Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast

February 04, 1965

Senator Carlson, Reverend Clergy, Vice President Humphrey, Speaker McCormack, Justice Clark, members of the Cabinet, Mr. Minority Leader of the House, distinguished guests, Governors, ladies and gentlemen:

I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate again in an occasion which all ready has come to be a very valued place in the life of Washington, our Capital City, and in the lives of so many of us who must labor here.

In our history it has been popular to regard with skepticism the private motives of public men, and never more than when they participate in meetings such as this. I am sure such skepticism has been deserved by some. But I am more certain that only the unknowing and the unthinking would challenge today the motives that bring our public officials together on occasions like this for prayer and meditation.

In these times, more than any other, the public life is a lonely life. The burden of every vote, of every decision, of every act, and, yes, even of every utterance, is too great to be shared and much too great to be borne alone.

I find for myself, as I know men and women throughout this great Government of ours also find, a sustaining strength from the moments of prayer, whether we assemble together or whether we pray silently alone.

What has become a tradition and practice in our time is actually one of the oldest public traditions of our national life. Long ago when this country was struggling to come into being, there arose at the Constitutional Convention a discussion and a debate about holding prayers before each session at that Convention. The great Benjamin Franklin spoke up to speak his views. I believe it is appropriate and timely this morning to repeat and to endorse those words now.

Dr. Franklin told the framers of our Constitution, and I quote him: "Without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests. Our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a by-word down to future ages."

And, "What is worse," Dr. Franklin went ahead to add, "mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance and to war and to conquest."

Today in our times, the responsibilities and the burdens imposed upon each of us are great and frightening and growing. On us, on each of us, on our decisions that we individually and collectively make, rests the hope of mankind throughout the world for a world that is not left to chance, or not left to war, or not left to conquest.

I think that we could find no more appropriate way to begin our day today and our duties in this hour than to pray--for, as we are taught, "Except the Lord build this House, they labor in vain that build it."

[The President spoke first to the gentlemen in the hotel's Regency Room and then to the ladies in the Blue Room.]

Mrs. Humphrey, ladies:

This yearly gathering has become a source of great comfort to all of us. I hope that it serves as a good example for all the people of our country, because as a country we are greatly blessed.

The bounty of our land and the product of our labor have brought us wealth that is unmatched by any other nation or any other people in the history of the world.

We have the resources to attempt great deeds. We have the resources to eradicate the last vestiges of poverty from this land of ours. We have the resources to bring education and good health and jobs to all of our people.

I am so proud that today we will reveal that our unemployment rate has been going down and down and will be at the lowest level for many, many years. We are no longer prisoners in an economy of scarcity, where one man's wealth causes another man's misery. We have won our way to an economy of abundance, and today we know that the wise use of our great wealth can contribute to the betterment of life for us all.

Surely the words from Saint Luke have lost none of their meaning: "For unto whosoever much is given, of him shall be much required, and to whom man have committed much, of him they will ask the more."

As a people we live in a time that tests the best. We are afflicted by burdens that we would gladly not bear, and no leader of any people, however great his wisdom, can dare prophesy what the future holds for you.

We can see and foresee problems that are too great to be solved by men's minds or, yes, even by women's hearts. All of us appreciate and recognize and know the need for prayer, and with the blessings that belong to us, with the duties which rest upon us, we have much to pray for--that we may be just in our strength, wise in our actions, compassionate in our relations with humanity, and always faithful to our trust.

Note: The prayer breakfast of International Leadership, Inc., a nondenominational group of laymen, was held at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington. In his opening words the President referred to Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas, chairman of the board, International Council for Christian Leadership, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Representative John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tom C. Clark, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and Representative Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, minority leader of the House of Representatives. Later in his remarks to the ladies he referred to Mrs. Hubert H. Humphrey, wife of the Vice President.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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