Dr. Elson, Mrs. Eisenhower, Your Excellencies from the diplomatic corps, my fellow Americans:
Today is a day of sadness for America, but it is also a day of pride. America's pride has always been its people, a people of good men and women by the millions, of great men and women in remarkable numbers, and, once in a long while, of giants who stand head and shoulders above their countrymen, setting a high and noble standard for us all.
J. Edgar Hoover was one of the giants. His long life brimmed over with magnificent achievement and dedicated service to this country which he loved so well. One of the tragedies of life is that, as a rule, a man's true greatness is recognized only in death. J. Edgar Hoover was one of the rare exceptions to that rule. He became a living legend while still a young man, and he lived up to his legend as the decades passed. His death only heightens the respect and admiration felt for him across this land and in every land where men cherish freedom.
The greatness of Edgar Hoover will remain inseparable from the greatness of the organization he created and gave his whole life to building, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He made the FBI the finest law enforcement agency on the earth, the invincible and incorruptible defender of every American's precious right to be free from fear.
Yet, America has revered this man not only as the Director of an institution but as an institution in his own right. For nearly half a century, nearly one-fourth of the whole history of this Republic, J. Edgar Hoover has exerted a great influence for good in our national life. While eight Presidents came and went, while other leaders of morals and manners and opinion rose and fell, the Director stayed at his post.
I recall that President Eisenhower, a Republican, and President Johnson, a Democrat, both strongly recommended, after my election, that I keep him as Director of the FBI.
He was one of those unique individuals who, by all odds, was the best man for a vitally important job. His powerful leadership by example helped to keep steel in America's backbone, and the flame of freedom in America's soul.
He personified integrity; he personified honor; he personified principle; he personified courage; he personified discipline; he personified dedication; he personified loyalty; he personified patriotism.
These are his legacies to the Bureau he built and the Nation he served. We can pay him no higher tribute than to live these virtues ourselves, as he lived them all of his years, to love the law as he loved it, and to give fullest respect, support, and cooperation to the law enforcement profession which he did so much to advance.
When such a towering figure--a man who has dominated his field so completely for so many years--finally passes from the scene, there is sometimes a tendency to say, "Well, this is an end of an era."
There is a belief that a changing of the guard will also mean a changing of the rules. With J. Edgar Hoover this will not happen. The FBI will carry on in the future, true to its finest traditions in the past, because regardless of what the snipers and detractors would have us believe, the fact is that Director Hoover built the Bureau totally on principle, not on personality. He built well. He built to last. For that reason, the FBI will remain as a memorial to him, a living memorial, continuing to create a climate of protection, security, and impartial justice that benefits every American.
The good J. Edgar Hoover has done will not die. The profound principles associated with his name will not fade away. Rather, I would predict that in the time ahead those principles of respect for law, order, and justice will come to govern our national life more completely than ever before. Because the trend of permissiveness in this country, a trend which Edgar Hoover fought against all his life, a trend which was dangerously eroding our national heritage as a law-abiding people, is now being reversed.
The American people today are tired of disorder, disruption, and disrespect for law. America wants to come back to the law as a way of life, and as we do come back to the law, the memory of this great man, who never left the law as a way of life, will be accorded even more honor than it commands today.
In times past, in the days of the American frontier, the brave men who wore the badge and enforced the law were called by a name we do not often hear today. They were called peace officers. Today, though that term has passed out of style, the truth it expressed still endures. All the world yearns for peace, peace among nations, peace within nations. But without peace officers, we can never have peace. Edgar Hoover knew this basic truth. He shaped his life around it. He was the peace officer without peer.
The United States is a better country because this good man lived his long life among us these past 77 years. Each of us stands forever in his debt. In the years ahead, let us cherish his memory. Let us be true to his legacy. Let us honor him as he would surely want us to do, by honoring all the men and women who carry on in this noble profession of helping to keep the peace in our society.
In the Bible, the book which Edgar Hoover called his "guide to daily life," we find the words which best pronounce a benediction on his death. They are from the Psalms: "Great peace have they which love Thy law." J. Edgar Hoover loved the law of his God. He loved the law of his country. And he richly earned peace through all eternity.