State of the Union Address, 1964


Johnson, Lyndon Baines




In his 1964 State of the Union Address, President Lyndon B. Johnson declares an “unconditional war on poverty in America,” recommending the most federal support in American history for education, health, retraining the unemployed, and helping the economically and physically handicapped. Johnson also makes it clear that this support is for all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, or background, and that the war against poverty must be won not in Washington, but “in the field, in every private home” and “in every public office.” This powerful speech offers an opportunity to critically examine the last 50 years and our progress in the “war against poverty.” It also brings up ideas about the symptoms of poverty, the causes of poverty, where the war on poverty should be fought, and how the war on poverty can be won, that remain poignant and relevant today.

Full Text*

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Justice and EqualityLeadership and ResponsibilityMoney and WealthPoverty and NeedRace, Ethnicity and CultureSocial and Political Change

Big Questions

Is justice for all possible? Or will injustice always exist?What do we expect from the people we lead? What do we expect from our own leaders?Why do some have so much and some have so little?Is ending poverty possible?What are the causes of poverty?Why do racial disparities exist and how do we change them?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. After reading the first full paragraph of his speech, what are Johnson's priorities as president?
  2. What are the “basic hopes” that Johnson lays out? Do you think it is possible to help each and every American fulfill them?
  3. What kind of people “live on the outskirts of hope” today? Do you think that it is possible to help them?
  4. What about Johnson's speech surprised you? Alarmed you?
  5. Do you think we are still “fighting a war on poverty”? Do you believe winning is possible?
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