On March 31st 1968, Lyndon Johnson appeared on television and announced his intention not to seek re-election as president:
“Good evening, my fellow Americans. Tonight I want to speak to you of peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. No other question so preoccupies our people. No other dream so absorbs the 250 million human beings who live in that part of the world. No other goal motivates American policy in Southeast Asia.
For years, representatives of our government and others have traveled the world seeking to find a basis for peace talks. Since last September they have carried the offer that I made public at San Antonio. And that offer was this: That the United States would stop its bombardment of North Vietnam when that would lead promptly to productive discussions. And that we would assume that North Vietnam would not take military advantage of our restraint.
Hanoi denounced this offer, both privately and publicly. Even while the search for peace was going on, North Vietnam rushed their preparations for a savage assault on the people, the government and the allies of South Vietnam.
Their attack during the Tet holidays failed to achieve its principal objectives.It did not collapse the elected government of South Vietnam or shatter its army, as the Communists had hoped. It did not produce a “general uprising” among the people of the cities, as they had predicted. The communists were unable to maintain control of any of the more than 30 cities that they attacked, and they took very heavy casualties…
This much is clear: If [the communists] do mount another round of heavy attacks, they will not succeed in destroying the fighting power of South Vietnam and its allies. But tragically, this is also clear: Many men, on both sides of the struggle, will be lost. A nation that has already suffered 20 years of warfare will suffer once again. Armies on both sides will take new casualties. And the war will go on…
That small, beleaguered nation has suffered terrible punishment for more than 20 years. I pay tribute once again tonight to the great courage and the endurance of its people. South Vietnam supports armed forces tonight of almost 700,000 men, and I call your attention to the fact that that is the equivalent of more than 10 million in our own population. Its people maintain their firm determination to be free of domination by the North.
There has been substantial progress, I think, in building a durable government during these last three years. The South Vietnam of 1965 could not have survived the enemy’s Tet offensive of 1968. The elected government of South Vietnam survived that attack and is rapidly repairing the devastation that it wrought…
The actions that we have taken since the beginning of the year to re- equip the South Vietnamese forces; to meet our responsibilities in Korea, as well as our responsibilities in Vietnam; to meet price increases and the cost of activating and deploying these reserve forces; to replace helicopters and provide the other military supplies we need, all of these actions are going to require additional expenditures. The tentative estimate of those additional expenditures is $2.5 billion in this fiscal year and $2.6 billion in the next fiscal year. These projected increases in expenditures for our national security will bring into sharper focus the nation’s need for immediate action, action to protect the prosperity of the American people and to protect the strength and the stability of our American dollar.
On many occasions I have pointed out that without a tax bill or decreased expenditures, next year’s deficit would again be around $20-billion. I have emphasised the need to set strict priorities in our spending. I have stressed that failure to act–and to act promptly and decisively–would raise very strong doubts throughout the world about America’s willingness to keep its financial house in order. Yet Congress has not acted. And tonight we face the sharpest financial threat in the postwar era–a threat to the dollar’s role as the keystone of international trade and finance in the world…
Finally, my fellow Americans, let me say this. Of those to whom much is given much is asked. I cannot say – and no man could say – that no more will be asked of us. Yet I believe that now, no less than when the decade began, this generation of Americans is willing to pay the price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival, and the success, of liberty. Since those words were spoken by John F. Kennedy, the people of America have kept that compact with mankind’s noblest cause. And we shall continue to keep it.
This I believe very deeply. Throughout my entire public career I have followed the personal philosophy that I am a free man, an American, a public servant and a member of my party, in that order, always and only. For 37 years in the service of our nation, first as a congressman, as a senator and as vice president, and now as your president, I have put the unity of the people first, I have put it ahead of any divisive partisanship. And in these times, as in times before, it is true that a house divided against itself by the spirit of faction, of party, of region, of religion, of race, is a house that cannot stand.
There is division in the American house now. There is divisiveness among us all tonight. And holding the trust that is mine, as President of all the people, I cannot disregard the peril of the progress of the American people and the hope and the prospect of peace for all peoples, so I would ask all Americans whatever their personal interest or concern to guard against divisiveness and all of its ugly consequences.
Fifty-two months and ten days ago, in a moment of tragedy and trauma, the duties of this office fell upon me. I asked then for your help, and God’s that we might continue America on its course binding up our wounds, healing our history, moving forward in new unity to clear the American agenda and to keep the American commitment for all of our people. United we have kept that commitment. And united we have enlarged that commitment. And through all time to come I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, a land of greater opportunity and fulfilment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement.
Our reward will come in the life of freedom and peace and hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead. What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion and distrust and selfishness and politics among any of our people. And believing this as I do I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.
With American sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office: the presidency of your country.
Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.
But let men everywhere know, however, that a strong and a confident and a vigilant America stands ready tonight to seek an honourable peace; and stands ready tonight to defend an honoured cause, whatever the price, whatever the burden, whatever the sacrifice that duty may require.
Thank you for listening. Good night and God bless all of you.