Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965

Author: Lyndon B. Johnson  | Date: May 3, 1965

Remarks to the 10th National Legislative Conference, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO.
May 3, 1965

Mr. Haggerty, members of the Building and Construction Trades Department, friends from the Building and Construction Trades Department, ladies and gentlemen:

I knew you were meeting today and I wanted very much to come over and drop in and give you a word of welcome and say howdy and thank you. But when I looked at my schedule and saw the cables that were being brought to my desk I did not see how in the world I could make it. Then I got a telegram. It wasn’t about repealing 14b, although I know that is important to you, and it is important to me. It wasn’t about the various legislative proposals which you are interested in, important as they are. It was about the most vital issues in this country, and for that matter, in the whole world, which are peace and freedom.

So I have stolen these few minutes to come over here just to say, thank you. Thank you for saying to the world that this Nation of ours, the United States of America, speaks in unity with one voice from one heart. Thanks to you for saying that we believe in freedom and we believe in peace. Thanks to you for saying that we will not buy peace at the price of losing freedom anywhere, any time, in the world. Thanks to you for saying that American labor, the champions of freedom here at home, knows that freedom’s frontiers are today in Viet-Nam and the Dominican Republic, where both are under attack.

So thank you for putting first things first, for being leaders of the free America today, for being, even before that, the leaders of America herself. And before I overlook it, I want to thank you for what we did last November.

As citizens you must be proud of the fact that you are the builders of America. You know what it is to make something rise with toil and sweat and effort. The product of your labor is not just buildings, and not just homes, and not just monuments. The product of your labor is the face of America itself throughout all the world.

We have seen that face change many times, you and I. We have worked through the darkness in distressing periods. We have worked through the depression, or at least wanted to work during the depression. We have worked through the challenge of conflict, through the prosperity of an uneasy peace.

We share in the legacy of great American leaders, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And I came here this afternoon to pledge to you that together we are going to build an America that Roosevelt began, that Harry Trumanworked for, and that John Kennedy died for. We are going to build a Great Society where no man or woman is the victim of fear or poverty or hatred; where every man and woman has a chance for fulfillment, for prosperity, and for hope. That is the direction that you are going. That is the direction that we are going to continue. And I promise you here today that no one, no group here or in any land, is ever going to stand in our way as we march forward.

There is crisis and conflict in many lands at this hour, and we have very great and overpowering responsibilities in a very turbulent world, but we are going to fulfill those responsibilities. Let me make this dean No world problems must be allowed to keep us from meeting the needs and the desires of our own people. Trouble abroad will never divert us from the task of building the Great Society at home.

There are some that would say turn the clock back, stop, look, and listen; we have problems in Viet-Nam and in the Dominican Republic; before you get back to the office we may have some in other lands in the world; and for that reason let’s put off until another day the poverty program, the Appalachia program, the medical care program, the education program.

Well, they are just talking through their hat. We are not going to put anything off!

I worked last night on some thoughts that I want to incorporate, when I get the recommendations from your leaders and from the leaders of Government concerned with your welfare, into a message that I will send to Congress in the next few weeks. By the way, while we are talking, I want to make arrangements with you today, while you are here in person, to realize that we don’t just send these messages up to Congress to be read. We send them up there to be acted upon and voted upon, up or down. And as Andy Biemiller plows through the dark corridors of the House Office Building calling "wolf" to the White House, I don’t want you fellows to run under the bed and hide, either.

There are talkers and there are doers. An old man told me the first year I was in Washington, which was 34 years ago, and I was inquiring about the processes of the Congress, and he said, "Son, there are two kinds of congressional horses, the work horse and the show horse." Well, we want to be work horses, and before this Congress, this 89th Congress, closes its first session, the work horses are going to establish it as the most productive, the most enlightened, the most progressive Congress for all the people that ever sat in Washington.

That is why I came out here this afternoon. I came out here to ask your help. I came out here to call upon you to help me do what you have been doing so well for more than a half century—to help build America, in the cause of freedom and the cause of prosperity, build it here and build it abroad.

We have much to be thankful for. We have much to remember. The figures for the first quarter, January, February, and March, are just out of the typewriter. They show that we have 71,300, 000 people working today. That is exactly 1,500,000 more than were working this day last year, 1 year ago. The figures just out of the typewriter show that wages and salaries amount to $347 billion. That is up more than $25 billion. I said up, now, not down. That is an increase in wages and salaries over last year of 8 percent.

The corporation profit figures for this quarter are just in, and they are running at the rate—they are in for the quarter—but they are running at the rate of $36 billion after taxes. That is up 13 percent.

So our employment is up, our wages are up, our business profits are up. Oh, you just don’t know until you talk to the leaders of 114 other nations how much you have got to be grateful for; how much you have got to be proud of!

I have been your President for 17 months. I have met every week with the titans of industry and the great corporate leaders of this country. I have met every week with the religious and spiritual leaders of this country, ranging from Cardinal Spellman to Billy Graham. I have met every week with your leaders, Mr. Haggerty and Joe Keenan and Andy Biemiller, and that great world statesman, George Meany. They have sat in the Cabinet Room. They have met face to face with each other, and they have met privately in the little offices off the corridors. We have started some strikes and we have settled some, but I think I can say without—beyond the peradventure of a doubt that never in the history of the Republic has there been more cooperation with any President, the 35 men that have preceded me, than the cooperation that I have received from labor, from business, from Government.

The judicial branch, the legislative branch, the Congress, headed by that great leader, John McCormack, and Mike Mansfield in the Senate, are work horses. And the executive and the legislative and the judiciary have never gotten along better, just as the employer and the employee and their Government have never gotten along better.

I am happy that the corporations got $36 billion after taxes—I don’t begrudge them a dime of it; I helped them make it because they had $72 billion before taxes, and I took half of it. And the more the incentive system and the free enterprise system make, the more they have to pay decent wages, and the more they have to let their Government use for medical care, and for education, and for beautification.

I don’t object to the payrolls running $347 billion, because we have some men scattered in district offices all over the land with their scissors that cut out that little withholding from every dollar of that $347 billion. All I want them to do is to do better, because the better they do the better the country does.

Last Saturday, a week ago, our Ambassador from the Dominican Republic was here in Washington. He had been called back here to report on very disturbing developments in that little nation of 3 1/2 million off our shores in this hemisphere.

While he was talking to us, the government was overthrown. We rushed him back to his post of duty. Since that time certain undesirable elements have stepped in and tried to take control of that nation.

Today, there are between 1,000 and 1,500 dead people whose bodies are in the streets of Santo Domingo, threatening an extreme epidemic. There were 8,000 American and foreign nationals in that country whose lives were in danger.

At approximately 3:30, our Ambassador wired me on—well, he was here Saturday, we rushed him back—on Tuesday we went before the OAS Peace Council and discussed that serious problem. On Wednesday, the Organization of American States met and they talked about the gravity of the situation, discussed it thoroughly, and adjourned.

On Wednesday afternoon we were meeting there with what I thought was the greatest problem that we had on our hands-Viet-Nam.

Mr. Rayburn used to say, when these Congressmen poured into his office every day, the fellow would say, "I have the most important problem in the world." He said, "That’s what that fellow said that you met going out of here."

I thought this was the most important until I got a cable at 3:16 saying the chief of police and the governmental authorities tell us that American lives are in danger and we can no longer offer them any protection. We notified the appropriate people to stand in readiness and we went ahead to conclude our conference on Viet-Nam.

By 5:16 we had another cable that said, "You must land troops immediately or blood will run in the streets, American blood will run in the streets."

And that is the unanimous decision of every man on the American team. There are nine of them, one from the Army, one from the Air Force, one from the Navy, the Ambassador, one from the USIA, and so forth—what we call a country team, the board of directors in that specific country.

Well, I said I have a meeting on balance of payments with a bunch of bankers and big businessmen in the next room. You get the troops on the way, and you ask the Congressmen, the leadership, to come to the White House and we’ll meet at 7 o’clock. That was about 6 o’clock, a little before. I went on with my meeting without discussing it. When we met at 7, talking to the leaders, while I was talking to them, I was handed a note by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff which said the Marines have landed. That’s a great tribute to Bob McNamara and to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for competence and efficiency, that within an hour they can put men ashore without the loss of a single life.

No President ever has a problem of doing what is right. I have never known one to occupy this office—and I have worked with five of them—that did not want to do what is right. The big problem is knowing what is right. But I knew this: This was no time for indecision, or procrastination, or vacillation. The American people hadn’t elected their President to dodge and duck and refuse to face up to the unpleasant.

Since that time we have evacuated 2,500 Americans. The Michigan State University jazz band was down there. We got them home. The brewers—the brewery people—I guess they didn’t know you all were meeting here in Washington, they were having their convention down there, and we got them home.

There hasn’t been a drop of civilian blood shed, although five of our Marines have died because of sniper action, and 41 of our boys are wounded. We have 5,000 nationals from 30 other countries and Americans yet to be evacuated from Santo Domingo and all of the countryside. We will by tonight have 14,000 Americans there to get that job done.

I have had—the Papal Nuncio has sent me a cable congratulating us and commending us for our assistance. The leaders and ambassadors from many countries have told us that the streets would have run red with human blood except for the presence of American troops. The representatives of 30 countries, six of whose embassies were torn to pieces, are expressing their gratitude, but we still have 5,000 to get out. We still have the job of feeding 350,000 people—both the rebels and the loyalists have to eat—because we are humanitarians and we don’t want to starve people to death. We have the hospitals full and they are running out of their ears. So we have taken some of David Dubinsky’s mobile hospital units and we are putting them in the Dominican Republic to take care of their health.

We are taking sanitary measures so that a serious epidemic won’t break out. We have established an international peace zone and asked the Organization of AmericanStates of these republics to go there and present us with some plan for setting up a stable government.

We covet no territory. We seek no dominion over anyone. All we want to do is live in peace and be left alone if they will do it. But if they are going to put American lives in danger—where American citizens go that flag goes with them to protect them. You don’t know how they appreciate it.

As a little boy I learned a declamation that I had to say in grade school. I don’t remember all of it but a little of it is appropriate here this afternoon. It went something like this:

"I have seen the glory of art and architecture. I have seen the sun rise on Mont Blanc. But the most beautiful vision that these eyes ever beheld was the flag of my country in a foreign land."

Now I am the most denounced man in the world. All the Communist nations have a regular program on me that runs 24 hours a day. Some of the non-Communist nations just kind of practice on me. And occasionally I get touched up here at home in the Senate and the House of Representatives. But that is not important. What is important is just two things in this hemisphere. Number one, that we know, and that they know, and that everybody knows, that we don’t propose to sit here in our rocking chair with our hands folded and let the Communists set up any government in the Western Hemisphere.

We have said to the people of the Dominican Republic that we are hopeful that the other nations of this hemisphere will provide some troops to help this cleanup operation, to preserve law and order and peace. We’ll provide our share of them and we’d like to bring our boys home as soon as we can evacuate our people.

We have two purposes: We want to evacuate our citizens and we want to preserve, to see that a plan is worked out where the people themselves can select their own government, free from any international conspiracy or any dictatorship of any kind.

We believe the Organization of American States will make such a recommendation. We are not the intervenors in the Dominican Republic. The people that intervened in the Dominican Republic were the people who had been trained outside of the Dominican Republic in guerrilla warfare and came in there to help overthrow that government and to have a Communist seizure of that country. We are there to protect those people and we propose to protect them.

It reminds me of a story I heard as a youngster when Huey Long was here and everybody in the Senate was denouncing him because he had taken his sound truck and gone into Arkansas and helped to elect the first woman elected to the Senate—Mrs. Caraway. People weren’t accustomed to electing women to the Senate in those days and to Senators that campaigned for somebody else, and they were a little upset about it, and they were denouncing Long for forgetting States’ rights and leaving his State and going into another State.

He sat there all afternoon and let one Senator after another denounce him for importing his sound truck and telling other people what to do and dictating to them. He had this chocolate silk suit on—I’ll never forget it—and his bright-toned brown and white shoes, and he was just marching back and forth.

And it came his time to answer them, and he got up and said, "Mr. President, I have been denounced all afternoon." He looked over at Senator Robinson, who was the majority leader and the most powerful man in the Senate—a very robust man, a very rotund man, he had a great big stomachand had a cigar that he always smoked and kept in the corner of his mouth—he was the most powerful man in the Senate.

He walked right over to Joe Robinson, put his hand on his shoulder in a very affectionate and friendly way, and said, "I wasn’t in Arkansas to dictate to any human being. All I went to Arkansas for was to pull these big, pot-bellied politicians off this poor little Woman’s neck."

All we are in the Dominican Republic for is to preserve freedom and to save those people from conquest. The moment that the Organization of American States can present a plan that will bring peace on the island, and permit us to evacuate our people, and give us some hope of stability in government, we will be the first to come back home.

Now, in these times our enemies want to divide us. They want us to argue among ourselves. They want us to chew on each other.

I read the cables every day and up to the last 3 weeks they have really believed that in Viet-Nam the pressure would become so great on the American President that he would have to pull out. Well, I have had plenty of pressure but they don’t know the American President. He is not pulling out until aggression ceases. But they have that hope.

So I warn you and I plead of you, if you have any suggestions or any views, or any differences, with your President—and all of you do at times, we don’t see everything alike or we would all want the same wife—but communicate them to me through Uncle Sam, or Western Union, or directly, or through your friends. Don’t send them through my intelligence bulletin via Peking, or Hanoi, or Moscow.

A great man said, "United we stand; divided we fall." There never was a period in our national history when unity, understanding, perseverance, and patriotism would pay larger dividends than it would pay now.

I expect the leaders of the labor workers’ movement in this country to come up, punch that time clock, stay on that shift until we preserve democracy for ourselves and for free people all around the globe.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 5:20 p.m. at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his opening words he referred to C. J. Haggerry, President, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO. During the course of his remarks he referred to Andrew J. Biemiller, Director of Legislation, AFLCIO, Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, and Rev. Billy Graham, religious leaders, Joseph D. Keenan, International Secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and member of the Executive Council, AFL-CIO, and George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO. He also referred to Representative John W. McCormack of Massachusetts, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, W. Tapley Bennett, United States Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense. Near the conclusion of his remarks he referred to Huey P. Long, Senator from Louisiana, 1932-1935, Hattie W. Caraway, Senator from Arkansas, 1931-1945, and Joseph T. Robinson, Senator from Arkansas, 1914-1937.


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Chicago: Lyndon B. Johnson, "223 Remarks to the 10th National Legislative Conference, Building and Construction Trades Department, Afl-Cio.," Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168 477–481. Original Sources, accessed May 28, 2024,

MLA: Johnson, Lyndon B. "223 Remarks to the 10th National Legislative Conference, Building and Construction Trades Department, Afl-Cio." Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168, pp. 477–481. Original Sources. 28 May. 2024.

Harvard: Johnson, LB, '223 Remarks to the 10th National Legislative Conference, Building and Construction Trades Department, Afl-Cio.' in Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168, pp.477–481. Original Sources, retrieved 28 May 2024, from