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Statement by the President Upon Signing Bill Providing for Popular Election of the Governor of the Virgin Islands.

August 23, 1968

THIS BILL opens the ballot box for the people of the Virgin Islands.

I have always thought that it was unfairly closed.

That is why I have long urged passage of this legislation. It gives the basic right and greatest blessing of American democracy to more than 30,000 citizens of an American territory.

In 1970, for the first time in their history, the people of the Virgin Islands will elect their own Governor by their own votes.

The enactment of S. 450 by the Ninetieth Congress marks the culmination of an effort which began several years ago. We can take pride in the fact that this milestone has been achieved in our time. It serves as proof of America's dedication to the principles of self-government and home rule. Through measures such as this, we give the world a further example of America's adherence to government of, by, and for the people.

This is the second time in the history of the United States that a territory has been empowered to elect its own Governor. The only precedent is the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which first elected its Governor twenty years ago, in 1948.

This legislation came into being through careful and thoughtful deliberations. It represents an important stage in the political development of the Virgin Islands. We do not know today--and would not predict-what the ultimate status of the Virgin Islands may be. We do know, however, that the orderly progress of political development will continue.

Although the emphasis of this bill is upon political growth, all America has observed with pride the growth of the Virgin Is!ands in many other areas. The rate of economic and social growth of these islands almost defies description. The people of the Virgin Islands today enjoy the highest standard of living of any area in the Caribbean--a far cry from the day when another President in another time saw fit to term these Islands the "poor house of the Caribbean." There is no doubt but that the growth and successes which have been achieved are due in large part to the dedication and efforts of the Virgin Islanders and their local leaders, and to a lesser degree to those in Washington who discharge the Federal responsibility of territorial administration. They are attributable, too, in large measure to the remarkable spirit of cooperation and racial harmony which has always been a part of the way of life in these islands.

Political progress is closely dependent on social and economic progress. The following figures tell us something of the economic and educational advances in the Islands:

In 1960, tourism--the basic money-earning industry of the Virgin Islands-brought in $25 million. In the year ending June 30, 1968, that figure had more than tripled, to $90 million.

This has helped make possible a phenomenal expansion of the Islands' economy. Retail sales, for example, grew almost tenfold between 1960 and 1968. And this growth has made possible a vast improvement in social services--in education, in housing, in public health.

The Virgin Islands have their own full-time college, which opened in 1963 with 46 full-time students, and which now has grown to about 250 full-time and more than 1,000 part-time students. Major industry has followed this improvement in social services.

The efforts of many people have made this legislation possible. In the Virgin Islands, the leadership of Governor Ralph Palewonsky during his more than seven years in office has been outstanding. Our Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, has pushed these programs in Washington. In the Congress we are particularly reminded of the diligent and effective work of Chairman Aspinall, Congressman Saylor, Senators Jackson, Burdick, and Church, among others. I extend my warmest and heartiest congratulations to all--particularly, to the people of the Virgin Islands.


Note: At the close of his statement the President referred to, among others, Representative Wayne N. Aspinall of Colorado, Chairman of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Representative John P. Saylor of Pennsylvania, and Senators Henry M. Jackson of Washington, Quentin N. Burdick of North Dakota, and Frank Church of Idaho.

As enacted, the bill (S. 450) is Public Law 90496 (82 Stat. 837).
The statement was released at Austin, Texas.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Statement by the President Upon Signing Bill Providing for Popular Election of the Governor of the Virgin Islands. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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