Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Broadcast on a Program Sponsored by the Democratic Victory Committee

November 03, 1968

Good evening, my fellow Americans:

I am speaking to you tonight from the White House.

This house--which belongs to you--has been my home for almost 5 years. This coming January, I will be leaving it, with my wife and my daughters and my grandchildren-and I am proud, as you may imagine, to put that in the plural. We will return to our family home and to the life of private citizens. We pray that both of our sons-in-law may join us there in a time of peace.

After more than 37 years in public service, I now look forward to the life of a private citizen. Thinking ahead, I believe my concerns are the same as yours. I think of my family and their future. I think of what is waiting ahead for my daughters, and their young husbands, and their children; what life as an American citizen will bring to them, and what life will ask of them.

To think of these things here in this house, at this time of contest and transition in American affairs, is to think naturally and soberly of the man who will decide so much of the future of all of our families--the man whom you will choose to preside here as your President.

That man--the 37th President of the United States--will find, I think, as I did, that all of the Presidents who have gone before have left something of themselves behind. He will discover, as I did, that this Oval Office--while a lonely place in many ways--is filled with the presence and with the thoughts of men who bore the burden of national leadership in trying times.

That is the unseen Presidency. Its tradition, experience, judgment, and example speak across the centuries from one President to the next.

"No man can be President," said Herbert Hoover, "without looking back upon the effort given to the country" by his predecessors. "No man of imagination can be President without thinking of what shall be the course of his country under the . . . Presidents who will follow him. He must think of himself as a link in the long chain of his country's destiny, past and future."

And so, from age to age, the words of past Presidents come--sometimes in a whisper of encouragement, sometimes in a shout of caution. They speak of the responsibilities that shape the power of the Presidency, of the quality of leadership that men must bring to the exercise of that power, and of the great noble principles without which the people are betrayed.

Many Presidents have heard and have heeded these voices of past Presidents. They have been better Presidents--and America has been better served--because they did hear and because they did heed.

So tonight, in this important moment of continuity and change, I want to ask you to listen with me to some of these voices--as you think about your decision as to who will be the next President.

Listen now to John Adams, speaking of the President in 1809: "In all great and essential measures he is bound by his honor and his conscience .... The people cannot be too careful in the choice of their Presidents," because that office is "the indispensable guardian of their rights."

And then Thomas Jefferson declared that the "first object" of the great experiment in democracy is "that man may be governed by reason and truth."

And then two great Republican Presidents, describing the constituency of the President: First, the noble Abraham Lincoln. And he said: "I hope to be man enough not to know one citizen of the United States from another, nor one section from another." And then next, Theodore Roosevelt. He said: "No man is fit to hold the position of President . . . unless . . . he feels that he represents no party but the people as a whole."

In our time, President Eisenhower voiced his agreement. President Eisenhower said: "There is no such thing as a president of the Republicans . . . no such thing as a president of the Democrats."

So my fellow Americans, these are the voices for our time. These are our Presidents, speaking to our problems and speaking to our needs and our hopes and our dreams. They offer us timely counsel on the essential qualities of character that a man must possess to serve us and to lead us as our President.

They say that you must select a man of conscience; they say you must select a man of conviction; but never elect a man of narrow partisanship.

He cannot be President of part of the people, he cannot be a spokesman for one race, or one faction, or the servant of one group of States, or for that matter, one set of interests.

He cannot be President of a coalition of frustration, or a combine of the fearful. The devious routes of a southern strategy or a northern strategy--the clever campaign tactics of concealment and evasion--these run to their dead and dangerous end here in the office of the Presidency. For it is preeminently, above all, a national office. It is supremely the place where political honor and public trust must coincide to guard the Nation's interest as well as to grant the people's will.

No man can come to the Presidency compromised in honor and lacking in public trust. He will fail, and the people with him.

I do not believe that President Humphrey will fail you, nor Vice President Muskie, or even President Muskie--if we should awake one tragic morning to find our Vice President suddenly face to face with the life-and-death responsibilities of the Presidency. It could happen. It has already happened four times in this century.

So my vote for Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie is not given lightly. It is a heavy responsibility for the President ever to recommend his successor. But it is his responsibility-and from the vantage point of his experience in this office, he must meet that responsibility.

I was aware of that responsibility on the night of March 31st, when I publicly revealed that I would refrain from any personal partisan causes, or any duties other than the awesome ones of the Presidency.

So sitting in the Oval Office that night, I was also very aware of the unseen Presidency: --the great traditions, principles, and duties; --the awesome power, the immense fragility of executive authority; --the magnificent institution that I had been privileged to guide; --and, finally, my obligation to pass it to a man worthy of its power and worthy of your confidence.

Not for the first time, I found comfort and I found great strength in the words of a former President. I heard Franklin Delano Roosevelt saying: [The President] "has a great obligation to think about the days when he will no longer be President . . . about the next generation and the generation after that." For a President especially, it is a duty to think in national terms, not only of this year but of future years when someone else will be President.

So, my fellow citizens, I do no more or no less than my duty in commending a successor to you. My concern is not so much who wins in November as it is who can govern in January. In my judgment, my prudent judgment, of all the candidates in this election, Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie combine the experience, the intelligence, the compassion, and the broad understanding of America's needs to command Amecrica's confidence in this White House.

Both of these men have the mark of a President in their character. That is where I have looked, into the heart, into the fiber, where Presidents are made or Presidents are broken.

Both of these men have long and brilliant records. Both are deeply committed to creative change, committed to orderly progress, committed to the building of that new and that better America which has already begun under our leadership and their leadership.

But that is not enough for a President and Vice President. The vital element of leadership--that priceless quality on which the fate of democratic government must ultimately turn--is something much simpler. The touchstone of greatness, for man or for nation, is faith.

Can you have faith in Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie?

I can. I am prepared, soberly and in full consciousness of all of my responsibilities as President, to entrust and to pass on the American Presidency to them. I do so because I believe that each has shown, throughout all of his public life, the essential qualities of character that so many of our presidents have singled out as the vital qualifies of Presidential leadership: honor and conscience, reason and truth. A commitment to represent all of the people--and the ability to do so because they have earned the faith of all of the people.

So I have spoken to you tonight of the way that the Presidents feel about the Presidency. They were all different men, strong and weak, Democrat and Republican, beloved and, most of them, abused. But on one thing they all agreed: The touchstone of the Presidency is the people's faith.

That thought repeats itself--repeats itself time after time--across the centuries in the words of the Presidents speaking to you, you the people. It has great meaning for any American who has not yet decided how to vote. So I hope that every American will use his vote in November, not squander it by sitting this one out, not waste it by giving it to a spoiler.

So as you step into the voting booth, I hope you may hear the voices of other Presidents who have gone on before, speaking of the reasons why the powers and the duties of the Presidency depend so critically on the people's faith.

There was President Harry Truman, saying of his office: "It surely is the greatest trust that can be placed in any man by the American people."

There was President Grover Cleveland, declaring that his office embodied "in a greater degree than any other office on earth, the suffrage and the trust" of a "free and mighty people."

There was President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisting: "the Presidency is not a prize to be won by . . . glittering promises. It is not a commodity to be sold by high-pressure salesmanship and national advertising. The Presidency is a most sacred trust and it ought not to be dealt with on any level other than an appeal to reason and humanity."

Four weeks before he was taken from us, President John F. Kennedy expressed another thought. It has enduring value and, I think, particular relevance for us in this hour. "A nation," President Kennedy said, "reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors .... "

So you will honor--with your vote and your trust--one man with this Nation's highest office. I hope that man will be Hubert Humphrey. In a lifetime of noble and earnest service, I think he has really earned it.

Note: The President recorded the remarks in the Family Theater at the White House for broadcast over NBC television at 5 p.m. on November 3, 1968.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Broadcast on a Program Sponsored by the Democratic Victory Committee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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