Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in Boston at Post Office Square

October 27, 1964

Mr. Speaker, Monsignor Griffin, my dearest friend and my staunchest ally, the great Speaker of the House of Representatives John McCormack, your vigorous next Governor of the State of Massachusetts, Frank Bellotti--this young man has great promise, great ability, and great honor. Massachusetts can perform a useful public service by electing Frank Bellotti overwhelmingly as your Governor. And I just hope that you vote the ticket straight, the Democratic ticket, all the way from the courthouse to the White House.

My beautiful and gracious friend Joan Kennedy. What pride all of you must have in this lady of great grace and dignity. I think that Ted Kennedy ought to be enshrined among the successful men of our time if for one reason alone: he had the good fortune to marry Joan.

Mayor Collins, my friend of long standing Governor Peabody, my loyal allies who for many years have been Members of one of the most effective and one of the most respected congressional delegations in all this Nation: Congressman Tip O'Neill, Congressman Phil Philbin, Congressman Torbert Macdonald, Congressman Jim Burke, and I haven't seen Eddie Boland here tonight, but if he is not here, I will tell you where he is: he is out in Ohio getting votes for the Johnson-Humphrey ticket, working until midnight to help us carry that State-and my friend Harold Donohue, my fellow Americans:

Thank you for your wonderful welcome. It wasn't entirely unexpected. My friend and associate Dave Powers told me on the way up here about one of the five O'Sullivan brothers. He had just had a terrible quarrel at home and he walked to the corner and met a friend, and he said to him, "I am so angry I am going to go out and disgrace the entire family. I am going to register Republican !"

Four years ago I came to the great Boston area and we formed the pact of "Austin to Boston." And I am back here tonight to tell you that when the people from Austin make a pact with the people of Boston, Mr. Speaker, that is a contract as long as I have breath in my body. They tell me that Boston used to be known as the home of the bean and the cod, and I hope after next Tuesday that it will be known as the home of the Kennedys and the Johnsons.

This city and this State are among the leaders of this Nation. Your industry from shoes to electronics enriches America. In fact, I have more men from Massachusetts in the White House than from all the other States put together, and I will be just as proud to say that in Texas as I am proud to say it in Boston. Larry O'Brien, Kenny O'Donnell, Dick Goodwin, and other loyal allies of John Fitzgerald Kennedy have helped to make this administration what it is tonight.

But this modern city of today is also a memorable city of the past. Your streets are rich in American memories. Here have come the scholars and the soldiers and the statesmen and the diplomats to guide the destiny of the great Republic.

But no memory is more fresh and none is so bright, and none so mingles pain and gratitude as the memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts. He led an entire Nation and he found his way to the secret hopes of man. But he was Irish, he was Massachusetts born, and he was Boston bred.

He belongs to the world. But a part of him belongs especially to you, and you are richer for it. When he died the sound of mourning was heard in every street of the earth. But tears came more plentifully to Boston eyes, and grief more painfully to Boston hearts.

His qualities were many, but two especially explain his hold on men. He made them believe that they were better than they had thought they were; that perhaps, on earth, God's work could truly be their own.

And he could absorb in his imagination the dreams and the longings, the fears and the ambitions of others, whether they lived in mud huts in Africa or whether they lived in the palaces of kings. Somehow they understood that this was so.

But when he said "the torch has been passed," he was not speaking of himself, or of any individual, or of any group. It was the light of an idea about this country. It illuminated what we were and what we could be.

That idea was not struck down by a murderer's bullet. That idea is not ready to be carved on marble monuments. That idea will not be put away on the dusty shelves of memorial libraries. That idea is living tonight. It is breathing, it is growing every hour. And we will carry it forward until it swells to burst the bonds which limit men to less than they can be.

Before his inauguration, he spoke to the Massachusetts Legislature. He said the future would ask four questions of his administration and our Nation. These same questions will also be our standard.

First, he said, were we truly men of courage? Today we know the answer is yes. We saw an example of that courage in Cuba when determination brought a Communist withdrawal, a memorable victory for the cause of freedom, and a turning point in the cold war.

We will continue on the path of courage and bravery in time of crisis, firmness in the face of threats, and the undramatic but the ultimate courage to pursue our goals despite frustration and setback, and regardless of the length of the journey.

Second, he said, were we truly men of judgment? The answer to this question is also yes. We saw that judgment after Cuba. We did not press our victory or try to humiliate the Soviet Union. Instead, he seized the chance to move toward meaningful and lasting settlements which might lessen the danger of war. One of the results was the test ban treaty.

We will continue to apply judgment, not impulse; to apply restraint, not recklessness; apply wisdom, not uncontrolled emotion. Yes, we will apply these to the great problems of the world. We will ask respect for our interests. We will offer understanding for the honest fears of others. In this way, we can carry on the work of building a lasting peace.

Third, he asked, were we truly men of principle? The answer, again, is yes. Nowhere did this integrity shine more brightly than in his fight to secure equal rights to all Americans. Neither the political cost, and it was high, nor the pain of controversy, and it was great, caused a single deviation from the pursuit of full equality for men, special privilege for none.

Democratic politics requires accommodation and adjustment to the views of others. But where great principles are at stake, compromise must not obscure the demands of justice. The fulfillment of the promise of our Constitution, and an end to American poverty, are among such principles.

Just as Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery 100 years ago, it is the dedicated purpose and objective of the Democratic Party in our time to abolish poverty in the United States of America. And when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was taken from us, he had this program on the drawing board. And thanks to the leadership of the Massachusetts delegation and that towering giant, the Speaker, that program was passed in less than 12 months from the time John Kennedy planned it.

Fourth, he asked, were we truly men of dedication? The answer, again, is yes. In every area, dedication to the public good came first. That dedication remains our own:

--that the life of each citizen shall improve as the Nation improves and grows

--that the hungry shall be fed, that the old shall be protected, that the ignorant shall find learning

--that business and labor and farmer and consumer will move forward to the benefit of each and at the expense of none

--that America will be strong enough to resist any enemy and generous enough to help any friend

--that neither personal pride nor political gains will stand in the way of the pursuit of peace.

John Kennedy said the high court of history would measure our success by these answers. For him, judgment is now in. He has been placed among those who, in the words of the Bible, "were honored in their generations and were the glory of their times."

But for the rest of us--for you and for me--judgment still waits.

In that speech President Kennedy told us that John Winthrop, setting out for America, said to his shipmates, "We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill--the eyes of all people are upon us."

Well, America tonight is a city upon a hill, and those who watch us look not to our tall buildings or our prosperous streets, or to our mighty arms. They look uncertainly, and hopefully, to see burning in the midst of the city a light of freedom, a flame of the spirit, the brightness of the nobility which is in man, and the arms of the Statue of Liberty awaiting them.

This is at once our bequest, our burden, and our brightest expectation.

Eleven months and three days ago, without notice, on that tragic day November 22d, amid the roar of the jet airplanes in the background, without opportunity to counsel and without being able to go to the libraries, I attempted to pick up where my beloved benefactor and friend had left off. And that evening I said to the people of this great land that with God's help and your prayers, I will do my best. I came back to the White House and got behind that lonely, black, iron fence, and the Secret Service turned the gate lock on me, and there I have been most of the time for 11 months and 3 days.

I looked over the inventory of his plans that he had left, and they constituted one of the greatest and most advanced social programs in the history of man. Fifty-one measures, spelled out in detail, that had meant the burning of a lot of midnight oil, had gone to the Congress.

A few days ago I sat in that same office after the hour of midnight looking over many measures that had to be signed to become law. The Congress had come and the Congress had gone, and of those 51 major measures on the program of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, every single one of them had passed the Senate of the United States, and all but three or four had passed the House and were in conference. And they are going to be passed, God willing, come next year.

I have carried on as best I could. I have done what I told you I would. I have done the best I can. I came back here tonight to Boston because this is where I started 4 years ago, and the hand of fellowship and the hand of friendship and the hand of comradeship of my fallen leader--his friends came out and welcomed me to their homes and to their flats. I came back tonight not because I have the slightest doubt about Boston or Massachusetts, because I don't, but I came back because I never wanted them to have the slightest doubt about me.

I am sorry I was so late the other evening, but I seem to always run an hour late and a dollar short. But one of the most remarkable men that has ever been born in this country in my judgment is out in your hospital, God spared his life--Teddy Kennedy. He knew what was best. In due time--I am not a prophet but in due time he will lead a lot more people than those of Massachusetts.

He sits in the Senate as a symbol of all that is good and all that represents duty, and all that represents understanding and patience. He had to be patient the other night because I didn't get here until after midnight, but I hope that you will just do an especially good job for him come November 3d because he is not here tonight to do it for himself.

I thought maybe by coming up here I might just stimulate two or three or four or just a few dozen extra ones to go there and give Teddy and your new Governor that extra majority that they want that will make the Nation stand up and salute and take pride in Boston.

Now I am due in Pittsburgh--a few minutes ago--and then I am going to Evansville, Ind., to join my wife, who is working the other side of the street, the other section of the country. And then we will go to bed sometime in the evening in Albuquerque, N. Mex.

But we do want to carry on the spirit, the ideals and the program that was begun by that son of Boston, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He went from one State in this Union to almost every State in the Union, and to many I went with him, and he said, "Give me your help, give me your heart, give me your hand and we will get America moving again." And America tonight is moving again.

I saw him come back from Vienna after his meeting with Khrushchev. He called the leadership in. In somber tones he told us the danger that our Nation faced. And then he began to build the mightiest military machine that man has ever known. We have more might tonight than any nation in the world, and more might than all of them put together because of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He added $40 billion in 4 years to the military expenditures and to space expenditures, because he had a vision. His eyes were in the stars and his feet were on the ground, and he knew we could never be first on the earth and second in space.

And then came the Cuban missile crisis that men sometimes talk about now when he is not here to defend himself. I can't tell you, I just can't tell you, how sad it makes me feel to think that any worthy public servant would reflect on his conduct or his motives in that period. I don't want to even discuss it because I just think they must not know what they do. But I sat at that table in 37 meetings of the 38 that were held of the executive committee, and at the end he sent us a little silver calendar with each date of that month circled from the day we learned they were there until the day we learned they were gone.

I saw the generals with all their stars, and the admirals with all their braid, and the Secretary of State with a long record of great diplomatic performance behind him, distinguished service; and the Secretary of Defense, the former manager of the Ford Motor Co., at a salary of more than half a million a year that he gave up to serve his country. But the coolest man in that room always was the man that sat at the head of the table, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

I never left my wife and daughters in the morning knowing whether I would see them that night, because those missiles were about to become operational. But I saw those two men, the spokesman for the Soviet Union and the spokesman for the free world, and there they stood while we went through 38 meetings, eyeball to eyeball, with their knife right on each other's ribs and never quivering or never moving until Mr. Khrushchev picked up his missiles and put them on his ships and took them back home.

We have much to remember, much to be thankful for, and all of our lives will be better because he passed our way.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 5:50 p.m. in Post Office Square, Boston, Mass. In his opening remarks he referred to John Forbes Thompson, Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the Right Reverend Monsignor Christopher P. Griffin, chaplain of the Massachusetts Senate, Representative John W. McCormack, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Francis X. Bellotti, Democratic candidate for Governor, and Senator and Mrs. Edward M. Kennedy, Mayor John F. Collins of Boston, Governor Endicott Peabody and Representatives Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr., Philip J. Philbin, Torbert H. Macdonald, James A. Burke, Edward P. Boland, and Harold D. Donohue, all of Massachusetts, David F. Powers, Special Assistant in the White House Office, Lawrence F. O'Brien and P. Kenneth O'Donnell, Special Assistants to the President, and Richard N. Goodwin, Assistant Special Counsel to 'the President.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in Boston at Post Office Square Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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