The Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson

The transcripts from the Johnson administration in the Presidential Recordings Digital Edition comprise converted versions of volumes originally published in print by W. W. Norton as well as born-digital versions published by Rotunda and created by the editors and researchers at the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program. Currently, they are grouped into two different series: eight chronological volumes of transcripts covering Johnson’s telephone conversations from 22 November 1963 through 4 July 1964, and three thematic volumes of transcripts on Civil Rights, Vietnam, and the War on Poverty.

  • Read the Preface to the Norton LBJ volumes, by David Shreve
  • Read the Introduction to the PRDE LBJ volumes, by David G. Coleman

The Kennedy Assassination and the Transfer of Power

These three volumes cover the first 65 hours of the nearly 800 hours of Lyndon Johnson’s White House recordings. The Johnson of these first tapes is quickly learning how to become president. Despite the newness of the job, Johnson leaves no doubt that he intends to be much more than a caretaker. At home, he pushes forward a liberal civil rights agenda, launches a war on poverty, brokers compromises on contentious legislation, and reacts to a scandal involving a former aide—all while forcing through one of the largest tax cuts in U.S. history and leading a single-minded drive to control the federal budget. Abroad, he courts favor from Western European leaders, adjusts to the rising nationalism in the developing world, and talks peace with the Soviets. These first months also bring unexpected challenges. Johnson soon confronts a coup in Vietnam, a bloody anti-American riot in Panama, and a near civil war in Cyprus.

Volume One, 22 November 1963 – 30 November 1963, ed. Max Holland

Read the Editor’s Introduction

This volume begins just before the Kennedy assassination on 22 November 1963, with transcripts of tapes that document the movements of Air Force One at Dallas’s Love Field. Transcripts of conversations between Washington and the cockpit of an airplane carrying the Kennedy Cabinet to Tokyo then reveal the shock as news of Kennedy’s death spreads and the transition to a new government begins. Finally, this volume covers the dramatic events of Johnson’s first nine days as an accidental president.

Volume Two, December 1963, ed. Robert David Johnson and David Shreve

This volumes opens on the first day of December as Johnson moves forward with his national call to “Let Us Continue” and covers the entire month before ending with Johnson on holiday at his Texas ranch.

Volume Three, January 1964, ed. Kent B. Germany and Robert David Johnson

This volume begins with President Johnson enjoying a relaxing New Year’s Day at home along the Pedernales River and spans the entire month of January, one of the most heavily recorded and most intense months of his presidency. During this month, the post-assassination grace period effectively ends, and Johnson struggles to make the presidency his own.

Toward the Great Society

These three volumes consist of approximately 80 hours of the nearly 800 total hours of Johnson’s White House recordings. The Lyndon Johnson of these tapes has begun to settle into his new role as president, commanding negotiations with Congress, engaging world leaders, and reshaping the administration in his own image. While continuing to work toward the passage of the landmark civil rights bill amid a southern filibuster, Johnson also manages the progress of legislation authorizing an unprecedented federal attack on poverty and begins preparations for his upcoming fall presidential campaign. The recordings also provide unparalleled insights into Johnson’s growing concerns and private doubts about the U.S. military engagement in Southeast Asia.

Volume Four, 1 February 1964 – 8 March 1964, ed. Robert David Johnson and Kent B. Germany

Volume Five, 9 March 1964 – 13 April 1964, ed. David Shreve and Robert David Johnson

Volume Six, 14 April 1964 – 31 May 1964, ed. Guian A. McKee

Mississippi Burning and the Passage of the Civil Rights Act

These two volumes focus on 34 critical days in Johnson’s presidency—1 June 1964 to 4 July 1964—and consist of approximately 33 hours of the nearly 800 total hours of Johnson’s White House recordings. The Lyndon Johnson of these tapes makes a seminal contribution to American history by championing the passage of the Civil Rights Act, continues to struggle with America’s course in Vietnam, and faces a developing crisis in Mississippi that tests his commitment to civil rights and stretches his political skills to their limits.

Volume Seven, 1 June 1964 – 22 June 1964, ed. Guian A. McKee

This volume opens on the first day of June, as the Senate takes a key step toward closing debate on the civil rights bill—and toward its eventual passage. The volume wraps up on 22 June with the ominous announcement that three civil rights workers have disappeared in Mississippi.

Volume Eight, 23 June 1964 – 4 July 1964, ed. Kent B. Germany and David C. Carter

This volume opens on 23 June with the White House in full crisis. Scrambling to react to the disappearance and presumed murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, LBJ tapes more on that day than on any other in his presidency. As the mystery in Mississippi deepens over the next two weeks, Johnson puts the finishing touches on the Civil Rights Act, signing it on 2 July. The volume closes on Independence Day as Johnson basks in triumph with old friends at his Texas ranch.

Civil Rights, ed. Kent B. Germany

This volume documents almost 200 presidential conversations involving significant discussions of race, politics, and the civil rights movement during the summer and fall of 1964. With a few notable exceptions, all of those conversations take place over the telephone, with President Johnson usually speaking either at the White House or the LBJ Ranch in Texas. These calls occur generally in three chronological periods. For July and early August 1964, the tapes tend to archive Johnson’s responses to white anti–civil rights violence in Mississippi and Georgia, and to civil disorders in New York City and several other northeastern cities. From early August to early September, they focus on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) challenge and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The final section of recordings, the smallest in size, cover aspects of the presidential campaign from the end of August to the election in early November.

Vietnam, ed. David G. Coleman, Ken Hughes, and Marc J. Selverstone

The onset of the American war in Vietnam, which was at its most violent between 1965 and 1973, is the subject of these annotated transcripts. Covering the period July 1964 through July1965, these transcripts highlight some of the most consequential developments in the conflict, transforming what had been a U.S. military assistance and advisory mission into a full-scale American war. From the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964 to Johnson’s announcement in July 1965 of major new combat deployments, these months span congressional authorization for military action as well as the Americanization of the conflict. In between lie developments of increasingly greater significance, including the decision to deploy the Marines and the shift from defensive to offensive operations.

The War on Poverty, ed. Guian A. McKee

This volume, which includes all of Johnson’s recorded conversations about the War on Poverty during the second half of 1964, traces Johnson’s intense effort to pass the economic opportunity bill. Although it is primarily a record of the President’s attempt to lobby, negotiate, and cajole Congress toward this end, it captures dimensions of Johnson’s personality, political style, and policy views that would eventually shape his management of the War on Poverty—and his presidency. Through these recorded conversations, listeners gain a sense of Johnson’s famous skill as a legislative tactician and of his ability as a deal maker and a flatterer who understood the ways of Washington, and especially of Congress, at an intimate level. Gradually, though, something else builds through the recordings: a sense of what Johnson actually thought he was doing in implementing an unprecedented federal initiative to address the problem of lingering poverty amidst the broad prosperity of the post–World War II United States. We gain, as we can from no other source, a new understanding of what Lyndon Johnson actually believed.