BIRDWHISTELL: The following transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview conducted by Terry L. Birdwhistell of the Earle C. Clements Oral History Project at the University of Kentucky with Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson in Austin, Texas on October 19, 1976. Mrs. Johnson I thought we would begin this morning by finding out when you first met Senator Clements if you can recall maybe some of your first impressions of him?

JOHNSON: I've been trying to remember. I cannot actually recall when I first met him. He was a part of our Washington life, of course, and I think he was in the House and then went back to be Governor.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. He and Mr. Johnson served in the House together 1:00in the 1940s.

JOHNSON: But when I really began to recall things about him and his lovely wife was in our Senate days. He became whip when Lyndon was Majority Leader. I believe perhaps in'54 it could have been--



BIRDWHISTELL: He was Minority Leader and then Minority Whip later. Mr. Clements and Mr. Johnson seemed to develop a very close friendship very quickly. How would you describe their relationship in their Senate days together?

JOHNSON: Lyndon relied on him for solid judgment. Senator Clements was a man who just commanded respect and also liking in the Senate and he and Lyndon made a great team I think. And he 2:00could appeal to members of the Senate that might be turned off by Lyndon sometimes. And he was a very solid man of wisdom and sage good judgment and Lyndon had great affection for him and they just worked together beautifully. When Lyndon had a heart attack in July of '55 it was touch and go. Well, first we didn't know whether he was going to live. Second we didn't know when or whether he would be coming back to the job of Majority Leader which was a terribly demanding job. But one of the first visitors that he began to insist on seeing and just deviling the 3:00doctors until they let him see him was Senator Clements who then began to come to the hospital giving Lyndon little resumes of the day or the week in the Senate and who was doing what and how certain programs and bills were faring. And then they would talk about what they could do to make them run better and how they could get the troops lined up better. That went on almost daily, I expect as soon as Lyndon could see visitors. He i.ras in the hospital in Bethesda for six weeks .I expect that Senator Clements began coming perhaps after the first week or ten days I would think.

BIRDWHISTELL: During his illness and being in the hospital some reported that you handled quite a bit of Mr. Johnson's work at the 4:00time too. Did you work with Mr. Clements on any particular types of things during this time?

JOHNSON: Actually what I was mostly was running errands and taking care of people, visitors who came who were close to Lyndon who had done wonderful things for him in the course of his life. So I could at least be a presence to them. I could go to see them and fill them in on how Lyndon was and carry messages maybe to the people he worked with. But it was Senator Clements who was on the Senate floor and who really did the work. And, oh yes, for several years I did have a close and affectionate contact with Senator Clements and Mrs. Clements, Sarah.

BIRDWHISTELL: During the period that Clements served as Acting Majority Leader 5:00during your husband's illness how did you feel that Clements responded to the new responsibilities? Did he seem confident that he could handle the job in Mr. Johnson's absence?

JOHNSON: Yes he did. But I must say I noticed the toll that it took on him. I mean the worn tired look he got and, well it interested me to see that it wasn't only Lyndon who reacted that way to the job that it was the caliber job that really could drain whoever tackled it. Oh Lyndon loved it, no doubt about it. That was his cup of tea, the Senate Majority Leadership, but you really had to struggle and so did Senator Clements. Now there was later on Lyndon felt regret that Senator Clements' loyal and strong efforts for the party, for the job, 6:00for Lyndon did keep his nose to the grindstone so much that he didn't go home to Kentucky enough during that period of time. Because the next year he was up for re-election and you will recall that was in '56 when President Eisenhower was just so popular and Adlai Stevenson was not at all a favorite in Kentucky and so General Eisenhower did carry in with him Clements' opponent and he lost the Senate race. Perhaps nothing could have made any difference but 7:00maybe if he had gone home over and over and over and made himself felt from one end of the state to the other in '55, maybe if he had been less of a Whip and more of just a Senator from Kentucky it might have helped.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's very interesting. I wanted to go back a minute to the personalities of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Clements. Did you feel that their personalities were similar or did their differences complement each other?

JOHNSON: No I did not think they were similar, I thought they complemented each other. Lyndon was more of a driver, more insistent and Senator Clements was more smooth and quiet and diplomatic. And between them they could handle many of the elements of that very diverse body, the Senate.


BIRDWHISTELL: So they would know which Senators needed which type of persuasion I suppose.

JOHNSON: They themselves were extremely compatible though. They knew and understood and respected and liked each other. At least I know Lyndon felt that for Senator Clements and I think Senator Clements did for him.

BIRDWHISTELL: I think that some people would wonder at the time that since both men were powerful men in the country in terms of government and politics and they were both ambitious men, didn't this ever cause conflicts between their personal relationship? The fact that they were both driving in the Senate.

JOHNSON: None at all because Lyndon in my opinion was ambitious in the sense of wanting to get that job done, whatever job he was on at the moment. But as far as having his eye on something else he sure didn't because it took all of what he could muster to handle that one. And I felt that 9:00Senator Clements was content at being in the Senate and in that Whip's job.

BIRDWHISTELL: In reading biographies of your husband there is a great deal written about his attempts to get along with both the Democratic liberals in the north and the conservatives from the southern states and at least one historian has attributed Clements' quick rise in the Senate to his ability to get along with both of' these factions. Is that how you viewed it at the time that Clements was sort of a bridge between the two factions in the Democratic Party, the liberal-conservative?

JOHNSON: Yes. I would say that one could make that statement and support it. Just in that he was a fair man of good judgment and I think that you have to concede that both the liberals and the conservatives had the same aims although they had 10:00different ways of getting there.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. That's an interesting--

JOHNSON: And so I think he--yes Senator Clements did get along with both of them in my opinion.

BIRDWHISTELL: Do you recall any particular Senators that Clements had a very good relationship with other than your husband or any that it just seemed he couldn't get along with at the time? In talking with him at times did he ever mention people that were just sort of difficult for him to get along with in the Senate?

JOHNSON: No I don't. They knew all the characters on the stage. They were friends with a great many of them and some were towering figures such as Senator Russell of Georgia whom they both had great respect for. Oh, there were some great storytellers in the 11:00Senate in those days. The farther back one's memories of the Senate go the more that seems to be characteristic. And I remember some very interesting evenings although I can't tell you any stories about just who said what. I just remember the rich flow of anecdotes and reminiscences and tales of how legislation got accomplished or failed.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. One thing that seemed to bother Senator Clements during his career at the 1952 Democratic Convention--many felt that Senator Clements urged Vice-President Barkley out of the race for the nomination too soon and many feel that Clements regretted this for many years. Did he ever discuss this with you or Mr. Johnson and how he felt about it later?

JOHNSON: Not with me and I can't--I just really can't comment on it.

BIRDWHISTELL: In terms of their work as Majority Leader and Majority 12:00Whip in the Senate during the Eisenhower administration some historians have said and others at the time said that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Clements were not effective critics of the Eisenhower administration. From your point of view how would you evaluate their effectiveness as leaders of the Democratic Party in the Senate against a Republican administration?

JOHNSON: Well Lyndon's philosophy was that--let me see if I can recall that phrase he used so much--"I'm not going to criticize just for criticism's sake. I'm going to try to evaluate what the President is trying to do and if I think it's best for the country, I'm going to support him and if I think it's not best for the country, I'm going to oppose him and try to get everybody I can to go with me." So he did not 13:00see his role as just always in opposition because he was the leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate and the President was the number one Republican. I think he really felt they both had--well they might define the goal differently and they certainly defined the paths differently but I really think he--the simple task was what could work best for the country.

BIRDWHISTELL: Very pragmatic.

JOHNSON: Entirely, entirely. He wasn't a terribly partisan man, Lyndon. But we are digressing from Senator Clements.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's quite all right. After coming to the Senate Mr. Clements served as Chairman of the Senate Campaign Committee, I was wondering 14:00from your vantage point what role did Mr. Clements play in Mr. Johnson's bid for re-election in 1954 to the Senate? Did he make trips to Texas to help in the campaign?

JOHNSON: Gee, I don't think there was much needed and I don't remember him coming and it wasn't--it was not a difficult race as I recall.

BIRDWHISTELL: I suppose Senator Clements' main responsibilities whenever Mr. Johnson came back to Texas was to watch the business in Washington for him. I guess too something that needs to be asked, from your evaluation of Mr. Clements in his position as Majority Whip, was Mr. Johnson generally pleased with his performance?

JOHNSON: You bet he was. He admired him and had respect. They were a good team.


BIRDWHISTELL: Mr. Clements has been described by some as a very secretive man and one newspaper article stated that he didn't even like to inform his staff of his whereabouts when he was traveling. Did you find Mr. Clements to be secretive?

JOHNSON: No I didn't. He didn't go around shooting off his mouth all the time (laughter) and he didn't just love to make speeches like some people do but where it was wise, sensible, desirable to talk, he talked.

BIRDWHISTELL: He gained a reputation as being very cautious. Would that be a better word than secretive?

JOHNSON: Yes. Yes I think he was a cautious man.

BIRDWHISTELL: In terms of political philosophy there are many labels to 16:00describe one's political philosophy but if you were asked to place a label on Mr. Clements' political philosophy--liberal, conservative, moderate, middle of the road--what label would you choose to best describe his philosophy?

JOHNSON: I suppose I would say pragmatic--middle of the road.

BIRDWHISTELL: And I suppose that would be the same as Mr. Johnson's then--they had similar political philosophies.

JOHNSON: Lyndon's perhaps was more--I'm getting so I have somewhat of a distaste for the word because I think it's often misused--but he had many liberal strings to the thread, the fabric of his philosophy.

BIRDWHISTELL: More so than Mr. Clements.


JOHNSON: I couldn't evaluate that too much. But how it would compare to Senator Clements--you would have to go back and check his votes I guess.

BIRDWHISTELL: You talked briefly a few minutes ago about the 1956 campaign for re-election that Senator Clements was involved in. Do you recall that Mr. Clements was particularly worried about that election? Did he feel concerned early in the year that he was going to have trouble in Kentucky?

JOHNSON: No, I don't recall that he was. I think maybe he was so involved with what he was doing there in Washington that he wasn't as much in tune with back home in Kentucky. 18:00I think maybe he didn't see it coming and that too was somewhat out of character. I guess the press of what he was doing was so much that he just didn't make the time. He wasn't selfish enough to go see how he was doing back home because he was a very loyal person. To the job at hand, he gave perhaps more hours than he should whereas there was that other job back there at home of making sure you are going to come back.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well because you and Mr. Johnson were probably his closest personal friends in Washington and because of his working relationship with Mr. Johnson, did he call you and Mr. Johnson personally to inform you of his defeat to Thruston Morton in 1956?

JOHNSON: I don't remember. I would think that he would call 19:00Lyndon. I really would because always at election time the people for whom Lyndon had the most concern and the closest races and in his own case the vote in his own home district--the old tenth district of the House of Representatives--well anyway home town, close people those always had intense interest to him and there would be a lot of telephoning as the returns would come in and a lot of excitement on election night. So I would think that he very likely did call Lyndon. I can't say from my memory.

BIRDWHISTELL: How would you describe Mr. Clements reaction to his defeat when you first saw him after the defeat? Was he very depressed about it or did he take it in stride or do you recall that?

JOHNSON: I don't really recall it but I feel sure that 20:00he took it in stride and he was very much a man and very much a gentleman, so I believe that he did.

BIRDWHISTELL: What was Mr. Johnson's reaction to it?

JOHNSON: Sorry, just one of the best of the troops gone.

BIRDWHISTELL: Of course in early 1957 after Mr. Clements left the Senate Mr. Johnson offered him the position as the director of the Senate Campaign Committee. Was Mr. Johnson hesitant about making this offer to him to head up this campaign committee since he was leaving the Senate and perhaps could have interpreted it as a step down in many ways?

JOHNSON: Gee, I just can't say that I remember about that. I know that it would have been Lyndon's instincts to try to help him in any way he could and also to use his 21:00very considerable talents but I just can't--I don't remember anything specific about it, and that's what you need.

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure. Well someone reported that Mr. Clements in this new position as Chairman of the Campaign Committee was in fact still functioning as Mr. Johnson's Whip in the Senate. Was that your impression or--

JOHNSON: No. I mean I just don't remember.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. I can understand

JOHNSON: You see I was not all that knowledgeable about political affairs, whatever you may have heard.(laughter) About people, yes. About the intricacies of politics, particularly those that occurred ten or fifteen or twenty years ago, no.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's very understandable. Of course Mr. Clements' next big decision I guess was to return to Kentucky in a post in the 22:00state administration as Highway Commissioner. I suppose the question that needs to be asked is did he talk with you and Mr. Johnson about this decision? It was a rather big decision for him, I think. Did he ask for advice on this? What he should do in terms of going back to Kentucky?

JOHNSON: Once more, not that I know about. That's just a gap. I do not know who there would be in Lyndon's--close around him that could answer that, but I couldn't.

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure. Then Mr. Clements became involved in Mr. Johnson's campaign for the Presidential nomination in 1959 and 1960. Were you around him quite a bit during this time to see his involvement in the campaign and perhaps evaluate his work in the campaign?

JOHNSON: Let's see, we went down to Morganfield in I believe 23:00it was in 1960, in the course of that but the things that I remember about it were not the political things but just the home and the community. It had a collection of furniture, elegant pretty old stuff from the families down through the years and it was--I just love the feel of their home. It had family stories and taste and beautiful things and it just spoke of a certain way of life and one feels that one knows people better after you have been in their home. So that is purely a personal 24:00and subjective thing, not a political thing. He did have--and it was very evident in the times that we visited him--the ability to bring together diverse elements in Kentucky in whatever the objective was. I remember coming back again in '64 when Lyndon was running for the Presidency and there were about five or six former Governors of Kentucky on the stand and I'm sure that was all Senator Clements' work getting them all there and believe me they had been in knock-down, drag-out situations many times, and all the press and all the local people, and even they themselves were probably astonished to discover that they had all accepted to sit almost side by side on the platform. Somebody 25:00said if you can get Happy Chandler and I forget which other one they used because there were five or six Governors--let's see was--

BIRDWHISTELL: Probably Bert Combs.

JOHNSON: Was Bert Combs, perhaps maybe he was Governor then.

BIRDWHISTELL: Let's see in '64--

JOHNSON: In any case--

BIRDWHISTELL: That was Ned Breathitt at that time.

JOHNSON: It may have been.

BIRDWHISTELL: Chandler had run again.

JOHNSON: Anyhow to get them all there was quite a feat, and it was Senator Clements work, I feel sure.

BIRDWHISTELL: I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about the family. You were very personal friends with the family. Did you get to know Mrs. Clements and Bess?

JOHNSON: Oh, I certainly did. I knew them from early days--at least early Senate days--and watched Bess grow up and I was in their home a good many times in Washington, which was a lovely apartment. A sort of a small version of what their home in 26:00Morganfield was. And it was sort of a custom to go there on Sunday and have lunch with them. And there was always Kentucky ham and I would have been disappointed if there hadn't been (laughter) and it was absolutely delicious. And he and Lyndon--their conversation would pretty soon start off on a business nature and would make good listening in any case. But likely there would be just the four or five of us and Bess was often out following her own young life. And then when Bess and Tyler married, Lyndon and I had the great pleasure of having a party for them and getting to know a lot of their life-long friends, you know, and their young friends.

BIRDWHISTELL: Was it a very close family relationship that you found in the Clements home?

JOHNSON: Yes, goodness yes, just a strong affectionate close relationship.


BIRDWHISTELL: There has been so much written and spoken about political wives in the last decade--I think about the stress on them. Did Mrs. Clements seem to enjoy being a political wife in Washington?

JOHNSON: I think she enjoyed her husband and her daughter and handled her job competently. I would not say it was something that she sought or it was not particularly her thing. She was just a lovely, kind person. I remember one time, I forget just what it was, but I think maybe my daughter, Lynda, had an impacted wisdom tooth, or something, and I was at home helping Lyndon in the campaign--just the sort of thing that I had to do--and I called back and she took Lynda to the doctor, or she took her for some reason, and she was just so kind to her 28:00and tended to her all day long. And another time when I had some company--some young girl company when Lynda was, I guess, fourteen or somewhere like that--thirteen or fourteen--and another little girl came up from Texas to see her and Mrs. Clements packed a good picnic lunch and we all went to the beach together. It was her treat and it was very sweet.

BIRDWHISTELL: Many have said that perhaps the Clements' didn't socialize in Washington as much as other couples that are involved in the Senate.

JOHNSON: I think that may have been true, particularly in terms of the cocktail circuit. You could just get caught up in a bunch of things with semi-official titles which could fill up every day. Well they didn't do that sort of thing a great deal. My 29:00feeling is that they did a whole lot of substantive social things, by which I mean he got together with other Senators in situations that were part social, part talking, and the talking always turned into business.

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure. Of course Bess Abell became your social secretary in the White House. How did you decide on her as your secretary?

JOHNSON: Oh, gosh, I'm so glad I did. (laughter) Actually, she had been with me in the Vice- Presidency. So she came with me, I guess in January of '61 and was with me in those two years and nine months thereabouts. And I think perhaps it was partly Lyndon, Liz Carpenter may have had a few words to 30:00say about it. It just seemed to be a good thing to do because she had the right blend of quiet competence and aggressive persistence and creative talents too--the last in marked degree.

BIRDWHISTELL: That almost answers what I was going to ask you. Did she resemble her father in style and matter?

JOHNSON: To some extent I would say yes. She did because she could always get me to do a lot of work (laughter) and yet she went about it very quietly and calmly and she could take no for an answer. But not without making several other attempts to get yes.

BIRDWHISTELL: I want to go back a minute to the1959-1960 years when Mr. Johnson was running for the nomination of the Democratic Party. 31:00It was during this time that reports came out in Newsweek and Time and in the national press of Mr. Clements' difficulties with the IRS and one person has said that Mr. Johnson had to find out about this through a journalist. What was Mr. Johnson's reaction to these problems and did he consider it a liability in the campaign?

JOHNSON: I don't remember the Senator had any--I mean, I just don't know a thing in the world about it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Then of course after Mr. Johnson became President Johnson and was developing his own administration in Washington, how close was Mr. Clements to the administration? Was he considered a close advisor in the Johnson administration?

JOHNSON: I know that they were together a number of times and I particularly remember at one happy Christmas time by the fire. 32:00But I can't say, I don't remember him being--

BIRDWHISTELL: It would be more informal.

JOHNSON: Yeah, it would be informal.

BIRDWHISTELL: I appreciate you taking the time Mrs. Johnson to participate in the Earle Clements Project. Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you feel would be useful to someone trying to understand Senator Clements as a person as a friend of yours in writing about his life and career?

JOHNSON: Well, it seems I've talked mostly about work and that was the constant pattern of their lives. Both of them. But I might say just one or two other things. Senator Clements did have 33:00fun and did take us with him sometimes to have fun. Specifically he liked to go out and watch the harness races at Rosecroft and every now and then, say two or three nights during the summer, he would take us out to Rosecroft where we would order dinner and then watch the harness races and there would always be some other members of the Senate and House or the administration, whatever it was, sitting close around.

BIRDWHISTELL: Was he very good at picking the horses?

JOHNSON: (laughter) He enjoyed trying. And I had the feeling that always his Kentucky raising went with him through life, which I consider a very good thing. I think that people that leave their roots at home when they come to Washington are--it's sad and indeed he didn't. He kept the flavor of his region. And to me in a very attractive way. He really belonged to Kentucky.


BIRDWHISTELL: Well again thank you very much for your comments today. I think they will be useful and do give sort of a personal insight into Senator Clements' life.

JOHNSON: You are very welcome.

[End of interview.]

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