WH6408-19-4908

Participants: 
Lyndon Johnson, Edward Kennedy
Location: 
Oval Office
Listen: 


On the night of 19 June 1964, a plane carrying Senator Edward Kennedy crashed in Western Massachusetts in poor weather conditions. Pulled from the crash by fellow Senator, Birch Bayh [D-Indiana], Kennedy suffered severe injuries, including fractured vertebrae, a collapsed lung, and fractured ribs. The pilot and one of Kennedy’s aides, Ed Moss, died in the crash.

Kennedy was initially taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton and later moved to Boston's New England Baptist Hospital. Refusing, apparently at his father's urging, his doctors' recommendations to undergo complicated spinal surgery to fuse his lumbar vertabrae, Kennedy opted for the alternative: months of being confined to a specially designed bed so that his lumbar could fuse naturally.1 Despite being bed-ridden, Kennedy continued his campaign for reelection with aides setting up offices near Kennedy's hospital room and his wife Joan taking on many of the public speaking events.2

Kennedy also remained engaged in planning for the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Influential friends of the Kennedys proposed including in the Convention program a tribute to the slain President John F. Kennedy. In this call, Edward Kennedy floats the idea with Johnson on behalf of the Kennedy family. Both sides recognized the need to handle the topic delicately.

Edward Kennedy's was on considerably better terms with President Johnson than was his older brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Johnson remained wary of Robert Kennedy, especially in light of a recent and much publicized flairing of tensions over Johnson's decision not to name Robert Kennedy as his vice presidential running mate.

 
Edward Kennedy: Oh, Mr. President?
 
President Johnson: Yes?
 
Kennedy: Oh, how are you? Ted Kennedy.
 
President Johnson: I'm glad to hear from you! I checked on you yesterday and they told me that you . . .
 
Kennedy: Well, we're making great progress up here. They just announced this morning they're not going to operate, so they're giving me a few more months on my back up here. But I'm going to beat their estimates and hope to get on home by Thanksgiving time.
 
President Johnson: Oh, that's wonderful. That's the best news—
 

Kennedy: It'll be a big—my son came up and looked under the covers and was looking for my broken back and when he couldn't see it, he thought I was sort of sitting on, faking it out up here. But . . . they've been a great joy and we're getting some things done up here.

President Johnson: Well, they can't keep a good man down.

Kennedy: Well, we're going to get up and around.

Mr. President, we had a very nice invitation from Governor [Averell] Harriman to have a reception at the [Democratic National] Convention on Thursday after the election of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates on Thursday afternoon for Mrs. [Jacqueline] Kennedy. And she would come to the Convention for that afternoon and have a reception which would be for Mrs. Kennedy and the members of the family, and the . . . of course the president and vice-presidential candidates. And she was . . . Jackie has indicated that she would be delighted to accept this, but of course we wanted to do . . . we wanted to have this in complete accord with what your wishes on the arrangements at the Convention. I've taken the liberty, of when this invitation came, to ask Mrs. [Pauline] Fitzgerald, who had handled most of the receptions for the president and Jackie in [19]52 and [19]58 and [19]60, to come down and see the facilities down at the Atlantic City and to be sure that it would be conducive to having a reception which would be dignified and wouldn't be sort of a free-for-all there, which probably wouldn't serve the purposes for anyone and that we'd certainly reserve any kind of acceptance of the invitation of the governor pending this kind of decision. She went down and was in touch with [J.] Leonard Reinsch and [unclear] down there in order to coordinate her efforts with the [Democratic] National Committee, and came back last evening and said they've been able to, at the Deauville Hotel, acquire a place which would be suitable and adequate and thought that this would meet all the problems.3 So I wanted, before going any further, to talk to you to first of all—and Bob—because the family indicated that it would greatly honored if you would be there and the vice-presidential candidate, and also whether you felt that this would be something which would be consistent with the spirit of the Convention itself.
 
President Johnson: [with Kennedy acknowledging] I . . . Someone mentioned it to me when I got in from New York last night. I told them to talk to Ken O'Donnell and see. I think the housing man—someone up there called and said that Polly [Baca] was there. I know her. I worked with her in Texas 1960. She organized a number of things for Lady Bird and Ethel [Kennedy] and some of them. And that's all I know about it. I will get right back in touch with Kenny [O'Donnell] and see what he's done. He and Walter Jenkins were the ones that talked to me about it and he was going to explore it. And I see no reason why it wouldn't work out fine. I don't know when I'm going to be there. I believe their plans were for me to come in that night and not go to the Convention before that time. But that wouldn't have anything—I believe Mrs. Johnson will be there Wednesday night. But I'll do that and if I may call you back, maybe in the morning, soon as I get a chance to.
 
Kennedy: That's fine.
 
President Johnson: And we'll work it out where it's something we'll all be proud of and that [as] many of us as possible can participate in.
 
Kennedy: Fine. Well that would be fine, Mr. President.
 
President Johnson: Now you this is—you say Mrs. Kennedy, you're talking about Jackie?
 
Kennedy: That's right.
 
President Johnson: Or your mother?
 
Kennedy: Jackie.
 
President Johnson: Yeah. OK.
 
Kennedy: Yeah.
 
President Johnson: All right. Now what—I didn't get the Harriman thing, what did—
 
Kennedy: Now, he indicated that he would do this. He would sort of give this.
 

President Johnson: Oh, yeah.

Kennedy: It would be sort of under his sponsorship. It seemed to me . . . he indicated he would invite a lot of other people to be on the committee and do whatever would be the most satisfactory part, but there seems to be such limited time, now really two weeks, that . . . you know, to do any of this. He thought that this would be just suitable and he wanted to have this to, you know, to let him just host the reception.

And what they . . . at that Deauville Hotel, they'd come in, the delegates would come in there on the Thursday afternoon and they'd probably be seated. And Fredric March would do those readings again and then they filed out into an adjacent room, that [a] receiving line would just greet them and they'd go into the adjacent room and have their refreshments in there. This larger room—the seating at the Deauville—would seat 1800 and if there was necessary to have a second group, a second group could come in and they could do it twice. Those were sort of some of the tentative thoughts on this. But we wanted to at least make sure before . . . having . . . going ahead on this at all, to at least make sure that this type of thing could be done with dignity and be done well before getting to a point where we'd sort of go ahead and say, "Well, let's either do it or not" and wanted to get a look at the facilities, because too often, if it isn't done carefully that . . . you know, I know that it would be, it probably wouldn't have the kind of taste that, you know, that Jackie would really like.
 
President Johnson: I some time ago told our people, Ken, to see that Jackie was urged to come if she felt disposed to do so. I didn't know really how to do it. I didn't know the one that would be the best one to extend that invitation. [John] Bailey would probably be the head person but I felt it maybe ought to be somebody pretty close to the family.4 So I told Ken O'Donnell to see that she was invited and, of course, I want to do anything and everything I can at anytime—
 
Kennedy: Sure.
 
President Johnson: —to make her as happy and as pleased as she can be under the circumstances. And I would look with favor on participating and contributing anything I could to that end. I will have Ken [or] Walter contact Harriman and get back to you sometime in the morning.
 
Kennedy: Fine.
 
President Johnson: OK.
 
Kennedy: Thanks very, very much.
 
President Johnson: Hope you get along fine, Ted.
 
Kennedy: Thanks, and congratulations on that South Vietnam . . .
 
President Johnson: Well . . .
 
Kennedy: Tonkin Gulf. It's certainly to be commended.5 [Unclear.]
 
President Johnson: Thank you.
 
Kennedy: I know you've received it from everyone but one more voice—
 
President Johnson: I appreciate it, Ted. I sure do. And you got a mighty bright future, and I'm mighty happy that things are coming so good, and I want to help any way I can on it, and I'll get back to you on this thing tomorrow.
 
Kennedy: Thank you very much.
 
President Johnson: Bye.

Johnson ultimately got the JFK tribute moved to the final night of the Convention. When Robert Kennedy took the stage to introduce the specially prepared film to his brother's life and presidency, he was prevented from proceeding with his introduction by a standing ovation lasting 22 minutes.

  • 1. Peter S. Canellos, Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009), p.104.
  • 2. Edward Kennedy's election in November 1962 was a special election to fill the seat vacated by his brother, John. The regular election cycle for that Senate seat was set for the 1964 election.
  • 3. Leonard Reinsch was president of the Cox Broadcasting Corporation and executive director of the 1964 Democratic National Convention, a position he had also held in the 1956 and 1960 conventions.
  • 4. John Bailey was chair of the Democratic National Committee.
  • 5. Kennedy is referring to congressional passage of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which President Johnson signed on 10 August 1964.

Original tape courtesy of LBJ Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.