I AM HAPPY that those of you that were present for the signing of the NDEA bill could stay here. And I want to particularly and enthusiastically welcome to this house the associates of Sargent Shriver and his friends who have done so much to make this event possible and to launch in this country a coordinated and comprehensive war on poverty.
One hundred years ago Mr. Lincoln abolished slavery in this country. And we have a modern day Lincoln from the State of Illinois whose objective is to abolish poverty in this country. Mr. Roosevelt rolled up his sleeves a few years ago and pointed out to the Nation that he needed their support for the one-third that were ill clad, ill housed, and ill fed.
Mr. Shriver is here this morning to assume the awesome and exacting responsibilities of directing the administration of a program that will serve not the one-third, because since Mr. Roosevelt's day we have reduced it from 33 1/3 percent to 20 percent. He's here to ask your help in abolishing poverty among the one-fifth that are ill clad, ill fed, and ill housed.
In the measure that I just signed and the oath administered here that I will administer in a few moments, there is one common objective: that is to increase opportunity for all Americans.
We believe in equal opportunity for all, special privilege for none. And there is no work that is more prudent or more progressive or more genuinely American than this work.
For as long as there has been an America, much of our progress has been the product of good laws and good men to administer them and assure their success.
The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 is a good law. In my judgment, it is one of the best laws. The reason it's a good law and the reason it is one of the best is because this good, competent man poured his very soul into it for days and weeks and months.
This measure rejects the approach that America has outgrown. It rejects handouts, it rejects the dole. It rejects complacency. It rejects growing relief rolls. Instead, this measure keeps faith with and puts faith in the dignity and the capacity of the individual to grow, to bloom through education.
The concept represents modern America at her best. The need is obvious for leadership which represents modern America at her best. And for that leadership, in my judgment, I have selected the best equipped by personality, by training, by head and heart and heels. I have selected the best personality in this country for that job. He was not an applicant for it. He urged me to take many more good men and he would have said "no" to anyone except his president.
But he is the kind of a person that goes where his President leads him because he loves his country that much. And our Nation is indebted to him already for the great feats of leadership that he has performed in this country.
His work was brilliant in the '60 political arena when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was selected to lead us. His performance and the contributions that he made in helping to man this Government with men of high character, deep conviction, great purpose, is almost unbelievable. And I am so proud that those men are staying to help me.
His work in the Peace Corps has helped an entire generation of most able, most dedicated, and most enlightened young Americans to fulfill the vision of their minds and the hunger of their hearts.
In this new and added capacity, Sargent Shriver will have a part in helping the less fortunate young Americans. These are rare opportunities for any man. But we have a rare man in Sargent Shriver.
Americans today enjoy a good life but we know that we can never expect a free life to be an easy life. If we want to live in peace and prosperity at home, we must commit ourselves to doing the works in the world which are not easy and not comfortable and not pleasant.
There is no doubt that young Americans are willing to undertake such works and they need only the opportunity to accept the challenge. Out in the world, here at home, in remote nations, in next door neighborhoods, there are difficult and demanding tasks waiting for Americans. So we must take up those challenges and we must mark our lives by commitment rather than contentment.
The allies of freedom's enemies have always been poverty, illiteracy, and disease. These are the curses that we can and we must conquer. If peace is to have purpose, if peace is to be our mission, we must use it to destroy those ancient enemies of mankind rather than allow them to lead us toward man's own destruction and war against himself.
So it's a very high privilege for me to be here on this occasion to observe the swearing in of the man who will start this year not to abolish slavery in this country, but a most noble calling to abolish poverty in this country.