As President Johnson prepared to leave office in January 1969, he delivered his last State of the Union Message to Congress. He used it to review the civil rights reforms and the new programs that had been established during his five years as president, a list that included the Voting Rights Act, the creation of the “Head Start” preschool education program, and the passage of Medicare benefits for senior citizens. But he also alluded wistfully to parts of his agenda he had not been able to accomplish. Largely due to public discontent–especially among those on college campuses–with his Vietnam War policy, Johnson had announced in March 1968 that he would not run for reelection. In retrospect, the most poignant, and arguably the most impressive, section of his speech is its gracious closing:
President-elect Nixon, in the days ahead, is going to need your understanding, just as I did. And he is entitled to have it. I hope every Member will remember that the burdens he will bear as our President, will be borne for all of us. Each of us should try not to increase these burdens for the sake of narrow personal or partisan advantage.
Now, it is time to leave. I hope it may be said, a hundred years from now, that by working together we helped to make our country more just, more just for all of its people, as well as to insure and guarantee the blessings of liberty for all of our posterity.
That is what I hope. But I believe that at least it will be said that we tried.