November 19th, 2013


JFK's Final Days: November 19, 1963

One of the most startling revelations that Author Thurston Clarke makes in his recent book entitled JFK's Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President is of a conversation that President John F. Kennedy had with his secretary, Evelyn Lincoln on November 19, 1963 (50 years ago today.) According to Clarke, Kennedy told Mrs. Lincoln that he had decided to change his running mate in the 1964 presidential election and that he intended to drop Lyndon Johnson from the ticket. Clarke writes at pages 317-8 that Kennedy said the following to Mrs. Lincoln:


"You know, if I am reelected in '64," he said, "I am going to spend more and more time making government service an honorable career." He considered it absurd that in the Space Age someone who had become chairman of a congressional committee because of his longevity could tie up a bill and prevent it reaching the House floor for a vote. In his second term, he said, "I am going to advocate changing some of the outmoded rules and regulations in Congress, such as the seniority rule," adding, "To do this I will need as a running mate in '64 a man who believes as I do." As if thinking out loud, he continued, "I am going to Texas because I have made a commitment. I can't patch up those warring factions. This is for them to do, but I will go because I have told them I would. And it is too early to make an announcement about another running mate - that will perhaps wait until the convention."

"Who is your choice of a running mate?" Lincoln asked.

Staring straight ahead, he said without hesitation, "At this time I am thinking about Governor Terry Sanford of North Carolina. But it will not be Lyndon." Sanford was a logical choice. Kennedy was impressed with his economic and antipoverty programs, and he represented the enlightened "New South" that the President needed to court in 1964.

Lincoln had not seen Johnson in the Oval Office for almost a month and had already suspected that the president was considering replacing him. Sanford would later say that although he and Kennedy had never discussed the vice presidency, he did not doubt that the conversation had occurred as Lincoln had reported it. He knew that the president had become exasperated with Johnson, but thought his comments might have been "one of those things that you say... just to get it off your chest."

Later that day Kennedy received a turkey from the president of the National Poultry and Egg Board, and had a meeting with William Mahoney, the US Ambassador to Ghana. Among the things they discussed was US relations with China. They also talked about Mahoney managing Kennedy's campaign in Arizona in 1964 and the possibility that his opponent would be Mahoney's fellow Arizonan Barry Goldwater. Mahoney had been counsel for the NAACP and he told the President that he was proud of him for his June 11th civil rights speech.

Kennedy had other meetings that day, including one with Richard Helms of the CIA (about Cuba) and with Secretary of State Dean Rusk (about Vietnam.) He also had meetings regarding his antipoverty program and on the subject of housing. Clarke also relates the following discussion that Kennedy had with his press secretary Pierre Salinger (at pages 323-4):

When Salinger came to say good-bye before leaving for Honolulu, Kennedy looked up from a stack of papers, removed his glasses and said with an air of fatigue, "I wish I weren't going to Texas." That morning Salinger had received a letter from a woman in Dallas saying, "Don't let the President come down here. I'm worried about him. I think something terrible will happen to him." He decided not to mention the letter, because he knew Kennedy would dismiss it, just as he had the other warnings. But Lincoln had no qualms about relaying her husband's premonition to him. Before going home that evening, she told him that for days [her husband] Abe had been telling her that he had a bad feeling about the trip and wished the president were not going.

"If they are going to get me," he said, "they will get me, even in church."


Happy Birthday James Garfield

On November 19, 1831 (182 years ago today) James Abram Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, was born in Moreland Hills, Ohio. He was the youngest of five children born to Abram and Eliza Garfield. His father, who was known locally as a wrestler, died when Garfield was 18 months old. The future president was raised by his mother, who said of her youngest child, "He was the largest babe I had and looked like a red Irishman."

Raised in poverty, Garfield worked at many jobs to finance his higher education at Williams College, Massachusetts, where he graduated from in 1856. He was a preacher at Franklin Circle Christian Church in 1857 and 1858, making him the only President to have served as a clergyman. He married Lucretia Rudolph in 1858 and, in 1860, was admitted to practice law in 1861, while serving as an Ohio State Senator from 1859 to 1861.

Garfield was opposed to Confederate secession, and served as a Major General in the Union Army during the Civil War. He fought in the battles of Middle Creek, Shiloh and Chickamauga. He was first elected to Congress in 1862 as Representative of the 19th District of Ohio. Garfield gained a reputation as a skilled orator in congress. He was Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. Garfield initially agreed with Radical Republican views regarding Reconstruction, but later favored a moderate approach for civil rights enforcement for Freedmen. Garfield served nine consecutive terms in congress.

In 1880, the Ohio legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate. In that same year, the Republican National Convention ran into a deadlock as the three leading Republican presidential contenders – Ulysses S. Grant, James G. Blaine and John Sherman – failed to garner the requisite support at their convention. Garfield became the party's compromise nominee for the 1880 Presidential Election and successfully campaigned to defeat Democrat Winfield Hancock in the election. He is thus far the only sitting member of the House of Representatives to have been elected to the presidency.

Garfield's accomplishments as President included a controversial resurgence of Presidential authority, as opposed to the system of Senatorial courtesy when it came to making executive appointments. He sought to purge corruption in the Post Office Department and he appointed several African-Americans to prominent federal positions. As President, Garfield advocated a bi-metal monetary system, agricultural technology, an educated electorate, and civil rights for African-Americans. He proposed substantial civil service reform, eventually passed by Congress in 1883 and signed into law by his successor, Chester A. Arthur, as the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act.

Garfield's presidency lasted just 200 days, from March 4, 1881, until his death on September 19, 1881, as a result of being shot by assassin Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Only William Henry Harrison's presidency, of 31 days, was shorter. Garfield was the second of four United States Presidents who were assassinated.