Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at an Airport Rally in Rockford, Illinois

October 30, 1964

Governor Kerner, Governor Shapiro, Senator Douglas, Postmaster General Gronouski, Attorney General Clark, State Auditor Howlett, my old friend Paul Powell, Jim Ronan, Mayor Schleicher, Robert Brinkmeier, Miss Dorothy O'Brien, my fellow Americans:

If my history is correct, this is the first time that a Democratic President has visited the city of Rockford. But I am telling you now that it is not going to be the last time.

I have come here in excellent company. Otto Kerner has been a distinguished Governor of the State of Illinois. He has been one of the great Governors of the United States of America. Governor Kerner knows the problems of this State and he knows how to solve those problems. For 4 years he has worked quietly and capably, patiently and effectively for you down at Springfield. And I hope that next Tuesday you will give him a resounding mandate for his next term.

Bob Brinkmeier, your Democratic candidate for Congress, is a very able man, a teacher from Forreston. I was a teacher myself once, and I think we should use more schoolteachers in government by electing Bob Brinkmeier.

The last time this district sent a Democrat to Congress was in 1852. As a strong supporter of the two-party system, I think it is time for a change!

On this occasion I am grateful for the reception I have received here in a city and in a district with such long and such strong and such loyal devotion to the Republican Party.

I am proud to be a Democrat. I am proud to be a member of the party of Jefferson and Jackson and Cleveland and Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman. I am especially proud to be a member of the party of that great and that gallant American, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

But I am prouder that over a career of more than 30 years in public life, I have always been the kind of Democrat who could and would work together with my fellow Americans of the party of Lincoln and McKinley, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower, Robert Taft, Arthur Vandenberg, and Everett Dirksen.

Whatever our traditions, whatever our affiliations, whatever our partisan beliefs, we all know that America will stand strong and secure only when we faithfully put our country ahead of our party in every cause.

On this bright autumn afternoon, I remember--and I know you have not forgotten-another day such as this 11 months and 1 week ago. On that day, November 22d, we were happy and smiling and all seemed secure.

Then in one terrible, incredible instant our world and our times changed. A vicious bullet from an assassin had felled a noble man.

Wherever we were, whatever we were doing, Americans laid down their own interests and had only one thought: their Nation's interest. All across this land no man or woman that day had any thought of party. All Americans were thinking only of preserving our system and saving our country, and saving all that we cherish in our life.

When night had fallen I returned to Washington, bearing on these shoulders the burdens and the trust of every home and every family and every free man.

I said to the Nation and to all the people what was in my heart that night. I had taken the oath of the highest office in the land in an airplane compartment with the jet motors roaring behind me in the background. And I told my people when I walked into that lonely White House that evening with God's help and yours I would do the best I could.

In all our history only 35 other men have borne these burdens and have known these tasks. But I know what each of them must have known.

This is an office that makes men humble. This is an office that sends men to their knees to pray for wisdom and help and not for power.

Presidents are not infallible, and I hope there is never one who thinks otherwise. A man cannot serve in this office 1 hour or 1 day without knowing how much he needs all the help that he can get, from all the people that are willing to help their country.

In those moments last November I turned to the most experienced and to the best men that I could find in America. We were in a goldfish bowl. The spotlight was on the United States. Eighty-five rulers and leaders of countries of the world had come to Washington to pay their last respects to President Kennedy and to size up President Johnson.

When I turned to these experienced men, all of them that I could find, I did not ask their party, I did not know their party, I did not care about their party. All that mattered to me in those critical moments was the survival of the United States and whether these men wanted to do and help me do what was necessary for us to survive, and what was necessary for the best of our country.

I was proud that the first citizen who called upon me to offer his strength and his support was General Dwight David Eisenhower. He spent more than 2 hours in my office with a lead pencil and a yellow tablet, writing his suggestions.

And then from Independence came that happy warrior, President Harry Truman.

I was grateful--and I am more grateful now--that among those who have been my closest advisers from November until now were some men who were Republicans by party but patriots by conviction--men like the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara; men like the Secretary of the Treasury, Douglas Dillon; men like the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John McCone; men like John McCloy and Robert Lovett; men like Arthur Dean and Arthur Larson.

The man who sees me most often each day, sometimes before I get up in the morning, frequently after I have retired for the evening, is the man in charge of the National Security Council's executive operation, a Republican named McGeorge Bundy, the former Dean of Harvard University.

On matters of fiscal policy and foreign policy, and our pursuit of peace, men upon whom your President leans are good Republicans, such as President Eisenhower's former Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Anderson. He spent 2 days with me giving me his judgment on our last budget. Men like President Eisenhower's former Secretary of State, Christian Herter, who now serves as my spokesman in the Kennedy Round in connection with all of our trade relations. The man who served Republican administrators in negotiations with the Communist bloc in the test ban treaty, Mr. Arthur Dean, one of the great lawyers of the Nation.

These men, and many more, are all Republicans, good men, patriots, and good Republicans. But first of all they are good and great Americans.

I am very grateful and very humble that in this critical hour of this campaign I have the voluntary support of at least four members of President Eisenhower's Cabinet. I am very grateful that in the Senate, as in the Presidency, I have had the friendship and the trust of men who sat across the aisle as Republican leaders when I was Democratic leader, men like Bob Taft, Bill Knowland, and Everett Dirksen.

Today I speak as I do only because I deeply believe that the ultimate success of our democratic system and our survival and the preservation of peace in the world lies largely in the strength of bipartisan government in our land.

Twenty years ago, a former isolationist, a great Republican Senator named Arthur Vandenberg, from the State of Michigan, stepped up and joined Harry S. Truman, the President of the United States, and together they laid down the Truman doctrine and united the country, Republicans and Democrats, and stopped the Communists in their tracks in Greece and Turkey.

A little later, the Republicans swept the country and General Eisenhower became President, but Lyndon Johnson became Democratic leader, and for 8 years President Eisenhower dealt with the Democratic leader.

Six of those years the Democrats had the majority, but I looked up the record the other day and the Democratic leader supported President Eisenhower's foreign policies 95 percent of the time in that year 1960, when the present Republican candidate supported it only 25 percent of the time.

Everett Dirksen supported the test ban treaty in a critical hour in the Senate when without his support it may not have become law, when the present Republican candidate was fighting it. Together, Everett Dirksen and John F. Kennedy passed that treaty that 105 nations ratified that makes the air that you breathe safer and the milk that you drink cleaner.

This spirit of bipartisanship between the two parties must never be lost.

America today cannot be served by the politics of patronage and privilege. America can only be served by the politics of responsibility. That is the only kind of politics I know and the only kind I want America to know. I have always tried to find the basis for consensus, to take the other man's viewpoint into consideration--in the words of the prophet Isaiah, to reason together, and to work with him for the good of our country and the success of our land.

In these dark days, in these hours of danger, when the Soviet Government changed their rulers only last week, America cannot march under a Republican flag or a Democratic flag. America can and America must march only under one flag of one nation, of one people.

Republicans and Democrats have walked side by side in uniform. They have died side by side in the trenches. They have fought side by side in battles, and no one even asked them what party they belonged to. And there is no reason why they cannot work side by side in the task of preventing a nuclear war and preserving peace and defending freedom, and keeping America moving and keeping America prosperous.

The course that America takes the next 4 years will be the course that the people choose themselves, and you will do that in the privacy of the polls next Tuesday. You are the masters. You select the director. You name the President. You appoint the Commander in Chief.

I want every good Republican in this Nation and every good Independent in this Nation who yearns for peace, who believes in prosperity--I want every businessman who believes in profits and prudence, every labor man who wants adequate wages and reasonable working conditions, to get out and do some heavy thinking now. You have a week to do it, and to exercise your own precious and personal right of choice.

I do not know what that choice will be-the farmer in Illinois, the worker in Detroit, the businessman on Wall Street, but I do believe that good Americans, good patriots, good Republicans, will consider seriously and soberly what is best for their country, and I do believe they will vote on no other basis.

I do. believe that good Republicans want for their party understanding, tolerance, judicious leadership in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln, humane leadership in the tradition of Herbert Hoover, experienced leadership in the tradition of Dwight Eisenhower. And in the days to come, I believe that it is this responsible heritage of the Republican Party that will emerge after this election to regroup, reform, strengthen, and return to the principles of high patriotic responsibility that marks the Republican Party's history.

So today I want to tell you, and through you I want to tell the Nation, that I want them to know and to understand that so long as Lyndon Johnson may serve as your President, I will share with them the opportunity as well as the obligation of saving America and saving our system of free enterprise.

I will share with them the opportunity and the obligation of bettering our working conditions, employing all of our people, raising our standards of living, increasing our strength, encouraging our growth. And remembering that it was this great State that gave to the Nation the man that abolished slavery 100 years ago, in these next few months I will give them the opportunity and the obligation to join me in helping to abolish poverty among humans.

Yes, it is not just the Democrat or the Republican or the Independent. It is all Americans that must pursue the search for peace in this unsettled world.

I have not forgotten that in one of our country's darkest hours, President Roosevelt called two great Republicans forward, and they stepped up to cast aside partisanship amidst great criticism, and serve in that war period as patriots. Those men were Henry Stimson, Secretary of War, and Illinois' own Frank Knox, under whom I served when he was Secretary of the Navy.

The dangers to freedom then were no greater than the dangers we face today.

On November the 3d, next Tuesday, I believe that this generation of responsible Americans, I believe that every mother in her kitchen, and every husband at his vocation, will remember that the free world and the Communist world are looking at us through a goldfish bowl. The spotlight of 3 billion people is turned toward what America does and who leads the world.

I think they will be reading our election returns, and I believe that Americans will, by their votes, say to the new leaders in the Kremlin and in Great Britain and in Italy and in Germany, and in India since Nehru is gone and Mr. Shastri has replaced him, and in Japan, where Mr. Ikeda has resigned--I believe they will say that America is going to have a foreign policy that unites all of our people instead of divides them, a policy that preaches love instead of hate, a policy that preaches faith instead of doubt, a policy that preaches hope instead of despair. I believe they will say that you can depend on America to stand solid and safe and united and steady on her course.

That will be the mandate--the only mandate--of this election. There will be no mandate for a man or for a party. There will be a mandate for progress. There will be a mandate for social consciousness, there will be a mandate for strength and responsibility in the policies and the purposes of the world's strongest and the world's most responsible nation.

Finally, it was just 2 years ago that I sat around the Cabinet table in the Cuban missile crisis. On one side of the President sat a Rhodes scholar, a great diplomat, who is Secretary of State. On the other side sat the former president of the Ford Motor Co., who left a half-million-dollar-a-year job to run the Defense Department, a Republican. Across the table sat Secretary Dillon, a Republican Secretary of the Treasury.

In that room we knew no parties. We knew we were only Americans. And Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Kennedy stood there eyeball to eyeball, each with a knife in the other one's ribs, and neither quivering or quaking. There was no palsy in their hands.

I never left my home a single morning when I knew that I would be back that night, or whether there would even be a Capitol or a White House.

There were those that said, "Send in the Marines," and there is a gallant Marine that wears the scars of battle, Paul Douglas, who did go in.

There were those who said, "Defoliate and drop our bombs." There were a lot of hotheads all around the place. But as those generals came in with the stars on their shoulders, and the admirals walked down the corridors with the gold on their braid, I am proud to tell you that the coolest customer, the wisest man in that room, was the man that you, in your wisdom, the masses of the people, had selected to be your Commander in Chief, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

I proudly served with him and beside him for 3 1/2 years.

I know not what the future holds. I can tell you only today, as I move on to Chicago, where I was due 30 minutes ago, that I believe you Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and whatnots realize that we are living in a critical period of history, and that you have a critical and important decision to make--not for me, because it doesn't make much difference to me.

You have given me everything a person could have. I was an NYA administrator. We worked with boys and girls. I was a Congressman for 12 years. I was a Senator for 12 years. I was leader of my party for 8 years. I was Vice President for over 3 years, as President Kennedy's assistant and his helper, and now I have been President for almost a year. But you will go and vote not for Lyndon Johnson and not for the Democratic Party. You will go vote for yourself and your family.

I know when I am sitting down there on the banks of the river in my little house near where I was born on the Pedernales River in Texas, and Governor Kerner or Paul Douglas calls me Tuesday night--I know that they will tell me that you voted for what you knew in your heart was right.

Note: The President spoke at 3:07 p.m. at a rally at the airport at Rockford, Ill. His opening words referred to Governor Otto Kerner, Lieutenant Governor Samuel H. Shapiro, Senator Paul H. Douglas, United States Postmaster General John A. Gronouski, State Attorney General William G. Clark, State Auditor Michael J. Howlett, State Representative Paul Powell, Democratic candidate for Illinois Secretary of State, Daniel J. (Jim) Ronan, Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative, Mayor Benjamin T. Schleicher of Rockford, Robert E. Brinkmeier, Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative, and Dorothy G. O'Brien, Democratic national committeewoman, all of Illinois.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at an Airport Rally in Rockford, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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