Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Receiving an Honorary Degree at the University of Denver

August 26, 1966

Chancellor Miller; Governor Love; Mayor Currigan; Lt. Governor Knous; Senators Allott and Dominick; and Colorado's four great Congressmen, Wayne Aspinall, Byron Rogers, Frank Evans, and Roy McVicker; distinguished Members of the Board of Regents, the distinguished Members of Congress who are traveling with us; ladies and gentlemen:

In the nearly 3 years that I have been your President, I have spoken on numerous occasions about the foreign policy of our country. I naturally hope that my fellow citizens have read and remembered all of these speeches that I have made. However, as a one time schoolteacher, I am aware of the fact that one cannot count on universal enthusiasm for even the greatest of literature. So, I am not very optimistic.

But the United States, as we are fond of reminding ourselves, is a very large and a very important force in the world in which we live. Our dealings with other countries are deeply important to ourselves; they have a deep and important bearing on the lives of the peoples of other lands. They bear heavily on the greatest of all man's tasks in our time--and that greatest task in all time is our search for peace.

Democracy has no meaning unless leaders can convey their understanding of their task to the people they serve. Only then can the people respond whether in informed support or sometimes in informed dissent.

So, today I am not going to speak of particular countries, or particular policies, or particular problems of conflict and negotiation which now engage our attention. Instead, I am going to suggest some of the rules or principles which, as President, I believe should control our conduct of the foreign policy of this country. This, I think, will help us to understand better how we react and how we should react to the endless succession of problems which daily pour in upon Washington from all of the six continents and across all the many seas.

The overriding rule which I want to affirm today is this: that our foreign policy must always be an extension of this Nation's domestic policy. Our safest guide to what we do abroad is always take a good look at what we are doing at home.

The great creative periods of American foreign policy have been the great periods of our domestic achievement. Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to mention just three, projected their image of concern and accomplishment to the entire world. I would mistrust any expert on foreign affairs, however deeply he might be informed, if he confessed ignorance of the politics of the United States of America.

The reason for this, I think, is quite simple. Politics are the means by which men give their collective voice to their hopes and to their aspirations. Can we suppose that these are so very different for Americans than for the people of the other lands from which our parents came? Certainly not. Nor will we long have the confidence and respect of other people if we hold what is necessary for Americans is too good for other people.

The rule, to repeat, is that a sound foreign policy is in the main a longer reach of what we do and what we seek here at home. Let me offer you some concrete examples.

I think first of the problems of these last years in our large cities. We do not condone violence; we do not hold innocent those people who incite it. We know that there are men who feed on the misery of others, and we know there are men who seek to turn disorder and protest to their own gain. They have neither the interests of the poor nor the interests of our country at heart, for their intent is usually to tear down and not to build.

But when violence breaks out our instinct is to ask: "Why? What is the cause? And what can we do about it?" We look for the deeper causes on which anger and on which tension grow and feed. We look for privation and indignity and evidence of past oppression or neglect.

And, I think, so it is abroad. We do not, if we are wise, see the hand of a villain in every outbreak against authority. There, as at home, it is the sound American instinct always to ask if oppression and privation and neglect are not the root cause.

It has often seemed to me that a visitor from Mars--brought back, perhaps, as an exchange fellow from one of the more memorable space probes of Jim Webb and the Johnson administration--will not be greatly impressed by the fact that the people on this planet speak different languages, are of a different color, or even, at first glance, that they live under different political systems,

He will notice, rather, that there is an area of comparative economic well-being that is spreading over the northern part of this hemisphere and all of Europe. It extends deeply into the Soviet Union. Here, most of the people have, at a minimum, enough to eat. Most of them have enough to wear. They have schools to attend. They have physicians to visit them when they are sick. They have warm houses to which to return when it is cold and cool ones when it is hot.

And our visitor will observe that, in general and except perhaps in election years in the United States, this is a zone of political tranquility. Governments are stable. Revolutions are rare. Even as between nations he will notice that while there is not complete peace, the wars for the last 20 years have at least been conducted largely in words. Words wound. But as a veteran of more than 12 years in the United States Senate, I happily attest that words do not kill.

But our tourist from Mars would soon notice that there is another part of the world where governments are insecure; where people take readily to the streets; where guerrillas lurk in the jungles; where armies eye each other across unstable frontiers and all too frequently they exchange shots; and where, on frequent occasions, landless peasants or unemployed workers rise up in strong protest.

And this world, our traveler, I think, by then will have noticed, this particular world is a very poor one. He will form his own conclusions as to what makes for tranquility within a country and as between countries. And he will not be wrong.

I may ask this gentleman to stay on in a high position in my administration.

Let me give you a second application of this rule.

Here in the United States we do not like violence. We know that otherwise peaceful men can sometimes be driven to its use. We regard it as a manifestation of failure. And when it occurs, whether it occurs in an urban slum during a demonstration or whether it occurs on a picket line, we count it a manifestation of failure. We seek to reestablish the rule of law. We try to get negotiations going again. To negotiate is never to admit failure. To negotiate is to show good sense. We believe that collective bargaining is working as long as policies stay in the negotiation stage. Only when bargaining breaks off do we speak of failure.

And so also is it in foreign policy. There, too, violence is one face of failure. There, too, the rule of law and the resort to the bargaining table are the hallmarks of success.

The man who deals in principles is sometimes accused of dealing in generalities. I heard that charged of the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense yesterday after they went into what I considered the greatest detail with very necessary information. But because they were talking principles, they were charged with dealing in generalities.

Let me say accordingly, as I have said often before, that this rule applies without qualification to Vietnam. We shall count it a mark of success when all the parties to that dispute come to a conference table. We Americans are experienced in bargaining; we have nothing to fear from negotiation. And we Americans know the nature of a fair bargain. No people ever need fear negotiating with Americans.

Let me give you a third application of the rule.

Here in the United States we do not like being told what to do. We like even less being told what to think. Not every action that my administration has taken since I became President has been universally popular. I doubt that everything we do in the future will be acclaimed by all people.

But we defend, and I intend to defend, the right of everyone to disagree, if he wants to, with everything that we urge or everything that we do. We ask only in return that when we dissent from their dissent that it be recognized as an exercise of the very right that we defend, the right of free speech.

Nor do I want to abridge freedom or compel conformity of thought or behavior. It is not just that as President I uphold the Constitution and the First Amendment. It is because I am an American. I think I know what freedom means.

And again we find that American policy provides the guide to foreign policy. All people want the dignity that goes with constitutional and civil liberty. All people wish the right to speak their minds. And all men are diminished by dictatorship and by thought control.

Here again, let me be not content with just enunciating a rule. Let me apply it. The United States has no mandate to interfere wherever government falls short of our specifications. But we shall have--and deserve--the respect of the people of other countries only as they know what side America is on.

In the Communist countries we are on the side of those who, year by year, seek to enlarge the spectrum of discussion. As long as these men and women persist, communism will be in a state of change and the change will be good.

In the Latin American countries, we are on the side of those who want constitutional governments. We are not on the side of those who say that dictatorships are necessary for efficient economic development or as a bulwark against communism. We have already made it amply clear that where personal freedom is threatened we are not on the side of unbridled authority.

In Africa, we are on the side of those who are working toward full equality between the races. And we are on the side, also, of those who are working for a stable and orderly government--for this, alone, provides protection that the individual citizen must have.

In Vietnam, we are on the side of fair and orderly elections that given in the troubled land, the widest possible expression to the will of the people who live there. We have already made it amply clear, I think, that what is freely and fairly expressed by that will, the United States of America will accept.

You will notice, I think, that there is no application of these rules, which, were it the United States, we would not accept, and very nearly accept it as a matter of course. You will see, I think, why I think that domestic policy is a good guide to our foreign policy and what we should do abroad.

Let me give you a fourth and final application of the rule that I think our foreign policy begins at home.

The United States is, by the standards that the world community applies, a very successful society. We have here at home much to do. But in our brief span of 200 years--a lesser period than encompassed by the military campaigns known to history as the Crusades--we have accomplished quite a lot. Nor have we been backward in reflecting on the reasons.

We know that we are an energetic people. We think we are intelligent. We early appreciated the importance of public education. We had a continent that was rich in resources. We had a sound idea for our economic system. And, without doubt, we were truly smiled upon by our Creator.

But I wonder if this explains our relative good fortune in the world. Other peoples are energetic. Other peoples are intelligent. There are other parts of the world that are also favored by nature. Others are as literate as we are. There is nothing very mysterious about our economic system nor have we had an exclusive patent on it. And it would be going too far, in this day and age, to suppose that we are alone favored by God.

Our advantage, I think, then, is that we early discovered that social justice is very efficient. We discovered that by assuring to everyone the fruits of his own labor--and that is what social justice really means--we made him a productive force of untold power. He became subject to the most exacting of all employers, namely himself. Deny a man this sense of fair reward and his effort and his productivity are cut to a fraction.

There can be no doubt, I think, as to why the South lagged behind the North in the last century. It was not the Civil War; were the effects of war that enduring, Germany and Russia would be crippled for another 80 years. Within 20 years after the Civil War cotton production, the crop most disrupted by conflict and the freeing of the slaves, was already back to its pre-war volume. Nor was the South lacking in either human or natural resources.

The South lagged because in the American Republic it did not accord its citizens full equality and a full sense of a just society. This is the failure which, in these last few years, I have been so determined to try to repair.

And here also is a rule that applies to our shores. It is the theory which underlies our efforts in Latin America and in South Asia and wherever applicable in other parts of the world.

I grew up in a farming and ranching area. I know how farmers behave. And I never saw a tenant farmer who could be counted upon to reach his full potential knowing that all he does finally goes to the landlord.

I have seen some fairly eloquent agricultural extension agents in my day. I have never seen one who could persuade a man to grow two bales of cotton, where only one grew before, unless that man who was doing the growing felt that he would at least get part of one of them.

Nor is social justice merely a matter of a good land tenure system. It is work at fair wages with the protection of free bargaining and a government that is honest and reasonably efficient and puts its tax money to proper use; and it is education and food and health care for those who, as children, are not able to assert their own rights in their own society. It consists, perhaps most of all, in simply knowing that the ladder upward is not so crowded that there will be no room, ever, for you.

Our foreign policy, in America, like our domestic policy, is all those things--all those things from education, to jobs, to health, to justice, to equality for all people.

Once, here in Denver, it seemed a very long way downhill to our shores. And it seemed a greater distance yet to foreign lands. In those days the problems of foreign policy, no doubt, seemed very remote. Meanwhile, one has always been told, the men and women who inhabit these mountains have never been lacking in pride in themselves. So there was much to keep their attention here at home.

We saw it in your streets and on your lawns and in your homes today.

Now the ocean is close--and London, Paris, Moscow, and Tokyo are only a few hours beyond. Just a few minutes for Jim Webb. Denver has become a center of active discussion on foreign issues, that the rest of the world watches. Denver has become a place with a keen sense of the problems and the policies which these impose upon your generation and upon my generation.

But from my remarks this afternoon, you will see that you have another advantage. You are also very strategically situated in relation to the United States. That is an even greater source of wisdom on foreign policy. We are a great and liberal and progressive democracy up to our frontiers. And we are the same beyond. So let us never imagine for a moment that Americans can wear one face in Denver and Des Moines and Seattle and Brooklyn and another in Paris and Mexico City and Karachi and Saigon. Nor, may I say, do we have a different face for Moscow, Peking, or Hanoi.

I am very happy that you students and this illustrious faculty would ask me to come here today and I am very glad to see the site on which we will work with you in building your new Space-Science Building. It was my intention to speak at length on the subject of space science, but when I learned so many of your students were to be here this afternoon, I chose instead to speak on a subject that is one-third science, one-third art, and one-third hope--the subject of foreign policy. In that we are all students, we are all still learning.

Thank you and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 4:15 p.m. at the University of Denver arena where he was awarded an honorary degree of doctor of laws. In his opening words he referred to Dr. Wilbur C. Miller, acting chancellor of the University of Denver, Governor John A. Love, Mayor Thomas G. Currigan of Denver, Lt. Governor Robert L. Knous, Senators Gordon Allott and Peter H. Dominick, and Representatives Wayne N. Aspinall, Byron G. Rogers, Frank E. Evans, and Roy H. McVicker, all of Colorado. During his remarks he referred to, among others, James E. Webb, Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, and Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Receiving an Honorary Degree at the University of Denver Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under





Simple Search of Our Archives