America’s Inglorious Tradition of Election Fraud: Any End in Sight? Part 2

L. Scott Smith


Go to Part 1

Political “Nobility” in South Texas.  Truman was not the first, nor would he be the last, beneficiary of a corrupt election, propelling him to the supreme prize in American politics. Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas followed closely behind him.

The man from the hill country was elected to Congress in 1937,[1] a few years after Truman’s Senatorial debut.  The young Texan, driven by overweening ambition, ruthlessly vied for a Senate seat in 1941.[2]  His opponent was the irrepressible buffoon, Governor W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel,[3] of whom lobbyists and party functionaries desperately desired to rid themselves and the state.[4]  His ignorance had proved both adamantine and insurmountable as he threatened to wreak havoc upon the state’s lucrative beer and liquor interests and also proposed increasing pensions that caused oil, sulphur, and natural gas titans to fear their industries would suffer additional taxation.[5]  How better, they quietly asked themselves, to accomplish the goal of banishing him from Texas politics than by promoting him to the Senate?[6]

Because of the embarrassment and chaos following in O’Daniel’s wake, as well as the sensitive toes the governor happened to be stepping on, Johnson enjoyed the electoral support of the most influential person in South Texas politics.  He was George B. Parr, the ”Duke of Duval.”[7] Parr was an Anglo who had grown up in San Diego, Texas, having learned to speak Spanish at the same time he had English.[8]  He had been nurtured in raw political power, and had not only inherited from, but also fortified, expanded, and enriched the political fiefdom of his father Archie, who had served as a senator in the Texas legislature for 20 years.[9]  Both father and son played the role of old-style Mexican patrnes[10] in Duval county, and did so with consummate skill.

All the Parr-manipulated votes were counted in Johnson’s favor, plus the suspiciously lopsided returns which Johnson’s campaign organization had bought in San Antonio and its outlying areas, were reported early.  As a result of this tactical error in timing, the subsequent counts from various precincts in East Texas could be, and were, conveniently skewed to give O’Daniel the margin necessary for a last-minute statewide victory.[11]

Johnson remained in the House for another six years, but continued to cast a jaundiced eye upon the Senate.  In 1947, he again tossed his Stetson into the ring and vied for a seat in that chamber. But this time he would not fall prey to the over-confidence and sophomoric mistakes he made during his initial outing.  Seeking the Democratic nomination for the Senate against a most popular and formidable opponent, Texas Governor Coke R. Stevenson,[12] Johnson could scarcely afford any oversights.

To no one’s surprise, Parr again aligned himself squarely with Johnson.  The Duke did so, in part, because the young Congressman had been instrumental in procuring from Harry Truman a presidential pardon of Parr’s 1936 conviction for tax evasion and, also in part, because Stevenson had acted contrary to Parr’s request that a political friend of his be appointed district attorney in Laredo.[13] The Duval boss was, in fact, so strongly supportive of Johnson’s campaign that, according to historian Robert A. Caro, “before the campaign began, Johnson had a 25,000-vote head start.”[14]  That was not all; the patrn used all the prodigious resources at his command to benefit Johnson, including selectively distributing poll taxes, instructing illiterates how to vote and handing out pre-marked ballots to them, intimidating voters at opposition election sites, and of course tampering with returns to fashion them precisely as he wanted.[15]

When the Election Bureau announced the final returns, Stevenson continued to lead with 349 votes.[16] Even with the Herculean feats of thievery which bolstered his totals, Johnson appeared to be in the clutches of a second defeat.

But George Parr’s magic was not spent.  Additional votes began to trickle in from various counties in the Rio Grande Valley.[17]  The coup de grâce occurred in the small town of Alice, in Jim Wells County, adjoining Duval. The vote tally, in Precinct 13 there, mysteriously changed from what it had been a few days earlier.  Johnson had 765 on election night, but the total a few days later was 965.  The “7” was crudely  transfigured by hand into a “9”.[18]

Lyndon Johnson became a United States Senator by utilizing every form of fraud and skullduggery possible.  He literally snatched victory from the clinched jaws of defeat.  He “defeated” the straight-arrow Coke Stevenson by a meager 87 votes, which comprised less than one hundredth of one percent of the total votes cast in the election.[19]

Johnson would eventually become a legendary power broker in the United States Congress and, in 1960, would be chosen by the young, charismatic John F. Kennedy as his running-mate.  Upon Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, “Landslide Lyndon”[20] would ascend to the presidency and be the most powerful man in the Free World.

Camelot’s Money and Chicago Connections.   Kennedy’s own campaign for the presidency was anything but sterling and aboveboard.  In order to capture the coveted Democratic nomination in 1960, he first had to win the West Virginia primary.  Kennedy’s opponent in the contest was the progressive, articulate Hubert H. Humphrey, Senator from Minnesota.  Yet more than charisma, skill, and ideology were involved in winning the West Virginia primary. It was traditional for the political bosses there to provide the “slate” of candidates to their constituents.[21]  Not making it onto the slate translated into certain defeat for a candidate. The challenge was, in effect, a “bidding” war, which amounted in historian Robert Dallek’s words to “legalized bribery.”[22] One Democratic leader in Logan County recounted that the Humphrey campaign gave him $2,500, which had secured his allegiance only until the Kennedy campaign offered him the sum of $35,000.[23]  Fortunate for the Massachusetts Senator, who had been born to immense wealth, money was not an object.  His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, had become one of the wealthiest men in America primarily from insider-trading on Wall Street and a large scale bootlegging enterprise during Prohibition.[24]  He had been a major donor to all his son’s campaigns.  During John Kennedy’s initial run for Congress, his father had bragged, “We’re going to sell Jack like soap flakes.”[25]  After that race, he confessed that “With the money I spent, I could have elected my chauffeur.”[26] Nothing had changed in 1960.[27] Before Lyndon Johnson himself began actively seeking the nomination that year, he too was among those who candidly stated that Kennedy had stolen the crucial West Virginia primary.[28]

Indeed there was, in Seymour M. Hersh’s words, a “dark side of Camelot.”[29]  Hersh reports that, prior to the 1960 election, Kennedy’s father met clandestinely with the Chicago mobster, Sam “Mooney” Giancana, for the purpose of soliciting help in obtaining the labor union vote, which the mobster controlled.[30] According to Hersh, Giancana agreed to contribute his money and influence to the Kennedy campaign in exchange for a guarantee that the FBI would lessen the pressure on the activities of his criminal organization.[31]  Mafia-dominated union officials in Chicago actively got out the vote for Kennedy not only in Chicago, but also utilized their influence for the candidate throughout other cities which were union strongholds, such as Kansas City, St. Louis, and Cleveland.[32]

In addition, Chicago’s political machine, which was controlled by Mayor Richard Daley and was legendary for its unsavory practices, was solidly in the Democrat’s corner.  On election night, Daley informed Kennedy, “Mr. President, with a little bit of luck and the help of a few close friends, you’re going to carry Illinois.”[33]  The mayor’s optimistic prediction was nothing but a sinister assurance that his precinct captains would tally the vote in Kennedy’s favor. The prediction proved accurate as the candidate won Chicago by 456,312 votes,  a margin around four times the magnitude of his plurality in the nation at large.[34]  The Chicago vote more than offset a spate of downstate Republican returns.[35]

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was convinced that the election was stolen in Illinois from Republican challenger Richard M. Nixon,[36] and Nixon was too.  He did not contest the result, believing that the American people would be disinclined to accept the fact that a presidential election could be stolen and would thereafter tend to view him as a “sore loser” if he urged the matter.[37]  He embraced the bitter “defeat” in the hope that he would live to fight another day.

Aside from fraud in Illinois, there were also strong indications of it in New Jersey, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and of course Texas,[38] the state in which anyone with a memory realized that “you can’t outcount Lyndon Johnson.”[39]  When the victory in a nationwide presidential election is by no more than 118,000 votes or two tenths of one percent of all those cast,[40] as Kennedy’s win was, any allegation of fraud becomes a matter of compelling, if not of crucial, importance.

Winning Votes With “Foreign Policy.”  In 1968, Richard Nixon received a second opportunity to capture the White House, and this time proved successful in doing so.  His opponent in the race was Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.  President Johnson had escalated the war in Vietnam in the effort to convince the North Vietnamese of the futility of their cause.  The strategy had not worked, but had instead resulted in over 30,000 American casualties.[41]  Americans, particularly university students, grew increasingly impatient with and hostile toward Johnson’s war policy, and domestic rioting and looting had even begun breaking out in the streets stateside.[42] The President’s vision of a “Great Society”[43] was taking a back seat[44] to what was being viewed in elite circles as a civil war in which the United States had no rightful place.

Humphrey, who received the Democratic nomination in 1968, had been a loyal supporter of Johnson’s war policy through the time of the National Democratic Convention in Chicago.[45]  The nominee had left the Convention carrying the banner of a party deeply divided over the war issue.[46]

Nixon, on the other hand, was preaching “peace with honor”[47] and publicly representing that he had “a secret plan”[48] for ending the war.  The difference, if any, between the two nominees on this pivotal issue was that Humphrey’s stance had been publicly defined by Johnson’s policy, while Nixon’s was unknown.  Since many members of the public considered the war misbegotten, Nixon’s credibility and political stock continued to soar as the war raged.[49]

On March 31, 1968, Johnson announced a partial bombing halt of North Vietnam and proposed that peace negotiations begin.[50]  The North Vietnamese began peace negotiations in Paris the following May.  Based upon these negotiations, the President announced a full bombing halt on October 31,[51] one week prior to the presidential election.  He invited representatives of the South Vietnamese government to participate in peace talks on November 6, and emphasized “what we now expect—what we have a right to expect—are prompt, productive, serious, and intensive negotiations in an atmosphere that is conducive to progress.”[52] As the prospect of peace seemed finally in the offing, political blowback was being felt by Nixon’s campaign.  Suddenly, the gap between the candidates began narrowing.[53]

At this crucial juncture, Nixon used Anna Chennault, a Republican adviser on Vietnam, to pass a message to Nguyen Van Thieu, the President of South Vietnam, through Vietnamese ambassador Bui Diem.[54]  The gist of the message was, “Hold on, we are gonna win. . . .”[55]  Although Time magazine reported that Thieu had already made plans to dispatch a delegation to the peace talks,[56] he apparently changed his mind on November 2, announcing that his government would not participate.[57] The failure of Johnson’s peace initiative, which he believed Nixon secretly sabotaged,[58] confirmed for many that the nation was ready for a Republican administration.  Nixon’s tactic worked at the polls.  He was able to squeeze out a victory with a margin of less than one percent of the popular vote.[59]

The Vietnam War tragically continued throughout Nixon’s administration and was even expanded into Laos and Cambodia.[60]  At least 20,763 additional American casualties resulted from the prolongation of the war, along with the deaths of more than 605,490 Vietnamese combatants and an unknown number of civilians.[61] The proclamation that peace was at hand came prior to the 1972 election, with an agreement actually materializing after the election on terms that were disastrous for South Vietnam.[62]  So much for a “secret plan” to end the war and for “peace with honor.”

End of Part 2.


[1] Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power   (New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1982), 493.

[2] Ibid., 675 (explaining that Johnson decided to run for the Senate after Morris Sheppard, the senior U.S. Senator from Texas, died suddenly in 1941).

[3] Ibid.,  695-703. See Caro, Ascent, 141.

[4] Caro, Path, 734.

[5] Ibid. 

[6] Ibid., 740.

[7] Ibid., 721.

[8] Dudley Lynch, The Duke of Duval  (Waco, Texas: Texian Press, 1976), 35.

[9] Evan Anders, “Parr.Archer,” The Handbook of Texas Online, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/PP/fpa35.html.

[10] Matthew McCarroll, “LBJ’s 1948 Senatorial Election: A Catalyst for Change in Texas Politics?”  (bachelor’s honors thesis, Vanderbilt University, 2007), 8-14, http://discoverarchive.vanderbilt.edu/jspui/bitstream/1803/222/1/HHTMcCarrollM07.pdf.

[11] Caro, Path, 732, 737-39.

[12] Caro, Ascent, 141, 175.

[13] Ibid., 190-1.

[14] Ibid., 191.

[15] Kaye Northcott and Clay Coppedge, “The Dukes of Duval County,” Texas Co-op Power, http://www.texascooppower.com/texas-stories/history/the-dukes-of-duval-county.

[16] Ibid., 316.

[17] Ibid.  Each county in the Valley had its patron.  There was Judge Manuel Bravo of Zapata County, Judge Manuel Raymond of Webb, Sheriff Chub Pool of Sa Salle, the “Guerra boys” of Starr County, and of course the “Boss of Bosses” George B. Parr of Duval County. Ibid., 187 and Caro, The Path, 40, 721.

[18] Caro, Ascent,  317.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Robert Westbrook, “Landslide Lyndon,” Christian Century, August 22, 1990, 766.

[21] Campbell, Deliver,  243-4.

[22] Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,  (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2003), 107-8.

[23] Campbell, Deliver, 243.

[24] Seymour M. Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot  (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1997), 45-7.

[25] Nigel Hamilton, JFK: Reckless Youth  (New York: Random House, 1992), 753.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Miller, Plain Speaking, 199.

[28] Campbell, Deliver, 244.

[29]  Hersh, The Dark Side.

[30] Ibid., 135-6.

[31] Ibid., 143, 146.

[32] Ibid., 145.

[33] Ibid., 133.

[34] Ibid., 132.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid., 153 (stating that Hoover sent a report to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy concerning election fraud in Illinois, but that Kennedy disregarded it — “precisely why Joe Kennedy had insisted after the election that Bobby be nominated as attorney general.”).

[37] Ibid., 133. See Anthony Summers, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon 217-8 (New York: Viking 2000), 217-18 (stating that, while not contesting the election is often considered Nixon’s finest hour, he actually pushed to do so, but that President Eisenhower was not supportive of the idea and believed it would “tear the country apart.”).

[38] Campbell, Deliver, 248.

[39] Ibid., 250.

[40] Ibid., 246.

[41] “Lyndon Johnson:  Foreign Affairs,” American President: A Reference Resource, Miller Center (University of Virginia),  http://millercenter.org/president/lbjohnson/essays/biography/5.

[42] See “On This Day in History: July,” Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum, http://www.lbjlibrary.org/collections/on-this-day-in-history/july.html%232nd.

[43] The “Great Society” refers to the various domestic programs advanced by the Johnson Administration, the primary goals of which were to eliminate poverty and racial injustice.  The name included but was not limited to the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and an Omnibus Housing Act.  SeeLyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” U. S. History, http.//www.ushistory.org/us/56e.asp.

[44] Francis M. Bator, “No Good Choices: LBJ and the Vietnam/Great Society Connection,” 2007,  n.1,  http://www/amacad.org/publications/batorweb.pdf.

[45]  Hubert H. Humphrey, “38th Vice President (1965-1969),” United States Senate, http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/VP_Hubert_Humphrey.htm. See  Summers, The Arrogance,  297.

[46] “McGovern Endorses Hubert, Won’t Campaign for Him,” Spartanburg Herald, Aug. 30, 1968, at 3, and “Gene Vows He Won’t Back HHH,” St. Petersburg Times, August 30, 1968, 1.

[47] Summers, The Arrogance, xiv.

[48] Ibid., 3.

[49] Roy Macartney, “Nixon Lifts Lead Over Humphrey,” The Age, Sept. 30, 1968, 1. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=MtsQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=d5MDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5473,5661739&dq=richard+nixon.

[50] “President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Address to the Nation Announcing Steps to Limit the War in Vietnam and Reporting His Decision Not to Seek Re-Election (March 31, 1968),” http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/speeches.hom/680331.asp.

[51] “President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Address to the Nation Upon Announcing His Decision to Halt the Bombing of North Vietnam (October 31, 1968),” at http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/speeches.hom/681031.asp.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Jack Bell, “Vietnam Issue Raised Again as Campaign Winds Up,” Eugene Register-Guard, November 5, 1968, 2, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=H8MUAAAAIBAJ&sjid=QuEDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5496,1061237&dq=richard+nixon+polls+bombing+halt.

[54] Summers, The Arrogance, 302.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Time, Nov. 8, 1968, at 25.

[57] Summers, The Arrogance, 299, 302.

[58] Ibid., 300 /

[59] “Richard Milhous Nixon: Campaigns and Elections,” American President: A Reference Resource, Miller Center (University of Virginia), http://millercenter.org/president/nixon/essays/biography/3.

[60] Summers, The Arrogance, xiv.

[61] Ibid., 307.

[62] Ibid., 438.  SeeTerms of the Paris Peace Accords,” Olive-Drab, http://olive-drab.com/od_history_vietnam_nixon.php.

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