Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Signing the Appalachia Bill

March 09, 1965

Over the past 15 months it has been my privilege to receive from the Congress a rare number of unusually significant legislative measures. This measure today may well outlive many others in its lasting contribution to the well-being of our Nation.

The objectives of this Appalachian bill are important. But the origins of the measure are equally important. Originated by the Governors of the Appalachian States, formed in close cooperation with the Federal Executive, approved and enacted by the Congress of all the people, this is the truest example of creative federalism in our times. But it is more.

This legislation marks the end of an era of partisan cynicism towards human want and misery. The dole is dead. The pork barrel is gone. Federal and State, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, Americans of these times are concerned with the outcome of the next generation, not the next election. That is what the provisions of this legislation dearly reflect.

It is fitting that such landmark legislation should be identified with the Appalachia region of our Nation. In our history no region has contributed more to the shaping of our destiny.

The Appalachian Ranges were the first challenge and the first test to the settlers of this seaboard. Through the Cumberland Gap Americans found their way to the promise and the plenty of a continent that is united.

It is not too much to suggest that today we may again find our way to new promise and new fulfillment by taking up the human challenge of modern Appalachia.

A great President, Theodore Roosevelt, once said, "It is not what we have that will make us a great nation, it is the way that we use it."

We have much in Appalachia. The area is larger than all but one of the 48 contiguous States, a State which modesty impels me not to identify by name. Only two States of the Union have larger populations. Yet the nearly 17 million Appalachian residents, more numerous than residents of New England or the farm States or the mountain States, lag far behind in their participation in our prosperity.

Our national per capita income has reached $2,300. In Appalachia it is estimated near $1,400. Family poverty is half again higher than the national ratio. So also is the percentage of persons over 25 with less than a fifth grade education.

The percentage of Appalachia's population receiving some form of Federal assistance is 45 percent above the rest of the country. The 10 year cost of such assistance would amount to almost $5 billion. These are the facts of our challenge, and also of our opportunity.

America today has many responsibilities, more diverse, more far flung, more vital to all mankind than any other nation has ever in history willingly assumed. Wherever we have our commitments, whether to the old and the strong or to the young and the weak, we shall match our words with deeds. But we recognize realistically that our strength abroad rests upon our strength at home. And that is why we must and we do labor in unity to perform together tasks that have been too long neglected in every region east and west, north and south.

This Nation is committed not only to human freedom but also to human dignity and decency. That is not a Federal commitment alone but a compact of our States as well. I believe it is the will of the American people that this commitment shall be fulfilled in all regions and flouted in none.

The bill that I will now sign will work no miracles overnight. Whether it works at all depends not upon the Federal Government alone but the States and the local governments as well.

I am so proud that so many of the Governors and State officials from the States concerned could be here this morning, to join their able Senators and Congressmen who helped make this legislation possible at this ceremony. But I sign this bill in the belief that we can and that we shall add strength for all America by renewing the strength of this old and this honored region of Appalachia.

Note: The President spoke at 11:02 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

As enacted, the bill (S. 3) is Public Law 89-4 (79 Stat. 5).

On March 25 the President issued Executive Order 11209 "Establishing the Federal Development Committee for Appalachia and Prescribing Other Arrangements for Coordination With the Appalachian Regional Commission" (30 F.R. 3909; 3 CFR, 1965 Supp.).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Signing the Appalachia Bill Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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