The 1968 Exhibit: Covering 1968 - March, 2011

LBJ's "I shall not seek, and I will not accept" televised speech, March 31, 1968

LBJ's "I shall not seek, and I will not accept" speech, March 31, 1968

On March 31, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson sent shockwaves through the country with his stunning announcement, added to the end of a televised speech from the White House, that he would not run for a 2nd full term as President that year.  


The rest of the lengthy speech focused, inevitably, on Vietnam, He warned that the Communists in North Vietnam were "trying to make 1968 the year of decision in South Vietnam--the year that brings, if not final victory or defeat, at least a turning point in the struggle."  He declared that these efforts would fail, but that "many men--on both sides of the struggle--will be lost. A nation that has already suffered 20 years of warfare will suffer once again. Armies on both sides will take new casualties. And the war will go on."

LBJ once again extended, if not an olive branch, then at least what he considered major unilateral steps toward de-escalation, including a halt of bombing raids over most (but not all) of North Vietnam.   The minutes ticked by, and Johnson piled on more detail.  Then the speech began to take a more reflective turn, as Johnson began to speak about his years of public service, and--quoting Lincoln-- how the country had become a "house divided against itself," and that Americans should "guard against divisiveness and all its ugly consequences."  He said:

"Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.  

With America's sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office--the Presidency of your country."

And then this famous line: "Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President." 

Johnson had hoped to become a symbol of Democratic party and national unity in 1968, as he had been in the dark days following the assassination of President Kennedy less than five years earlier.  But by March 1968, he was instead the symbol of divisiveness and the focus of intense national anger.  

Little surprise that Boston Globe cartoonist Paul Szep chose this image of ritual suicide and titled it "Unity."   

You can watch the final five minutes or so of this speech here.  The "Accordingly" line begins at 4:54.  





Pope Paul VI, "Humanae Vitae," and "The Pill."


"Birth control is the Pope's Viet Nam."


Thus did an unnamed "American scholar in Rome"--quoted in this TIME magazine cover story--characterize the quagmire that Pope Paul VI found himself mired in during 1968, and for many years after.  
On July 29, 1968, the Pope issued an encyclical-- or papal letter-- called "Humanae Vitae," or "Of Human Life," in which he reaffirmed the Church's long-standing opposition to artificial contraception, including oral pharmaceutical contraceptives--or "the Pill," which had been on the market  since 1960.  The Pope's predecessor, John XXIII, had set the process in motion by establishing a commission to study birth control and the worldwide overpopulation crisis.  But Paul was a much more conservative leader, and he emphatically rejected the recommendation of the commission's majority that the Church approve at least some form of contraception for married couples (who, of course, were the only ones who were supposed to be having sex).
Birth control was widely seen as a way to raise the standard of living in poor, third-world countries, especially in largely Catholic Latin America.  WIth the advent of safe and effective oral contraceptives, this goal seemed within reach.  "Humanae Vitae" threw up an impermeable barrier to these efforts.  (Except, of course, for the fact that many millions of Catholics just ignored the Pope's strictures.)  
LIFE magazine's John T. Elson, in an August 1968 editorial called "The Pope's tragic error," wrote:  "Pope Paul's new encyclical, condemning all means of birth control except rhythm, can only be described as a tragedy: for the world, possibly for the Roman Catholic Church, certainly for the Pontiff himself."  
By November 1968, when this TIME magazine article was published, there was a steadily mounting sense of crisis in the Church, with hundreds of priests, laymen, and theologians a statement affirming "that couples had the right to practice contraception if their consciences dictated," and with thousands of priests leaving the priesthood around the world.  As TIME declared: "Today there is hardly a dogma of the church that has not been either denied or redefined beyond recognition by some theologians."
"Catholic dissent" had become the order of the day.