Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in Madison Square Garden

October 31, 1964

Mayor Wagner and my fellow countrymen:

I heard about your little party and I just thought I would drop by. Your welcome has been affectionate and warm and generous, and Lady Bird and Lynda and Luci and I just can't thank you enough.

I guess about all we can say is that we are very grateful and may God grant that I never disappoint the great and gallant man who selected me as Vice President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and that I never disappoint you or fail you.

To those talented people who produced and created this great show tonight, I send my personal gratitude. I want to especially thank Jerry Finkelstein, Eddie Weisl, Jr., Martin Davis and his staff, Hy Brown and his staff, and Kirk Douglas and my very dear friend Gregory Peck, and Mitch Miller, Tony Bennett, Diahann Carroll, Bob Merrill, Connie Francis, Jill St. John, and all of the many others who had such a part in making this such a delightful evening. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

I have come to New York in the final hours of this campaign. I come to say to you once again that your President will need your prayers and your President will need your support, and your President will also need Democratic Congressmen in the House and Bob Kennedy in the Senate.

I don't have to tell you of Bob Kennedy's talents or his energy or his great patriotism. He has demonstrated this in ways and actions that are far beyond my inadequate description, but it seems to me--it seems to me that this great State, symbolizing America and its ancestors, ought to have, and deserves to have, at least one Democratic Senator.

So help your country, help your President, help your State. Work hard, vote early, and send to Washington a full delegation of Democratic Congressmen and send Bob Kennedy to the Senate where he can continue to work with Hubert Humphrey and work with me for the people of New York.

This is the last chapter in a great tradition. This is the last presidential campaign to reach its climax in this arena. But it is the continuation of another tradition, for here we end a campaign which will see the American people choose the leadership of the Democratic Party. And won't that be a wonderful day for all the country?

Four years ago I came here one night with John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and he promised you that we would get America moving again. We have fulfilled that pledge. In fact, this administration has passed more legislation, has made more progress, has fulfilled more promises than any administration since the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I came up here to New York tonight to tell you that we have just begun. We are going to keep moving forward. We are going to keep moving forward with the leadership and the support of the great State of New York.

The leaders of New York have always believed in the future. When I first came into the White House, I moved a desk into my office which had been used by one of the towering figures of American history, Franklin D. Roosevelt of the State of New York. I was so happy to greet his great manager, that ever youthful Jim Farley, who came up on the platform a few minutes ago.

And now whenever I feel that I have done a good day's work, whenever I feel that I have really accomplished something, I look at that desk and then I go back to work because I know I have only begun.

Franklin Roosevelt once said, "Too many who prate about saving democracy are really only interested in saving things as they were. Democracy should concern itself also with things as they should be."

So in this campaign we face those who are interested in destroying things as they are. These fellows are not conservatives in the American tradition. They are just interested in tearing down institutions, not in preserving them. They are dedicated to extreme ideas, not to old values. They advocate aggressive interference with other nations, not increased reliance on others to order their own affairs.

This is not a conservative philosophy. This is not even a Republican philosophy. This is not a philosophy ever embraced by any major American leader. "Conservative" may be written on their banner and in their books, but "radical" is in their hearts.

We were promised this time that the American people would be offered a choice and not an echo. This was to be a debate about basic principles.

And here, tonight, we are in the closing days of this campaign, and what do we hear? We hear not philosophy, but mudslinging; not ideas, but smears and scandal; not programs, but the old worn-out slogans of an old worn-out effort, written by the same old worn-out man trying to frighten the American people.

Well, I don't think you are going to let it work. Are you?

I think I can tell you why they are doing it. They found out that the American people would overwhelmingly reject their ideas, would reject their programs. They found out that the great silent vote was a myth. They discovered that the revolution of the extremist was a dying ember.

They ran smack into the solid, good sense of the American people. They discovered, as far as the American people are concerned: extremism in the pursuit of the Presidency is an unpardonable vice, and moderation in the affairs of the Nation is the highest virtue.

They are going to learn their final lesson on next Tuesday night.

New York has had many great leaders. One of them has an important meaning for this campaign--that great American Al Smith. When he received the presidential nomination, he said he would follow the principles of Woodrow Wilson: "First, the people as the source, and their interests and desires, as the text, of law and government. Second, individual liberty as the objective of all law."

Well, today there are those who call upon us to abandon our historic principles under the pretense of pursuing that individual liberty which Al Smith prized so highly. And yet, time and time again, they themselves have struck at the foundation of our American freedom.

They call for freedom and then they attack the courts which protect that freedom.

They call for freedom and they would strip away the rights of those accused of crime, rights developed over centuries to protect against arbitrary power.

They call for freedom and yet accuse their opponents of being soft on communism or even worse, branding as heretics or traitors all those who ever disagree with them.

They call for freedom and they attack our religious leaders for trying to exercise their ancient responsibility--as clergymen and citizens--to guide people in the course of life.

But worst of all, they call for freedom and yet they help create the atmosphere of hate and fear and suspicion in which individual liberty faces its maximum danger.

Well, the American people prize their liberty too dearly. They have fought for it too hard to yield it now to these attacks. And somehow I think that you are going to help me make that plain in a few days.

We are going to take another course. We are going to work to enlarge the freedom of the American people, and we have the capacity to do that on a scale that is greater than ever before in the history of man.

Our first task is to complete the work of the last 30 years. So we will work to give every citizen an equal chance to hold a job, to vote, to educate his children, to enjoy all the blessings of liberty, whatever his color, his religion, or his race.

Will you stand with me on that?

We will work to eliminate the conditions which chain men to hopeless poverty, and in this way to eliminate poverty in America.

One hundred years ago Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery. Tonight, the Democratic Party pledges itself to abolish poverty in this land. We will work to protect the old and feed the hungry, and care for the helpless.

Will you stand with me on that?

But this is just the beginning. We are rich and we are powerful, but that is not enough. We must turn our wealth and our power to a larger purpose. Even the greatest of past civilizations existed on the exploitation of the many. This Nation, this people, this generation, has man's first opportunity to create the Great Society.

It can be a society of success without squalor, beauty without barrenness, works of genius without the wretchedness of poverty. We can open the doors of learning, of fruitful labor and rewarding leisure, not just to the privileged few, but we can open them to everyone.

These goals cannot be measured by the size of our bank balance. They can only be measured in the quality of the lives that our people lead.

Millions of Americans have achieved prosperity, and they have found prosperity alone is just not enough. They need a chance to seek knowledge and to touch beauty, to rejoice in achievement and in the closeness of family and community.

And this is not an easy goal.

It means ensuring the beauty of our fields and our streams and the air that we breathe.

It means the education of the highest quality for every child in the land.

It means making sure that machines liberate men instead of replacing them.

It means reshaping and rebuilding our cities to make them safe and make them a decent place to live.

Yes, it means all these things and more, much more.

I have already assembled more than a dozen groups, the best minds of America, the greatest talent that I could find, to help get the answers to these problems that I have talked to you about tonight. For the first time in man's weary journey on this planet, an entire people has greatness almost within its grasp.

This is the goal within our sight. This is your goal. This is America's goal. This is the goal to which I pledge that I will try to lead all of you.

I have taken a long journey from a tenant farm in West Texas to this platform in Madison Square Garden. I have seen the barren fields of my youth bloom with harvest. I have seen despairing men made whole with enriching toil. I have seen America, my America, grow and change, and I have seen it become a leader among the nations of the world.

In our early days, some thought that the Mississippi would be our final boundary. But farseeing Thomas Jefferson sent his explorers across the continent and the American tide rolled after them.

We, too, stand at the margin of decision. Ahead is the prospect of a shining nation of towering promise. Behind is a threatening tide of change and growth, of expanding population and exploding science. And there is only one way to go.

The only way to preserve the values of the past is to meet the future. The path to progress stretches in front of us, not back along the way we came. And with the help of that Almighty God who has guided us whenever we have been true to Him, that is the way that we are going.

Note: The President spoke at 10:45 p.m. in Madison Square Garden in New York City. His opening words referred to Mayor Robert F. Wagner of New York City. Later in his remarks he referred to, among others, Robert F. Kennedy, Democratic candidate for Senator from New York, and James A. Farley, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, 1932-1940, and Postmaster General during the first two terms of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in Madison Square Garden Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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