Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Luncheon for Businessmen.

August 10, 1964

THIS house in which you are visiting today is not a personal residence. And it must never be a political prize.

This house is the house of all the people.

For so long as I am your tenant--and your servant--I shall use this house as we are using it today: use it to bring together America's leaders from all walks of American life, to think together, to plan together, to work together for the future of America.

As President, I would much rather explain why leaders of labor--or leaders of business-are in their White House, than to try to explain why either are not here or weren't invited.

As I conceive it, a President's first role and first responsibility is to help perfect the unity of the people, not to perpetuate their divisions.

The last 10 days have reminded us anew of just how vital our unity has come to be. Far away--and near at home--grim and grave challenges have confronted us. Those challenges continue to come. But so long as our land is strong and free, those challenges will not cease.

In this period we have been able to meet our challenges steadily and surely and swiftly. Our friends have not misunderstood-our adversaries have not mistaken-our purpose has remained unchanged, because we in America have been united. A united America has never been--and, I think, will never be--a misunderstood America.

In these days, among many thoughts in my own mind, one has been impressed strongly upon me. How different America's response might have been--how different America's role might be--if we were today a nation divided by struggles of class or strife, a nation split between capital and labor.

In your lifetime and mine, we have moved beyond those dangerous shoals. Our responsibility together now is to steer the course of this system, steer the course of this economy, and this society to the high and hopeful and happier seas of a more perfect unity.

And that is why I asked you to come here today.

Around the world--throughout our times--men of business have lived in dread and fear of the governments of their lands. They live with fear in many lands today-wondering if what they have accumulated will be taken away or taxed away or foolishly thrown away.

That is why I wanted you to know something about how your Government is operating. That is why I want all American businessmen to understand that your Government is devoted to your success, not dedicated to your enslavement.

American business is like no other in history.

It is owned by millions, it employs millions more, it serves all 190 million of our people. The promise for their lives rests upon the performance of your enterprise. While some of you may not be interested in our success, I can assure you that we here in Washington are greatly interested in your success.

I am glad I can say today that no businessmen anywhere have ever at any time enjoyed the measure of success that American businessmen are enjoying now.

For 42 consecutive months, we have had the longest and the largest peacetime expansion of our economy on record. These years from 1961 through 1964 are going into the record books as the most prosperous years of our history. It is prosperity not just for businessmen--it is prosperity for all the people of this Nation.

Last month 72.4 million Americans were at work--a new high in the history of the Republic. Unemployment declined to 4.9 percent. It has not been below this figure since November 1957--almost 7 years ago.

Since early 1961, our gross national product is up $117 billion.

Industrial production is up 27.6 percent.

I might also mention that your stocks are up almost $100 billion since November 22d last year.

Many other figures could be cited to you. Every week new reports bring more good news.

The Council of Economic Advisers tells me just today that--

--initial reports from 1,100 nonfinancial corporations indicate that second quarter profits set an all-time quarterly record in the history of the Nation.

--the full year of 1964 will set a new annual record.

This news is mighty welcome here in Washington--as it must be to you.

But there is more.

The Council of Economic Advisers informs me that in the past 6 months the purchasing power of the average American consumer has expanded by 3 1/2 percent. Over the whole period since early 1961 buying power has averaged a 3.4 percent gain per year.

Now contrast this with the average gain ot only 1.6 percent per year during the 1952 to 1960 period.

Gains in jobs and profits are going hand in hand.

Workers are gaining in purchasing power through fuller employment, through longer hours, through higher wages. But on the average, higher wages have not increased the cost of doing business. Why? Because productivity has risen to match the wages.

Profits are gaining through higher volume and lower costs and lower taxes--thanks to the help of a good many men in this room. But on the average the gains are not coming through higher prices.

So long as this is the pattern, we can use our fiscal and our monetary policies to stimulate business activity and not to restrain it.

Both business and labor are making their economic gains by enlarging the size of the economic pie. They are not making--and they cannot continue to make--gains by taking bigger slices at the expense of one another or at the expense of the American consumer.

So I say today: the times are good.

Our prospects are bright.

Your Nation's strength is great.

The promise before us all is bright.

But one fact stands out above all the rest.

What we have, what you have accumulated, what all American families hope to accumulate can be lost if we do not continue on the course of perfecting our unity.

Our prosperity today is not a one-time phenomenon. This is a solid, stable, steady prosperity--achieved by the confidence and the certainty of a climate that's free of doubt and division and bitter contention.

Our dollar is strong because the world has new confidence in our responsibility.

Our consumer market is strong because Americans at home have confidence in our future course.

Our enterprise system is functioning successfully because we have been doing here in Washington many of the things so long needed to lift off burdens of the past.

Taxes have been cut.

Spending has been curbed.

Earnest and honest efforts have been made to put to work in Government today's new tools and new concepts to produce more efficient management of your public business.

Your Government seeks to be not a dictator but a moderator--not a master planner but a faithful public servant--not an agent for your control but a vehicle for your freedom.

What I have said to all others I want to repeat to you before we leave today.

As a man who wants to be President of all the people, I intend to work to ensure that every person enjoys the full constitutional rights and equal opportunity that are his birthright as an American citizen.

I intend to use all the resources I have to make sure those who claim rights--and those who deny them--bend their passions to peaceful obedience of the law of the land.

No man could attain a higher honor than to occupy this office I now hold. No man would be worthy of that honor who thought of self. No man would be worthy who thought of any success except America's success. And that is the only thought I have in this house today.

If the man who lives in this house is not free to stand for right, no man in any house in America is free from the injury of wrong.

When I came into this office very suddenly 8 months ago, confronted with all the problems and obstacles that faced me at that time, I tried to look about America and draw all the strength that was available to me. And a great deal of that is in this room today.

President Eisenhower and President Truman immediately headed for Washington to give me their counsel and to try to help me lead this Nation at that critical time.

Since that time I have met with thousands of leaders of our free enterprise system. I met with the capitalists of the Nation, with the managers of that capital, with the workers employed by that management. I have gone to them with my problems. I have asked for their counsel. I have profited from their advice.

So I have asked you today to come here to visit with me, to have a chance to know you.

Charles Lamb was once reading a book. And when he finished the book, he threw it on the floor. And he said, "I don't like that man," speaking of the author. And his old maid sister said, "Do you know him?" And he said, "No. If I knew him, I would like him."

I have said this to a good many of you before in our other conferences, but I think it is worth repeating. I believe if we prevail in this world and if we survive, it will be primarily due to the efficiency and the strength of our system of government.

I think our system of government is better than the system of our adversaries. And I think in time we will demonstrate it and it will prevail.

I think that we can do a job better and more efficient and more satisfactory for the capitalist who sends his dollar out hoping to get a small return on it, the manager who gets up at daylight and works until midnight to put that dollar and the men together and develops stomach ulcers in the process but looks forward to the bonus that he may get from the board of directors at the end of the year, to the worker who tries to produce a better mousetrap at lower costs. And when all these three are put together, I believe that they can do a better job than any slaves can do for any commissars. And I have faith that that system will prevail.

So I want to say to you gentlemen here today that I realize the concern that businessmen feel for their Government. Most of them, as I said earlier in my statement, have been afraid of governments wherever they were, at whatever time in history they existed.

Mr. Rayburn used to say to me--and he stayed here over 50 years--that it had been his experience that the most frightened man in American society was the average businessman. He said sometimes he has cause for it, but he goes around being constantly scared about what his Government is going to do. First of all, he doesn't know a great deal about his Government because he's so busy making his own business operate. He's concentrating there on his own problems that he doesn't have time to become a political expert and understand all the intricacies of our governmental system. So he is constantly frightened about it. And if he can't get his blood pressure up high enough on his own, he'll go hire him a lawyer and pay him to keep him scared.

Well, I want you to know more about your Government. And I want your Government to know more about you.

These men on this row are part of this country--very vital and very important parts of this country. But a few weeks ago and maybe a few weeks from now they will be back occupying some of the chairs that you now occupy.

So we wanted you to come here today, to tell you that we need your help. And we need the help of every American. You are the leaders of this country. And we want you to exercise that leadership. We have faith and confidence in our system. We want to develop it. We want to strengthen it. We want to promote it. In short, we are going to perform our responsibilities, to give you the best Government of which we are capable. And we are going to ask you in return not to agree with us, not to support us, but to give us the leadership that you are capable of giving us and help us to unite this country instead of divide it.

All the world looks to this Nation for its future, for the leadership that is required at this moment. And we cannot give that leadership and we cannot offer it if we are split up in guerrilla groups chewing on each other.

We hope that in the months to come that we will have another opportunity to meet and talk and grow together because I think we have the greatest system of government ever devised by man. And I am going to contribute all I can to strengthen it and, more important, to perpetuate it.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke in the State Dining Room at the White House. The luncheon was attended by 192 leading business and industrial executives, and by members of the Cabinet and other key Government officials.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Luncheon for Businessmen. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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