Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Dedication of Thomas More College, Fort Mitchell, Kentucky

September 28, 1968

Father Murphy, Judge Adams, Bishop Akerman, reverend clergy, ladies and gentlemen:

This is a very special treat to me. This is a very special pleasure for me to come to this small college, in this small State that has produced so many big people with big hearts.

I am glad to be here--not only because I really love this part of the country, but I love the people who call this part of the country their home; I am happy to be here this afternoon because the purpose of this place is dear to me and is vital to our Nation.

This college symbolizes two ancient American traits:

--first, a steadfast faith in God,

--second, a fervent commitment to education.

Those have been American traits since the founding of our Nation. Our Nation, no doubt, will see staggering changes that are yet to come. But wherever we go, we very much need to be guided by that faith and guided by that commitment.

In naming this college you have chosen well. You have chosen to honor and to emulate, a scholar, a saint, a statesman-all in the person of one man.

Thus this institution, whose face is turned firmly toward the future, finds a great inspiration in the past. And I think it is good for a nation to do the same.

So today, at this ceremony of dedication, I want to reflect a bit with you about this land that we all love so much. I want to reflect with you about its present, about its past-and about the future that we are about to choose.

As we gather here on this Saturday afternoon, this great Nation of yours stands on the edge of a most historic decision.

Very much on my mind as we approach that decision is a scene which you may know about; a scene about which you, as an American citizen, may have some very deep feelings.

I am thinking of a major political convention, held in a great American city, where the heat of emotion nearly surpassed the heat of the summer; where the divisions were deep and the controversies were long and hard.

One wonders how such a convention could happen here in America--yet it did happen. Some delegates threatened to walk out. Others did walk out.

More than once, the convention came to the verge of a total breakdown. And despite long debate, some delegates could not and would not support the document which the majority favored.

Yet out of that noisy spectacle came something that is good and great and lasting. That convention that I speak of took place in Philadelphia, exactly 181 years ago this month. On September 17, 1787, those delegates signed the Constitution of the United States.

At the Constitutional Convention, the delegates launched an experiment which became the most durable and democratic government in all the world. That achievement has been called the miracle of Philadelphia.

Out of a wearying, turbulent assembly came the answer to a fundamental American question: Could our people, in spite of all their differences, their races, their regions, their religions--could our people be one nation, one people? Could the adventure in liberty which began in 1776--many years before--live on, or must it die in disunity and must it die in defeat?

My dear friends, that is a question which faces you who still live in the great State of Kentucky, from which my ancestors departed to Texas--and that is the question that will face my grandson who has just discovered that great State. That is the question that faces all Americans of our time.

Today you and I, and the whole American Nation, face another time of controversy and choice. And in a way, I guess we must create our own miracle. We must emerge from a season of bitter debate with a national decision-with a choice--which will strengthen our unity and not endanger it. We must-- as we Americans must every election year-renew that great experiment in democratic government that was begun 181 years ago.

It is curious, but the questions which we Americans will debate this autumn are not so different from those which troubled my ancestors who lived here and yours who helped found this Republic. In fact, some issues in this turbulent campaign in 1968 might seem quite familiar to the delegates of 1787 if they could return to earth this afternoon.

There is the issue of, for instance, Federal power and its proper limits.

There is the issue of how to achieve law and order--and justice. There is the issue of how, in our free Nation, we can strike a proper balance between the majority's fight to decide and the minority's right to dissent.

And finally, there is the issue of race; the question of whether the black man is fully a man and whether he is fully a citizen.

The original Constitution of the United States counted a Negro as just three-fifths of a person. We have come a long way since then. But let us remember that the issue of full manhood and full citizenship for all of our citizens is today very much still alive.

The details of these issues are, of course, vastly different today. But they do trouble us still; they are as important to our future in 1968 as they were to our future in 1787--perhaps more important. They stir as many emotions now as I read they stirred then.

Now, in such a time, when feelings are so deep and emotions are running so high, it is tempting for some to play upon the fears and to play upon the uncertainties of their fellow man.

For some, the temptation may be to trade openly on anger and discontent. For some the temptation may be to arouse emotions in order to exploit them, to pander blatantly to fear and to prejudice, to use the code words of hate, to offer rhetoric and slogans and angry accusations as substitutes for solutions.

You academicians, I know, must be aware of the fact that there is a difference in detecting the problem and in solving it. And I have found in my years in the schoolroom that some, on occasions, were prone to ferret out the problem and state it, and let somebody else carry out the details of solving it.

Some people discovered a long time ago that it is easier to scare people than it is to reason with them; that it is easier to shout fire than to fight fire; that it is easier to condemn crime than to conquer crime.

But, in my opinion, anyone--anyone-and I am not speaking a name, I am speaking of anyone--who exploits fear, and who exploits hate, and who exploits prejudice, and who preaches division and disunity-whoever he may be---chooses the low road and the wrong road.

Last Sunday I went to three church meetings. And a young Lutheran minister, speaking to his little flock, cautioned them against division and divisiveness. I had spoken on that subject back in March of this year.

But what that man said in 9 short minutes had great appeal to me. I will take much longer today to try to copy some of the things he said and repeat them--and I am sure not nearly so effectively. But that young Lutheran minister had some visual aids that he used in his pulpit.

One was a baseball bat, and he talked about some of the protesters using that baseball bat to taunt the cops. On one side they had printed "Cops ar"--and it was "a-r"--"Cops ar pigs." On the other side, they had the word "Love." He pointed out the difficulty of really preaching love and getting it accepted with a baseball bat saying, "You are a pig."

I say to the people in the schools, on the farms, in the cities, in the council chambers, in the legislatures and in both parties--and in the leadership all over the world--it is pretty difficult to brand a man as a pig with a baseball bat in one hand and extend him the hand of love and fellowship all at the same time.

We need for more people to preach love. There are too many people who preach hate and know not what they do.

I am not speaking of Mr. X, Mr. Y, and Mr. Z. If you have any suspicions that I have you in mind---or you---or somebody else--I want to eliminate that.

I want to say to the press now that I do not mean any specific Republican or Democrat, or any Congressman, or any Senator, or any priest. I trust that you will not talk about the speculations and the rumors, and some felt this and some felt that.

I saw a report that Sunday evening, after this young Lutheran minister had talked to me and he had invited his Lutheran flock to go up and see the Archbishop of our little Catholic Church open a rectory. My grandson almost mixed up the ceremony by grabbing the Archbishop's robes. I was very embarrassed by it. But that evening when we came home, I was looking at an intelligence report, and it was talking about the divisions in the world.

In the last 9 months the campuses in more than 20 nations in the world have been taken over and teachers prevented from occupying their classrooms.

That shows you the unrest that exists. That shows you the divisiveness. In some instances, it shows you the feeling of an uncertainty and injustice that may exist. It shows you the change that is coming upon us. It may show you some love and some hate. But the fact that it exists cannot be denied. And the fact that we must deal with it cannot be escaped. The question is how.

Well, in such a time, there is another road which can be taken. That other road, the road not to shout "fire," or not just to condemn, or not to just exploit fear or hate-that other road that can be taken is the long, difficult, uphill road of responsibility; the way that is often steep, and sometimes very lonely. And it is always the most difficult.

Now in my opinion, this road of responsibility is the only acceptable road that we can follow. This is the honest way, the honest road, to go to the 'people.

It is the way which confronts the tough questions of race and government, and foreign policy, and civil order, and war and peace--with no attempt to dodge them, or run away from them, or evade them.

It is a way which incurs the risk of defending what is responsible and standing up foursquare for what you know is right-even when that course may be difficult or unpopular.

I will finish 37 years of public service this January.

I was talking to some of my associates the other evening, and I said, "Let's point up the 10 most constructive, far-reaching, responsible measures that we passed that benefited the most people in the 37 years that I have been here."

Almost without exception, the measures that linger in our heart, and that are burnt into our mind, and are emblazoned on our cornerstones, were the most unpopular measures of our time at the time they were presented.

The Archbishop last Sunday spoke of a minimum wage law that I voted for as a young Congressman. It established the principle that we could have a work-week of 40 hours; and we could have the principle of time and a half for over 40 hours; and we could guarantee to the poor widow woman, trying to feed the hungry mouths that her husband had died and left her, that she could be paid 25 cents an hour. That was socialism. In some parts of my district it was outright communism. In all places, it was a theory that was imposed upon the employer by bureaucrats.

When three of us signed the petition to force that caucus, the other two were promptly defeated that next election for favoring 25 cents an hour minimum wages. That was 30 years ago.

The Archbishop talked about the years we had fought to get an immigration act where relatives could come and rejoin, and we would not divide up and chop up families, but we would permit them to be united.

Then Medicare. I remember a society visited me when I went home one time. Before I could go see my wife and family, I had to go to a hotel and be abused all evening because I favored Medicare.

Those people are not talking that way any more.

But what may be unpopular and what may be difficult may be right.

My little Lutheran preacher had some other visual aids the other day. He said, "You take this knife. This can be the instrument of death, or it can be the knife that slices the meat that permits you to sustain your body." He said, "Money, they say, sometimes is the root of all evil, but we require it to operate this institution of God."

He said, "Many people have preached to them the evils of alcohol, but it depends on how, when, and under what circumstances it is used." He said, "Here, I have some that we use for sacramental purposes."

So, it is what is in your heart and what you know is right.

All through the years I have seen men in my town who are experts at the little, simple pleasure of playing dominoes. And all the scholars of Oxford, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton can never equal them in playing dominoes. But I have had a few of them visit me who stood back, looked over their shoulder, and mumbled how to do this and how to do that without any knowledge of the game.

We must all ask ourselves: "It is not what the appearance is or what we might guess it is; it must be what we know it is and what we know is right, and then we must do that."

What is important is what is in your heart.

This is a way which risks defending what is responsible and what is right even when that course is exhausting. It is a way that begins by asking the right questions. And what is the question we should all be asking ourselves this afternoon? I think it is this question: "What kind of a country do you want? .... What kind of an America do you want?", and "How can we best go about getting it?"

Americans must ask themselves today if the cure for hatred--and we do have it--is more hatred; if the cure for crime is to be found by scaring people; if the cure for division is more division; if the cure for bigotry is more bigotry.

So really, in a way, we must, as our Founding Fathers did, create our own miracle. We must emerge from a season of bitter debate with a national judgment, with a choice which I think will strengthen our unity and never endanger it.

We must, as we must every election year, renew the great experiment in democratic government that was begun 181 years ago.

Remember, whatever you are and whatever you think, and however you spell your name, or whatever church you worship at, we are all equal on election day.

I would like to point out that it is curious but the questions which we Americans are talking about this afternoon are not much different from the ones that our forefathers talked about in Kentucky two or three centuries ago. In fact, some issues in this campaign of 1968 might seem quite familiar to the delegates in Philadelphia in 1787, if they could return to earth today and hear what we are saying.

I think it was Benjamin Franklin who gave us the statement sometime ago when he said, "Gentlemen, we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

It may seem unbelievable this afternoon, but the controversies of the Constitutional Convention that was held then, to which I have referred at some length, were held in total secrecy. George Washington warned his colleagues in that Convention to be very silent about their deliberations. "I must entreat the gentlemen to be more careful," he said, "lest our transactions get into the newspapers and disturb the public repose by premature speculations."

Today, my friends, I believe you can be sure that our political transactions will get into the newspapers--and some of them will actually get on the television screens. And the whole world may watch.

But what does that do? That places an added burden of responsibility upon every good citizen. So in the days ahead, let us hear the issues. Let us find the real ones and not follow the false ones. Let us hear about the real solutions and let us not be misled by the fake solutions. Let every man judge for himself, according to his knowledge of what is right and what his conscience dictates. But let us hear what is right some of the time as well as hear what is wrong most of the time.

What is right is not maybe as exciting or maybe not even as newsy. But it is important to the destiny of the Republic. Let us make our judgments not in fear, but in faith-faith that this Nation's best days still lie ahead.

When the Constitution was finally signed, Franklin called the attention of the delegates to a painting of the sun that was behind the President's chair in Convention Hall.

Franklin said to the delegates that he had been looking at that sun during the Convention, and said he had not been able to tell whether it was a rising sun or a setting sun. "But now at length," he said, "I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, and not a setting sun."

Later, it was decreed that all of our coins would bear a motto which underscores the diversity and the unity of our Nation. "E pluribus unum"--"Out of many, one."

So out of many men, many opinions, many emotions, many deeply held convictions, out of many debates, many courses of instruction, many charges, many campaigns, much flag-waving, some marching, some shouting-out of all of this may God help us emerge one Nation.

As I came to this small school in this small State of big people, I wanted to leave just this one final thought in the hope that it would be nurtured and grow here as a seedling today into a big oak tomorrow: One Nation-one Nation--pledged not only to law and order but to liberty and justice for all people. And in our deliberations this year, may we all be calm, may we all be confident and free and wise and steady.

There is something about "steady" that I always associate with Kentucky. That is why I am here.

Thank you and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:47 p.m. at the dedication of Thomas More College, formerly called Villa Madonna College, in Fort Mitchell, Covington, Ky. In his opening words the President referred to Monseigneur John F. Murphy, president of Thomas More College, Judge Charles S. Adams of the 16th District Court of Kentucky, and Bishop Richard H. Ackerman, chairman of the board of trustees of the Thomas More College and Bishop of the Covington Diocese.

During his remarks the President referred to the Reverend Norman Truesdale of the Trinity Lutheran Church, Stonewall, Texas, and the Most Reverend Robert Emmet Lucey, Archbishop of San Antonio, who spoke at the dedication of the new rectory at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in Stonewall, Texas. The President also mentioned his 15-month-old grandson, Patrick Lyndon Nugent.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Dedication of Thomas More College, Fort Mitchell, Kentucky Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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