Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Swearing In of the Members of the New District of Columbia Council.

November 03, 1967

Mr. Justice Clark, Mayor Washington, Deputy Mayor Fletcher, distinguished Judges, distinguished Members of the Congress and leaders in the Congress for the District of Columbia, City Council Members, ladies and gentlemen:

First, I want to express my deep personal appreciation for the patriotism, the dedication, and the unselfishness that has been evidenced by the three Commissioners who have worked themselves out of a job.

I have never known men who wanted to do better or who have tried harder or who have been more pleasant to work with. I would like Ambassador Tobriner, General Mathe, and Mr. Duncan to please stand and take a hand.

We have come here to the East Room this morning to celebrate a very historic day.

This morning the future separates from the past. Here in the Nation's Capital, the city of all the people, a new era of government is beginning.

For 100 years now, the citizens of Washington have been waiting for this moment.

Many men and women have worked hard, long, and faithfully to try to make this possible.

The list is long. It includes many Members of the Congress, some of whom are with us today--and all of whom I am grateful to.

It includes the three Commissioners whom I have just introduced who have helped to solve the unemployment problem by working themselves out of a job. Now the people of the District will gain nine new employees to replace the three that are leaving.

With that, I believe that Washington will take a step toward moving from a wagon wheel government into the jet age in the 20th century.

The new government launched here this morning, I hope, will be an effective force for the people's hopes--and especially for the people's needs.

Earlier this morning, I took the first step by signing the revenue bill for the District of Columbia. This will give the new government a stronger fiscal base for the work that it must do.

Now a large part of this job is going to be up to you--the City Council--Council Chairman Hechinger, Vice Chairman Fauntroy, all the members on the Council-all of you, I hope, working as a team under the leadership of the constructive program of Mayor Washington and Deputy Mayor Fletcher.

Your problems are out there waiting for you on the streets. Don't minimize them, because they are many. And they are serious. All of them are pressing.

They are the problems of people.

So, help us solve them.

Help us find ways to drive crime from the midst of the Nation's Capital, so that citizens can walk safely through our streets.

If I could elaborate just a moment. If we could clean up this crime situation and make Washington the safest city in the Nation, I think it would just be a matter of time, then, when there would be so much encouragement and so much support from all of our people and all of our Congress that we could have the best educational system, we could have the cleanest city, and we could do all these other things that need so much to be done.

Now it is the chicken and the egg. Which comes first? We realize that because of inadequate education, because of the diseased condition of many of our people, and because of unemployment--all of these things lead to crime.

But the time has come, in my judgment, when the American people are going to rise up in revolt at the lawbreaker in this country.

We are going to have to obey the law. And we are going to protect the citizen under the law, though we are not going to protect his right to run over other people, to violate the rights of other people, and to take the law into his own hands.

So if you need twice as many policemen, if you need to pay them twice as much, if you need twice as much communication, if you need extra automobiles and motorcycles and educated people, then let's start to work to get them. But let's clean up crime here.

Now I don't know that there is any single person who is responsible. I guess if there is, Dr. Gallup would say that I am. But I like crime just like I like castor oil. Some people say the courts are. Some people say the police are. Some people say that ignorance and disease--and a lot of other things--are to blame.

Well, I am not here to say that anyone is responsible. I think every person tries to do what he thinks is right. But some of them get led astray sometimes; some of them make mistakes.

But I do want to say this to the Congress, as I said to 80 Congressmen last night, I want to appeal to them to try to quit treating the District of Columbia--now Senator Morse, I am not talking to you. You just stay seated. I am not going to attack. I want to say to the Washington Post I am not the slightest angry. And I want to say to the fellow the day before, I am not lambasting anybody. I am not attacking.

Now, that is what I am not doing. But what I am doing--I want to say to the Congressmen, of both the House and the Senate, as I said last night, let's don't treat the Nation's Capital as a stepchild.

Let's try to make it a model child. Let's try to make it the best we can produce. Let's try to let it be the city that every other city in the world would like to copy.

I want to pay a great compliment to the District of Columbia Government for the patience, tolerance, understanding, wisdom, and good judgment that they showed in connection with the demonstration here a few days ago.

We didn't lose 40 or 50 lives as we lost in Detroit. We didn't have a lot of people carried to the graveyard.

We did have some 600 arrests of people who just wouldn't comply with the law and we had a good many penalties.

We got through a very difficult situation. The same day they were having the same problems in Rome, in Paris, in Bonn, in Berlin, in Czechoslovakia, and other parts of the world, because since last April they had been planning those things.

But I am glad that we had the patience and the judgment to handle it without killing.

Although it was one of our most difficult situations, it is one of the greatest tributes to our District Government that they can deal with difficult situations and they can deal with them intelligently.

I want to ask this Council this morning to help us find ways immediately to start driving crime from our midst.

I want to ask every judge who is out there in the East Room this morning, or out there in his chambers, or on his bench, to take his part of the personal responsibility.

I want to ask the District Attorney, at whom I am looking, and every assistant that works for him, to bear in mind that he has a very peculiar and particular part to play.

And I wouldn't mind seeing a few lights in courthouses around here at night cleaning up these dockets and bringing us justice-and bringing it quickly.

I want to say to every policeman that we want you to conduct yourself as the finest example of law enforcement in this country-understanding our citizenship and always bearing in mind that the law-abiding citizens, the people, are the masters and we are their servants.

But when you enforce the law and do what is right, this Council will support you, this Mayor will support you, and this President will support you.

I want to ask the Council and the Congress to help me find ways to make the schools of the District of Columbia places of excellence for this community.

I think it is disgraceful that so many families feel that their children can't go to public schools because they are inadequate and because the conditions are such that the mother and father don't feel their children get the best training in the Nation's Capital.

I want this Council and this Congress to help us find ways to build more decent homes quicker for those who have never known a decent home in their life.

I want the Council and the Congress to help me find ways to make responsible citizens out of young men and women who are eager for a chance--and who will make the most of it, if you will just give it to them.

I think we are living in a goldfish bowl here in Washington. I think that spotlight is on every one of us and the whole Nation is looking at us, because this is the Nation's city. This is the people's city.

So, ladies and gentlemen, your challenge is, I think, quite unique. I think the challenge is to begin today to start turning Washington into a model community--a place of pride for our children to play, for our people to live, and for our parents to work.

The Federal Government stands ready to help you.

And I think one million people will support you, if you will furnish the strength, inspiration, and the leadership.

So a man's judgment is no better than his information. And you don't learn much when you are talking, and I am going to stop.

But get out there on those streets and talk to those people in their homes and in their businesses. See what is in their heart and in their head, what they need, and how we can best supply it. Let's try to unite this city in a drive that will ultimately give us a National Capital of which we can be proud.

Thank you very much.

[At this point the members of the Council moved forward to be sworn in. The President then resumed speaking. ]

While they are moving up here, I think I ought to tell you a little joke, because they say I stay angry so much of the day. A few years ago, as a young man, I was sent to the Senate cloakroom. A somewhat maverick United States Senator came in to me and said, "I want to join the Democratic Party. And I want to serve on two committees, the District of Columbia and Foreign Relations."

It seemed to me there was some little difference in the importance of the two committees-at least I thought so then. I thought he was well equipped. And I couldn't imagine anybody wanting to serve on the District of Columbia Committee.

But I agreed to assign him to those two places. I want to recognize this morning that quality of service. I doubt that there is anybody in the District who has done more for the District, more to help the President-Republican or Democrat--to make the District a decent place to live than Senator Morse.

Before you all applaud, I just want to say this: He has put the interests of the District of Columbia first all of the time. I hope after he gets a little more time to spend on foreign relations that he will be as good in that field.

[At this point, the members of the District of Columbia Council were sworn in by retired Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark. The President then resumed speaking.]

There is one thing I want to do before we go in the next room. We are going to have a little receiving line. We will see as many as we can before I am too late to the next appointment.

We will ask the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor to be in the receiving line. We will ask the other Council members to be in the next room in a line so that you can go to both rooms--those of you that care.

I want to express my heartfelt appreciation. I think speaking for the District of Columbia-perhaps a last time, because the Mayor will take over that job after this reception is over--I want to express the gratitude of all the people of this community to Mr. Horsky and to Mr. Pollak for working through the years to try to give us a better city.

At great personal sacrifice, at great financial sacrifice, and under great emotional strain, Mr. Horsky has worked with me for several years here trying to make the District of Columbia better.

He was succeeded by Mr. Pollak, who has done a magnificent job. Everything he has done, Mr. Horsky has worked with him in doing. We are all so grateful to both of them. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to retired Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, Walter E. Washington, Commissioner of the District of Columbia, Thomas W. Fletcher, Assistant to the Commissioner, and to the members of the Council: John W. Hechinger, Chairman, Walter E. Fauntroy, Vice Chairman, Margaret A. Haywood, J. C. Turner, Joseph P. Yeldell, John A. Nevius, Stanley J. Anderson, William S. Thompson, and Polly Shackleton. During his remarks he referred to former Commissioners of the District of Columbia Walter N. Tobriner, newly designated U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica, Brig. Gen. Robert E. Mathe, and John B. Duncan, and to Charles A. Horsky and Stephen J. Pollak, former assistants to the President on National Capital affairs.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Swearing In of the Members of the New District of Columbia Council. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives