Interview with Harry McPherson
QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

That was a great answer. When you look at July '67, the Detroit riot breaks out, Governor Romney requests federal troops, President Johnson has to go on television and tell the nation that he's sending federal troops. You drafted a speech and found out he had already written one with the help of a lawyer which you then read and he read over on the air. Can you tell me about your speech and his speech and the misgivings you had when it was being aired?

HARRY MCPHERSON:

When the Detroit riot occurred in '67, Governor Romney was the Governor of Michigan. The law says that troops can be sent in by the President upon the, the expression by the Governor of the State, that there is disorder that he is unable to contain. Johnson wanted Romney to say that before he, Johnson, ordered troops in. All during the night while fires were breaking out in Detroit and violence was taking lives, Johnson moved troops up from Kentucky to the outskirts of Detroit. But he kept insisting that Romney make that statement. Romney a potential candidate for President in '68 did not want to make the statement that he could not control the riots. He wanted Johnson to commit the troops and bring order to Detroit without his having to make that statement. The two of, there was a standoff for a long time. Johnson had sent Cyrus Vance, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, to Detroit to serve as his representative and it held off all night. There are photographs of me and J. Edgar Hoover and Johnson and Joe Califano, ah, reading the ticker coming back, getting on the phone with Cy Vance, waiting for this statement to be made by Romney. Finally, Romney made a statement which, while not squaring in all ways with the statute was close enough. And Johnson made a speech that assumed that the Romney statement had been made. "He can't, the Governor tells me he can't maintain order, so I'm sending in the troops." At the last minute as he was making it, it struck me that he was making too much of this, "The Governor tells me that the can't maintain order." It seemed too political. It seemed as if he was trying to nail Romney into a position.

INTERVIEWER:

Sorry, we ran out of film.






INTERVIEWER:

If you could just tell me about writing the speech.

HARRY MCPHERSON:

I was, ah, ah, as President Johnson's counsel and often his speech writer, I went upstairs in the White House and wrote a speech for the President to make on television. When I got back downstairs I, he already had one. And, I worked with him and some others on the language. We compromised it and I thought I was satisfied until l heard the President giving it and he made such a point of Governor Romney not being able to manage things in Michigan that it seemed too political to me. Ah, what he was trying to do was to establish that he had complied with the statute that the President only sends troops in when the Governor of the State says, "I can't maintain order." But there was, there seemed to be a certain pleasure on his part in saying that Romney can't maintain order in Detroit and so I've sent troops in.