President Lyndon B. Johnson, seated at his desk in the Oval Office, addresses the nation. March 31, 1968. LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto.

Rare Video Released of President Johnson Rehearsing Historic March 31, 1968 Speech

Mar 21, 2018

March 31, 1968: Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson stunned the world in announcing he would not seek re-election

LBJ Presidential Library releases video of the historic speech, along with rarely seen footage of Johnson rehearsing his speech earlier that day in the Oval Office

(AUSTIN, TX) - Fifty years ago, on March 31, 1968, President Lyndon Baines Johnson uttered those now famous words: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president."

That nationally televised speech is well known. Today, the LBJ Presidential Library has released a second, rare piece of film of Johnson preparing to deliver the speech that ended his presidency. The grainy, black-and-white footage captures Johnson seated in the Oval Office, checking facts, ordering last-minute changes to the historic speech, and practicing his delivery. Aides can be seen scurrying in the background, and reading the teleprompter with Johnson.

Screenshot from video of LBJ rehearsing March 31 speech

BACKGROUND:
Johnson began discussing ruling out a run for a second term shortly after being elected president in 1964. His wife, Lady Bird Johnson, had made it clear she did not want him to run in 1968. Both were concerned about his health. Johnson also hoped that his speech on March 31, 1968—announcing a halt in the bombing of North Vietnam and taking himself out of the presidential political race—would encourage peace talks to end the Vietnam War.

The morning of March 31, Johnson went to Catholic Mass with his daughter, Luci, and her husband, Patrick Nugent. Following Mass, he went to the home of Vice President Hubert Humphrey and his wife, Muriel, to inform them of his decision to step down. Throughout the day, he consulted with a few close friends, family, and staff, reading and editing several drafts of the speech.

At 2 p.m., Johnson went to the Oval Office for a rehearsal captured by film cameras in the room. To keep his decision a surprise and preserve all options until the last minute, the president did not practice the final words of the speech (“I shall not seek, and I will not accept...) that he would deliver later that night.

In his memoir, The Vantage Point, Johnson said he made the final decision to announce he would not seek re-election at the time he began his televised address, 9:01 p.m., on March 31st. If North Vietnam had launched a major attack or there was another major world event, he believes he would not have made the fateful announcement.

Later, Lady Bird Johnson wrote in her diary that just before the speech in the Oval Office, she went to her husband and "said quietly, 'Remember-pacing and drama.' "It was a great speech and I wanted him to get the greatest out of it-and I did not know what the end would be.”

Although he was not on the White House staff in 1968, Horace Busby had been one of the president's top speechwriters, and the president called on him to help with the March 31st address. Chief speechwriter Harry McPherson wrote the first part of the speech, detailing the halt in bombing North Vietnam.

Following the speech, at 11 p.m., Johnson met with reporters in the Yellow Room.

FILM FOOTAGE AND STILL PHOTOS:

Johnson’s nationally televised speech, March 31, 1968:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFyhAcp2DG4

Film footage: Johnson rehearses March 31, 1968, speech:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/scetpxpq91503ck/AAAZnC7DS9n_E-tVCDYCV0KXa?dl=0

Still photos of Johnson rehearsing and giving March 31, 1968, speech in Oval Office: 
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/fw67blmeru9pxw7/AABIgxmNhMW3JFaI9UE6LrZpa?dl=0

For more information, please contact:
Anne Wheeler
LBJ Presidential Library
[email protected]
(512) 721-0216