Miller Center

Former Virginia Governor Linwood Holton and the Nixon Tapes

by Michael Feuerstein, Ken Hughes, and David Coleman

When he assumed office in 1970, Linwood Holton became the first Republican governor of Virginia since 1874. The previous year, Richard Nixon had assumed office as the first Republican president since 1961, and Holton himself attributes Nixon's 1968 election as president, in which he handily carried Virginia, with contributing toward a favorable political for his own gubernatorial campaign the following year.1 Between their first meeting in 1960 and Holton assuming office in 1970, the two met at a number of campaign-related events and activities. The "new Nixon," as Holton dubs Nixon's remade image in the wake of is unsuccessful presidential and California gubernatorial campaigns of 1960 and 1962, campaigned in Virginia in 1965. "It is my opinion," Holton writes, "that his campaigning in Virginia in 1965 marked the beginning of the momentum that built into the nomination and election of Richard Nixon in 1968."2

The two campaigned together, but they also had fundamental political differences, chief among them concerning the issue of race. Nixon's adoption of a "Southern Strategy" to exploit political opposition in Southern states to civil rights legislation and other progressive causes was, to its critics, a cynical playing of the race card for political gain. In his 2008 memoirs, Opportunity Time, Holton writes of Nixon: "Until very late in his presidency, I admired him for his courage, among many other positive qualities, even though I took passionate exception to his embracing the Southern Strategy.3

Holton relates a discussion the day after the 1968 election: "Later that morning when we were in a room together just before his press conference, Nixon and I had a brief talk. He said, 'I'm tired, and I'm going to Florida for a rest. When I get back, I want to talk to you about an appointment in the administration.' My response was, 'Mr. President, of course I will do anything you want me to, but what I would like most is for you to help me next year become the first Republican governor of Virginia.'"4 Holton was indeed elected as governor, and he never assumed a position in the Nixon administration.

Below is a compilation of conversations captured on the Nixon tapes involving or mentioning Linwood Holton. 

Conversation 012-085

In this 22 October 1971 telephone call, President Nixon and Governor Holton discuss the recent nomination of Richmond lawyer Lewis F. Powell to the Supreme Court, the two congratulate each other on their job performance, and briefly survey the world situation. Holton tries to arrange a meeting to discuss schools and suggests he could be of help on the issue.

Conversation 019-132

In this 27 January 1972 telephone conversation, John Connally updates the President on his recent speech in Richmond and they discuss the recent decision by Federal District Court Judge Robert Merhige, Jr., to merge Richmond's predominantly black school district with two surrounding counties with predominantly white students. Nixon says it was a "terrible" decision and is eager to make clear that he did not appoint Merhige.

Oval Office Meeting: 6 June 1971

Date: 1971-06-07
Time: 9:43 am - 11:05 am
Location: Oval Office
Participants: President Nixon, Henry Kissinger, H.R. Haldeman, Alexander Butterfield, Stephen Bull, Linwood Holton, John Ehrlichman.
Timecode: 45:25a

Conversation 511-001

Alexander Butterfield tells President Nixon, "Mr. President, Linwood Holton is outside." Somebody called him last night, identified himself as White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler calling from Air Force One flying over Richmond, and told him he had an appointment with the President at 10:00. Nixon mentions the upcoming meeting with the National Association of Home Builders. The President will say Governor Holton is "visiting here with me" and suggests he would like "to hear some of this discussion." The President tells Haldeman to tell Governor Holton that he is preparing for a meeting at 11 A.M. and that he can come in and sit in on that meeting for 20 or 30 minutes because "it involves Virginia, which is one of the major states." The President also suggests the White House photographer can take a picture of him with Governor Holton.

1:04:45a: Governor Holton and John Ehrlichman enter while Bob Haldeman leaves. President Nixon tells them that the photographer is going to take a picture of them working. The President asks Governor Holton's whether he wants to meet with the National Association of Homebuilders. The two of them coordinate schedules. 

1:10:20a: The President talks about "these hypocrites" he "can't stand" in NYC who "send their kids to lily-white schools." 

The Governor says, "They are cheating their youngsters by doing that." Nixon says, "Your kids go to the black high school."

Holton tells the President that his children go to Richmond public schools which have mostly African-American students. "And the great thing about it, Mr. President, is you go to basketball games and scholastic events, these kids are friends." The Governor starts talking about the impact this will have 10 years down the line, but the President interrupts to cite statistics about a higher percentage of black children in the South attending majority white schools than in the North.

Holton says, "This year, I said, when the Attorney General declined to approve our reapportionment plan on the grounds  it had a bad racial effect, I said, 'Well, goddamn it, go in and write another one and comply with it.' This is done all the time. [Unclear.] I tell you, 10 years from now when those kids get married, you're not gonna have any damn all-white suburbs. They're gonna say, 'Why, hell, those people are friends I went to school with.' And that's the way to handle that, not by any force." 

1:15:00a: Governor Holton told the President about a bomb threat made on the Virginia Governor's mansion, calling it a "cute story". The Governor told the President that about 2:30 in the morning the Capitol police came to the mansion and had him woken up and told that he had to evacuate the house so that a search could be conducted. His response was that there would be no evacuation and that the police could search the mansion all they wanted, but he would be up in his room sleeping. He then told the President about the conversation he had the next morning with his son, who had found out what happened. His son said that next time he wanted to be woken up, so he could decide for himself whether he wanted to evacuate. Before the President left they talked about Governor Holton's schedule again.

Oval Office Meeting: 14 March 1972

Date: 1972-03-14
Time: 9:52 am - 11:49 am
Location: Oval Office
Participants: President Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Ziegler, Stephen Bull, John Ehrlichman, Edward L. Morgan, Alexander M. Haig, Jr.

Conversation Number 685-003 16:57b:

The President says that he knows people like Daniel Patrick Moynihan who believe that multiracial experiences are good things, but he disagrees with them. He refers to Governor Holton as "that poor, nice, little guy we've got as governor in Virginia. When he goes, 'It's really great for my kids to go to a school that are 90 percent black, I think he's lying through his teeth."

Ehrlichman said, "Lin Holton called me and said, 'Listen, I want to know what you guys are gonna do on busing, because,' he says, 'I've to get off this wicket I'm on.'"

President Nixon says, "He's gone too far. When he got up at that Governor's thing and went through that business about what a wonderful experience it was to take his children [to school], and I thought, poor Lin--he's an awful nice guy but, goddamnit, you don't do that."

Nixon says, "Black children are not equal to white children and black teachers are not as good as white teachers. Now goddamn it, that happens to be the truth. So why the hell do you [buck?] against the truth. Isn't that the problem? Now you can't tell them that. That's the problem."

Oval Office Meeting: 2 February 1972

(Note: In our collection, tape 665a is actually tape 664a.)
Date: 1972-02-02
Time: 9:15 am - 10:05 am
Location: Oval Office
Participants: President Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, Ronald Ziegler, Henry Kissinger

26:00a: In discussing the dinner held for Republican governors, Haldeman has the following exchange with the President:

Haldeman: Holton got off on his integration again.

President Nixon: He's hung up on that, isn't he?

Haldeman: He is. He's obsessed with it.

President Nixon: I think it's because he's probably taking a beating on one side and trying to compensate on the other. But he doesn't need to do it all the time. I mean, it's a little embarrassing to people--it is to me anyway--to hear that kind of crap all the time. I heard the story.

Cabinet Room Meeting: 16 March 1971

Date: 1971-03-16
Time: 3:06 pm - 4:00 pm
Location: Cabinet Room
Participants: President Nixon, William Rogers, John Connally, David Packard, John Mitchell, Winton Blount, Rogers C.B. Morton, J. Philip Campbell, Maurice Stans, James Hodgson, George Romney, John Volpe, George Shultz, Robert Finch, Donald Rumsfeld, George H.W. Bush, John Ehrlichman, Robert Dole, Alexander Butterfield, Clark MacGregor, Robert Brown, Dr. Edward David, Jr., Raymond Price, Jr.

Conversation Number 050-007

The National Citizens Committee was set up under the leadership of Gov. Robert W. Scott of North Carolina and Governor Linwood Holton of Virginia for the purpose of getting governors and mayors to set up citizens groups in each state to develop public support for Nixon's revenue sharing committee.

Cabinet Room Meeting: 7 June 1971

Date: 1971-06-07
Time: Unknown-- it started some time after 9:34 am and the recording cut off at 10:13 pm
Location: Cabinet Room
Participants: President Nixon, John Ehrlichman, Linwood Holton, John A. Stastny, George Martin, Louis Cenker, Nathaniel Rogg, Stanley Waranck, Richard C. Van Dusen, James D. Hodgson, and Laurence H. Silberman, George Romney.
Timecode: 04:50b

Conversation Number 059-004

President Nixon, John Ehrlichman, and Linwood Holton enter and Nixon introduces Gov. Holton to the National Association of Home Builders.

President Nixon: I have an added star who's going to be addressing you in two minutes, the governor of Virginia, Governor Holton.

Nixon, however, does most of the talking before a deleted segment of unspecified length. When the deletion ends, the NAHB makes its presentation.

Executive Office Building Meeting: 15 April 1971

Date: 1971-04-15
Time: 5:25 pm - 6:20 pm
Location: EOB
Participants: President Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, Stephen Bull, Robert D. Murphy, Henry Kissinger.
Timecode: 48:26b

Conversation Number 249-026

The President is talking with Haldeman about mailing out a column written by James Kilpatrick, Jr. In response, President Nixon suggests "maybe a fellow like Holton," and says it would be "a pretty good thing for the governors." This conversation has a lot of "tape whip," meaning that the recording often stops and starts in mid-sentence, making it difficult to discern speakers' words.

Executive Office Building Meeting: 2 February 1972

Date: 1972-02-02
Time: Unknown, between 3:31 pm and 4:12 pm
Location: Executive Office Building
Participants: President Nixon

Conversation Number 318-036

The day after a dinner for Republican governors, Nixon dictates letters to Governors Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, William Milliken and Linwood Holton.
1:06:05 RN thanks Gov. Holton. "I'm grateful for the support you gave me in the early days [unclear] 1968 nomination and election." The rest is unclear.

Oval Office Meeting: 7 June 1971

Date: 1971-06-07
Time: 12:43 pm
Location: Oval Office
Participants: President Nixon, Rose Mary Woods, H.R. Haldeman, Ronald Ziegler
Timecode: 10:20a

Conversation Number 513-001

Ronald Ziegler tells the President that he is going to say that in their meeting the President and Governor Holton talked about revenue sharing and domestic programs. Ziegler asks the President if Governor Holton asked him about a federal judgeship in Virginia. The President says that they did not discuss it, but that he is sure Governor Holton will discuss it with him eventually. Haldeman teases Ziegler, saying the Press Secretary was "playing big shot" by telling the Governor to come and see the President. Ziegler hopes the President knows the "real story" about the fake call from someone claiming to be Ziegler.

Oval Office Meeting: 22 June 1971

Date: 1971-06-22
Time: 3:42 pm - 5:06 pm
Location: Oval Office
Participants: President Nixon, John Ehrlichman, Gov. Linwood Holton, Gov. Arch A. Moore, Gov. Louis B. Nunn, Edwin L. Harper

Conversation Number 527-009

1:47:50a The governors enter and Gov. Moore discusses their concerns about whether Congress will continue the Appalachian Regional Commission. Nixon gives his commitment to an extension.

19:00b The governors leave.

Oval Office Meeting: 18 September 1971

Date: 1971-09-18
Time: 3:42 pm - 5:06 pm
Location: Oval Office
Participants: President Nixon, Stephen Bull, John Mitchell, Henry Kissinger, Roger Zion,  Charles Wiggins, H.R. Haldeman, Ronald Ziegler, John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson
 

Conversation Number 576-006

15:55b: The President is discussing with the group possible candidates for the Supreme Court to replace Hugo Black. H.R. Haldeman mentions that Governor Holton had called him and said that it would be a very good idea to put a Congressman from Virginia on the Court. In response the staff jokingly started throwing out names, including William L. Scott. Haldeman continued, saying that Governor Holton explained that if Nixon was concerned about confirmation, Senators Harry F. Byrd, Jr., D-Va. and William B. Spong, Jr., D-Va., would stand with the Governor ensuring easy confirmation. Haldeman also said that Governor Holton told him that Senator Roman Hruska, R-Neb., estimated that confirmation would take somewhere between 30 seconds and a minute. Haldeman concludes: "That's the Governor of Virginia's view."

Oval Office Meeting: 15 November 1971

Date: 1971-11-15
Time: 11:10 am to 12:03 pm
Location: Oval Office
Participants: President Nixon, John Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman.

Conversation Number 618-019

1:24:20b: In a discussion about the Law Enforcement Assistance Act ["LEAA"], John Ehrlichman tells the President he is going "to catch a lot of hell--probably in the press--but also from guys like Lin[wood] Holton, who surfaced the other day attacking LEAA and I just want you to be aware of the fact." President Nixon asks Ehrlichman whether Holton attacked it for the right reason or the wrong reason. Ehrlichman says, "He attacked it for the wrong reason if he wanted to help us. Now, there were ways that he could've done it that would not have hurt us as badly as what he did say." Ehrlichman then summarizes Holton's criticism: "He attacked the whole Department of Justice approach to helping the states with the crime problem and he made a very good case for a lot of the LEAA mistakes that have been made in the past." Finally, Ehrlichman says that he mentioned Holton's criticism because the President is likely to hear that kind of criticism from other governors but that "we are on top of it."

Oval Office Meeting: 31 January 1972

Date: 1972-01-31
Time: Unknown, between 3:51 pm and 4:00 pm
Location: Oval Office
Participants: President Nixon, Alexander Butterfield, Ronald Ziegler.

Conversation Number 661-003

17:33b: In a discussion of a White House dinner with the governors at which the President will make some remarks, Nixon decides that Governors Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller and Linwood Holton should be invited to respond as well as the chairman of the governors, William G. Milliken.

Oval Office Meeting: 2 January 1972

Date: 1972-02-01
Time: 3:02 pm - 4:00 pm
Location: Oval Office
Participants: President Nixon, Ronald Reagan, John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, Stephen Bull, Daniel J. Evans, James Hodgson, George Shultz

Conversation Number 663-004

48:18a: In discussing an upcoming Republican governors dinner, President Nixon mentions that after he makes his remarks, he will call on Governors Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller, Linwood Holton and George Milliken for responses.

Oval Office Meeting: 17 March 1972

Date: 1972-03-17
Time: 12:19 pm - 1:14 pm
Location: Oval Office
Participants: President Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, Stephen Bull, Henry Kissinger, John Ehrlichman.

Conversation Number 687-003

1:02:00 a: When he is told that Governor Holton is in Israel, Nixon says, "Jesus." Haldeman laughingly asks whether he's working on Virginia-Israeli relations.

Oval Office Meeting: 14 October 1972

Date: 1972-10-14
Time: 11:57 am - 1:27 pm
Location: Oval Office
Participants: President Nixon, Ray Price, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman

Conversation Number 798-015

51:45b: President Nixon makes a passing reference to Linwood Holton, but the rest of the sentence is unclear.

  • 1. Linwood Holton, Opportunity Time: A Memoir by Governor Linwood Holton, (University of Virginia Press, 2008), p.65.
  • 2. Holton, Opportunity Time, p.64.
  • 3. Holton, Opportunity Time, p.79.
  • 4. Holton, Opportunity Time, pp.83-84.

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