Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Radio and Television Address to the American People on Election Eve.

November 02, 1964

My fellow Americans:

I am here in the White House with Mrs. Johnson and Lynda and Luci.

In a little while Mrs. Johnson and I will go to Texas to vote and to await the election returns. It is appropriate that the White House should be empty tomorrow, for you will be selecting the man who will live here for the next 4 years. Whatever your decision, I want to thank all of you for the support that you have given me.

Eleven months and eleven days ago I came to you and asked your help. You gave me your wisdom and your strength and together we made this a year of memorable achievements. I would like to think that John Kennedy tonight knows how hard we have tried to measure up to his expectations.

But tonight I come to you on a different basis. I ask the renewal of your trust, not in a dark hour of tragedy, but on your confidence in my ability to be an instrument of America's purpose.

I have campaigned across this country--in 44 States--discussing the issues, learning from your views. Lady Bird has been my closest and most valuable campaigner. And I want her to tell you something of her impressions of the last few weeks.

[At this point Mrs. Johnson spoke briefly. The President then resumed speaking. ]

My fellow Americans, election day is both a time of renewal and a time of decision. You will renew the most solemn sacrament of democracy--the consent of the governed from which the just powers of government derive.

You will choose the President of the United States.

We take for granted this right of ours. But what a really remarkable thing it is!

Our forefathers established the great experiment of democracy in a world where government by the governed had been extinguished for 2,000 years. Few thought that we could succeed. But we did succeed. And the light of that success now illuminates much of the world.

Your privilege of self-government has been granted to only the tiniest fraction of all those who have ever lived on earth. Your vote is a victory and a vindication for all those in every age who suffered for the ideal of democracy. Treasure it. Take pride in it, and use it.

For more than a generation this Nation has held a steady and consistent course.

I remember when I first came to Washington 32 years ago. The people who sent me to Congress were poor people. Many were hungry. But I soon saw they were only a few of the victims of a stricken land. Their recovery would only come as the entire Nation recovered and grew strong.

I watched, and sometimes I helped a little, as America forged, in the bitterness of common disaster, a new partnership between Government and business and farmers and workers.

And I watched, and sometimes helped, as a compassionate Nation built new protection for the helpless and the needy.

Those measures have endured these 30 years. Most of all the principles have endured. Each part of our society--Government and private--has accepted its responsibility to work within the framework of the common welfare. In this way we have increased the abundance of all.

Over the years we have built on these principles. No President of either party has ever renounced them or called for their destruction. They are the basis of our present prosperity, they are our hope for future abundance.

I ask each of you to pause for a moment tonight in your homes, with your families by your side, and ask yourself if these principles have not enlarged your freedom, enriched your life, and strengthened your confidence in your children's future. It is hard to believe that we should now be asked to throw them all away.

Yet today, these principles are all under attack. We are now told that every responsible leader of both parties has been wrong, and that the American people have been wrong to support them.

We are asked to dissolve the partnership between Government and people. We are asked to cut away the protections for the old and the helpless.

We are told to end social security as we have known it and as every President has supported it. Time and time and time again they have called for a voluntary program. But payments out to older Americans depend on premiums coming in from working Americans. A voluntary program would drastically reduce such payments since workers would no longer have to pay. The system, I think, would soon be on the edge of bankruptcy. And such a program is simply, I believe, an indirect way to destroy our whole social security system.

And almost every other program, from TVA to education to REA, is embraced in this unprecedented and wholesale assault.

Let us be clear. This is not a return to the past. It is not an effort to even preserve the status quo. It is an intention to shatter the tested foundation of our economy. And it will bring disaster.

Nor does this attack on our continuing traditions stop at the water's edge.

For much of our history the office of President has been the center of the Nation. Twenty years ago it became the center of the world. In these two decades since, four Presidents--of each party--have woven the common fabric of American world responsibility.

We are now told that in foreign affairs, as well, the responsible leaders of the past have been wrong. The American people have been wrong to support them. And the free world has been wrong to welcome our leadership.

We are told to regard as fruitless the search for lasting agreements, such as the test ban treaty.

We are attacked for our restraint in the use of our mighty power.

We are told to ignore or discard the great dream of the United Nations.

We are told that tactical nuclear weapons are simply a new kind of conventional explosive.

If these views prevail, if we abandon the proven principles of both parties, I have no doubt that our hopes for peace and the cause of freedom will be in serious peril.

Let there be no mistake. There is no check or protection against error or foolhardiness by the President of the United States. He, alone, makes basic decisions which can lead us toward peace or toward mounting danger. In his hands is the power which can lay waste in hours a civilization that it took a thousand years to build.

In your hands is the decision to choose the man that you will entrust with this responsibility for your survival.

These are some of the elements of the basic choice that you must make tomorrow.

Shall we move forward, innovating where necessary, but building on the programs and the policies that are nourished by progressive men of both parties ?

Or shall we strip the house to the foundation, throw aside the work of decades, discard the wisdom of a generation of trusted leaders, and strike off in an uncertain and, I believe, a deeply dangerous direction?

Your vote will make that choice.

But if you fail to vote, you will also make a choice. If you and your neighbor disagree and if he votes while you stay home, you have increased the importance of his vote. You will influence the election but in a way that is opposite to your own beliefs.

I believe in the importance of a healthy two-party system. But that will be best restored by an overwhelming repudiation of the small minority which has seized the Republican Party and is already planning to keep it. Only a massive defeat can drive them from their places of present power.

I wish with all my heart that this had been another kind of campaign. I wish it had been possible to debate the path to our future rather than the wisdom of our past.

That future has many challenges.

We must work to extend increasing abundance to all our people.

But we have also learned that man does not live by bread alone. The satisfactions of life cannot be measured just by the size of a salary check. Jefferson did not dream, or Lincoln suffer, or Roosevelt toil so that future Americans would live in overcrowded cities--without a decent school for his children-afraid to walk his streets--shut off from trees and grass--breathing poisoned air by the side of polluted rivers--fearful that a machine might destroy his security.

We have the resources and the knowledge to move away from these dim threatening valleys into the broad, sunlit uplands of a nation which is fulfilling the values of its past through a search for greatness in its future.

Let us, tomorrow, rise up by the million and the tens of millions. Let us cast out those views that are so dangerously removed from the real concerns and passions of this exciting time in which we live.

Then we can bind up the Nation's wounds, draw together men of good will, unite those of every pursuit and party. Then we can do battle with the huge army of the world's desires. Then we can go together into that uncertain day already touched with dawn.

This will be our choice, in our election, in our country. But in Moscow and Paris, in New Delhi and Rio, men will also wait tomorrow. Whether they wish us well or ill, they know that the peace of the world and the freedom of man will rest, in large measure, on our leadership.

What Longfellow once wrote is as meaningful for us today, I think, as it was then. I hope you will carry it in your memory tomorrow.

"Sail on, O ship of State!

Sail on, O Union, strong and great!

Humanity with all its fears,

With all the hopes of future years,

Is hanging--breathless--on thy fate!"

Thank you, my fellow countrymen, good night, and God bless you.

Note: The President's remarks were video-taped in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House at 1:45 p.m. on November 2 for broadcast at 10 o'clock that evening.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Radio and Television Address to the American People on Election Eve. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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