Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Signing of Bill Establishing a Department of Housing and Urban Development

September 09, 1965

Mr. Vice President, Members of the Congress, most distinguished mayors, ladies and gentlemen:

This is a very rare and a very proud occasion. We are bringing into being today a very new and needed instrument to serve all the people of America.

This legislation establishes the 11th department of our Federal Government--the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

When our Nation was born, the only departments of Government were State and Treasury and War. Our country and our Government have grown greatly since that time. But we have been sparing in creating new and additional departments except when the need has been clear and compelling and continuing. That is clearly the case for this, the newest department.

The America of our Founding Fathers was, of course, a rural America. The virtues and values of our rural heritage have shaped and strengthened the American character for all of our 189 years. Our debt to this heritage is deep and abiding, and we shall honor it always.

When Thomas Jefferson spoke of rural virtues, cities were insignificant on the countryside of this continent. Only 5 percent of our people lived then in cities or villages. America was the land of the farmer, the woodsman, the hunter and mountaineer. Even a century ago when Abraham Lincoln asked the Congress to create a Department of Agriculture, fewer than 20 percent of our people then lived in cities.

Now that day is gone. It never will return.

In less than a lifetime-in less than my own 57 years--America has become a highly urbanized Nation, and we must face the many meanings of this new America.

Social change in our country is often faster than the mind of a generation can comprehend. But the pace of our urbanization has been stunning. It will move still faster in the immediate years ahead.

Between now and the end of this century our urban population will double. City land will double.

In the next 35 years we must literally build a second America--putting in place as many houses, schools, apartments, parks, and offices as we have built through all the time since the Pilgrims arrived on these shores.

The physical challenge is awesome. But there is a challenge to the spirit that is even greater and more demanding.

It is not enough for us to erect towers of stone and glass, or to lay out vast suburbs of order and conformity. We must seek and we must find the ways to preserve and to perpetuate in the city the individuality, the human dignity, the respect for individual rights, the devotion to individual responsibility that has been part of the American character and the strength of the American system.

Our cities and our new urban age must not be symbols of a sordid society. The history of every civilization teaches us that those who do not find new means to respond to new challenges will perish or decay.

Unless we seize the opportunities available now, the fears some have of a nightmare society could materialize.

Unless we match our imagination and our courage and our affluence, we could fail both our past and our posterity.

So the enactment of this legislation, and so many other measures of this Congress, represents the unified determination of this generation to preserve the best of the past by preparing to make the future better still.

With this legislation, we are--as we must always--going out to meet tomorrow and master its opportunities before its obstacles master us.

In the days of our population's westward movement, we created the Department of Interior. The rise of great industry brought the response of a Department of Commerce and a Department of Labor. The growth of our world responsibilities made it necessary to unify our security forces in a Department of Defense. President Eisenhower saw that the magnitude of our health and education and welfare programs required a new department devoted to their fulfillment.

So today we are taking the first step toward organizing our system for a more rational response to the 'pressing challenge of urban life. This is a historic action and this is a historic occasion. All who have been a part of it can forever be proud of it.

I am grateful, particularly to those Members of the Congress whose energies and efforts have made this ceremony possible today: the distinguished Vice President; Senator Ribicoff; Senator Muskie; Senator Clark; the dedicated Chairman of the House Committee, Congressman Bill Dawson; his colleagues, Congressman Fascell and Congressman Reuss; and a dozen more Congressmen and Senators I do not have time to mention. They all, the Congress, all of them, had a vital bipartisan support from a host of their fellow Members.

This is a wise and this is a just and this is a progressive measure for all America, and I am honored to sign it this morning.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:06 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

During his remarks he referred to Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut, Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, Senator Joseph S. Clark of Pennsylvania, Representative William L. Dawson of Illinois, Chairman of the House Committee on Government Operations, Representative Dante B. Fascell of Florida, and Representative Henry S. Reuss of Wisconsin.

As enacted, the Department of Housing and Urban Development Act is Public Law 89-174 (79 Stat. 667).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Signing of Bill Establishing a Department of Housing and Urban Development Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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