Sly and Able: A Political Biography of James F. Byrnes

By David Robertson | Go to book overview

20

South Carolina
Coda

At the grave, just after the coffin was lowered
(it went down so quickly, so quietly, it was astonishing!)
somebody asked him about a speeding ticket.

"My word's good as far as the Savannah River,"
he said. "After that you're in the hands
of Herman Talmadge."

GEORGE GARRETT, "Politician"

Jimmy Byrnes had been sounding out Richard Nixon politically and personally since at least the summer of 1958, when Nixon began to be mentioned frequently in the press, along with Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts of the Democratic party, as one of the two most likely presidential candidates in 1960. Nixon returned to his vice-presidential office one day in late July 1958 and received a note telling him that, while he was out, "Governor Jimmy Byrnes of South Carolina called," and in the vice president's absence had exchanged pleasantries over the telephone with his secretary. He called, Byrnes had said to the secretary, to do little more than to tell Nixon's office to expect in the mail some page proofs of articles written by Byrnes mentioning the vice president and to wish "good luck" to him and his wife. Yet even on the most prosaic of occasions Byrnes could still turn on the charm after all these years. At the bottom of the message left for his reading, Nixon saw the parenthetical notation his secretary had voluntarily typed after talking with Jimmy Byrnes: "(Nice fellow)."

Byrnes was attempting to get all the nice fellows back once more into a political party sympathetic to the needs of the conservative white South.

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