I CONGRATULATE the House of Representatives on its passage of the voting rights bill. That bill is not only a monument to this Congress, it is a shining moment in the entire history of the United States Congress.
I also congratulate the House on its decisive defeat, by a vote of 215-166, of the substitute amendment--supported by the Republicans' leadership--which would have seriously damaged and diluted the guarantee of the right to vote for all Americans.
These votes are not only a victory for the American Negro and the Democratic Party. They are a victory for every American who believes the strength of our democracy rests on the right of every citizen to share in its direction.
I hope the Senate and House conferees--in the same spirit of wisdom and urgency which has marked their earlier action--will resolve their differences and speed the bill to the White House for signature. For then every citizen can prepare to make himself eligible to choose his Government.
Thus we near the completion of a process almost as old as America itself. Our Revolution established the principle of democratic self-government--a reality for ourselves, a guiding hope for a world then drowned in monarchy and despotism. From that day to this we have labored and fought to extend the suffrage--the central mark of democratic dignity--to more of our people. Barrier after barrier--from property to sex-has fallen before the resistless progress of this most consistent political movement in American history. One major barrier alone remains, that of race and color. Now this too is tumbling.
Once this barrier is down, and if the right is fully exercised, we will enter a new and more hopeful stage in the progress of the Negro American. Possessing this most fundamental instrument of political redress, he can make his needs and his just demands heard and heeded in the politics and, ultimately, in the life of this land. We have been awakened to justice by the sound of songs and sermons, speeches and peaceful demonstrations. But the noiseless, secret vote will thunder forth a hundred times more loudly--inspiring the faithful, summoning the reluctant, and strengthening a Nation in its search for the promise of equality.
But a law is not a ballot. The right to vote is not a vote. The law must be enforced. It is my pledge to every American that as long as I am President I will enforce it. Every concerned citizen must help his fellows understand their rights, register, and use their vote wisely. Above all, American Negroes must strive to transform the promise of this law into strength at the polling places. They must teach and work--State by State, district by district, street by street, house by house. It takes brave and dedicated men to win a battle. But our history tells us it takes equal, and often greater, dedication and endurance to reap the fruit of victory.
If this is done, Negro voting will double and redouble in years to come. A new force will have entered American political life. And the presence of that force will speed the day of equal opportunity for all.
Of course the vote alone will not fulfill the aspiration of the Negro Americans. It will require the guarantee of a wide spectrum of legal rights. And it will take a national effort to cope with the manifold ills which flow from the history of oppression.
But it is a vital step. It is an important addition to the sum of rights and obligations we call freedom. And, perhaps more importantly, it enriches the life of every one of us--white and black. For men are fully free only in the company of the free. And thus, today, we can all be a little prouder to be Americans.