LBJ Goes for Broke- page 5 | History | Smithsonian
Current Issue
September 2014  magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

LBJ Goes for Broke

LBJ Goes for Broke

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 4)

Then the rest of Johnson’s scenario unfolded. The Rhode Island bantam with the nimble mind asked for recognition from the chair. No one—not even Johnson’s staff—knew “what John Pastore was going to do,” says Democratic lawyer Solis Horwitz, who had been invited to sit, on a folding chair, next to Johnson to watch the show. “[Lyndon] did, because he said, ‘Now you just watch the little Italian dancing master and see what happens here.’”

Johnson had cast Pastore in a demanding role: that of a skeptic and doubter who, by giving voice to his doubts, convinces himself that they are groundless and is converted into a true believer. The subject of his doubts, of course, was the jury trial amendment; Johnson had arranged with Pastore to, in historian Robert Mann’s words, “feign skepticism” about the amendment, to raise questions that many senators were asking and then to think through the answers out loud—and finally, seeing the validity of the answers, to be convinced by them, to “almost imperceptibly dissolve his skepticism into outright support” for the amendment. The Rhode Islander began to ask questions of O’Mahoney—the questions that many senators, uncertain about the amendment, were asking themselves: Would the amendment, for example, permit a southern registrar who had been jailed by a judge for civil contempt and then freed when he promised to register Negroes then be able to violate his promise? Would he, in effect, be immune from punishment because his violation was criminal contempt, thereby making him eligible for trial before a sympathetic jury that would not convict him? When O’Mahoney replied that there was no danger of this, because the judge would have ordered the registrar to register Negroes, and any violation of this order would still be civil, not criminal, contempt, Pastore said, “I think the Senator from Wyoming is moving a little too quickly. I think I know what he means, but I do not believe the Record is abundantly clear”— and led O’Mahoney through the reasoning again step by step until the densest senator could grasp it. And with each question that he asked, Pastore reiterated that he was asking it only to try to resolve his own doubts, that he still had “an open mind. . . . I have not as yet definitely resolved the matter in my own mind.” As he assured himself on point after point—after saying, on point after point, “I have not been able to make up my mind”—his “misgivings” about the amendment faded, to be replaced by support.

“All of this had been preplanned,” lawyer Horwitz was to realize, “and [Pastore] did one of the most effective jobs that was ever done.” His colloquy with O’Mahoney riveted the attention of both sides of the aisle. By the time Pastore finished “resolving” his doubts, he had convinced others. The show Johnson had staged produced the result he wanted. “The impact of Pastore’s performance was profound,” Mann writes. “He played the role of an earnest, undecided senator. But he had actually led his colleagues through a crafty, subtle argument for the amendment.” All through Senate history, there had been speeches that made senators rethink their views. This was one of them. And the next morning— Thursday, August 1—brought to Lyndon Johnson’s office the telegram he had been waiting for: a statement signed by the presidents of the twelve railroad brotherhoods. It was much shorter than John L. Lewis’ and quite straightforward: “We favor the enactment of an amendment to the civilrights bill that would preserve or extend the right to trial by jury.” Now Johnson had the ammunition he needed. That morning, Welly Hopkins called to ask how things were going. They were going just fine, Johnson said. Hopkins recalls that Johnson mentioned “certain senators. . . . He said, ‘I’ve got them. I’m just going to pick my time to call them. That’s when I’m going to put it to a vote.’” And that day, August 1, Johnson sprang his trap.

William Knowland walked straight into it—blind till the last. That very morning, at about the same time that Johnson was telling Hopkins that everything was going fine, Knowland was telling reporters—and the White House and Vice President Nixon—that everything was going fine and reiterating his confidence that “at least thirty-nine or forty” Republican senators would join at least a dozen Democratic liberals in voting against the jury trial amendment. Asked by a reporter whether Church’s addendum would strip away any Republican votes, the Republican Leader said he thought not. That morning, copies of the brotherhoods’ telegram were delivered to the offices of individual senators, to be followed by visits from Cy Anderson and other union lobbyists. Pastore’s logic had had time to sink in. And that morning, Lyndon Johnson made his calls—and after several of them, erased the number that he had placed next to senators’ names in one column on his tally sheet and wrote a number in the other column. Richard Russell was also keeping his own very careful tally sheet, and early that afternoon he told Johnson, “I’m ready to vote. I’ve got fifty votes.”

Knowland, however, still believed his own vote count. At any time he might realize the truth, and if he did, he would naturally change tactics: stop pressing for an early vote, and instead try to delay one. Votes had been changing back and forth for days and White House pressure might well change some back again; a delay would afford time for that pressure to do its work. So Johnson made it very difficult for Knowland to change tactics. In a private talk now, he said he assumed that Knowland still wanted to vote as soon as possible. Knowland said he did, and Johnson quickly made those feelings public. Interrupting an exchange about the bill, he said, “I have conferred with the Minority Leader. I know how anxious he is for an early vote. I . . . am equally anxious to vote [and] I express the hope that we may be able to call the roll before the evening is over.” Turning to Knowland, standing next to him, he said, “I would assume that meets with the pleasure of my friend from California.” His friend from California said, “Yes . . . I wish to say that I am encouraged by the remarks of my good friend, the Senator from Texas, that he feels we may be approaching a time when we can get a vote.”

But while Knowland couldn’t count, Nixon could, and coming to the Capitol, he did so—and promptly launched a frantic Republican lobbying campaign. One after another, GOP senators were summoned to the Vice President’s Room, for, in reporter Douglas Cater’s words, “the kind of subtle persuasion an administration in office can exert.” But at 5:40 p.m., Johnson asked for recognition from the chair to propose a unanimous consent agreement to set a time for the vote on the jury trial amendment. And the Majority Leader didn’t propose his own agreement, but rather the very same agreement that had been proposed three times on Wednesday by the Minority Leader. “Mr. President,” Lyndon Johnson said, “yesterday the distinguished Minority Leader offered a unanimous consent agreement. I wish to offer the same agreement today with two modifications.” The modifications would bring on the vote even faster than the distinguished Minority Leader had wanted; Knowland had, for example, allowed six hours for debate on the amendment. “In view of the fact that we have spent a good deal of time today on the bill, I am reducing the . . . hours from six to four,” Johnson said. Knowland, aware now that the vote would be, at the least, very close, said he still preferred six, and Johnson suavely said that that was fine with him. Knowland could offer no other objection—he could hardly object to an agreement he himself had proposed over and over, telling the Senate each time how vital its passage was. As they realized the significance of Johnson’s proposal, and the reason why he had made it, liberal senators from both sides of the aisle gathered in little groups on the floor, trying to think what they could do about it. But they could do no more than Knowland had. If Knowland had proposed the agreement yesterday, they had supported it with equal vehemence; they were hardly in a position to object to it now. Florida Senator Spessard Holland, in the chair, asked, “Is there objection to the unanimous consent request?” There was only silence. “The Chair hears none, and it is so ordered,” Holland said.

Johnson then addressed the chair again. The vote on the jury trial amendment would probably take place that very evening, he said. “It is the intention of the leadership to remain here until a vote is had.”

New York Senator Irving Ives asked: “When does the debate start? Does it start right now?”

“Right now,” Lyndon Johnson said. Checkmate.

As the hands on the clock neared midnight, and Nixon came in to take the presiding officer’s chair, a page placed a lectern on the Majority Leader’s desk, and Johnson himself rose to give the last speech. “Mr. President, sometimes in the course of debate we use loose language. But it is not speaking loosely to say that the Senate is approaching a truly historic vote. By adopting this amendment, we can strengthen and preserve two important rights. One is the right to a trial by jury. The other is the right of all Americans to serve on juries, regardless of race, creed or color.” And his last line was the perfect climax, the most fitting last line, the only last line, really, for a legislative drama.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus