tv LB Js Decision Not to Seek Re-election in 1968 CSPAN April 7, 2018 7:15pm-7:45pm EDT
1968,cer: on march 31, president lyndon b. johnson delivered an oval office address . he began by outlining steps to end the war in vietnam, and ended the speech by announcing he would not seek reelection. jones, president lyndon johnson's appointment secretary tells the back story of his decision process which , began in september of 1967. this half-hour interview with recorded for c-span's the weekly podcast, which provides background to issues in the news. lyndon johnson: 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. steve: 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. james: 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, et cetera, particularly the three of them rode around and discussed whether he should or should not run for re-election. then at meal times we would all discuss it. the president asked connolly what he should do. he said he was not going to run , for governor again in '68 and he thought the president should not run for re-election. 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 re-election but not to tell anybody about it. 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 '68 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 so we are riding back to the capital -- and 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. 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 issue -- 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 re-election in 1952. turned out it was march 30th. 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, et cetera. and the president beat all of them in those polls. this is about ten 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 run as hed if he did thought he would win that he could win. so he had asked for information like that. so we get to friday, march 29, and the president called a minipress conference in the rose garden and basically said that he would 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 the other speechwriters.
he was in the mansion, 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, but who is now running the punitive campaign for re-election, asked the three of us to come in for a drink in the little office off of 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. 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. he asked me to go with him, and so while we were in church he said -- asked 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. and so 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, , who had been a major fundraiser for him and 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. 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 was afraid that there was going to be a ruckus. 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 had free -- 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 -- 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 dewant to run. -- did not want to run. but the final analysis, he thought very much if he were a candidate for re-election 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. steve: along those lines, this is from october of 1968. a conversation between president johnson and everett dirksen, republican from illinois. a mention of richard nixon, the issue of vietnam. let's listen. >> 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. steve: as you hear that conversation, your reaction james jones. ,james: well, in october, maybe ten 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 president --from
vice president agnew's campaign stop in albuquerque, new mexico, to madam chinault in washington . and shortly thereafter, she had a phone call to president chu, sudden, theld off, nixon willaa negotiations came to a halt. >> undercutting president johnson. >> and he was furious at this. harlow,alked to bryce who was close to mix -- mr. him this isold going to be publicized.
mr. johnson decided not to tell this to anyone. -- whyixon were elected not? elected, itn were would be a treasonable offense. -- if nixon were elected, it would be a treasonable offense. he didn't tell everyone -- anyone. we would've had a peace agreement before he left office. -- agreement it was a torture last year for lyndon johnson. what was he like? what was he going through with regards to vietnam and the election of 1968, and the assassination of dr. king and senator robert kennedy? in january, right off the
bat, you had two instances that caused real problems. there was a spy ship captured off of north korea. offensive.as the tet terms -- theitary north vietnamese were defeated. in political terms, it was such a shock. it was considered as a win for north vietnam. when you get to april 1 or april 2, dr. king was assassinated. these opportunity assassination, june 4 or sixth, it was a very disruptive year. caused more
demonstrations and disruptive demonstrations, where property was destroyed. there was nothing settled about that particular year. >> what were his personal feelings toward bobby kennedy? tohe never expressed them me, but we knew what his feelings were. he felt bobby kennedy would not have been elected in 1964 if johnson had not had such a landslide victory. he felt that bobby was constantly undermining him and just respecting him and felt that bobby kennedy was different from jack kennedy or ted kennedy. what all went into that
these feelings happen before i worked for the president. i can't comment on that. i don't know. but it was a very strange relationship. it was early april, after the president announced he was not going to run for reelection. we had bobby kennedy down at the white house. the president met with him in the cabinet room. stern, the president, lecturing bobby kennedy, on to not doing things that are going to interrupt the peace settlement. then, the two people did not have the warmest of relationships. did nothat settlement take place in 1968. >> right.
>> take us back. the speech is over, you were in the white house. what was lady bird johnson thing to president johnson? what were the reactions? the president went into the --l office and perceived received and made phone calls. the governor of new york. president johnson had a warm relationship with governor rockefeller. lady bird johnson was absolutely elated.
that he shouldn't run for quite a wild. she and her daughters were congratulating and feeling very warm. the president, having wrestled with this -- with this decision for months, felt really believed that the decision was made. lighter, hismuch attitude was much brighter. i think he was relieved. i was handling phone calls. tallulah banquette was one of the first to call, and she was bankhead was one of the first to call, and she was distraught.
i called the secretary of state him what the president had done. he was a person of few words anyway. calls, and making calls to different members of congress to let them know. it was a happy feeling. was almost as though president johnson was on his way out of jail. he always felt in that respect that particular year, very confined by the white house. it was a feeling of freedom. interviewer: one other conversation on the evening of march 31, with his labor secretary. let's listen. >> glad to hear you. >> i only want to tell you, the
right time, i have been doing everything in my power to reverse that decision. >> i know right now is not the time. >> i want you to know how i feel about it. >> i am awfully grateful tour you -- to you. are doing what woodrow wilson wasted the opportunity to do and what other people have wasted the opportunity to do. you are a great man. >> bill, you are a wonderful colleague. >> you are a great man. >> thank you. president johnson, with his labor secretary. it is important to underscore this was a shock to the nation, if not the world. s: and to most of the people
in government. bill was a wonderful person. president kennedy brought him in as labor secretary. he stayed on with president johnson eight years. he was very wise, very decent. and very smart. steve: i have to ask you about these recordings. we air every saturday on c-span radio. often the most commented part of our program, people listening to the inner workings of the johnson white house. why did it come about? when you listen to these tapes, what have you found reppo -- what have you found? james: president johnson probably wanted these tapes for several reasons. one of them was self protection. his motivation was history, how history would record his administration and his
presidency. he wanted to record history. said at the appropriate time he wanted these released, because he wanted the american people to see his administration , with the warts and the good things the administration dead, so he could really assess his administration. one of the things i find , lyndon johnson was not a good television person. he never warmed up to a camera. up -- he warmed up wonderfully with people face to face. person. much a people but on camera, he was very stiff and did not come across well. people have their negative opinion of him, after he made
that address on television. way forsh there was a you to see the lyndon johnson we see privately. he is warm, funny, smart, very committed, but you don't see that on television. he is too intimidated by the camera and how people might receive him. he did not want to be perceived he wanted to be perceived equal to what the office of the president should be. these tapes show the lyndon johnson we got to know privately, in a way that would've not have been possible without the tapes. steve: you were 28 years old in march of 1968. as you reflect 50 years later, that moment when lyndon johnson announced he was not seeking
reelection and in the events that followed days after, what were you thinking? james: it is interesting. i grew up in oklahoma. my dad was a postal carrier. it is the kind of thing that just happens. i had nobody ordained 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. there was only one time in that when i was called from the situation room, and i don't remember the issue, now, but there was a situation report on activities that i felt i had to wake up the president about. morning.out two in the
i felt i had to give them this message. -- him this message. as i was walking through the family quarters upstairs, i looked at some of the portraits up there on the walls. it is the only time i was able to say, what are you doing here? rhu a lucky guy? -- aren't you a lucky guy? i wasn't trying to analyze what this was all about. i was just scrambling to get everything done. and served asones president johnson's appointment secretary, equivalent to the white house chief of staff today. thank you very much for stopping by. james: thank you. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] sunday on 1968 "america in turmoil," liberal politics, as we look back to johnson's great society, and liberal activists redefining the role of federal government and
challenging traditional values. our guests are robert kennedy's daughter, and the former lieutenant governor of maryland. , author ofel: "american milestone." watch 1968, america in turmoil -- life sunday at 8:30 a.m. eastern, on washington journal and on american history television on c-span3. weekend, american history television is joining communication cable partners to show the history of norman oklahoma. to learn more about the cities on her current tour, visit our website. we continue with a look at the history of norman. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] debbie: we are in norman, oklahoma, on her way to get a tour of this fine city. sitting with