Tuesday, July 20, 1965 - 12:06pm
Lyndon Johnson, John Kenneth Galbraith

In this call with John Kenneth Galbraith, President Johnson discussed the appointment of Arthur Goldberg as Ambassador to the United Nations. Galbraith was an economist, public intellectual, former Ambassador to India, and an influential liberal.

President Johnson had persuaded Arthur Goldberg to relinquish his seat on the Supreme Court in order to succeed Adlai Stevenson as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. The appointment of Goldberg, who was Jewish, to the position was anticipated to provoke some criticism from Arab nations.1

The move created a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Johnson had appointed Thurgood Marshall as Solicitor General in order to groom him for the Supreme Court--something that Johnson revealed in this call to Galbraith--but Johnson judged that it was still too soon to nominate Marshall as Goldberg's replacement.

An Orkin Pest Control commercial plays at beginning of tape.

Editorial Note: Galbraith's side of the conversation is difficult to hear.

President Johnson: Yes?

White House Operator: Kenneth Galbraith, 9-0.

President Johnson: Kenneth? Well, you got your man named [as a U.N. Ambassador]. I just thought I'd call you.

John Kenneth Galbraith: [Unclear; Arthur Goldberg?].

President Johnson: Arthur Goldberg.

John Kenneth Galbraith: My God. [Unclear] exaggerated [unclear].

President Johnson: No, it's not your influence, it's your brain. You've got good ideas and we are in the market for those all the time, as well as . . . you got influence as well. But I checked it out with a good many people, and I haven't heard anybody that didn't applaud it. They had some concern about the Arabs, but I--

Galbraith: [Unclear] after I mentioned him to you.

President Johnson: I didn't think that we ought to take a position that we couldn't have a negro on the [Supreme] Court or we couldn't have a Jew in the United Nations, or--that's not very much in line with the kind of government I thought we had. And while we've had a good many Jews on the delegation and they've dealt with these countries and maybe some of them will take up specific problems . . . Hello? Hello? Hello, Ken?

White House Operator: Yes, sir.

President Johnson: I was talking to Ken Galbraith and I got a recorded announcement right in the middle of it saying the number that you talked to is not in service.

White House Operator: Oh, I'm sorry, sir. Just a moment.

Galbraith's Operator: Operator.

White House Operator: Yes, operator, we were cut off right in the middle.

Galbraith's Operator: You're still connected right here [unclear] circuit.

President Johnson: What?

Long pause with muffled talking in background.

President Johnson: Well, I may just tear up and go [unclear]. I'm not going to say [unclear].

Long pause with muffled talking in background.

White House Operator: There you are, sir.

President Johnson: Ken?

Galbraith: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: I was saying I didn't think we ought to . . . that meant the negro couldn't go on the Supreme Court or the Jew couldn't go to the United Nations. And that wasn't very much in keeping with our system of government. We've had a good many Jews on the delegation and they tell me that they have dealt with these 11 or 12 Arab countries and that they might as well understand that this is the kind of system we have.

Galbraith: Oh, I think it's absolutely right, Mr. President. [Unclear.] How does Arthur feel about it?

President Johnson: He was very pleased and he thinks the opportunity for trying to extend some understanding and attention and ideas and plans for the smaller nations, and the newly independent group [Non-Aligned Nations], will just give a great outlet for his compassion. And he thinks that . . . he's not interested in Social Security. And while he likes the [Supreme] Court, and wanted to do it, that he loves peace more and he thinks he has a better chance to do something about it here.

Galbraith: [Unclear] that's really great.

President Johnson: We haven't found anybody. I talked to [J. William] Fulbright last night. Talked to [Everett] Dirksen, talked to [Mike] Mansfield, talked to Dick Russell. Dick Russell's raised the question about Arabs with him. Said, "Hell, he'll be leading Arabs in two months." Said, "He's the smartest man [President John F.] Kennedy had in the Cabinet."

Galbraith: [Laughs.]

President Johnson: And Russell's a pretty good judge of men. He thought that Goldberg he said was extremely able and he worked close with him with Kennedy. Joe Alsop called up and denounced Bill Moyers. And said it was catastrophic and it would destroy the world and that Goldberg was no good. And that he was very upset, according to Bill Moyers. But outside of Alsop, everybody else was complimentary. Speaker [of the House John William] McCormack [D-Massachusetts] said that he didn't think you could have a better man. [House Majority Whip Thomas] Hale Boggs [Sr.] [D-Louisiana] thought it was fine. Carl Albert's strong for it. George Smathers. The [Democratic] whip, Russell Long [D-Louisiana] raised a question about  the Arabs, but he said he wouldn't--he'd be for Goldberg. That he thought that we might as well let the world know now that we didn't practice discrimination, and that we could--it's all right to have a negro on the [Supreme] Court, to have Goldberg as our spokesman. He'd been to the United Nations as delegate for the Senate the last year or two. So, I don't know how much fuss it's going to kick up, but we think it'll give some originality. We think it'll give a lot of energy and imagination. And we know he loves what we all are seeking. And I think that he'll bring some brilliance to the [State] Department and have some suggestions for them. If a few fellas like you help him some, why, maybe we can do a better job than we are doing. We all know we're not doing well enough.

Galbraith: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: I would hope so. I think you ought to talk to some of your friends, though, so it gets off the ground right. I don't know. I didn't talk to anybody. I didn't think the president ought to be calling Kay Graham or Henry Luce.2 Arthur asked me to call about five or six people and get their judgement at the newspapers. But I don't think the president ought to be calling newspapers.

Galbraith: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: I think that that would be good. And I think once he was suggested that we couldn't say we turned him down because he was a Jew.

Galbraith: No, no, no.

President Johnson: And I'm going to appoint Thurgood Marshall to the [Supreme] Court. Not to succeed him [Goldberg], but after he's Solicitor [General] for a year. After he's Solicitor [General] for a year or two, the first vacancy I have. I haven't told anybody that and I don't want you to, but I brought him here. They kept him for a year and wouldn't confirm him, but he had 32 cases before the Supreme Court; he won 29 of them. And now he'll have 20 or 30 more, a variety of cases for the government. And at the end of a year or two no one can say that he's not one of the best-qualified men that has ever [been] appointed. And then I'm going to appoint him.

Galbraith: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: I don't think they can ever go behind it, and I think we'll break through there like we're breaking through on so many of these  things. We're going to have a wonderful civil rights conference a little later in the year. We're working with Dick Goodwin and Bill Moyers have been doing a splendid job, and anyway you can help them, I'll appreciate it.

Galbraith: [Unclear] some ideas I have.

President Johnson: I would just, I would gulp them up. I'd just kiss you almost for doing it. I need them. Here's--the the ticker says, "Fulbright, Senate Foreign Relations, said Goldberg selection was an excellent appointment." Said, "Goldberg is a very talented, intelligent, discriminating citizen with great experience and background. [Eugene] McCarthy [D-Minnesota], a long time [Adlai] Stevenson supporter, said that 'He would be a fine ambassador. He's an old friend of Adlai's. He would be a worthy successor.' [George] Aiken [R-Vermont] said, 'He's a friend of mine, he will devote himself earnestly to the job.' [John] Sparkman [D-Alabama] said that 'Goldberg is one of the most capable persons I know of. He's had a distinguished career in all the work he's done in government and in private industry before that time.' Another committee member, [Albert] Gore [Sr.] [D-Tennessee], said, 'Goldberg would be a strong advocate for this country.' [Claiborne] Pell of Rhode Island, said that, "The appointment was excellent."

Now, what you better do before Joe Alsop gets raising a lot of hell, you better talk to some of your people. And I don't mind your just telling them that you looked over 25 people and that I asked you the other day what you thought about it, and you just said, "I think he'd be the best one." And I said, "Well, I want to think about it. He may be." And just tell them I checked about 25 of the top people that deal with it in foreign relations, including [Dean] Rusk, including [George] Ball, including [McGeorge] Bundy, including Fulbright, including Aiken, including Dirksen, all of them in that field, and I didn't get a single objection.

Galbraith: No, [unclear].

President Johnson: If you do that and it might keep him from getting some trouble because they might smear him a little bit. And there's good deal of . . .

Galbraith: I need to talk to John [unclear; Whitney?], too. 

President Johnson: I think it would. I think it's a good deal of, oh, the . . . what was the old Huey Long fella that used to preach around here all the time from Louisiana? The fascist-type fella. There's a good deal of that around the town and I'd just like to get it nipped in the bud before it starts.

Galbraith: I'll get right on it.

President Johnson: I'm amazed at Alsop. I don't know why he lost his head.

Galbraith: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: Well, he just gives me hell all the time for trying to hold, just not go all out and get us in a world war. I don't know why he just thinks we ought to be bombing everything.

Galbraith: What I've got is [unclear] the American people [unclear] there is [unclear] freedom [unclear] some possibility of [unclear].

President Johnson: You get it to me and I'll study it and I'll be back in touch with you.

Galbraith: I will.

President Johnson: Right, thank you.

Galbraith: All right.

President Johnson: Let Bill Moyers know any reaction you get and anything we ought to know.

Galbraith: I'll get right on it.

President Johnson: Because this is important. I don't want this man that's going to speak for us with 120 nations to get smeared because of his race.

Galbraith: I'll get right on it [unclear].

President Johnson: Bye.

  • 1. Raymond Daniell, "Some at U.N. Are Critical; Arabs Decline to Comment," New York Times, 21 July 1965, p.1.
  • 2. Katharine "Kay" Graham was the publisher of the Washington Post. Henry Luce was founder of Time Inc.

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