tv LB Js Decision Not to Seek Re-election in 1968 CSPAN April 1, 2018 9:28pm-9:59pm EDT
about. i don't remember the rule, but it said the further apart two fought, the less enjoyable a debate it is. you had up now -- a panama canal debate and if you look at television today and the media today, everybody is talking past each other. i don't think bill what have allowed that. except the one time he was leader onng the punta south america who wouldn't answer any questions at all. but he did believe in the idea of engagement. he also believed debating was a form of war. i think that it took many, many years for adversaries to understand where he was going, which was that there was nothing personal to what he was doing. it took 40 years for many of them to realize he is actually a
very nice guy. they didn't think that at first. >> you can watch this and other american history programs on our website where all of our video is archived. that's www.c-span.org/history. >> monday, on landmark cases, griswold the connecticut, challenges the connecticut law banning the prescription use of birth control. they ruled it to be unconstitutional and in the process, established a right to try to see -- to privacy that is still -- today. and rachel ray boucher, the associate team for research and a law professor at temple university. watch landmark cases monday and join the conversation. #landmarkcases. and follow us on c-span.
we have a link to the national constitution center's interactive constitution, and the landmark cases podcast at www.c-span.org/landmarkcases. announcer: on march 30th, lyndon johnson surprise the nation and -- he began by outlining steps to limit the war in vietnam. surprised the nation and his staff when he announced he would not seek reelection in 1968. up next, james jones, president johnson's appointment secretary, now known as the chief of staff, tells the back story of lbj's decision process, beginning in 1967. this interview was recorded for half hour c-span's "the weekly" podcast, which provides background and context to issues
in the news. >> 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 honorable peace and stands ready tonight to defend an honored cause. >> march 31, 1968, 50 years ago, james jones, no aide was closer to president johnson than you, serving four years as his appointment secretary, equivalent to the white house chief of staff. walk us through the process that president johnson undertook to decide not to seek re-election.
former rep. jones: well, it actually started about seven months previous in september of 1967. the president said, told me he wanted to go to the ranch that weekend. and he'd like to have john connolly, who was then the texas governor, to come to the ranch and just lady bird johnson, the president, john connolly, governor connolly, myself, and the president's top secretary, marie famer, were at the ranch that whole weekend. as the president really relaxed at the ranch by riding around the ranch, looking at the deer and the cattle, etc.. particularly the three of them rode around and discussed whether he should or should not run for reelection. then at meal times, we would all discuss it. the president asked connolly what he should do. connolly said he was not going run for governor again in 1968 and he thought the president
should not run for reelection. that discussion went on. nothing was concluded and then we went back to washington, in the white house. periodically, the president would ask me to come in at the end of the day and have a drink or talk about issues. and the issue of whether he should run or not came up a few times. we -- if you go fast forward then to december of 1967, christmas season, we all went back to the ranch. well, we had had an around the world trip, and then went to the ranch. and again, the decision was being discussed. the president asked me to get horace busby, one of his long time speechwriters, ant draft a statement that he was not going to run for reelection, but not to tell anybody about it. so there were very few people, i would say less than half a dozen
who had any inkling that this was even being seriously considered. we had the speech drafted. i mean, what he called the final announcement that he wouldn't run. and in the meantime, i was coordinating the development of the state of the union speech for january 1968. we kept the speechwriters for the state of the union separate from horace busby, so the president was planning to announce at the end of the state of the union speech in january 1968, that he was not going to run. we had everything ready. we did not have any of this on teleprompter, and we had a separate little piece of paper, with the "i shall not run." we drive up to the capitol, and the president gives his state of the union speech. and he did not, he did not declare he was going to run and we are riding back the capitol.
this time, i'm 28 years old. you know everything when you're 28-years-old, so i basically asked, you know, he didn't use this periation. he said, i left it on my night table. i forgot to bring it up. well, to my way of thinking, i thought he had decided not to run. i mean, he decided to run and not to give this speech. so, we went on in the first three months of 1968. and he started asking for different questions, different information. for example, he asked us to have a study done as to when harry truman announced that he was not going to run for reelection in 1952. it turned out it was march 30. he had some special polls made, holly coyle was our pollster in that year. and we asked ollie to run the
president on a head to head against all the possible democratic and republican candidates, which would be mccarthy, bobby kennedy, nelson rockefeller, and richard nixon, etc. and the president beat all of them in those polls. this is about 10 days before his march 31st announcement. i think he did that because he wanted to have, in his own mind, that he was not being run out of office. that if he did run as he thought when -- when -- when -- win that he could win. so, he had asked for information like that. we get to friday, march 29, and the president called a minipress conference in the rose garden and basically he'll make a nationwide televised speech on the 31st and it was going to be
an important speech. well, we spent the rest of that weekend working on that speech and, again, taking horace busby back and putting him in the indian treaty room, separate from all the speechwriters.e mae -- not the indian treaty room, but the lincoln bedroom, which was adjacent to the president's bedroom. and so horace was looking, was working on the end of the speech. nobody else knew about it. and even before we got to that on the 29th, after the little minipress conference, he asked me to get george christian, who was then the press secretary, and marvin watson, who had been my predecessor as appointment secretary, and who is now running the punitive campaign for reelection, asked the three of us to come in for a drink in the little office over the oval office. -- off the oval office. at that point, we again talked about whether he should or should not run. at the end, he said, well, what
do you think? we split, 2-1. two of us thought he should run. one, george christian, thought he should not run. and we had no decisions at that point. so, we continued to work on the speech. on saturday, i was at the white house. we went through several revisions of the speech. sunday morning, he called me at my apartment in southwest washington and asked me to come down to the white house, that he and lucy were going to go to church that morning at st. dominic's church over in southwest washington. asked me to go with him, and so while we were in church he said, ask the secret service to get the periation, i will not run part, off his night table and bring it to him and then also call hubert humphrey who was the vice president and ask him to delay his departure for mexico city that day. because he wanted to come over and see him.
in those days, the vice president didn't have a home. so, he was living in the apartment in the same complex where i was living in southwest washington. so after church, we went over to the humphrey apartment. lucy went in with mrs. humphrey into another room and the president and the vice president and i went into the little study. president asked him to read the speech and the vice president humphrey read the speech and he got to the end and he started really just palpitating. he could hardly get his breath. and president johnson said to him, if you're going to run, you need to start tomorrow. but, i have not finally decided whether i'm going to run or not. i will have jim call you in mexico city tonight and with my final decision. and so, we left it at that. interesting -- one of the interesting things, as you know, vice president humphrey ran for president in 1960. and he was defeated in west
virginia in a very big surprise by the kennedys, by jack kennedy. and so, when the president said, if you're going to run you need to get started right away, tears welled up in his eyes and he said, there is no way i could beat the kennedys, which is an interesting observation of him going into the campaign with that. so, we went through the day on sunday. he had some personal friends, arthur crem, who was the head of the united artist at the time, and mrs. crem. they came to the white house. they were part of the discussion through sunday. and then, we went back and forth . and then -- i think the speech was around 8:00, around 6:00, the president asked me to come over to the mansion and we went over the speech one last time. and he said, now you can put it on the teleprompter.
and this was, this had been such a tightly guarded secret that nobody really knew about it. i was telling one of your colleagues here that bob fleming, who was an assistant press secretary, i asked bob to sit to the side of the desk in the oval office when the president made the speech and watch the teleprompter. and if it happened to go blank on him, to put the right page in front of the president, so he could read from that. so bob knew something was up, but he didn't know what. and so, i was back in my office, which is next door to the oval office, and bob comes racing in. he had flipped through the pages to see what was new and different about it. he got to the end of the speech and he started just, not being able to get his breath and he left the oval office, because he afraid it was going to be a ruckus.
well, the president was speaking, so it was an interesting evening. but when the speech was over, the president, it was like a great load had been lifted off his back. it was like he was free at last. and that he, he could see the end. and so he really thought that he was going to be able to get a peace agreement in vietnam. that was the real reason that we started talking about not running. he had mentioned several times different reasons why he shouldn't run, which i thought were bogus. but for example, he said that his father and grandfather had both died at age 64 and that he was going to die at age 64 and he would be president and he didn't want to die in office. it turned out he did die at age 64, but he did not take care of his health as he should have and i never verified whether his father and grandfather died at that age.
but that was one of the excuses. another excuse was that he never appreciated and knew his daughters while they were growing up as much because he was always on the run, always doing things political. and he really wanted to know his grandson, grandchildren who at that time, he had one and he doted over that little boy. that was another reason he said he did not want to run. but, the final analysis he thought very much if he were a candidate for reelection that he might pull his punches if he had an opportunity to get a peace settlement in vietnam. and he did not want to be put in that kind of a position. he thought if he were free of politics that he could do whatever is necessary to reach a peace agreement. so, that was the real reason he didn't run. mr. scully: along those lines, this is from october of 1968.
it's a conversation between president johnson and everett dirksen, republican from illinois. a mention of richard nixon, the issue of vietnam. let's listen. [audio clip] >> now, i have told nixon and i repeat to you that i'm trying as hard as i know how to get the peace in vietnam as quickly as i can. for that reason, i am not running. now, when i have anything that i believe justifies or warrants a consultation, i will initiate it. mr. scully: as you hear that conversation, your reaction, james jones. former rep. jones: well, in october, maybe 10 days, two weeks before the election, we were pursuing, or the president was pursuing, a peace agreement in paris and we had the north vietnamese, south vietnamese, et cetera. and the president really thought
he was going to reach an agreement. along about that time, our intelligence sources intercepted a phone call from president -- vice president agnew's campaign stop in albuquerque, new mexico, to madam chinault in washington. and shortly thereafter, she had a phone call with the president of vietnam, hold out, hold off, nixon will give you a better deal. then all of a sudden, the negotiations just came to a halt. mr. scully: so, basically undercutting president johnson. former rep. jones: yes. that's right. of course, the president was furious at this. i had talked to bryce harlow, who was very close to the president, to mr. nixon. and basically tell him that this is going -- if this happens again, it's going to be totally
publicized. president johnson decided not to leak this or tell this to anyone. mr. scully: why? former rep. jones: he said that if nixon were elected anyway, he would be impeached right off the bat because this is a treasonable offense and he did not want to see the presidency or that institution disrupted that way. that was the main reason. so, he didn't tell anybody. very few people even knew about this. but it did, in my judgment, had that not happened, we would have had a peace agreement before the president left office. mr. scully: we get the impression through history that it was a tortured last year for lyndon johnson, but you were with him. what was his mood, what was he like, what was going through his mind with regard to vietnam, the election of 1968 and of course at that same time the assassination of dr. king and later, senator robert kennedy?
former rep. jones: well, it was a very, very tough year. first of all, in january right off the bat, you had two instances that caused real problems. one was the capture of the pueblo, the sort of spy ship we had off of north korea. and the other was the tet offensive, which was, in military terms, the north vietnamese were defeated, but in political terms, it was such a shock that back here it was considered as a win for north vietnam. so, those two started off the year. and then when you get to april 1, april 2, dr. king was assassinated. then, the robert kennedy assassination, june 4th or 6th, right in that period.
so, it was a very disruptive year and that -- those events caused more demonstrations and more disruptive demonstrations where property and what have you was destroyed. and so, there was nothing, there was nothing settled about that particular year. mr. scully: what were his personal feelings towards bobby kennedy? former rep. jones: he never expressed them to me or to those around us. but we knew what his feelings were. he felt that bobby kennedy would not have been elected in 1964 in new york, had johnson not had such a landslide victory up there. he felt that bobby kennedy was constantly undermining him and disrespecting him and he felt that bobby kennedy was different from either jack kennedy or ted kennedy, whom he liked each of those brothers.
so, what all went into that and that feeling -- those bad feelings happened before i worked for the president and i can't comment on that, i don't know. but, it was a very strained relationship. i think it was early april, because after the president announced he was not going to run for reelection, we had bobby kennedy, and ted sorensen down to the white house and the president met with them in the cabinet room. and he was very stern with him. basically lecturing -- the president lecturing bobby kennedy on not doing things that's going to interrupt or disrupt the peace settlement in vietnam. you can tell then that the two people did not have the warmest of relationships.
mr. scully: of course, that settlement did not take place in 1968. former rep. jones: right. mr. scully: take us back to the evening of march 31. the speech is over. you're in the white house. paint a picture. what was it like? what was lady bird johnson saying to president johnson, what was the interactions with president johnson, what are you seeing and hearing? former rep. jones: well, after the speech the president went into the little office off the oval office and received and made phone calls. one of the interesting phone calls was to nelson rockefeller -- because -- or rockefeller to him, because he was the governor of new york. johnson had developed a warm relationship with governor rockefeller and had encouraged him, on this night, to run for election. that -- i suspect of all the people who are running the one that president johnson thought might be the best successor to him was nelson rockefeller, which is an interesting
observation. lady bird johnson was absolutely elated because she felt he should not run. she had felt that for quite a while. and so, she and the daughters were both just congratulating and feeling very warm. the president, having wrestled with this decision for months, felt really relieved that the decision was made. his step was much lighter. his attitude was much brighter. and so, i think he was relieved. i was handling phone calls mostly to lulu bank was first, who called and she was distraught. i had to talk to vice president humphrey. i had called, we had several cabinet secretaries on the same airplane going to asia.
i think it was to japan for some sort of a conference. i called dean rusk, the secretary of state, and i told him what the president had done and his response was thank you very much. so, he just took it in stride. he was a person of few words, anyway. so, i was taking those calls and to different members of the congress, to let them know. so, it was -- it was a happy feeling. and as i say, it was almost as though president johnson was on his way out of jail because he always felt, in that particular year, he always felt very confined by the white house. and so, it was a feeling of freedom. mr. scully: one other conversation on to the evening of march 31. this is with willard werts who served as the labor secretary. let's listen. [audio clip] >> mr. president -- >> yes, bill, how are you?
>> that was the greatest contribution to peace in all of history. >> well, i hope so. we sure have been working it. >> and it's magnificent. beyond that, i only want to tell you that at the right time, i'll be doing everything in my power to reverse that decision. i think i'm smart enough to know that the right, today is not the time. i want you to know how i feel about it. >> it's not reversible, but god bless you. i'm grateful to you. it puts you in a position to do wilson wasted the opportunity to do. >> thank you. you're a wonderful colleague. you have been a great source of strength to me all the time, in every way.
>> you're a great man. >> thank you. mr. scully: president johnson with the labor secretary. again, it's important to underscore this was a shock to the nation. it stunned the world. former rep. jones: right. and to his cabinet and to most of the people who were in government. it was really a well kept secret and bill was a wonderful person. he was -- president kennedy brought him in as labor secretary and he stayed on with president johnson for the whole kennedy-johnson eight years. and he was just a very wise person and a very decent person. and very smart. mr. scully: james jones, i have to ask you about these recordings because we air them every saturday on c-span radio. former rep. jones: right. mr. scully: and it is often the most commented part of the programming is people listen to the inner workings of the johnson white house. why did it come about and as you listen to the tapes, what are your thoughts? former rep. jones: well, president johnson wanted the tapes and he wanted them for several reasons. probably his own self-protection, number one. but he was -- interesting thing about president johnson, his
motivation was history. how would history record his administration and his presidency and he wanted that for history. and when we left office, he said at the appropriate time, he wants these released because he wants the american people to see his administration as he said with the hide off, both the warts and the good things that the administration did, so that they could really assess his administration. and these tapes were -- one of the things that i find wonderful about them, lyndon johnson was not a good television person. he never warmed up to a camera. he would warm up like, wonderfully, very much so with people, face-to-face. he was very much a people person. but on camera, he was very stiff and did not come across well.
and when people would say, you know, they have their negative opinion of him after he had made an address on television or what have you, i would say i wish you could see the johnson that we see privately. is warm. he's funny. he's smart. he is very committed and -- but you don't see that on television because he's too intimidated by the camera and how people might perceive him. he did not want to be perceived as some corn pone politician. he really wanted to be perceived equal to what he believed the office of the presidency should be. and what those tapes have done is to be able to show the lyndon johnson that we got to know, privately, in a way that would not have been able without the tapes. mr. scully: and finally, at the time you were 28-years-old in march of 1968. as you reflect 50 years later
that moment where johnson announced that he was not seeking reelection and the events that followed in the days after, what were you thinking? mr. scully: well -- i did not, it's interesting because i grew up in a town in oklahoma. muskogee, oklahoma. my dad was a rural postal carrier -- rural mail carrier. it's the kind of thing that just happens. it was not any -- i had no preordained reason to be at the white house. but i was so busy and there were so many things that could go wrong that i never really got to think about what it was like to be there. the only one time it was is one time in that year, actually, that we -- i was called from the situation room and there was some sort of, i don't remember the issue now, but there was a situation report on the foreign
activities that i felt i had to wake up the president. it was about 2:00 in the morning. i felt i had to come down and wake up the president and give him this message. as i was walking through the mansion in the family quarters upstairs, i looked at some of the portraits up there on the walls and i thought, that was the only time i was able to say, what are you doing here? aren't you a lucky, lucky guy? and so, i really didn't try to analyze what am, what's this all about? i was just scrambling to get everything done. mr. scully: james jones served as president john's appointment secretary, equivalent today to white house chief of staff and went on to serve in the u.s. house of representatives and the u.s. ambassador to mexico. thank you for stopping by. former rep. jones: thank you. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >>