Ronald Reagan picture

Toasts at a White House Dinner Honoring the Nation's Governors

February 26, 1984

The President. Well, Nancy and I are delighted to welcome you to the White House. We're pleased and honored to have all of you here tonight.

This room is often used for state dinners honoring visiting heads of state, and it's fitting that we, too, share this room in recognition that you are also heads of sovereign States. Our Federal system of sovereign States is today as vital to the preservation of freedom as it was in the time of Jefferson and Adams and those other farsighted individuals we revere as our Founding Fathers.

They envisioned a system that would secure the greatest degree of liberty, while at the same time be functional and efficient. They knew well that if too much power and authority were vested in the central government, even if intended for a noble purpose, not only would liberty be threatened but it just wouldn't work.

Jefferson warned, "Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want for bread." [Laughter] I think during the last decade and before, we've gotten a taste of just what it was that Jefferson was warning us about. So much power had centralized in Washington that frustration and stagnation ruled the day. The Federal Government taxed away the available revenue and set up a confusing web of regulations and bureaucratic controls to be complied with in order to get these resources back. Furthermore, the rules and restrictions, to a large degree, were coming from faraway, unelected officials. This neither worked, nor was it consistent with principles of American freedom.

Over the last 3 years, we put a stop to this ever-increasing centralization of power. Through our block grant programs, through our efforts to get control of Federal spending and taxing, we've halted what I consider to be a very ominous trend. People are no longer looking to Washington to solve every problem. As a result, we're seeing a renaissance of direct involvement—whether in the local schools or in neighborhood watch programs—and the reemergence of State and local government as significant forces in determining the future of our country and the quality of life of our people.

This has been accomplished with close consultation and cooperation with you and with other State and local officials. I want each of you to know I deeply appreciate the responsible and, in most cases, nonpartisan way that we have worked together to ensure progress in the area of federalism. There's still much to be done, and I hope we can build on the working relationship that we've already established.

Technology today is opening up new opportunities at the State and local level. State government has some of the most competent and hard-working employees to be found in government at any level. And in the last few years, we've seen creativity and innovation as never before in the statehouses throughout the country. Today that vision of our Founding Fathers of a federal system of States is as viable, if not more so, than at any time in our history. So, let us continue working together to keep faith with that dream.

And now, would you please join me as I toast you, the Governors of the States of the Union, and you can toast each other. And we can toast also to our freedom and to strong and efficient State government.

Governor Thompson. Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, the members of your Cabinet and staff, my fellow Governors and their spouses, we are honored to be in this home this evening.

A year ago when we were here, and my wife was able to be with me, on the way in through the door I kind of nudged her and I said, "Hey, not bad for two kids from the west side of Chicago." [Laughter] I think probably all of us here tonight, despite the fact that we are called Governor, and no matter how far we may have traveled, nor no matter what we may have done or accomplished or hope yet to do, feel a rare sense of privilege at being within these walls and being with each other and being with you and Mrs. Reagan.

Tonight, party, philosophy, region, and interest are irrelevant. We are all very proud Americans. This is our house. Every time that I come to Washington and see the lines of tourists stretched around the building with fathers and mothers, particularly young fathers and mothers, holding the hands of the children, I know they're saying, "Be patient. Once inside, you'll see something extraordinary, and you'll remember it. You'll tell the class. You'll tell your brother and sister. You'll tell your grandmother, grandfather." This is an American privilege.

Our session went very long today, Mr. President. Tomorrow, we'll report to you formally on what we have accomplished thus far in our meeting, though we have much to do. We expended many passions today, especially in our committee—issues involving the budget and the deficit, acid rain, and all those controversies which swirl around us in public office—in your office, in ours, at the other end of the avenue in the legislative branch, and sometimes in the judicial branch.

Those passions have dissipated tonight. Because we're good at our jobs, they'll be back tomorrow morning full steam. And when you see us in the East Room tomorrow morning, we'll probably have some pretty good questions for you and for the members of your staff and your Cabinet. That's why we're here. But tonight we join you as brother.

You were a Governor—a good Governor, a proud Governor. And you share with us many common experiences.

Now you hold the position that we elected you to. And though you are formally now engaged in a contest to retain that office, we still look upon you as brother. And we're glad of the opportunity to come with you once a year in this formal setting. And I must say, in my experience and perhaps in the experience of every Governor in this room, you have extended the hospitality, the warmth and, most importantly the interest of your office to us, your brothers, on so many more occasions, whether in the Oval Office or in our States, than we might reasonably expect, for we know you have to deal with mayors— [laughter] —and legislators, county executives, business people and labor people, and just all sorts of people that it's somewhat remarkable how much time you spend with Governors. I think, perhaps, there's a bias there. At least, we hope so.

The issues which concern us, Mr. President, and about which even we differ among ourselves and within our States are only as good as the men and women who enliven them. There is justice or no justice, depending upon the passions and the caring of men and women, not just on the pages of a book or in the words on those pages.

There will be a better education for our children than we had for ourselves not only because that is important but because it is necessary, but only achievable if we care to make it so and invest the time and the resources to achieve it. And whether it's the infrastructure of our country—our roads, our highways, our bridges, our dams, our buildings, sewer systems, our water systems—or it's our responsibility for the safety and well-being of our fellow citizens through law enforcement, for public health, or care for abused or neglected children, or infant mortality rates, words are words, pages are pages, and laws are laws unless we, the Governors, infuse them with our care.

We know how hard it is to be a President and a First Lady, because all of us in this room have experienced at least a portion of that which you live. We know there are many nights where you must feel frustrated, tired, mad, but many more where you feel satisfied, glad, challenged. We do, too, or we would not be with you tonight. When we leave this city and go back to our States and try and infuse our political, governmental, and personal lives with renewed vigor and caring, in part because we were here, we will remember you and Mrs. Reagan and wish for you the same. And we know it will be achieved.

And so tonight, Mr. President, from your brothers—and I am pleased to say, from one sister who has now joined the ranks-on behalf of the Governors, I propose a toast to the lady who guides you, sustains you, passionately loves you, and to the President of the United States.

Note: The President spoke at 9:50 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. Gov. James R. Thompson of Illinois is chairman of the National Governors' Association.

Ronald Reagan, Toasts at a White House Dinner Honoring the Nation's Governors Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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