Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Reception for Small Businessmen.

August 20, 1964

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen:

I'm very pleased that you could come here to be with us this afternoon. This is your house and the house of all the people of this great Nation. For so long as I live here, the door through which you have come will be open to all--except those who demand that it be dosed to any.

I do not know your politics. I have not asked about your politics. I do not care about your politics.

Some believe our great question today is who we choose for our political leadership this fall.

Well, I am not entirely disinterested in that choice.

But I do believe that the greater question--this year and the greater question every year, as a matter of fact--is how well and how wisely our nonpolitical, non-office-holding leadership leads us all.

And that is why you are here.

Your business may be small. But in every community where you live, your opportunity-and your responsibility--for leadership is large.

Small business bears big responsibilities under our economy.

Of the 4.8 million businesses in the United States, 4.6 million of them are classified as "small businesses." These firms generate 40 percent of the entire Nation's economic business activity--they provide livelihood for 75 million Americans, they provide jobs for 40 percent of all jobs in this country.

But that is not all the role of the small businessmen. It is much larger than that. Every American community draws its base of leadership, draws its stability, its continuity, and its drive for progress from responsible, energetic, forward-looking, progressive business people.

Today--in this land of yours and mine-the future of our system and our society is being determined. What kind of a future we will have will not be determined here in this city, nor in this house, nor even on Capitol Hill. The quality of the America that you and your children and my children will know is being determined in the communities where Americans live and where Americans lead.

Your responsibilities--as well as mine--in this 20th century are very great responsibilities.

America cannot afford for us to stand apart. America cannot afford to let us go in different directions. Our political leadership, our business leadership--our leadership in labor, in agriculture, in education, and in the professions--must be united in understanding, must be united in mutual trust, must be united in common purpose.

I have made no contribution that I am aware of, at any single moment, in arraying class against class. I don't want to be a labor President or a business President or a bureaucratic President. I want to be an American President, President for all the people of this country, and a President that all the people of this country can have confidence in.

Today, as we meet here, we all have together more than any of us separately can afford to lose. Together we have achieved a pinnacle of peace--together we have achieved a pace of prosperity--never enjoyed before by any men in any land in any time in the world.

These years from 1961 to 1964 are the most prosperous years that any people have ever known. For 42 consecutive months we have had the longest and the largest and the most stable peacetime expansion of American economy that's on record in this country.

I guess I shouldn't make this observation, but--to show you that there is not anything partisan about that economy--we are very proud of what our country is doing with your help. Someone laughed at me the other day and said, "I don't guess the fact that you are saving all this money could have anything to do with the fact that you have a Republican Secretary of Defense." And I think that it is proper to add that in this period of price stability, in this great era of prosperity, when we have done so well--I would like to also point out we have a Republican Secretary of the Treasury.

Last month 72.4 million Americans were at work--72,400,000 Americans were working on their jobs. That's a new record in this country.

Unemployment declined below the 5 percent mark. It has not been lower for the last 7 years.

The worker is doing better. The American family is doing better than it's ever done before. The American businessman has never done so well for so long.

For the third year in a row corporate profits are rising. Only once before since World War II have they risen even a years in a row. Since the beginning of 1961, corporate profits have increased by more than 60 percent after taxes.

The total income of unincorporated businesses is up 14 percent over these same years--an all-time record in this country.

The slump in fixed investment by business has been broken. Investment today is higher as a percentage of our gross national product than in any of the past 6 years.

American business is modernizing-American business is making new investments to become even more competitive in the market places at home and around the world.

One of the businessmen that met here in this room with me shortly after I became President said to me, "If you will express your confidence in us by helping us pass a new tax bill, we will express our confidence in our country by taking this money and going out and making capital investments-my company alone will produce 20,000 new jobs for you." I sat next to him at lunch the other day and he whispered in my ear and said, "I have kept my promise. We have added 22,000 new jobs since the tax bill was signed."

I might also mention--as a matter of some little interest to you--that your stocks are worth $175 billion more today than when this expansion began. They are worth $100 billion more than they were when I became President last November.

So times are good--and you know it and I know it.

But times are never easy--and I know it.

And we must look ahead. For that reason yesterday I had President Eisenhower's Chairman of his Economic Council come to visit with me. I had President Truman's Chairman of Economic Council come to visit with me--his Council of Economic Advisers. I had President Kennedy's Council come visit with me and my own Chairman. And we all met in that room together. We all love this system. We want to preserve it. We all know that we can't just sit back with our hands in our pockets, chewing gum in our mouth, and rocking in a rocking chair, and let the rest of the world go by, and enjoy the status quo.

Our thinking, our looking ahead, our planning may well determine whether the middle of next year we have a drop-off, whether we have a curve that's downward. And we don't want to study how to avoid a recession. We want to plan to keep our prosperity where it is and advancing. And all of these able men yesterday agreed that things look good for this year and at least for a substantial part of next year. And we discussed at some length what we could do to meet our problems as they appear.

Most of you have worked most of your lives--you have worked the longest hours of anyone in your organization--you have worked to build what you have built, you have resisted a great many efforts--to save what you have saved.

But you understand, as Lord Chesterfield once advised his son, that "few people do business well who do nothing else."

And that is why men who are the most successful business-builders are almost always the most active in their community affairs. You know men do not protect or perpetuate what they have built only by watching over the books--or reading over the stock market reports.

The fruits of your labor are secure only as the lives of the people in your community are secure. Your businesses prosper only as the people themselves are prosperous. You are successful only as the community where you live is successful.

Your Nation, as well as your community, needs the best of your leadership now.

If life in this land is to have meaning for all of us, full and equal participation in it, then its promise cannot be denied to any of us.

But if we are to progress together, we must preserve together the values and the standards which make this life worthwhile for all of us.

Wherever we live, responsible Americans must never allow community leadership to pass by default to the night riders, to the men who travel down the highways with shotguns in their cars and shoot innocent people driving along the road to their Capital, to the street rioters who break the plate glass windows and take the law into their own hands.

Well, I am here to say to you--and to say through you to all the American people--and ask your help in saying that we shall preserve respect for law and order in this country.

We preserve respect for law by making laws responsive to the people's needs. For men who are poor, for men who are undereducated and undertrained, for men whose rewards are small and whose hope is scarce, preachments of respect for law will never be as persuasive as demonstrations of law's respect for them.

So here in your city--and in your Government--we have been attempting to do many things that are long needed to lift off of your business the burdens of the past.

As I told you, taxes have been cut.

As I told you, spending has been curbed. As I told you, economy is the watchword.

Earnest and honest efforts are being made to put to work in Government new concepts to produce more efficiency and to give you better management of the public business that you pay for.

I believe that Government must never be either an enemy of business nor a parasite in business. I believe that Government must not remain neutral or unconcerned with business success or the success of the workingman.

Government should actively promote and welcome the gains that business makes in the public interest--just as Government should foster and welcome the gains the people make.

Our one purpose here is freedom of opportunity for your business and freedom of opportunity for the people of this country.

So we ask of you--we urge upon you--we say to you this afternoon here in the first house of this land, the use of your freedom and your business prosperity to continue to promote the growth and the expansion of this economy is essential. We ask of you the use of your time and your initiative in the leadership of your country when you go back home, and the leadership of your community.

Your leadership at the local level will decide the quality of our cities. It will decide the quality of our classrooms. It will decide what kind of a countryside we have. It will decide the quality of life in our Nation for a century to come.

The trust of all that has gone before us rests now upon you and in your hands.

So I wanted to say to you this afternoon that I want you to know that I need, and the Nation needs, the best from you to keep America on its course and to make tomorrow better for all than the past has been for any.

We have so much in this country to preserve. We have so much to protect. And, in all of our lavishness and in our luxury, sometimes we take these things as a matter of fact.

A friend of mine that I worked for when I first came to this town--33 years ago came in my office a few weeks ago to talk to me about a great big ranch that he once owned in Cuba. I hope that none of you ever come to talk to me about property that you once owned in the United States.

But whether we are Democrats or Republicans, we all believe in this system. We are all Americans first. And we know that in this world in which we live and all of its uncertainties and the pitfalls that we may face tomorrow--as Secretary Rusk described those days when we sat across that table with Russian missiles 90 miles from our shores ready to be launched, I thought of the agonizing evaluations that we had to make, and that last day when we left our house not knowing whether we would come back that night or not.

So as we meet here in this beautiful city on the banks of the Potomac, in this Capital of the free world, we realize that there are two philosophies at each other's jugular in the world.

The Russian people have a desire for peace, in my judgment; but they have a different philosophy from ours. They have more people. They have more land. They have more acreage. They have more of many resources than we have.

And if we are not to be buried, if we are to survive, it's going to be not because of the number of our people or the wealth of our resources or the measurement of our acres. It's going to be because we have a better system of government--the free enterprise system. A system where a man can take his dollar and invest it with the hope of getting back a small additional return; where the manager will get up at daylight and work 'til midnight and develop stomach ulcers trying to avoid a strike and to get the most out of those men and match that management and men and money to produce a better mousetrap at a smaller cost; where the worker is worthy of his hire and is not so concerned about his retirement or his social security at the moment as he is about doing a good day's work and producing what needs to be produced in order to compete with his neighbor.

And those three working together--the capitalist, the manager, the worker--I believe can produce more, faster, cheaper than any commissar or any slave labor in all the world.

Now I'm through.

I don't believe that labor has to hate business. I don't believe that business has to snipe at labor. I know that Government, which is supported by both of them, oughtn't to be fighting with either of them. And that's why, in the few months that I have had in this house--we've had two governments in the last 8 months and we may have another one--I know that I want these people in each segment of our society to know that they are welcome here, that their constructive ideas and their constructive criticism are needed here.

And with the help of God we will perpetuate this system. And we will preserve it. And we'll leave this world a better place for our children than we found it for ourselves.

Note: The President spoke in midafternoon in the East Room at the White House. In the course of his remarks he referred to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, Under Secretary of Defense Cyrus R. Vance, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Walter W. Heller, Small Business Administrator Eugene P. Foley, Secretary of Commerce Luther H. Hodges, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

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

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