Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks With Mrs. Johnson and Congressional Leaders at a Reception for the President.

January 06, 1969

REPRESENTATIVE CARL ALBERT. Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention just a minute.

We are all so happy that our great President has turned out to be with us and our lovely First Lady, Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson. We are not going to make a formal function out of this, but we do have a couple of presentations that we would like to make on behalf of the Members of the House.

First of all, on behalf of the leadership and the Capitol Historical Society, I want to ask Fred Schwengel to make a presentation to the President.

REPRESENTATIVE FRED SCHWENGEL. Mr. President and Mrs. Johnson, members of the leadership and my colleagues and good friends:

Mr. President, you, like many of us, have been highly honored, and you, more than the rest of us. We have been honored with your presence here. All of us have tried to honor our country as you have with service.

Now I am honored, as President of the United States Capitol Historical Society, to present to you a collection of books, a book in six world languages.

Allan Nevins1 wrote for the preface, "Since 1800, the Capitol has been the scene of grim, hard work by many thousands of conscientious legislators and their aides who have thought little of public fame, but much of honest accomplishments and their tasks." So wrote Allan Nevins.

1Vice Chairman, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Smithsonian Institution.

Mr. President, you were one of those who served so ably, first as an aide and then as a legislator. A grateful House of Representatives presents these volumes in languages spoken by more than a billion people in this world in the hope that they will bring back many pleasant memories to both of you and to one like you who has no peer in his love for his country and the Capitol.

I am reading from a card that goes with this presentation. It is signed by the Speaker, Mr. McCormack, Mr. Carl Albert, Gerald Ford, Hale Boggs, and Leslie Arends. With this present, Mr. President, I join your many colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, in wishing you well, Godspeed and please, both of you, come back to see us. Thank you.

REPRESENTATIVE ALBERT. Thank you, Fred. The House is happy to welcome back one of its most distinguished former Members, who has a pretty important job now, the distinguished Majority Leader of the Senate. Mike, we want you to say a word.

SENATOR MIKE MANSFIELD. Mr. President, Lady Bird, members of the leadership, and my colleagues in the ranks:

If there was one thing I learned in the House, it was to be brief. So, Mr. President and Lady Bird, all I want to say is "Banzai! May you live 10,000 years."

REPRESENTATIVE ALBERT. Now I want to present the loveliest person I ever presented, our First Lady.

MRS. JOHNSON. May I say thanks very much for those volumes about the Capitol. You know, the Capitol was my beat for a long time. Really, when we say goodby to Washington, the address of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was a small span of time for us in comparison to the years that we spent closely affiliated with this building and very close to so many people who serve here.

So I am very delighted to see you tonight. I am happy that you asked us here and thank you for those books. We are very proud of them.

REPRESENTATIVE ALBERT. My own strong right arm, the distinguished Majority Whip, Hale Boggs.

REPRESENTATIVE HALE BOGGS. Mr. President and Mrs. Johnson, my colleagues:

I can only say on behalf of the Speaker and Carl and myself that all of us are very proud of this turnout, Mr. President. This is a bipartisan turnout. It is a tribute to you, the President of the United States, and your lovely wife. We thank all of you for coming.

REPRESENTATIVE ALBERT. The greatest living legislator in the free world, or any part of the world, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who will take over.

SPEAKER JOHN W. McCORMACK. Mr. President, Mrs. Johnson, my distinguished colleagues of both branches of the Congress:

You have honored us, Mr. President and Mrs. Johnson, by accepting our invitation to join with us on this occasion. It shows your simplicity, not only your great leadership, but your simplicity as a man, and both of you as human beings.

The House of Representatives and the Senate, without regard to party, entertain for the both of you the highest feeling of friendship and respect and, of course, I have entertained for you and Mrs. Johnson for many years the deepest and most profound feeling of friendship humanly possible and have enjoyed the very close association that has existed between us.

You have been President of the United States during a very trying period of our Nation's history and of the world's history. As I said on the floor and in the Democratic caucus, you will go down in history as one of the great Presidents of our beloved country.

As a manifestation of the deep respect and friendship that all of us entertain for you and Mrs. Johnson, I am very pleased, acting for my colleagues, to present to you, Mr. President, and to you, Mrs. Johnson, this beautiful plaque which means so much in the life and history of our country, this building, the Capitol.

To me, as I approach it every morning, it impresses me as if it is the first time I saw the Capitol and the dome. It means so much in the life and history of our country, the Capitol of the United States. And I am very happy, acting for my colleagues, to present to you this beautiful and expressive and significant plaque which I know will be always treasured by you and Mrs. Johnson. The plaque reads:

"To Lyndon Baines Johnson, teacher, legislator, leader, Vice President of the United States, President of the United State, supreme patriot."

It is signed by John W. McCormack, Speaker; Carl Albert, Majority Leader; and Hale Boggs, Majority Whip.

With this plaque, Mr. President, goes our deep affection and friendship for you and Mrs. Johnson.

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Speaker and my beloved friends:

When I received the Speaker's gracious invitation to come up here this afternoon, I accepted and I accepted very eagerly. I reasoned that it never hurts a private citizen to know a few people in public office.

I have never really thought, though, that we were exactly strangers. I don't know how many letters--I am told that we have 31 million pages of material that is En route to our library from the House and Senate and Presidential days. I really haven't counted the number of letters or special messages I have sent to each of you individually or collectively or even how many telephone calls I have made to you or what time of day I have made them. But one thing I am sure of, and I believe there will be no division between Democrats and Republicans on this: There has been no communications gap between the President and the House of Representatives.

I imagine if some of you Members had it to do over again, you would never have given your unlisted numbers to the White House operators.

But it has not been a one-way street. You have kept the line of communications open. I doubt if there is a single Member of the Congress who served during my term of office who did not make his views known to me one way or the other. If some of you preferred to use the Washington Post or the Star over the postal service, that is all right, as I think about it in retrospect. And I am not entirely without fault on that score either. I have even been known to use all three networks at times, just to save a stamp. And I am not sure it was ever faster than the mails, either. I remember I once asked you early in May to bite the bullet, and I didn't hear the crunch until late in June. Some of the things I heard in the meantime I can't even repeat here this afternoon.

Sure, we have had our differences. We have sometimes aired some of them in public. I have not completed all the studies I am going to make on all the 36 Presidents. I have just started seven volumes on George Washington and I have not gotten down to even the members of his family yet, and some of the official documents that came into their possession. But I do believe that I am one of the very few Presidents ever to leave the Office of the Presidency without any feelings whatever of bitterness or rancor toward the Congress of the United States.

So the emotions that are in my heart this afternoon are these: Nostalgia as I prepare to take my official leave of you after an association of almost 40 years. I was much surer of myself last March 31st. We had known for some time, for some years, what we were going to say, but we did not know how to say it or when to say it, and finally January came, and then February, and then March. We just felt that that was the last; we had to do it in March.

So we did say what we said on March 31st. I would not change a word of it. If anything, I would hurry it a little bit. I am just as positive that what I said was in the best interest of this Nation and this world and of myself and my family as I can possibly be.

But I do have to admit to you in candor that you created some doubt, perhaps a little question of my own judgment and intelligence, when I heard on the radio coming up here that 13 days before I leave office you raised the President's salary from $100,000 to $200,000. After staying around here 40 years and leaving 13 days before that salary raise, that doesn't show very good judgment on my part, does it?

But I will say this: The poor President who will occupy this office for 4 years will earn every dollar of it, and then some. And you are going to earn every dollar that you have the willingness to accept.

Now outside of nostalgia, I want to say something else. I feel much gratitude as I remember all of the help and all of the guidance that many of you have given the President. And finally, I feel profound respect as I think of the hundreds of bills that you have helped to enact to strengthen America.

In all the recent calls for congressional reform, your accomplishments have somehow often been overlooked and a valuable sense of perspective has been lost. I am not saying that reform is not needed. Man has yet to devise any institution that can't be improved. There is a need for reform and there is a need of modernization every day. But to say that improvement is needed is not to say that the Congress has not acted properly and is not capable of performing its duties well.

I believe otherwise, and the facts, I think, bear me out. I believe we have just witnessed one of the most creative and one of the most productive eras in the history of the entire American Congress.

When I look back over the various Congresses, some 90 of them, most Congresses find a place in history if they can make a major contribution to just one area of American life. But you Democrats and Republicans have opened new horizons in dozens of fields. I won't list them all, but I do say that you were an education Congress. There are some 70 bills that have been passed. And in 5 years you passed 60 bills of the 70 in education.

You were a civil rights Congress. You were a health Congress. Of the 40 bills in the years past, you passed 30 of them.

You were a conservation Congress. In 188 years, we have created 176 national parks, and you created 46 of them in 5 years.

You are a consumer Congress--more than a dozen consumer bills.

You are an antipoverty Congress. You are a cities Congress. You are a housing Congress. The greatest housing bill ever passed was passed last year.

You were a manpower Congress, a safe streets Congress, an older Americans Congress and a transportation Congress.

There are more than a dozen accomplishments from 435 districts. Every man from every district didn't vote for every bill, but I believe that every one of them whom I knew voted for what he thought was right for his district and his country, and collectively they have written a record that I think has never been matched in all of our 188 years, and I am proud of you.

Now, I must admit that at times I have felt, as President Truman felt for a brief period, that you were a do-nothing Congress, and that you were a no-good Congress, and that you were a terrible Congress. I guess that is just the way our system of government is created. We have the checks and balances and when everybody doesn't agree with the President, why, he doesn't feel they are as good as they ought to be.

As I leave this town, whatever mistakes have been made, I have made them and my people have made them, and I have no regrets and nothing to lay onto anyone else.

The working people of this country have been good to this President. The business people of this country have tried to make this a better nation. The House and Senate have helped us. Oh, they didn't make a confirmation I wanted. They didn't ratify a treaty when I wanted them to. But more than 500 constructive measures--they doctored up sometimes and they amended and they cut out and they added too. But they did their job and they did it as they saw it and they did it well and they did it better in this Government than any other government in all the world, in my judgment.

I don't have much patience for these people who spend all their time telling what is wrong with Congress, what is wrong with the courts, and what is wrong with our country. We have the best country in the world if we just quit talking about it.

This Congress was my home for so long. I love it so deeply and I know how it does rise to the demands of our time and I hope and pray it will continue to.

So, as Mrs. Johnson and I prepare to take our leave, as I close out our years of public service--here where they began in 1931, here where my two daughters were born, here where I just left my two grandchildren, here where I just read a letter from Major Robb this afternoon that says, "I'll be back in May, so start looking for a house in Washington," and here where I assure you I will be coming back from time to time, whether you invite me or not--I want to pay one final tribute to all of you who have been my friends.

As I look into the faces of the men and women who have been chosen to lead this country, I want you to know that I renew my faith--my faith in the good judgment of the American people, my faith in the wisdom of the American people, and most of all my faith in the American system of which you Democrats and Republicans are such a vital part.

Mr. Speaker, to you and Carl Albert, Jerry Ford and Hale Boggs, who extended this invitation, this is a delightful occasion for me. It brings me much happiness and gladness to see all these old faces, to renew these old acquaintances, to forget these old differences, and to say to each one of you, God bless you and thank you.

REPRESENTATIVE ALBERT. Thank you, Mr. President, for one of your greatest speeches. I think it is one of the greatest you ever delivered, and you have delivered many great ones.

I want to let you in on something. We have a new member of the Democratic leadership in the Congress, but he did not get up here on time because he could not get acquainted with the doorkeeper quick enough. Teddy Kennedy.

SPEAKER McCORMACK. We want you all to have a good time. We express our sincere thanks for each and every one of you being present.

And I know I express your deep and abiding feelings and sincere thanks when I say to the President and Mrs. Johnson that we are so happy that you are with us now. We are highly honored, and I know I express the sentiments of all of you when I say that we hope that God will continue to bless you both for countless years to come.

Note: The reception began at approximately 6:35 p.m. in the cafeteria at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington. The President and Mrs. Johnson spoke in response to remarks by Representative Carl Albert of Oklahoma, House Majority Leader, Representative Fred Schwengel of Iowa, Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, Senate Majority Leader, Representative Hale Boggs of Louisiana, House Majority Whip, and Representative John W. McCormack of Massachusetts, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

During his remarks the President referred to his son-in-law, Maj. Charles S. Robb, husband of his daughter Lynda Bird, to Representative Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, House Minority Leader, and to Representative Leslie Arends of Illinois. He also referred to his address of March 31, 1968, announcing his decision not to seek reelection (see Item 170).

Representative Schwengel presented the President with copies--in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, as well as English---of a history of the Capitol prepared by the Capitol Historical Society and entitled "We the People."

On October 11, 1968, Senator Mansfield presented the President with a pair of gold cuff links engraved with the initials LBJ, a gift of the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate. The remarks of Senator Mansfield on that occasion are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 4, p. 1482).

For remarks of the President at a Senate reception on January 16, 1969, honoring him and his wife, see Item 690.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks With Mrs. Johnson and Congressional Leaders at a Reception for the President. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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