[Senator Fulbright] is a revolving son of a bitch. You know what a revolving son of a bitch is, don’t you? That’s a son of a bitch any way you look at him.
Lyndon B. Johnson, on Senator William Fulbright, according to George Christian
Two American Presidents woke up in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Neither of them were the two men who actually served as President on that tragic day — John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson.
The 37th President of the United States, 50-year-old Richard Nixon, had arrived in Dallas on November 20th for a conference of the American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages on behalf of Pepsi-Cola, a company that his New York law firm was representing. On November 21st, Nixon sat down with reporters in his room at the Baker Hotel, where he criticized many of the policies of President Kennedy, his 1960 opponent, who would be arriving in Dallas the next day. That night, Nixon and Pepsi executives including actress Joan Crawford, who had been married to Pepsi’s chairman, Alfred Steele, until his death in 1959, were entertained at the Statler Hilton.
In the early morning of November 22nd, a car dropped Nixon off, alone, at Love Field, the Dallas airport that would host President and Mrs. Kennedy, Vice President Johnson and Mrs. Johnson, and Texas Governor John Connally and his wife in just a few hours. Nixon later remembered the flags and signs displayed along the motorcade route that Kennedy would soon follow. Nixon approached the American Airlines ticket counter to check-in for his flight to New York City and told the attendant, “It looks like you’re going to have a big day today.”
Nixon landed several hours later in New York at an airport that would be renamed after John F. Kennedy a month later. He described what happened next in his 1978 autobiography, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon:
Arriving in New York, I hailed a cab home. We drove through Queens toward the 59th Street Bridge, and as we stopped at a traffic light, a man rushed over from the curb and started talking to the driver. I heard him say, “Do you have a radio in your cab? I just heard that Kennedy was shot.” We had no radio, and as we continued into Manhattan a hundred thoughts rushed through my mind. The man could have been crazy or a macabre prankster. He could have been mistaken about what he had heard; or perhaps a gunman might have shot at Kennedy but missed or only wounded him. I refused to believe that he could have been killed.
As the cab drew up in front of my building, the doorman ran out. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. “Oh, Mr. Nixon, have you heard, sir?” he asked. “It’s just terrible. They’ve killed President Kennedy.”
The close 1960 Presidential election changed the relationship between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, but they had once been very close. When they first entered Congress together in 1947, they considered each other personal friends, and when Nixon ran for the Senate from California in 1950, JFK stopped into Nixon’s office and dropped off a financial contribution to Nixon’s campaign from Kennedy’s father. Nixon would later write that he felt as bad on the night of Kennedy’s assassination as he had when he lost two brothers to tuberculosis when he was very young. That night, he wrote an emotional letter to Jacqueline Kennedy:
In this tragic hour Pat and I want you to know that our thoughts and prayers are with you.
While the hand of fate made Jack and me political opponents I always cherished the fact that we were personal friends from the time we came to the Congress together in 1947. That friendship evidenced itself in many ways including the invitation we received to attend your wedding.
Nothing I could say now could add to the splendid tributes which have come from throughout the world to him.
But I want you to know that the nation will also be forever grateful for your service as First Lady. You brought to the White House charm, beauty and elegance as the official hostess of America, and the mystique of the young in heart which was uniquely yours made an indelible impression on the American consciousness.
If in the days ahead we could be helpful in any way we shall be honored to be at your command.
On the morning of November 22, 1963, the 41st President of the United States also woke up in Dallas, Texas. George Herbert Walker Bush was the 39-year-old president of the Zapata Off-Shore Drilling Company and chairman of the Harris County, Texas Republican Party, and had stayed the night of November 21st at the Dallas Sheraton alongside his wife, Barbara. Bush was planning a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and making the rounds to line up support amongst many Texans who considered him far too moderate. One of the groups that was strongest in opposition to Bush was the ultra-right wing John Birch Society, which had recently been lodging vehement protests against President Kennedy’s upcoming visit to Dallas.
Conspiracy theorists claim that there were far more sinister motives for George Bush being in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Some claim that Bush was a secret CIA operative involved in planning or even carrying out the assassination of President Kennedy. Some even argue that a grainy photograph of a man resembling Bush taken shortly after the assassination proves that Bush was actually in Dealey Plaza at the time of Kennedy’s shooting.
He wasn’t. He wasn’t even in Dallas. We know where George Herbert Walker Bush was at the time of JFK’s assassination — we have plenty of eyewitnesses who can confirm it. While Lee Harvey Oswald was shooting President Kennedy, George Bush was about 100 miles away from Dallas, in Tyler, Texas, speaking at a Kiwanis Club luncheon. Like Nixon, Bush and his wife, Barbara, had also boarded a plane that morning in Dallas — a private plane that transported them to Tyler for the Kiwanis Club event. While Bush was speaking, word of the President’s assassination reached the luncheon and the local club president, Wendell Cherry, leaned over and gave the news to Bush. Bush quickly notified the crowd, and said, “In view of the President’s death, I consider it inappropriate to continue with a political speech at this time.” He ended his speech and sat down while the luncheon broke up in stunned silence.
Bush’s wife, Barbara, wasn’t at the Kiwanis Club luncheon. While her husband was speaking, Barbara Bush went to a beauty parlor in Tyler to get her hair styled. As her hair was being done, Barbara began writing a letter to family and heard the news over the radio that JFK had been shot and then that the President had died. In her 1994 memoir, Barbara included the letter, part of which said:
I am writing this at the Beauty Parlor, and the radio says that the President has been shot. Oh Texas — my Texas — my God — let’s hope it’s not true. I am sick at heart as we all are. Yes, the story is true and the Governor also. How hateful some people are.
Since, the beauty parlor, the President has died. We are once again on a plane. This time a commercial plane. Poppy (George H.W. Bush’s family nickname) picked me up at the beauty parlor — we went right to the airport, flew to Ft. Worth and dropped Mr. Zeppo off (we were on his plane) and flew back to Dallas. We had to circle the field while the second Presidential plane took off. Immediately, Pop got tickets back to Houston, and here we are flying home. We are sick at heart. The tales the radio reporters tell of Jackie Kennedy are the bravest. We are hoping that it is not some far-right nut, but a “commie” nut. You understand that we know they are both nuts, but just hope that it is not a Texan and not an American at all.
I am amazed by the rapid-fire thinking and planning that has already been done. LBJ has been the President for some time now — two hours at least and it is only 4:30.
My dearest love to you all,
As Barbara Bush noted in her letter, the Bushes did not stay another night at the Dallas Sheraton on November 22nd, as they had originally planned. They returned to Dallas on the private jet that had transported them to Tyler earlier in the day, and caught a commercial flight home to Houston. The “second Presidential plane” that took off while Bush’s plane circled Love Field was the plane that had transported Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to Dallas earlier that day, Air Force Two. Johnson was already heading back to Washington, now on Air Force One, with the casket of John F. Kennedy.
The 37th President of the United States and the 41st President of the United States woke up in Dallas, Texas on the morning of November 22, 1963. The 31st President, 89-year-old Herbert Hoover, was in failing health in the elegant suite he called home at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria. Within the next few weeks, he would be visited by the new President, Lyndon Johnson, and President Kennedy’s grieving widow, Jackie, and the President’s brother, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. The 33rd President, 79-year-old Harry Truman, learned of JFK’s death in Missouri, while the 34th President, 73-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower, heard of the assassination while attending a meeting at the United Nations in New York. Truman and Eisenhower would squash a long, bitter personal feud that weekend while attending Kennedy’s funeral in Washington. The 38th President, 50-year-old Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford, was driving home with his wife Betty after attending a parent conference with their son Jack’s teacher when they heard the news on the radio in their car. Two days later, President Johnson would call on Ford to serve on the Warren Commission investigating the assassination.
The 39th President, Jimmy Carter was 39 years old and had just gotten off a tractor near the warehouse of his Plains, Georgia peanut farm when a group of farmers informed him of the news of the shooting. Carter found a quiet area, kneeled down in prayer, and when he heard that Kennedy had died, cried for the first time since his father had died ten years earlier. Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, was 52 years old and preparing for a run as Governor of California. A little more than 17 years later, the now-President Reagan would also be shot by a lone gunman in the middle of the day. While Reagan would survive the attempt on his life, it was very nearly fatal and reminded his wife, Nancy, of November 22, 1963. As she was transported to George Washington Hospital following Reagan’s shooting, Nancy would later note, “As my mind raced, I flashed to scenes of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Texas, and the day President Kennedy was shot. I had been driving down San Vicente Boulevard in Los Angeles when a bulletin came over the car radio. Now, more than seventeen years later, I prayed that history would not be repeated, that Washington would not become another Dallas. That my husband would live.”
The 41st President, Bill Clinton, and the 43rd President, George W. Bush, were both 17 years old and in school — Bush at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and Clinton at Hot Springs High School in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Clinton was in his fourth period calculus class when his teacher was called out of the room and returned to announce that President Kennedy had been killed. Four months earlier, Clinton had traveled to Washington with the Boys Nation program and, during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, pushed his way to the front of the line and shook President Kennedy’s hand. The 44th President, Barack Obama, was a 2-year-old living in Hawaii.
The 35th President, 46-year-old John F. Kennedy, would die in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Lyndon B. Johnson, 55, would become the 36th President in Dallas that day. But they woke up that morning in Fort Worth at the Texas Hotel. Kennedy had slept the last night of his life in suite 850 on the eighth floor, now the Presidential suite. LBJ had slept the last night of his Vice Presidency in the much more expensive and elegant Will Rogers Suite on the thirteenth floor. The Secret Service had vetoed the Will Rogers Suite for the President because it was more difficult to secure. It was raining in Fort Worth as they woke up, but the skies had cleared by the time they landed in Dallas. Before breakfast, President Kennedy, Vice President Johnson, and Texas Governor John Connally headed outside and briefly addressed a crowd that had gathered long before the sun had come up in hopes of seeing JFK. Jacqueline Kennedy didn’t accompany them outside and President Kennedy joked to the crowd, “Mrs. Kennedy is organizing herself. It takes her a little longer but, of course, she looks better than we do when she does it.”
Afterward, they headed inside for breakfast in the Texas Hotel’s Grand Ballroom with several hundred guests. The President sent for Mrs. Kennedy to join them, and her late arrival to the breakfast excited the guests in the ballroom. When the President spoke to the group, he joked again, “Two years ago I introduced myself in Paris as the man who had accompanied Mrs. Kennedy to Paris. I’m getting somewhat that same sensation as I travel around Texas.” Then he noted, “Nobody wonders what Lyndon and I wear.”
When the breakfast ended, the Kennedys headed upstairs and had an hour or so to wait before heading to the airport for the short flight to Dallas. It was during this time that Jackie Kennedy saw a hateful ad placed in that morning’s Dallas Morning News accusing President Kennedy of collusion with Communists and treasnous activity. Trying to calm Jackie down, the President joked, “Oh, we’re heading into nut country today.” But a few minutes later, Jackie overheard Kennedy telling his aide, Ken O’Donnell, “It would not be a very difficult job to shoot the President of the United States. All you’d have to do is get up in a high building with a high-powered rifle with a telescopic sight, and there’s nothing anybody can do.”
Even though the trip from Fort Worth’s Carswell Air Force Base to Dallas’s Love Field would only take thirteen minutes by air, the trip to Texas was first-and-foremost a political trip — a kickoff of sorts to JFK’s 1964 re-election campaign — and a grand entrance was needed. So, JFK and Jackie boarded the plane usually used as Air Force One, LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson boarded the plane usually used by the Vice President, Air Force Two, and the huge Presidential party took to the skies, covering thirty miles in thirteen minutes, in order to get the big Dallas welcome that they were hoping for. They landed in Dallas at 11:40 AM, and President Kennedy looked out the window of his plane, saw a big, happy crowd, and told Ken O’Donnell, “This trip is turning out to be terrific. Here we are in Dallas, and it looks like everything in Texas is going to be fine for us.”
At 2:47 PM — just three hours and seven minutes later — everyone was back on Air Force One as the plane climbed off of the Love Field runway and into the Dallas sky. John F. Kennedy, the 35th President, was in a casket wedged into a space in the rear of Air Force One where two rows of seats had been removed so that it would be fit. Lyndon B. Johnson had officially been sworn in as the 36th President about ten minutes earlier on the plane by federal judge Sarah T. Hughes. On one side of Johnson while he took the oath was his wife, Lady Bird, and on the other side, the widowed former First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, still wearing a pink dress splattered with her husband’s blood and brain matter.
Two American Presidents woke up in Dallas on November 22, 1963 — Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush — but they weren’t in town when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, no matter how many ways conspiracy theorists try to twist the story. The President who died in Dallas that day, John F. Kennedy, and the man who became President in Dallas that day, Lyndon B. Johnson, woke up in Fort Worth on the morning of November 22, 1963. But they’ll be forever linked with Dallas — and the world that woke up the next morning would never be the same again.
From the always-awesome LBJ Library, here’s a transcript of the phone call between LBJ and Lady Bird that I mentioned in the last post. (There is audio of this call that is out there, too.)
Lady Bird Evaluates LBJ’s Performance After a Press Conference
3/7/1964 - 4:10PM
Lady Bird Grades the President’s Press Conference
Lady Bird: You want to listen for about one minute to—
LBJ: Yes, ma’am.
Lady Bird: —my critique, or would you rather wait until tonight?
LBJ: Yes, ma’am. I’m willing now.
Lady Bird: I thought that you looked strong, firm, and like a reliable guy. Your looks were splendid. The close-ups were much better than the distance ones.
LBJ: Well, you can’t get them to do it—
Lady Bird: Well, I will say this: there were more close-ups than there were distance ones. During the statement you were a little breathless. And there was too much looking down. And I think it was a little too fast. Not enough change of pace. Drop in voice at the end of sentence. There was a considerable pickup in drama and interest when the questioning began. Your voice was noticeably better and your facial expressions noticeably better.
Lady Bird: I think the outstanding things were that the close-ups were excellent. You need to learn—when you’re going to have a prepared text, you need to have the opportunity to study it a little bit more and to read it with a little more conviction, and interest, and change of pace because—
LBJ: [talking over each other] Well, the trouble is that they criticize you for taking so much time; they want to use it all for questions. Then their questions don’t produce any news, and if you don’t give them news, you catch hell. So my problem was trying to get through before ten minutes. And I still ran ten minutes today.
Lady Bird: Mm-hm.
LBJ: And I took a third of it for the questions, and I could have taken, if I’d read it like I wanted to, fifteen minutes.
Lady Bird: Mm-hm.
LBJ: But I didn’t know what to cut out. Maybe I ought to cut out Mary’s [Lasker] Heart [Cancer, Stroke Committee members] name[s], but I thought that every place one of those names was dropped they’d call up the fellow and ask him about it, and he’d get his name in the paper and then publicize it good, and it would help the committee.
Lady Bird: Mm-hm. I believe if I’d had that choice I would have said use thirteen minutes—or fourteen for the statement. In general, I’d say it was a good B+. How do you feel about it?
LBJ: I thought it was much better than last week.
Lady Bird: Well, I heard last week, see, and didn’t see it and didn’t hear all of it. And, at any rate, I felt sort of on safe ground [sigh]. I mean, like you had sort of gotten over a hump psychologically and in other ways. It’ll be interesting to hear everybody else’s reaction.
I actually wrote a lengthy piece about LBJ and Lady Bird and this is part of what I said:
Exceedingly capable, Lady Bird expanded the role of First Lady and marshaled all of her intelligence, ability, and beliefs in order to become a transformational activist in American life. Every First Lady since Lady Bird has played an influential role in the lives of Americans, and that’s not solely because of Lady Bird but mostly so. Whether it was her campaigns for environmental protection and conservation, beautification, her support for civil rights, or her advocacy for those suffering from poverty or social injustice, Lady Bird was a force for positive change.
It is her most important role, however, which is often overlooked. Lyndon Johnson was not easy to live with. His larger-than-life personality and overflowing ego was constantly engaged in a see-saw battle with insecurity, a lack of confidence, and an overpowering fear of failure. In every election that Johnson ever contested, there came a point where he was dominated by the thought that he would lose and all but decide to quit the race before Election Day. In almost every one of those elections (and he only lost one election in his long political career), LBJ fell seriously ill shortly before Election Day. Whether it was due to Johnson’s tendency to work himself to exhaustion or partly due to a psychosomatic condition is not completely clear, but Doris Kearns Goodwin would later write that “Personal rejection was so unbearable to Johnson, so mortally threatening, that withdrawal was necessary…Episodes of rejection, actual or apprehended, seem[ed] to cripple Johnson’s faculties and even, at times, interrupt his normal state of physical health and vitality.”
It was Lady Bird who could calm him in troubled times. While Lyndon Johnson is remembered as a political maestro, particularly in legislative politics, Lady Bird had great political intuition and knew how to handle Lyndon himself. LBJ could be cruel and coarse — not just to his colleagues and staff, but to Lady Bird. In a 1994 interview with The Washington Post, Lady Bird admitted as much. “Our was a compelling love,” she said. “Lyndon bullied me, coaxed me, at times even ridiculed me, but he made me more than I would have been. I offered him some peace and quiet, maybe a little judgment.”
That humility was not false humility; it was Lady Bird’s characteristically earnest belief. Yet, she arguably offered him more than he offered her. When he was sick, she helped care for him. When he was depressed, she helped make his life as easy as possible. She motivated him in a way that nothing else could — not even his intense drive to prove himself or ceaseless ambition for the power to help change things. If Lyndon Johnson was a hurricane — a force to be reckoned with, Lady Bird Johnson was the quiet breeze and warm sunshine which helped settle everything in the storm’s wake. I’m not sure Lyndon Johnson made Lady Bird more than she could have been, but I’m positive that Lady Bird helped LBJ become who he was.
Lady Bird deserved to be treated better. But I think she also recognized that, for all of his faults, there was something special about LBJ. I mean, look at what he accomplished despite his faults and his troubles and his failures. I think Lady Bird saw that they could truly make a difference. And they did.
I also think they loved each other. She deserved better, but he was nothing without her. I wish I knew where it was exactly, but there’s a recording of a phone call between LBJ and Lady Bird during his Presidency and it’s amazing. LBJ had given a speech or a press conference on television and Lady Bird called him to critique his performance. I’m paraphrasing here, but she basically starts by saying “Are you going to listen to this now, or do you want me to tell you later?”. Then she breaks down everything about his performance as if she were a political consultant and publicist all wrapped up in one package. It’s brilliant. And it tells me everything I need to understand about their relationship. I’ll try to find the call, but if you listen to it, you realize that SHE was the boss.
When Andrew Jackson died at his home, the Hermitage, in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 8, 1845, Sam Houston was rushing to Jackson’s bedside. Houston was born in Virginia and, like Jackson, moved to Tennessee where he studied law and got his start in politics — eventually serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1823-1827) and Governor of Tennessee (1827-1829). As a young man during the War of 1812, Houston had served under Jackson in the Army at the uprising of the Creek Indians (1813). Despite their differing views over the treatment of Native Americans, Jackson and Houston were both staunch Unionists and Jackson was Houston’s political mentor.
When Jackson was President of the United States (1829-1837), Sam Houston served as President as well — the first President of the Republic of Texas (1836-1838) — after leading the Texas Army against the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto. From the beginning of the Texas Revolution, Houston dominated Texas politics — serving as the first and third President of the Republic of Texas, spending time in the Texas Congress, and working to gain the admission of Texas as a U.S. state. When that happened, Houston was elected as one of the first U.S. Senators from Texas and served from 1846 until 1859, when he returned to Texas to serve as Governor (1859-1861). Like Jackson, Houston was committed to the cause of the Union, and when he refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy in 1861, he was deposed as Governor. To this day, Houston remains a giant in his adopted home state of Texas where the largest city carries his name.
In June 1845, however, that Texas giant — and Houston was a big man physically, as well, reportedly anywhere from 6’2” to 6’6” — was crying at the deathbed of Andrew Jackson. Houston hadn’t made it to the Hermitage in time for Jackson’s final moments. The former American President died shortly before the former Texas President arrived and “the towering Texan sank to his knees and openly wept over the body”, according to accounts.
In 1840, Houston had married Margaret Lea, his third wife, and between 1843 and Houston’s death in 1863, they had eight children. Their second son, born on June 21, 1854, was named Andrew Jackson Houston, after Sam Houston’s late friend, former military commander, and poitical mentor. Like his father and his namesake, Andrew Jackson Houston studied law (after dropping out of West Point), and eventually served in the Texas National Guard and as a U.S. Marshal in Texas. His political career was less successful — losing three long-shot bids for Governor of Texas in 1892, 1910, and 1912.
But Andrew Jackson Houston’s political career had an unlikely ending. When Senator John Morris Sheppard of Texas died in office in 1941, the Governor of Texas, W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, saw an opportunity to clear the way for his own election to the Senate. First, he had to appoint a Senator to replace Sheppard until a special election could be held. Governor O’Daniel chose Andrew Jackson Houston — 86 years old at the time and with no interest of holding on to the seat himself.
On April 21, 1941, Andrew Jackson Houston became the oldest man to enter the U.S. Senate (the oldest person to enter the Senate was a woman — 87-year-old Rebecca Latimer Felton of Georgia who served in the Senate for just one day in 1922). His father had left the Senate 82 years earlier. For 66 days in 1941, Andrew Jackson Houston represented Texas in the United States Senate just as his father and his namesake had nearly 100 years earlier. Not only did Senator Houston decline to seek election in his own right, but he didn’t even live until Governor O’Daniel’s special election — dying in office on June 26, 1941, five days after his 87th birthday.
Andrew Jackson Houston’s short service in the Senate also affected another American President. Houston cleared the way for Pappy O’Daniel to seek the seat himself in 1941. O’Daniel’s opponent in the special election was a young member of the Texas delegation in the House of Representatives named Lyndon B. Johnson. Although the first indications seemed to point to an upset victory by Johnson, suspicious ballots were released that pushed Governor O’Daniel to a narrow victory. It was a lesson in Texas politics that LBJ quickly learned — when he faced Texas Governor Coke Stevenson seven years later in the 1948 Democratic Senate primary, suspicious late ballots were released that pushed Johnson to victory by just 87 votes.
Hubert H. Humphrey would have held him off at the Democratic National Convention and won the nomination because RFK jumped in the game too late to win enough delegates to overtake HHH. And there’s no way that a Democratic Convention would swing RFK’s way when LBJ was still the most powerful Democrat in the country and the incumbent President of the United States.
I love the story of Felix Longoria and LBJ. Felix Longoria was a Mexican-American from a small town in Texas who was killed on Luzon during World War II. A couple of years after the war, Longoria’s family had his body transported from the Philippines for burial in his hometown in South Texas. The owner of the funeral home in Longoria’s hometown refused to bury the soldier because “The Whites won’t like it.”
Longoria’s wife contacted the leader of a Texas group that was working to ensure that Mexican-American veterans received the benefits that they deserved once they returned home from the war. That man sent letters and telegrams to military leaders, members of Congress, and Texas’s new Senator — Lyndon B. Johnson.
As soon as LBJ received the telegram and learned about Longoria, he immediately summoned his staff and said, “By God, we’ll bury him in Arlington.” LBJ put his staff to work on the case and sent a telegram to the leader of the Texas group working on Mrs. Longoria’s behalf that makes me emotional every time I read it:
I deeply regret to learn that the prejudice of some individuals extends even beyond this life. I have no authority over civilian funeral homes, nor does the federal government. However, I have today made arrangements to have Felix Longoria buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery here at Washington where the honored dead of our nation’s wars rest. Or, if his family prefers to have his body interred nearer his home he can be reburied at Fort Sam Houston Military Cemetery at San Antonio. There will be no cost. If his widow desires to have him reburied in either cemetery, she should send me a collect telegram before his body is unloaded from an army transport at San Francisco, January 15. This injustice and prejudice is deplorable. I am happy to have a part in seeing that this Texas hero is laid to rest with the honor and dignity his service deserves.
Lyndon B. Johnson USS [United States Senator]
Instead of the small cemetery in Three Rivers, Texas, Felix Longoria was buried with full military honors in America’s most hallowed ground — Arlington National Cemetery. Lyndon B. Johnson had used all of the power of his office to right the injustice perpetrated against an American hero by people in his own home state.
Remarkably, when LBJ sent the telegram above, he had only been a United States Senator for eight days.
JFK would have beaten Goldwater in 1964 — not by the landslide that LBJ won with, but he would have beaten him.
I think that LBJ would have stayed on the ticket. Historians and Kennedy insiders still argue about this, but my reason for thinking this is the very fact that the fateful trip to Texas that led to JFK’s assassination was really a jumpstart to the ‘64 campaign. Texas was very important to JFK’s electoral chances, and LBJ was Texas. Some historians point out that LBJ had become unpopular in Texas during his Vice Presidency, but I just don’t think JFK would have taken that trip and had such a big role for LBJ on that trip (JFK was supposed to stay at the LBJ Ranch on the night he was assassinated) if LBJ was going to be dumped from the ticket.
According to Robert Caro’s most recent volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, Evelyn Lincoln, JFK’s faithful secretary, says that Kennedy told her — just a few days before the assassination — “I will need as a running mate in ‘64 a man who believes as I do…It is too early to make an announcement about another running mate —- that will perhaps wait until the [1964 Democratic National] Convention.” She also says that JFK mentioned that he was considering North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford as his running mate, and that President Kennedy emphatically said, “But it will not be Lyndon.”
However, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., a Kennedy aide and eminent historian, wrote that there were no plans to dump LBJ from the ticket and that “The non-existence of any dump-Johnson plan is fully and emphatically confirmed by Stephen Smith [JFK’s brother-in-law].” Schlesinger wrote that “Johnson’s place on the ticket was not discussed [at the first strategy meeting for the 1964 campaign] on November 13  because (barring illness or scandal) it was a given.”
Mrs. Lincoln was a loyal public servant and totally devoted to JFK, but I tend to side with Arthur Schlesinger on this one.
It’s really impossible to say, but I actually think the Presidency revitalized LBJ after being stuck in the Vice Presidency for nearly three years. LBJ loved power and it’s important to remember that, as Senate Majority Leader, LBJ was, for six years, arguably the second most powerful person in the country after President Eisenhower. Lyndon Johnson was energized by his work when he had the power to make things happen, and he took care of his health better (he ate better, drank less, quit smoking) during the time he was President. When he retired to Texas in 1969, he let himself go, grew his hair out, and started smoking again. If anything, being President was good for him.
As for the last question, if JFK had lived and, hypothetically, been reelected in 1964, I don’t think that LBJ would have sought the Presidency in 1968. He would have been beaten down and marginalized after eight years as Vice President, and he always thought that he would die in his early-60’s (which he did). LBJ often expressed a fear of being incapacitated in office like Woodrow Wilson was in the last couple years of his Presidency. I don’t think he would have risked it — just like he actually didn’t risk running in 1968 despite being the incumbent President.
I think that they are terribly mistaken.
I hate arguing with JFK assassination conspiracy theorists, however, because I will never change their mind. And they won’t change mine. It’s a waste of time. It was a tragic, awful event and we want to think that darker, more complex forces were at work, but the truth is that it really just takes one, screwed-up, 24-year-old with a gun to change the world in several horrible seconds.
At times they do, but at times, LBJ was an asshole. I’m probably the biggest LBJ fan around, but LBJ was a manipulative, Machiavellian figure who almost certainly stole the 1948 Senate election from Coke Stevenson (7 years after Pappy O’Daniel stole the 1941 Senate election from him). LBJ was moody, incredibly thin-skinned and sensitive, and compulsively cheated on Lady Bird, who was basically a Saint.
With that said, he was also a driven leader who accomplished things that nobody else could get done — in the Senate and as President. I don’t know how one could read (or write) Master of the Senate and not have tremendous respect for LBJ. But, yeah, he could be a very frustrating man.
I can’t really give you any articles off the top of my head, but there’s a really great book that was recently released by the University Press of Florida which is an academic study of LBJ’s work for Civil Rights — Freedom’s Pragmatist: Lyndon Johnson and Civil Rights by Sylvia Ellis.
The definitive study of Lyndon Johnson is Robert Caro’s magnificent series — The Years of Lyndon Johnson — which is up to four volumes so far: The Path To Power, Means of Ascent, Master of the Senate, and The Passage of Power. I don’t know if there has ever been a more detailed series of books ever written about one person, but it is a must-read. It’s takes a commitment to dive into the series since Caro’s almost spent as much time writing the books as it took LBJ to actually live the story told by them and it’s not until the most recent volume (The Passage of Power) that Caro begins delving into LBJ as President. I’m hoping we get the fifth (and final?) volume sometime this decade, but reading the entire series will make it feel like you know Lyndon Johnson.
For those who, unlike me, actually have a personal life, you may not want to devote every waking hour to reading about LBJ via Mr. Caro’s masterpiece. In that case, I’d highly recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. Goodwin has proven her ability over the past couple of decades as one of our great historians, and I think Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream is her best work. When LBJ left office, he prepared to write his autobiography, The Vantage Point. LBJ hired Goodwin to help him research and write the book, but he wanted it to sound Presidential or statesmanlike — basically, the opposite of the candid, off-the-cuff LBJ that was always the most fascinating. The result was that The Vantage Point is stiff and unnecessarily formal — like when LBJ would give a speech on television via prepared remarks rather than the barn-burning, passionate campaign speeches that he would give extemporaneously while on the campaign trail.
After LBJ died, Goodwin culled together the raw notes and anecdotes from hours of working alongside of and talking to Johnson for his autobiography, and she put together Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream — perhaps one of the most personal biographies ever written about a President. Johnson’s candor, his brilliance, his incredible political intuition, his deep insecurities, and everything that made him so remarkable and/or frustrating to those who came face-to-face with him, worked for him, and battle against him shine brightly through in Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. Goodwin basically wrote the book that LBJ should have written because his voice is clear on each and every page. It’s certainly one of the best books ever written about a President, and it’s enhanced not only by Goodwin’s skill as an historian, but because of the unique access she had to LBJ from the time he left the White House.