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Lyndon B. Johnson: Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating the 159th Birthday of Abraham Lincoln.
Lyndon B. Johnson
70 - Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating the 159th Birthday of Abraham Lincoln.
February 12, 1968
Public Papers of the Presidents
Lyndon B. Johnson<br>1968-69: Book I
Lyndon B. Johnson
1968-69: Book I

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General O'Malley, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Carl Sandburg wrote of Abraham Lincoln: "None threw a longer shadow than he."

Across the world, whenever men have sought to breathe free and to stand tall-they have looked to Lincoln. On five continents, in shacks and huts and slums, and in drawing rooms as well--if men sought dignity, there was a picture of Abraham Lincoln tacked on the wall.

Those pictures in the places where men dream of freedom give us a true perspective of America's role in the world over the last 100 years.

When an American stands on these steps at this time--he knows that America stands for something, and that the values America stands for are perhaps the central issue of our time.

And if that is not always understood here in America, it is certainly known abroad.

To men around the world, the life of Lincoln told of the real America:
--a place where men could grow to a stature and a dignity previously undreamed of;

--a place where government of, by, and for the people could preserve and enhance that dignity.

As Lincoln once said, with his customary brevity: "I don't know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be."

Since Lincoln's time, that idea--that revolutionary American dream of human dignity and equality for all--has been spreading across the world.

And so, today when Americans are asked to help Lincoln's ideas flourish in places far from these steps we ask ourselves the hard and searching questions:

--Are these ideas still valid?
--Do they deserve a hearing elsewhere if free men so choose?

--Are we ourselves safer and stronger when they do get a hearing and when they flourish? If we answer those questions affirmatively-and I believe that most Americans repudiate moral isolationism--we are sometimes forced by an adversary to back our beliefs with steel--just as Lincoln did.

And we must stick it out--just as Lincoln did. For we live in a time that Lincoln would have well understood.
--He heard the charges that the war was long and wrong; --he saw Americans die--600,000 of them--and he brooded;
--he saw dissent, riot, and rebellion;
--he saw heavy taxes and inflation;
--he saw hunger and poverty.

Sad, but steady--always convinced of his cause--Lincoln stuck it out. Sad, but steady, so will we.

But perseverance by itself is a minor virtue, and Lincoln has more than that to tell us today.

He looked beyond a time of strife to a time of unity. Where others sought to open wounds and to rub them raw in their frustration and troubles, Lincoln sought to bind them up.

Lincoln knew that unity in America was not to be confused with the sleek face of conformity, and he never confused responsible dissent with disloyalty.

He knew that war in a democracy could defeat its own goals and he set a precedent by insisting on national elections in the midst of the war.

A journalist noted: "It is the first time that a people in possession of universal suffrage has been called to pronounce directly and finally for or against the continuation of a painful war."

But Lincoln saw the issue clearly: "If the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone, a national election," he said, "it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us."

And his opponent got over 40 percent of the votes.

These marble steps in recent years have borne eloquent witness to responsible dissent. A hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, a vast convocation of peoples have met here peacefully and dramatically to call upon all of us to honor our commitment to human rights for all of us. Today, we rededicate ourselves at this place to Lincoln's cause, the cause of full equality.

Lincoln once said: "Let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own and his children's liberty."

More than any man in our history, Lincoln sensed that our unity as a people would flow from diversity; that when the heat of passion subsided, the Northerner and the Southerner, the white and the Negro, the Republican and the Democrat--and those who would preach disunity and division and sow unrest in times of trouble, who would harass those who bear the burdens-finally they would all live together in this land and by their common efforts carve out its historical destiny.

And in Lincoln's spirit, we will achieve "a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations."

Note: The President spoke at 12:40 p.m. from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In his opening words he referred to Maj. Gen. C. S. O'Malley, Jr., Commanding General, Military District of Washington, U.S. Army.

The ceremony commemorating Abraham Lincoln's birthday is sponsored annually by the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, District of Columbia Commandery.

Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: "Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating the 159th Birthday of Abraham Lincoln.," February 12, 1968. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29360.
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