Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in Tribute to President Kennedy at a Joint Meeting of the Cabinet and the National Security Council.

May 28, 1964

Members of the Cabinet, gentlemen:

I have asked some of those who served with President Kennedy to come here this morning to pay tribute to his memory, since tomorrow he would have been 47 years old.

It seems such a short time since we came here, you and I, our spirits excited by the vision he held out to us; our hearts exhilarated by the vigor of his forceful promise. You served with devotion to his person and dedication to his cause. And I know that will be one of your most treasured memories. For that service you have won a place of honor in the pages of all history.

But the greatest test came at the time of deepest tragedy.

At that moment of disbelief, in the freshness of our grief, it was required of us to take up his burdens with barely an hour of tranquility for private tears.

Every person in this room was equal to that occasion. I know how difficult was the transition to new leadership from the man you loved. I am grateful to you for enduring those problems for the sake of our larger purpose.

So here, in the presence of those of you who knew him so well, I need not add to the public eloquence and to your private memories, which pay him continuing tribute. He was, in the words of the Bible, one of those that "were honored in their generations, and were the glory of their times."

He would have been satisfied to see so many of you assembled here this morning. for those whom he brought to Washington came, as he did, to serve not only a President but a high purpose, not only a leader but an ancient legacy, not only in his name but in the name of our Nation.

We would be untrue to the trust he reposed in us, if we did not remain true to the tasks he relinquished when God summoned him.

Nor would he have doubted that this land, this country, this America, would continue to grow in strength and freedom even after he had left.

None of us, least of all President Kennedy, would deny that a great cause always requires great captains.

But he also knew, as we must always remember, that beyond this hallowed house and this cherished city abide the people that we serve.

They pursue their own desires and follow their own dreams, they cherish their liberties and they toil at their labor, they battle their foes while building their future.

And they go on.

They have enjoyed the fruits of great leadership, and they have suffered the frustrations of leaders whose resources were unequal to their responsibility.

And they have gone on.

They have, by the millions, perished in battle, and they have prospered in peace.

Without us, they are a strong and free people in a strong and free land.

Without them, we are nothing.

That and that alone is the secret of this transition, and that will be the saving strength of transitions yet to come.

John F. Kennedy called on many of the world's masters for his messages to us. But his favorite quotation was from a man who preceded him in martyrdom: Abraham Lincoln.

"I know there is a God and that He hates injustice. I see the storm coming, and I know His hand is in it. But if He has a place and a part for me, I believe that I am ready."

The death of John F. Kennedy again humbled us in the truth that His purpose must remain closed to men.

But your presence here this morning-your service over the past 6 months--is a rededication to a great President's resolution-John F. Kennedy's resolution.

We have fulfilled that pledge, determined that as long as He has a place and a part for us, we will be ready.

And I should like each of you to know that in the darkest hour of our moments of uncertainty and our trials and tribulations, from each of you I have received courage and comfort and strength. And I know that was because of him and the faith that you had in him and he had in you, both of which have been so amply justified and deserved.

Note: The President spoke at 10:30 a.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. The Secretary of the Treasury, Douglas Dillon, responded as follows:

Mr. President, on behalf of my Cabinet colleagues and all the rest of us who are gathered here this morning who shared with you the very high privilege of working with President Kennedy, I want to thank you for your thoughtfulness in bringing us all here together this morning. You have given us all an opportunity, both individually and collectively, to pay tribute to the memory of our fallen leader, and once more to draw inspiration from the great vision that he gave to us all.

President Kennedy saw an America free and strong, moving forward resolutely with equal opportunity for all her citizens, in a world that was at peace and in a world in which the United States would do its full share to strengthen the forces of freedom.

We thank you, Mr. President, for giving us this opportunity, and once again we are glad to pledge our wholehearted support in carrying out this great vision.

Further, Mr. President, I am certain that I speak for all of us here today when I express my admiration of the skill, the leadership, and the vigor with which you have helped in carrying into fruition and reality these programs that were so close to President Kennedy's heart. I have in mind the great advances in the field of education, the tax reduction program, designed to strengthen and make more prosperous our Nation; the civil rights legislation, which is now coming to a climax in the Senate; and, finally, that great dream of eliminating forever poverty throughout this land.

Also, Mr. President, I want very much to express to you on behalf of all of us our feeling for the warm human understanding which you showed to us in those difficult days, in that difficult period of transition. It is something for which I am sure I and all of us will always be grateful.

It is a sincere pleasure and a great privilege to be working with you in this effort which we are all combined together in carrying to reality and fruition this great vision for which John Kennedy made the supreme sacrifice.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in Tribute to President Kennedy at a Joint Meeting of the Cabinet and the National Security Council. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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