Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at a Ceremony Inaugurating the Lighting of the White House.

November 25, 1970

Ladies and gentlemen:

Mrs. Nixon and I are very happy to welcome you on this Thanksgiving eve to one of those occasions that comes very seldom in the history of the White House, a significant change in terms of how it will appear to the American people and people all over the world.

A bit of historical reference, perhaps, would be in order.

Seventy years ago--or 80 years ago, I should say--in the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison, electricity first came to the White House. And when Theodore Roosevelt was President, 68 years ago, the White House, for the first time, had some external lights which he planned. Those lights that he planned you perhaps have not noticed, but in recent days they have been removed because a change is going to take place which you will see in just a moment.

No change in the external lighting of the White House has occurred in the past 68 years, and now the change that you will see tonight came as a result of two coincidences.

First, as you know, a lot of mail comes to the White House, to the President and to the First Lady. And the First Lady, also, is one who reads a lot of mail and listens to a lot of people.

Several months ago she reported to me that a number of people who had written to the White House, and some of the visitors-the over a million and a half visitors who come through this house every year-had remarked about the fact that at night Washington is a very beautiful city--that the Washington Monument is lighted, that the Lincoln Memorial is lighted, and also that the Capitol is lighted.

And the question was asked over and over again by scores of people in letters and personally: Why can't the White House be lighted, because it is such a beautiful house? We would like for all of our people to see it at night as well as in the daytime.

Mrs. Nixon raised that question with me. And I had to give her the same answer that I am presently giving to people in the Cabinet who asked for increases in the budget. I pointed out: Where are we going to get the money?

And now came the coincidence. Mr. Willard Marriott, the chairman of the Inaugural Committee, reported several months ago that there was a surplus after the last inauguration, as sometimes there is, and that it was the custom to ask the First Lady to designate where that surplus might be used.

So Mrs. Nixon made the decision that the surplus from the Inaugural Committee of January 1969 would be given as a gift to the Nation, and the gift to the Nation is the lighting of the White House, the external lighting of the White House.

In a moment, Mrs. Nixon will do the honors of pushing the button that will allow you to see the house as it has been lit.

The reason that it has been kept a secret is that they've been doing their practicing very late at night. But if you've seen a glow from this house at 4 or 5 in the morning, it isn't because it's on fire. It's because they've been trying to light the White House so that we could have the final result of it available tonight, throughout the Thanksgiving and the Christmas season and all the years to come.

I just close with one other historical reference. Once this house is lighted at night, it will be seen by millions of Americans and will be more simply than having the building physically lit, because it will be a symbol of something, I hope, to all Americans and to people around the world.

Woodrow Wilson, speaking at Independence Hall in 1914, expressed the feeling that I deeply share, and that I know most Americans share with me, when he said that "a patriotic American . . . is never so proud of the great Flag under which he lives as when it comes to mean to other people as well as to himself a symbol of hope and liberty."

And I only hope, as this house now will be lighted for all to see, that, as it appears before us here, it will be now and in the years to come a symbol of hope and liberty to all Americans and to all people throughout the world.

[At this point the United States Marine Corps Band played "America the Beautiful". The President then resumed speaking.]

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we can't invite you all in, but I do want to urge all of you not only to see it from this side but to go around and look at it from the front. I think it's even more beautiful from the front with the lighting.

Thank you very much and a very happy Thanksgiving to everybody who is here.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 5:50 p.m. on the South Lawn.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at a Ceremony Inaugurating the Lighting of the White House. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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