Title

The Road to March Thirty-First: Lyndon Johnson and the Decision Not to Seek Reelection in 1968

Year

2010

Season

Summer

Paper Type

Master's Thesis

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Charles E. Closmann

Second Advisor

Dr. Gregory F. Domber

Third Advisor

Dr. David T. Courtwright

Department Chair

Dr. Dale Clifford

College Dean

Dr. Barbara A. Hetrick

Abstract

On March 31, 1968, Lyndon Johnson surprised the world by announcing that he would not seek reelection to a second full term as president. This thesis tracks the evolution of Johnson’s decision from summer 1967 until March 1968. By focusing on the decision-making process, the thesis looks beyond the January 1968 Tet Offensive to incorporate the factors of domestic politics, international relations, the Vietnam War, and concerns over heath and legacy into Johnson’s decision. The Tet Offensive caused Johnson to stall the timing of his announcement and reinforced his decision, but did not cause Johnson to decide to withdrawal. He had made his decision by late 1967 after confiding in his family and General William Westmoreland, but chose to wait to make his announcement in consideration of strategic timing. Then, as Johnson’s advisors learned of an impending attack in January 1968, he chose to wait to make the announcement in March. Johnson believed that by sacrificing his political future he could gain enough momentum to achieve negotiations with North Vietnam, end to the war, and thus secure his legacy. While Johnson gained short-term success with a spike in popular opinion and talk of negotiations, he failed to secure peace in Vietnam or his legacy before he left office in January 1969. Based on a wide range of archival sources from the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library and other primary source collections, this thesis aims to provide a narrative of Johnson and his decision not to seek reelection in 1968.

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