Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Democratic Party Dinner in Chicago

May 17, 1966

Mayor Daley, Governor Kerner, my delightful friends, Governor Branigin of Indiana and Governor Breathitt of Kentucky and Governor Bryant of Florida, my very able Secretary of Labor, Secretary Wirtz, my beloved colleague for many years and my friend, Senator Douglas, distinguished Comptroller of the Currency, Mr. Saxon, Mr. Siragusa, Mr. Krim, Members of the great Illinois congressional delegation, reverend clergy, Archbishop Cody, Bishop Ford, Rabbi Cohen, my fellow Democrats:

When I arrived in your city tonight, I was reminded of a remark I made several weeks ago to the mayors' convention in Washington. I told them that whenever the burdens of the Presidency seemed unusually heavy, I always remind myself that it could be worse. I just might have been a mayor of a city instead of President of the United States!

There is no more important job in public life. We in Washington can pass laws. We can develop forward-looking programs for all the people. But those laws and those programs have to be carried out by farsighted and talented and capable leaders back in the local communities.

The people of this great city of Chicago are unusually fortunate. For more than a decade now you have enjoyed the steadfast leadership of a man who is recognized the world over as a great and talented municipal executive--your courageous and intelligent and hardworking mayor, Richard J. Daley-the number one mayor in all the United States of America.

Every time I visit Chicago, the progress that you have made impresses me. Your lakefront grows more beautiful, year by year. Your office buildings, your houses, your schools, and your thoroughfares are now being imitated by the city planners in the other cities throughout the land.

We are living tonight in what I have called the century of change--and in Chicago you are making certain that it is a change for the better. And that is the same goal that we are striving for in your National Capital in Washington.

And I want to remind you people of Illinois that you are equally fortunate in having an able, aggressive, and attractive Governor, my old friend, Otto Kerner. I know that none of the Governors will take any offense when I tell you that I believe him to be one of the best 50. And I am, too, so happy to have with me tonight another son of Illinois and Chicago, a brilliant scholar from this delightful city, the great Secretary of Labor, Willard Wirtz.

And when each of you votes for Adlai Stevenson III for State Treasurer, you will have your funds well-managed and well-secured. And I hope that you won't forget him when the election comes around.

And I don't want you to forget that a vote for Don Prince for State superintendent of public instruction will be a vote for better schools for every schoolchild in the State of Illinois.

You people are fortunate, you have much to be thankful for: You have one of the best and the most effective congressional delegations in all the House of Representatives-one which gives wholehearted support to the President of the United States and to the Democratic Party. And I just could not come to the city of Chicago and to Cook County without thanking you for each one of these men: first, Bill Dawson; Congressman Kluczynski; Congressman O'Hara; Congressman Murphy; Congressman Yates; Congressman Pucinski; Congressman Danny Rostenkowski; Congressman Annunzio; Congressman Ronan.

And that's a test for a fellow from Texas! We have one man with us tonight who can testify to that from personal experience-my old friend, and one of the great Senators of our time, Paul Douglas. I was thinking about Senator Douglas as I was preparing these remarks on my way out here today-about his vision, about his capabilities, about his deep love and his deep devotion to this country for which he fought in World War II and for which he has fought every day of his public life.

Senator Douglas has spent his life in the service of humanity. For 28 years he was a great, outstanding teacher at your University of Chicago. And when the call of public service came, he went to Washington to help remake our country, remake it with the same enthusiasm and with the same wisdom with which he used to mold the minds of the young people of the Midwest.

I know how Senator Douglas must have felt while taking his seat in the Congress. I remember very well my own emotions when I caught a train to leave my State for the first time to go to Washington as a young man back in November 1931--some 35 years ago.

I took along on that train more than a suitcase. I took some dreams and some hopes and some ideas. All of them were based on my belief that we could do much to improve the lot of the average American. I have never forgotten those dreams or those hopes. And tonight, with the help of a wonderful Congress that the people have given us, I seem to see some of those dreams come true.

I remembered then--and I remember now--Edmund Burke's statement that was made more than 175 years ago, that "Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom."

And that is what this administration and this Congress have been trying to do-provide for human wants.

I was working to provide for human wants back in the days of the National Youth Administration. And tonight one of the great pleasures that I get from coming to Chicago is to see that great Federal judge, Bill Campbell, who in those days was NYA Administrator of Illinois and I was NYA Administrator.

And I don't think it was Bill that said this, but I didn't really believe then that he would grace the bench as he has all these years, when I saw him as NYA Administrator, and I know he must not have ever envisioned me where I am tonight. As a matter of fact, after my television show the other night down at the ranch that some of you may have seen, one of my neighbors came up to me and he said, "Lyndon, you know I've heard all my life that a boy, any boy, born in America had a chance to someday grow up and be President. And now I believe it!"

Even in this day of prosperity, even in this day of great affluence, the needs of our people are deep and they are broad and they are wide.

I have seen a lot of changes in the 35 years that I have been in Washington. And that is exactly how it should have been. When we do not change we remain static and we do not go forward.

We have made progress in these 35 years. In three decades we have seen more progress in this great country than all of the civilizations in history could even imagine.

I saw the other day that one critic was complaining about how the 1958 dollar was worth more than the one that we've got today.

I wondered why he stopped at 1958. Look at what has happened since I went to Washington in 1931 and brought my hopes and my suitcase to the Nation's Capital.

The real question is not how much the dollar was worth then but how much the workingman could buy with his pay envelope.

I asked my economists when I heard of that statement--and I didn't have any when I got on the train to leave home from Texas-to take all the 1932 statistics and to convert them for me to 1965 prices.

And here is the story that those figures tell:

In 1932, the average factory worker made $17 a week when Roosevelt became President. Now, you're going to say that $17 bought more--and it did. But you convert that $17 into today's dollars, 1966 dollars, and it will buy only $39 worth of today's goods.

But today's factory worker does not get $39, today's factory worker buys $111 worth of goods. His true purchasing power has increased by 300 percent. Now that's what's been done for the average worker.

Now let's take the case of the farmer. In 1932, the average farmer cleared $304 a year. When you convert that in today's dollar, it will buy $869 worth of goods.

But the average farmer today can actually buy not $869 worth of goods but $4,280 worth of goods. He has a purchasing power 400 percent greater than he had in 1932. And that may be why the Democratic Party with the workers and the farmers carried 44 States in 1964 and are going to carry that many more in 1966.

Now what about the people that are not workers or not farmers. Well, I'll tell you what's happened to them.

Their dividends have multiplied threefold. They rose from 6.4 billion in 1932 to nearly 19 billion last year. And remember that these are dollars with the same purchasing power--from 6 to 19.

When I came to Washington, nearly 5 percent of all Americans were illiterate. We have cut that figure in half today.

The average American had only an eighth grade education. Today he gets almost four years of high school--and before the end of my lifetime I want to see him--the average American--get a college education. And that's what we are working for.

Back when I went to the Capital a newborn child could expect to live to be 62 years of age.

A child born today can expect to be around until the year 2036--a life expectancy of more than 70 years. And I hope that with the progress we're making with our cancer and our heart research--the law we passed last year he just may be around a lot longer than 70.

In 1932 half of our retired people were living on less than $60 a month--and we're still now talking in terms of today's dollar.

If they got sick, the bills for the doctor and the hospital had to come out of that $60 a month. Tonight we have doubled their income and they have Medicare to help with their medical bills. I might add that a lot of people thought Medicare would never get on the books, but $3 billion will be paid out in it this year.

In 1932, 90 percent of our farm homes were lighted by kerosene lamps. Tonight 98 percent of our farm homes are lighted with electricity.

Not one of these changes came about without a long and bitter struggle.

Many of them were delayed far too long. Every time the President or a Congressman or a Senator presented a major piece of legislation to improve the welfare of the public, there was always somebody around to warn that we were spending ourselves into bankruptcy.

Some bankruptcy!

I say that because right now we are in the sixth year of our longest uninterrupted era of prosperity in the history of our Nation. Profits, sales, wages, incomes are higher than they have ever been before.

When the Democratic administration took office in 1961 the gross national product-that is the total value of all goods and all services we enjoy--was $504 billion. In the first quarter of 1966 it was not 504, it was $714 billion. This is an increase of more than $210 billion--or more than 41 percent. And tonight, May the 17th, it is even larger--and it is still going up and up.

In January, the Council of Economic Advisers estimated the gross national product of 1966 would not be $504 billion, but would fall within a range of $717 billion to $727 billion. And we might even exceed the top of this range. Some experts tonight believe that it will even go to $735 billion or higher.

In fiscal 1961 we took in Federal taxes of some $78 billion. This year we are taking in more than $100 billion, or 29 percent more.

From the time I became President until tonight we have increased our expenditures for health and education and training by $10 billion. And that is just a little over 2 years.

Since I came to Washington, this country has learned something important. We have learned that the right thing to do is usually the smart thing to do.

We have learned that the money we spend on health and education is not a gift but it is an investment. These investments come back in the form of higher earnings, they come back in more personal expenditures, they come back in additional taxes. In education, for example, we know that a college graduate will earn nearly $140,000 more than the high school graduate during his lifetime.

We know that the money we spend on health is just as much an investment. If we can reduce sick leave in this country by only one day per worker every year, we can add $3 billion to our gross national product.

We know that every child born in this country is entitled to have the fullest measure of freedom that we can provide and he should have every equality of opportunity.

And finally, we know that every citizen, according to his conscience, has a duty to work for the advancement of the greatest system of government ever known--the system that we call democracy--the system that we call our own free enterprise system.

We have worked for that advancement through both of our political parties and in spite of any temporary differences that we have had.

I remember very well some of the remarks I made the day before the election when I closed my campaign in my home State.

I said then--and I want to repeat them tonight--"I have tried as best I could to lead this country to peace and to lead this country to prosperity.

"I have tried all the time to be President of all the people. I have tried to treat every man equally. I have tried to protect and make secure every man's constitutional rights."

Tonight I repeat that pledge. I was elected to my office as a Democrat.

As much as I love my dear Democratic Party, I love my America much more. The decisions I made last night and those that I made tonight transcend party considerations, because they involve the destiny of all of the people of America. The marines, the army, the airmen, and the sailors who man the carriers off the coast of Vietnam tonight-they know no parties. They wear no Republican jackets or no Democratic caps.

So I have tried to base my decisions and my thinking and all of my actions on what I think is really best for this country. I believe that is what my country expects me to do.

So tonight I ask each of you present here to give me a matching pledge. I ask you and I ask every American to put our country first if we want to keep it first. Put it above parties, if you want to seize the larger victories-the victories of freedom, and the victories of peace, and the victories of prosperity.

Put away all the childish divisive things, if you want the maturity and the unity that is the mortar of a nation's greatness.

I do not believe that those men who are out there fighting for us tonight think that we should enjoy the luxury of fighting each other back home.

So I ask you to carefully read the statements of every public official and of every candidate for every office and read them carefully, and then judge for yourself. Ask yourselves, "Is he helping the cause of his country or is he advancing the cause of himself?" Ask him, "Is he trying to draw us together and unite our land, or is he trying to pull us apart to promote himself?"

This is the measuring stick that I ask the people of America to judge us by.

I ask you, my friends, to put your faith in reason. I ask you to come together as a people and as a nation. I ask you to join hands and trust ourselves to God's hands, so that we can, together, bring peace to this world and a richer, better life to all who so earnestly desire it, and so urgently seek it.

A quarter of a century ago, a power-mad leader started marching through Poland engulfing free people. The courageous voice of Winston Churchill held that dictator until we could rally our forces, until we could unite our people, until we could bring relief to freedom's forces.

Following World War II, when our men returned and we had a chance to judge what we had been through, our Nation decided and our Congress decided that we should, as a matter of our Nation's highest policy, declare that all would-be adventurous conquerors who sought to engulf free people with power and with might and with force, and to conquer them with arms, these conquerors would have to meet and resist the forces of the United States of America in the various alliances of the world.

Our people and their representatives in the Congress decided that it was wiser to warn the dictators in advance that they would have to meet the United States if they took the road of aggression. And we did warn them. We did it in NATO, in collective security. We did it in SEATO, in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. We said that if any nation that is a part of this treaty--and there were 8 of them signed it--finds itself under attack and asks for our help, they will get it. And they are getting it tonight in Vietnam.

I do not genuinely believe that there is any single person anywhere in the world that wants peace as much as I want it. I want the killing to stop.

I want us to join hands with others to do more in the fight against hunger and disease and ignorance.

But we all know from hard-won experience that the road to peace is not the road of concession and retreat.

A lot of our friends tell us how troubled they are and how frustrated they are. And we are troubled and we are frustrated, and we are seeking a way out. And we are trying to find a solution.

As Commander in Chief, I am neither a Democrat or Republican. The men fighting in Vietnam are simply Americans. Our policy in Vietnam is a national policy. It springs from every lesson that we have learned in this century. We fought in the First World War and then we failed to build a system of collective security which could have prevented the Second World War.

Standing in this great city of Chicago on October 5, 1937, one of the greatest leaders ever to be produced in America, Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

"When an epidemic of physical disease starts to spread, the community approves and joins in a quarantine of the patients in order to protect the health of the community against the spread of the disease ....

"War is a contagion, whether it be declared or undeclared. It can engulf states and peoples remote from the original scene of hostilities."

The country heard him, but did not listen.

The country failed to back him in that trying hour. And then we saw what happened when the aggressors felt confident that they could win while we sat by.

That was what President Truman remembered in 1947 in Greece and Turkey.

That is what he remembered during the blockade of Berlin and when the attack came in Korea.

That is what President Eisenhower remembered in 1954 when he laid before the Senate the SEATO Treaty, and during the crisis over Quemoy and Matsu.

That is what President John F. Kennedy remembered when, in the face of Communist aggression in Laos and Vietnam, he began to send American forces there as early as 1962.

Yes, we have learned over the past half century that failure to meet aggression means war, not peace.

In carrying out that policy we have taken casualties in Berlin and Korea, and now in Vietnam.

We have had 160,000 American casualties from World War II up until Vietnam. Now every morning I look at those casualty figures. I measure them not as statistics, but man by man.

As of this morning, we lost 1,705 Americans in Vietnam in the year 1966--1,705. But we lost 49,000 last year on our highways.

But I tell you that if we fail in frustrating this aggression, the war that would surely come in Asia would produce casualties not in the hundreds or seventeen hundreds, but in the hundreds of thousands and perhaps in millions.

Your Government therefore, under your President, is determined to resist this aggression at the minimum cost to our people, and to our allies, and to the world.

I do not know what--who men may be trying to influence, and I do not seek to influence any tonight. But I do tell you here and now that we do not seek to enlarge this war, but we shall not run out of it.

America is determined to meet her commitments tonight, because those commitments are right.

As I said after a meeting yesterday with Ambassador Lodge just as he was returning to his post of duty:

--We shall continue to struggle against aggression and social misery in South Vietnam;

--We shall use our influence to help this young nation come together and move toward constitutional government;

--We shall seek an honorable peace. Let those though who speak and write about Vietnam say clearly what other policy they would pursue.

And let them weigh their words carefully.

Let them remember that tonight there are 300,000 young Americans, our own boys, out there somewhere in Southeast Asia, on the land and on the sea and in the air. They are there fighting to quarantine another aggressor. They are there fighting for the peace of the world.

And let them remember that there are men on the other side who know well that their only hope for success in this aggression lies in a weakening of the fiber and the determination of the people of America. And so long as I am President, the policy of opposing aggression at minimum cost shall be continued.

I sent our ambassadors to more than 40 countries. I wrote letters to nearly 120 in the world asking for assistance, asking for peace. My plea was well received in all the nations of the world except the two most concerned, Red China and North Vietnam.

After 37 long days, while our men in uniform waited and while our planes were grounded on my orders, while our ambassadors went from nation to nation, we finally were forced to the conclusion that the time had not yet arrived when the Government of North Vietnam was willing or could even be persuaded to sit down at a peace table and try to reason these problems out. Therefore, our arguments need to be more persuasive and our determinations need to be more convincing and more compelling than they have been.

All I can say to you tonight is that the road ahead is going to be difficult. There will be some "Nervous Nellies" and some who will become frustrated and bothered and break ranks under the strain, and some will turn on their leaders, and on their country, and on our own fighting men. There will be times of trial and tension in the days ahead that will exact the best that is in all of us. But I have not the slightest doubt that the courage and the dedication and the good sense of the wise American people will ultimately prevail. They will stand united until every boy is brought home safely, until the gallant people of South Vietnam have their own choice of their own Government.

More than that, not just that one little country of 14 million people, but more than a hundred other little countries stand tonight and watch and wait. If America's commitment is dishonored in South Vietnam, it is dishonored in 40 other alliances or more that we have made.

So I leave you with the assurance that we love peace and we seek it every hour of every day. Any person who wishes to test us can give us the time and the date and the place, and he will find us occupying our peace chair at the negotiating table with any government who genuinely and who sincerely wants to talk instead of fight.

Perhaps my sentiments and my feelings are best expressed by the words of President Roosevelt when he prepared, only a day or so before he died in 1945, this speech and never had an opportunity to deliver it: "We seek peace--enduring peace. More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars--yes, an end to this brutal, inhuman and thoroughly impractical method of settling the differences between governments."

Somewhere tonight a great son of Wisconsin, Ambassador Gronouski, is winging his way across the waters to report to me in the Capital his conversations and his efforts to find a way to bring peace to this world.

The men who fight for us out there tonight in Vietnam--they are trying to find a way to peace. But they know--and I don't understand why we don't all recognize-that we can't get peace just for wishing for it. We must get on with the job until these men can come marching home, someday, when peace is secure not only for the people of America, but peace is secure for peace-loving people everywhere in this world.

Note: The President spoke at 8 p.m. following the dinner at McCormick Place. In his opening words he referred to Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois, Governor Roger D. Branigin of Indiana, Governor Edward T. Breathitt of Kentucky, Farris Bryant, Director of the Office of Emergency Planning and former Governor of Florida, Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz, Senator Paul H. Douglas of Illinois, Comptroller of the Currency James J. Saxon, Arthur B. Krim, Chairman of the President's Club which had sponsored a reception prior to the fundraising dinner, Ross David Siragusa, Chairman of the Board of the Admiral Corp., the Most Reverend John P. Cody, Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, Bishop Louis H. Ford, pastor of St. Paul Church of God and Christ of Chicago, and Rabbi Seymour J. Cohen of the Anshe Emet Synagogue of Chicago.

Later in his remarks the President referred, among others, to William J. Campbell, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Henry Cabot Lodge, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam, and John A. Gronouski, U.S. Ambassador to Poland, who was returning to report on the results of a special mission undertaken in an effort to end the Vietnam conflict.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Democratic Party Dinner in Chicago Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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