Who was president in 1963

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who was president in 1963

The Death of a President: November 1963 by William Manchester

I’ve never been particularly interested in the Kennedys in general, John F. Kennedy in particular, or in wild conspiracy theories at all. I love history, to be sure, but history is broad, and there are only so many hours in a day that one can devote to this endeavor. Those hours have been drastically cut by the needs of my nine-month old. Thus, when I have to pick and choose, I will enthusiastically read the nth retelling of the battle of Antietam or the latest theory on Custer’s Last Stand rather than wade into the nutcase-riddled world of the Kennedys.

Indeed, the only reason I desired to read William Manchester’s The Death of a President was a fascinating article in Vanity Fair by Sam Kashner (available at http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/fe...). Kashner’s article details the controversy behind Manchester’s book: how Manchester was originally asked by the Kennedys to write an intimate portrait of Kennedy’s death; how the Kennedys later tried to suppress the book; how Manchester nearly destroyed himself in his effort; and how the Kennedys took control of the book rights, ensuring that no new editions are published.

The story-behind-the-story is fascinating stuff. After reading the Vanity Fair article, I was instantly intrigued with this hard-to-find edition, and its hints of profound truths. It was just like being a kid in a video store (remember those?), told that I couldn’t go behind the curtain into the “adults only” section, and vowing then and there that I would discover what transgressive treasures lay behind that beaded veil. (Turns out it was mostly soft core pornography).

I wasn’t entirely surprised, upon finishing The Death of a President, to discover that the controversy is mostly smoke and mirrors, which would dissipate instantly as soon as the Kennedy estate dropped its obstinate refusal to publish new editions. Reading it now, in 2012, long after all the principal players have died, there is nothing in it that shocks or scandalizes or does anything to change our perception of November 22, 1963 and the following days.

Really, The Death of a President is nothing more than its blunt title implies: a minutely, sometimes fascinating, sometimes irrelevantly detailed retelling of the last days of John Kennedy’s life. It starts on the eve of his trip to Dallas and ends with his burial in Arlington. This takes up 647 pages of relatively-scrunched text in my 1967 hardcover edition. There is also 10 pages devoted to all Manchester’s interviews, and appendices that include maps of the motorcade route, Dealey Plaza, Parkland Memorial Hospital (where Kennedy died), Air Force One, the route Air Force One took from Texas to Washington, and the route of the State Funeral.

If all this seems a bit excessive, well, excessiveness is sort of William Manchester’s raison d’etre.

Certainly I enjoyed reading it.

Manchester’s research can only be described as obsessive. His level of detail, nearly unimaginable. I’ve heard criticisms of his work before, but I think that is a function of the way he collects his facts and writes his history. His primary source work is explained in a short essay, and as noted above, he carefully lays out every interview he conducted. This level of preparation allows him to write this story as a novelist, deep inside the heads of each person, giving us not only their perceptions but their thoughts. This is a godlike point-of-view to take, especially for a writer of non-fiction, and Manchester displays a certain level of Mailer-like arrogance in presenting the fruits of his research in such a manner. He also opens himself up to a lot of factual quibbles. By taking one person’s recollection over another, you end up with endless he-said/no-he-said situations that unfairly call into question the book’s ultimate veracity.

The Death of a President is consuming. There are so many details (and so many ridiculous details) that you are transported into this world, whether you like it or not. I happen to like minutiae, so every time Manchester relayed a vehicle identification number or the tail number of Air Force One, I could only shake my head in wonderment. Manchester had access that no other writer ever got, especially with regards to Jackie Kennedy. Indeed, it is the vulnerability that Jackie showed in her interviews – creating an indelible grief-soaked portrait in the book – that eventually caused the Kennedys to turn against Manchester.

To read Manchester’s opus now is to have a fascinating look at late-60s Democratic politics. Manchester was an unabashed admirer of John F. Kennedy (he’d written the fawning Portrait of a President, which got him this job) and the New Frontier. When you read between the lines, there is a distinct dislike and underestimation of Lyndon Johnson. This is communicated by Manchester’s unsupported (and in my opinion, entirely wrong) opinion that had he lived, Kennedy would’ve done every good thing that LBJ did (civil rights, the Great Society) and none of the bad things (Vietnam, defecating with the bathroom door open). In fact, to read Manchester closely is to see his belief that LBJ didn’t do anything except not crash the Kennedy ship.

At the same time, Manchester’s book came out in the midst of Bobby Kennedy’s run for president. Kennedy needed LBJ’s support, so Manchester – who obviously supported the younger Kennedy – had to give grudging credit to LBJ to avoid angering him.

Manchester’s near-embarrassing worship of the Kennedys and their cohorts is The Death of a President’s most glaring flaw. Obviously, he related strongly with the young president, as both men were Pacific War veterans with a literary bent. However, that doesn’t excuse the utter loss of objectivity. He spends a great deal of time flattering the so-called “Boston Mafia” and their sycophantic devotion to John Kennedy. Anyone who stands in the way of the Beantown crew has put their reputation in Manchester’s hands. (For instance, Manchester’s handling of Dallas coroner Earl Rose is manifestly unfair. It’s worth reading Rose’s New York Times obituary for a sensitive recounting of the life of an eminently decent man. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/03/us/...).

In reality, the Boston Mafia seemed like a bunch of jerks, and Manchester never takes them to task for their undignified treatment of Lyndon Johnson. Manchester and the Mafia never seemed to get it through their heads that the Office of the Presidency of the United States is (a) bigger than one man and (b) not a hereditary right.

More interestingly for a 21st century reader is the elisions. Every time Manchester mentioned Dave Powers and the White House swimming pool – which happened a lot – I thought of Mimi Alford. Alford, of course, famously wrote about her affair with Kennedy, as well as an incident in which JFK encouraged Alford to perform oral sex on Powers. Unsurprisingly, this didnt make it into the book. But Manchester knew, didnt he? He’d almost have to know, right? These are the questions I asked myself every time he mentioned that damn pool.

Since this is a book about John Kennedy’s assassination, it should be mentioned that Manchester’s story includes a lone gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald shooting the President from a window of the Texas School Book Depository. There is no grassy knoll. There is no “triangulation of fire.” There are no shadowy and sinister agents from the CIA or the FBI or the NSA or Cuba or the USSR or NASA or [insert any other agency you want]. There is no Kevin Costner with a badly strained New Orleans accent intoning “back and to the left.”

Even in 1967, though, there were already conspiracy enthusiasts. Manchester rightly brushes them aside. The evidence of Oswald’s guilt is overwhelming and any prosecutor in the country would be happy as a clam to take it into court.

But this isn’t a book about people in their parents’ basements cultivating ridiculous pet theories for reasons that can only be explained by highly-trained and patient psychologists. It isn’t even a book about the “[d]eath of a President.” It’s about the death of a husband, a father, a man. Manchester brings this into stark relief in the beautiful closing of his book:

Unknown to her, the clothes Mrs. Kennedy wore into the bright midday glare of Dallas lie in an attic…in one of two long brown paper cartons thrust between roof rafters. The first is marked “September 12, 1953,” the date of her marriage; it contains her wedding gown. The block-printed label on the other is “Worn by Jackie, November 22, 1963.” Inside, neatly arranged, are the pink wool suit, the black shift, the low-heeled shoes, and, wrapped in a white towel, the stockings. Were the box to be opened by an intruder from some land so remote that the name, the date, and photographs of that ensemble had not been published and republished until they had been graven upon his memory, he might conclude that these were merely the stylish garments which had passed out of fashion and which, because they were associated with some pleasant occasion, had not been discarded.

If the trespasser looked closer, however, he would be momentarily baffled…There are ugly splotches along the front and hem of the skirt. The handbag’s leather and the inside of each shoe are caked dark red. And the stockings are quite odd. Once the same substance streaked them in mad scribbly patterns, but time and the sheerness of the fabric have altered it. The rusty clots have flaked off; they lie in tiny brittle grains on the nap of the towel. Examining them closely, the intruder would see his error. This clothing, he would perceive, had not been kept out of sentiment. He would realize that it had been worn by a slender young woman who had met with some dreadful accident. He might ponder whether she had survived. He might even wonder who had been to blame.


By the end, through Manchester’s tremendous accrual of factoids, with his dogged insistence on taking you through the assassination minute-by-minute, in his steadfast refusal to engage in conspiratorial nonsense, and even despite his own deep admiration for his subject, he manages to distill a huge historical moment into a human event.

It’s quite possible that The Death of a President is more important now than ever. Thanks to the internet and self-publishing, there is more Kennedy assassination garbage than ever before. People are so committed to the conspiracy that they forget it started with a tragedy.
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President Assassinated (1963)

By the fall of , President John F.
William Manchester

Campaigning in Texas

Lyndon B. Johnson was the 36th president of the United States; he was sworn into office following the November assassination of President John F. Many of the programs he championed—Medicare, Head Start, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act—had a profound and lasting impact in health, education and civil rights. He declined to run for a second term in office, and retired to his Texas ranch in January Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, , near the central Texas community of Johnson City, which was named for his relatives. He was the first of five children of Sam Ealy Johnson Jr. To help pay for his education, he taught at a school for disadvantaged Mexican-American students in south Texas.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy May 29, — November 22, , often referred to by initials JFK and Jack , was an American politician who served as the 35th president of the United States from January until his assassination in November Kennedy served at the height of the Cold War , and the majority of his work as president dealt with managing relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba. A Democrat , Kennedy represented Massachusetts in the U. House of Representatives and Senate prior to becoming president. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts , and graduated from Harvard University in , before joining the U. Naval Reserve the following year. After the war, Kennedy represented the 11th congressional district of Massachusetts in the U.

Maintaining collective security, he carried on the rapidly growing struggle to restrain Communist encroachment in Viet Nam. Johnson was born on August 27, , in central Texas, not far from Johnson City, which his family had helped settle. He felt the pinch of rural poverty as he grew up, working his way through Southwest Texas State Teachers College now known as Texas State University-San Marcos ; he learned compassion for the poverty of others when he taught students of Mexican descent. After six terms in the House, Johnson was elected to the Senate in In , he became the youngest Minority Leader in Senate history, and the following year, when the Democrats won control, Majority Leader. With rare skill he obtained passage of a number of key Eisenhower measures. In the campaign, Johnson, as John F.

Lyndon Baines Johnson often referred to as LBJ, was an American politician who served as the 36th president of the United States from to Formerly.
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Early life

Formerly the 37th vice president from to , he assumed the presidency following the assassination of President John F. Johnson is one of only four people who have served in all four federal elected positions. Born in a farmhouse in Stonewall, Texas , Johnson was a high school teacher and worked as a congressional aide before winning election to the House of Representatives in He won a contested election to the Senate in and was appointed to the position of Senate Majority Whip in He became known for his domineering personality and the "Johnson treatment", his aggressive coercion of powerful politicians to advance legislation. Johnson ran for the Democratic nomination in the presidential election. Although unsuccessful, he accepted the invitation of then-Senator John F.

Kennedy was assassinated. As president, Johnson initiated the "Great Society" social service programs; signed the Civil Rights Act of and the Voting Rights Act of into law; and bore the brunt of national opposition to his vast expansion of American involvement in the Vietnam War. The Johnson family, known for farming and ranching, had settled in Texas before the Civil War, founding the nearby town of Johnson City in its aftermath. Johnson's father, a Texas congressman, proved better at politics than ranching, encountering financial difficulties before losing the family farm when Johnson was in his early teens. Johnson struggled in school but managed to graduate from Johnson City High School in After graduating in , he briefly taught, but his political ambitions had already taken shape. Kleberg and relocated to Washington, D.

Lyndon B. A moderate Democrat and vigorous leader in the United States Senate , Johnson was elected vice president in and acceded to the presidency in upon the assassination of Pres. John F. During his administration he signed into law the Civil Rights Act , the most comprehensive civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction era, initiated major social service programs, and bore the brunt of national opposition to his vast expansion of American involvement in the Vietnam War. For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America. Johnson, the first of five children, was born in a three-room house in the hills of south-central Texas to Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr. Sam Johnson had earlier lost money in cotton speculation, and, despite his legislative career, the family often struggled to make a living.

1 COMMENTS

  1. Brigliador B. says:

    How JFK’s assassination led to a constitutional amendment

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