Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in New York City at a Farewell Dinner Honoring the President.

January 13, 1969

Governor Rockefeller, Mr. Vice President, Senator Mansfield, Senator Muskie, Senator Javits, Mayor Lindsay, Members of the Court, and the Cabinet, and the Congress, distinguished Ambassadors and Governors, my very dear hosts:

My, what a beautiful evening--how much Mrs. Johnson and I appreciate, how touched we are that you would want to come here and give us this delightful refreshment-an ending to 5 years of work that we have done together.

It was 5 years ago, in a very tragic hour, that I went before the Congress and all the people of America and asked for the help of "all Americans, and all America." Now, here tonight, at the end of my Presidency, I stand among the men and women--most all of whom answered the call that I made that night and answered it from the fullness of their hearts.

In the Office of the Presidency, a man must draw on many things: his own memories and his own heritage, his own vision of the Nation and really what the Nation should become, and whatever strength his life and his experiences have given him.

So tonight here among some of my dearest friends, many images crowd my mind. I go back to the thrill of coming to Washington as a young man in the zestful days when a great leader of New York, who had just come into the Presidency, demonstrated to the people of this country that he really cared.

Then I remember the hard but the very happy days on Capitol Hill, learning and trying to use the machinery of government to help human beings. I see out there in that audience tonight David Dubinsky, who inspired me and stimulated me to be one of the three southerners who forced a caucus on a minimum wage bill in 1938 to provide for a minimum wage, the first one the National Congress enacted that provided 25 cents an hour.

Then I remember the long hours of reflection, struggling from illness after I had had a heart attack, when my blood pressure dropped to zero, thinking of what a man must really do in the given time that had been allotted him.

I remember those earliest hours at the summit of authority, when I determined that only if America were made a better land, could sense be brought from that great tragedy.

But no President can really rely on his inner reserves alone. If he is not sustained and strengthened from sources outside himself, there is no doubt but what he is going to lose his way before long.

I think all of you know that I have been richly blessed with the love of a wonderful and incomparable family, the constancy of good, loyal, enduring, and understanding friends who have stood fast with me through many changing winds.

So tonight in this beautiful room, at this well-planned occasion, your friendship has greatly honored us. But I think it has done more than that. I think it strengthened this Nation more; for I think that friendship was rooted in a joint concern for the people of this country first, this great Nation itself.

We shared the dreams and the battles of a 5-year encounter with destiny. There will, in the years ahead, be many evaluations of all of the things that we did--favorable and unfavorable, praising and damning.

But what really matters is not the ultimate judgment that historians are going to pass on the work that we have done in this period, or even this administration; but what matters is whether there has really been a change for the better in the way human beings live in this country. I am going to let you in on a little secret. I really think there has been.

Our black citizens, who were bound in silence for so long, are today finding their voice in the voting booth in every part of the Nation. In the States along the gulf they are actually electing sheriffs this year.

The old people, in their illness, finally know the dignity of independence; 20 million of them don't have to ask their sons-in-law when they can go to a hospital. Young minds have been enriched, and young horizons have been expanded, and a million and a half young people are in college tonight because of America's new concern for education in this country in the last 5 years.

By the millions, families who were once poor, and men who were once idle, have now begun to know the dignity of decent incomes and full-time jobs. A larger share of the American earth--of its shores and of its mountains and of its forests--has been set aside for all the American people and their children to enjoy.

We tonight can proudly--those of you in this room who have shared in this dream and who have helped to accomplish it-look at these achievements together, and feel together a swell of achievement and satisfaction. But also with it, we can feel a concern that will not end 7 days from now, or for that matter, ever end. For America, we all know, still has far to go.

The one thing that I am constantly reminded of in the last few hours of my term of office is the story of Prime Minister Churchill, when he said, "How little have we done, how much we have yet to do." But we have begun.

I think I will take time just to tell that story. My staff has heard it several times. But Governor Rockefeller has just heard it twice.

At the end of World War II, after going through the critical period in the hectic days of that war, a group of temperance ladies came in to visit the Prime Minister to criticize his drinking habits.

A little lady, leading the group, stood there in her tennis shoes, and said, "Mr. Prime Minister, we are informed that if all the alcohol that you have consumed during this war could be emptied in this room at one time, it would come up to about here."

She stood on her tiptoes. The Prime Minister looked at the floor and he looked at the ceiling and at the little lady's hand, and he said, "My dear little lady, so little have I done, so much I have yet to do."

So when I look back at conservation, civil rights, education, health and consumer legislation, and the War on Poverty, I think so little have we done, so much have we yet to do.

So as we prepare to depart 7 days from now, we leave the plow in the furrow, and actually the field is only half tilled.

In the sweep of things, a President has only so much time--a very allotted time--to do the things that he really believes in and he thinks must be done. Within those limits, he can only give it the best he has.

Last week, one of our brave Apollo 8 astronauts that you gave such a great welcome to here--and to Mayor Lindsay and Governor Rockefeller, on behalf of the Nation, as well as the astronauts, I thank you for that symbol of appreciation--but this brave astronaut said that the first night he was back home, he stepped out into his backyard . I won't tell you the state that he was in. But he looked up at that beautiful moon and he wondered if actually he had ever really been there.

Perhaps the time will come for Mrs. Johnson and myself, perhaps some long reflective moment when we are walking along the banks of the Pedernales--I hope in company with Laurance Rockefeller--we can look back upon the majesty and the splendor of the Presidency, and I guess we will find it really hard to believe that I ever occupied that office.

But tonight I want to say this to my good and lasting friends who have come here-I want to say beyond any peradventure of a doubt: I know that I have been there.

I know something else: I know that most of you have been there with me all the time, every step of the way. And I further know more, and I know it with a great sense of pride that really touches every fiber of my soul: I know that I have given it everything I have had. [Applause]

I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet. I do not know what they will say next year or 100 years from now about the record that the people of America have made these last few years to advance the cause of justice in this country.

I don't know what they will say about our actual accomplishments. I don't know what they will record about our solid achievements. But I do believe--in fact, I know-that they will all say we tried.

Note: The President spoke at 10:55 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. In his opening words he referred to Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, Senate Majority Leader, Senators Edmund S. Muskie of Maine and Jacob K. Javits of New York, and Mayor John V. Lindsay of New York City. During his remarks he referred to David Dubinsky, President Emeritus of the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union, and Laurance S. Rockefeller, Chairman of the Citizens' Advisory Committee on Recreation and Natural Beauty.

Following the President's remarks, Governor Rockefeller addressed the gathering. His remarks are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, p. 57).

The farewell dinner and dance was given by 16 hosts and attended by some 400 guests. The hosts were Mrs. Vincent Astor, Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford II, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur B. Krim, Mrs. Mary D. Lasker, Mr. and Mrs. John Loeb, Mr. and Mrs. Andre Meyer, Mr. and Mrs. Laurance S. Rockefeller, and Mr. and Mrs. Edwin L. Weisl.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in New York City at a Farewell Dinner Honoring the President. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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