Special Message to the Congress: "To Vote at Eighteen - Democracy Fulfilled and Enriched
To the Congress of the United States:
The ballot box is the great anvil of democracy, where government is shaped by the will of the people. It is through the ballot that democracy draws its strength, renews its processes, and assures its survival.
Throughout the life of our Republic, no single, enduring question has so engaged generation after generation of Americans as this: Who among our citizens shall be eligible to participate as voters in determining the course of our public affairs?
On four occasions we have amended our Constitution to enlarge or to protect that participation. In recent years, Congress itself has been attentive to sheltering and assuring the free exercise of the right to vote.
Such a concern is altogether fitting. Under a government of, by and for the people, the right to vote is the most basic right of all. It is the right on which all others finally stand.
Such a right is not to be idly conferred or blindly withheld. But the stability of our Republic from the beginning has been served--well and faithfully--by the willingness of Americans to lay aside the constraints of custom and tradition and heed the appeals of reason and reality to welcome into the American electorate those of our citizens fitted by the precepts of our society's values to participate in the exercise of the ultimate right of citizenship.
At the inception of the Republic, the promise of the new Nation was strengthened because our forefathers cast aside tests of religion and property.
At midpassage, America's moral strength was fortified when the test of color was removed by the Fifteenth Amendment. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has reinforced this principle for all time.
At the beginning of the modern era in this twentieth century, reason and reality wisely prevailed when the women of America-through the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution--were granted the equality of citizenship so long denied them.
In 1961, the Twenty-Third Amendment to the Constitution gave citizens of the Nation's capital the right to vote for President and Vice President.
Four years ago, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment struck down the tests of the poll tax which had for almost a century disenfranchised thousands of Americans.
ENLARGING THE AMERICAN FRANCHISE
In all these instances time has affirmed the wisdom and the right of these decisions to enlarge participation in the Nation's affairs. Time, too, has already affirmed the wisdom and justice of our continuing efforts in the last decade to perfect, protect and shelter the right of all citizens to vote and to put an end to the unconscionable techniques of studied discrimination.
Today, I believe it is time once more for Americans to measure the constraints of custom and tradition against the compelling force of reason and reality in regard to the test of age. The hour has come to take the next great step in the march of democracy. We should now extend the right to vote to more than ten million citizens unjustly denied that right. They are the young men and women of America between the ages of 18 and 21.
The practice of admitting young Americans to the electorate at the age of twenty-one has its roots in the dim and distant mists of medieval England--but it is a practice and limitation without roots in the American experience.
Throughout our history as a young Nation, young people have been called upon by the age of eighteen to shoulder family responsibilities and civic duties identical with their elders.
At the age of eighteen, young Americans are called upon to bear arms.
At the age of eighteen, young Americans are treated as adults before many courts of law and are held responsible for their acts.
The age of eighteen, far more than the age of twenty-one, has been and is the age of maturity in America--and never more than now.
Reason does not permit us to ignore any longer the reality that eighteen year old young Americans are prepared--by education, by experience, by exposure to public affairs of their own land and all the world-to assume and exercise the privilege of voting.
The essential stability of our system is not served, the moral integrity of our cause is not strengthened, the value we place on the worth of the individual is not honored by denying to more than ten million citizens-solely because of their age--the right to full participation in determining our country's course.
This denial of the right to vote limits our democracy. It diminishes every modern concept of citizenship.
The young people of America in this decade are far more ready, far better qualified, far more able to discharge the highest duty of citizenship than any generations of the past.
We know--and the young men and women know also--that this is so.
They are better educated than their counterparts of a generation ago. They graduate from high school and enter college in greater proportions. Already this group--although many have not yet completed their schooling-have a higher education level than the general electorate.
Mass communication and greater opportunities for travel expose them earlier and more frequently to the issues of the day than the young men and women of the 1940's, or even the 1950's.
The young men of today serve their Nation in uniform with the same devotion as their fathers and brothers of earlier days showed. But duties unknown a decade ago have summoned the devotion of young men and women alike, by the tens of thousands. Their participation in the Peace Corps, in VISTA, and in other community ventures has elevated our national life and brought new meaning to the concept of service.
For myself, I deeply believe that America can only prosper from the infusion of youthful energy, initiative, vigor and intelligence into our political processes.
We live in a world that is young and growing younger each year. Of all nations, none has more generously invested in preparing its young people for constructive citizenship and none has been more faithfully served by its young than has America.
Today, the young people of America are asking the opportunity to give of their talents and abilities, their energies and enthusiasms, to the greater tasks of their times. I believe their proper request can and must be properly answered by a national affirmation of our faith in them. For a nation without faith in its sons and daughters is a nation without faith in itself.
WHAT I PROPOSE
I accordingly propose that the Congress of the United States approve and submit for ratification of the legislatures of three-fourths of the States an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to provide, as follows:
"The right of any citizen of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age if a citizen is eighteen years of age or older."
In proposing submission of such an amendment I am mindful that: --The State of Georgia since 1943, and the State of Kentucky, since 1955, have permitted eighteen year old residents to vote.
--The two new States of Alaska and Hawaii have permitted nineteen and twenty year old residents, respectively, to vote.
--The first proposal for such an amendment was advanced in 1942 by Senator Arthur Vandenberg.
--President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 1954 State of the Union Address, urged an Amendment to lower the voting age to eighteen.
--In the 90th Congress, more than fifty proposed Constitutional Amendments to extend voting rights to eighteen year old citizens have been introduced, and many of these measures have broad bi-partisan support.
The concept has been tried and tested. Its merit has been established. Its rightness is now beyond dispute.
FULL PARTICIPATION IN OUR AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
The time has come to grant our youth what we ask of them but still deny to them-full and responsible participation in our American democracy.
In this year of national decision, as Americans in every State prepare to choose their leadership for the decisive and fateful years before us, the Congress has a rare opportunity through the submission of this amendment to signify to our young people that they are respected, that they are trusted, that their commitment to America is honored and that the day is soon to come when they are to be participants, not spectators, in the adventure of self-government.
Every time before, when America has extended the vote to citizens whose hour has come, new vitality has been infused into the lifestream of the Nation, and America has emerged the richer.
Now the hour has come again to take another step in Democracy's great journey.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON
The White House
June 27, 1968
Lyndon B. Johnson, Special Message to the Congress: "To Vote at Eighteen - Democracy Fulfilled and Enriched Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/236909