Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks on the Steps of the State Capitol, Columbia, South Carolina

October 26, 1964

Senator Johnston, Governor Russell, distinguished guests on the platform, ladies and gentlemen:

Today I have been visiting the part of America that we love, the South. Today I have been in Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla., in Macon and Augusta, Ga. And now the climax of the day, and the night here in this great, historic, and beautiful city of Columbia. And by my side have been the great men of the South: Senator Smathers and Senator Holland and Governor Bryant of Florida; Senators Herman Talmadge and Dick Russell and Congressman Carl Vinson and Governor Carl Sanders of Georgia.

And here tonight I am so proud to be with my lifelong friend, my loyal ally and my great colleague in the Senate of the United States, your own good and great Senator Olin D. Johnston. No man ever came from any people or from any State who has fought harder for justice and peace and honor and prosperity than this outstanding southerner of our times--Olin Johnston.

I am proud to be here with a man of dignity and courage and valor, your Governor Donald Russell. He has set a model for the Nation. He has given a demonstration of leadership and statesmanship that is respected from Maine to California. He is a wise man, a temperate man, one who has advanced the cause of progress in the United States of America, but particularly the cause of progress in South Carolina, and we are so grateful in the White House to Mrs. Russell for coming there and for standing by Lady Bird's side on her wonderful train trip all through the sunny southland.

Now I would like to say a word about the great South Carolina congressional delegation. It is respected and it is effective. It is a delegation with men like John McMillan, with whom I have served for many years, dean of the South Carolina delegation, with Bob Ashmore, with William Jennings Bryan Dorn.

Also on this platform is a very intelligent and energetic man who should be called to duty by the people of South Carolina, Tom Gettys. Send this man to Congress where we need him, where South Carolina needs him, and where the whole Nation needs him. I thank you for the kind of men that you have sent to Washington.

Mayor Bates, Governor Ransome Williams, Governor George Bell Timmerman, I thank you for being here tonight, and thanks, also, to my old friend Senator Edgar Brown, Governor McNair, Yancey McLeod, Attorney General Dan McLeod, and the other distinguished South Carolinians who have come here to stand up and be counted with us.

I see every day in one of the rooms of the White House the portrait of a man whose boyhood home stands here in Columbia, S.C. It is a sobering portrait of a heartbroken man. Woodrow Wilson wanted one thing--peace in the world in his time, not for himself, but for all mankind.

That great yearning for peace may have been bred in this house on Hampton Street. His father, who taught at the old Columbia Theological Seminary, may have nourished that dream when he talked at the supper table with his high-school-age son who was later to become the great President of the United States. Woodrow Wilson came close, mighty close, to making that dream come true, but he could not finish his work. But you and I can--and you and I will.

Lasting peace between peoples in the world is tonight within our sight and within our grasp. It will be within our children's reach. The great Savannah River nuclear production plant marks the new, more perilous, yet more promising path to peace.

There is just one important, just one overriding issue in this election this year, and that is why I am not going to indulge in any muckraking or any mudslinging or even discussing personalities, because candidates never discuss personalities if they have issues to discuss. When you hear a fellow talking about his neighbor, or his friend, or his opponent--and remember that the man is not supposed to recommend his opponent very highly--when you hear him talking about that, you know that he doesn't want to talk about the things that count, the issues in your life.

The big issue that we want to talk about tonight is whether we will stay on this path of peace. The President that you will select and elect a week from tomorrow has to assure full responsibility for the stewardship of your survival if a time should come for a nuclear decision.

Your President will have in his hand, inescapably, the power of life and death for hundreds of millions of people on this planet. Your President will have to make for America and for a large part of the world important, key decisions which may determine whether the air we breathe is to be free from fallout, or full of it; whether the milk that we give our little children is to have any poison which stunts their growth, or be free from it.

You know the policies of one man who seeks your trust. That man offers a policy of brinkmanship with nuclear power. He urges that we consider using atomic weapons in Viet-Nam, even in Eastern Europe, if there should be an uprising. He voted to cut back our efforts to try to control the arms race. He voted against the agreement-one of just a dozen--to stop the nuclear tests which poison the air that you breathe. That is a policy of gambling with your destiny.

I offer you instead this policy: First, our nuclear power must be great enough that any potential enemy understands and knows that a nuclear attack would be suicide if he tried it.

Second, we must exercise great care against any use of this power to destroy the world, to poison the world's atmosphere, or to cripple any single human being.

Third, we must speed the development of nuclear energy for peacetime purposes.

Nuclear energy is being used tonight

--to power the U.S.S. Savannah,

--to power isolated lighthouses and communications equipment for our satellites,

--to process chemicals and plastics,

--to sterilize medical supplies,

--to preserve food in America.

We are studying ways to use nuclear energy to excavate canals and mines, and to desalinate ocean waters, to take the waters from the oceans and remove the salt so that we can make the deserts of the world bloom again.

The future defies imagination. But we must be eternally vigilant to make certain that this is a future of peace; that this is a future of security; that this is a future of progress. And that is what I intend to do as your President. We are not children playing with sticks and stones. We are nations with the power to destroy millions of human beings in a matter of minutes.

So peace in the world demands from America today a foreign policy which

--assures our allies of our support,

--which assures our adversaries of our strength and our determination,

--and which assures the whole world of America's steadfast search for honorable peace for honorable men.

Our great President Woodrow Wilson said, "There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right." And I say to you good people here in Columbia, S.C., tonight your United States is right. And if you will give us your help, and if you will lend us your hand, and if you will help us unite this Nation, and if you will give us your prayers we will patiently convince other nations that the United States is right.

With patience and good sense, and the help of God, we will not have to use what we have created to defend ourselves.

Remaining always prepared we can devote ourselves to building a Great Society for all of our people where every man and woman who wants to work has a job and can work; where we have minimum wages and collective bargaining, and we respect the man who works with his hands; where every boy and every girl born under that flag has a right to all the education they can take; where, in the twilight of our life, and in the sundown of our career, we have a strong, solid social security system that is not voluntary, but one that will meet our needs; where our farmers are treated with dignity and with decency and with equity at the market place, and they receive true value for what they produce; where we conserve our great natural resources, our rivers, and our forests and our countrysides; where in time to come we can labor less hours per day, less days per week, less weeks per month, and less months per year, so that we can have the time to enjoy the benefits of education and the leisure time that would mean so much to the human being.

Yes, we want an America where every man, woman, and child born under that flag, regardless of his religion, regardless of his region, regardless of his race, has equal opportunity for all and special privilege for none,

Yes, there is much work to do, but 11 months ago when I tried to pick up where my fallen leader had left off, in that tragic day in Dallas when, on a moment's notice, I was called to assume the awesome responsibilities of the Presidency of the United States, the 36th man that has ever held that office, I had no time to call in my counselors of wisdom, I had no time to go to the stacks in the library. I had to stand up then in that airplane with roaring jet motors behind me, take that oath of office, and say, "Let's get back to the Capital and effect this transition."

I told you then as I tell you now that with God's help, with your prayers, I will do the best I can. That was 11 months and 3 days ago, and I tell you tonight I have done the best I could.

This is an election year, and you have the priceless heritage and privilege as a free American to go to the ballot box and in the secrecy of that booth select the man that you want to lead this Nation for the next 4 years. You ought to select the man that you think is best for America. You ought to select the man that you think is best for the free world. You ought to select the man that you think is best for South Carolina. And if you do that, you will select the man that is best for you.

And so I say here tonight to you that the next man that sits there as the President may be called upon to move his thumb up toward that nuclear button that could wipe out 300 million people in a short time; that that next President may hear that phone ring that is there by his bed and by his desk, that "hot line" from Moscow, and you have to select the man that you want to answer it.

That is your decision; that is not mine. I will have a very small part in it. But that is the decision that you ought to think something about before you make it, and that is the decision that you ought to talk to your friends about, and your family about, and you ought to be sure that you are doing what is best for your country.

There is not a boy in that crowd that wouldn't gallantly march down to that railroad station and put on that khaki uniform if he thought this flag was in danger tomorrow. The blood of the sons of South Carolina is strewn through many nations because they have carried that flag many places in the world and they have brought it back without a stain on it.

But your job Tuesday week is how to avoid war, not how to provoke war. Your job Tuesday week is to try to select a man that can unite this country instead of a man that can divide this country. Your job Tuesday week is to select a leader that has faith and hope and love instead of a leader who has fear and doubt and hate. And you will know in your own heart what is right. All the slander, all the smear, all the television, and all the propaganda somehow or other will go by the wayside Tuesday week. They will just be a mass of old banners, old pictures, and old television films, if they haven't been canceled between now and next Tuesday.

And you have only yourself to answer for. I haven't come down here to presume on your prerogatives, and to try to dictate to you what you ought to do. It is naturally to be assumed that I would recommend myself most highly. But I am not going to take my time to do that.

Well, I will tell you a little story before I go home. This happened down in my country. We lived out on a cotton farm when I was a boy, and we had a little boy there that left a little after lunch one day and went over to the Old Settlers' Reunion, the Old Confederate Reunion, and he didn't come back until dark that night--just about weighing-in time--just about the time we were unloading our sacks and weighing in.

And the boss said, "Where in the world have you been all afternoon?"

He said, "I have been over to the Old Confederate Reunion."

The boss said, "What did you do all afternoon at the Confederate Reunion?"

The boy said, "Well, I listened to a United States Senator make a speech."

The boss said, "Well, the Senator didn't speak all evening, did he?"

The boy said, "Mighty near, mighty near."

The boss said, "Who was the Senator and what did he speak about?"

"Well," the boy said, "Boss, his name was Senator Joseph Weldon Bailey, from Texas, and I don't recall precisely all the Senator talked about, but the general impression I got all afternoon was that he was recommending himself most highly."

So I hope that you will think of your country and your obligation, and not treat it lightly on November 3d, tomorrow week. I hope you will go select the man that you want to lead you, that in your conscience you believe is the best man to preserve peace, to preserve peace in the world and prosperity at home.

Tonight we have 72.5 million people working. Tonight we have an average wage in the manufacturing industries of $104 a week. Tonight we have 5 million more heads of families working than we had 4 years ago. Tonight our banks are full of money. We seldom hear any more of failures.

Tonight our farm income is up. Tonight our textile employment is increased, and we passed the cotton bill this year after great efforts of the Democratic administration to try to help the people of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

Tonight we want to try to carry on, not to be satisfied with the status quo, but to move ahead in a spirit of tolerance and understanding, in a spirit of the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you;" in the spirit of the Good Book, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

We think that we can do more united than we can divided. We think we can do more with love than we can with hate. We must always be prepared and have the arms and the strength to defend America. We must always keep our guard up, but always keep our hand out.

I, as your President, am willing to go anywhere to talk to anyone at any time that I think I can reason with him and bring peace in the world.

But just because we are mighty, and just because at Savannah and Oak Ridge you have created mighty, awesome powers that can destroy entire civilizations is no reason for me, as your President--and I will never be guilty of it--rattling our rockets and bluffing with our bombs.

Government of the people must not be government by ultimatum. Other people have other views, just as we do. You know, we don't see everything alike because if we did we would all want the same wife. We have different approaches, so we must try in the good words of the Good Book, we must try to reason together, and that is what we are trying.

If you down here in South Carolina will take your duty on election day as close to your heart as you do your duty when we have a declaration of war or your duty on Armistice Day, I have not the slightest doubt what your decision will be. But you must go vote. You must get your neighbor to vote. Every single individual is equal on election day, and we need every vote in that ballot box we can get, because we want to show the people of the other 120 nations of the world--we want to show the people of the other 49 States in the Union, that the people of South Carolina are good, Christian, peace-loving people who want prosperity for their folks, education for their children, and a bigger and brighter day for all America.

Note: The President spoke at 8:18 p.m. at the State Capitol Building in Columbia, S.C. In his opening words he referred to Senator Olin D. Johnston and Governor Donald S. Russell of South Carolina. Later he referred to Senators George A. Smathers and Spessard L. Holland, and Governor Farris Bryant, of Florida, and to Senators Herman E. Talmadge and Richard B. Russell, Representative Carl Vinson, and Governor Carl E. Sanders, of Georgia, and Mrs. Donald S. Russell. He also referred to the following, all of South Carolina: Representatives John L. McMillan, Robert T. Ashmore, and W. J. Bryan Dorn, Tom S. Gettys, Democratic candidate for Representative, Mayor Lester L. Bates of Columbia, former Governors Ransome J. Williams and George Bell Timmerman, State Senator Edgar A. Brown, Lieutenant Governor Robert E. McNair, Yancey A. McLeod, chairman of the State Democratic Party, and State Attorney General Daniel R. McLeod.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks on the Steps of the State Capitol, Columbia, South Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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