Miller Center

The United States in the 1960s

Chester Pach, Ohio University

It’s well known that President Richard M. Nixon recorded many of his White House conversations. Nixon paid a high price for doing so, as these tapes provided the strongest evidence of his direct involvement in the Watergate scandal.

But Nixon wasn’t the first president to tape record meetings. John F. Kennedy taped some White House discussions. Lyndon B. Johnson taped many of his telephone conversations, and quite a few of these tapes have now been released to the public. Your assignment is to listen to several conversations that will help you understand Johnson’s style--how he operated and secured critical cooperation for administration initiatives. After listening to the tapes, you’ll answer some questions based on what you heard.

You can listen to Johnson's telephone tapes by going to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Recordings at the Miller Center. You will listen to these tapes.

These are the conversations that you should listen to:

  1. Conversation with Jacqueline Kennedy December 2, 1963, 2:42 PM (length: 2:11)
  2. Conversation with Joe Haggar August 9, 1964, 1:17 PM (length: 4:40)
  3. Conversation with Sargent Shriver (conversation #1815), February 1, 1964, 1:02 PM (length: 17:46)
  4. Conversation with Harry S. Truman (conversation #2379), scroll down the page to March 6, 1964, it is the last conversation of the day), 8:45 PM (length: 4:40)

To listen to the tapes, follow these instructions carefully. You can access each of the first two conversations (with Jacqueline Kennedy and Joe Haggar) by clicking on the links above that correspond to the tapes. The links will take you directly to the conversations on the WhiteHouseTapes.net site. Both of these tapes have an accompanying written transcript. You'll find that the highlighted section of the transcript corresponds to the part of the conversation that you're listening to. To listen to the conversations with Shriver and Truman, click on the links above that correspond to those conversations. They will take you to a page on the Miller Center site that has a list of conversations in chronological order. Scroll down the page until you find the relevant conversation. Unlike the first two conversations, the Shriver and Truman conversations don't have accompanying transcripts.

If you have any trouble playing the Haggar conversation, it may be because the computer you're using does not have Macromedia Flash Player. Most computers have this plug-in, and you could switch to a computer that does. You can easily download and install Macromedia Flash Player in a minute or two. Click on the following link and follow the instructions:

http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave/download/download.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash.

 

The following information will be helpful in understanding the conversations:

  1. Conversation with Jacqueline Kennedy: This conversation took place only ten days after the murder of President Kennedy. Kenny O'Donnell, who Mrs. Kennedy mentions, was President Kennedy's appointments secretary. He stayed on in the Johnson administration as a special assistant to the president. Mrs. Kennedy's reference to the "Cape announcement" was about Johnson's proclamation just a few days earlier changing the name of Cape Canaveral, the location of the U.S. space center in Florida, to Cape Kennedy. Johnson's reference to the election of 1948 concerns his winning a seat in the U.S. Senate from Texas in a close and disputed election.
  2. Conversation with Haggar: Haggar was a top official in the well-known clothing company.
  3. Conversation with Shriver: It’s important to keep in mind that Shriver married one of the sisters of John and Robert Kennedy. Shriver was head of the Peace Corps, and he just returned from a long international trip the day before Johnson called him and told him that he wanted to announce his appointment as director of the War on Poverty. Johnson made that announcement just hours after the telephone conversation that you're listening to. In the conversation, there's a reference to HEW, which was the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the predecessor to the current Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education.
  4. Conversation with Truman: Johnson and Truman discussed civil strife on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. That nation gained independence from Great Britain in 1960. But there was continuous tension and frequent fighting between the Greek majority on Cyprus and the Turk minority. The instability on Cyprus threatened to bring about military conflict between Greece and Turkey, both U.S. allies in NATO.

After you’ve listened to the tapes, please answer these questions:

  1. What arguments did Johnson use to try to persuade Shriver to head the War on Poverty? What were the main reasons that he wanted Shriver to do what he asked? What were Shriver’s objections or hesitations?
  2. What was the main subject of the conversation between Johnson and Truman? What did Johnson want the former president to do? What was Truman’s reaction? What did Truman agree to do?
  3. What methods, techniques, or tactics did Johnson use to secure cooperation in these conversations? How successful was he? What were the main reasons for his success (or lack of it)? Did his style or tactics vary in these conversations? Be sure to draw on the conversations with Haggar and Mrs. Kennedy in answering this question.
  4. What do these conversations reveal about Johnson’s style in dealing with other people? What can you learn from these tapes that you might not be able to learn from other sources?

 

If you want to learn even more about the telephone tapes and the Johnson presidency, please visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library.