About John Bowden Connally, Jr.
John Bowden Connally, Jr. (February 27, 1917 – June 15, 1993), was an influential American politician, serving as the 39th governor of Texas, Secretary of the Navy under President John F. Kennedy, and as Secretary of the Treasury under President Richard M. Nixon. While he was Governor in 1963, Connally was a passenger in the car in which President Kennedy was assassinated. Connally was seriously wounded during the shooting.
Early years, education, and military service
Connally was born into a large family in Floresville, the seat of Wilson County southeast of San Antonio. He was one of seven children born to Lela (née Wright) and John Bowden Connally, Sr., a dairy and tenant farmer. At the time, Connally was among the few Floresville High School graduates who attended college. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was the student body president and a member of the Friar Society. He subsequently graduated from the University of Texas School of Law and was admitted to the bar by examination.
Connally served in the United States Navy during World War II, first as an aide to James V. Forrestal, then as part of the planning staff for the invasion of Africa by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. He transferred to the South Pacific Theater, where he served with distinction. He was a fighter-plane director aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex and won a Bronze Star for bravery. He was shifted to another Essex class aircraft carrier, the USS Bennington and won a Legion of Merit. He was also involved in the campaigns in the Gilbert, Marshall, Ryukyu, and Philippine islands. He was discharged in 1946 at the rank of lieutenant commander.
On his release from the Navy, Connally practiced law but soon returned to Washington, D.C., to serve as a key aide to Lyndon Baines Johnson, then a U.S. Representative. He maintained close ties with Johnson until the former president's death in 1973.
Lawyer for Sid Richardson
Two of Connally's principal legal clients were the Texas oil tycoon Sid W. Richardson and Perry Bass, Richardson's nephew and partner, both of Fort Worth. Richardson's empire at the time was estimated at $200 million to $1 billion. Under Richardson's tutelage, Connally gained experience in a variety of enterprises and received tips on real estate purchases. The work required the Connallys to relocate to Fort Worth. When Richardson died in 1959, Connally was named to the lucrative position as co-executor of the estate.
Connally was also involved in a reported clandestine deal to place the Texas Democrat Robert Anderson on the 1956 Republican ticket as vice president. Though the idea fell through when Dwight Eisenhower retained Richard Nixon in the second slot, Anderson received a million dollars for his efforts and a subsequent appointment as treasury secretary, the same position that Connally would fill for Nixon fourteen years later in 1971. Moreover, in another irony, Anderson had been Eisenhower's first Navy secretary, the post that Connally filled for John F. Kennedy in 1961.
From Navy Secretary to Governor
At the 1960 Democratic convention in Los Angeles, Connally led supporters of Senator Lyndon Johnson. He claimed that John F. Kennedy, if nominated and elected, would be unable to serve as president for a full term because of Addison's disease and dependence on cortisone. Kennedy, however, had wrapped up the needed delegates for nomination before the convention even opened. Kennedy realized that he could not be elected without support of traditional Southern Democratic votes, many of whom had backed Johnson. Therefore, Johnson was offered the vice-presidential nomination.
Secretary of the Navy
At Johnson's request, in 1961 President Kennedy named Connally Secretary of the Navy. Connally resigned eleven months later to run for the Texas governorship. He had managed one of the largest employers in the world, as the Navy had more than 600,000 in uniform and 650,000 civilian workers, stationed at 222 bases in the United States and 53 abroad. It had a budget of $14 billion.
Connally directed the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea on a new kind of "gunboat diplomacy." The USS Forrestal landed in Naples, Italy, and brought gifts to children in an orphanage. Connally ordered gifts also to a hospital in Cannes, France, which treated children with bone diseases; to poor Greek children on the island of Rhodes; and for spastic children in Palermo, Italy. Presents were also sent to Turkish children in Cyprus and to a camp in Beirut for homeless Palestinian refugees.
Connally fought hard to protect the Navy's role in the national space program, having vigorously opposed assigning most space research to the United States Air Force. Time magazine termed Connally's year as Navy secretary "a first-rate appointment." Critics noted, however, that the brevity of Connally's tenure precluded any sustained or comprehensive achievements, like the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
Running for governor
Connally announced two weeks before Christmas of 1961 that he was leaving the position of Navy secretary to return to Texas to seek the 1962 Democratic gubernatorial nomination. He would have to compete against the incumbent Marion Price Daniel, Sr., who was running for a fourth consecutive two-year term. Daniel was in political trouble following the enactment of a two-cent state sales tax in 1961, which had soured many voters on his administration. Daniel had let the tax become law without his signature but could have vetoed the measure. Former state Attorney General Will Wilson, who had run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1961, also entered the gubernatorial campaign and was particularly critical of Johnson, whom he claimed engineered Connally's candidacy. Other primary candidates were highway commissioner Marshall Formby of Plainview, another party conservative, and General Edwin A. Walker, who made anti-communism the centerpiece of his campaign. Connally waged the most active campaign of any of the Democrats, having traveled more than 22,000 miles across the state. He made forty-three major speeches and appeared on multiple statewide and local telecasts.
Connally ran as a conservative Democrat. He was placed in a primary runoff election against the liberal attorney from Houston favored by organized labor, Don Yarborough, no relation to Connally's long-term party nemesis U.S. Senator Ralph W. Yarborough. After winning the runoff against Yarborough by a close vote, Connally faced a determined bid by the conservative Republican and oilfield equipment executive Jack Cox, also of Houston. Cox, a former state representative from his native Stephens County, had run unsuccessfully two years earlier in the Democratic primary against Daniel. Connally received 847,036 ballots (54 percent) to Cox's 715,025 (45.6 percent). In the campaign, Connally made an issue of Cox's switching to the Republican Party (GOP) the previous year. Eleven years later, Connally made the same switch. Cox, as it turned out, was the strongest Republican gubernatorial candidate in Texas since 1924. Not until 1972, when Henry Grover carried the GOP banner, did the Republicans make a better showing for governor.
Connally was a master campaign professional. He believed in the entourage and advance men, the practice of having staff aides checking out events and having press interviews on the run to demonstrate Connally's heavy schedule of commitments. Biographer Charles Ashman claims that Connally would have aides telephone airports which he would shortly visit and ask to page him for an urgent message. Such manipulation, he believed, impressed airport patrons, many of whom would also be Texas voters.
Governor of Texas
Connally served as governor from 1963–1969. On November 22, 1963, he was seriously wounded while riding in President Kennedy's car at Dealey Plaza in Dallas when the president was assassinated. He recovered from wounds in his chest, wrist and thigh. The ten-month investigation by the Warren Commission of 1963–1964, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) of 1977–1978, and other government investigations concluded that the President was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald.
Connally did not dispute this conclusion but did for the rest of his life question the single bullet theory. Warren Commission exhibit CE 1891 states that Mrs. Virginia Hale of Fortune Road, employed in the Fort Worth office of the Texas Employment Commission, sent Lee Harvey Oswald to a job location at the Leslie Welding Company in July 1962. Robert Hale was the son of Virginia Hale. He earlier had been cleared by a coroner's jury in Florida of responsibility related to the April 1959 shooting death of his teenaged wife of only forty-four days, Kathleen Connally Hale, the daughter of John Connally.
In the campaigns of 1964 and 1966, Connally defeated weak Republican challenges offered by Jack Crichton, a Dallas oil industrialist, and Thomas Everton Kennerly, Sr. (1903–2000), of Houston, respectively. He prevailed with margins of 73.8 percent and 72.8 percent, respectively, giving him greater influence with the nearly all-Democratic legislature.
Connally was governor during a time of great expansion of higher education in Texas. He signed into law the creation of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. He appointed regents who backed the entry of women into previously all-male Texas A&M University in College Station, having been prompted to take such action by State Senator William T. "Bill" Moore of Bryan, who in 1953 had first proposed the admission of women to the institution.
In 1965, Connally appointed Speaker Byron M. Tunnell to the Texas Railroad Commission, upon the retirement of 32-year veteran Ernest O. Thompson, a former mayor of Amarillo. This appointment enabled the future Connally business associate Ben Barnes of De Leon in Comanche County to succeed Tunnell and become the youngest Speaker in Texas history.
On August 1, 1966, Charles Joseph Whitman, perched from the University of Texas Tower in Austin, fired at people on the grounds and the surrounding community for more than ninety minutes. Governor Connally assembled a commission which determined that Whitman had been suffering from a glioblastoma brain tumor, amphetamine abuse, and family troubles. All of the preceding issues contributed to the killing of sixteen on the campus and the wounding of many others. Whitman also killed his wife and mother in the early morning hours of August 1. He was killed by Houston McCoy, a former officer of the Austin Police Department.
As governor, Connally promoted HemisFair '68, the world's fair held in San Antonio, he believed would net the state an additional $12 million in direct taxes. A permanent Institute of Texan Cultures museum was an outgrowth of the fair. It was designed to be "a dramatic showcase, not only to Texans, but to all the world, of the host of diverse peoples from many lands whose blood and dreams built our state."
During the Vietnam War, Connally hawkishly urged Johnson to "finish" the engagement by any military means necessary. Johnson, however, was more moderate in his conduct of the war than the hawkish Connally advised.
There was some talk of Connally being selected as Hubert Humphrey's running mate in 1968, but the liberal Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine was instead chosen. Connally endorsed Humphrey and greeted the nominee at the Fort Worth airport and even reconciled for a month with intraparty rival Ralph Yarborough. Ashman, however, claims that Connally was "privately helping Nixon, recruiting a number of influential Texans, members of both parties, to work for the Republican candidate." Ben Barnes recounts a story that Connally shouted at Hubert Humphrey in a private meeting at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and accused the vice president of being disloyal to President Johnson by trying to soft-pedal Johnson's position regarding Vietnam. Barnes said that the "tongue-lashing" Connally gave Humphrey was "an epic... He orally spanked that man as hard as I've ever seen anyone chastised. He either strengthened Hubert's backbone, or gave him some, or scared him half to death."
Connally was succeeded as governor by Lieutenant Governor Preston Smith, a theater owner from Lubbock, who twice defeated the Republican attorney Paul Eggers in 1968 and 1970. Eggers, a friend and later associate of Republican Senator John G. Tower, served as general counsel in the Treasury Department from 1969–1970, before Connally joined the Nixon Cabinet.
Secretary of the Treasury
In 1971, Republican President Nixon appointed the then Democrat Connally as Treasury Secretary. Before agreeing to take the appointment, however, Connally told Nixon that the president must find a position in the administration for George H.W. Bush, the Republican who had been defeated in November 1970 in a hard-fought U.S. Senate race against Democrat Lloyd M. Bentsen. Connally told Nixon that his taking the treasury post would embarrass Bush, who had "labored in the vineyards" for Nixon's election as president, while Connally had supported Humphrey. Ben Barnes, then the lieutenant governor and originally a Connally ally, claims in his autobiography that Connally's insistence saved Bush's political career because the then former U.S. representative and twice-defeated Senate candidate relied on appointed offices to build a resume by which to seek the presidency in 1980 and again in 1988. Nixon hence named Bush as ambassador to the United Nations in order to secure Connally's services at treasury. Barnes also said that he doubted George W. Bush could have become president in 2001 had Bush's father not first been given the string of federal appointments during the 1970s to strengthen the family's political viability.
Shortly after taking the treasury post, Connally famously told a group of European finance ministers worried about the export of American inflation that the dollar "is our currency, but your problem."
Secretary Connally defended a $50 billion increase in the debt ceiling and a $35 to $40 billion budget deficit as an essential "fiscal stimulus" at a time when five million Americans were unemployed. He unveiled Nixon's program of raising the price of gold and formally devaluing the dollar—finally leaving the old gold standard entirely, a process begun in 1934 by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Prices continued to increase during 1971, and Nixon allowed wage and price guidelines, which Congress had authorized on a stand-by basis, to be implemented. Connally later shied away from his role in recommending the failed wage and price controls. Connally announced guaranteed loans for the ailing Lockheed aircraft company. He fought a lonely battle too against growing balance-of-payment problems with the nation's trading partners. He also undertook important foreign diplomatic trips for Nixon through his role as Treasury Secretary.
Historian Bruce Schulman wrote that Nixon was "awed" by the handsome, urbane Texan who was also a tough political fighter. Schulman added that Henry Kissinger, Nixon's National Security Advisor, noted that Connally was the only cabinet member that Nixon did not disparage behind his back, and that this was high praise indeed.
Democrats for Nixon
Connally stepped down as treasury secretary in 1972 to head "Democrats for Nixon", a group funded by Republicans. Connally's old mentor, Lyndon Johnson, stood behind Democratic presidential nominee George S. McGovern of South Dakota, although McGovern had long opposed Johnson's foreign and defense policies. It was the first time that Connally and Johnson were on opposite sides of a general election campaign. Connally's brother, Golfrey Connally, an economics professor at a junior college in San Antonio, also endorsed McGovern. Some evidence even suggests that Connally was "privately" for Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, instead of the Democratic candidate Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois, for whom Johnson campaigned with considerable loyalty. During the war, Connally had served on Eisenhower's planning staff for the invasion of North Africa.
In the 1972 U.S. Senate election in Texas, Connally endorsed the Democratic Harold Barefoot Sanders, later a federal judge from Dallas, rather than the Republican incumbent John G. Tower, also of Dallas. Connally had considered running against Tower in 1966, but chose to run for a third term as governor. Tower then defeated a Connally ally, state Attorney General Waggoner Carr of Lubbock.
Tower, Nixon's choice in the Senate race, won handily over Sanders, but the Republican candidate for governor, Henry Grover of Houston, a victim of intraparty maneuvering, fell short and lost to Democrat Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde, a city in South Texas.
In January 1973, Lyndon Johnson died of heart disease. He and Connally had been friends since 1938. Connally took part in eulogizing Johnson during interment services at the LBJ Ranch in Gillespie County, along with the Rev. Billy Graham, who officiated at the service. Millions around the world viewed Connally's eulogy as the most famous moment of the LBJ funeral, as it was a reminder that Connally was wounded in the assassination that made his mentor and fellow Texan president.
In May 1973, Connally joined the Republican Party. When Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned five months later because of scandal, Connally was one of Nixon's potential choices to fill the vacancy. Nixon tapped Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr., the House Minority Leader from Grand Rapids, Michigan, because he believed that the moderate Ford could be easily confirmed by both houses of Congress, as required by the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution. A Connally nomination presumably could have been blocked by liberal Democratic opposition. The weakened Nixon did not want a fight for the vice-presidential selection.
Connally's party bolt left a sour taste in the mouth of at least one prominent Texas Democrat who stood with George McGovern in 1972: Bob Bullock, the Hillsboro native who served as Texas secretary of state, comptroller and lieutenant governor: "...I got some ideas on Mr. Connally. He ain't never done nothin' but get shot in Dallas. He got the silver bullet. He needs to come back here and get hisself [sic] shot once every six months. I attack Connally on his vanity. He's terribly bad [sic] vain, y'know..."
In 1975, Connally was accused of pocketing $10,000 for influencing a milk price decision by Texas lawyer Jake Jacobsen. At his trial, he called as character witnesses Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Barbara Jordan (the first African American woman state senator in Texas history), Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, and Billy Graham. Connally was acquitted.
Running for President
Connally announced in January 1979 that he would seek the Republican nomination for President in 1980. He was considered a great orator and strong leader and was featured on the cover of Time with the heading "Hot on the Trail". His wheeler-dealer image remained a liability. Connally raised more money than any other candidate, but he was never able to overtake the popular conservative front runner Ronald Reagan of California. Connally spent his money nationally, while George H. W. Bush, like Connally from Houston, targeted his time and money in early states and won the Iowa caucus. The Houston political activist Clymer Wright rejected both Connally and Bush and served as Reagan's finance chairman in Texas. Bush's status as a challenger to Reagan was at first heightened by his victory in Iowa.
Connally focused on South Carolina, an early primary state in which he had the support of popular U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, but he lost there to Reagan 55 to 30 percent and withdrew from the contest. After spending $11 million during the campaign, Connally secured the support of only a single delegate, Ada Mills of Clarksville, Arkansas, who became nationally known for a brief time as the "$11 million delegate".
Connally quickly endorsed Reagan, appeared with the former governor at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, and helped Reagan to win a narrow primary victory over Bush in Texas.
Connally said that he and Bush despised each other. The statement seemed to contradict Connally's earlier insistence that President Nixon name Bush to a post in the administration as a pre-condition for Connally's agreeing to become treasury secretary. Rumors also abounded in 1964 that Connally personally voted for Bush for senator because of his greater dislike for Bush's then opponent, Senator Ralph Yarborough. Charles Keating once contributed to Connally's campaign for President.
In 1986, Connally filed for bankruptcy as a result of a string of business losses in Houston. In December 1990, Connally and Oscar Wyatt, chairman of the Coastal Oil Corporation, met with President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Hussein had been holding foreigners as hostages (or "guests" as Hussein called them) at strategic military sites in Iraq. After the meeting Hussein agreed to release the hostages.
Connally was known as an immaculate dresser who wore expensive and stylish suits wherever he went. Biographer Charles Ashman related a story about Connally's carrying a cigarette lighter in his pocket and lighting cigarettes as a courtesy only for very wealthy men who might be inclined to contribute to his political causes or retain him as a consultant on business arrangements.
In one of his last political acts, Connally endorsed then Republican U.S. Representative Jack Fields of Houston in the special election called in May 1993 to fill the vacancy left by U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Houston. Bentsen was appointed Treasury Secretary in the new administration of Bill Clinton. Fields finished fourth in the special election and left Congress thereafter. Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, for whom Connally's daughter had been employed in the state treasurer's office, won the seat by a wide margin in the special election runoff against the appointed Democratic Senator Robert Krueger.
Connally died on June 15, 1993 of pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive scarring of the lungs. His funeral was held at the First United Methodist Church of Austin where he and his wife, Nellie Connally, had been members since their days living one block to the south in the Texas Governors Mansion, 1963–1969. The Connallys are interred at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
Former President Nixon left the bedside of his wife, Pat Nixon, who died a week later, and flew to Austin to attend Connally's funeral. The Connally Loop (Interstate Inner Loop 410) in San Antonio is named in his honor. The Connally Memorial Medical Center in Floresville is named for John, Wayne, and Merrill Connally. The John Connally Unit of the Texas Corrections Department south of Kenedy in Karnes County is named in his honor. There is also a Connally Plaza, with a life-sized statue of Connally, in downtown Houston. Texas A&M University System Offices, located in College Station, TX, are housed in a building named in his honor.