My last conversation with D. B. Hardeman was the most unusual one. He and his friend and attorney Maury Maverick Jr. were in high spirits when they phoned me on a Saturday morning in late 1981. The occasion for their merriment was that D. B.'s great grandfather, Dr. Joseph Henry Barnard, was returning to Texas after an extended stay in Canada. Perhaps he might spend the weekend in D. B.'s San Antonio apartment, Maury suggested. Although Dr. Barnard had been dead for 120 years, his arrival was still a cause for celebration. A military surgeon during the struggle for Texas independence, he had been spared during the Goliad Massacre to treat the Mexican wounded. He later settled in Goliad but died while visiting Canada in 1861. Now, after protracted legal and diplomatic negotiations, Maury had finally induced the Canadian government to exhume Dr. Barnard's remains and return them to Texas.
As I listened to D. B.'s and Maury's giddy account of their triumph over the Canadian bureaucracy, I imagined a full-size coffin serving as a coffee table in D. B.'s living room. Maury explained that time had so reduced the remains that they now fit in a container the size of a shoebox. The three of us found the prospect of D. B.'s ancestor from the Texas Revolution being temporarily housed among the clutter of historical books and artifacts humorously appropriate. Since D. B.'s apartment was a spouse-free zone where the only constraint on acquisitions was space, there was ample room for Dr. Barnard. In fact, the doctor would be heralded as the pièce de résistance of D. B.'s collection.
Unfortunately, our amusement was short lived. Only a week or so later, D. B. died after a fall. He and his great grandfather were buried side by side in the Texas State Cemetery. Then the question arose: What descriptive word or phrase should appear on D. B.'s gravestone? At various times he had been a journalist, a state representative, a public relations executive, a political advanceman, a congressional aide to Speaker Sam Rayburn and Assistant Majority Leader Hale Boggs, and ultimately a teacher. Regardless of his occupation at any moment, two characteristics defined D. B. Hardeman: his extraordinary capacity for friendship and his consummate skill as a raconteur. The term "raconteur" was even considered for D. B.'s gravestone, but Maury worried that some folks might conclude that D. B. was a French coon hunter. Yet all of D. B.'s friends agreed that he elevated storytelling to an art form.
Every conversation with D. B. was an adventure. He spoke with such skill, precision, and gusto that his narratives magically transported his listeners to the scene he was describing. He embellished his colorful accounts with animated dialogues that captured every emotion and personality. His stories simultaneously entertained and inspired, reflecting not only humanity's amusing foibles, but also its fundamental decency. Although most of D. B.'s fascinating tales came from his rich experiences in state and national politics, he rarely placed himself on center stage. D. B. never bored his listeners by bragging or pontificating. Nor did his conversations ever degenerate into monologues. He was as good a listener as he was a storyteller. He had an uncanny ability to discern what topics others were interested in and draw them into conversations of mutual interest.
But it was not only D. B.'s skill as a raconteur that so endeared him to generations of young men and women from different disciplines, backgrounds, and regions. It was also his extraordinary capacity for friendship. As Walter Cronkite attested, "to be taken under his wing was to be enfolded in warmth and wisdom that it is in the ability of few to give."
The political scientist Randall Ripley observed that D. B. had at least four constituencies of friends: politically active Texans, journalists from around the country, political professionals in national politics, and political scientists and other academics. Many of the young political scientists and journalists who came to Washington as researchers and Congressional Fellows in the late 1950s and 1960s fell under D. B.'s influence. These included Ripley, Richard Fenno, Norman Ornstein, Donald Bacon, Nick Kotz, and Lawrence Dodd to name just a few. D. B.'s Texas friends spanned generations, dating from his student days at The University of Texas in the 1930s, his subsequent years as a progressive in Texas politics in the 1940s and 1950s, and finally his return to Texas to teach in the 1970s. Although D. B. was a lifelong Democrat, he counted many Republicans among his dearest friends and believed that no party has ever had a monopoly on either wisdom or patriotism.
Friends from these diverse constituencies became D. B.'s de facto family. Indeed, he spoke of all of them so often and with such fatherly affection and pride that each one felt a special kinship with D. B.'s other friends, even those who had never met. This unique bond remains more than three decades after his death.
I first met D. B. in March of 1970 when I interviewed him for a graduate research project. Several years later, when I began conducting oral history interviews for the LBJ Presidential Library, I often saw him during my trips to Washington. He was a hugely popular guest at our gatherings there as well as in Austin and San Antonio. D. B.'s decision to give his 10,000-volume library to the LBJ Presidential Library afforded me an opportunity not only to work with him on the transaction, but also to learn about his remarkable collection and how he had assembled it. His gift inspired Harry Middleton, then director of the Library, to establish the annual D. B. Hardeman Prize for the best book on Congress. A bequest from D. B. to the LBJ Foundation resulted in the creation of the four-volume Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, to which many of D. B.'s former protégés contributed entries.
In observation of D. B. Hardeman's 100th birthday on August 15, we are featuring excerpts from oral histories that Thomas Harrison Baker and I recorded with D. B. for the LBJ Presidential Library as well as one that I recorded independently about his early life. Audio excerpts are also included so that our readers can hear D. B. tell the stories as only he could do.
M. L. G.
Biographical note: D. B. Hardeman was born in August 1914 in Goliad, Texas. He graduated from The University of Texas in 1933 with a degree in English but continued to engage in graduate work, as well as serving as editor of The Daily Texan from 1934 to 1935. After working in the U.S. Army as a counterintelligence officer from 1941 to 1946, Hardeman became involved in Texas and national Democratic politics, serving two terms in the Texas House of Representatives, once from 1951 to 1953, and again from 1955 to 1957. He later worked for Democratic Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn from 1957 until Rayburn's death in 1961, after which he worked for House Majority Whip Hale Boggs until 1965. In 1965, he retired to teach and write the official biography of Sam Rayburn. Hardeman died December 3rd, 1981. His book was completed by Donald C. Bacon and released in 1987 under the title Rayburn: A Biography.
The following excerpts are from five interviews with D. B. Hardeman recorded by Thomas Harrison Baker and Michael L. Gillette from 1969 through 1978. The complete D. B. Hardeman interviews from the LBJ Presidential Library are available by download here or by visiting the Library. Readers will also enjoy Larry Hufford’s fine volume of oral history excerpts, D. B.: Reminiscences of D. B. Hardeman (Austin: AAR/Tantalus, Inc., 1984).
D. B. Hardeman: I was always interested in politics, and the first campaign I took a deep interest in was the 1924 [presidential] campaign when the Democrats nominated John W. Davis. I was ten years old, but I didn’t know anything about Davis. He was a Democrat. A banker was married to my cousin, so he used to taunt me by saying, "Keep cool with Coolidge." I'd just get really upset with him, because I just knew Davis was so much the better man. Now I don’t think I’d say the same thing. It’s funny, because I’m pretty sure that my father, and probably my mother, voted Republican. I know my father voted Republican all through the 1920s. Hoover cured him of that, and he became a red hot Democrat. He was a cattleman, and the Republicans favored a high tariff on Argentine beef, so the cattlemen by and large were Republicans in those days. But I was staunchly for [Davis], I was staunchly for Al Smith. In the declamation contest, I won the county meet in 1928 when I was fourteen, making a speech for my candidate for the United States Senate, Tom Connally.
Michael L. Gillette: Was there an identifiable Left on the campus at that time?
Hardeman: No. There were a few kids that said they were communists or socialists, but nobody paid any attention to them. There was a lot of questioning of our whole economic system, but I never knew of an organization that had any communist or socialist affiliation. I had one boy that worked on the Texan from New York, and he came back at the end of the summer and I said, "Well, what did you do this summer? Have a good summer?"
"Yeah," he said, "I had a pretty good time. I joined the Young Communists League."
I said, "I didn’t know you had any interest in politics."
"Oh, I don’t have any."
"Well, why in the world did you join the Young Communists League?"
He said, "Well, I was up there and some of my buddies said, ‘Come go with us tonight. We’re going out on the town. We’re going to a meeting first.’ I said, ‘Oh, I don’t care anything about that,’ and they said, ‘Come on, go with us, then we’re going out on the town, and drink some beer or something.’ And I went with them and I met more liberal-minded women." It was that sort of thing.
The fraternities were always on probation in that period. They went on probation I think right after Thanksgiving in 1930. The Lambda Chi Alphas occupied the house that had been built by Woodrow Wilson’s advisor, Colonel E. M. House. It was on the high hill on West Avenue, I guess the highest hill in Austin, and it was a huge, wonderful house that looked like it had been built in oval shape like a steamship. Later on, my fraternity, the Chi Phis, lived there, and it was a marvelous house. I went up there and it’s been torn down, looks like it’s a parking lot now.
. . .
There was a costume ball; now they were bad. One year in the late twenties, somebody gave a costume ball, and one of the biggest football players there had a sheet around his groin and was in a big baby buggy and was pushed in, and he had a nipple on a bottle of bootleg whiskey. They pushed him into the dance.
When I first got to the campus in 1928—I came up to the A&M football game, the first time I went to Austin—and then on through the next year, was still the raccoon coat era. They actually had raccoon coats and open touring cards. It was the end of the F. Scott Fitzgerald period, and that's the way it was. I had one fraternity brother who was a clotheshorse, and our house was two blocks off of the campus, that two-block boulevard right below the fountain. Anyhow, he would schedule his classes with an hour in between each class, and he would come home between classes. Many of the kids were buying everything on credit, including this guy, and in those days, they were great on ensembles. Everything from your shoes to your hat had to be the same shade. A purple shade, or a green shade, or an olive shade, or whatever it was. So he’d come home and change from shoes to hat in between classes, and he was a clotheshorse. I remember when he had to drop out of school. We had a drug store nearby, a good old man ran the drug store, and everybody charged their lunches, their hamburgers, everything, at this drug store. I remember this guy left not only owing the fraternity a sizeable fortune, but he owed this drugstore six hundred dollars, and that was not untypical at all.
They were living on borrowed time and borrowed credit, and when they left, they just left. Fraternities nearly went under, a lot of them left great bills that hadn’t been paid for months, and you’d elect some brother as the treasurer, and he was a lousy manager, and didn’t have nerve enough to pressure the brothers to pay their bills. The rah-rah age was on, and of course that was the bootleg age, because the repeal of prohibition on hard liquor didn’t come in Texas for six more years, and so it was a white lightning period. The F. Scott Fitzgerald thing had permeated down that far to the campus.
Gillette: University of Texas student politics has long been a breeding ground for political leaders in the state.
Hardeman: Oh yes, there’s no question about it. I’ve operated in politics at every level, and campus politics is by far the most imaginative, cleverer than any other level that I’ve ever watched. They didn’t have any money, so they had to use their imagination.
The campus was small. I would imagine the student body was about 4,000 in those days. One of the biggest fights in campus politics was over the editorship of The Cactus [yearbook], because you got to reward the girls by selecting the beauties, and you got to reward a lot of your friends by selecting the [Goodfellows]. You had some paid jobs to give out, and that was one of the big bones of contention. The student body president was a bone of contention. But I would think that the most prized offices probably were president, Cactus editor, and [Daily] Texan editor. [Texas] Ranger [humor magazine] editor appealed to a certain group of students and candidates, but it wasn’t considered as rewarding—you didn’t have as many plums to give out. They had a judiciary council in those days, which didn’t do too much. The Curtain Club was quite popular.
It was during this period that they built the Student Union, and Gregory Gymnasium—let’s see, what else did they build? They had a big alumni drive, and they got alumni like Thomas Watt Gregory, [who] had been Wilson’s Attorney General, and of course Lutcher Stark, and all the people who had money in that period, and they did raise the money to build the Student Union and Memorial Gymnasium.
Gillette: What about the Main Building, the Tower?
Hardeman: Well, that went up during that same period, but that was different. That was legislative. They borrowed from the Permanent Fund; they got a constitutional amendment through. I wrote the story on the opening of the cornerstone of the old building, and I’d had classes in the old building, and it was really an antique. It was only fifty years old, but it was quite an antique.
There was no retirement system for faculty, so you had a lot of very superannuated faculty because if you turned them out, they'd starve to death. You had men way, way up in years, and no room for young guys to move ahead. You had, it seemed to me, an unusually large number of old Scotch Presbyterians, starting with the great tennis coach D. A. Penick.
Hardeman: I had been friends with Vann Kennedy, who was head of the International News Service [in Austin], and I had talked politics with him a lot. So I made arrangements with Vann to buy a copy of the INS wire of national and international news. I think we paid him five dollars a week for the carbon copy. With [my] first issue, [The Daily Texan] started publishing national and international news. I think we were the first college daily in the country to do that.
Gillette: Was that controversial at the time?
Hardeman: It was controversial with the journalism department because we didn't tell them anything about it. We kept everything secret from them.
Gillette: Was it their belief that the Texan should contain only local or campus news?
Hardeman: That’s my recollection of it. Particularly [professor of journalism Paul Jennings] Thompson. This was an innovation just too much for him to stomach.
Gillette: Did you get called on the carpet on it?
Hardeman: Just complaints in the hall. They didn’t have any right to call me on the carpet. I wasn’t a journalism major, and that was another thing that didn’t make them too happy. I had taken a couple of classes—I took one under Mr. Hornaday, took two under DeWitt Reddick, [and] both of them were wonderful teachers. [W. D. Hornaday] was a man with no degrees, I don't think, but he had written his way around the world seven times. I always thought the academics in the department of journalism never treated him fairly, and they poked fun at him, but he really had the most practical experience of anybody in the department.
The other thing we did that summer—we saw that some paper somewhere, I think in Ohio, had abandoned the old pyramid headlines, which were the devil to write, and had gone to the flush-left headlines, where the lines didn’t have to be the same number of characters—much easier to write, you can get much more expressive headlines on it, which today is practically universal. We put those in that summer. We worked with the printing office and swore them to secrecy. In the fall, when the Texan came out with those flush-left headlines, that was more revolutionary than carrying the wire service. This just was not the way it was taught, this was not the way it was done, but it was much better than the old style. The old style was stiff and artificial and difficult to write.
I was a big Jimmy Allred supporter—Allred was Attorney General, and Vann Kennedy was very close to Allred. I had a friend who was from Wichita Falls, so he took me down and introduced me to Jimmy Allred. Jimmy was thirty-three, thirty-four, and he was a very attractive human being, but very cocky. I remember as we left, I said to Lon Herbert, "I like him very much. I like his views and all, but he sure is cocky." And he was cocky. But anyhow, I liked him very much. He was head and shoulders above the other candidates.
So we did something the Texan had never done before. That summer, I wrote a long, long, front page article on each one of the candidates. Looking back on it, my intention was to give Jimmy Allred much the better of the deal. It gave full views of each candidate and a description of his career and so forth and so on, and then I sent out several hundred letters for Allred to relatives and friends and so forth, so I was a part of the Allred team when he was elected. As Texan editor I used to go to the governor’s press conferences whenever I had the time. I was welcome, and I knew Allred, not too well, but I knew him. So we got the Texan into state politics, as far as we dared, and the students liked having state and national and international news. They enjoyed it, because they don’t read—even today, I find students usually don’t read a daily paper.
Gillette: How were you affected by the Roosevelt Revolution? You were on campus then.
Hardeman: Because I was a big Wilsonian, I was in favor of Newton D. Baker as the nominee, and the League of Nations, and so I didn’t pay much attention to Roosevelt. We worried more about something to eat. I'd cut class for no reason at all—whenever there was something more interesting to do, I cut class—but I didn’t bother to cut class for the Roosevelt inauguration. But right after that, right after he made that speech, I was hit like everybody else—maybe here’s some hope, perhaps there is a chance after all. Because coming up to graduation with no prospect of a job, with no money, your folks couldn’t send you any money, and you’re just living with whatever you could find to do. But principally, no job at the end of the line. You’d gone four years and made it to graduation, and there was no hope out there, just no hope. And right after that—Roosevelt. I kept a diary during part of that time, and I did take note, with some alarm, of Hitler coming to power the thirtieth of January in '33, that this may change the shape of the world, you know. We didn’t understand just what it meant, but this sounded like it was going to be something. So then Roosevelt began to move so fast.
I was very much for Roosevelt, and when I was editor of the Texan, the editorials were very, very pro-Roosevelt, and I never lost that. The only time that I was a little worried was in the 1940 election. I knew I was going to vote for Roosevelt, but I went to New York, and I heard [Republican presidential nominee] Wendell Willkie make two speeches, and one [at] a very small gathering down in the Bowery. He was that night, and still is today, the most charismatic man I’ve ever met in public life. And I knew I wasn’t going to vote for him, but he is the only person I have ever fought through a crowd like a tiger to just touch the back of his shoulder. I just had to touch that man.
Gillette: Can you describe his speech?
Hardeman: Well, I went out to the Bronx Coliseum. He had just come back from the West. They were delayed going on the nationwide radio, so for about five minutes, ten minutes, he just ad-libbed, waiting for the signal. He was a great big tousle-haired fellow, just exuded warmth and dynamism, and he threw his arms out wide to this crowd of about ten thousand people, and said, "I have just returned from the West, and the prairies are on fire!" Well, he set that audience on fire, just marvelous, really stirring the animals—and then the signal came that [he was] on the air, and he started reading his speech, and he was as bad as I’ve nearly ever heard. Just terrible. He could not read his speech, he stumbled and fumbled, and he was just awful.
But then he was going to speak at Columbus Circle, and then go down in the Bowery to a little theater where every presidential candidate since Grover Cleveland had appeared. So I caught the subway down there, and I had Department of Public Safety press credentials. It was a mob of every nationality you can think of there, just the biggest melting pot you ever saw, and a big Irish cop stopped me and said, "Where do you think you’re going?"
And I said, "I’m going into the theater."
"Oh," he said, "That’s what you think."
So I said, "I’m a press man," and he said something like "Prove it!"
So I pulled out this Department of Public Safety card and he looked at that and he looked at me and he said, "How’d you get that?"
And I said, "I’m a member of the press back in Texas."
He said, "Oh, go on," so he just shoved me through.
I got into the theater, which was just jammed with probably 250 people in this little room. The stage was about two feet off the floor, and I got up within probably ten feet of Willkie. And Willkie talked on human freedom and liberty, the meaning of liberty, an ad-libbed speech, to this melting pot of every ethnic group you can imagine. One of the warmest speeches, most touching speeches, that I ever listened to. The goodness of the man just shone out, so when he stepped off of this stage to go on out, I struggled through that crowd, just lunging through that crowd, and I finally reached out and just tapped him on the back of his shoulder blade. And I knew all the time I was going to vote for Roosevelt, but [Willkie] had that kind of a background and personality.
He had kept his company clean, which made it [an outstanding example] by itself. Willkie was far more than the tycoon of the twenties and the thirties. He was a man with a social conscience, and a man who looked beyond his one little industry, and a man who recognized that the time had probably come when the government would have to do things to protect the consumer and the stockholder, and these other guys were not ready to concede that by a long shot.
Gillette: Did you ever know [Congressman] Joe Bailey?
Hardeman: No, Joe Bailey died in 1930, in the courtroom in Sherman, Texas. Young Joe I heard speak, he ran for the Senate in '34, and I heard him speak in Austin. He was an excellent orator too. Big, tall, dark, handsome man. Looked like pictures of his father. But I never laid eyes on Joe Bailey. I don’t think he ran for anything after he ran for governor in 1920. I wasn’t even familiar with the name as a kid, not really until his son ran, and I didn’t know anything about his father at that time. He had faded from public memory. Mr. Rayburn said, "You know, he was the biggest name in Washington. Word would get out that he was going to speak the next day, and they’d just be lined up on that Senate side, trying to get in the gallery. He was the most powerful mind in the Congress. Now you can’t find a soul in this whole town that ever heard of him. But he was against everything, he was agin’, agin’ agin’! They don’t remember ‘aginers.’ It’s the constructive people that they remember." But [Mr. Rayburn] said [Joe Bailey was] really a tremendous intellect, truly a big-brained man, a great orator. But his arrogance and his hatred just multiplied his enemies, and finally brought him down.
Gillette: Did you ever meet [Texas Governor] Jim Ferguson?
Hardeman: Yes, a number of times, I suppose, starting in the early thirties. As a newspaperman I used to see him with some frequency. He would come up to the pressroom and sort of hang around, talking to people, very plain, down-to-earth. A very gentle-appearing old man, a big man, and very pleasant man. I don’t think he was ever unpleasant, but it was the things he said that made him so controversial, or the things that he did, that made people either love him or hate him, but I don’t think personally that he was ever an obnoxious man like Bailey.
Gillette: I’m told that Mrs. Ferguson [had] a very strong will of her own.
Hardeman: Apparently she did. One night I went out to the house of Coke Stevenson's publicity man, a very close friend, Harry Benge Crozier, who was a correspondent for the Dallas Morning News for many years. One of the fellows out there that night was a lawyer from East Texas named Ray Starnes, who had been an integral part of the Ferguson machine going back to their early days, and he got to telling stories that night about the famous Ferguson pardon racket. He said that Jim had his own way of doing things—this was when Mrs. Ferguson was governor, the first time in 1924—that Starnes would be representing some convict, and he would go there to get Jim’s help on getting a pardon. Jim would say, "What are you getting for this?" And he’d say, "I’m getting a couple thousand dollars." Jim said, "Well, don’t [you] think you ought to divide it with me?" And [Starnes] said, "Sure." But then said the next time, he’d say, "I’m not getting a penny, Jim. This is an old family friend and I’m just doing this for the family," and Jim would say, "Okay."
[Starnes] said, "We had one case where we couldn’t get a pardon worked out." This was a fellow that held up a theater ticket booth, I think he said in Fort Worth, a fellow named Silver, who was given a long [prison] term for armed robbery. There was a lot of money involved. I think [Starnes] said he had a ten thousand dollar fee involved. So he went to see Ferguson, and made the deal with Ferguson, and Ferguson had the pardon prepared, and put it on the desk, and Mrs. Ferguson didn’t sign it. He asked her about it, and she said no, she didn’t think she’d sign it. This went on over a period of time, and Jim got more and more insistent, and finally she said, "You just might as well quit trying to get me to sign that pardon, because I’m not going to do it."
And he said, "Well what is the reason?"
She said, "I have information that that man was unfaithful to his wife, and I will not turn someone like that loose on society."
So she could be stubborn in her own way. She appeared to be a very sweet, sensible, something like the Bess Truman-type of individual.
[Fisher Allsup] was from Temple, and I guess had grown up with Jim. He told me a story about asking Jim, "Jim, you’ve been highly controversial ever since you got into politics, and you must’ve thought about this. Just how do you handle a situation when your enemies are accusing you of everything under the sun, and throwing things at you, and proving some of it—how do you handle a situation like that?" Ferguson said, "Yes, I’ve thought about this a whole lot since I’ve been running for office," and he said, "I have finally come to the conclusion that the only thing to do is to emulate a jackass in a hailstorm. Just pucker up your ass and hope to hell it’ll soon be over." And I think that’s as good political advice as I’ve ever heard.
Gillette: Who do you think was the worst governor we’ve had in the twentieth century?
Hardeman: Oh, easy. W. Lee O’Daniel. No problem there. Because O’Daniel did a lot of things. One of the worst things that he did was to politicize the boards of higher education. He turned them over to the lobbyists. But he also demagogued on one issue after the other. If there was anything constructive about him, I don’t know what it would have been. Next to him I guess I’d put Coke Stevenson, although [Oscar] Colquitt didn’t amount to much. And [Pat] Neff looked like a governor, but if he had any great contributions, I can’t remember what they were.
Gillette: How about [Ross] Sterling?
Hardeman: Sterling was a very good, decent businessman who had had a remarkable record at cleaning up the highway department after the Fergusons and really getting the Texas highway system started on a sound footing. But he was very much like Herbert Hoover—he didn't know what to do when the Depression hit. And of course, who did? His personal business was going to hell, and he lost his entire fortune. During those two years, everything went down the drain. But I think he was honest, I think he was well meaning, and if he had served in the middle twenties, he probably would have been reelected. He was just defeated for reelection by a very small margin, I think maybe three or four thousand votes. He probably would have come out as a good engineer who ran a good ship—nothing spectacular, but he probably would have had an efficient administration, probably would have gotten some other physical things done for the state.
Gillette: Did you ever cover O’Daniel?
Hardeman: Oh yes, I knew O’Daniel. I was around him quite a lot, not to the pleasure of either one of us, because I was writing a daily column in a Dallas paper at the time, during two years of his administration, and I was knifing him every time I got a chance, so there was never any particularly warm greeting when I would go to a press conference or go over to the mansion. He knew that I had no use for him. I never saw him lose his cool, though. He was always very matter-of-fact in his greeting to you. He never did as Lyndon Johnson might have done, grab you by the scuff of the neck and bawl you out. I never heard of him doing that to a newspaperman, but he simply just didn’t give you any warmth of greeting.
In one way, he did some colorful things, looking back at it. He was a showman, and he had a sense of showmanship, but I had such a deep-seated feeling that he was just a demagogue that I probably was unfair to him in what I wrote at times. He reprieved a death sentence for thirty days, and he wrote the thing out in longhand, and he said he’d reprieved him so that he’d have thirty days more to suffer for his crime. Well, that created a big flap, and so then he comes back and he says the reason he did that was to call attention to the fact that he was against the death penalty. So he was pretty artful at getting into a jam and getting out of it. And you know, the thing died down.
A story that I think is true—they were trying to coach him in the interim between his nomination and the time to take office, because this man didn’t even know where Austin was—and so they tell the story, they had all these people, including a self-styled constitutional lawyer, state Senator Tom Holbrook from Galveston, ultra-conservative, and I think a very good lawyer. They were talking about something, and Tom Holbrook spoke up and said, "But that’s a violation of the United States Constitution!" And O’Daniel said, "Well, what’s the United States Constitution got to do with Texas?" And I think that sounds like a true story. But he was able to hold all the rich and all the poor. And he had the poor people aroused in his behalf.
But he was very anti-New Deal. Of course his financial supporters were very anti-New Deal, and Coke Stevenson was very anti-New Deal. One of the things I never forgave Coke Stevenson was that in 1944, I give him the blame for Texas being I think the only state in the Union that wouldn’t let its overseas servicemen vote for president. I watched kids from every state in the Union voting in Belgium, and I couldn’t vote. [Stevenson] knew the service vote would go for Roosevelt. Another thing, during the middle of the war, when they put gasoline rationing on, he told the people of Texas, in effect, to just ignore it, we had plenty of gas. Those things didn’t surprise me, but they didn’t endear him to me at all.
O’Daniel opened his campaign in Sherman, Texas, and 50,000 people or something turned out. Some of them walked fifteen or twenty miles to listen to him. All the politicians said, "Ah, that’s just a fluke, they came there to hear the music." Well, that’s what they thought. [O'Daniel] just ran over that state like a vacuum cleaner. The fat cats wanted somebody to save them from trouble, and some of them found a way to get in close to O’Daniel, and said, "Oh, he’s alright, he’ll do what we want him to do."
I went to an O’Daniel rally. The people just poured out of the streets around [Zilker Park]. And you know, he put on a good show. It was good vaudeville. It was two hours of good entertainment. The boys in service, many of them would have supported Allred, but they couldn’t vote. [O'Daniel] barely beat Allred—I think there again, about 4,000 votes—but Allred was the only formidable opponent that he had.
Gillette: Other than Lyndon Johnson.
Hardeman: Yes, you're absolutely right. Bill McCraw, for example, tried to take him on, and he just knocked McCraw clear out of the ring. They finally dug up the fact that [O'Daniel] was born in Ohio, and that was a big deal. But he countered it by saying, "It was the people of Ohio that took up a collection to buy the two cannons to send to defend Gonzales, the Twin Sisters." So McCraw comes back and says, "The only thing the flour salesman would know about the Twin Sisters is he tried to get their telephone number." Well, people got a giggle out of it, but it wasn't very devastating.
Hardeman: I went home with Dolph Briscoe Jr. one weekend, and Mr. Briscoe Sr. took us over to see Mr. [John Nance] Garner. He was still Vice President, and he still lived in the big ol’ brick house that I think he later gave the city and the county for a library. He had on one of these old pasteboard African hats—sun helmets—and old ducking trousers and his cheap pocket watch—he had a leather thong on that—and [an] open collar. We weren’t there but just a few minutes—this was about 11:15 in the morning, I guess—and he said, "Well, I think we’d better strike a blow for liberty. Come on with me." So we went out on the back porch, and he had two stoves there that he’d had the utility companies bring in. One was electric and one was gas. He and Mrs. Garner were keeping records on which was the cheapest to operate. During that period, I’m pretty sure, she was still going from backdoor to backdoor, selling eggs.
So he got the whiskey out of the icebox. Neither of the Briscoes drank, so he poured my whiskey out, and he said, "You want some water in that?" And I said, "Yes sir, Mr. Vice President. I don’t believe I can take it straight." So he poured about three drops in with a disgusted look on his face, like [I was] ruining good whiskey by putting water in it.
I went back to see him several times after that. I went down with Mr. Rayburn one time, and we had supper at Tully Garner’s and stayed there from four until about eight-thirty, maybe nine o’clock. Then Dolph took me by, the day after [Vice President Garner's] ninety-second birthday. That’s the last time I saw him, and his mind was still good.
Gillette: He was known for being as tight as anyone.
Hardeman: Oh yeah, very, very tight. Very parsimonious. They tell [a story] about him losing a bet on a football game or something, and Garner pulled out this bill and gave it to the fellow, and the fellow said, "Now this is a historic day, when you win anything off of John Garner. This is a great day. Now I’m going to frame this." Garner jerked the bill out of his hand and said, "In that case, I’ll give you a check." He really lived very simply. I don’t think he bought any whiskey after he went to Congress—people would give it to him.
Gillette: Garner was recognized as being I guess the best poker player on Capitol Hill.
Hardeman: He must’ve been. I don’t know anything about that. But he had a reputation of making it a business to win money by playing poker, and I can imagine that he probably was very skillful at it, or he worked at it. And Mrs. Garner of course was a tremendous helpmate, although the stories you hear—I met her just one time here in Washington, just within the office, and Garner was asleep. She said a few words to us. But Ms. [Alla] Clary [Sam Rayburn's secretary] said [Mrs. Garner] was always scared to death of her husband, [whom] she called Mr. Garner. She’d come around to their office, and she’d say, "Oh, I’d better go back. Mr. Garner will be coming in, and he’d be very unhappy if I’m not there." He was such a domineering character, that apparently that was a relationship he had with both his wife and his son. The night we were down at Garner’s, Tully never sat down. He was so nervous that everything be okay that he just went around and around the table making sure that everybody was getting fed. Garner ate peach cobbler and cream, napkin tucked under his collar, and he got through before the rest of us did. So he plopped his false teeth out into his hand, and said, "Here, Tully, take these over and put them in a glass of water by my bed." Tully went trotting off with the teeth.
Gillette: How old was Tully at this point?
Hardeman: He must have been right at sixty.
Gillette: You mentioned his business practices in Uvalde.
Hardeman: Well, the story was that, during the Depression, he owned one of the banks or owned a big interest, [and] he was so rough on foreclosing on, as the saying goes, widows and orphans, that he was just a Scrooge. There were areas down there [in Uvalde], after they got the air base, where they widened the street. Here’d be the paving, [and] suddenly, it’d come in about three feet on each side for a stretch, then it’d widen out again. They all said the narrow places were where John Garner owned the property, and he wouldn’t give them that extra few feet for paving the street.
The night Mr. Rayburn and myself were down there, we had one drink in the shanty to which he had moved. It was a little shanty where he and Mrs. Garner had started housekeeping in the 1890s. He gave the big house for a library, and he moved back in this shanty behind the house. We had one drink, and he got up, and said, "All right, let’s go over to Tully’s and drink his whiskey," and everybody laughed. So we did, and drank plenty of Tully’s whiskey. I think I said something on the way back to San Antonio, "He wasn’t joking about going over and drinking Tully’s whiskey." Mr. Rayburn said, "Of course he wasn’t joking about it, he wasn’t about to let us drink any more of his whiskey!" He’d do that, I’m told, down at the Washington Hotel. He’d put about a two-drink limit on everybody. They’d put the whiskey on top of the toilet tank, and after he’d seen that everybody had had a couple of drinks, then Garner would say, "All right, the bar is closing," and then he’d go get the whiskey and put it out of the way. He was serious about conservation.
Hardeman: They said that he made the bank foreclose on an awful lot of people there [in Uvalde]. It was strictly business with him. Mr. Rayburn said to him one time, "John, there are people in my district, whole families, that have never voted for me, and never will. I don’t know anybody that personally hates me, but I go to Uvalde and some of those people hate you." And Garner said, "Sam, you’ve never been in business!" But he had a really first-class mind. He was a tremendously able legislator. And he’s the man who was single-handedly responsible for us having the progressive income tax, without which we probably couldn’t afford either World War Two, or the Vietnam or the Korean War.
Cordell Hull brought in a flat tax in 1913, when they were passing the first constitutional income tax law, and it was going to be a flat tax, regardless of your income. Garner said that removes all the reason for having an income tax, if you take out the progressive feature. He had just gone on the Ways and Means Committee. He said, "I really put the big britches on Cordell, and he sure didn’t like it. Cordell was going around from member to member, asking them to support his amendment, and I worked through leaders of delegations. While he was rounding up three, I was rounding up fifteen." So he put [the progressive] feature into our tax code. He said, "I’ve gotten a reputation as being so conservative, but I’m against deficit spending because deficit spending means that you’re issuing bonds that the big investors buy up, and we have to pay big interest to those investors." He said, "You keep on deficit spending, you end up with all of us working for the Wall Street bankers." It was not that he wanted to do away with social services, but he wanted to pay as you go.
On the whole, I think if you go back and look at Garner’s record, he was modestly willing to go along. In fact, he had the reputation as such a radical in the '32 campaign that Jim Farley and Roosevelt kept him under wraps. They were afraid that he would frighten off all the conservative votes. He had a Western radical image at that particular time. And of course on the utility holding company fight, he was in that up to his neck. He announced, when the conference committee was appointed, that he was going to ignore seniority, that he was going to skip down the list of committee members until he got a majority that were in favor of the death sentence. A lot of people just screamed, but he was tough enough to make it stick.
Gillette: How much of an influence on Sam Rayburn do you think Garner was?
Hardeman: Well, it was a different kind of influence. Mr. Rayburn said one time, "I was John’s lieutenant for about fifteen years, and God, what a chore that was at times. But I’ll say one thing for John. When the time came for him to throw his feet out for you, he threw them out all the way."
Hardeman: Rayburn had two suites of offices. He had what is known as the Speaker's rooms right off the House floor where a Speaker normally sees most of his visitors. And then he has a suite of offices back in the center of the Capitol, which we call the Speaker's office. Usually when [Lyndon] Johnson came over during working hours, he would come over to the Speaker's office. Johnson would drop by there and naturally go right in to see the Speaker and usually they would be there by themselves. Johnson and Rayburn also talked over the telephone quite a bit, many times I thought on procedural matters, keeping each other abreast of some little development in their respective branches of the Congress. Then Johnson was a frequent visitor to the Board of Education at five-thirty or six o'clock in the afternoon.
T. Harrison Baker: Were there many other senators who came to the Board of Education?
Hardeman: Not many senators, my impression, because the Board of Education—I never did know whether I was supposed to go down every night or only on specific invitation, and I don't think anybody else was quite sure either. Rayburn left it vague. Tiger Teague told me once, "I've been baffled because every now and then he'll stop me and say, 'Why don't you come down and have a drink this afternoon?' and I try to always go if I can, but I don't know whether that meant I'm welcome every night." I felt the same way about it, so I made a rule of not going down unless he said so. I didn't want to go every night; I didn't want to be tied up till seven-thirty or eight every night. I was tired and I wanted to get home, so I wasn't too anxious to have an invitation to come every night. My impression was that Johnson was not there every night either, but many times he would drop by there and have his driver pick him up on the House side. He'd drop in at least to compare notes for thirty minutes or so.
But the House and Senate were two separate worlds, and that's why it was so useful, I think, that Johnson and Rayburn had this working relationship. There probably was closer coordination between the House and the Senate in those years than there ever has been before or since.
Baker: Did Mr. Rayburn distrust or dislike or fear Nixon?
Hardeman: Well, of course, his antipathy to Nixon came from Nixon's service in the House. Rayburn was very unhappy with and felt very deeply about the charges made by the Republicans and some Democrats that Truman was soft on communism. He believed that was a complete lie, was a political lie, and the Un-American Activities Committee had been a thorn in his side for years. And Rayburn put a lot of stock in his own capacity to judge men just by looking at them and talking to them. At one time somebody said to him—he said something about a man's face, he didn't trust that man because of his face—"Well, a man's not responsible for how he looks, Mr. Speaker." And he shot back and said, "Every man is responsible for his face after he's forty years of age." He thought he could read a man's character very well by watching him, looking at him. He said many times that Nixon had the cruelest face he'd ever looked into. And when [Nixon] left the House, he said to people, "Well, good riddance! I hope he never darkens the door of the House again!" He thought he would go over to the Senate and be forgotten; he ended up as candidate for president. He felt that Nixon was very reckless and unscrupulous in some of his campaign speeches, as other Republicans like Sherman Adams were in charging by innuendo, not in so many words, the Democrats with twenty years of treason. This was the unforgivable in politics. Fight a man as hard as you want to, but you don't question his loyalty to his country. And Rayburn met this issue head-on the second and last time he talked to the National Press Club. This is a matter of record; the transcript is available on his appearance over at the National Press Club.
It went something like this: after the formal presentation of the Speaker, then the reporters write out anonymous questions and send them up to the president of the Press Club and he selects the ones that he wants and asks the Speaker to answer them.
Somebody had said, "What can you tell us about your personal relations with Richard Nixon?" A rather mildly worded question along that line. And he said, "Well, there has been a lot of talk, irresponsible talk, going around all over this town about how I hate Richard Nixon. Now, I don't hate anybody! I don't have time enough in life to love all the people that I ought to love, much less be spending time hating people, so I don't hate anybody. But there are a few that I loathe!" And so he said, "Mr. Nixon said what I consider to be some very harsh and unfair things about the party of treason and so forth in political campaigns, but I think we took him to the woodshed in 1954 and gave him a pretty good treatment; I don't think he'll be saying those things anymore." Now, this is all a matter of transcript available on all this. So he met this issue head-on.
I saw Nixon at his very best one time. LBJ got an idea. There were forty-seven senators and the Vice President—and at that time you had only ninety-six senators—that had served with Rayburn in the House. So he would have a ceremony and they would give Rayburn a silver tray with his name engraved on it. Each man would have his name engraved on it. He invited me to come to the ceremony in the old Supreme Court chamber. Dick Russell had an artist friend in Atlanta, so they sent him a photograph of Rayburn and he painted a painting of Rayburn, which was pretty good except he got the jaw too long. LBJ had color reproductions made and gave everybody there one of them.
So, I thought this was kind of sadistic of Senator Johnson, but he called on Richard Nixon to speak. Well, everybody knew about the dislike of the two men for each other, but Nixon responded beautifully. He didn't lower himself; he didn't perjure himself; he talked academically about Rayburn's tenure, [that] set a record that would never be exceeded in all probability [and] his knowledge of the rules. He never did say "I love him'" or "he's my buddy," never any falsity about it. I was standing about four feet from Richard Nixon and I thought he handled himself magnificently. I thought Senator Johnson put him in a very tough spot. But Nixon handled it manfully. My liking for Nixon increased as a result of that experience.
Hardeman: Of course, Rayburn nominated Johnson [for President in 1960]. He was out there and he was meeting with people. A constant stream of people coming to his suite, or he was phoning people and doing everything that he could do to try to win over delegates for Lyndon Johnson. Once Lyndon Johnson had made his decision to enter, Rayburn of course approved of it and did everything that was humanly possible on it. And he convinced me that he really felt that Johnson was the strongest candidate that the Democrats had because of the fact that he felt that there were millions of Republicans who didn't want Richard Nixon, but wouldn't vote for any other potential Democratic nominee. But he nominated Lyndon Johnson. He told me to prepare the elements of the nominating speech, which I did, and which he went over. And he told me what main points he wanted in it. I tried to put those in language and went back to him time after time and he would revise and insert something else and so forth and so on. Then he had me take the speech to Senator Johnson and go over it with him and Johnson approved it, I believe, without change of a word. So then this was mimeographed and distributed to the press. Then, of course, Rayburn couldn't read a speech by that time. One eye was out and the other eye he couldn't read with, so he gave what was a much better speech, a complete ad-libbed speech at the convention. But we released the formal speech. So there are two nominating speeches: one that the press carried initially and the other one that was actually delivered.
Hardeman: Rayburn really would have been happier in the nineteenth century, when you didn't have all of this impedimenta of modern living. He was totally lacking in mechanical ability. He couldn't even unlock a door. He was a terrible driver; he was a very dangerous driver. He was much more at home on a horse than he was in an automobile. I mentioned the telephones. When they put in the dial phones in the Capitol, he wouldn't let them put a dial phone on his desk. He made them leave the old-style telephone on his desk so he could pick up the phone and talk to the operator and get her to get the number. He told H. G. Dulaney to have the second phone taken out of the Rayburn Library to save money, and said, "Hell, I can't talk over but one phone at a time." H. G. said, "Mr. Rayburn, you'll be wanting to make a call and somebody will have the phone tied up and then you'll be mad." But Rayburn's idea was to keep life as simple as possible. He wanted a small staff.
I asked Senator Johnson, "What are his limitations? What are Rayburn's faults?" He said, "Well, there are two: number one, he has no idea in this modern world of how to use a staff, no idea." (He uses it in a different way from almost everybody in Congress, but I'm not sure he doesn't know how to use it.) "He runs his office out of his back ass pocket." And the second thing was, "He never plans ahead and anticipates emergencies and tries to head them off. He takes them as they come down the pike. He doesn't plan way in advance." I thought after that interview, well, [Rayburn] saves a whole lot of time, because a lot of these things never happen.
Hardeman: According to Senator Johnson, this thing started with Will Wilson [attorney general of Texas] who said to [Texas Governor] Price Daniel, "If this boy [Kennedy] is as smart as I think he is, he's going to ask Lyndon to run on the ticket with him and Lyndon's got to do it." Price said, "I hadn't given it a thought, but I think you're right." So Price then mentioned it to Senator Johnson and Senator Johnson called Sam Rayburn and told him what Price Daniel had said.
[Rayburn] said, "Now damn it, Lyndon, don't you do anything rash. Don't you do anything, by God, until we talk again." That was the night before [Kennedy asked Johnson to run with him]. So then when Kennedy called [Johnson] and said, "I want to come to see you," LBJ called Sam Rayburn and told him Kennedy was coming to see him. [Rayburn] said, "Don't you do anything." [LBJ called Rayburn afterward] and told him what Kennedy had said and said, "I told him he would have to convince you. He'll be coming to see you."
Hale [Boggs] said he went [into the Speaker's Room] and [people were] giving the Speaker all the wrong arguments about why Lyndon should take the nomination. So [Boggs] said, "I knew how to talk to the Speaker. I turned it on about, 'Mr. Speaker, you just can't stand being responsible for giving this country eight years of Richard Nixon.' I knew that would sting him worse than anything else."
The Speaker was getting itchy. Kennedy had called him and said, "I'm coming down to see you." Well, Kennedy didn't show and didn't show. [Rayburn] said to Hale, "Hale, go up there and see if that boy's coming down here." So Hale went up the fire stairs. Here were Joe Rauh and all the liberals, Walter Reuther, Roy Reuther, all screaming and yelling and threatening. He said to Jack Kennedy, "Jack, come on. The Speaker's getting restless. Come on. We'll go down the back stairs here."
So he and Kenny O'Donnell and Hale went down to the Speaker's suite. Kennedy said, "Shall we all talk?" Hale said, "No, why don't you and the Speaker talk and let Kenny and myself get better acquainted." He didn't know O'Donnell well at all then. So [Boggs and O'Donnell] stayed outside while Rayburn was in private with Kennedy.
He told Kennedy, "I've been dead set against this. I knew how miserable the other people have been in the vice presidency. I've been dead set against it. But if you tell me you've got to have him on the ticket to win, tell me you'll use him all you can, and that you'll tell the world he's your personal choice, and that you're determined to have him nominated, then I'll withdraw my objections."
Hardeman: [Rayburn] was not impressed with Kennedy. He was not impressed with Kennedy until the first television debate with Nixon.
Gillette: Really, what was his reaction to that?
Hardeman: He said, "He was in the House here and he made absolutely no impression on us. A nice young man, but rumpled suits and hair hanging down in his face that needed cutting, spindly legs, and he had that yellow complexion like he had that Pacific fever. He was running around after the girls all night long. He just made no impression at all on us." But [Rayburn] was loyal. When [Kennedy] was nominated, why, [Rayburn] was going to be for him. But he watched the first television debate. They said he turned off the set and said, "My, God, the things that boy knows." From that time on, why, Kennedy was like a son to him. He had grown up, and Rayburn hadn't realized it. He had matured.
Hardeman: The Speaker came back from the July 4 vacation and he said, "The damnedest thing happened to me while I was at home. I got the worst crick in my back." Well, those of us on the staff thought it was lumbago or a backache or something.
But I went out to a party at Judge Gene Worley's house. LBJ was at the party. I said something to him. He was telling with great hilarity about getting Rayburn to go to Dr. Janet Travell, Kennedy's back physician, down at the White House. He finally convinced the Speaker that he ought to let Dr. Travell examine him and see what she could do for him. So she started giving him shots in the back. He started putting on his pants standing up, and she bawled him out: "Don't you ever do that! Let me show you how to put your pants on. Sit down and put them on one leg at a time and then stand up and draw them up." That made him mad and he said, "Ain't any woman alive going to tell me how to put my britches on!"
So the Vice President said—I said something about I hope his lumbago gets better or something—"Well, D.B., I think in a week or so we'll know whether it's lumbago or whether it's something much more serious." So he sensed that something was wrong. Well, then [Rayburn] began to lose weight and he couldn't eat; he lost his appetite. But he never gave us an indication—we were with him every day—of accepting the fact that he was seriously or terminally ill.
In the last weeks of his life, Mr. Rayburn would come and go from I would call it a coma. He'd be very lucid; he'd be very talkative perhaps, and then he would slip away and he would be totally incommunicative. One morning the nurse and myself were with him. He said belligerently, "Give me a cigarette." So I lighted a cigarette for him. Before I got it lit he had drifted off, so I went ahead and smoked the cigarette. In just a few minutes he opened his eyes and said, "You never did give me that damn cigarette." But that's the way it was. He'd drift in and out. He might be out for a couple of hours or a couple of minutes. There was no way of predicting it.
A couple of days later, Vice President Johnson flew in. There were a number of people in Rayburn's room at that particular time. Vice President Johnson went over to the bed, and he took Rayburn's hand in his two hands and he said, "Hello, pardner." Rayburn was in a coma; he didn't respond at all. So the Vice President leaned over very close to him, still holding his hand in his two hands, and said, "Hello, pardner," and Rayburn showed no sign of recognition. LBJ straightened up and he had the most grief-stricken look on his face. He was a shattered man as he straightened up. As I was telling Mrs. Johnson the other night, it was the first time that he had accepted the fact that he had lost Sam Rayburn. The look on his face, I never saw at any other time in his life. But he was a shattered man. He sort of turned on his heel and walked out, got on the helicopter, and went away. That was the last time he saw him alive.
Baker: During that weekend [following the assassination] or in the next week, did anybody sit down and speculate on what kind of president Lyndon Johnson might make, or do you in that kind of circumstance?
Hardeman: Oh, I don't think anybody had time or had enough emotion left. Trying to remember back then is very tricky business. I had always felt that if Lyndon Johnson could ever get to the presidency that he would make a great president. I had great skepticism as to whether he could ever be elected president; I just thought the odds were against him. But I said many times to people that, "If he ever gets there, he has all the qualities to make a great president," and I think he made a great president. But at that moment, we were living from moment to moment. You had the cathedral service and the clamor of people to be invited to that; you had the arrangements for the rotunda; you had telegrams to members; the busing arrangements. Everybody was completely drained of emotion and drained of energy. We were just ready to drop physically.
I remember thinking that he handled it very well when he stepped off the plane and made that very short statement to the nation. I thought he handled that in a very nice and very dignified fashion. And I thought he conducted himself through the ceremonies with the heads of state all with great dignity. I had no inkling then of the unhappy plane ride; I had no inkling that there was a scuffle about how they were to take the coffin off. That all came much later.
Baker: Did Mr. Boggs's assignment to the Warren Commission mean any extra work for you?
Hardeman: No, I was not involved at all in the Warren Commission. The Warren Commission came about, according to what Hale [Boggs] told many of us, [because] a number of subcommittees and committees of the Congress decided to investigate the assassination. It looked like it was going to be a field day with the number of investigations—subpoenaing the same witnesses and each one trying to prove something different, and there would be utter chaos. So Hale said that he said to the President, "The only way to head this off is for you to name a blue ribbon commission that will make all these others keep hands off it. There is no alternative to it." So the President called him at home and told him that he had decided to name this blue ribbon commission and that "That means that you have to serve on it."
And then I remember a little incident—one of the individuals in the House was trying to, I don't know, he was making a speech for a resolution to appoint a special committee or something involving the committee, and Hale, on the spur of the moment, got up and, trying to head this off, said, "I can say on the highest authority that a blue ribbon commission will be named and therefore we should cease our discussion of this right now," which did head off whoever was trying to do this. I know he said later on that the next time he saw him, the President said to him, "You know when you say 'on the highest authority,' do you know you're talking about me?" And Hale laughed and said, "Well, I had to say something right then and there or we'd have been in trouble."
Baker: Would you care to hazard a guess as to whether or not the John Kennedy legislative program would have passed in 1964 had there not been an assassination? Would things like the tax bill, Civil Rights Act, have gotten through that session?
Hardeman: I've always thought that a major part of the Kennedy program would have passed had he lived; that at the time he was assassinated and the newspaper people for a lack of any hard news were writing what we referred to as thumb-sucking pieces. They sit around in the corner and suck their thumbs trying to think up something to write about. [I think] that they forgot that there's a cycle in Congress, certainly in modern times, a burst of no activity in the first year of Congress until after Easter, then the easier legislation is put through one house or the other in the summer of that first year, then the tougher pieces of legislation have longer hearings and more involved operations so they seem to be held up. And then in the fall of the first year you go into sort of an inactive slump, and then along in the spring of the second year of a Congress, you come to grips with these hard issues and you get them out of the way one way or the other in an election year. And I think that was what would have happened in the case of the Kennedy program had he lived.
I think the tax bill undoubtedly would have passed, perhaps not in the same form that it did pass in. I think civil rights legislation probably would have passed in some form or other, probably not as sweeping. There might not have been an FEPC [Fair Employment Practices Commission] provision in that bill. There are some things that I do not think Kennedy would have passed that summer that Johnson was able to get passed. One of the measures that I think Kennedy had no possibility of passing and that Johnson— I don't think he expected to be able to pass it either, John McCormack really is the man that I think deserves most of the credit for it, although LBJ certainly helped, and that was the Mass Transit Act. I do not think Kennedy had any chance to even get that voted on…. I don't think the poverty program would have passed. Kennedy had two bills: one was the Youth Opportunity Bill and the other was another phase of the poverty program, Community Action Bill I think they called it. And those to me were dead as a doornail and with good reason, I think, because the Kennedy Administration, the sponsors of the bills, really hadn't thought them through. I sat in an all-day meeting of a citizens' committee trying to push the Youth Opportunity Bill, headed by Malcolm Forbes of Forbes magazine, including Bill Anderson, now a congressman from Tennessee, and Mrs. Arthur Goldberg and others. And we met all day long and I was invited to sit in. And the thing that struck me when I came out of the meeting was that these people really don't know—they haven't thought through the hard questions behind the bill. They don't know exactly—they're avoiding the gut issues here; they're trying to get the bill and then solve the problems after they get the bill. And I didn't think it would work, and I don't think it would have worked.
LBJ took advantage of the Kennedy assassination and the emotion aroused by it; he got a very catchy phrase, "the poverty program," he put the two together with modification and put them through. I do not think Kennedy would have got either one of those. But as I mentioned before, I think much of his legislation would have passed had he lived. I think the newspaper assessment and the historical assessment that he had run out of steam in Congress is not correct.
Hardeman: The first business contact that I had with [President Johnson] was quite accidental. The President was trying to get authority to sell wheat to Russia. This was the week before Christmas in 1963. It was a very volatile issue. The House met all night long, and the Republican ban on selling wheat to Russia prevailed by, it seems to me, like five votes—very close margin. We were in the middle of a terrible snowstorm and the House had been meeting from noon until five-thirty on Saturday morning, and we were all absolutely dead. But many of the members had already started home or had gone home for Christmas. And so at six-thirty in the morning, Hale came down to the office and said, "I'm going to try to get home. Will you get on the phone and phone everybody that didn't answer the roll call and run them down wherever they are, and tell them to come back to Washington immediately?"
So we had gotten the last roll call, and we started phoning some of the absentees at six-thirty in the morning. And the phone rang, said, "This is the White House. Jack Valenti wants to talk to Congressman Boggs."
And I said, "I don't know where he is. I think he's somewhere between here and his home. Is there anything that I can help with? This is D. B. Hardeman," and they said, "Just a moment." This voice came on the line and I recognized it immediately. This was about six-thirty or six-forty in the morning. He said, "D. B., what happened up there?" And I said, "Well, Mr. President, we got our tail whipped." "What was the vote?" And I told him the vote. Apparently he had just waked up and Jack Valenti had given him the news that he had tasted his first defeat as president on the floor of the House.
So then we worked all during that weekend, and there was a wild day on Saturday. They finally decided to have another vote on it on Tuesday, I believe, or the day before Christmas—Christmas Eve. I'd had very little to eat that day, and I was completely exhausted. I hadn't been to bed for about forty-eight hours or something like that, and I walked in the apartment and the phone was ringing. And it said, "This is Larry O'Brien's office. They want you at the White House at ten o'clock tomorrow for a meeting in Larry O'Brien's office." That was Sunday at ten o'clock.
So I went down and at that meeting with a number of people there, of Congress and others, they decided to charter a plane out on the West Coast to fly across the southern part of the United States picking up missing members [of Congress] and bringing them back in. They decided to send a plane down—[Congressman] Dick Bolling was down in the Virgin Islands, the French Virgin Islands, and he was on the Rules Committee and they needed him to make a quorum on the Rules Committee to report out a special rule to authorize the new vote. So I was told at this meeting that they had told the Governor of the Virgin Islands to send a small plane to this remote island and pick up Dick and bring him back. Dick wouldn't come back, so they sent the plane back the second time. And this was typical. So then Speaker McCormack had to get Congressman Colmer to leave his sick wife in Biloxi, Mississippi, and catch that plane and fly back up here to report out a vote on the wheat bill. It was a week of feverish activity.
Then, Jake Pickle had just been elected to Congress, and he flew all night long to get in here. The House met at seven o'clock on Christmas Eve morning to have the decisive vote on the wheat sale to Russia. And so Jake and Warren Woodward, who had been one of LBJ's assistants, and their wives came into our office and wanted to know what to do to get Jake sworn in so that his vote would count on the wheat sale to Russia.
John Connally had certified him—as governor—that he had been elected at one minute after midnight, and had wired the Speaker and had wired the clerk of the House. The wire had not arrived at the Speaker's office and the clerk of the House didn't bother to come in that day, and so we had no proof of the certification. McCormack had to get [Minority Leader Charles] Halleck to agree not to challenge him because he lacked the certificate of election, and Halleck agreed. The Speaker was frantic to get him sworn in because the vote was coming up immediately. So it was wild and woolly.
But then in the middle of all this snowstorm, the night [of December 23] during all this confusion, the President about three-thirty in the afternoon sent word up that he was giving a reception that afternoon at the White House about seven o'clock, I think, for the members of Congress and some of the staff members. So we went up to the White House and he climbed up on a chair—I remember thinking he ought not to be up on that nice chair—but he climbed up on this chair with his shoes in the dining room and made a little speech about how the Congress had responded and wishing them a merry Christmas. It was the most beautiful occasion I've ever seen at the White House because all the Christmas lights were on; the Christmas decorations were up, and he mixed and mingled and so did Lady Bird with all the members and it was a goodwill gesture that was very, very useful.
[The legislation passed on December 24, by a 189–158 vote.]
Hardeman: In my opinion, [Johnson] used the telephone more than any president in our history to try to persuade members of Congress to vote for things that he wanted passed or that he wanted killed. He was not afraid on legislative matters to commit the full personal prestige of the presidency on individual members. I'm not sure how this worked. Larry O'Brien could tell you exactly, but it's my impression that in the House, for example, we would decide after these numerous conferences in the Speaker's office that there were perhaps thirty people that would be highly useful and maybe determinative if the President would call them personally. And that list would be made up by the Larry O'Brien staff and given to the President in order of importance, and that he would go as far down that list and make as many calls as his time would permit.
The President wanted a meeting [on March 16, 1965]. He invited down the Speaker, the Majority Leader, the Whip, Deputy Whip, Assistant Whips, and a couple of staff people. It was a fascinating evening for me. We were to meet in the Red Room. Well, the President came in late and he looked around and he said, "This setup is no good. This is a mess."
And it was a mess, crowded and just inappropriate. So he made them change it all around, and we met in the State Dining Room. He and all the members who could crowd around sat at this great enormous table, and a few of us sat in chairs over on the sides. The President started off by apologizing for being late. He said, "I was in approving the bombing targets for tomorrow in Vietnam." And he started saying, "There is never any let up in the office." Hanging on the west wall of the State Dining Room was this big portrait of Abraham Lincoln, and the President waved toward it and said, "He walks these halls every night. His ghost walks these halls every night. You have these problems with you twenty-four hours a day. There's never any escape from them."
Then he started in a monologue of what he apparently had told the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said, "Now, don't you be talking to me about fighting eight hundred million of them," referring, I suppose, to Communist China, "when you haven't proved to me by a damn sight that you know how to lick fourteen million of them. So don't you be talking to me about any eight hundred million of them. I don't know how to fight a war, I wasn't trained for that, but you were, and if you don't know how to fight and win a war, then we've wasted a hell of a lot of money on your educations. But don't you be talking to me about fighting any eight hundred million." And he went on this monologue.
Then he started talking about the importance of winning on Capitol Hill. Medicare was in a critical state then in the committee, and the committee had adopted a couple of amendments that he didn't like. He was saying, "We've got to undo this." They were trivial amendments about the inclusion of fees or something. And I remember him slapping his hands together—he said, "You've got to [be] Johnny-at-the-rat-hole. You've got to be Johnny-at-the-rat-hole all the time," and everybody laughed, you know.
Then he singled out a member from Alabama, who had just put through a bill with great skill—Bob Jones. And Jones had gotten this bill through in a brilliant handling of legislation. And he said, "I don't know how you did it. Brilliant! Masterful! I've never seen anything greater since I've been in Washington! I want to congratulate you. It's just marvelous! It's just great!"
And then he turned to somebody else and he'd chide them and say, "I'm going to pick on you now. Why didn't you do this? Why didn't you do that?" And then I remember he bore down on something and Dan Rostenkowski, the congressman from Chicago, leaned over to me and said, "God, he's tough!"
But there was this great range of emotions displayed, from near anger to ribald humor, to history—appeals to history; it was a very fascinating intellectual and dramatic display. It was a performance that—I don't like to call it a performance, but it was an evening that held you on the edge of your seat. This man had such a knowledge of all these little developments of issues and such a knowledge of the problems involved and these changing moods, the lights and shadows were constantly changing. It had to be seen to be believed, but this was the man showing all these phases of his personality.
Hardeman: So the meeting finally broke up. It was a long meeting and the President said, "Well, I apologize. I'm going to have to leave now. I've kept Senator Dirksen waiting for about forty minutes," or twenty minutes or whatever it was. And so as the meeting broke up, Senator Dirksen wandered in. And he was down there to talk about civil rights. The President had won him over to support, or was going to eventually win him over to support cloture.
The President the night before had delivered a speech in Congress. That was the "We Shall Overcome" speech, if I'm not mistaken, and it was a terrific speech. So the members were crowding around him, and I happened to be standing right close to the President. Dirksen had wandered right up to him. Members were saying, "That was a great speech last night, Mr. President. That was a great speech!" And Dirksen cut in and said, "Too damned long!" And the President wheeled on him, irritated obviously, and he said, "Well, when you get interrupted forty-one times by applause, of course it's going to be long." And Dirksen stood his ground and said, "Huh! Still too damned long!" But the obvious relationship between the two men was very easy and very close.
"He was the greatest proof that it is what is inside that counts. And what was inside D. B. Hardeman was a strength of conviction, a dedication of purpose, and unwavering integrity, and a cool assessment of, but a passionate belief in, his fellow man." More»
"D. B. Hardeman was truly an amazing individual, teacher, politician, scholar, journalist, and raconteur par excellence. . . . In his work for Hale [Boggs] in the whip’s office, D. B. was a master at sizing up people and situations and, thus helping to promote the leadership’s and the President’s positions most effectively."
"A kind, brilliant, generous good man who has been in search of a better America and Texas all his adult life, a favorite teacher of young people, and an after dinner speaker of national standing."
"Time—that was the only real enemy D. B. ever had. He hated the ravages of age, and he fought back by determining never to grow old in mind or spirit. His secret: He kept himself surrounded with bright, inquisitive young people. He was their friend and teacher; they were his window to the future. 'Their minds are so resilient,' he would say."
"It was D. B.’s ex-boss, former House Speaker Sam Rayburn, who advised him to keep a stable of young friends in order to stay agile. D. B. heeded old man Rayburn’s advice and took it one step further—he was a good enough storyteller and a tolerant enough companion that a lot of young people in Texas and Washington, DC, took him as their kin. All over the nation, there are law firms, universities, newspapers—to say nothing of offices on Capitol Hill—that are filled with thirtyish-old firebrands who stood not at the feet, but at the hand of D. B. Hardeman."
"A reporter’s introduction to the inner world of D. B. Hardeman came in a historic room on the west front of the Capitol, across the hall from Speaker Rayburn’s office. There, seated behind a huge desk, under an ornate crystal chandelier, D. B. dispensed wisdom. He dubbed his club "the Board of Ignorance," in playful reference to Speaker Rayburn’s similar “Board of Education.” What the speaker offered in fellowship and information to the powerful, D. B. offered to the young in whom he always saw promise and hope."
"He is a walking example that politics is not only the art of the possible, but also practiced by a largely honorable profession as well. The affection in which he is held and the esteem he deserves have been recognized by the Congressional Fellows. For two decades, only Dean Acheson and D. B. Hardeman were Honorary Fellows. A few weeks ago, Hubert Humphrey was added to that roster. That is good company."
"D. B. Hardeman was in many ways the father of a whole generation of students of Congress."
"Paul Duke recalls a typical lunch with D. B. in which the conversation was so interesting and the stories so rich that all of a sudden D. B.'s companions looked up and saw it was dinnertime."