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The Passage of Power
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PRESIDENTIAL SERIES > 3. Presidential Series: PASSAGE OF POWER ~~ Oct. 1st ~ Oct. 7th ~~ Chapter FOUR and FIVE (109 - 156); No Spoilers Please

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Bryan Craig This is the Week Three thread for the next Presidential Series selection (The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power) by Robert A. Caro.

The week's reading assignment is:

Week THREE - October 1st - October 7th -> Chapters FOUR and FIVE p. 109 - 156
FOUR - The Back Stairs and FIVE - The "LBJ Special"

We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers. We will also open up supplemental threads as we did for other spotlighted books.

We look forward to your participation. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library.

There is no rush and we are thrilled to have you join us. It is never too late to begin reading this selection and/or to post.

Bryan Craig is the assisting moderator who will be leading this discussion. We hope you enjoy this discussion of another great book in the Presidential Series.



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Table of Contents and Syllabus

Here is the link:



The Years of Lyndon Johnson The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro Robert A. Caro Robert A. Caro

Bryan Craig Chapter Overviews and Summaries

Chapter Four: The Back Stairs

This is the story of how LBJ became vice president. Why would LBJ want the job that has little authority? LBJ apparently considered the fact that ten vice presidents became president and 1 out of 5 succeeded a dead president. He also would become a national figure. JFK needed him to win Texas and if he lost, he could still be majority leader. However, the JFK camp was not on board due to northern liberals, unions, and civil right activists. Rayburn opposed the idea, as well.

JFK visited LBJ's suite by taking the back stairs. LBJ said he would take it if JFK could persuade Rayburn and his camp to go along with it. JFK said yes. JFK visited Rayburn and talked with him and Rayburn did agree.

The big controversy surrounds the issue of RFK. Was he part of the plan, did he think the whole thing was just a gesture and he was shocked LBJ took it??

We know that RFK visited LBJ's suite a couple of times and tells LBJ's people that it would be a hard fight for LBJ's nomination. LBJ and RFK apparently had a private meeting that made LBJ nervous that he would be o the ticket. He called JFK and they made the announcement. Car argues that the odds are good that JFK did not tell RFK about his plan, because his brother would have stopped it. JFK needed LBJ to win Texas and the election.

Chapter Five: The "LBJ Special"

LBJ campaigned in the South, telling Democrats to campaign for JFK or they would be shut out of the JFK presidency. He took a five day train tour called the "LBJ Special." It was very effective as LBJ gave great stump speeches.

Texas was not a slam dunk for the Democrats. The state was becoming conservative and other Texas Democrats called LBJ a Judas. However, he delivered Texas and four other southern states. There were charges of voter fraud, especially in the San Antonio valley, the same area that gave LBJ the Senate election in 1948. However, Republicans did not pursue it.

Bryan Craig The bulk of chapter 4 deals with LBJ's nomination.

I have to say this is probably the best summary of what went on at the convention I have read. Really well done and I like the fact Caro admits we just don't know certain things. He sifts through all the evidence and put together a likely scenario.

message 4: by Mark (last edited Oct 01, 2012 02:39PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Mortensen The statements attributed to RFK’s second trip downstairs to LBJ’s hotel room speaks volumes (pg. 132).

“Are you authorized to speak for your brother?" Bobby said no.

"Come back and see the Speaker of the House when you are," Sam Rayburn said.

RFK knew well enough to answer the pointed question head on with honesty and Rayburn knew how to cut to the chase and push back.

Craig (twinstuff) I love the stories about Sam Rayburn. In a book and series centering on power, Caro really shows us the importance of a figure whose power towered over LBJ.

Bryan Craig Great moment, Mark. Priceless.

I am enjoying the stories, too.

Bryan Craig What are your thoughts about the arguments that helped make the VP interesting to LBJ?

Rayburn had some insightful conditions for JFK: 1. Have to have him to win the election. 2. Make a public statement that LBJ is your choice for VP. 3. Make him happy, busy, and involve him in NSC meetings. (p. 128)

message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Sam was a smart man, politician and friend - all at the same time. He made the deal palatable to both sides. Something for everyone.

message 9: by Bryan (last edited Oct 03, 2012 06:38AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bryan Craig G found a good website that gives a snapshot of the Adolphus Hotel incident during the campaign.

message 10: by Bryan (last edited Oct 03, 2012 06:40AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bryan Craig I also have to point out how much has changed in the office of VP than back then.

In LBJ's time, the VP did very little, but that is not the case in the last 30 years.

Ann D I thought the discussion of why Johnson decided to accept the vice-presidential nomination was fascinating. LBJ's power in the Senate stemmed from his support from the Southern Democrats, but he also recognized that he could only become a viable presidential candidate if he cut those ties, particularly on Civil Rights. The vice-presidency offered a potential way out of that predicament.

But what really grabbed my attention was the way that LBJ calculated his chances of succeeding to the presidency if the president died. As he said to Clare Boothe Luce, who asked him why he had accepted the VP nominations, "Clare, I looked it up: one out of every four Presidents has died in office. I'm a gamblin' man, darlin,' and this is the only chance I got." (Kindle location 3044 - sorry the Kindle version of this book does not have real page numbers)

This seems really eerie in light of Kennedy's assassination, which totally took the nation by surprise 3 years later.

I also found it very interesting that Johnson was convinced that he would die of a heart attack and that he had to make his mark before he was 60. Due to family history, his own first heart attack at the age of 46, and his personal habits of heavy smoking and poor diet, this was not an unrealistic expectation. He actually lasted until he was 64 before his third and fatal heart attack.

Bryan Craig Ann, the presidential succession was crazy how it turned out. It really happened! So, in hindsight, the move was a brilliant one. I did not know the numbers, which were higher than I thought.

He was boxed in with Southern Democrats and it actually was a road block for JFK to get him on the ticket, but he prevailed. I would have liked a little more information on how JFK worked his camp and other Democrats to agree to JFK. Probably the best argument was that everyone knew (RFK not ready to admit it) that to win, you had to have Texas and a southern on the ticket. The Democrats have been out of power for awhile...huge incentive.

Bryan Craig Cheryl wrote: "Pg. 139: "...because of November 22, 1963, the events of that long afternoon in 1960 (The Back Stairs) were to affect so profoundly the course of American history."

Kennedy provided the access to..."

Thanks, Cheryl. I'm impressed how Caro spelled everything out. Personally, I wish we could know exactly what went on in those hotel rooms, but we will never fully know. However, Caro sketches out a great narrative and close to what really happened as possible.

Bryan Craig Bentley wrote: "Sam was a smart man, politician and friend - all at the same time. He made the deal palatable to both sides. Something for everyone."

I agree, Bentley. I will have to read more about Rayburn, a truly fascinating person, and very powerful.

Ann D Bryan,
Good point about wanting to know more details about JFK's role in convincing his side to support Johnson. I did too.

Caro does say he didn't waver from his decision to offer the nomination to LBJ, and that he always made the decisions - not his younger brother.

Tomerobber | 334 comments I found it interesting to learn a tiny bit about what made LBJ run . . . his sense of his own mortality and fear that if he didn't take the chance and agree to run as VP he might not live long enough to make a run 8 yrs. down the line. His own contribution to his failure to win being his party's candidate because of his misunderstanding about the media presence of JFK and dismissing him because of his age and lack of experience (in politics) when he, LBJ, had devoted so much of his life in gaining that experience.
Time and distance allow me to be more understanding of the events that occurred then.

Ann D Cheryl,
LBJ didn't really have a personal relationship with JFK, and I did not find his calculations about succeeding to the presidency a "character issue".

I was only interested in his thought process, not shocked. How did the rest of you feel?

Ann D Tomerobber,
I agree with you about time and distance giving one more understanding. My ideas about LBJ are much more favorable now than they were at the time - when I was very young.

Tomerobber | 334 comments Ann wrote: "Cheryl,
LBJ didn't really have a personal relationship with JFK, and I did not find his calculations about succeeding to the presidency a "character issue".

I was only interested in his thought p..."

Since I'm reading the 1st vol. at the same time . . . it gives me a more detailed picture of how LBJ grew up and insight into his character.

Hmmm . . . why does history seem more interesting than current politics??

Ann D Because we don't really know what's going on??

Bryan Craig Ann wrote: "Because we don't really know what's going on??"

Lol, great point, Ann. Can't argue with that.

Bryan Craig Cheryl wrote: "Ann said, "I was only interested in his thought process..."

Interesting experiment. In the VP debates, there is always a question about becoming POTUS because the odds are not so such far fetched. I have to say it is the first time I read about a guy making the decision to go on the ticket because of those reasons. I think VP candidates think about the scenario, but never out loud. I don't know it does sound kind of morbid...

Bryan Craig Cheryl wrote: "Pg. 149: The Republican crowd at the Adolphus provided Johnson an opportunity to turn a negative situation into a positive one politically for the Texas campaign. Johnson lead Lady Bird through the..."

It is true, LBJ seems to able to calculate such things in his head. Pretty remarkable.

Bryan Craig Ann wrote: "Cheryl,
LBJ didn't really have a personal relationship with JFK, and I did not find his calculations about succeeding to the presidency a "character issue".

I was only interested in his thought p..."

Another great thing about history-distance of time gives us a chance to reassess.

Ann D Cheryl, you have a point.

I'm one of those people who hero worshiped Kennedy as a teenager, and became completely disillusioned by subsequent reports of his many sexual escapades. Maybe I'm willing to cut LBJ too much slack in their competition for power.

message 26: by G (new) - rated it 5 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Cheryl wrote: "Hi Ann,

It is so difficult to separate out an issue/behavior from who did it. All of us have associations to the person or the times which influence our judgment. My goal, especially when I am fac..."

I agree for the most part, especially holding the issue itself up to the light which I do not do often enough, but we also want leaders who know how to negotiate with people who are what I consider 'ethically challenged'. Does that mean they have to be that way themselves? I sure hope not, but they also cannot be so righteous that they fail to do what is best for the country. From what I've read so far of both JFK and LBJ they were ethically challenged themselves and I need to learn more about their success or lack of it in the world arena with such people as the self righteous Castro and the politically expedient Ho Chi Minh. I am becoming more and more repulsed by politics but can't think of an alternative.

Tomerobber | 334 comments This circumstance is easy to isolate (he initiated the search for past presidents who died in office) for his own benefit (how can I get to the presidency the most expedient way). To some leaders, this would not be a part of their thinking process.

Hi Cheryl . . .

I feel that this event must also be examined under the context that with LBJ's family history of heart disease (most of the men had died of heart disease before the age of 60) and the fact that he had already had a heart attack influenced some of his consideration about accepting the VP position. With reading the 1st vol. of this series at the same time it makes it easier to see how some of these thought processes were formed.

And for someone who had had this goal of being president for such a very long time . . . he was feeling a bit desperate about his chances of ever being able to accomplish this.

Theresa | 84 comments I can't remember if this was mentioned in this week's reading or not, but it occured to me the other day that that 40+ years ago the same person can be their party's nomination in more than one occasion. Caro mentions Adlai Stevenson and we know Nixon ran twice. I think Caro mentioned and it didn't fully hit me at the time that a candidate only really gets 1 shot to be President. So this election is Romney's last chance. I wonder what would happen if someone like Kerry or McCain decided in the next election to run again. Would the public be more accepting and give them a second chance? These are just some musings I had that aren't super relevant to the readings. I'm a little sleep deprived and I have a crying baby in the background I need to tend to :)

Ann D But Cheryl, Johnson did nothing to contribute to Kennedy's murder. He was also very aware of Kennedy's health problems early in his career. Harding and FDR both died from natural causes, and Ike had several very serious health scares. Kennedy's health issues, masked but still there, probably also figured into his calculations. I can't call figuring the odds valuing "winning at any cost." Also, this was only one of the reasons why he decided to accept the vice-presidency. More important was the knowledge that he had to work harder at becoming a national, as opposed to a regional, leader.

I don't think his thought process about possibly ascending to the presidency was that unusual - actually voicing it, may have been. But then he wasn't planning on a biographer dedicating his life to uncovering every possible detail about his political rise.

Also, I was very impressed by the very effective work that Johnson did to get Kennedy elected. He labored tirelessly and helped Kennedy win important parts of the South in a very close election. I think the Kennedys owed him something for this.

Bryan Craig We also don't know how LBJ reacted to this thought of moving into the presidency due to a death. I do think most VP candidates have the idea of what kind of president would I be if the worse case scenario happened. The presidential candidate certainly does.

I agree with Ann that he thought of it, voiced it (not such a great idea), but we do not know if he wished it. There, I think, is an important piece of the issue. I don't get the impression he wished ill will to JFK at all.

Bryan Craig Theresa wrote: "I can't remember if this was mentioned in this week's reading or not, but it occured to me the other day that that 40+ years ago the same person can be their party's nomination in more than one occ..."

Thanks for your impressions, Theresa. A candidate can indeed run as many times as his party would accept him. We see Stevenson run in 1952 & 1956. Henry Clay ran 3 times. However, you are right, it really is rare, probably because they feel that candidate is a "loser."

Bryan Craig Oral Histories are funny things-never perfect, like all of us.

What are your thoughts on why RFK, in his oral history, said LBJ's nomination was a only gesture?

Bryan Craig I found Kennedy's 1960 campaign TV ad. LBJ is seen right in the beginning, and that is it.

Tomerobber | 334 comments Hmmmm . . . I often wonder why anyone would want the job of being president to begin with . . .

From the Oxford Dictionary:
Hubris . . excessive pride or self-confidence.
(in Greek tragedy) excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.
Nemesis - a goddess usually portrayed as the agent of divine punishment for wrongdoing or presumption.

In LBJ's case if hubris got him into the office . . . nemesis is the price he paid for being there.

Bryan Craig Cheryl wrote: "Bryan and Ann: I think you are taking my comments a bridge too far. I am able to isolate LBJ's actions in this chapter of the book a..."

Fair enough, Cheryl, thanks for clarifying.

Bryan Craig Cheryl wrote: "Tomerobber wrote: "...nemesis is the price he paid for being there."

His elected term as President was tragic because of his decisions about Vietnam. Moneys meant for the Great Society went to the..."

One could argue that the VP job he was seeking would be a roadblock, too. VP didn't do much.

Bryan Craig Well said, but we will hold off until next week to dive more deeply into this topic.

LBJ seemed to having fun on the campaign trail, though.

Tomerobber | 334 comments Bryan wrote: "Oral Histories are funny things-never perfect, like all of us.

What are your thoughts on why RFK, in his oral history, said LBJ's nomination was a only gesture?"

I think to RFK he felt that's all it was. But in reading, the numbers show Kennedy would not have had enough electoral votes without the south. And Johnson WAS the south. I'm sure JFK was well aware of how much he needed LBJ despite the bad blood between his brother and LBJ.

Bryan Craig So true, and JFK didn't tell his brother, which makes some sense, although RFK tried to stop the whole thing.

Ann D Bryan asked: "What are your thoughts on why RFK, in his oral history, said LBJ's nomination was a only gesture?"

Wishful thinking on Bobbie's part. I think Tomerobber is right that JFK realized he needed Johnson to win, whether he liked him or not - and it appears certain that he did not.

Bryan Craig Agreed, Tomerobber. JFK needed LBJ and no other southerner fit the bill at that time.

They didn't get Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia, but picked up North and South Carolina. And of course Texas.

I forget about the San Antonio valley controversy. I think it is important, because most of the literature talks about Daley and Illinois.

Here is what Nixon says:

"We had made a serious mistake in not having taken precautions against such a situation [voter fraud in Illinois and Texas], and it was too late now. A presidential recount would require up to a half a year, during which time the legitimacy of Kennedy's election would be in question. The effect could be devastating to America's foreign relations. I could not not subject the country to such a situation. And what if I demanded a recount and it turned out that despite the voter fraud Kennedy had still won? Charges of 'sore loser' would follow me through history..." (p. 224)

RN The Memoirs of Richard Nixon by Richard Nixon Richard Nixon Richard Nixon

message 42: by Ann D (last edited Oct 05, 2012 11:36AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ann D This is from the internet article "Who Really Won the 1960 Election?" by professor and author David Stebenne. The site is George Mason University's History News Network. Here is the address //

"Scholarly analysis of the question of how Kennedy won has focused, quite rightly, on administration of the electoral process in two crucial states: Illinois and Texas. Kennedy ultimately was credited with the electoral votes of both, which gave him victory in the Electoral College tally. The problem with answering the question of how he prevailed there is twofold in nature. In Illinois, the most recent and fair-minded study (Kallina’s Kennedy v. Nixon) concludes that sufficient evidence does not exist to determine whether Chicago’s Democratic machine stole more votes there than Republicans did downstate. Texas presents a different kind of problem. A system of free and fair elections in the modern sense had not yet taken hold on the ground there in 1960. Voter fraud was fairly common, safeguards to prevent it were few, and 1960 was no different in those respects. Thus, the most dispassionate analysis of this issue from the perspective of fifty years later is that we will never know whether Kennedy really “won,” in the sense of what result an entirely honest and effective administration of the electoral process in Illinois and Texas would have produced on Election Day in 1960."

Not surprisingly, the Kennedy/Johnson team were not the only ones fudging the electoral results.

Here are a couple of Goodreads links to Stebenne.

(no image available)Modern Republican Arthur J. Goldberg New Deal Liberal by David Stebenne by David Stebenne

Bryan Craig Great information, Ann. Thanks so much. Political fraud goes beyond parties.

For the citation, just add a phrase by the title saying no image available. Otherwise, great job.

(no image avialable)Modern Republican Arthur J. Goldberg New Deal Liberal by David Stebenne by David Stebenne

Ann D Thanks. I edited my previous post. Good thing you folks pointed out the "preview" button to me. I didn't know about it before. :-)

Bryan Craig Awesome, Ann, thank you.

message 46: by G (new) - rated it 5 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Johnson was clearly a master of the 'stump'. He had an unerring sense of his constituencies (if not his foes). Do you think JFK learned anything from LBJ's glorious stump skills, or did he think it was unnecessary? Was this the last of 'stump' politics?

message 47: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Mortensen It might certainly have been the end of the last stump politics in the train era.

Bryan Craig It probably was the last train campaign. People were moving to planes.

LBJ learned trump speaking through his many campaigns inTexas. He was the first to use a helicopter.

Ann D The more things change, the more they remain the same.

In 1960, there still remained strong pockets of resistance to the nomination of LBJ as Vice- President. Caro recounts that a motion was made during the convention to suspend the nomination of other candidates and to nominate Johnson as vice-president by acclamation (Chapter 4, Kindle edition, location 3751). This required a 2/3 voice vote for approval. According to Caro, the actual vote was about 50/50 “ayes” and “nays,” but after Sam Rayburn’s urging, the chair simply ignored the results of the voice vote and declared that the motion had passed by 2/3.

Something similar happened at the last Democratic convention. A voice vote was taken to see if the party platform should be amended to add a reference to God and to recognize that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel. This time it was captured on C-Span. The voice results were about evenly divided. After convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa called for two more voice votes with approximately the same results, a woman whispered something to him, and a very uncomfortable Villaraigosa simply announced that the amendment had received the required 2/3 approval and went on. You can see the video of this at

Apparently, those convention rules are very flexible.:-)

Bryan Craig Interesting, Ann. It seems to show the power of Rayburn.

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