Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union

January 14, 1969

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Members of the Congress and my fellow Americans

For the sixth and the last time, I present to the Congress my assessment of the State of the Union.

I shall speak to you tonight about challenge and opportunity--and about the commitments that all of us have made together that will, if we carry them out, give America our best chance to achieve the kind of great society that we all want. Every President lives, not only with what is, but with what has been and what could be.

Most of the great events in his Presidency are part of a larger sequence extending back through several years and extending back through several other administrations.

Urban unrest, poverty, pressures on welfare, education of our people, law enforcement and law and order, the continuing crisis in the Middle East, the conflict in Vietnam, the dangers of nuclear war, the great difficulties of dealing with the Communist powers, all have this much in common: They and their causes--the causes that gave rise to them--all of these have existed with us for many years. Several Presidents have already sought to try to deal with them. One or more Presidents will try to resolve them or try to contain them in the years that are ahead of us.

But if the Nation's problems are continuing, so are this great Nation's assets:
--our economy,
--the democratic system,
--our sense of exploration, symbolized most recently by the wonderful flight of the Apollo 8, in which all Americans took great pride,
--the good commonsense and sound judgment of the American people, and
--their essential love of justice.

We must not ignore our problems. But .neither should we ignore our strengths. Those strengths are available to sustain a President of either party--to support his progressive efforts both at home and overseas.

Unfortunately, the departure of an administration does not mean the end of the problems that this administration has faced. The effort to meet the problems must go on, year after year, if the momentum that we have all mounted together in these past years is not to be lost.

Although the struggle for progressive change is continuous, there are times when a watershed is reached--when there is--if not really a break with the past--at least the fulfillment of many of its oldest hopes, and a stepping forth into a new environment, to seek new goals. I think the past 5 years have been such a time.

We have finished a major part of the old agenda.

Some of the laws that we wrote have already, in front of our eyes, taken on the flesh of achievement.

Medicare that we were unable to pass for so many years is now a part of American life.

Voting rights and the voting booth that we debated so long back in the fifties, and the doors to public service, are open at last to all Americans regardless of their color.

Schools and school children all over America tonight are receiving Federal assistance to go to good schools.

Preschool education--Head Start--is already here to stay and, I think, so are the Federal programs that tonight are keeping more than a million and a half of the cream of our young people in the colleges and the universities of this country.

Part of the American earth--not only in description on a map, but in the reality of our shores, our hills, our parks, our forests, and our mountains--has been permanently set aside for the American public and for their benefit. And there is more that will be set aside before this administration ends.

Five million Americans have been trained for jobs in new Federal programs.

I think it is most important that we all realize tonight that this Nation is close to full employment--with less unemployment than we have had at any time in almost 20 years. That is not in theory; that is in fact. Tonight, the unemployment rate is down to 3.3 percent. The number of jobs has grown more than 8 1/2 million in the last 5 years. That is more than in all the preceding 12 years.

These achievements completed the full cycle, from idea to enactment and, finally, to a place in the lives of citizens all across this country.

I wish it were possible to say that everything that this Congress and the administration achieved during this period had already completed that cycle. But a great deal of what we have committed needs additional funding to become a tangible realization.

Yet the very existence of these commitments--these promises to the American people, made by this Congress and by the executive branch of the Government--are achievements in themselves, and failure to carry through on our commitments would be a tragedy for this Nation.

This much is certain: No one man or group of men made these commitments alone. Congress and the executive branch, with their checks and balances, reasoned together and finally wrote them into the law of the land. They now have all the moral force that the American political system can summon when it acts as one.

They express America's common determination to achieve goals. They imply action.

In most cases, you have already begun that action--but it is not fully completed, of course.

Let me speak for a moment about these commitments. I am going to speak in the language which the Congress itself spoke when it passed these measures. I am going to quote from your words.

In 1966, Congress declared that "improving the quality of urban life is the most critical domestic problem facing the United States." Two years later it affirmed the historic goal of "a decent home . . . for every American family." That is your language.

Now to meet these commitments, we must increase our support for the model cities program, where blueprints of change are already being prepared in more than 150 American cities

To achieve the goals of the Housing Act of 1968 that you have already passed, we should begin this year more than 500,000 homes for needy families in the coming fiscal year. Funds are provided in the new budget to do just this. This is almost 10 times--10 times--the average rate of the past 10 years.

Our cities and our towns are being pressed for funds to meet the needs of their growing populations. So I believe an urban development bank should be created by the Congress. This bank could obtain resources through the issuance of taxable bonds and it could then lend these resources at reduced rates to the communities throughout the land for schools, hospitals, parks, and other public facilities.

Since we enacted the Social Security Act back in 1935, Congress has recognized the necessity to "make more adequate provision for aged persons . . . through maternal and child welfare . . . and public health." Those are the words of the Congress--"more adequate."

The time has come, I think, to make it more adequate. I believe we should increase social security benefits, and I am so recommending tonight.

I am suggesting that there should be an overall increase in benefits of at least 13 percent. Those who receive only the minimum of $55 should get $80 a month.

Our Nation, too, is rightfully proud of our medical advances. But we should remember that our country ranks 15th among the nations of the world in its infant mortality rate.

I think we should assure decent medical care for every expectant mother and for their children during the first year of their life in the United States of America.

I think we should protect our children and their families from the costs of catastrophic illness.

As we pass on from medicine, I think nothing is clearer to the Congress than the commitment that the Congress made to end poverty. Congress expressed it well, I think, in 1964, when they said: "It is the policy of the United States to eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty in this nation."

This is the richest nation in the world. The antipoverty program has had many achievements. It also has some failures. But we must not cripple it after only 3 years of trying to solve the human problems that have been with us and have been building up among us for generations.

I believe the Congress this year will want to improve the administration of the poverty program by reorganizing portions of it and transferring them to other agencies. I believe, though, it will want to continue, until we have broken the back of poverty, the efforts we are now making throughout this land.

I believe, and I hope the next administration--I believe they believe--that the key to success in this effort is jobs. It is work for people who want to work.

In the budget for fiscal 1970, I shall recommend a total of $3.5 billion for our job training program, and that is five times as much as we spent in 1964 trying to prepare Americans where they can work to earn their own living.

The Nation's commitment in the field of civil rights began with the Declaration of Independence. They were extended by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. They have been powerfully strengthened by the enactment of three far-reaching civil rights laws within the past 5 years, that this Congress, in its wisdom, passed.

On January 1 of this year, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 covered over 20 million American homes and apartments. The prohibition against racial discrimination in that act should be remembered and it should be vigorously enforced throughout this land.

I believe we should also extend the vital provisions of the Voting Rights Act for another 5 years.

In the Safe Streets Act of 1968, Congress determined "To assist state and local governments in reducing the incidence of crime."

This year I am proposing that the Congress provide the full $300 million that the Congress last year authorized to do just that.

I hope the Congress will put the money where the authorization is.

I believe this is an essential contribution to justice and to public order in the United States. I hope these grants can be made to the States and they can be used effectively to reduce the crime rate in this country.

But all of this is only a small part of the total effort that must be made--I think chiefly by the local governments throughout the Nation--if we expect to reduce the toll of crime that we all detest.

Frankly, as I leave the Office of the Presidency, one of my greatest disappointments is our failure to secure passage of a licensing and registration act for firearms. I think if we had passed that act, it would have reduced the incidence of crime. I believe that the Congress should adopt such a law, and I hope that it will at a not too distant date.

In order to meet our long-standing commitment to make government as efficient as possible, I believe that we should reorganize our postal system along the lines of the Kappel1 report.

1Frederick R. Kappel, Chairman of the Commission on Executive, Legislative and Judicial Salaries.

I hope we can all agree that public service should never impose an unreasonable financial sacrifice on able men and women who want to serve their country.

I believe that the recommendations of the Commission on Executive, Legislative and Judicial Salaries are generally sound. Later this week, I shall submit a special message which I reviewed with the leadership this evening containing a proposal that has been reduced and has modified the Commission's recommendation to some extent on the congressional salaries.

For Members of Congress, I will recommend the basic compensation not of the $50,000 unanimously recommended by the Kappel Commission and the other distinguished Members, but I shall reduce that $50,000 to $42,500. I will suggest that Congress appropriate a very small additional allowance for official expenses, so that Members will not be required to use their salary increase for essential official business.

I would have submitted the Commission's recommendations, except the advice that I received from the leadership--and you usually are consulted about matters that affect the Congress--was that the Congress would not accept the $50,000 recommendation, and if I expected my recommendation to be seriously considered, I should make substantial reductions. That is the only reason I didn't go along with the Kappel report.

In 1967 1 recommended to the Congress a fair and impartial random selection system for the draft. I submit it again tonight for your most respectful consideration.

I know that all of us recognize that most of the things we do to meet all of these commitments I talk about will cost money. If we maintain the strong rate of growth that we have had in this country for the past 8 years, I think we shall generate the resources that we need to meet these commitments.

We have already been able to increase our support for major social programs--although we have heard a lot about not being able to do anything on the home front because of Vietnam; but we have been able in the last 5 years to increase our commitments for such things as health and education from $30 billion in 1964 to $68 billion in the coming fiscal year. That is more than double. That is more than it has ever been increased in the 188 years of this Republic, notwithstanding Vietnam.

We must continue to budget our resources and budget them responsibly in a way that will preserve our prosperity and will strengthen our dollar.

Greater revenues and the reduced Federal spending required by Congress last year have changed the budgetary picture dramatically since last January when we made our estimates. At that time, you will remember that we estimated we would have a deficit of $8 billion. Well, I am glad to report to you tonight that the fiscal year ending June 30, 1969, this June, we are going to have not a deficit, but we are going to have a $2.4 billion surplus.

You will receive the budget tomorrow. The budget for the next fiscal year, that begins July 1--which you will want to examine very carefully in the days ahead--will provide a $3.4 billion surplus.

This budget anticipates the extension of the surtax that Congress enacted last year. I have communicated with the President-elect, Mr. Nixon, in connection with this policy of continuing the surtax for the time being.

I want to tell you that both of us want to see it removed just as soon as circumstances will permit, but the President-elect has told me that he has concluded that until his administration, and this Congress, can examine the appropriation bills, and each item in the budget, and can ascertain that the facts justify permitting the surtax to expire or to be reduced, he, Mr. Nixon, will support my recommendation that the surtax be continued.

Americans, I believe, are united in the hope that the Paris talks will bring an early peace to Vietnam. And if our hopes for an early settlement of the war are realized, then our military expenditures can be reduced and very substantial savings can be made to be used for other desirable purposes, as the Congress may determine.

In any event, I think it is imperative that we do all that we responsibly can to resist inflation while maintaining our prosperity. I think all Americans know that our prosperity is broad and it is deep, and it has brought record profits, the highest in our history, and record wages.

Our gross national product has grown more in the last 5 years than any other period in our Nation's history. Our wages have been the highest. Our profits have been the best. This prosperity has enabled millions to escape the poverty that they would have otherwise had the last few years.

I think also you will be very glad to hear that the Secretary of the Treasury informs me tonight that in 1968 in our balance of payments we have achieved a surplus. It appears that we have, in fact, done better this year than we have done in any year in this regard since the year 1957.

The quest for a durable peace, I think, has absorbed every administration since the end of World War II. It has required us to seek a limitation of arms races not only among the superpowers, but among the smaller nations as well. We have joined in the test ban treaty of 1963, the outer space treaty of 1967, and the treaty against the spread of nuclear weapons in 1968.

This latter agreement--the nonproliferation treaty--is now pending in the Senate and it has been pending there since last July. In my opinion, delay in ratifying it is not going to be helpful to the cause of peace. America took the lead in negotiating this treaty and America should now take steps to have it approved at the earliest possible date.

Until a way can be found to scale down the level of arms among the superpowers, mankind cannot view the future without fear and great apprehension. So, I believe that we should resume the talks with the Soviet Union about limiting offensive and defensive missile systems. I think they would already have been resumed except for Czechoslovakia and our election this year.

It was more than 20 years ago that we embarked on a program of trying to aid the developing nations. We knew then that we could not live in good conscience as a rich enclave on an earth that was seething in misery.

During these years there have been great advances made under our program, particularly against want and hunger, although we are disappointed at the appropriations last year. We thought they were woefully inadequate. This year I am asking for adequate funds for economic assistance in the hope that we can further peace throughout the world.

I think we must continue to support efforts in regional cooperation. Among those efforts, that of Western Europe has a very special place in America's concern.

The only course that is going to permit Europe to play the great world role that its resources permit is to go forward to unity. I think America remains ready to work with a united Europe, to work as a partner on the basis of equality.

For the future, the quest for peace, I believe, requires:
--that we maintain the liberal trade policies that have helped us become the leading nation in world trade,
--that we strengthen the international monetary system as an instrument of world prosperity, and
--that we seek areas of agreement with the Soviet Union where the interests of both nations and the interests of world peace are properly served.

The strained relationship between us and the world's leading Communist power has not ended--especially in the light of the brutal invasion of Czechoslovakia. But totalitarianism is no less odious to us because we are able to reach some accommodation that reduces the danger of world catastrophe.

What we do, we do in the interest of peace in the world. We earnestly hope that time will bring a Russia that is less afraid of diversity and individual freedom.

The quest for peace tonight continues in Vietnam, and in the Paris talks.

I regret more than any of you know that it has not been possible to restore peace to South Vietnam.

The prospects, I think, for peace are better today than at any time since North Vietnam began its invasion with its regular forces more than 4 years ago.

The free nations of Asia know what they were not sure of at that time: that America cares about their freedom, and it also cares about America's own vital interests in Asia and throughout the Pacific.

The North Vietnamese know that they cannot achieve their aggressive purposes by force. There may be hard fighting before a settlement is reached; but, I can assure you, it will yield no victory to the Communist cause.

I cannot speak to you tonight about Vietnam without paying a very personal tribute to the men who have carried the battle out there for all of us. I have been honored to be their Commander in Chief. The Nation owes them its unstinting support while the battle continues--and its enduring gratitude when their service is done.

Finally, the quest for stable peace in the Middle East goes on in many capitals tonight. America fully supports the unanimous resolution of the U.N. Security Council which points the way. There must be a settlement of the armed hostility that exists in that region of the world today. It is a threat not only to Israel and to all the Arab States, but it is a threat to every one of us and to the entire world as well.

Now, my friends in Congress, I want to conclude with a few very personal words to you.

I rejected and rejected and then finally accepted the congressional leadership's invitation to come here to speak this farewell to you in person tonight.

I did that for two reasons. One was philosophical. I wanted to give you my judgment, as I saw it, on some of the issues before our Nation, as I view them, before I leave.

The other was just pure sentimental. Most all of my life as a public official has been spent here in this building. For 38 years-since I worked on that gallery as a doorkeeper in the House of Representatives--I have known these halls, and I have known most of the men pretty well who walked them.

I know the questions that you face. I know the conflicts that you endure. I know the ideals that you seek to serve.

I left here first to become Vice President, and then to become, in a moment of tragedy, the President of the United States.

My term of office has been marked by a series of challenges, both at home and throughout the world.

In meeting some of these challenges, the Nation has found a new confidence. In meeting others, it knew turbulence and doubt, and fear and hate.

Throughout this time, I have been sustained by my faith in representative democracy--a faith that I had learned here in this Capitol Building as an employee and as a Congressman and as a Senator.

I believe deeply in the ultimate purposes of this Nation--described by the Constitution, tempered by history, embodied in progressive laws, and given life by men and women that have been elected to serve their fellow citizens.

Now for 5 most demanding years in the White House, I have been strengthened by the counsel and the cooperation of two great former Presidents, Harry S. Truman and Dwight David Eisenhower. I have been guided by the memory of my pleasant and close association with the beloved John F. Kennedy, and with our greatest modern legislator, Speaker Sam Rayburn.

I have been assisted by my friend every step of the way, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. I am so grateful that I have been supported daily by the loyalty of Speaker McCormack and Majority Leader Albert.

I have benefited from the wisdom of Senator Mike Mansfield, and I am sure that I have avoided many dangerous pitfalls by the good commonsense counsel of the President Pro Tem of the Senate, Senator Richard Brevard Russell.

I have received the most generous cooperation from the leaders of the Republican Party in the Congress of the United States, Senator Dirksen and Congressman Gerald Ford, the Minority Leader.

No President should ask for more, although I did upon occasions. But few Presidents have ever been blessed with so much.

President-elect Nixon, in the days ahead, is going to need your understanding, just as I did. And he is entitled to have it. I hope every Member will remember that the burdens he will bear as our President, will be borne for all of us. Each of us should try not to increase these burdens for the sake of narrow personal or partisan advantage.

Now, it is time to leave. I hope it may be said, a hundred years from now, that by working together we helped to make our country more just, more just for all of its people, as well as to insure and guarantee the blessings of liberty for all of our posterity.

That is what I hope. But I believe that at least it will be said that we tried.

Delivered in person before a joint session at 9:05 p.m.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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