tv LB Js Decision Not to Seek Re-election in 1968 CSPAN March 28, 2018 7:30pm-8:01pm EDT
would not run for re-election in 1968. he also told the back story of the president's decision process, which began in september of '67. james jones is a former member of the house of representatives from oklahoma and former u.s. ambassador to mexico. the interview was recorded for c-span's "the weekly podcast." >> 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 31st, 1968, 350 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. >> it started about seven months previous in september of 1967. the president said -- told me he wanted to go to the ranch that weekend and like to have john conley, who was then the texas governor, to come to the ranch and just -- governor conley, myself, and the president's top secretary 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, mrs. johnson, the president, and governor conley, rode around and discussed whether he should or should not run for re-election. at meal times, he would all discuss it. and the president asked conley what he should do. conley 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. period periodically, the president would ask me to come in and have a drink or talk about issues, and the issue of whether he should run or not came up. if you go fast forward then to december of 1967, christmas season, we all went back to the ranch. well, we had a around the world
trip and then went to the ranch. again, the decision was being discussed. the president asked me to get horace busby, one of his speechwriters, and draft a statement that he was not going to run for re-election, but not to tell anybody about it. so very few people, i would say less than half dozen, who had any inkling that this was being seriously considered. we had the speech drafted, 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 of 1968. we kept the speechwriters for the state of the union separate from horace busby. so the president was planning to announce at the state of the union speech in january of '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, the i shall not run. we drive up to the capitol, and the president gives his state of the union speech, and he did t not -- at this time, i'm 28 years old. you know everything when you're 28 years old. so i basically asked, you know, he said oh, he said i left it on the night table. i thought he had decided to run, not to give this speech. so we went on and the first three months of 1968, and he started asking for different issues -- different questions,
different information. for example, he asked us to have a study done as to when hairy truman announced he was not going to run for election. he had some special polls made. we had our pollster to run the president on a head-to-head against all the possible democratic and republican candidates, which would be gene 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 31 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 he would win, that he could win.
so we get to friday, march 29th, and the president called a mini press conference in the rose garden and basically said he's going to make a nationwide televised speech on sunday evening, the 31st, and it was going to be an important speech. we spent the rest of that weekend working on that speech, and, again, taking horace busby back and putting him in the indian treaty run separate from all the speechwriters. he was in the mansion. the lincoln bedroom, which was adjacent to the president's bedroom. so horace was looking -- or was working on the end of the speech. nobody else knew about it. and we got to that on the 29th after the little mini press conference. he asked me to get journal christian and marvin watson, who
had been my predecessor who was now running the punitive campaign for re-election. he asked the three of us to come in for a drink off the office of the oval office. at that point, we again talked about whether he should or should not run. at the end, he said what do you fellows think? and we split 2-1. two of us thought he should run, 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, it was at the white house. we went through several revisions of the speech. sunday morning, he called to 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 in southwest washington. he asked me to go with him. so while we're in church, he said, ask to get the iteration
that i will not run part off of 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 to mexico city that day because he wanted to see him. in those days, the vice president didn't have a home. so he was living in an 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 to another room, and the president, vice president and i went into the little study. the president asked him to read the speech and vice president humphrey got to the end of the speech 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 firmly decided whether i'm going run or not. i will have jim call you tonight with my final decision. so that we left it at that. one of the interesting things, as you know, vice president humphrey ran for president in 1960. and he was -- if he had -- 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's no way i can beat the kennedys. which was an interesting observation of him going into the campaign with that. so he had some personal friends, arthur cram, the head of united artists at the time, and his
wife, they came to the white house. they were part of a discussion through sunday. and then going back and forth. and then i think the speech was around 8:00. around 6:00, the president asked me to come to the mansion and we went of the speech one last time. he said now you can put it on the teleprompter. and this was -- had been such a tight hi gualy guarded secret t nobody knew about it. i was telling a colleague of yours that bob flemming, an assistant press secretary, i asked bob to sit to the side of the desk, and if it happened to go blank on him, to put the right page in front of the president so he can read from that. so upon knew something was up, but he didn't know what. and so i was back in my office, which was next door at the oval
office, and bob comes racing in. he 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 getting -- not being able to get his breath and he left the oval office because he was afraid it was going to be a ruckus while the president was speaking. it was interesting. when the speech was over, the president -- it was like a great load had been lifted off his back. it was like he had -- was free at last. and that he could see the end. so he really thought that he was going to be able to get a peace agreement in vietnam. that was the real reason 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.
for example, he said that his father and grandfather had both died at able 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. turned out he did die at age 64, but i think 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 his excuses. another excuse was that he never appreciated and knew his daughters while they were growing up because he was always on the run, always doing things political. and he really wanted to know his grandchildren, who at that time he had one, and he just doted over that little boy. that's another reason he said he didn't want to run. the final analysis, he thought very much that 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 this that kind of a position. he thought if he were through with politics, he could do whatever necessary to reach a peace agreement. >> along those lines, this is from october of 1968, a conversation between president johnson and everett dirkson, a republican from illinois, and 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 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 consultation, i will initiate. >> as you hear that
conversation, your reaction, james jones? >> well, in october, maybe two weeks before the election, we were pursuing -- the president was pursuing a peace agreement in paris, and we had the north vietnamese, the south vietnamese, et cetera. and the president really thought he was going to reach an agreement. around about that time, our intelligence sources intercepted a phone call from vice president agnew's campaign stop in albuquerque, new mexico, to madame shinault in washington. and shortly thereafter, she had a phone call to the president about south vietnam, which in essence said hold off, nixon will give you a better deal. and all of a sudden the
negotiations came to a halt. >> to basically undercutting president johnson? >> that's right. of course, the president was furious at this. he did have -- i had talked to brice harlow, who was very close to mr. nixon. and basically tell him that this is going to -- if this happens again, it's going to be totally publicized. president johnson decided not to leak this or tell this to anyone. >> why? >> he said that if nixon were elected any way, 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. >> 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? whats wi what was he like? what was going through his mind in regard to vietnam, the election of '68, and the assassination of dr. king, and later senator robert kennedy? >> it was a very, very tough year. first of all, if january, right off the bat, you had two instances that caused real problems. one was the capture of 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 start off the year, and then when you get to april 1, april 2, dr. king was assassinated. then robert kennedy assassination june 4th or 6th, that period, so it was a very disruptive year, and 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. >> what were his personal feelings towards bobby kennedy? >> he never expressed them to me, or to those around us. but we knew his feelings.
he felt that bobby kennedy would not have been elected in '64 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 know that -- i have to think it was early april. after the president announced he was not going to run for re-election, we had bobby kennedy and ted sorensen down to the white house and the president met with him in the
cabinet room and he was very stern with him, basically lecturing bobby kennedy on not doing things that's going to interrupt or disrupt a movement towards a peace settlement in vietnam. and it was -- you could tell then that the two people did not have the warmest of relationships. >> of course, that settlement did not take place in 1968. >> right. >> take us back to the evening of march 31st. 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 your interactions with president johnson? what were you seeing and hearing? >> after the speech, we went to a little office off the oval office, and received and made phone calls. one of the interesting phone calls was to nelson rockefeller, because our -- rockefeller to him, he was the governor of new
york. and johnson had developed a warm relationship with governor rockefeller. and had even encouraged him on this this night to run for election, that -- i suspect of all the people who were running, the one that president johnson thought might be the best successor to him was nelson rockefeller, which was an interesting observation. lady bird johnson was absolutely elated because she felt he shall not run. she felt that for quite a while. so she and the daughters were both congratulating and feeling very warm. the president, having wrestled with this decision for months, felt really relieved that the decision was paed. his step was much lighter.
his attitude was you have brighter. so i think he was relieved. i was -- i was handling phone calls mostly to dsh one was just distraught. i had to talk to vice president humphrey. i had called -- we had several of the cabinet -- cabinet secretaries on the same airplane going to asia. i think it was to japan for some sort of a conference. and i called dean rusk, secretary of state, and told him what the president had don. and his response was about, thank you very much. so he just took it in stride. he was a person of few words anyway. so i was making those calls. and to different members of the congress to let them know. so it was -- 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 carrier, he always felt very confined by the white house. and so it was a feeling of freedom. >> one other conversation on the evening of march 31st. this is with willard wirts who served as labor secretary let's listen. >> mr. president. >> yes, bill had how. >> that was the greatest contribution to peace in all of history. >> i hope so we are sure going to work on it. >> magnificent. beyond that i only want to tell you that at the right time i'll do everything in my power to reverse that decision. and i think i'm smart enough to. >> no. >> to know that right now is not the time. i didn't want to you say anything. >> let's not reverse it god bless you you've been in there and i'm grateful to you. >> it put new a position to do
what woodrow wilson wasted the opportunity to do and what some other people wasted the opportunity to do. i just wanted to salute a great man. >> you've been a great source of strength to me all the time in every way. >> well you're a great man. >> thank you, bill. >> thank you. >> president johnson with his labor secretary. again, it's important to underscore this was a shock to the nation. >> right. >> it stunned the world. >> right. and to his cabinet and to most of the people in government. it was really a well-kept secret. and bill wirts was a wonderful person. president endbrought him in as labor secretary. and he stayed with president johnson, kennedy johnson the whole eight years. he was a very wise person and a very decent person and very smart. >> james jones, i have to ask you about these recordings because we air them every saturday on c-span radio.
>> right. >> and it's often the most commented part of our programming is people listening to the inner working of the johnson white house. why did it come about? and as you listen to the tapes, what are your thoughts. >> well, president johnson wanted the tapes. and i think he wanted them for several reasons. probably his own self-protection, number one. but he was -- the 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 -- he wants the american people to see his administration as he said, with the hide off, the warts and good things the administration did, so they could really assess his administration. and the 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 -- they would have their negative opinion of him after he made an address on television or what have you, i would say i wish there was a way for you to see the lyndon johnson that we see privately. he is warm. he is funny. he is smart. he -- very committed. but you don't see that on television because he is -- he is too intimidated by the camera and how people might perceive him. he did not want to be perceived as some corn pone politician.
he wanted to be perceived equal to what he believed the office of the president should be. and what the 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. >> and finally at the time you were 28 years old in march of 1968. >> yes. >> as you reflect 50 years later, that moment where lyndon johnson announced he was not seeking re-election and the eats events that followed in the days after, what were you thinking? >> 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 was 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 a -- 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 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 that was the only time i was able to say, what are you doing here? aren't you a lucky, lucky guy? i really didn't try to analyze what am -- what's this all about? i was just scrambling to get
everything done. >> james jones, served as president johnson's appointment secretary, a close aide equivalent to white house chief of staff. went on to serve in the u.s. house of represent he was and u.s. ambassador to mexico. thank you very much for stopping by the c-span radio studios. >> thank you. >> former cambridge analytica employee christopher wiley appeared before a british house of commons select committee telling the mps the brekts it was won through fraud. he touches on the political data firm's work in the 2016 u.s. election. see his nearly 4-hour testimony at 10:30 p.m. eastern on c-span. >> sunday night on q and a. high school students from around the countriy in washington, d.c. for the annual united states senate youth program. we met with them at the historic may flower hotel where they shared thoughts about government and politics. >> and eu i'm really passion
knit about daca. it's unfair that 700,000 mens women and children lives bang hang in balance because we dant find a solution. it's not a exactic or republican issue it's a human rights issue. >> and an issue that's important to me is climate change. the notion that we are the only country in the world that is not? the paris climate accordings is travesty. every other country in the world has recognized the detrimental impacts of climate change and taking steps to address it. and currently we have to the stayed on course with the other countries. >> we are the richest nation in the world. yet we have citizens who go bankrupt trying to cover basic health care costs. and i think that is an outrage. and that we should be ashamed. >> sunday night, at 8:00 eastern on c-span y and a. >> c-span where history unfolds daily. in 1979 c-span was created as a public service by america's
cable television companies. and today we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court and public policy events in washington, d.c. and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. >> next a look at the 1968 presidential campaign, the race started with candidates including lbj pmt ewe joej mccarthy process ronald regan jorm romney nelson rockefeller and third party candidate george wallace but it was humphrey facing nixon zbloop commentator pat buchanan and barbara perry director of presidential studies at the university of virginia miller center. this is 90 minutes. >> on the last evening in march,