sickness goes untended, if their life is spent in hopeless poverty just drawing a welfare check. So we want to open the gates to opportunity. But we are also going to give all our people, black and white, the help that they need to walk through those gates.
- This is the richest and most powerful country which ever occupied the globe. The might of past empires is little compared to ours. But I do not want to be the President who built empires, or sought grandeur, or extended dominion. I want to be the President who educated young children to the wonders of their world. I want to be the President who helped to feed the hungry and to prepare them to be taxpayers instead of taxeaters. I want to be the President who helped the poor to find their own way and who protected the right of every citizen to vote in every election. I want to be the President who helped to end hatred among his fellow men and who promoted love among the people of all races and all regions and all parties. I want to be the President who helped to end war among the brothers of this earth.
- Above the pyramid on the great seal of the United States it says, in Latin: 'God has favored our undertaking.' God will not favor everything that we do. It is rather our duty to divine His will. But I cannot help believing that He truly understands and that He really favors the undertaking that we begin here tonight.
Voting Rights Act signing speech (1965)Edit
President Lyndon B. Johnson's Remarks in the Capitol Rotunda at the Signing of the Voting Rights Act (August 6, 1965). Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965. Volume II, entry 394, pp. 811-815. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1966.
- In 1957, as the leader of the majority in the United States Senate, speaking in support of legislation to guarantee the right of all men to vote, I said, "This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies."
- This law covers many pages. But the heart of the act is plain. Wherever, by clear and objective standards, States and counties are using regulations, or laws, or tests to deny the right to vote, then they will be struck down. If it is clear that State officials still intend to discriminate, then Federal examiners will be sent in to register all eligible voters. When the prospect of discrimination is gone, the examiners will be immediately withdrawn. And, under this act, if any county anywhere in this Nation does not want Federal intervention it need only open its polling places to all of its people.
- Presidents and Congresses, laws and lawsuits can open the doors to the polling places and open the doors to the wondrous rewards which await the wise use of the ballot. But only the individual Negro, and all others who have been denied the right to vote, can really walk through those doors, and can use that right, and can transform the vote into an instrument of justice and fulfillment.
- If you do this, then you will find, as others have found before you, that the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.
- For it is not enough just to give men rights. They must be able to use those rights in their personal pursuit of happiness.
- There is no room for injustice anywhere in the American mansion. But there is always room for understanding toward those who see the old ways crumbling. And to them, today, I simply say this: It must come. It is right that it should come. And when it has, you will find that a burden has been lifted from your shoulders, too.
Remarks at the signing of the Immigration Bill (1965)Edit
- Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Ambassador Goldberg, distinguished Members of the leadership of the Congress, distinguished Governors and mayors, my fellow countrymen. We have called the Congress here this afternoon not only to mark a very historic occasion, but to settle a very old issue that is in dispute. That issue is, to what congressional district does Liberty Island really belong; Congressman Farbstein or Congressman Gallagher? It will be settled by whoever of the two can walk first to the top of the Statue of Liberty. This bill that we will sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives, or really add importantly to either our wealth or our power. Yet it is still one of the most important acts of this Congress and of this administration. For it does repair a very deep and painful flaw in the fabric of American justice. It corrects a cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American nation. Speaker McCormack and Congressman Celler almost 40 years ago first pointed that out in their maiden speeches in the Congress. And this measure that we will sign today will really make us truer to ourselves both as a country and as a people. It will strengthen us in a hundred unseen ways.
- I have come here to thank personally each Member of the Congress who labored so long and so valiantly to make this occasion come true today, and to make this bill a reality. I cannot mention all their names, for it would take much too long, but my gratitude; and that of this Nation; belongs to the 89th Congress. We are indebted, too, to the vision of the late beloved President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and to the support given to this measure by the then Attorney General and now Senator, Robert F. Kennedy. In the final days of consideration, this bill had no more able champion than the present Attorney General, Nicholas Katzenbach, who, with New York's own "Manny" Celler, and Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Congressman Feighan of Ohio, and Senator Mansfield and Senator Dirksen constituting the leadership of the Senate, and Senator Javits, helped to guide this bill to passage, along with the help of the Members sitting in front of me today.
- This bill says simply that from this day forth those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here. This is a simple test, and it is a fair test. Those who can contribute most to this country; to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit; will be the first that are admitted to this land. The fairness of this standard is so self-evident that we may well wonder that it has not always been applied. Yet the fact is that for over four decades the immigration policy of the United States has been twisted and has been distorted by the harsh injustice of the national origins quota system. Under that system the ability of new immigrants to come to America depended upon the country of their birth. Only 3 countries were allowed to supply 70 percent of all the immigrants. Families were kept apart because a husband or a wife or a child had been born in the wrong place. Men of needed skill and talent were denied entrance because they came from southern or eastern Europe or from one of the developing continents. This system violated the basic principle of American democracy; the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man. It has been un-American in the highest sense, because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country. Today, with my signature, this system is abolished. We can now believe that it will never again shadow the gate to the American nation with the twin barriers of prejudice and privilege. Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more they have poured forth into an empty land, joining and blending in one mighty and irresistible tide. The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources; because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples. And from this experience, almost unique in the history of nations, has come America's attitude toward the rest of the world. We, because of what we are, feel safer and stronger in a world as varied as the people who make it up; a world where no country rules another and all countries can deal with the basic problems of human dignity and deal with those problems in their own way. Now, under the monument which has welcomed so many to our shores, the American nation returns to the finest of its traditions today. The days of unlimited immigration are past. But those who do come will come because of what they are, and not because of the land from which they sprung.
- When the earliest settlers poured into a wild continent there was no one to ask them where they came from. The only question was: Were they sturdy enough to make the journey, were they strong enough to clear the land, were they enduring enough to make a home for freedom, and were they brave enough to die for liberty if it became necessary to do so? And so it has been through all the great and testing moments of American history. Our history this year we see in Vietnam. Men there are dying; men named Fernandez and Zajac and Zelinko and Mariano and McCormick. Neither the enemy who killed them nor the people whose independence they have fought to save ever asked them where they or their parents came from. They were all Americans. It was for free men and for America that they gave their all, they gave their lives and selves. By eliminating that same question as a test for immigration the Congress proves ourselves worthy of those men and worthy of our own traditions as a nation.
- So it is in that spirit that I declare this afternoon to the people of Cuba that those who seek refuge here in America will find it. The dedication of America to our traditions as an asylum for the oppressed is going to be upheld. I have directed the Departments of State and Justice and Health, Education, and Welfare to immediately make all the necessary arrangements to permit those in Cuba who seek freedom to make an orderly entry into the United States of America. Our first concern will be with those Cubans who have been separated from their children and their parents and their husbands and their wives and that are now in this country. Our next concern is with those who are imprisoned for political reasons. And I will send to the Congress tomorrow a request for supplementary funds of $12,600,000 to carry forth the commitment that I am making today. I am asking the Department of State to seek through the Swiss government immediately the agreement of the Cuban government in a request to the President of the International Red Cross Committee. The request is for the assistance of the Committee in processing the movement of refugees from Cuba to Miami. Miami will serve as a port of entry and a temporary stopping place for refugees as they settle in other parts of this country. And to all the voluntary agencies in the United States, I appeal for their continuation and expansion of their magnificent work. Their help is needed in the reception and the settlement of those who choose to leave Cuba. The Federal Government will work closely with these agencies in their tasks of charity and brotherhood. I want all the people of this great land of ours to know of the really enormous contribution which the compassionate citizens of Florida have made to humanity and to decency. And all States in this Union can join with Florida now in extending the hand of helpfulness and humanity to our Cuban brothers. The lesson of our times is sharp and clear in this movement of people from one land to another. Once again, it stamps the mark of failure on a regime when many of its citizens voluntarily choose to leave the land of their birth for a more hopeful home in America. The future holds little hope for any government where the present holds no hope for the people. And so we Americans will welcome these Cuban people. For the tides of history run strong, and in another day they can return to their homeland to find it cleansed of terror and free from fear. Over my shoulders here you can see Ellis Island, whose vacant corridors echo today the joyous sound of long ago voices. And today we can all believe that the lamp of this grand old lady is brighter today; and the golden door that she guards gleams more brilliantly in the light of an increased liberty for the people from all the countries of the globe. Thank you very much.
State of the Union Address (1966)Edit
- Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of the House and the Senate, my fellow Americans. I come before you tonight to report on the State of the Union for the third time. I come here to thank you and to add my tribute, once more, to the nation's gratitude for this, the 89th Congress. This Congress has already reserved for itself an honored chapter in the history of America. Our nation tonight is engaged in a brutal and bitter conflict in Vietnam. Later on I want to discuss that struggle in some detail with you. It just must be the center of our concerns. But we will not permit those who fire upon us in Vietnam to win a victory over the desires and the intentions of all the American people. This nation is mighty enough, its society is healthy enough, its people are strong enough, to pursue our goals in the rest of the world while still building a Great Society here at home. And that is what I have come here to ask of you tonight.
- I recommend that you provide the resources to carry forward, with full vigor, the great health and education programs that you enacted into law last year. I recommend that we prosecute with vigor and determination our war on poverty. I recommend that you give a new and daring direction to our foreign aid program, designed to make a maximum attack on hunger and disease and ignorance in those countries that are determined to help themselves, and to help those nations that are trying to control population growth. I recommend that you make it possible to expand trade between the United States and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. I recommend to you a program to rebuild completely, on a scale never before attempted, entire central and slum areas of several of our cities in America. I recommend that you attack the wasteful and degrading poisoning of our rivers, and, as the cornerstone of this effort, clean completely entire large river basins. I recommend that you meet the growing menace of crime in the streets by building up law enforcement and by revitalizing the entire federal system from prevention to probation. I recommend that you take additional steps to insure equal justice to all of our people by effectively enforcing nondiscrimination in federal and state jury selection, by making it a serious federal crime to obstruct public and private efforts to secure civil rights, and by outlawing discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. I recommend that you help me modernize and streamline the federal government by creating a new Cabinet-level Department of Transportation and reorganizing several existing agencies. In turn, I will restructure our civil service in the top grades so that men and women can easily be assigned to jobs where they are most needed, and ability will be both required as well as rewarded. I will ask you to make it possible for members of the House of Representatives to work more effectively in the service of the nation through a constitutional amendment extending the term of a Congressman to four years, concurrent with that of the President. Because of Vietnam we cannot do all that we should, or all that we would like to do. We will ruthlessly attack waste and inefficiency. We will make sure that every dollar is spent with the thrift and with the commonsense which recognizes how hard the taxpayer worked in order to earn it. We will continue to meet the needs of our people by continuing to develop the Great Society. Last year alone the wealth that we produced increased $47 billion, and it will soar again this year to a total over $720 billion. Because our economic policies have produced rising revenues, if you approve every program that I recommend tonight, our total budget deficit will be one of the lowest in many years. It will be only $1.8 billion next year. Total spending in the administrative budget will be $112.8 billion. Revenues next year will be $111 billion. On a cash basis—which is the way that you and I keep our family budget—the federal budget next year will actually show a surplus. That is to say, if we include all the money that your government will take in and all the money that your government will spend, your government next year will collect one-half billion dollars more than it will spend in the year 1967. I have not come here tonight to ask for pleasant luxuries or for idle pleasures. I have come here to recommend that you, the representatives of the richest nation on earth, you, the elected servants of a people who live in abundance unmatched on this globe, you bring the most urgent decencies of life to all of your fellow Americans.
- There are men who cry out, 'We must sacrifice'. Well, let us rather ask them: Who will they sacrifice? Are they going to sacrifice the children who seek the learning, or the sick who need medical care, or the families who dwell in squalor now brightened by the hope of home? Will they sacrifice opportunity for the distressed, the beauty of our land, the hope of our poor? Time may require further sacrifices. And if it does, then we will make them. But we will not heed those who wring it from the hopes of the unfortunate here in a land of plenty. I believe that we can continue the Great Society while we fight in Vietnam. But if there are some who do not believe this, then, in the name of justice, let them call for the contribution of those who live in the fullness of our blessing, rather than try to strip it from the hands of those that are most in need. And let no one think that the unfortunate and the oppressed of this land sit stifled and alone in their hope tonight. Hundreds of their servants and their protectors sit before me tonight here in this great chamber. The Great Society leads us along three roads—growth and justice and liberation. First is growth—the national prosperity which supports the well-being of our people and which provides the tools of our progress. I can report to you tonight what you have seen for yourselves already—in every city and countryside. This nation is flourishing. Workers are making more money than ever—with after-tax income in the past five years up 33 percent; in the last year alone, up 8 percent. More people are working than ever before in our history—an increase last year of two and a half million jobs. Corporations have greater after-tax earnings than ever in history. For the past five years those earnings have been up over 65 percent, and last year alone they had a rise of 20 percent. Average farm income is higher than ever. Over the past five years it is up 40 percent, and over the past year it is up 22 percent alone.
- I was informed this afternoon by the distinguished Secretary of the Treasury that his preliminary estimates indicate that our balance of payments deficit has been reduced from $2.8 billion in 1964 to $1.3 billion, or less, in 1965. This achievement has been made possible by the patriotic voluntary cooperation of businessmen and bankers working with your government. We must now work together with increased urgency to wipe out this balance of payments deficit altogether in the next year. And as our economy surges toward new heights we must increase our vigilance against the inflation which raises the cost of living and which lowers the savings of every family in this land. It is essential, to prevent inflation, that we ask both labor and business to exercise price and wage restraint, and I do so again tonight. I believe it desirable, because of increased military expenditures, that you temporarily restore the automobile and certain telephone excise tax reductions made effective only 12 days ago. Without raising taxes—or even increasing the total tax bill paid—we should move to improve our withholding system so that Americans can more realistically pay as they go, speed up the collection of corporate taxes, and make other necessary simplifications of the tax structure at an early date.
- I hope these measures will be adequate. But if the necessities of Vietnam require it, I will not hesitate to return to the Congress for additional appropriations, or additional revenues if they are needed. The second road is justice. Justice means a man's hope should not be limited by the color of his skin. I propose legislation to establish unavoidable requirements for nondiscriminatory jury selection in federal and state courts—and to give the Attorney General the power necessary to enforce those requirements. I propose legislation to strengthen authority of federal courts to try those who murder, attack, or intimidate either civil rights workers or others exercising their constitutional rights—and to increase penalties to a level equal to the nature of the crime. Legislation, resting on the fullest constitutional authority of the federal government, to prohibit racial discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. For that other nation within a nation—the poor—whose distress has now captured the conscience of America, I will ask the Congress not only to continue, but to speed up the war on poverty. And in so doing, we will provide the added energy of achievement with the increased efficiency of experience. To improve the life of our rural Americans and our farm population, we will plan for the future through the establishment of several new Community Development Districts, improved education through the use of Teacher Corps teams, better health measures, physical examinations, and adequate and available medical resources.
- For those who labor, I propose to improve unemployment insurance, to expand minimum wage benefits, and by the repeal of section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act to make the labor laws in all our states equal to the laws of the 31 states which do not have tonight right-to-work measures. And I also intend to ask the Congress to consider measures which, without improperly invading state and local authority, will enable us effectively to deal with strikes which threaten irreparable damage to the national interest. The third path is the path of liberation. It is to use our success for the fulfillment of our lives. A great nation is one which breeds a great people. A great people flower not from wealth and power, but from a society which spurs them to the fullness of their genius. That alone is a Great Society. Yet, slowly, painfully, on the edge of victory, has come the knowledge that shared prosperity is not enough. In the midst of abundance modern man walks oppressed by forces which menace and confine the quality of his life, and which individual abundance alone will not overcome. We can subdue and we can master these forces—bring increased meaning to our lives—if all of us, government and citizens, are bold enough to change old ways, daring enough to assault new dangers, and if the dream is dear enough to call forth the limitless capacities of this great people.
- This year we must continue to improve the quality of American life. Let us fulfill and improve the great health and education programs of last year, extending special opportunities to those who risk their lives in our armed forces. I urge the House of Representatives to complete action on three programs already passed by the Senate—the Teacher Corps, rent assistance, and home rule for the District of Columbia. In some of our urban areas we must help rebuild entire sections and neighborhoods containing, in some cases, as many as 100,000 people. Working together, private enterprise and government must press forward with the task of providing homes and shops, parks and hospitals, and all the other necessary parts of a flourishing community where our people can come to live the good life. I will offer other proposals to stimulate and to reward planning for the growth of entire metropolitan areas. Of all the reckless devastations of our national heritage, none is really more shameful than the continued poisoning of our rivers and our air. We must undertake a cooperative effort to end pollution in several river basins, making additional funds available to help draw the plans and construct the plants that are necessary to make the waters of our entire river systems clean, and make them a source of pleasure and beauty for all of our people. To attack and to overcome growing crime and lawlessness, I think we must have a stepped-up program to help modernize and strengthen our local police forces. Our people have a right to feel secure in their homes and on their streets—and that right just must be secured. Nor can we fail to arrest the destruction of life and property on our highways.
- I will propose a Highway Safety Act of 1966 to seek an end to this mounting tragedy. We must also act to prevent the deception of the American consumer—requiring all packages to state clearly and truthfully their contents—all interest and credit charges to be fully revealed—and keeping harmful drugs and cosmetics away from our stores. It is the genius of our Constitution that under its shelter of enduring institutions and rooted principles there is ample room for the rich fertility of American political invention. We must change to master change. I propose to take steps to modernize and streamline the executive branch, to modernize the relations between city and state and nation. A new Department of Transportation is needed to bring together our transportation activities. The present structure—35 government agencies, spending $5 billion yearly—makes it almost impossible to serve either the growing demands of this great nation or the needs of the industry, or the right of the taxpayer to full efficiency and real frugality. I will propose in addition a program to construct and to flight-test a new supersonic transport airplane that will fly three times the speed of sound—in excess of 2,000 miles per hour. I propose to examine our federal system-the relation between city, state, nation, and the citizens themselves. We need a commission of the most distinguished scholars and men of public affairs to do this job. I will ask them to move on to develop a creative federalism to best use the wonderful diversity of our institutions and our people to solve the problems and to fulfill the dreams of the American people. As the process of election becomes more complex and more costly, we must make it possible for those without personal wealth to enter public life without being obligated to a few large contributors. Therefore, I will submit legislation to revise the present unrealistic restriction on contributions—to prohibit the endless proliferation of committees, bringing local and state committees under the act—to attach strong teeth and severe penalties to the requirement of full disclosure of contributions—and to broaden the participation of the people, through added tax incentives, to stimulate small contributions to the party and to the candidate of their choice.
- To strengthen the work of Congress I strongly urge an amendment to provide a four-year term for Members of the House of Representatives—which should not begin before 1972. The present two-year term requires most members of Congress to divert enormous energies to an almost constant process of campaigning—depriving this nation of the fullest measure of both their skill and their wisdom. Today, too, the work of government is far more complex than in our early years, requiring more time to learn and more time to master the technical tasks of legislating. And a longer term will serve to attract more men of the highest quality to political life. The nation, the principle of democracy, and, I think, each congressional district, will all be better served by a four-year term for members of the House. And I urge your swift action. Tonight the cup of peril is full in Vietnam. That conflict is not an isolated episode, but another great event in the policy that we have followed with strong consistency since World War II. The touchstone of that policy is the interest of the United States—the welfare and the freedom of the people of the United States. But nations sink when they see that interest only through a narrow glass. In a world that has grown small and dangerous, pursuit of narrow aims could bring decay and even disaster. An America that is mighty beyond description—yet living in a hostile or despairing world—would be neither safe nor free to build a civilization to liberate the spirit of man. In this pursuit we helped rebuild Western Europe. We gave our aid to Greece and Turkey, and we defended the freedom of Berlin. In this pursuit we have helped new nations toward independence. We have extended the helping hand of the Peace Corps and carried forward the largest program of economic assistance in the world. And in this pursuit we work to build a hemisphere of democracy and of social justice. In this pursuit we have defended against Communist aggression—in Korea under President Truman—in the Formosa Straits under President Eisenhower—in Cuba under President Kennedy—and again in Vietnam.
- Tonight Vietnam must hold the center of our attention, but across the world problems and opportunities crowd in on the American Nation. I will discuss them fully in the months to come, and I will follow the five continuing lines of policy that America has followed under its last four Presidents. The first principle is strength. Tonight I can tell you that we are strong enough to keep all of our commitments. We will need expenditures of $58.3 billion for the next fiscal year to maintain this necessary defense might. While special Vietnam expenditures for the next fiscal year are estimated to increase by $5.8 billion, I can tell you that all the other expenditures put together in the entire federal budget will rise this coming year by only $0.6 billion. This is true because of the stringent cost-conscious economy program inaugurated in the Defense Department, and followed by the other departments of government. A second principle of policy is the effort to control, and to reduce, and to ultimately eliminate the modern engines of destruction. We will vigorously pursue existing proposals—and seek new ones—to control arms and to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. A third major principle of our foreign policy is to help build those associations of nations which reflect the opportunities and the necessities of the modern world. By strengthening the common defense, by stimulating world commerce, by meeting new hopes, these associations serve the cause of a flourishing world. We will take new steps this year to help strengthen the Alliance for Progress, the unity of Europe, the community of the Atlantic, the regional organizations of developing continents, and that supreme association—the United Nations. We will work to strengthen economic cooperation, to reduce barriers to trade, and to improve international finance.
- A fourth enduring strand of policy has been to help improve the life of man. From the Marshall Plan to this very moment tonight, that policy has rested on the claims of compassion, and the certain knowledge that only a people advancing in expectation will build secure and peaceful lands. This year I propose major new directions in our program of foreign assistance to help those countries who will help themselves. We will conduct a worldwide attack on the problems of hunger and disease and ignorance. We will place the matchless skill and the resources of our own great America, in farming and in fertilizers, at the service of those countries committed to develop a modern agriculture. We will aid those who educate the young in other lands, and we will give children in other continents the same head start that we are trying to give our own children. To advance these ends I will propose the International Education Act of 1966. I will also propose the International Health Act of 1966 to strike at disease by a new effort to bring modern skills and knowledge to the uncared—for, those suffering in the world, and by trying to wipe out smallpox and malaria and control yellow fever over most of the world during this next decade; to help countries trying to control population growth, by increasing our research—and we will earmark funds to help their efforts. In the next year, from our foreign aid sources, we propose to dedicate $1 billion to these efforts, and we call on all who have the means to join us in this work in the world.
- The fifth and most important principle of our foreign policy is support of national independence—the right of each people to govern themselves—and to shape their own institutions. For a peaceful world order will be possible only when each country walks the way that it has chosen to walk for itself. We follow this principle by encouraging the end of colonial rule. We follow this principle, abroad as well as at home, by continued hostility to the rule of the many by the few—or the oppression of one race by another. We follow this principle by building bridges to Eastern Europe. And I will ask the Congress for authority to remove the special tariff restrictions which are a barrier to increasing trade between the East and the West. The insistent urge toward national independence is the strongest force of today's world in which we live. In Africa and Asia and Latin America it is shattering the designs of those who would subdue others to their ideas or their will. It is eroding the unity of what was once a Stalinist empire. In recent months a number of nations have east out those who would subject them to the ambitions of mainland China. History is on the side of freedom and is on the side of societies shaped from the genius of each people. History does not favor a single system or belief—unless force is used to make it so. That is why it has been necessary for us to defend this basic principle of our policy, to defend it in Berlin, in Korea, in Cuba—and tonight in Vietnam.
- For tonight, as so many nights before, young Americans struggle and young Americans die in a distant land. Tonight, as so many nights before, the American Nation is asked to sacrifice the blood of its children and the fruits of its labor for the love of its freedom. How many times—in my lifetime and in yours—have the American people gathered, as they do now, to hear their President tell them of conflict and tell them of danger? Each time they have answered. They have answered with all the effort that the security and the freedom of this nation required. And they do again tonight in Vietnam. Not too many years ago Vietnam was a peaceful, if troubled, land. In the North was an independent Communist government. In the South a people struggled to build a nation, with the friendly help of the United States. There were some in South Vietnam who wished to force Communist rule on their own people. But their progress was slight. Their hope of success was dim. Then, little more than six years ago, North Vietnam decided on conquest. And from that day to this, soldiers and supplies have moved from North to South in a swelling stream that is swallowing the remnants of revolution in aggression. As the assault mounted, our choice gradually became clear. We could leave, abandoning South Vietnam to its attackers and to certain conquest, or we could stay and fight beside the people of South Vietnam. We stayed. And we will stay until aggression has stopped.
- We will stay because a just nation cannot leave to the cruelties of its enemies a people who have staked their lives and independence on America's solemn pledge—a pledge which has grown through the commitments of three American Presidents. We will stay because in Asia and around the world are countries whose independence rests, in large measure, on confidence in America's word and in America's protection. To yield to force in Vietnam would weaken that confidence, would undermine the independence of many lands, and would whet the appetite of aggression. We would have to fight in one land, and then we would have to fight in another—or abandon much of Asia to the domination of Communists. And we do not intend to abandon Asia to conquest.
- Last year the nature of the war in Vietnam changed again. Swiftly increasing numbers of armed men from the North crossed the borders to join forces that were already in the South. Attack and terror increased, spurred and encouraged by the belief that the United States lacked the will to continue and that their victory was near. Despite our desire to limit conflict, it was necessary to act: to hold back the mounting aggression, to give courage to the people of the South, and to make our firmness clear to the North. Thus. we began limited air action against military targets in North Vietnam. We increased our fighting force to its present strength tonight of 190,000 men. These moves have not ended the aggression but they have prevented its success. The aims of the enemy have been put out of reach by the skill and the bravery of Americans and their allies—and by the enduring courage of the South Vietnamese who, I can tell you, have lost eight men last year for every one of ours. The enemy is no longer close to victory. Time is no longer on his side. There is no cause to doubt the American commitment. Our decision to stand firm has been matched by our desire for peace.
- In 1965 alone we had 300 private talks for peace in Vietnam, with friends and adversaries throughout the world. Since Christmas your government has labored again, with imagination and endurance, to remove any barrier to peaceful settlement. For 20 days now we and our Vietnamese allies have dropped no bombs in North Vietnam. Able and experienced spokesmen have visited, in behalf of America, more than 40 countries. We have talked to more than a hundred governments, all 113 that we have relations with, and some that we don't. We have talked to the United Nations and we have called upon all of its members to make any contribution that they can toward helping obtain peace. In public statements and in private communications, to adversaries and to friends, in Rome and Warsaw, in Paris and Tokyo, in Africa and throughout this hemisphere, America has made her position abundantly clear. We seek neither territory nor bases, economic domination or military alliance in Vietnam. We fight for the principle of self-determination—that the people of South Vietnam should be able to choose their own course, choose it in free elections without violence, without terror, and without fear. The people of all Vietnam should make a free decision on the great question of reunification. This is all we want for South Vietnam. It is all the people of South Vietnam want. And if there is a single nation on this earth that desires less than this for its own people, then let its voice be heard. We have also made it clear—from Hanoi to New York—that there are no arbitrary limits to our search for peace. We stand by the Geneva Agreements of 1954 and 1962. We will meet at any conference table, we will discuss any proposals—four points or 14 or 40—and we will consider the views of any group. We will work for a cease-fire now or once discussions have begun. We will respond if others reduce their use of force, and we will withdraw our soldiers once South Vietnam is securely guaranteed the right to shape its own future. We have said all this, and we have asked—and hoped—and we have waited for a response. So far we have received no response to prove either success or failure.
- We have carried our quest for peace to many nations and peoples because we share this planet with others whose future, in large measure, is tied to our own action, and whose counsel is necessary to our own hopes. We have found understanding and support. And we know they wait with us tonight for some response that could lead to peace. I wish tonight that I could give you a blueprint for the course of this conflict over the coming months, but we just cannot know what the future may require. We may have to face long, hard combat or a long, hard conference, or even both at once. Until peace comes, or if it does not come, our course is clear. We will act as we must to help protect the independence of the valiant people of South Vietnam. We will strive to limit the conflict, for we wish neither increased destruction nor do we want to invite increased danger. But we will give our fighting men what they must have: every gun, and every dollar, and every decision—whatever the cost or whatever the challenge. And we will continue to help the people of South Vietnam care for those that are ravaged by battle, create progress in the villages, and carry forward the healing hopes of peace as best they can amidst the uncertain terrors of war. And let me be absolutely clear: The days may become months, and the months may become years, but we will stay as long as aggression commands us to battle. There may be some who do not want peace, whose ambitions stretch so far that war in Vietnam is but a welcome and convenient episode in an immense design to subdue history to their will. But for others it must now be clear—the choice is not between peace and victory, it lies between peace and the ravages of a conflict from which they can only lose.
- The people of Vietnam, north and south, seek the same things, the shared needs of man, the needs for food and shelter and education—the chance to build and work and till the soil, free from the arbitrary horrors of battle, the desire to walk in the dignity of those who master their own destiny. For many painful years, in war and revolution and infrequent peace, they have struggled to fulfill those needs. It is a crime against mankind that so much courage, and so much will, and so many dreams, must be flung on the fires of war and death. To all of those caught up in this conflict we therefore say again tonight, 'Let us choose peace, and with it the wondrous works of peace, and beyond that, the time when hope reaches toward consummation, and life is the servant of life'. In this work, we plan to discharge our duty to the people whom we serve. This is the State of the Union. But over it all—wealth, and promise, and expectation—lies our troubling awareness of American men at war tonight.
- How many men who listen to me tonight have served their nation in other wars? How very many are not here to listen? The war in Vietnam is not like these other wars. Yet, finally, war is always the same. It is young men dying in the fullness of their promise. It is trying to kill a man that you do not even know well enough to hate. Therefore, to know war is to know that there is still madness in this world.
- Many of you share the burden of this knowledge tonight with me. But there is a difference. For finally I must be the one to order our guns to fire, against all the most inward pulls of my desire. For we have children to teach, and we have sick to be cured, and we have men to be freed. There are poor to be lifted up, and there are cities to be built, and there is a world to be helped. Yet we do what we must. I am hopeful, and I will try as best I can, with everything I have got, to end this battle and to return our sons to their desires. Yet as long as others will challenge America's security and test the clearness of our beliefs with fire and steel, then we must stand or see the promise of two centuries tremble. I believe tonight that you do not want me to try that risk. And from that belief your President summons his strength for the trials that lie ahead in the days to come. The work must be our work now. Scarred by the weaknesses of man, with whatever guidance God may offer us, we must nevertheless and alone with our mortality, strive to ennoble the life of man on earth. Thank you, and goodnight.
Statement on the Freedom of Information Act (1966)Edit
- A democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the Nation permits. No one should be able to pull curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest. At the same time, the welfare of the Nation or the rights of individuals may require that some documents not be made available. As long as threats to peace exist, for example, there must be military secrets. A citizen must be able in confidence to complain to his Government and to provide information, just as he is–and should be–free to confide in the press without fear of reprisal or of being required to reveal or discuss his sources.
- I have always believed that freedom of information is so vital that only the national security, not the desire of public officials or private citizens, should determine when it must be restricted.
- I signed this measure with a deep sense of pride that the United States is an open society in which the people's right to know is cherished and guarded.
Letter to Ho Chi Minh (1967)Edit
- Letter from President Johnson to Ho Chi Minh, President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, February 8, 1967
- I am writing to you in the hope that the conflict in Vietnam can be brought to an end. That conflict has already taken a heavy toll-in lives lost, in wounds inflicted, in property destroyed, and in simple human misery. If we fail to find a just and peaceful solution, history will judge us harshly.
- Therefore, I believe that we both have a heavy obligation to seek earnestly the path to peace. It is in response to that obligation that I am writing directly to you.
- We have tried over the past several years, in a variety of ways and through a number of channels, to convey to you and your colleagues our desire to achieve a peaceful settlement. For whatever reasons, these efforts have not achieved any results. . . .
- In the past two weeks, I have noted public statements by representatives of your government suggesting that you would be prepared to enter into direct bilateral talks with representatives of the U.S. Government, provided that we ceased "unconditionally" and permanently our bombing operations against your country and all military actions against it. In the last day, serious and responsible parties have assured us indirectly that this is in fact your proposal.
- Let me frankly state that I see two great difficulties with this proposal. In view of your public position, such action on our part would inevitably produce worldwide speculation that discussions were under way and would impair the privacy and secrecy of those discussions. Secondly, there would inevitably be grave concern on our part whether your government would make use of such action by us to improve its military position.
- With these problems in mind, I am prepared to move even further towards an ending of hostilities than your Government has proposed in either public statements or through private diplomatic channels. I am prepared to order a cessation of bombing against your country and the stopping of further augmentation of U.S. forces in South Viet-Nam as soon as I am assured that infiltration into South Viet-Nam by land and by sea has stopped. These acts of restraint on both sides would, I believe, make it possible for us to conduct serious and private discussions leading toward an early peace.
- I make this proposal to you now with a specific sense of urgency arising from the imminent New Year holidays in Viet-Nam. If you are able to accept this proposal I see no reason why it could not take effect at the end of the New Year, or Tet, holidays. The proposal I have made would be greatly strengthened if your military authorities and those of the Government of South Viet-Nam could promptly negotiate an extension of the Tet truce.
- As to the site of the bilateral discussions I propose, there are several possibilities. We could, for example, have our representatives meet in Moscow where contacts have already occurred. They could meet in some other country such as Burma. You may have other arrangements or sites in mind, and I would try to meet your suggestions.
- The important thing is to end a conflict that has brought burdens to both our peoples, and above all to the people of South Viet-Nam. If you have any thoughts about the actions I propose , it would be most important that I receive them as soon as possible.
October surprise speech (1968)Edit
- Of those to whom much is given, much is asked. I cannot say and no man could say that no more will be asked of us.
- An allusion to the Parable of the Faithful Servant
- I believe that we must always be mindful of this one thing, whatever the trials and the tests ahead. The ultimate strength of our country and our cause will lie not in powerful weapons or infinite resources or boundless wealth, but will lie in the unity of our people.
- Throughout my entire public career I have followed the personal philosophy that I am a free man, an American, a public servant, and a member of my party, in that order always and only. For 37 years in the service of our Nation, first as a Congressman, as a Senator, and as Vice President, and now as your President, I have put the unity of the people first. I have put it ahead of any divisive partisanship. And in these times as in times before, it is true that a house divided against itself by the spirit of faction, of party, of region, of religion, of race, is a house that cannot stand.
- An allusion to the Abraham Lincoln's House Divided Speech and a reference to the Gospel of Matthew, 12:25: "[Every] city or house divided against itself shall not stand."
- What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics among any of our people. Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year. With America's sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office — the Presidency of your country. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.
Remarks on the Civil Rights Act (1968)Edit
- In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we affirmed through law that men equal under God are also equal when they seek a job, when they go to get a meal in a restaurant, or when they seek lodging for the night in any State in the Union.
- In the Civil Rights Act of 1965, we affirmed through law for every citizen in this land the most basic right of democracy—the right of a citizen to vote in an election in his country. In the five States where the Act had its greater impact, Negro voter registration has already more than doubled.
- We all know that the roots of injustice run deep. But violence cannot redress a solitary wrong, or remedy a single unfairness. Of course, all America is outraged at the assassination of an outstanding Negro leader who was at that meeting that afternoon in the White House in 1966. And America is also outraged at the looting and the burning that defiles our democracy. We just must put our shoulders together and put a stop to both. The time is here. Action must be now. So, I would appeal to my fellow Americans by saying, the only real road to progress for free people is through the process of law and that is the road that America will travel.
- It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.
Quotes about JohnsonEdit
- Sorted alphabetically by author or source
- Chris Cillizza: If there is a list of the 15 greatest senators ever, is McCain on it? Why or why not?
Ross Baker: He’s not up there with [Henry] Clay, [Daniel] Webster, [John] Calhoun, [Charles] Sumner and LBJ, but he’s a lot closer than Ted Cruz will ever be. Few senators in recent years, however, have had such a stupendous sendoff. He always had the media eating out of his hand. That’s no minor accomplishment.
- CNN article The ‘thumbs down’ health care vote that enraged Trump is John McCain’s lasting legacy (29 August 2018)
- Bobby doubted Johnson's liberalism, thought him insufficiently liberal. Ted Kennedy did not; in fact, Johnson's new liberal fervor seemed to have stoked Ted's and made him more liberal than he had been during his own brother's administration. He was catching the gust of liberal wind. And Johnson appreciated the support, even as he curried it.
- Neal Gabler, Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour, 1932-1975 (2020), p. 256
- In this respect, Ted Kennedy was more like Lyndon Johnson than like his brothers. He was laying down his marker on the Senate as Johnson had. He was demonstrating that he could make the institution work. It was as if he was seeking to escape the politics of charisma that his brothers had personified and that had, arguably, cost them their lives; as if he was seeking reposition himself as a pol, not a messiah, burying himself in Senate drudgery, retreating into the institution, following Johnson's lead and Humphrey's, both of whom had been whips, protecting himself physically but also spiritually. It was totally uncharacteristic for a Kennedy to do so. No Kennedy had ever been an institutionalist, much less an errand boy.
- Neal Gabler, Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour, 1932-1975 (2020), p. 434
- An extraordinarily gifted president who was the wrong man from the wrong place at the wrong time under the wrong circumstances.
- Eric F. Goldman, The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson, Ch. 18 (1969)
- Johnson was a dirty fighter. Any campaign with him in it would involve a lot of innuendo and lies. Johnson was a wheeler-dealer. Neither he nor anyone else could change that. That's what he was. And Johnson was a treacherous boot. He'd slap you on the back today and stab you in the back tomorrow. Moreover, LBJ was dull. He was a lousy public speaker. The man didn't believe half of what he said. He was a hypocrite, and it came through in the hollowness of his speech. LBJ made me sick.
- Barry M. Goldwater, Goldwater (1988), co-written with Jack Casserly, p. 151
- The reaction to Bob Woodward’s new book Fear has been almost completely devoid of historical context. The very folks who are trying to convince us, based on Woodward’s account, that Donald Trump is unhinged are ignoring the fact that Trump is hardly the first American president to have temperamental deficiencies. Many of Trump’s alleged personality-related problems are not new in presidential history. Presenting his eccentricities as evidence of a constitutional crisis reflects a clear bias of omission by those doing the reporting.
- Philip G. Henderson in Donald Trump: Crazy Like LBJ (3 October 2018)
- Johnson was unquestionably an insecure man. A graduate of Southwest Texas State Teachers College, he’d forever felt inferior to anyone with an Ivy League degree, especially if their last name was Kennedy.
- Philip G. Henderson in Donald Trump: Crazy Like LBJ (3 October 2018)
- As noted previously, Lyndon Johnson and Woodrow Wilson are ranked among the top 11 presidents in American history. Yet how much did their personality flaws actually inhibit their overall records of accomplishment? The same question must be asked of Donald Trump.
- Philip G. Henderson in Donald Trump: Crazy Like LBJ (3 October 2018)
- Even those who believe LBJ laid the groundwork for a more compassionate nation have to concede that the Great Society promised “an end to poverty and racial injustice,” which makes it, by definition, a failure. It was also an electoral loser for decades. Although Vietnam was the primary culprit, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were both elected, at least in part, because voters wanted law and order amidst a rising crime rate and heightened cultural anxiety and urban unrest. There was also the sense that the welfare state was too large and that big government liberalism had overreached its mandate.
- Matt Lewis in Joe Biden Wants to Be LBJ, but LBJ’s Presidency Was a Disaster (23 April 2021)
- Fast-forward to 2021: Joe Biden is riding high, and LBJ is back in vogue—as are many of the same issues he championed (in a sense, an ironic reminder of his failure to fix them). Voting rights and civil rights are front-page news. Police shootings and threats of riots abound. And we are spending money that would have made LBJ blush. Years of congressional gridlock and stasis have caused many to yearn for a “master of the Senate” who can steamroll the opposition and pass landmark legislation. Does Biden have what it takes to finally right our sinking ship?
- Matt Lewis in Joe Biden Wants to Be LBJ, but LBJ’s Presidency Was a Disaster (23 April 2021)
- Even if Biden avoids all of those dangers, Johnson’s legacy remains flawed. Biden might think he can simply give up on the war in Afghanistan, but the war on poverty is the real “forever war.” As the progressive outlet Mother Jones noted a few years ago, “The government’s official measure of poverty shows that poverty has actually increased slightly since the Johnson administration, rising from 14.2 percent in 1967 to 15 percent in 2012” (although if you include “additional non-cash government aid from safety net programs,” the poverty rate fell during that time). It is impressive that LBJ enacted nearly 200 new laws in such a short timespan. That copious output, coupled with its enduring legacy (Medicaid and Medicare, for example), make Johnson a consequential president. They do not, however, make him a good one. If the goal was to win the war on poverty, we didn’t achieve it—we are still stuck in a quagmire.
- Matt Lewis in Joe Biden Wants to Be LBJ, but LBJ’s Presidency Was a Disaster (23 April 2021)
- While Lyndon Baines Johnson was a man of time and place, he felt the bitter paradox of both. I was a young man on his staff in 1960 when he gave me a vivid account of that southern schizophrenia he understood and feared. We were in Tennessee. During the motorcade, he spotted some ugly racial epithets scrawled on signs. Late that night in the hotel, when the local dignitaries had finished the last bottles of bourbon and branch water and departed, he started talking about those signs. "I'll tell you what's at the bottom of it," he said. "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."
Some years later when Johnson was president, there was a press conference in the East Room. A reporter unexpectedly asked the president how he could explain his sudden passion for civil rights when he had never shown much enthusiasm for the cause. The question hung in the air. I could almost hear his silent cursing of a press secretary who had not anticipated this one. But then he relaxed, and from an instinct no assistant could brief — one seasoned in the double life from which he was delivered and hoped to deliver others — he said in effect: Most of us don't have a second chance to correct the mistakes of our youth. I do and I am. That evening, sitting in the White House, discussing the question with friends and staff, he gestured broadly and said, "Eisenhower used to tell me that this place was a prison. I never felt freer."
In those days, our faith was in integration. The separatist cries would come later, as white flight and black power ended the illusion that an atmosphere of genuine acceptance and respect across color lines would overcome in our time the pernicious effects of a racism so deeply imbedded in American life. But Lyndon Johnson championed that faith. He thought the opposite of integration was not just segregation but disintegration — a nation unraveling.
- As a master of politics and the legislative process, he grasped like few others the power of government to bring about change. …President Johnson liked power. He liked the feel of it, the wielding of it. But that hunger was harnessed and redeemed by a deeper understanding of the human condition; by a sympathy for the underdog, for the downtrodden, for the outcast. And it was a sympathy rooted in his own experience.
- As was true 50 years ago, there are those who dismiss the Great Society as a failed experiment and an encroachment on liberty; who argue that government has become the true source of all that ails us, and that poverty is due to the moral failings of those who suffer from it. There are also those who argue, John, that nothing has changed; that racism is so embedded in our DNA that there is no use trying politics — the game is rigged. Yes, it’s true that, despite laws like the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, our society is still racked with division and poverty. Yes, race still colors our political debates, and there have been government programs that have fallen short. In a time when cynicism is too often passed off as wisdom, it’s perhaps easy to conclude that there are limits to change; that we are trapped by our own history; and politics is a fool’s errand, and we’d be better off if we roll back big chunks of LBJ’s legacy, or at least if we don’t put too much of our hope, invest too much of our hope in our government. I reject such thinking. Not just because Medicare and Medicaid have lifted millions from suffering; not just because the poverty rate in this nation would be far worse without food stamps and Head Start and all the Great Society programs that survive to this day. I reject such cynicism because I have lived out the promise of LBJ’s efforts. Because Michelle has lived out the legacy of those efforts. Because my daughters have lived out the legacy of those efforts. Because I and millions of my generation were in a position to take the baton that he handed to us. Because of the Civil Rights movement, because of the laws President Johnson signed, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody — not all at once, but they swung open. Not just blacks and whites, but also women and Latinos; and Asians and Native Americans; and gay Americans and Americans with a disability. They swung open for you, and they swung open for me. And that’s why I’m standing here today — because of those efforts, because of that legacy. And that means we’ve got a debt to pay. That means we can’t afford to be cynical. Half a century later, the laws LBJ passed are now as fundamental to our conception of ourselves and our democracy as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They are foundational; an essential piece of the American character.
- Barack Obama, in remarks by the President at LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit at Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas (10 April 2014)
- In so many ways, he embodied America, with all our gifts and all our flaws, in all our restlessness and all our big dreams. This man — born into poverty, weaned in a world full of racial hatred — somehow found within himself the ability to connect his experience with the brown child in a small Texas town; the white child in Appalachia; the black child in Watts. As powerful as he became in that Oval Office, he understood them. He understood what it meant to be on the outside. And he believed that their plight was his plight too; that his freedom ultimately was wrapped up in theirs; and that making their lives better was what the hell the presidency was for. And those children were on his mind when he strode to the podium that night in the House Chamber, when he called for the vote on the Civil Rights law. “It never occurred to me,” he said, “in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students” that he had taught so many years ago, “and to help people like them all over this country. But now I do have that chance. And I’ll let you in on a secret — I mean to use it. And I hope that you will use it with me.” That was LBJ’s greatness. That’s why we remember him. And if there is one thing that he and this year’s anniversary should teach us, if there’s one lesson I hope that Malia and Sasha and young people everywhere learn from this day, it’s that with enough effort, and enough empathy, and enough perseverance, and enough courage, people who love their country can change it.
- Barack Obama, in remarks by the President at LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit at Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas (10 April 2014)
- Like Dr. King, like Abraham Lincoln, like countless citizens who have driven this country inexorably forward, President Johnson knew that ours in the end is a story of optimism, a story of achievement and constant striving that is unique upon this Earth. He knew because he had lived that story. He believed that together we can build an America that is more fair, more equal, and more free than the one we inherited. He believed we make our own destiny. And in part because of him, we must believe it as well.
- What are the similarities and differences between Presidents Johnson and Kennedy? Both are political pros who exude confidence and, generally speaking, embrace the same broad philosophies. But Kennedy was an idealist; Johnson is a pragmatist. Kennedy was a voracious reader, a stickler for detail; Johnson has little patience to read, he hits at the heart of a problem rather than get enmeshed in detail. Kennedy had little luck with Congress; Johnson's 32 years' experience on Capitol Hill caught him how to handle lawmakers. Kennedy's foreign-policy style had a continental touch; Johnson's has the flavor of a Texas barbeque.
- He was just awful — so jealous, so disagreeable and ugly.
- I sleep each night a little better, a little more confidently because Lyndon Johnson is my President. For I know he lives and thinks and works to make sure that for all America and indeed, the growing body of the free world, the morning shall always come.
- Jack Valenti, special assistant to the president, address before the Advertising Federation of America convention, Boston, Massachusetts (June 28, 1965), Congressional Record (July 7, 1965), vol. 111, Appendix, p. A3583
- Following the trail of some of these transactions resembles the action in a Western movie, where the cowboys ride off in a cloud of dust to the south, the herd stampedes northeastward, the Indians start to westward but, once out of sight, circle toward the north, the rustlers drift eastward and the cavalry, coming to the rescue, gets lost entirely—all over stony ground leaving little trace.
- Keith Wheeler and Michael Lambert, discussing Johnson's financial transactions, in "The Man Who Is President," part 2, Life (August 21, 1964), p. 69
- Johnson who had compromised too many contradictions and now the contradictions were in his face: when he smiled the corners of his mouth squeezed gloom; when he was pious, his eyes twinkled irony; when he spoke in a righteous tone, he looked corrupt; when he jested, the ham in his jowls looked to quiver. He was not convincing. He was a Southern politician, a Texas Democrat, a liberal Eisenhower; he would do no harm, he would do no good, he would react to the machine, good fellow, nice friend — the Russians would understand him better than his own. ... Johnson gave you all of himself, he was a political animal, he breathed like an animal, sweated like one, you knew his mind was entirely absorbed with the compendium of political fact and maneuver.
- It was LBJ who pushed through the civil rights bills in 1957, 1964 and 1965 that finally gave African Americans the same rights (at least on paper) as white America. On the other hand, there can be no question that Johnson was a racist who looked down on people of color as inferior.
- Larry Schwartz, "Who Was the Most Racist Modern President? 5 Surprising Candidates Who Fit the Bill," AlterNet.org (28 December 2014)
- Johnson was a man of his time, and bore those flaws as surely as he sought to lead the country past them. For two decades in Congress he was a reliable member of the Southern bloc, helping to stonewall civil rights legislation.
- Adam Serwer, "Lyndon Johnson was a civil rights hero. But also a racist." MSNBC.com (11 April 2014)
- As one of our interviewers... says... once you kill a sitting president in high noon in Dealey Plaza and blow his head off, you're not going to go back to normal... After Kennedy was killed, and nobody asked... what was Kennedy's real policy on Vietnam? Well... he was going to pull out of Vietnam. He was very clear about it, and that's what people get confused. Johnson, Lyndon Johnson, who took over the office went right to war quickly. He went to a far more aggressive posture of Vietnam, which resulted in more-- It was a lie, another lie, and that war was a disaster... Unfortunately, the same forces that made that war happen continued in our life, and they controlled us and pushed us into another war and another war and another war... we propagandize an enemy, make him far bigger than he is, and I don't know what we're fighting.
- Lyndon Johnson had fallen into popular disfavor by the time Nixon succeeded him in the White House; but in succeeding Kennedy, winning a landslide over Goldwater, and pushing through Congress not only Kennedy's remaining initiatives but his own Great Society program, Johnson had been by late 1965 perhaps literally more powerful than any of his predecessors. The Tonkin Gulf resolution he maneuvered through Congress left him and for a while Nixon virtually a free hand in Indochina; and in waging one of the biggest wars in American history without Congressional declaration, Johnson notably expanded the already extensive "war powers" of the presidency.
- Tom Wicker, One Of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream (1991), p. 677
- White House biography
- Extensive essay on Lyndon B. Johnson and shorter essays on each member of his cabinet and First Lady from the Miller Center of Public Affairs
- Lyndon B. Johnson Library
- Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin
- The 1960's Week-By-Week — Follows Lyndon Johnson through the 1960's. Includes press conferences and other news
- Complete text and audio and video of Johnson's 'Let Us Continue' SpeechAmericanRhetoric.com
- Complete text and audio and video of Johnson's Voting Rights Legislation Address to CongressAmericanRhetoric.com
- Complete text and audio and video excerpt of Johnson's Vietnam and Renunciation AddressAmericanRhetoric.com
- Photos of Lyndon B. Johnson, hosted by the Portal to Texas History
- LBJ's secret White House recordings at University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs
- Inaugural Address
- Audio recordings of Johnson's speeches
- White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on LBJ, NPR Weekend Edition audio archives
- Walter Jenkins Scandal
- LBJ: Master, or Puppet? The 'Texas Observer' story on Lyndon B. Johnson
- Vietnam War bibliography and guide to online and printed sources
- Works by Lyndon B. Johnson at Project Gutenberg
- "White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on LBJ" at NPR