In 1965, at the urging of President Johnson, the Medicare bill is reintroduced in the House. Conservatives immediately begin stalling while they marshal the votes to defeat the measure again. On Sept. 10, after three and a half weeks of debate and delay, the House of Representatives narrowly passes President Johnson's legislation, which has been loaded with pork-barrel items to attract added support. Conservative senators, led by Strom Thurmond and Barry Goldwater, vow to defeat it in the Senate.
In 1957, as a large crowd mills around angrily outside the front entrance of Little Rock Central High, in Little Rock, Arkansas, the nine black students whose admission had previously been ordered via a court ruling are let in through a side door and escorted to the principal's office to receive their class assignments. When the crowd learns they are inside, its already hostile mood turns even uglier. The police officers on duty inform the principal that they may be unable to prevent the crowd from storming the building if the nine remain. The students are escorted out through a side exit and sent home under guard.
Following this incident, Little Rocks mayor Woodrow Mann appeals to President Eisenhower by telegram for federal troops to enforce the integration order.
The next day, Eisenhower rejects Mann's appeal. In a telephone call to the mayor, he explains, 'The United States is not the Soviet Union. We do not lightly employ our armed forces in domestic law enforcement, particularly where other options exist. I am unpersuaded that your city's police force is incapable of maintaining order and enforcing the law. I urge you to use all means at your disposal to deal with this situation without requiring the federal government to use force against American citizens who have so far broken no law.'
Privately, the President is troubled by the prospect of a municipality and state defying legal rulings, including two from the Supreme Court itself. However, he has never been enthusiastic about desegregation, whether court-ordered or not. Having received a phone call from Governor Faubus warning that 'thousands of armed men' are converging on Little Rock to 'protect' Central High from 'forced' desegregation, he fears that dispatching federal troops will lead to a bloodbath which will not only undermine the federal government's authority throughout the South but hand the Soviets a terrific propaganda weapon overseas.
In 1962, as rioting continues throughout the South, President Kennedy calls out the National Guard to quell the disturbances. Some Guard units refuse to respond, forcing the President to call on Army troops. Violent clashes ensue as federal troops battle armed mobs, some of whose members are dressed in Confederate-style uniforms and carry Confederate battle flags. The following day, ex-Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman appear together on television to urge an end to the violence. They repeat President Kennedy's warning that only America's enemies can profit from the nation's internal divisions.
In 1962, as anti-integration riots continue throughout much of the South, James Meredith is shot from ambush on his way to classes at the University of Mississippi.
He is not seriously injured, but after the shooting he is taken into protective custody by federal marshals.
In 1957, following a court order, nine black students attempt to register at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. They are turned away at gunpoint by the National Guard, which has been called out by Arkansas governor Orval Faubus to prevent 'violence' by 'extremists' whom he claims are converging on Little Rock in 'caravans.' Asked his opinion on the matter, Senator Joseph McCarthy piously asserts that Governor Faubus 'has acted responsibly to maintain order.'
In 1963, the Senate votes to acquit President John Fitzgerald Kennedy of the charges for which he was impeached.
To Kennedy's satisfaction, there is not even a simple majority for conviction, let alone the two-thirds vote required to remove him from office. A major factor in the defeat of his impeachment is behind-the-scenes lobbying by Vice-President Johnson, who is able to twist a number of arms. Contrary to the hopes of defenders of Chief Justice Earl Warren, however, the acquittal of Kennedy does not slow the drive for Warren's removal. If anything, Warren's foes in the Senate grow more insistent than ever.
In 1962, Attorney General Robert Kennedy reaches a deal with Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett to allow James Meredith to register at the University of Mississippi. Meredith is escorted onto the campus under the protection of federal prison guards, deputy federal marshals and U.S. border patrol agents. Those precautions prove justified when a mob of more than 2,000 people converges on the campus and attacks those standing guard with guns, bricks, Molotov cocktails and bottles. Federal troops are called in and use tear gas on the mob, forcing it to retreat. Two people die and nearly two hundred are injured, including 28 federal marshals who have been shot. This is only the beginning.
In 2001, the movie Fourteen Days, about the anti-integration of October 1962 which had threatened to escalate into a second U.S. civil war, opens in theaters.
In 1963, as expected after the results of the previous day's vote on impeaching President Kennedy, the House votes to impeach Earl Warren. As was true in the case of JFK, the impeachment resolution against Warren passes by a bare majority. In the Senate, there is uproar. The House votes mean the Senate will be called on to conduct trials of both the President and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Even some conservative senators consider the House's actions reckless, especially since it is believed to be unlikely that the two-thirds' majority vote for conviction can be obtained in either case.
That consideration spurs some right-wing senators to begin researching whether the two-thirds requirement can be circumvented. Some argue that it applies only to the presidency, and that therefore Chief Justice Warren should be removable by a simple majority vote. Their opponents counter by quoting the Constitution's language in Article I, Section 2, stating that in case of impeachment 'no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.'
In 1963, returning from its Christmas recess, Congress immediately takes up debate on the impeachment resolutions against President John F. Kennedy and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren in mid-December. The balance of power in the incoming Eighty-eighth Congress has shifted, and not in favor of the President and Chief Justice.
Although the Democratic Party has retaken control of the House of Representatives, many of the new members are hard-line' conservatives elected by Southern voters angry over court decisions favoring school integration and President Kennedy's decision to use federal troops to enforce compliance with those rulings at the University of Mississippi and to put down the massive anti-integration rioting throughout the South the previous October, which has been dubbed the "Southern Crisis" in the press.
In the Senate, Democrats' conservative wing has strengthened its ties with right-wing Republicans. Some observers believe there is a real chance that one or both of the impeachment resolutions may actually succeed.
Sensing the new climate, the Ku Klux Klan has stepped up its activities, prompting President Kennedy to order FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to attempt to undermine the KKK.
Hoover is reluctant: a staunch segregationist himself, and no fan of JFK, he will comply only reluctantly - and even when he does, he will also secretly launch an effort to gather dirt on prominent civil rights activists in order to discredit them and their movement.
In 1963, after two and a half weeks of angry debate in the House of Representatives, Rep. Williams' bill of impeachment against President Kennedy is voted on. The bill passes, 219-216, despite furious lobbying by moderate and liberal congressmen and by Vice-President Johnson. The Vice-President fears that if he becomes president in the wake of Kennedy's removal via impeachment, he will be a political captive of Congress.
Anticipating that he will run for the presidency in 1968, he prefers to come to the office as at least Congress's equal. Flushed with success, the House's conservative bloc prepares to vote on Chief Justice Warren's impeachment the following day.
In 1963, the Senate convenes to take up the question of impeaching President Kennedy for his 'illegal' use of federal troops in the South during the anti-integration violence of October 1962. Media coverage since the dual House votes authorizing impeachment of Kennedy and Chief Justice Earl Warren has been highly sensationalistic and has divided sharply along ideological and regional lines, with most coverage in the states south of the Mason-Dixon line favorable to impeachment and most in the North against it.
The decision to put the President's trial first represents a tactical victory for opponents of his and Warren's impeachment. They hope that if Kennedy is acquitted, as they expect will probably happen, the trial of Warren will seem pointless and may even be dropped. Even if that does not happen, backers of Kennedy and Warren expect JFK's acquittal to weaken the hand of Senate conservatives enough to ensure that Warren, too, is acquitted.
There is an air of crisis on both sides, a sense that the events of the next few weeks may be pivotal in the history of the United States.
In 1964, South Carolina senator J. Strom Thurmond emphatically denies rumors that he is considering switching parties to become a Republican. "Ah know the Democratic Party has taken a wrong turn in recent yeahs", Thurmond drawls. "But mah abandonin' the party of Jeffuhson won't put it back on the raht path. Ah intend to stay and fight fo' the principles upon which this pahty, and this nation, were established: fo' states? rahts an' limited gov'ment, and against the godless Communism which threatens us ovahseas and is reachin' into America as well".
Observers with long memories comment that Thurmond in fact had bolted the party once before, in his unsuccessful presidential run in 1948 on the States' Rights Party ticket, and speculate unkindly that his real objection to joining the GOP is that the Republicans are the party which abolished slavery.
In 1967, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina announces he will be a candidate for president in 1968, directly challenging President Johnson's anticipated run for re-election. The Senator has been a thorn in Johnson's side for years. The historically minded, both among his supporters and his critics, observe that Thurmond has chosen to make his announcement on the anniversary of the day in 1860 when his home state declared its intention to secede from the Union. His action is taken as a signal that his campaign will be dedicated to opposing racial integration and civil-rights legislation. This comes as no surprise to anyone.
In 1963, after weeks of acrimonious debate, the U.S. Senate votes to acquit Chief Justice Warren. Conservatives are furious, and threaten that if Warren's court issues any more 'unconstitutional' rulings, they will try again to remove him.
Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina blames the media for the Senate's failure to convict Warren. "Suttin weak-willed membahs of this body," he opines (naming no names), "have let criticism from left-leanin', Negro-coddlin' enemies of our beloved South in the newspapuhs and TV keep 'em from their constitutional duty of removin' from office a man who has shown himself unfit".
Throughout the South, news of the Senate's verdict sparks angry talk and an epidemic of cross-burnings by the Ku Klux Klan. But after the events of the previous October, even the Klan does not quite dare resort to outright violence: not only has President Kennedy demonstrated that he is willing and able to respond with force, but many ordinary Southerners, frightened and revolted, have turned against such methods as well.
In 1968, Republican Richard M. Nixon narrowly defeats Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey in the U.S. presidential election. Neither man, however, receives a majority, because third-party candidate Strom Thurmond takes fourteen million votes, almost all in the South. On election night, as the votes come in, there is considerable speculation that Thurmond's presence in the presidential race may throw the contest into the House of Representatives, but by morning it is clear this will not happen.
In 1968, defeated Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Strom Thurmond announces he will remain in the race, as the candidate of the newly-formed American Independent Party. Georgia governor Marvin Griffin will serve as his running-mate.The all-Southern ticket will capitalize on lingering resentment in the South over President Kennedy's use of federal troops to quell the widespread anti-integration violence of October 1962.
All-Southern ticket by Eric LippsIt will draw heavily from conservative Southerners who have become alienated from the Democratic Party but who cannot forgive the Republicans for being the party which presided over the defeat of the Confederacy, the abolition of slavery, and Reconstruction. These will include Governor Griffin's supporters, who had re-elected him in a landslide in 1962 following his narrow victory over the more liberal Carl E. Sanders in that year's Democratic primary.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson meets privately with a group of influential members of Congress, who tell him bluntly that the efforts he has begun to make in favor of a federal civil rights bill in the aftermath of Birmingham must cease or his entire legislative agenda will be stopped dead in the water. 'It's your choice, Mr. President,' Senator Strom Thurmond informs Johnson. 'You can have your civil rights, or you can have your Medicare, your education programs and such. But it?s one or the other, Mr. President. Push for your civil rights bill, and you won't get another piece of legislation through Congress till the end of your presidency.'Bluff Called by Eric LippsJohnson does not yield. 'Senator,' he tells Thurmond, 'you want to take me on, you go right ahead and do it. Won't be the first time a President's had to deal with a hostile Congress. But if all you do is say no to everything - well, I can say no, too. How long d'you think it'll be before your constituents start noticin' how federal money's not coming their way anymore, how the construction projects and defense contracts aren't coming in? And who do you think they'll blame for not delivering the goods?'
The meeting ends on a bitter note. No one doubts that if there is an open confrontation, it will be costly to both sides, yet neither side seems willing to compromise.
Two weeks later, omnibus legislation to create 'Medicare,' a federal health insurance program for the elderly intended as a companion to Social Security, and a parallel 'Medicaid' program for younger Americans too poor to afford medical care without assistance, is defeated in the Senate by one vote. Afterward, Thurmond calls President Johnson. 'Maybe now, Mr. President, you'll believe I wasn't bluffing,' he says. 'You want your socialized medicine, or anything else, you back off civil rights.'
'I wasn't bluffing either, Senator,' Johnson replies. 'You want to see just how much I wasn't bluffing, you just wait.' That evening, after contacting the heads of the three major television networks, he delivers a national TV address in which he describes his July 16 meeting with Thurmond's cabal and recounts the Senator's phone call to him after the Medicare vote. Carefully omitted from the President's account is his threat at the July 16 confrontation to cut off federal funds going to the home states of his antagonists.
© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.