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Landon Lecture Series on Public Issues

The Landon Lecture Series
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John Connally

John Connally

Governor of Texas

John Bowden Connally, one of eight children, was born at Floresville, Texas, on 27th February, 1917. After obtaining a law degree from the University of Texas he joined the staff of Lyndon B. Johnson as legislative assistant.

In December, 1940, Connally married Idanell (Nellie) Brill of Austin. Over the next few years the couple had four children. During the Second World War he joined the U.S. Navy and served as a fighter director aboard aircraft carriers in the Pacific. By the end of the war Connally had reached the rank of lieutenant commander.

A member of the Democratic Party, Connally continued to help run the political campaigns of Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1948 he was accused of being involved in a voting scandal when 200 votes for Johnson arrived late from Jim Wells County. It was these votes that gave Johnson an eighty-seven-vote victory.

Connally became a member of what became known as the Suite 8F Group. The name comes from the room in the Lamar Hotel in Houston where they held their meetings. Members of the group included Lyndon B. Johnson, George Brown and Herman Brown (Brown & Root), Jesse H. Jones (multi-millionaire investor in a large number of organizations and chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation), Gus Wortham (American General Insurance Company), Robert Kerr (Kerr-McGee Oil Industries), James Slither Abercrombie (Cameron Iron Works), William Hobby (Governor of Texas), Richard Russell (chairman of the Committee of Manufactures, Committee on Armed Forces and Committee of Appropriations) and Albert Thomas (chairman of the House Appropriations Committee). Alvin Wirtz and Edward Clark, were also members of the Suite 8F Group.

Connally also ran a radio station in Austin and also worked as legal counsel to oilman Sid Richardson (1951-59). When John F. Kennedy was elected president he appointed Connally as Secretary of the Navy. He held the post until being elected Governor of Texas in January, 1963.

On 22nd November, 1963, President John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas. It was decided that Kennedy and his party, including his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Governor John Connally and Senator Ralph Yarborough, would travel in a procession of cars through the business district of Dallas. A pilot car and several motorcycles rode ahead of the presidential limousine. As well as Kennedy the limousine included John Connally, his wife Nellie Connally, Roy Kellerman, head of the Secret Service at the White House and the driver, William Greer. The next car carried eight Secret Service Agents. This was followed by a car containing Johnson and Yarborough.

At about 12.30 p.m. the presidential limousine entered Elm Street. Soon afterwards shots rang out. John Kennedy was hit by bullets that hit him in the head and the left shoulder. Another bullet hit John Connally in the back. Ten seconds after the first shots had been fired the president's car accelerated off at high speed towards Parkland Memorial Hospital. Both men were carried into separate emergency rooms. Connally had wounds to his back, chest, wrist and thigh. Kennedy's injuries were far more serious. He had a massive wound to the head and at 1 p.m. he was declared dead.

Nellie Connally, who was sitting next to her husband in the presidential limousine, always maintained that two bullets struck John F. Kennedy and a third hit her husband. "The first sound, the first shot, I heard, and turned and looked right into the President's face. He was clutching his throat, and just slumped down. He Just had a - a look of nothingness on his face. He-he didn't say anything. But that was the first shot. The second shot, that hit John - well, of course, I could see him covered with - with blood, and his - his reaction to a second shot. The third shot, even though I didn't see the President, I felt the matter all over me, and I could see it all over the car."

John Connally agreed with his wife: "Beyond any question, and I'll never change my opinion, the first bullet did not hit me. The second bullet did hit me. The third bullet did not hit me." As the Warren Commission concluded there also was a bullet that missed the car entirely. Some conspiracy theorists argue that if three bullets struck the men, as the Connallys insisted, and a fourth missed, then there must have been a second gunman because no one person could have fired four rounds from Oswald's bolt-action rifle so quickly.

John Connally made a full recovery and was reelected in 1964 and 1966 when he obtained 72% of the vote. During his period of office he was associated with increased spending on education and the library system. He is also credited with developing Texas as a tourist destination. Connally, who was a right-wing member of the Democratic Party, was involved in a long-term dispute with the more left-wing Ralph Yarborough.

After leaving office Connally worked for the law firm of Vinson and Elkins in Houston. He left the Democratic Party and became a member of the Republican Party. He worked closely with President Richard Nixon and in 1971 was appointed Secretary of the Treasury. When Spiro Agnew was forced to resign Connally was expected to be appointed as Vice President. However, eventually the post went to Gerald Ford.

Connally went into business but his reputation was badly damaged when he became involved in a milk-price bribery scandal. In 1975 Connally accused by Jake Jacobsen of taking bribes while working as Secretary of the Treasury. He was defended by Edward Bennett Williams, who managed to prevent the jury from hearing a recording of a conversation that took place between Connally and Richard Nixon in March 1971. On the tape Connally says to Nixon:"It's on my honor to make sure that there's a very substantial amount of oil in Texas that will be at your discretion," the treasury secretary said. "Fine," said Nixon. "This is a cold political deal," Nixon continued. "They're very tough political operators." "And they've got it," Connally said. "They've got it," Nixon agreed. "Mr. President," Connally concluded, "I really think you made the right decision."

Connally was not found guilty. He later said that: "To be accused of taking a goddamned $10,000 bribe offended me beyond all reason." According to Evan Thomas (The Man to See: Edward Bennett Williams): "Among cynics in the firm, there was a sneaking suspicion that Connally's indignation stemmed from the fact that he had been indicted for taking such a small payoff. The joke around the firm was that if the bribe had been $200,000, Williams would have believed the government, since, in Texas politics, $10,000 was a mere tip."

Connally ran for president in 1980 but was defeated for the nomination. Connally was convinced his involvement in the Watergate Scandal was to blame for this poor result and decided to retire from politics.

Doug Thompson later revealed that in 1982 he asked Connally if he was convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald fired the gun that killed John F. Kennedy. "Absolutely not," Connally said. "I do not, for one second, believe the conclusions of the Warren Commission." Thompson asked why he had not spoken out about this. Connally replied: "Because I love this country and we needed closure at the time. I will never speak out publicly about what I believe."

In the 1980s Connally started his own real estate company. He did very well at first but at the end of the decade he was forced to declare bankruptcy and held a highly publicized auction of his belongings.

John Connally died of pulmonary fibrosis on 15th June, 1993, at the Methodist Hospital of Houston.

John Connally
Landon Lecture
March 20, 1980

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