Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Receiving the Anti-Defamation League Award

February 03, 1965

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Feinberg, my distinguished fellow countrymen:

Unworthy as I am of your honor, I deeply appreciate your generosity. The torch of John Kennedy that I picked up when he faltered I shall proudly carry on as long as I have the energy and the life to carry it.

I am most grateful to B'nai B'rith and the .And-Defamation League. They have the gratitude of this Nation. In your half century of fighting discrimination you have never tired, you have never faltered, you have never lost faith in your cause and your cause has given faith to your Nation.

Mr. Vice President, I think it is no wonder that so many Presidents have cheerfully and gratefully been the guests of the Anti-Defamation League. For the work that you have done in the local communities as well as in the halls of Congress, you have ignited the flames of freedom across this great country. Wherever your torches burn, there tolerance and decency and charity have been illuminated. Bigots and bias hide whenever you come into view. But you are much more than anti-prejudice--you are pro-justice and you are pro-freedom. So it is with great pride and satisfaction that I come here this evening to commend you and to salute you.

And I am very proud to share this platform tonight with a man whose whole life has been a visible dedication to truth and to justice and to leadership in the field of fair play. I judge him to be one of those eloquent and uncommon men who feels in his faith and who holds in his heart the compassion that is a sure sign of a man's real strength of character. Your President is proud to have as our Nation's Vice President your own devoted friend, Hubert Humphrey.

Tonight, I want to share with you some thoughts on what I conceive to be the meaning of this moment in our national life.

In all of history, men have never lived as we are privileged to live tonight, at this rare and at this precious moment.

Our arms are strong--our freedoms are many.

Our homes are secure--and our tables are full.

Our knowledge is great--and our understanding is growing.

We enjoy plenty--we live in peace.

And this is much--but there is more.

Out of the years of fire and faith in this 20th century, our diverse peoples have forged together a consensus such as we have not known before--a consensus on our national purposes and our national policies and the principles that guide them both.

This consensus is new. We have come to it more suddenly than we foresaw--and more fully than we anticipated. Tonight questions are being asked about the meaning of that consensus--proper, penetrating, and profound questions.

Thoughtful men want to know--are we entering an era when consensus will become an end in itself?

Will we substitute consensus for challenge?

Will a devotion to agreement keep us from those tasks that are disagreeable?

Tonight, for myself, I want to turn back to the ancient Scriptures for the answer: "He that observeth the wind shall not sow and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap."

If we were to try, this restless and stirring: and striving nation would never live as the captive of a comfortable consensus.

So we must know that the times ahead for us--and for the world, for that matter--are not to be bland and placid. We shall know tests. We shall know trials--and we shall be ready. For I believe more will be demanded of our stewardship than of any generations which have ever held the trust of America's legacy before us. So let me be specific.

We are at the threshold of a new America-new in numbers, new in dimensions, new in its concepts, new in its challenges.

If the society that we have brought already to greatness is to be called great in the times to come, we must respond to that tomorrow tonight.

The unity of our people--the consensus of their will--must be the instrument that we put to use to strengthen our society, undergird its values, elevate its standards,. assure its order, advance the quality of its justice, nourish its tolerance and reason, and enlarge the meaning of man's rights for every citizen.

For I believe with the Justice Brandeis that: "If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold."

And this is what we are striving to do here in your Capital City--and in your National Government.

Invested just a few weeks ago with the trust of America's consensus, we are grasping the nettles of our society. We are not avoiding controversy to prolong the political consensus--rather, we are striving to use the consensus to resolve and to remove the political controversies that have already stood too long across the path of our people's progress and their fulfillment.

I took the oath as the President only 12 or 13 days ago. Since my State of the Union Message on January 4 before my inauguration, I have sent to the Congress--will have, by the end of this week--16 messages--messages that are facing up to conflicts, messages that involve controversy, and don't doubt it, and messages that respond to the needs of this society.

For what we have asked, we stand ready tonight to welcome all support and to confront all opposition. Believing that our requests are right, and that our cause is just, this administration is determined that the opportunity of this rare and most precious moment shall not be denied, defaulted, or destroyed.

If some say our goals are idealistic, we welcome that as a compliment. For 188 years, the strongest fiber of America has been that thread of idealism which weaves through all our effort and all our aspiration.

So let the world know--and let it be known throughout our own land--that this generation of Americans is not so cynical, and not so cool, not so callous that idealism is out of style.

In a national house that is filled to overflowing, we are determined that the lives we lead shall not be vacant and shall not be empty.

Your Government is concerned not with statistics but with the substance of your schools, and your jobs, and your cities, and your family life, and your countryside, your health, your hopes, your protection, your preparedness--and your rights and opportunities.

For as Emerson once said: "The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities nor the crops, but the kind of man that the country turns out."

So we are concerned tonight with the kind of man that the country turns out in these times and the times that are to come.

In a changing environment, a changing society, a changing age, we are determined that our own beloved America shall turn out men who are enlightened and who are just, men who know beauty in their lives and compassion in their souls, men who are hardened by the strength of their faith rather than by the harshness of their fears.

And it is for this that we work and are ready to fight--and we ask you to work and, if need be, fight with us--in a consensus of common purpose and common idealism.

While we look inward to search the soul of America, we do not turn inward--nor turn away--from the opportunities and the responsibilities of America tonight in this world.

We proceed as we do, knowing that as we cannot isolate ourselves from the world, so we cannot isolate our role in the world from our responsibilities at home.

We must meet the responsibilities here if we are to be equal to the opportunities there. But the success of all we undertake--the fulfillment of all that we aspire to achieve--rests finally on one condition: the condition of peace among all people.

Mr. Schary and Mr. Feinberg, in your citation tonight, the words expressed the essence of America in the thought that--"As a country, we try."

I believe that it is the highest legacy of our democracy that we are always trying--trying, probing, failing, resting, and up trying again--but always trying and always gaining.

And this is the pursuit and the approach that we must make to peace.

Not in a day or a year or a decade in 120 nations or more-not, perhaps, in a lifetime--shall we finally grasp the goal of peace for which we reach tonight.

But we shall always be reaching, always trying--and, hopefully, always gaining.

Toward that end, when I spoke last month to the Congress, I expressed the hope that the new leadership of the Soviet Union might come and visit our land--come to see us, to meet us, to learn firsthand the determination here in our beloved America for peace and the equal determination to support freedom.

I am gratified that this expression is receiving the active, the constructive--and, I hope, the fruitful--attention and the interest of the Soviet Government.

I have reason to believe that the Soviet leadership would welcome my visit to their country--as I would be very glad to do. I am hopeful that before the year is out this exchange of visits between us may occur. As I have said so often before, the longest journey begins with a single step--and I believe that such visits would reassure an anxious world that our two nations are each striving toward the goal of peace.

So let it be said and let it be known that wherever America has responsibility, wherever America has opportunity, we shall be found always trying.

So I believe it is for the long effort ahead-not for the end of the passing moment--that our great national consensus has formed and will actually be preserved.

In division, there is never strength.

In differences, there is no sure seed of progress.

In unity our strength lies and on unity our hope for success rests.

So let us never forget that unity is the legacy of our American democracy. Through the veins of America flows the blood of all mankind--from every continent, every culture, every creed. If we built no more arms, or no more cities, or no more industries, or no more farms, we would be remembered through the ages for the understanding that we have built in human hearts.

It is in the heart that America lives and has its being--and it is there that we must work, all together and each of us alone. We must work for the understanding, the tolerance, and the spirit of benevolence and brotherly love that will assure every man fulfillment and dignity and honor whatever his origins, however he spells his name, whatever his beliefs, whatever his color, whatever his endowments.

If this be our purpose, and if this be our accomplishment, then our society will be great.

Note: The President spoke at 10:17 p.m. in the Regency Room at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington after being presented the Anti-Defamation League's "America's Democratic Legacy Award." His opening words referred to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and Abraham Feinberg, industrialist of New York. Later he referred to Dore Schary, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Receiving the Anti-Defamation League Award Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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