The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• Richard Nixon
Remarks at the Dedication of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.
May 22, 1971

President and Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Vice President, and all of the very distinguished guests here on this occasion:
Mrs. Nixon and I are very honored to be here deep in the heart of Texas. I can say that the heart of America, today at this moment, is in the heart of Texas as this distinguished company so well illustrates.

It is here to pay tribute to the life of a man, and the life of his wife as well, who has given 40 years of service to this State and to this Nation.

The entire Nation is indebted to you, President Johnson, and to this great university, the University of Texas, to all who have had a hand in assembling and establishing this extraordinary treasury of insights into a critical period of this Nation's history. And on behalf of all the people of the United States, I am honored and privileged to accept it for America. The American people have reason to be doubly grateful to you today, first for your long period of service to the Nation, and now for this collection that can take the scholars of future generations behind the scenes of that service, as you have indicated in your remarks.

One of the first rules of statecraft is that we can successfully chart the future only if we can understand the past. Libraries such as this can be among our best keys to that understanding. With its more than 31 million documents, this contains more items by far than any other Presidential library yet established; and through its connection with a great university, it promises both to enrich the university and to be enriched by the university.

Often I am asked what it feels like to sit in the President's Oval Office--to know, in President Truman's famous phrase, that "the buck stops here," and to experience the weight of history that hangs over that office.

Just a few minutes ago, as President Johnson was throwing me [laughter]-showing me through the library--I am coming back later when I have more time [laughter]--we visited what I think may prove to be the most exciting and popular room in the whole library for the visitor, a replica of the Oval Office. As we were there in that office, furnished as it was during the period that he served as President, I reflected, as I am sure he did, once again on the answer to that question.

President Johnson sometimes used to comment, in speaking about the Presidency, that "the problem is not doing what is right; the problem is knowing what is right."

Sitting in the Oval Office in Washington the other day, I found myself reflecting on its shape--on the fact that it is built as an oval, without corners, and with walls that might be said to have no sides or an infinite number of sides--and on the fact that there is a certain parallel with the shape of that office and the Presidency itself. For the President of the United States cannot approach a question from one side or the other; on each issue that comes to the Oval Office there normally are an infinite number of sides and of competing considerations to be resolved or chosen among.

This reflects the fact, of course, that the easy questions are not the ones that come to the President; those are decided at other levels. The ones that he must decide are the ones on which there are disagreements, even among members of his own administration who share his own goals but who have different perspectives or different judgments about the best way to achieve those goals. They deal not simply with right versus wrong but with varying degrees of right and wrong, with various balances of legitimate but competing interests, and with varying judgments about how best to accomplish what is right. And so the study of the Presidency is a study, in the final analysis, of the difficult decision, the close question. But I have found that the more deeply I study the Presidency, the more firm I become in my faith that throughout our history, the basic high principle of those who have been called upon to govern has been one of the great sustaining strengths of America.

I believe this has been true because the office inhabits the man, just as the man inhabits the office. No one holds that office without a profound sense of obligation-to the country, to the world, and to the future.

As we look back over all the past Presidencies, we also find something else: that each one who has been President has recognized, in his turn, that he is the one who must speak for all the people of America. A man of one region must speak for all regions. A man of one party must strive to see how problems look from the other party's point of view. A man who has crusaded for a cause recognizes that he has a responsibility to those of the opposite view, as well as to those who may agree with him.

One of the most scholarly men ever to sit in the Senate of the United States was Albert Beveridge of Indiana. In a speech in Boston in 1898, he once discussed partisanship in these terms:

"Partisanship," he said, "should only be a method of patriotism. He who is a partisan merely for the sake of spoils is a buccaneer. He who is a partisan merely for the sake of a party name is a ghost of the past among living events. He who is merely the partisan of an ordinary organization is only a pebble in the sling of a boss. But he who is the partisan of principle is a prince of citizenship."

A partisan of principle--that is what our political system is all about; that is what transforms ordinary disputes into those great debates that illumine for years to come the issues confronting the Nation, in which men of principle test their principles and the Nation achieves a deeper understanding of itself. It also is what holds us together on those great questions on which our unity has kept us free.

Every President has to be a leader of his party--and our party system is essential to our democratic system. But more and more in today's world, the times require that a President, and indeed all of us who help lead the Nation, go beyond party to be partisans of principle. For increasingly we confront great concerns that go beyond partisan considerations and partisan differences--concerns that reach to the security of our Nation, to our hopes for peace in the world, to realizing the American dream here at home in our lives and those of our children--on these great goals we must all be partisans of principle.

It has been my privilege, during a quarter-century of public service, to know many partisans of principle. I think today especially of those times during the Eisenhower Administration, when I was Vice President and Lyndon Johnson was the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. He was a vigorous leader of his party. But I knew, and President Eisenhower often told me, and he knew, that whenever the great issues of national security were concerned, he would always be a partisan of principle, not a partisan of party. That is Lyndon Baines Johnson.

And so it is in that same spirit that we are gathered here today to dedicate this library, in doing so, to pay tribute to President Johnson--and to dedicate ourselves to the proposition, as Senator Albert Beveridge so eloquently put it so long ago, that "the partisan of principle is a prince of citizenship."

Citation: Richard Nixon: "Remarks at the Dedication of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.", May 22, 1971. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
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