Lyndon B. Johnson
January 20, 1965
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 citizens.
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.
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 be
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.
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 every citizen.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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?”