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LBJ Considered Hijacking 1968 Convention

lyndon-johnson-phone

BBC‘s David Taylor has this interesting tidbit from President Lyndon Johnson’s White House tapes:

The final batch of tapes released by the LBJ library covers 1968, and allows us to hear Johnson’s private conversations as his Democratic Party tore itself apart over the question of Vietnam.

The 1968 convention, held in Chicago, was a complete shambles.

Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters clashed with Mayor Richard Daley’s police, determined to force the party to reject Johnson’s Vietnam war strategy.

As they taunted the police with cries of “The whole world is watching!” one man in particular was watching very closely.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was at his ranch in Texas, having announced five months earlier that he wouldn’t seek a second term.

The president was appalled at the violence and although many of his staff sided with the students, and told the president the police were responsible for “disgusting abuse of police power,” Johnson picked up the phone, ordered the dictabelt machine to start recording and congratulated Mayor Daley for his handling of the protest.

The president feared the convention delegates were about to reject his war policy and his chosen successor, Hubert Humphrey.

So he placed a series of calls to his staff at the convention to outline an astonishing plan. He planned to leave Texas and fly into Chicago.

He would then enter the convention and announce he was putting his name forward as a candidate for a second term.

It would have transformed the 1968 election. His advisers were sworn to secrecy and even Lady Bird did not know what her husband was considering.

On the White House tapes we learn that Johnson wanted to know from Daley how many delegates would support his candidacy. LBJ only wanted to get back into the race if Daley could guarantee the party would fall in line behind him.

They also discussed whether the president’s helicopter, Marine One, could land on top of the Hilton Hotel to avoid the anti-war protesters.

Daley assured him enough delegates would support his nomination but the plan was shelved after the Secret Service warned the president they could not guarantee his safety.

While it’s doubtful Johnson could have won, it’s odd to abandon this plan on the grounds of safety. It’s true that John Kennedy had been assassinated just a few years earlier; indeed, it’s how Johnson became president in the first place. But Kennedy was riding slowly in an open car on a planned parade route. A surprise visit to a packed convention hall is a different matter altogether.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    Wow, just wow. Had that happened that would have been fantastic, and COMPLETELY in concert with everything else that happened in 1968.

    To this date, in my lifetime, and I was 17 in 1968 – that year was the most unbelievable year.

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  2. Dean says:

    LBJ “considered” or LBJ threatened? LBJ wanted the peace plank for the 1968 platform defeated–it would have repudiated his policies. Defeating it would have been impossible if Humphrey had made any move to support the plank–either overtly or by covertly encouraging any of his delegates to support it. The threat that LBJ might come to the convention to be drafted could have been the club he held over Humphrey’s head to ensure that HHH would stay in line. The Illinois and Texas delegations remained undecided until the last minute. They were controlled by Daley and by John Connally, both LBJ loyalists. Both men floated the idea of an LBJ draft. LBJ had very good reasons for keeping the possibility that he would come to Chicago alive for as long as needed.

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  3. Tyrell says:

    Johnson also had figured out that a lot of these protests and the “riots” in many cities were planned, supported, and orchestrated by radical leftist outside groups in order to control the election outcome. These groups were international in origin and well financed. Johnson had some phone conversations with Humphrey, Russell, and a few others about this. One of his cabinet members (Califano I think) said years later that “this country was under siege”. The events at the Chicago convention and other places that year are a dark time in this country’s history and things were at the brink of a total breakdown. Unfortunately the American people were and are still being misled into believing that it was some sort of disillusionment and protests of the war and other issues. This false explanation has also found its way into the history books.

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