Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Swearing In of the Chairman and Members of the National Council on the Humanities.

March 03, 1966

Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, Dr. Moe, distinguished members of the National Council on the Humanities, ladies and gentlemen:

In 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard University and handed this challenge to America's learned men: "The office of the scholar," he said, "is to cheer and to raise and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. He is the world's eye, and he is the world's heart."

Today, as we meet here in this historic East Room, 129 years later, we are very much in need of dear eyes and stout hearts. We need them now more than ever, and we need men of learning, too, more than we have ever needed them before.

We have proven our scientific and our technical genius. Science, as someone has said, has taught us to fly through the air higher and faster than the birds, to swim through the sea deeper and farther than the fish, but we have yet to learn how to walk the earth like men.

Science can give us goods, goods we need, but the humanities--art and literature, poetry and history, law and philosophy--must give us the goals that we have.

I believe that the National Council on the Humanities has a most crucial role to play in American life today, not only in enriching scholarship, but in enriching life for all people.

We believe in America that men of thought and men of action must not be isolated. They must be bound closely together. Congress was acting on that belief when it accepted our recommendations and established this Council in a rather adventuresome spirit and a rather far-reaching piece of legislation. As you have come here to do your work, I hope that you will also bear that in mind and act on that belief.

I hope you will use your freedom and your funds to call forth a new American scholar, one who can meet Emerson's challenge "to raise and to guide men." The American scholar will look for facts, and beyond facts he will look for value. He will aspire not only to knowledge, but to wisdom. He will know that learning exists not for its own sake, but, rather, for man's sake.

He will find his destiny in solving man's problems and not just in cataloging them. We spend too much time stating them and too little time finding the solution. He will remember Emerson's admonition that there can be no scholar without the heroic mind.

That, I know, is a rather large order. You are only a few men and women, with very limited time and resources. But every great enterprise starts with one man or, at the most, a few. And every great endeavor depends more on the daring than on the dollar, more on brainpower than on budgets.

I just had my budget busted wide open this morning by my colleagues from Texas, but it was on behalf of soldiers who need education. If it is going to be busted, it couldn't be busted for a better purpose.

I say that to you also. I have great confidence in this endeavor. Almost two centuries ago John Adams had this to say about the advance of learning: "I must study politics and war," he said, "that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.

"My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography and natural history, naval architecture and navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting and poetry, music and literature, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain."

So today, in a world that is very thirsty for genius, we must study all of these things at once if we are to produce a culture which comes anywhere near matching our wealth. We are not just going to talk about producing it, either; we are going to do something about it. And that's a change for America.

We do have the material power to conquer economic want. Now we need the will to attack the poverty of man's spirit. We have looked throughout America and selected you--you members of this Council-to lead the attack on the poverty of man's spirit.

From the moment that you take your oath, your job will be to cup your hands about the flame of our Nation's genius, to protect and to nourish that flame, to make a torch which will light the path of a people who are seeking greatness. I cannot forgo the opportunity of saying to this somewhat adventuresome and courageous group of men in the Congress who provided legislative leadership in this field, "You have not only your President's gratitude, but the gratitude of the American people for your leadership."

To those of you who have come here this morning to embark on this new adventure and to take your oath, I say welcome--and on behalf of a grateful people express not only my admiration for your endeavors in this field and your leadership and your willingness to work with us, but my gratitude for your coming here to sign up today.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:10 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and Dr. Henry A. Moe, Chairman of the National Council on the Humanities.

The Council was established by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 (79 Stat. 845) to initiate and support individual programs and group projects designed to strengthen education and scholarship in humanistic subjects. The names of the 26 members of the Council are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 2, p. 120).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Swearing In of the Chairman and Members of the National Council on the Humanities. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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