March 31, 1968 – President Lyndon Johnson Opts Not to Seek Re-election

On this day in history, Lyndon Johnson, 36th President of the United States, stunned the nation by announcing “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President.” At a later news conference he averred his decision was “completely irrevocable.”

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The Vietnam War had gotten out of control, and the country was polarized. Johnson found himself increasingly under fire from both the right and the left. He was unable to devise a strategy for victory, withdrawal, or peace with honor. Thus he announced he would not run for re-election. The war would eventually claim the lives of 58,000 Americans and three million Vietnamese.

NPR has a very good 5 minute program produced in 2008 on the 40th anniversary of President Johnson’s stunning announcement that he would not seek another term in office. As NPR producer John McDonough observed, “nobody saw it coming.” You can learn more about it, and also hear the president make his historic statement here. You can also read the entire text of the speech here, in which President Johnson begins by proclaiming his intention to wind down the Vietnam War.

Lyndon B. Johnson speaks to nation on TV on March 31, 1968

Lyndon B. Johnson speaks to nation on TV on March 31, 1968

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