- Historic Sites
The Johnsons and the Kennedys are popularly thought to have shared a strong mutual dislike, but stacks of letters and a remarkable tape of Jacqueline Kennedy reminiscing show something very different —and more interesting
September 1994 | Volume 45, Issue 5
That same day she wrote Lyndon a remarkably personal letter, recalling not only his defying the Secret Service to walk behind the caisson the day before but years of friendship and support. For the first time she addressed him in writing by his new title:
Dear Mr. President:
Thank you for walking yesterday—behind Jack. You did not have to do that—I am sure many people forbid you to take such a risk—but you did it anyway.
Thank you for your letters to my children. What those letters will mean to them later—you can imagine. The touching thing is, they have always loved you so much, they were most moved to have a letter from you now.
And most of all Mr. President, thank you for the way you have always treated me—the way you and Lady Bird have always been to me—before, when Jack was alive, and now as President.
I think the relationship of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential families could be a rather strained one. From the history I have been reading ever since I came to the White House I gather it often was in the past.
But you were Jack’s right arm—and I always thought the greatest act of a gentleman that I had seen on this earth—was how you—the Majority Leader when he came to the Senate as just another little freshman who looked up to you and took orders from you, could then serve as Vice President to a man who had served under you and been taught by you—
But more than that we were friends, all four of us. …
It was so strange last night. I was wandering through this house—
There in the Treaty Room is your chandelier, and I had framed—the page we all signed—you—Senator Dirksen and Mike Mansfield—underneath I had written ‘The day the Vice President brought the East Room chandelier back from the Capitol.’…
You see all you gave—and now you are called on to give so much more.
Your office—you are the first President to sit in it as it looks today. Jack always wanted a red rug—and I had curtains designed for it that I thought were as dignified as they should be. …
[She had told a moving man to remove JFK’s marine paintings] because I remembered all the fun Jack had those first days hanging pictures of things he loved, setting out his collection of whales teeth etc.
But of course they are there only waiting for you to ask for them if the walls look too bare. I thought you would want to put things from Texas in it—I pictured some gleaming long horns—I hope you put them somewhere—
It mustn’t be very much help to you your first day in office—to hear children on the lawn at recess. It is just one more example of your kindness that you let them stay —I promise—they will soon be gone—
Thank you Mr. President Respectfully Jackie
The President wrote her on December 1: “Jackie, You have been magnificent and have won a warm place in the heart of history. I only wish things could be different- that I didn’t have to be here. But the Almighty has willed differently, and now Lady Bird and I need your help. …”
the funeral, but before she moved out of the White House to a house in nearby Georgetown, the young widow spoke with the new President about projects that had been important to her and her husband and that might serve to memorialize him.
Sixty-one days after the assassination, a joint resolution of Congress officially renamed the projected building the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Later that year Johnson wrote: “Your request [to appoint her friend Joan Braden as a trustee for the Kennedy Center] will, of course, be instantly granted. I know how much the Center means to the extension of the arts in Washington, D.C. And I also know how deep within you goes your own affection and interest in this enterprise. So much of your handiwork and so much of your own being is in it.”
“Dear Mr. President: Thank you for walking yesterday…behind Jack.”
As she wrote to LBJ on May 16, 1964, of the Kennedy Library: “It is so important to me that we build the finest memorial —so no one will ever forget him—and I shall always remember that you have helped the cause closest to my heart.”
Another project she had pursued with her husband’s support was the renewal of the then shabby Pennsylvania Avenue, an effort fostered by a new commission. As she recalled in an oral-history interview done for the LBJ Library on January 11, 1974, “I thought it might come to an end. I asked President Johnson if he’d be nice enough to receive the commission and sort of give approval to the work they were doing, and he did. It was one of the first things he did.”
Mrs. Kennedy wrote Johnson on October 26, 1964: “Bill Walton has told me of your strong endorsement of the plans of the Pennsylvania Avenue Commission, and I just wanted to express my appreciation. This project meant so much to President Kennedy, and I am most grateful that you are carrying it on.”