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JFK & LBJ: 1960-1963

Kennedy & Johnson - Evelyn Lincoln

For anyone with a keen interest in either John F. Kennedy or the Kennedy White House years, this book is a MUST READ.  


Originally published in 1968, “KENNEDY AND JOHNSON” provides the reader with a unique inside view into the personalities of both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson from the latter stages of the 1960 Democratic primary season (when Johnson, then Senate Majority Leader, decided to enter the race and use his considerable stock as one of the most powerful politicians on Capitol Hill to upset the momentum Kennedy had built up during the primaries and claim the presidential nomination for himself), thru the hurly-burly of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, onward to the final weeks of the 1960 campaign against Nixon, and into the Kennedy White House.  


Evelyn Lincoln, the author, served as John F. Kennedy’s secretary from the time he entered the Senate in January 1953 until his assassination in Dallas 10 years later.   Much of her observations of the Kennedy-Johnson relationship as it developed between 1960 and 1963 provide most of the book’s content.   Indeed, Mrs. Lincoln kept a daily diary from 1955 and used it as a primary source for “Kennedy and Johnson.” There are lots of dialogue and snatches of conversations and comments from various politicians and presidential aides that give this book a compelling immediacy.     Sometimes I felt in reading “Kennedy and Johnson” that I was watching history unfold before me.  


As a way of illustrating this sense of immediacy I got from reading this book, I want to cite Mrs. Lincoln’s description of a very revealing conversation that she had with President Kennedy in the White House sometime in 1963:


One day Senator Dirksen [Everett Dirksen, the then Senate Minority Leader] called on Mr. Kennedy.   After he left, Mr. Kennedy came out to my desk and said, “Do you know what the Senator told me today? Dirksen told me, ‘Let’s face it, Eisenhower did not know much about what was going on during his Administration. He would call a group in --- let the others do most of the talking --- he used to sit and doodle for about two hours and then he would say, “Okay, boys, who is going to carry the ball?” The Senator said that it was frightening --- Eisenhower’s lack of knowledge of what was taking place and the things he didn’t know about the United States Government.   Nixon used to call on Dirksen and ask him to speak to Eisenhower, particularly about firing Sherman Adams [Eisenhower’s press secretary]. But the Senator said that he told Nixon he should talk to Eisenhower, he was the Vice President, but Nixon was scared of Eisenhower.”


“Well,” I said to Mr. Kennedy, “you and Mr. Johnson are certainly different than those two men. You certainly know what you are doing and Mr. Johnson is not afraid of you.”  


“No,” said Mr. Kennedy, “the only thing Mr. Johnson is afraid of is that I will not put him on the ticket in 1964.”


And the following comes from a conversation Mrs. Lincoln had with President Kennedy in the White House on November 19, 1963 ---


“ As Mr. Kennedy sat in the rocker in my office, his head resting on its back he placed his left leg across his right knee. He rocked slightly as he talked. In a slow pensive voice he said to me, 'You know if I am re-elected in sixty-four, I am going to spend more and more time toward making government service an honorable career. I would like to tailor the executive and legislative branches of government so that they can keep up with the tremendous strides and progress being made in other fields.'  'I am going to advocate changing some of the outmoded rules and regulations in the Congress, such as the seniority rule. To do this I will need as a running mate in sixty-four a man who believes as I do.' Mrs. Lincoln went on to write  "I was fascinated by this conversation and wrote it down verbatim in my diary. Now I asked, 'Who is your choice as a running-mate?'  'He looked straight ahead, and without hesitating he replied, 'at this time I am thinking about Governor Terry Sanford of North Carolina. But it will not be Lyndon.' “