Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Ceremony Marking the Issuance of the "Register and Vote" Stamp.

August 11, 1964

Chairman Bailey and Chairman Burch, ladies and gentlemen:

I welcome you to this house which is your house. We come together at a time when we are preparing to test our differences. But on some things Americans have no disagreement. You have come, not because you are Republicans, not because you are Democrats, but because you are citizens deeply conscious of your civic responsibilities.

During the recent days we have been very attentive to the preservation of peace and the preservation of freedom in far-off countries. Yet we all know that we cannot be less attentive to the freedom that we cherish here in our own country. We preach the virtues of democracy abroad. We must practice its duties here at home.

Voting is the first duty of democracy. Yet, in our Nation too many citizens too often disregard their duty. Almost 40 million eligible men and women are not registered to vote, as we meet here today. In the last national elections when there was a record turnout, almost 35 percent of the electorate failed to vote.

I think that these are shocking statistics. They measure the magnitude of the job that is before us. Some countries make it a crime not to vote. But the answer does not lie in herding people to the polls. A free democracy can no more order a citizen to vote than it can tell him how to vote. Yet democracy must never neglect its obligation to provide every encouragement to every citizen to exercise his right to vote.

And that is why we work to remove the barriers which limit a man's franchise, because of the color of his skin. That is why we need a voluntary citizens movement to make certain that no one fails to register and fails to vote, because he failed to understand.

It is this unfinished business on the agenda of democracy that brings you patriotic men and women here today. The mandate of November's election must be by vote of the people; never by default of the people. As representatives of the two great parties in America, we come here today to renew our common faith that voting itself is more important than the way people vote.

The time has come, the time is here, the time is now to make a concerted effort to reduce the no-shows on election day. So, as President of all Americans, I call on your help to go out and register more Americans than have ever been registered before and to work to get more Americans to the polls this November than have ever gone before.

It gives me a great deal of pleasure and pride to be joined by a great President, Dwight Eisenhower, in commending the American Heritage Foundation for its leading role in democracy's great drama. This is a non-partisan enterprise and, as such, you men have worked tirelessly to give vitality to our electoral system.

This year you have joined as partners with the Advertising Council and nearly 100 national organizations to carry your campaign through the mass media out to the grass roots. This campaign deserves the wholehearted support of every living American. Much more is at stake than the coming election.

As more and more Americans come of voting age, you are helping get them ready to share in what has been called, "Democracy's ceremonial, its feast, its great function." You could have no more important mission to perform. How well you perform it may well determine how well your descendants live.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke shortly after noon in the East Room at the White House at the launching of a bipartisan campaign, sponsored by the American Heritage Foundation and the Advertising Council, to encourage more Americans to register and vote. His opening words referred to John M. Bailey, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Dean Burch, Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Ceremony Marking the Issuance of the "Register and Vote" Stamp. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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