Over the summer I made a stop at the LBJ Presidential Library & Museum in Austin on my way back from the Young Democrats of America Conference that was held in San Antonio. I last visited the museum when I was a kid with my grandparents and the thing I remember about the exhibits was the replica of the Oval Office.
This time the trip was a little more in depth. I noticed documents and exhibits that resonate to this day. There was the poll tax receipt, campaign paraphernalia, a copy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, items associated with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the first Medicaid card which was issued to former President Harry S. Truman.
One of the documents that caught my eye was President Johnson's meeting with the cabinet after the assassination.
The stable transition of our government was important. George Washington could have ran for a third term in 1796, but felt that two terms was enough thus establishing a precedent that was followed until Franklin Roosevelt. The peaceful transition from one political party to another was established when John Adams abided by the election results of 1800 and ceded control to Thomas Jefferson whom he often clashed with.
After William Henry Harrison died in 30 days, John Tyler became president thus establishing the precedent of when the president dies the vice-president takes over. This was faced with its own controversy (scroll down, it's there) as people addressed Tyler as "His Accidency" or "The Acting President" or even by his previous office, "Mr. Vice-President."
The practice was repeated after the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, and the deaths of Harding in 1923 and Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. The deaths of Lincoln and Roosevelt happened during periods of uncertainty. Lincoln's assassination occurred days after the South surrendered in the Civil War and Roosevelt's death happened in the waning days of World War II.
Kennedy's assassination occurred when the Cold War was still fairly warm. The Cuban Missile crisis happened a year earlier and there were still many more storylines yet to be written in this time period. It was important that the functions of our government continued. Yes, it was OK to be sad and mourn as President Johnson released funeral plans, issued a proclamation, and Executive Order 11128 announcing the following Monday as a day of remembrance to their slain leader to allow the country to grieve and express their sorrow. But the meeting with the cabinet and that document was equally as important to show our resolve that the work of the government will continue.
On 27 November 1963, President Lyndon Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress along with a still grieving nation regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and how the nation will move forward.
President Johnson began his address with these words:
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Members of the House, Members of the Senate, my fellow Americans:
All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today.
The greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time. Today John Fitzgerald Kennedy lives on in the immortal words and works that he left behind. He lives on in the mind and memories of mankind. He lives on in the hearts of his countrymen.
No words are sad enough to express our sense of loss. No words are strong enough to express our determination to continue the forward thrust of America that he began.
Video is provided after the break and text provided from The American Presidency Project.