4 April 2013
Summary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Message to Congress
President Lyndon B. Johnson's message to Congress, The American Promise speech, of March 15, 1965, is an outstanding illustration of political oratory. In a moving way, the president interpreted the meaning of the Selma, AL protests for a nation awakened to the problem of voter discrimination. His speech focused on the very meaning of the nation, what he called "the American Promise." The speech called attention to the fact that freedom and equality are terms whose meanings changed and will continually change throughout American history. Using the word "promise" in the title of his speech and throughout the speech President Johnson seems to be referring to the word promise as the nation's vow and its potential to become a stronger and better nation for all. President Johnson mentions that this vow must be kept or both the vow and the potential for the nation will be broken. Lyndon B. Johnson attempted to persuade his listeners to act in order to guarantee equal voting rights for all Americans by using the phrase “the American Promise.” He began his speech in a way that suggests his message would surpass the current constraint facing the nation. The current constraint, he felt, was a "turning point in man's unending search for freedom" and "equal rights.” It is part of the American Promise, which is to guarantee the freedom and equality of every man in America. Johnson suggested throughout his speech that denying equal rights to African Americans, illustrated by the violence in Selma, AL, signify a threat to the values our nation. To keep African Americans from enjoying the freedom and equality guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution would break our nation's promise, Johnson mentions throughout his speech. In short, the President held the dialect of democratic freedom and equality to help guarantee equal voting rights to African Americans. Johnson also argues that the issue confronting the county was of historic significance. He suggested that although the United States kept African Americans from enjoying the benefits of freedom and equality for many years, the nation had not broken its promise—yet; however destiny had crossed the nation’s path at this exact time, for the decision to be made, keep the promise or break it. The president stresses that such a moment came "rarely in any time.” Therefore, the nation must take hold of the opportunity. His speech helped deflate Southern resistance to equal voting rights by making racial discrimination at voting booth seem fundamentally un-American. By doing this Johnson directly put supporters of segregation on the losing side of an issue of principle. No one could argue persuasively that voter discrimination was in line with American values. Out of this speech President Johnson crafted a compelling justification for immediate passage of a strong federal voting rights law. His speech became the framework for public and congressional deliberations. At a time of urgency and chaos, his speech to congress and to the nation provided focus and clarity on a very important and sensitive issue of that time. President Johnson's speech is remarkable because it made the idea of equal voting rights meaningful and compelling through shared interests, motives, and intentions in order to secure the passage of one of the most important civil rights laws for the country.