Lyndon B. Johnson
Inaugural Address, 1965
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My fellow countrymen, on this occasion, the oath I have taken
before you and before God is not mine alone, but ours together.
We are one nation and one people. Our fate as a nation and
our future as a people rest not upon one citizen, but upon all
This is the majesty and the meaning of this moment.
For every generation, there is a destiny. For some, history
decides. For this generation, the choice must be our own.
Even now, a rocket moves toward Mars. It reminds us that
the world will not be the same for our children, or even for
ourselves in a short span of years. The next man to stand
here will look out on a scene different from our own, because
ours is a time of change?rapid and fantastic change bearing
the secrets of nature, multiplying the nations, placing in uncertain
hands new weapons for mastery and destruction, shaking old
values, and uprooting old ways.
Our destiny in the midst of change will rest on the unchanged
character of our people, and on their faith.
THE AMERICAN COVENANT
They came here?the exile and the stranger, brave but
frightened?to find a place where a man could be his own man.
They made a covenant with this land. Conceived in justice,
written in liberty, bound in union, it was meant one day to
inspire the hopes of all mankind; and it binds us still. If we
keep its terms, we shall flourish.
JUSTICE AND CHANGE
First, justice was the promise that all who made the journey
could share in the fruits of the land.
In a land of great wealth, families must not live in hopeless
poverty. In a land rich in harvest, children just must not go
hungry. In a land of healing miracles, neighbors must not suffer
and die unattended. In a great land of learning and scholars,
young people must be taught to read and write.
For the more than 30 years that I have served this Nation,
I have believed that this injustice to our people, this waste
of our resources, was our real enemy. For 30 years or more,
with the resources I have had, I have vigilantly fought against it.
I have learned, and I know, that it will not surrender easily.
But change has given us new weapons. Before this generation
of Americans is finished, this enemy will not only retreat?it will
Justice requires us to remember that when any citizen denies
his fellow, saying, "His color is not mine," or "His beliefs are
strange and different," in that moment he betrays America,
though his forebears created this Nation.
LIBERTY AND CHANGE
Liberty was the second article of our covenant. It was
self-government. It was our Bill of Rights. But it was more.
America would be a place where each man could be proud
to be himself: stretching his talents, rejoicing in his work,
important in the life of his neighbors and his nation.
This has become more difficult in a world where change
and growth seem to tower beyond the control and even the
judgment of men. We must work to provide the knowledge
and the surroundings which can enlarge the possibilities of
The American covenant called on us to help show the way
for the liberation of man. And that is today our goal. Thus,
if as a nation there is much outside our control, as a people
no stranger is outside our hope.
Change has brought new meaning to that old mission. We
can never again stand aside, prideful in isolation. Terrific
dangers and troubles that we once called "foreign" now
constantly live among us. If American lives must end, and
American treasure be spilled, in countries we barely know,
that is the price that change has demanded of conviction
and of our enduring covenant.
Think of our world as it looks from the rocket that is heading
toward Mars. It is like a child's globe, hanging in space, the
continents stuck to its side like colored maps. We are all fellow
passengers on a dot of earth. And each of us, in the span of
time, has really only a moment among our companions.
How incredible it is that in this fragile existence, we should
hate and destroy one another. There are possibilities enough
for all who will abandon mastery over others to pursue
mastery over nature. There is world enough for all to seek
their happiness in their own way.
Our Nation's course is abundantly clear. We aspire to nothing
that belongs to others. We seek no dominion over our fellow
man, but man's dominion over tyranny and misery.
But more is required. Men want to be a part of a common
enterprise?a cause greater than themselves. Each of us
must find a way to advance the purpose of the Nation, thus
finding new purpose for ourselves. Without this, we shall
become a nation of strangers.
UNION AND CHANGE
The third article was union. To those who were small and
few against the wilderness, the success of liberty demanded
the strength of union. Two centuries of change have made
this true again.
No longer need capitalist and worker, farmer and clerk,
city and countryside, struggle to divide our bounty. By working
shoulder to shoulder, together we can increase the bounty of
all. We have discovered that every child who learns, every man
who finds work, every sick body that is made whole?like a
candle added to an altar?brightens the hope of all the faithful.
So let us reject any among us who seek to reopen old
wounds and to rekindle old hatreds. They stand in the way
of a seeking nation.
Let us now join reason to faith and action to experience,
to transform our unity of interest into a unity of purpose. For
the hour and the day and the time are here to achieve progress
without strife, to achieve change without hatred?not without
difference of opinion, but without the deep and abiding divisions
which scar the union for generations.
THE AMERICAN BELIEF
Under this covenant of justice, liberty, and union we have
become a nation?prosperous, great, and mighty. And we
have kept our freedom. But we have no promise from God that
our greatness will endure. We have been allowed by Him to
seek greatness with the sweat of our hands and the strength
of our spirit.
I do not believe that the Great Society is the ordered,
changeless, and sterile battalion of the ants. It is the excitement
of becoming?always becoming, trying, probing, falling, resting,
and trying again?but always trying and always gaining.
In each generation, with toil and tears, we have had to earn
our heritage again.
If we fail now, we shall have forgotten in abundance what
we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, that
freedom asks more than it gives, and that the judgment of
God is harshest on those who are most favored.
If we succeed, it will not be because of what we have, but
it will be because of what we are; not because of what we
own, but, rather because of what we believe.
For we are a nation of believers. Underneath the clamor of
building and the rush of our day's pursuits, we are believers
in justice and liberty and union, and in our own Union. We
believe that every man must someday be free. And we
believe in ourselves.
Our enemies have always made the same mistake. In my
lifetime?in depression and in war?they have awaited our
defeat. Each time, from the secret places of the American heart,
came forth the faith they could not see or that they could not
even imagine. It brought us victory. And it will again.
For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed
desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not
reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground.
Is our world gone? We say "Farewell." Is a new world coming?
We welcome it?and we will bend it to the hopes of man.
To these trusted public servants and to my family and
those close friends of mine who have followed me down
a long, winding road, and to all the people of this Union and
the world, I will repeat today what I said on that sorrowful
day in November 1963: "I will lead and I will do the best I can."
But you must look within your own hearts to the old promises
and to the old dream. They will lead you best of all.
For myself, I ask only, in the words of an ancient leader:
"Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out
and come in before this people: for who can judge this thy
people, that is so great?"