Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Democratic Party Dinner in Chicago

April 24, 1968

Mr. Chairman, Governor Kerner, Mr. Mayor, Dick Daley, Governor Shapiro, General Clark, Colonel Arvey, members of the delegation of Chicago--one of the finest delegations in all the Congress--my fellow Democrats, ladies and gentlemen:

First, on behalf of Mrs. Johnson and myself, I want to thank each and every one of you for this wonderful welcome. I never really realized that withdrawal pains could be so pleasant. For a minute, while you were standing there, I closed my eyes and I thought that I had leaped ahead of time to that other hall over by the stockyards. But then I remembered who I was--the President-not the Vice President, nor one of the Members of the Senate.

As we came in down here tonight, I saw four of your men out there shouting, with their placards. They were yelling "thief, scoundrel, and murderer" and some other ugly names that I cannot repeat to this audience.

My Secret Service detail, Mr. Mayor, and your Colonel Reilly both seemed to be slightly alarmed and I had to tell them that it was only--as nearly as I could judge-four out-of-town Democratic leaders working to unite the Party. Colonel Reilly readily assured all of us that they could not have been Chicago Democrats.

Mayor Daley, we are so glad that you asked us to come. All of you have honored us by asking us here tonight. I am so proud and so happy to share your honors and the great pride that you people of Chicago feel with your great mayor and my true and loyal friend for many years.

I not only want to thank Dick and Mrs. Daley and their wonderful family from the bottom of my heart, but Mrs. Johnson and I will always be grateful for the strength that their loyalty and their cooperation and their steadfastness have given us every step of the way--all these years, all along that lonely road.

Governor Kerner and Governor Shapiro, General Clark, I want to thank you, too. I want to explain that I came out here tonight to repay part of my debt. Mayor Daley extended this invitation to me last year. John Bailey, my beloved Chairman of the National Committee, renewed it several times. I promised to attend. When I make a promise, I try to keep it.

Now some Chicago newspapers have been wondering if there is any very special significance to my visit here tonight. But, as I told the mayor as we came up the steps, the answer to that is quite simple. Dick, I just do enjoy coming to party dinners because I used to be in politics myself.

I am here tonight to speak, not as a fellow Democrat, but to speak to you as a fellow American. I have come to talk to you about the tests of our times--and the trust of our parties.

For more than 100 years, both of our parties--Democratic and Republican--have drawn enduring strength from leaders who have known the shores of these lakes and who have walked the grass of these Middle Western plains.

In a time of danger and division for America, it was from the prairies of Illinois that the Nation heard the counsel of unity and compassion from the strong Republican voice of Abraham Lincoln.

In our times--when danger confronted us and confronted all mankind--it was from these same prairies that we and the world were inspired by the counsel of sanity and good sense--from the brave and eloquent and wise Democratic heart of Adlai Stevenson.

In this vital year, as we approach our national decisions together, I believe that the example of such men from the heart of America must be the example that governs America's head.

When this Republic was born, Thomas Jefferson looked about at the energy and the creativity that stirred among the people in the first years of our freedom. He was excited and he was inspired at what he saw. He wrote to a friend. He said, "It is like a new time."

He could have been writing about our own day.

No man could serve where I have served now for more than 4 years and 5 long months--in this great office of all the people--without sensing that we are once again in "a new time."

Yes, there are fears and doubts and suspicions and questions.

There are young men and women wondering if there is a place for them in a world that they did not make--in a world that they deeply yearn to make far better than they think it is.

There are mothers and fathers in every land and I am one of those fathers and she is one of those mothers--who despise war as their children despise it.

I will devote all of my days and all of my powers and all of my energies to winning the peace that is the prayer of every single American family.

There are men and women, boys and girls, whose souls rage each day against the bare walls and the bleak windows of their lives--where the sunlight of hope seldom ever shines.

But the story of our land--America, the beautiful--the story of our times--the United States of America--is not a dismal story of wrongs without end. Here--here in America, as nowhere else since time began, we are striving eagerly to let the sunlight shine upon all of our people. Because that is what America is all about.

Step by step, year by year, we are moving out of the darkness and out of the shadows, out into a new day of light and justice for all of our people.

True, our society does still bear burdens and scars from times long before any of us were born. We cannot correct the injustice of centuries in a matter of hours or days or months. But we are on our way and we have acted to relieve those burdens and to heal those wounds. Nowhere else--in no other society on this earth--are so many so devoted to leaving this earth better than they found it.

I ask you, is there anyone in the room tonight who would trade where you are for where you were when you discovered this land? [Audience: No.]

It is this purpose that is throbbing through our Republic tonight. It must be served. With God's help, it will be served.

The progress of America is the achievement of a nation that is unified: not a nation in lockstep, not a nation where all men must think alike or act alike or vote alike--but a nation in which the labors and the talents of the people make common cause toward common goals.

Our parties and our politics must ever serve this purpose. They must never be permitted to divide or to divert us from the goal of one America.

In saying this to you, my friends, tonight, I am only repeating the wisdom and the warnings of great Americans throughout all of our history. From the first days of the Republic to our times, the leaders who have loved America have warned continuously against the divisive spirit of faction and special interests. Every generation of Americans has had to heed that warning.

However strong we may be, however prosperous we are, however just its purposes or however noble its causes, no nation can long endure when citizen is turned against citizen--when class is turned against class-when cause is turned against cause--and race against race--and section against section-and generation against generation--by the mean and the selfish spirit of partisanship.

The decisions that we must make this year are among the most vitally important decisions that Americans have ever been called upon to make. Perhaps more than at any time in all of our past, we shall be choosing our future---and we shall be choosing the future of our children.

The trial of our course and our wisdom will continue far beyond the terrible ordeal of Vietnam.

The test of our compassion will continue long after the ordeal of our great cities.

Through all the ten thousand tomorrows of this century, the generations of Americans who are living now--and those who will live later--will awake each morning into a new world. In that new world, each day may bring challenge--and I hope each hour will bring promise.

If the challenges are to be met--if the promises are to be realized--then America's political parties must become the guardians of all the people.

America will not be served by parties which only serve--or refuse to serve--those in business, or those in labor, or those in agriculture, or those in a specific minority, or those in the cities, or those of one race, or one heritage, or one faith. We can and we must move on the broad highway toward greatness as a nation only if the parties themselves are broad and open, receptive to all, and always responsive to all of the people.

Our politics today is changed--and it is changing. Our issues are new. Our alignments are new. Our styles are new. Our slogans are new. And all of this is good-for it reflects and it serves the changes that are being wrought by America's own advances in the world. But the purpose of our politics is not changed, and it must not change--for that purpose is to serve the unity of all of our people all of the time.

In this time--and at this place here in this great city of Chicago--with the presence of these devoted leaders, it is fitting to recall the words of one of our great American leaders, Abraham Lincoln, when he spoke 110 years ago in a small Illinois town. He was then referring to the authors of our Declaration of Independence. Abraham Lincoln had this to say:

"Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began .... "

So, not as partisans, not as Democrats, and not as Republicans, but only and always as Americans let us look to the good that has been wrought. Let us look to the victories that have been won for all of our people. Let us look at how far we have come and how far we must go. Let us look at the progress that our grandfathers and our fathers have made since they came to these shores. Let us look to the advances that we have made together in unity and in understanding and let us, too, take courage--to renew, and to sustain, that battle which our fathers began.

When I talked to the mayor late this afternoon and he asked me again to reconsider, I told him that I had been engaged the last several days in a complete reassessment of my own personal situation. I have come to the conclusion that I stood today just where I stood last year when he first invited me. I told him I would be here.

Note: The President spoke at 9:14 p.m. at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago. In his opening words he referred to john M. Bailey, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Otto Kerner, Governor of Illinois, Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago, Samuel H. Shapiro, Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, William G. Clark, Attorney General of Illinois, and Col. Jacob M. Arvey, Democratic National Committeeman from Illinois. Later he referred to Col. John Reilly, Director of Public Events for the city of Chicago.

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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