Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Harold Wilson

December 07, 1964

Mr. Prime Minister and distinguished guests:

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, since November 3, I want to ask your indulgence this evening in order that I may present to all of you some of the individuals that I want you to know and whom some of you may already know but all of whom have played or are playing a very vital part in the life of our two countries.

First of all, I want to present the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker.

The Defence Secretary, Sir Denis Healey. An old friend, Lord Mountbatten.

Our own beloved Chief Justice Warren.

The Vice President-elect, Mr. Humphrey.

The next Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate--if the Republicans come to power--Mr. Hickenlooper.

Our own Secretary of State, Dean Rusk.

Our Secretary of Defense, Bob McNamara.

Our Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Douglas Dillon.

One of the great leaders of our time, the former Secretary of State, Mr. Dean Acheson.

We are very honored and very privileged that we could have in this house this evening three men who over a long period of time have represented with great distinction our country in the United Kingdom.

First, I want to present Mr. Lewis Douglas, former Ambassador to Great Britain.

Now, Lew, you stand up a little longer. There are some girls down here who didn't get to see you.

The former distinguished Ambassador, and my friend, Mr. Jock Whitney of New York.

The present great Ambassador, Mr. David Bruce.

One of the bright lights of the ambassadorial corps and one of our great friends, Lord Harlech.

So, this house is honored tonight by the presence of a most welcome and a most distinguished visitor and his party.

This is one of many talks that we have had and are going to have in the future, and I trust just one of many visits.

Mr. Prime Minister, I want you to know that I am really enjoying them, although sometimes diplomatic negotiations recall Mark Twain's story of his visit to a friend up in New Hampshire.

Mark Twain was walking along the road and he asked a farmer, "How far is it to Henderson's place ?"

"About a mile and a half," the farmer answered.

He walked awhile longer and he met another farmer and he asked the same question, "How far is it to Henderson's place?" The farmer answered, "About a mile and a half."

Mark Twain walked a little farther and he met a third farmer and he again asked, "How far is it to Henderson's place?" "About a mile and a half," the farmer answered.

"Well," said Twain, "Thank God I am holding my own."

For the information of my own constituency, I would like to observe tonight that I am not sure that I am holding my own-after today's discussions.

We have many difficult problems. I am sure the traditional British ability to find reasoned solution will ultimately prevail.

During World War II the British Minister in Algeria was called upon to mediate a dispute between British and American officers. The American officers wanted drinks served before their meals. The British wanted their drinks served after their meals. He came up with this answer: "In deference to the British," he said, "we will all drink after meals and in deference to the Americans, we will all drink before the meal."

This kind of British genius has solved a great many problems.

I had some very special advice, Mr. Prime Minister, just a few minutes before you arrived. My wife whispered in my ear as we were coming out to greet you this morning. She said, "Dear, this is Judgment Day and be sure you use plenty of it!"

I have tried to follow her advice. As I sat in these meetings throughout the day, I heard in my mind the sound of an ageless phrase: "There will always be an England."

As I listened to the distinguished Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and the Defense Secretary, I think I heard, also, the voices of the British people--those few, those happy few, that band of brothers who won freedom for that island, were also the architects of a way of life that today is measured in freedom and in hope and in light.

Scattered out among 3 billion persons in the world, the British love liberty and they embrace freedom and they despise bondage. Those who would destroy freedom in the world will always find the British people undaunted and unafraid and undismayed and ready to defend that freedom, whatever the cost or whatever the burden.

All of us can remember early in World War II, when the light of freedom flickered and for a time almost lost its flame. Britain stood there at the bridge like Horatio of old, and held slavery at bay until the world beyond the ocean's sea could awaken and could arm and could join them in the fight.

So, on this night of the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I believe that whenever liberty is threatened, whenever the choice is between freedom and slavery, the voice of Parliament will be heard and the support of the British will be ready, ready again to preserve and to protect the way of life that they love and they have taught all of us to love.

So, when the role of honor is called and the stewards of freedom are acclaimed, no people will have a contribution as large or as strong or as persistent as this Island of Great Britain.

It gives us much pleasure and great happiness to have the distinguished Prime Minister and his party here with us this evening. And I now should like for all of my special friends to join me in raising our glasses to Her Majesty, the Queen.

Note: The President proposed the toast at a dinner in the State Dining Room at the White House. Prime Minister Wilson responded as follows:

"Mr. President, Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Vice President-elect, Your Excellencies, Mr. Chief Justice, my Lord. ladies and gentlemen:

"First, Mr. President, may I on behalf of all my colleagues here tonight and all your English guests express our very warm thanks for your kind hospitality to us not only tonight but throughout the day.

"I feel that tonight's dinner here in your home is a memory we shall treasure for the rest of our lives. If I could mention just one thing which I think all of us will remember, it was the pleasure of something I have not met before, anyway not outside of Vienna, and that was the singing violins we had in these last few minutes.

"I don't say that we can produce anything in Britain to compare with this though when, as I hope you will, Mr. President, come to Buckingham Palace to visit London. I think we can promise you that as you dine there you will suddenly be surprised by the arrival of some of Denis Healey's and Lord Mountbatten's Scots Guards or it might be the Watch or it might be the Gordon Islanders if they have not amalgamated themselves out of existence now--suddenly parading around and playing the bagpipes in your ears as you try to eat. And you thought you had the great deterrent.

"Mr. President, when we come to Washington especially, we all know we are among friends. All of my colleagues have been here many, many times before. I think this is my 15th visit. My first visit was during the war, in 1943. When I managed to get in--it was a little difficult to travel in those days--by posing as a member of the staff of Averell Harriman, he signed a certificate saying I was a member of his staff. I was at that time secretary of one of the combined boards, Combined Resources Board and Combined Raw Materials Board, and my joint secretary at that time was one of your Ambassadors, Sam Berger, now back in this country. I remember my luggage on that occasion was consigned in care of Mr. David Dubinsky.

"When we came to Washington--I spent some 4 months living here once on an AFL mission--we never thought we would get that report out, but we did anyhow. When we come here, of course, we meet so many old friends.

"In the talks to which you have referred, Mr. President, we have observed the proper protocol and courtesies and address one another by our proper names. It is like when you form a new government, which we just had to do. In our cabinet procedure, we never refer to anyone by their name. It is always the First Secretary of State, the Secretary for Defense, and with other new boys we keep slipping, calling one another Jim, Patrick, Denis, and the rest, and I must say we have had the same difficulties today. How often have we had to call ourselves to order and talk about the Secretary of State and the Secretary for Defense when really we have been biting our tongues off to say Dean and Bob and Doug, and all our other friends.

"Tonight, also, it has been a great pleasure for us all to see former Ambassadors to the United Kingdom whom we have come to know so well, and if you can quote Isaiah, Mr. President, we can quote a well-known hymn, "Those angel faces smile whom we have loved and long since lost,' and it is nice to see them around the board tonight.

"I suppose I can claim to be the first Prime Minister of Great Britain to have two ex-members of your Government. I will not give their names. I don't want them to become the target of any more problems."

[ Interposing, the President said, "Only two?" ]

"Only two, Mr. President, and suddenly tonight in looking at the Secretary of State I realized with horror I did not make it plain that we formed our government in somewhat of a hurry and forgot to count in a number of directions, and it was only tonight that I realized that we have more Gaelic men in our administration than you have.

"We have no Texans, Mr. President--not yet. But in trying to assimilate our problems and our achievements, I suppose really to have a Yorkshire Prime Minister and a Yorkshire Secretary for Defense is the next best thing.

"May I say we are the largest state in our Union and we have no Alaska.

"Mr. President, it is very difficult to define a Yorkshireman, but if you think of a Texan, you understand about what we have in Yorkshire.

"One thing you and I have in common, and Vice President-elect Humphrey, we have all recently been through the furnace of a democratic election. We hope your hand will soon be better.

"It may be, if we took the elections as seriously as you, we would have had a majority like yourself. All I can say is if the British people were free to express their votes in your election, your majority would have been even better than it was.

"I don't think it is appropriate for any of us to try and rationalize the decision and the decisiveness of the decision that the American people have reached, because we have a tradition of not interfering in one another's elections. We are always neutral. It doesn't mean that we think neutrally on all occasions, but it would be wrong for me to express any views on the issues of policy, whether at home or abroad, which form the warp and woof of this great election in your country.

"But there is no doubt as far as we are concerned that this great victory of yours, apart from those policy issues, was attributed first to the quality of leadership that your people saw in you, Mr. President, and one thing I can say even if it involves an element of policy--because on this issue it involved more than just American significance--it had a world significance.

"Your victory was the tribute of the United States people to great and unrivaled political courage, not only in 'the United States. Even in Great Britain now we are finding the ugliness and evil of this problem of race relations. Our Foreign Secretary who went through the fire on this knows what I mean. The world has watched anxiously how the United States, faced with this age-old problem within its borders, would react when this became an issue, as it inevitably did, in a democratic election.

"All of your friends, Mr. President, all friends of the United States, are proud of the firm, uncompromising, and courageous way in which this issue was tackled over these past few years by your predecessor and by yourself.

"All of us feel that in the great fight that you led, Mr. President, and in which the Vice President-elect played so distinguished a part, to promote this legislation on civil rights--and I am not saying this in any spirit of trying to interfere with your domestic politics because you were not there fighting only a domestic battle; you were fighting a world battle-you gave heart, you gave courage, and you gave encouragement to all of us who wanted to see our friends give a lead to the world in an issue which, in the next 30 or 40 years, in the remaining years of this century, mean more to more people than any of the issues, even of the nuclear weapon or anything of that kind.

"If there are millions whose lives are dominated by the thought of nuclear weapons, even of war and peace itself, there are still more millions to whom the question of race and of color are significant and more significant in their lives than perhaps any of the issues that we in our little northern world think is so important. That is why, Mr. President, all of us owe this deep debt of tribute to you and your colleagues for the leadership you have shown in this great issue.

"You referred to our discussions. I think all of us approach these problems that we are discussing today in a spirit of partnership, of interdependence, a phrase which you and President Kennedy, Mr. President, have said represent the answer to the problems that we are facing.

"Sometimes our partnership is too easily taken for granted. We regard it as so automatic that sometimes there are others who feel that it means less to us than we know in our hearts that it does mean to us. That partnership was created by our common heritage. In the presence of the Chief Justice whom we look forward to welcoming to Great Britain next year--it is a matter of equal excitement for you as well as for us that we shall be celebrating next year the 750th anniversary of the Magna Carta, and the Chief Justice is coming to make one of the major speeches on that occasion.

"We shall also be celebrating the 700th anniversary of Simon de Montfort's parliament. Wrapped a little bit in security, I think he was a rebel against the throne when he actually called that parliament, but we have had more respectable ones since that time.

"But our close relationship has developed over the years, in this room presided over by the portrait of Abraham Lincoln. It is no secret that Carl Sandburg's 'Life of Lincoln' is my favorite reading, and I have read it more times than I would like to recall.

"I think the links between our countries were closer and perhaps more expressive than at any time before when the working people of Lancashire, facing starvation, facing misery, hunger, and poverty as a result of the denial to them of raw cotton, which was the basis of their livelihood--what we now call the fashionable establishment in London, including the Times and including a lot of other people who should have been ashamed of themselves, were working hard in support of the southern cause--when the working people of Lancashire passed a resolution supporting Abraham Lincoln and all he stood for even though they looked like they were starving. And the message he sent to the working people of Manchester on that occasion is one of the most moving messages in our joint venture and joint history.

"Our partnership was forged further in war.

"Last Monday I had the pleasure of going to visit Winston Churchill on his 90th birthday. As long as Winston's memory and Winston's writings, whether 'War Memoirs' or his great 'History of the English-Speaking Peoples,' because he never asked, in his sense of history, disentanglement of your tradition from ours--as long as these survive, our partnership will be maintained.

"The problems we face, Mr. President, in these discussions--and we have all said this is the beginning of a series of discussions--are problems that we know we are going to be able to solve because of our common purpose in solving them.

"We have our differences. There are always differences between friends. We are good enough friends to speak frankly to one another, but there will never be anything peevish or spiteful. If we ever have differences, we will look you straight in the eye--and we will expect you to look us straight in the eye--and say what you would expect we can do as friends and only what we can do as friends.

"We hear arguments. I have heard this often enough about whether there is a special relationship between the United States and Great Britain. Some of those who talk of the special relationship, I think, are looking backwards and not looking forward. They talk about the nostalgia of our imperial age. We regard our relation with you not as a special relationship but as a close relationship, governed by the only things that matter and that is a unity of purpose and that is the unity of objective. We don't come to you at any time on the basis of our past grandeur or of any faded thoughts of what that grandeur was. I think it was Charles Lamb, whom you, Mr. President, quoted in a different context today, who once said, 'There is nothing so irrelevant in nature as a poor relation.'

"We have, and we always shall have, a close relationship, because we agree about the same things and we are going to work together with our own distinctive and unique contributions to achieve those things.

"In that spirit, Mr. President, may I ask all my fellow guests of yours to rise and drink to the health of the President of the United States and Mrs. Johnson."

Early in his remarks the President referred to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Patrick Gordon Walker, Secretary of State for Defence Sir Denis Healey, Admiral of the Fleet the Lord Mountbatten, all of Great Britain, Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren, Vice President-elect Hubert H. Humphrey, Senator Bourke B. Hickenlooper of Iowa, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, and Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon. He also referred to Dean Acheson, former Secretary of State, Lewis W. Douglas and John Hay (Jock) Whitney, both former United States Ambassadors to Great Britain, David K. E. Bruce, United States Ambassador to Great Britain, and Lord Harlech, Ambassador to the United States from Great Britain.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Harold Wilson Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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