Johnson Tapes

Lyndon B. Johnson Tapes

Finding Fannie Lou Chaney

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lee White, White House Operators                  
Introduction:

Whereas a congressman had given the White House the contact information for the parents of the two missing white activists, Lee White had to depend essentially on the phone book.

Vietnam and the Ghost of Ben Milam

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Richard Russell                  
Introduction:

This excerpt from a lengthy conversation between President Johnson and Georgia Senator Richard Russell highlights the serious early concerns about Vietnam prevalent among Johnson and his close advisers. Russell, a longtime Johnson friend and mentor, expressed grave doubts about U.S. involvement, at one point commenting that "it isn't important a damn bit" in response to an LBJ query about the relevance of Vietnam for American interests. In this passage, Russell helped Johnson assess French proposals for regional neutralization in Southeast Asia (supported by Senator Mike Mansfield), as well as the significance of tensions between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. Russell also took note of Johnson's reference to Texas hero Ben Milam. A soldier and trader from Kentucky, Ben Milam was a leader of the Texas independence movement in the 1830s. In December 1835, when some leaders of the rebel Texas forces wanted
to delay a planned attack on a Mexican army camped at San Antonio until after the winter, Milam disagreed. Instead, he urged other members of the Texas volunteers to join him in a surprise attack: “Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?” The attack succeeded, but as Russell reminded Johnson later in the conversation, Milam was killed by a sniper’s bullet. With this reminder of Milam’s personal fate, Russell implicitly chided Johnson for his earlier bravado in discussing Mansfield’s support of neutralization.

The Politics of Medicare

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Larry O'Brien                  
Introduction:

On the evening of May 18, 1964, President Johnson and his congressional relations liaison Larry O'Brien discussed the progress of the administration's Medicare bill, which would expand the Social Security system to include health care coverage for the elderly. O'Brien had just discussed the legislation with Wilbur Mills, the influential chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which controlled the legislation's fate in the House of Representatives. Representative Mills had fought Medicare legislation since it had first been proposed by President Kennedy in 1961, citing concerns about the consequences of increasing the Social Security payroll tax to fund the coverage, the costs that would be entailed in such a program, and the long-run fiscal soundness of the system. During the spring of 1964, however, Mills still claimed that his committee would report a package of amendments to Social Security that would include a Medicare program, but he had not yet supplied the details of such a plan. Much of the conversation between Johnson and O'Brien involved the question of whether Mills would attempt to bypass Medicare when he finally presented his plan. Mills' maneuvers would defeat the legislation in 1964, but would contribute significantly to its eventual passage in 1965.

The Economic Opportunity Act

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Phil Landrum                  
Introduction:

President Johnson and Representative Phil Landrum of Georgia (the floor leader for the Economic Opportunity Act in the House of Representatives) discuss the attempt by a group of Catholic congressmen to block the Economic Opportunity Act in the House Education and Labor Committee. The Act would remain blocked unless sections of Title II were re-written to include funding for remedial education programs in Catholic schools. Some congressmen also hoped to use the issue as a bargaining chip to prevent the closure of naval bases in their districts. Johnson indicates his willingness to cut the community action provisions of the legislation (Title II) rather than give in to the congressmen's demands - even though this component of the bill constituted one of its most important elements. Nonetheless, the President clearly indicated in this conversation that his primary interest in the antipoverty legislation lay in the Job Corps camps and training centers of Title I, rather than in the Community Action provisions of Title II. The latter programs, however, would soon define the Economic Opportunity Act in the public mind.

Swimming With Billy Graham

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Frank Thompson                  
Introduction:

In this excerpt from a conversation with Representative Frank Thompson (D-NJ), President Johnson explained his administration's position about the possible funding of Catholic school programs through the War on Poverty's community action provisions. The issue had exploded into controversy after Representative Hugh Carey (D-NY) had introduced an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act that would allow such funding. Johnson argued that the problem would be better handled by placing a passage in the committee report that would prohibit any discriminatory use of the funds. He maintained that he and Poverty Director Sargent Shriver would see that parochial schools were treated fairly. Any other approach, he argued, would inflame anti-Catholic sentiment among conservative members of the House. He also recounted a story about how he had once been swimming in the White House pool with evangelist Billy Graham when a Southern Baptist leader called to complain about alleged pro-Catholic bias. The conversation, and the underlying dispute, suggest the continuing tensions over the role of Catholicism in U.S. politics - even after the presidency of John F. Kennedy.

Poverty, Religion, and Military Base Closures

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, John McCormack, Bill Moyers                  
Introduction:

This clipping comes from a long conversation in which President Johnson and Speaker of the House John McCormack discussed the intransigence of the House Rules Committee and the controversy surrounding possible federal funding of parochial schools under the economic opportunity bill (which provided the legislative basis for the War on Poverty). The latter issue had emerged when Representative Hugh L. Carey of New York and other northeastern Catholic Democrats offered an amendment that would have authorized direct federal support for parochial schools under the bill's community action titles. The National Education Association, the largest of the two major teachers' unions, bitterly opposed any form of federal aid to religious schools. McCormack, a Massachusetts Democrat and a Catholic, had led an attempt to secure federal aid for parochial schools during the House fight over President Kennedy’s 1961 education bill. In doing so, he had been an ally of the same Catholic congressmen who had inserted the religious issue into the War on Poverty debate in 1964. As Speaker, however, he chose not to challenge the President on such an important piece of legislation. Earlier in the conversation, Johnson had reacted angrily to an attempt by Massachusetts Democrat (and Catholic) Tip O’Neill's to trade support of the poverty bill for a guarantee that the Boston Navy Yard would remain open. In this clip, the President returned to the subject of the navy yards and touched more sympathetically on the pressing economic issue of automation and unemployment in the industrial northeast.

"The Greatest Man In The World"

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey                  
Introduction:

On May 1, 1964, the Baltimore Sun had reported that President Johnson "dressed down" Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (the Democratic floor leader on the Senate civil rights bill) for suggesting that President Johnson might be willing to accept amendments to the version of the bill passed by the House. The Sun indicated that upon hearing of Humphrey's comments, Johnson called the senator and gave him "unshirted hell." Following the call from the President, Humphrey issued a clarification in which he stated that the President "is for the House bill." Later in the day, however, Humphrey turned to the Senate press gallery, smiled, and pulled on the tops of his ears. Reporters who saw the gesture interpreted it as an imitation of a beagle being lifted by the President, a reference to a controversial incident in which Johnson had picked up his dogs by their ears at a recent White House event as well as an indication that Johnson had disciplined the civil rights floor leader for his earlier comments.
In this conversation, Johnson and Humphrey discuss the source of the "unshirted hell" story. Two passages are particularly noteworthy. First, Johnson observed that in contrast to Humphrey, he had little credibility with civil rights activists as a result of his southern background. Second, Johnson attempted to convince Humphrey that he was primarily concerned with developing the senator's status and reputation, rather than demeaning him. The comments reflected not only the crucial North-South divide in the battle over the civil rights legislation, but also the President’s effort to control a senator who was already a leading candidate for the vice presidential nomination.

LBJ on Latin American Dictators

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, McGeorge Bundy                  
Introduction:

In this conversation, President Johnson and National Security Adviser Bundy assessed the tone that should be adopted in an official message congratulating the new Brazilian president, General Humberto Castelo Branco, on his inauguration. The difficulty for Bundy, and by extension for the administration as a whole, lay in the means by which General Branco had come to power. Formerly chief of staff of the Brazilian army, Branco had been a leader of a recent coup that ousted leftist Brazilian President João Goulart. The Brazilian Congress subsequently elected Branco to the post of provisional president. The coup, however, had involved the jailing of many Goulart supporters, and Branco's government proved to be the first in a string of hard-line military governments in Brazil. Perhaps not anticipating that the coup would lead to a virtual police-state, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Thomas Mann had described the change in Brazil's government as "the most important thing that's happened in the hemisphere in three years." Although Bundy offered a more cautious assessment of Branco, President Johnson shared Mann's belief that the coup had prevented a slide towards a Communist takeover in Brazil. In a comment that could be seen as disquieting when uttered by the most powerful individual in the non-Communist world, he half-jokingly suggested that "there's some people that need to be locked up here and there, too." The subtle difference of opinion between Johnson and Bundy highlighted broad divisions within the administration regarding the direction of U.S. policy in Latin America.

Signing the Farm Bill

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Larry O'Brien                  
Introduction:

Telephoning the President to follow up with thank-you suggestions in the wake of the farm bill passage, Larry O'Brien also received instructions from Johnson on preparations for the farm bill signing ceremony, on the antipoverty program, and on the once-defeated but now revived and slightly altered government pay bill.

The Best in the Army

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara                  
Introduction:

In this conversation snippet, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara responds to the President's question about a possible replacement for Henry Cabot Lodge as ambassador to South Vietnam. Due to his wife's declining health, Lodge was hinting at his desire to leave his post in Saigon. He departed before the end of the month. Against evident skepticism from Johsnon, McNamara touted Gen. William C. Westmoreland as Lodge's replacement. Johnson largely accepted McNamara's ringing endorsement.

A 3 A.M. Phone Call

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, George Reedy                  
Introduction:

Awakened just before 3 a.m. by the effects of a persistent cold, President Johnson was informed of a major earthquake that had struck around an Alaskan epicenter late on the previous day. Within minutes, he called Press Secretary George Reedy to discuss the matter.

LBJ on Women in Politics

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Liz Carpenter, Ralph Dungan                  
Introduction:

LBJ on Managing Congress and the Press

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, McGeorge Bundy, Bill Moyers                  
Introduction:

In this conversation snippet, President Johnson speaks with National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy about various foreign policy matters, including press comment on Cuba and Vietnam.

Explaining Vietnam

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara                  
Introduction:

In the wake of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's recent trip to South Vietnam, Johnson had pressed him to prepare a speech on the subject, as several members of Congress were beginning to suggest that the administration consider a sharp revision of its policy there. Senators Ernest Gruening and Wayne Morese, in particular, had registered pointed criticisms of the nation's Vietnam policy. With nagging questions regarding the principal rationale for U.S. intervention in Indochina and the oddly detached position of other world powers in the ongoing Vietnamese conflict, Johnson urged his defense secretary to provide clarification and, if there was one to be found, a workable defense of the nation's policy.

Janet Leigh's FBI Background Check

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover                  
Introduction:

President Lyndon B. Johnson had ordered a background check on the popular actress Janet Leigh as a precursor to appointing her to the Peace Corps National Advisory Council and possibly as ambassador to Finland. In this secretly recorded call, President Johnson heard from his former neighbor, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, on the FBI's report. The star of such films as The Manchurian Candidate (1962, dir. John Frankenheimer) and Bye Bye Birdie (1963, dir. George Sidney), Leigh's most famous scene was from the 1960 film Psycho (dir. Alfred Hitchcock) when her character was attacked in the shower at the Bates Motel. In an ironic choice of words here, Hoover declared that Leigh was "absolutely clean."

Syndicate content