The recent fear-induced stock market plunge brought to mind a passage in my father’s memoir referencing events which arose after the assassination of President Kennedy. My father wrote, “…a panic in the New York Stock Exchange forced the closing of the exchange after an unprecedented $11 billion drop in stock values in less than half an hour after news of the shooting reached New York.”
This chaotic behavior influenced the decision to swear-in Lyndon B. Johnson as president before leaving Texas. Political security and continuity being paramount, the decision to conduct the impromptu ceremony on Air Force One before take-off was further explained by my father,
“…we already were faced with a delay that no one questioned. The plane would not leave Dallas until Jacqueline Kennedy and the late President Kennedy’s body were aboard. Those who favored swearing Johnson in immediately pointed out that it might be done while the plane was waiting. Other reasons were put forward to strengthen the argument. “Suppose we were to run into bad weather?” one of the congressmen suggested. “It could take three or four hours to get to Washington. I don’t think it’s fair to the country to delay. The world must know that we do not have a break in leadership.”
Johnson agreed tentatively but requested counsel with Attorney General Robert Kennedy. My father wrote,
“I stood at his side as he spoke to the grieving brother. He gave his condolences for the terrible thing that had happened, and then he talked of the matter of the oath.
“I need your opinion on this,” Johnson told him frankly.
He sat for a time, listening, gazing past me at the bulkhead. He nodded almost imperceptibly, and obviously paraphrasing the words that he alone could hear, he said, “You feel it should be administered as soon as possible, then. Who in Dallas should administer it?”
There was apparently some question about this, and Johnson said, “Then you’ll check with Mr. Katzenbach and let us know. All right. Goodbye.”
Minutes later, Bobby Kennedy called back, and Johnson again repeated what was said to him. “Any judicial officer of the United States can officiate, is that right? Thank you.”
The remainder of the conversation was brief; it was certainly no occasion for small talk. Johnson went back into the stateroom, where the discussion continued for several minutes. He decided that a longtime political supporter Federal District Court Judge Sarah T. Hughes should officiate, and a call was placed to her in Dallas. She was located at home, where she had just arrived from the Trade Mart, at the luncheon that was never held.
Upon Jackie Kennedy’s arrival, the group assembled in the crowded airplane for the short ceremony. My father described the presiding emotion as that of grief and “utter sadness.” He stood by photographer Caption Cecil Stoughton as this historical event was recorded.
Over the weekend, Americans grieved the untimely death of their young president and adapted to having a new president. When the stock market reopened the following week, it rebounded within days with the reassurance of having a leader at the helm in spite of the country’s shocking loss.
Rufus W. Youngblood, 20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life with Five Presidents, 2nd ed., Fideli Publishing, 2018, pp. 99-101.
Photographs courtesy of the JFK Library.
ST-1A-21-63 Left to right: media liaison, Jack Valenti; former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy (back to camera); Representative Albert Thomas of Texas (mostly hidden); dean of the White House press corps and United Press International (UPI) reporter, Merriman “Smitty” Smith; Dallas Police Chief, Jesse Curry; First Lady Lady Bird Johnson; Secretary to Mrs. Kennedy, Mary Gallagher (in back); President Kennedy’s personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln (mostly hidden); President Johnson; Representative Homer Thornberry of Texas (partially hidden); Mrs. Kennedy’s Press Secretary, Pamela Turnure; Representative Jack Brooks (Texas); Deputy Director of Public Affairs for the Peace Corps, Bill Moyers (in back); unidentified.
ST-1A-18-63 Left to right: media liaison, Jack Valenti (on edge of frame); Judge Sarah T. Hughes (administering oath); Representative Albert Thomas (Texas); First Lady Lady Bird Johnson; Dallas Police Chief, Jesse Curry (face partially hidden by President Johnson’s raised hand); President Johnson; Representative Homer Thornberry (Texas); former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy; Representative Jack Brooks (Texas); Deputy Director of Public Affairs for the Peace Corps, Bill Moyers (in back); President Kennedy’s physician, Admiral Dr. George G. Burkley; Special Assistant to President Kennedy, Kenneth P. O’Donnell.