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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 29 and August 1, 1975. Interview A-0331-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Assessment of Lyndon Johnson as senator and his bid for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination

Talmadge offers a favorable assessment of Lyndon Johnson as a senator, describes his initial bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 1960, and his decision to become Kennedy's running mate. According to Talmadge, although Johnson had dissociated himself from the South by cultivating his reputation as a westerner, it was still not plausible for a southern politician to become president at that time.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 29 and August 1, 1975. Interview A-0331-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK NELSON:
I wanted to get you to say for the record a couple of things that you told me inbetween tape session before. One of them is when you told then Senator Lyndon Johnson that you thought Bobby Kennedy was going to be nominated. Would you mind repeating that anecdote?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Not Bobby Kennedy, I told him that . . .
JACK NELSON:
I meant John Kennedy, I'm sorry.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, Senator Johnson was majority leader and he and I were great friends. He was very friendly to me and anything that he thought I wanted, I didn't even have to ask for it, he went out of his way to be nice and cordial to me. He would come back when the Senate was doing business rather slowly sometimes and sit on the back bench with me for sometimes an hour at a time talking about various things. He got the presidential bug very badly about 1959. He was making trips up in Michigan and New Jersey and New York and places like that and making speeches. He would come back and tell me what a great success he had had and so on. He actually got to thinking, I believe, that he would be nominated in 1960 by the convention. I was realistic enough to know that the Democratic party would not nominate a southerner at that time, even though Johnson had disavowed his southern heritage and claimed to be a westerner. I made him a bet, I said, "Lyndon, you won't get fifty votes from the five most populous states in the Union." He said, "What will you bet?" I said, "A suit of clothes." He said, "Let's make it a hat." We bet the hat and he never did pay me the hat before he died. He didn't get the fifty votes in the five most populous states. I imagine that he forgot it, I'm sure that if I had reminded him of the bet, he would have delivered the hat very readily.
JACK NELSON:
Didn't you also tell him that you didn't think he ought to accept the post of . . .
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes, you remember that we recessed for the convention in 1960 and came back with a session to try to get the platform adopted by the Democratic party and acted into law in the fall of 1960 subsequent to the convention. And just before we adjourned for that recess, we had finished all of our business, except adopting a few conference reports, most of them were non-controversial and it didn't look like we would have any more votes. I walked by and sat down by him when he was seated in the majority leader's seat and I said, "Now Lyndon, John Kennedy is going to be nominated on the first ballot. If he is as smart as I think he is, he is going to ask you to be his running mate and I hope you won't accept." He looked at me in his sharp manner and said, "Herman, you know that I will do no such fool thing." I said, "That's all I wanted to hear you say. I'm not going to the convention, you will receive every vote in the Georgia delegation. I will be at Lovejoy watching the convention on television." Well, as I predicted, Kennedy was nominated on the first ballot and as I predicted, Kennedy asked him to accept the Vice-Presidential nomination as his running mate, which he did. About three days after the convention, I was sitting here in this chair watching television when the phone rang and it was Lyndon Johnson calling from the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, Colorado. He said, "Herman, I just wanted to explain to you why I accepted that Vice-Presidential nomination." I said, "Lyndon, you don't have to explain it to me now, that is water over the dam. I just never did like to see one of my friends promoted from president of the corporation to vice-chairman of the board."
JACK NELSON:
Well, did he finally say why he did accept it?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, I don't know if I let him say in full, to united the Democratic party or something like that, that it was his duty and responsibility, the party had been good to him . . .
JACK NELSON:
Did he not see it down the road then that he might become President, though?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
I don't think so at that time. Vice-Presidents rarely become Presidents. I don't think that he anticipated that the President would be assassinated.