Robert D. Loevy

Excerpted from David C. Kozak and Kenneth N. Ciboski, editors, The American Presidency (Chicago, IL: Nelson Hall, 1985), pp. 411-419.

 The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was considered an historic breakthrough because it was the first major civil rights bill to get through Congress in the 20th Century. The new law was badly watered down, however, to meet the criticisms of southern Democrats in the Senate. The 1957 law thus had little or no effect on racial segregation in the United States. A 1960 Civil Rights Act, equally watered-down to meet southern requirements, was regarded as equally ineffectual.

 On February 28, 1963, President John F. Kennedy sent Congress a strong message on the immediate need for civil rights legislation: "The Negro baby born in America today ... has about one-half as much chance of completing high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day-one-third as much chance of completing college-one third as much chance of becoming a professional man-twice as much chance of becoming unemployed ... a life expectancy which is seven years less-and the prospects of earning only half as much."1

 This forthright statement was not backed up with a strong civil rights legislative proposal. President Kennedy limited his recommendations to minor improvements in voting rights laws (none of which were very effective in the South), technical assistance to school districts desegregating voluntarily, and an extension of the Civil Rights Commission, a government body which could study civil rights problems but had no power to remedy them.

 Why were the presidentís words so strong and his proposed legislation so weak? "President Kennedy was never one to demand congressional action on need alone. His sense of timing told him he could not overcome the legislative roadblocks in the way of civil rights legislation, and defeat, no matter how gallant, had no appeal for him."2 As had happened so often in American political history, a United States president was bowing to the reality that a strong civil rights bill, one that would really end racial segregation and racial oppression in the southern United States, was simply not politically achievable, no matter how much of his political will and his political strength a president might throw into the battle.

The Southern Civil Rights "Veto"

 The obstacles to passing a civil rights bill were truly formidable in early 1963. In the House of Representatives, regular legislative committees such as the House Judiciary Committee do not report bills directly to the House floor for a vote. Because debate is limited in the House of Representatives, committee bills first go to the House Rules Committee, where the length of time the bill will be debated and the manner in which the bill will be debated is decided. Many bills that make it through the regular committees, however, often are not reported out of the Rules Committee at all, and usually when this happens the particular bill is dead for the remainder of that session of Congress.

 In 1963 the chairman of the House Rules Committee was Howard Smith, a conservative southern Democrat from Virginia. Smith was ardently opposed to all civil rights legislation, and it was clear he would use his powers as chairman of the Rules Committee to delay any civil rights bill as long as possible. If Democratic President Kennedy wanted a tough civil rights bill, he would have to blast it past Democratic Rules Committee Chairman Smith.

 Over in the Senate, the situation was even more difficult. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee was James 0. Eastland, a Democrat from Mississippi and, as one would expect, a staunch opponent of civil rights. Eastland had used his powers as judiciary Committee chairman to kill more than one hundred proposed civil rights bills throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. If Democrat Kennedy wanted a civil rights bin, he would have to find a way around Democrat Eastland and his Judiciary Committee.

 The big obstacle to a civil rights bill in the Senate, however, was the filibuster. Senate rules provide for unlimited debate, which means that a group of senators can kill a bill by simply talking it to death. Over the years southern Democratic senators had clearly established the idea they would filibuster any strong civil rights proposal. In fact, the reason the 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts were so weak was that southern filibusters had succeeded. Rather than wait-out a lengthy filibuster, liberal senators supporting civil rights had compromised on both bills to the point where the southern Democrats would stop talking and let the bill come to a vote and, eventually, final passage.

 President Kennedy's real problem with civil rights, however, was the crucial role of the South in the Democratic Party. In 1963, the Democratic party was made up of an uneasy coalition of conservative southern Democrats on the one hand and liberal northern and western Democrats on the other. The only way Kennedy could hope to get a major tax-cut bill and other economic programs through the Congress was to keep the Southerners in the Democratic fold. Pushing hard for civil rights, however, would have antagonized the southern Democrats.

 In addition, there was the political problem of keeping the support of southern Democratic voters in the upcoming 1964 presidential election. Kennedy had defeated Richard Nixon in 1960 in one of the closest presidential races in American history. The electoral votes of several southern states, particularly Texas, had been essential to Kennedy's victory. Kennedy was going to need that southern Democratic support again in the 1964 presidential race. Similar to all Democratic presidents, Kennedy knew that, as of 1963, no Democrat had ever been elected president of the United States without carrying a substantial portion of the South. To antagonize the South with a strong push for civil rights could well be presidential political suicide.

 The president also was aware that a civil rights battle could harm his foreign policy proposals and weaken his position in international affairs. Overseas problems such as the Soviet construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban missile crisis could be handled more successfully if public opinion in the United States was united behind the chief executive. Kennedy was currently negotiating a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union that would require a two-thirds vote of ratification in the Senate. The president knew that "to provoke a bitter national controversy (over civil rights) without achieving any gain would divide the American people at a time when the international scene required maximum unity."3 As had so often been the case in the past, Kennedy elected to press forward in the international field, where the Constitution gave him much greater freedom of movement, and go slow in the domestic field, where presidential options are much more limited.

 Thus it was that, when dealing with civil rights, President Kennedy faced all the crippling constraints that hamper a presidentís ability to act on domestic policy. Clearly it would be better to forget about civil rights legislation and only do for black Americans those things which a president can do without congressional approval-appoint large numbers of blacks to important government jobs and order the Justice Department to help black and white integrationists arrested in civil rights demonstrations.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

 Shortly after President Kennedy's recommended civil rights bill was released to the press and public, the leaders of more than seventy civil rights organizations, operating under the name of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, met to discuss the Kennedy proposal. They were dismayed. "The consensus was clear; President Kennedy had yielded on civil rights legislation before the fighting had even begun. The proposed bill was hardly worth the fight. Such comfort as there was came from the hope that (if Kennedy were reelected in 1964) the second Kennedy administration would be different."4


 As so often happens to American presidents, unexpected external events totally changed the picture and completely undid Kennedy's political strategy. In May of 1963, Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference began a series of nonviolent demonstrations protesting the rigid segregation of public facilities in Birmingham, Alabama. The city police chief, T. Eugene (Bull) Connor, was an avowed segregationist and brought out police dogs, fire hoses, and, most shocking of all in every sense of the word, electric cattle prods ordinarily used to drive reluctant cattle from the holding pen into the slaughter house.

 Newspaper photographs and evening television reports of the violence in Birmingham brought about an immediate change in national public opinion on civil rights, particularly in the North and the West. The nation had seen first hand the worst aspects of Southern white oppression of blacks. Demands for action began pouring into the White House and the Congress from across the country.

 President Kennedy was well aware that it was Birmingham that had forced him to change his position on civil rights. At a White House strategy meeting with civil rights leaders, one of those present referred in a hostile way to Bull Connor. Kennedy responded that "Bull Connor has done more for civil rights than anyone in this room."5 Thereafter the president was often heard to say, "The civil rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He's helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln."6

 Suddenly John F. Kennedy and his White House advisers were flooded with advice on what form a new administration proposal for civil rights legislation should take. The leadership conference on civil rights sent message after message to the president detailing needed civil rights reforms. At the presidentís weekly breakfasts with the Democratic congressional leadership, Senate Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota advised and urged the president to send up to Capitol Hill a really strong bill. Kennedy responded by having his brother Robert, the attorney general, draw up the most sweeping civil rights proposal that any president has ever presented to Congress. 

The Kennedy Civil Rights Bill

 The civil rights bill, which President Kennedy sent to Congress in June of 1963, included a strong provision giving black Americans equal access to all public accommodations throughout the United States. It would make illegal the segregated restaurants, cocktail lounges, hotels, and motels, which were the most visible, forms of racial discrimination in the American South. It also provided for the cut-off of any U.S. government aid programs in the South that were administered in a racially discriminatory fashion.

 Perhaps most important of all, the new Kennedy civil rights package gave the attorney general of the United States the power to sue southern state governments that operated segregated schools. This "power to sue" would free the individual black citizen in the South from having to publicly stand up and file a suit in the local court to desegregate the local school system. Such personal attempts to gain civil rights by southern blacks were too frequently met by covert white reprisals, the most violent and brutal of which were beating and lynching.

  Because a northern Democrat, Emanuel Celler of New York, was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the Kennedy civil rights proposals received a very favorable hearing at the committee level in the House of Representatives. From the president's point of view, in fact, the hearings were too favorable. Liberal Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee combined to press for a fair employment practices section of the bill that would ban racial discrimination in the hiring of employees by private industry. There also was support for empowering the attorney general to intervene in all civil rights cases in the South rather than only in school desegregation cases. The president was forced to become directly involved. Calling civil rights leaders and the Democratic and Republican House leadership together for five days of high-pressure negotiations, the president emerged with a compromise. A Fair Employment Practices section would be added to the bill, but the power of the attorney general to intervene in civil rights cases in the South would remain limited.

  The compromise civil rights bill was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee in late November of 1963. It immediately went to the House Rules Committee, where Chairman Howard Smith had announced his firm intention of bottling up the bill, forever if possible. As the nation's capital prepared itself for the inevitable Rules Committee fight, President Kennedy boarded Air Force One to fly to Dallas. It was to be the first step in his campaign for re-election. It was symptomatic of the problems of Democratic presidents that Kennedy was taking his re-election bid first to Texas, the key southern state that had to be kept in the Democratic party if the Democrats were to retain the White House in 1964.  

'To Write It in the Books of Law"

 The assassin's bullet that killed President Kennedy in Dallas changed many things, but nothing quite so much as the political situation concerning civil rights. Kennedy's successor, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, was a Democrat from Texas. At first civil rights supporters believed this would doom the civil rights bill, but actually the reverse was the case. As a southerner, Lyndon Johnson was mainly concerned with winning political support in the North. Similar to Kennedy, he would have to run for re-election in 1964, and he had less than a year to convince skeptical northern and western liberals that a Southerner was an acceptable leader for the national Democratic party.

 Johnson seized on the civil rights bill as the perfect instrument for establishing his credentials with northern and western liberals. Five days after Kennedy's assassination, the new president told a joint session of the House and Senate: "We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights.... It is time now to write the next chapter-and to write it in the books of law."7 Johnson then asked the Congress to adopt the civil rights bill in memory of his slain predecessor, John F. Kennedy.

 If Kennedy's behavior on civil rights was a case study in a president trying to avoid a divisive domestic issue that could not be avoided, Johnson's behavior was a case study in what a president can do when he throws himself and the vast powers of his office totally into the fight. Johnson's first move was to call black leaders and civil rights leaders to well publicized meetings in the oval office at the White House.

 As Johnson himself told it: "I spoke with black groups and with individual leaders of the black community and told them that John Kennedy's dream of equality had not died with him. I assured them that I was going to press for the civil rights bill with every ounce of energy I possessed."8

 Johnson spoke out in favor of the civil rights bill at every suitable occasion-press conferences, public speeches, messages to Congress, and so on. Knowing that civil rights advocates feared this civil rights bill would be compromised and watered down the way all the previous ones had, Johnson took the position that he and his administration would not compromise with the segregationist southern Democrats in any way. "So far as this administration is concerned," Johnson told a press conference, "its position is firm."9 There would be no room for bargaining. Johnson would win his spurs as a pro civil rights president by getting the newly strengthened civil rights bill past the House Rules Committee, the House, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Senate filibuster. Furthermore, he would get the bill through substantially intact.

 Unlike Kennedy, who had been something of an outsider when he was in the House and the Senate, Lyndon Johnson had been the Senate majority leader when he was elected vice-president in 1960. Johnson thus was a congressional insider, a man with a detailed knowledge of the way things work on Capitol Hill and with an abundance of contacts and friendships. President Kennedy's funeral was hardly ended when the telephones began ringing in the House of Representatives. Members of Congress in key positions began hearing first-hand from the president about how he wanted the civil rights bill moved out of the House Rules Committee and on to the House floor. 

The Discharge Petition

 On December 9, 1963, House Judiciary Chairman Emanuel Celler filed a petition to discharge the civil rights bill from the Rules Committee. If a majority of the members of the House signed the discharge petition, the civil rights bill would move directly from the Rules Committee to the House floor. Signatures were hard to obtain at first, mainly because senators and representatives believe in the committee system of reviewing legislation and are hesitant to ever bypass a committee or its chairman. By the time of the Christmas recess, the discharge petition still was more than fifty signatures short.

 The situation changed immediately after the Christmas recess. Members of Congress had found strong support for the civil rights bill when they went home to their districts for the holidays. President Johnson's constant referrals to the civil rights bill were having a dramatic effect on home town public opinion.

 Voters suddenly had become aware of the bill and knew that the president wanted it moved quickly through the House and Senate. The number of signatures on the discharge petition began nearing a majority, and a sizable number of the signatures were from Lyndon Johnson's fellow Texans in the House of Representatives. Both the Democratic and the Republican leadership in the House joined the president in pressuring Chairman Smith to release the bill.

 Finally the pressure became too great and Chairman Smith gave in, saying, "I know the facts of life around here."10 Rather than suffer the embarrassment of having a bill discharged from his committee without his consent, Smith allowed the bill to be reported out to the House floor.

 Lyndon Johnson was never one to miss any opportunity to increase the public awareness of civil rights. The president repeatedly linked the civil rights bill to Abraham Lincoln and the fact that the nation had just celebrated (in July of 1963) the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. In response to a reporter's question about the civil rights bill at a White House press conference, Johnson said: "I hope it is acted upon in the House before the members leave to attend Lincoln Day birthday meetings throughout the nation, because it would be a great tribute to President Lincoln to have that bill finally acted upon in the House before we go out to celebrate his birthday."11 

Throughout a ten-day debate on the House floor, President Johnson and his congressional allies beat back every attempt to weaken the civil rights bill by amending it. Johnson had pledged he would pass the Kennedy bill, and that was essentially what occurred. In fact, the only major amendment to the bill actually furthered the cause of civil rights. It outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race in all the major provisions of the bill. On a Monday night, February 10, 1964, the House passed the civil rights bill by a vote of 290 to 130 and sent it to the Senate. 

No Rest with Lyndon

 Ordinarily, the hard-working lobbyists for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights might have expected to have a moment of rest once the civil rights bill had been passed by the House. There was no rest, however, with Lyndon Johnson running the show. Clarence Mitchell, Washington director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, recalls that the bill had just passed the House when a message came to call the president. 'What are you fellows doing about the Senate," the commander-in-chief had called to say, very much at his post 'We've got it through the House, and no~ we've got the big job of getting it through the Senate!"12  

Bypassing the Senate Judiciary Committee  

With President Johnson's support, the Democratic leadership in the Senate made short work of Senator Eastland and his Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Democratic leader Mike Mansfield of Montana moved, on February 26, to place the civil rights bill directly on the Senate calendar, thereby bypassing the Judiciary Committee completely. Although this procedural move provoked a small filibuster of its own from the southern Democrats in the Senate (labeled by Senate insiders as a "mini-buster"), by March 30 the civil rights bill was on the floor of the Senate and the main event, an extended southern filibuster, was underway.

 President Johnson had skillfully arranged for the Senate to pass every piece of legislation he considered critical before the civil rights filibuster began. Thus the Kennedy tax-cut bill and a wheat and cotton bill had both been moved out of the Senate before the civil rights bill arrived. "President Johnson had made it clear ... that he would not care if the Senate did not do another thing for three months until the civil rights bill was enacted. This removed the filibusterers' greatest weapon that they could hold out until other needed legislation required the Senate to put aside the civil rights bill."13

 Johnson's strategy was to let the southerners; talk and talk until it became clear to everyone that a small minority was frustrating the majority will in the Senate. As the debate droned on through the month of April and then into early May, the president kept the pressure on with a regular weekly statement that he wanted a bill, and he wanted a strong bill. One week the president was quoted as saying he was "committed" to the bill with "no wheels and no deals."14 Another week he stated: "I believe at the proper time, after all members have had a chance to present their viewpoints both pro and con, the majority of the Senate will work its will and ... we will pass the bill."15 Late in April the president said: "We need a good civil rights bill, and the bill now pending in the Senate is a good bill. I hope it can be passed in a reasonable time."16 

The Wallace Candidacy for President

 Early in 1964, Alabama Governor George Wallace announced that he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States and that he would run on a platform of all-out opposition to the civil rights bill. Governor Wallace would be a formidable candidate running on the anti-civil rights issue. He had gained tremendous national publicity by personally "barring the school house door" at the University of Alabama in a futile attempt to prevent integration of the university by U.S. marshals. Although Wallace had been forced to stand aside and let the university be integrated, he had emerged from the fracas as a southern segregationist hero and as the national symbol of opposition to school integration and black civil rights.

 The Wallace candidacy called for quick action on President Johnson's part, and such action was soon forthcoming. Unwilling to permit "open season" on his presidential administration by running against Wallace himself, Johnson set to work recruiting stand-in candidates to run against Wallace in three crucial Democratic presidential primaries Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maryland.

 The Wallace threat to the civil rights bill was serious. Everywhere he went Wallace stated that his presidential candidacy was a referendum on the civil rights bill then being filibustered in the Senate. If Wallace could win only one presidential primary outside the old South, President Johnson's chance of beating the filibuster would be seriously jeopardized. Johnson himself noted that the Wallace campaign "stiffened the southerners' will to keep on fighting the civil rights measure until the liberal ranks (in the Senate) began to crumble."17

 After Governor Wallace polled 33.9 percent of the vote in the Wisconsin primary and did almost as well in Indiana, political analysts began writing that Wallace just might win the Democratic presidential contest in Maryland. Maryland had not seceded from the Union during the Civil War, but it was, after all, a former slave state and south of the Mason Dixon line. If Wallace could get more than 30 percent of the vote in a northern state like Wisconsin, he could conceivably get 50 percent or more in a border state like Maryland.

 Johnson pulled out all the stops in his support of his Maryland stand-in, U.S. Senator Daniel Brewster. A key White House aide, Clifton Carter of the Democratic National Committee, was dispatched to help Brewster in every way possible. Money for the Brewster campaign was raised and spent freely by the Democratic National Committee. Johnson even arranged for a top campaign publicist to come to Maryland and help Brewster with his campaign speeches and press releases.

 Although the president never officially endorsed any of his stand-in candidates in the 1964 Democratic presidential primaries, Johnson skillfully scheduled a trip to western Maryland to study "Appalachian regional problems." The president saw to it that Brewster was at his side every minute he was in Maryland.18

 Thanks to the presidentís all-out support, Brewster defeated Wallace in Maryland with more than 57 percent of the vote. A combination of black votes in Baltimore coupled with upper-income suburban white votes in the Maryland suburbs produced a clear-cut majority for civil rights. Wallace and his anti civil rights campaign had been stopped 'in their tracks. The filibusterers' hope that Wallace would win Maryland and start a national groundswell of opposition to the civil rights bill quickly faded.

 Is the presidentís position with regard to domestic policy so tenuous that he has to intervene in presidential primary elections in order to get what he wants out of Congress? In the case of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it appears clear that such action was required. In this case, the president and his political allies proved equal to the challenge. 


 Senate rules provided that extended debate (a filibuster) could be brought to a close by two-thirds vote of those present and voting. Such a vote is called a cloture vote. Although cloture votes had been attempted many times in the past on civil rights bills, none had ever succeeded. The main reason was that Senators from small states, mainly in the Midwestern and western United States, viewed the filibuster as the only instrument by which small states could protect themselves from the large states. Even if they believed firmly in civil rights, Midwestern and western senators, most of them Republicans, did not want to weaken the idea of the filibuster by voting for cloture.

 It thus was clear from the beginning that a small group of Republican senators, mainly from small Midwestern and western states, would be the key to getting a two-thirds vote for cloture. It was equally clear that the man who could persuade these small-state Republicans to vote for cloture was Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois, the Republican leader in the Senate. Dirksen had worked hard to gain the confidence of his fellow party members in the Senate, and it was believed that his support for the civil rights bill would bring along the necessary Republican votes to put the two-thirds cloture vote over the top.

 President Johnson saw from the very first that Dirksen was the key to getting the civil rights bill out of the Senate. Shortly after President Kennedy's assassination, Johnson telephoned Dirksen and asked him to convey to his Republican colleagues in the Senate that the time had come to forget partisan politics and get the legislative machinery of the United States moving forward. As Johnson recalled the phone conversation: "There was a long pause on the other end of the line and I could hear him (Dirksen) breathing heavily. When he finally spoke, he expressed obvious disappointment that I would even raise the question of marshaling his party behind the president. 'Mr. President,' he said, 'you know I will.'"19

 Turning Senator Dirksen's general statement of support for the president into support for a cloture vote on the civil rights bill was something else again. The strategy designed by Johnson was to give Dirksen the opportunity to be a "hero in history!" Johnson noted: "I gave to this fight everything I hid in prestige, power, and commitment. At the same time, I deliberately tried to tone down my personal involvement in the daily struggle so that my colleagues on the Hill could take tactical responsibility-and credit so that a hero's niche could be carved out for Senator Dirksen, not me."20

 The lion's share of the task of winning Everett Dirksen over to the civil rights bill fell to Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic whip in the Senate. Humphrey recalls a telephone call from Johnson just as the civil rights bill was arriving in the Senate. "Now you know that this bill can't pass unless you get Ev Dirksen," the President told Humphrey. "You and I are going to get him. You make up your mind now that you've got to spend time with Ev Dirksen. You've got to let him have a piece of the action. He's got to look good all the time."21

 Early in May, Senator Dirksen invited Senator Humphrey to his office to begin negotiating amendments to the civil rights bill that would make the new legislation acceptable to Dirksen and his band of Midwestern and western Republicans. Representatives from the Justice Department as well as other Democratic and Republican senators began attending these meetings. In some areas Dirksenís amendments actually strengthened the bill. As a general rule, however, Dirksen pressed to have the bill affect only those states and those business organizations where a "pattern or practice" of racial discrimination could be shown. Dirksen did not want the U.S. government interfering in isolated personal instances of discrimination, and his view eventually prevailed with the civil rights supporters. By mid-May Humphrey and Dirksen emerged from Dirksen's office with an amended bill that had both Dirksen's support and the approval of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

 In retrospect, everyone realized that the meetings in Dirksen's office to write amendments for the bill had, in effect, been the Senate committee meetings on the civil rights bill. The Senate had bypassed the regular channel, consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Everett Dirksen succeeded in seeing that the equivalent of the committee work took place in his office.

 Once Dirksen and Humphrey had negotiated an amended bill, the outcome was inevitable. On June 10, 1964, for the first time in its history, the U.S. Senate voted cloture on a civil rights bill. Soon afterward the Senate adopted the Dirksen-Humphrey amendments, and then the final bill as amended. The House of Representatives quickly agreed to the Senate amendments, and on July 2, 1964, before an audience of more than one hundred senators, representatives, cabinet members, and civil rights leaders, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. 


 The Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly demonstrates the constraints on the president of the United States in the general area of domestic policy. Both President Kennedy and President Johnson had to deal with opposition in Congress, opposition within the Democratic Party, and the political realities of their prospective campaigns for re-election.

 It is important to note that, in the case of Congress, the two presidents were forced, almost every step of the way, to support extraordinary measures to get the civil rights bill passed. President Kennedy had to set up special negotiating sessions at the White House to get an acceptable compromise bill out of the House Judiciary Committee. President Johnson had to support a discharge petition to get the bill out of the House Rules Committee. The Judiciary Committee had to be bypassed in the Senate, and the ultimate extraordinary measure, a cloture vote, had to be used to end the filibuster in the Senate. The fact that such unusual and rarely used techniques were required to get the bill passed is a measure of the severe constraints facing any presidential effort to enact a civil rights bill.

 Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 illustrates the constraints on the president in regard to domestic policy making, the act also illustrates what is required for the president to successfully achieve domestic changes. Clearly the crisis created by the white violence in Birmingham against black demonstrators was required for this legislation to get the push needed to move through Congress. This clear relationship between violent crisis and the presidentís ability to act raises a real question for American democracy, however. Can a governmental system long survive if a major crisis, often involving violence, is required every time conditions on the domestic front are going to change?

 Above all, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 illustrates the effective powers the president has at his disposal once he commits himself to a particular course of action. Both Kennedy's and Johnson's use of television to dramatize the nature of the civil rights crisis to the American people was outstanding and in both cases effective. Johnson also demonstrated how the president, making effective use of the telephone, can put the most intense kinds of personal pressure on members of Congress. Never underestimate the psychological impact, and the excitement and self-esteem, that comes from receiving a phone call from the principal resident of the White House.

 The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also revealed that Congress really can change conditions in the United States if it truly wishes to do so. The act ended virtually immediately and completely all forms of public segregation in the nation, both North and South. The threat of cutting off U.S. funds to government programs and business concerns that discriminate against minorities has made "equal employment opportunity" and "affirmative action in hiring" fixed institutions in American life. The act empowered the attorney general of the United States to sue for the desegregation of schools, a program that has resulted in the use of school busing to achieve racial balance in the nation's schools. The act was the first national law to guarantee significant equal rights for women, and it set the precedent for using cloture to stop a filibuster on a civil rights bill - a precedent that was used in 1965 to pass a national law guaranteeing equal housing opportunity.

 The Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally illustrates that there are times in a presidentís career when a domestic issue cannot be avoided, regardless of the final outcome. A politician who also happened to be a good poker player once told Lyndon Johnson that there comes a time in every presidentís career when he has to throw caution to the winds and bet his entire stack of chips. President Johnson studied the political tumult surrounding the civil rights bill and "decided to shove in all my stack on this vital measure."22 The president gambled, and that time around he won - big! 


1. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Mar. 8, 1963,303.

2. Unpublished manuscript on the role of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in the civil rights struggle of 1963 - 1964, Joseph Rauh, legal adviser to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Washington, D.C., 1964,1.

3. Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 476.

4. Rauh manuscript, 2.

5. Ibid., 5.

6. Sorensen, Kennedy, 489.

7. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Nov- 29, 1963,2089

8. Lyndon B. Johnson, The Vantage Point (New York: Popular Library, 1971), 29.

9. Ibid., 29.

10. Rauh manuscript, 15.

11. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Feb. 7, 1964, 281.

12. Merle Miller, Lyndon (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1980), 367. See also Rauh manuscript, 19.

13. Rauh manuscript, 21.

14. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Feb. 28, 1964, 385.

15. Ibid., April 17, 1964, 747.

16. Ibid., April 24, 1964, 789.

17. Johnson, The Vantage Point, 159. 

18. Personal interview with former U.S. Senator Daniel Brewster, Baltimore County, Aug. 1982.

19. Johnson, The Vantage Point, 30.

20. Ibid., 159.

21. Miller, Lyndon, 368.

22. Johnson, The Vantage Point, 37.