Handout A: Excerpts from “The Great Society” Speech by Lyndon Johnson (1964)
Directions: Read the excerpts and answer the Critical Thinking Questions.
The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a Nation…[I]n your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.
The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning. The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness.
But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.
So I want to talk to you today about three places where we begin to build the Great Society in our cities, in our countryside, and in our classrooms… In the remainder of this century urban population will double, city land will double, and we will have to build homes, highways, and facilities equal to all those built since this country was first settled. So in the next 40 years we must re-build the entire urban United States…Our society will never be great until our cities are great.
A second place where we begin to build the Great Society is in our countryside. We have always prided ourselves on being not only America the strong and America the free, but America the beautiful. Today that beauty is in danger. The water we drink, the food we eat, the very air that we breathe, are threatened with pollution.
A third place to build the Great Society is in the classrooms of America…We must seek an educational system which grows in excellence as it grows in size. This means better training for our teachers. It means preparing youth to enjoy their hours of leisure as well as their hours of labor. It means exploring new techniques of teaching, to find new ways to stimulate the love of learning and the capacity for creation.
These are three of the central issues of the Great Society. While our Government has many programs directed at those issues, I do not pretend that we have the full answer to those problems.
But I do promise this: We are going to assemble the best thought and the broadest knowledge from all over the world to find those answers for America. I intend to establish working groups to prepare a series of White House conferences and meetings on the cities, on natural beauty, on the quality of education, and on other emerging challenges. And from these meetings and from this inspiration and from these studies we will begin to set our course toward the Great Society…
Critical Thinking Questions
- What is the Great Society?
- What three actions does Johnson believe are necessary to achieve the Great Society?
- What is the grammatical rule for capitalizing the word “nation”? What might a reader infer about the fact that President Johnson capitalized it in the official transcript of this speech?
- What historical events were occurring near the time of the Great Society? What effects do you believe these events may have had on the federal government and President Johnson?
- How can the Great Society be compared to the New Deal?