Johnson takes oath of office before flying to Washington

Bill Little

“Government is a tool fashioned when the people join together to win an objective for the greatest good of the greatest number, and which they could not achieve except through united action…” 

—Lyndon B Johnson. April 13, 1946


Lyndon Baines Johnson took the oath of office as the 36th President of the United States at 2:39 p.m. Friday in the outer compartment of the airplane bearing the body of his predecessor.

He was sworn in by district judge Sarah T. Hughes, as his wife and Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy stood by his side. Only a few hours before, he had been riding behind the presidential car in the Dallas motorcade that fatefully ended just before reaching a vast highway interchange.

Johnson was surrounded by Secret Service men immediately after shots burst over the applause. He was rushed to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where John F. Kennedy died of a bullet wound in the head.

With that, Texas gained its first president — in one of the state’s blackest moments.

According to the 22nd amendment, Johnson could hold office longer than any president except Roosevelt. The amendment permits him to finish this term and makes him eligible for two more four-year terms after that.

For Johnson, it was a sorrowful means to an end he had spent a good portion of his 55 years to achieve.

When the president was carried into the emergency room, Mrs. Kennedy walked behind — parts of her clothing drenched with blood. 

Shortly after Kennedy’s death — “We never had any hope of saving his life,” said one doctor — Johnson was driven to Dallas’ Love Field where he boarded the presidential jet transport Air Force I.

The plane with Kennedy’s body aboard, arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., at 6:03 p.m.

The body will lie in state at the White House Saturday.

The funeral will be held Monday at St. Matthews Roman Catholic Cathedral, the White House announced Friday night.

The body of the slain president will lie in repose at the White House on Saturday and will lie in state in the rotunda of the Capitol on Sunday and Monday.

All who saw or sensed what was happening were stunned almost beyond belief — perhaps none so much as Lyndon B. Johnson, the native Texan who had sought the presidency in vain in 1960 and

was no in line to have it thrust upon him through tragedy.

Sent off to Washington as a 29-year-old congressman in 1937, Johnson stepped boldly into the New Deal-ism of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was considered a liberal then, but oddly enough, a conservative tag almost kept him from a national ticket spot in 1960.

One of the first Solons to go into the Armed Forces in World War II, Johnson won a Silver Star for his Navy deeds.

It was then that he went back to the House of Representatives and mourned that the lesson of conflict was “too little, too late…”

His actions still carried the Roosevelt stamp until 1945, the man he was to follow 18 years later died. 

“The liberty-loving people of the world have lost their greatest leader. They have had to say farewell to their greatest friend,” Johnson said.

“President Roosevelt knew his people. He loved people and spent his life working with and for people everywhere. And all of those people — particularly those of us who knew and loved the president — have suffered a shock from which we will not soon recover…”

Johnson became President when a hidden gunman assassinated President Kennedy with a high powered rifle Friday.


Three shots reverberated. Blood sprang from the president’s face. He fell face downward in the back seat of his car. His wife clutched his head and tried to lift it, crying, “No! No!”

Half an hour later, John F. Kennedy was dead and the United States had a new president, Lyndon B. Johnson.

The assassination occurred just as the president’s motorcade was leaving downtown Dallas at the end of a triumphal tour through the city’s streets.

His special car — with the protective bubble down — was moving down an incline into an underpass that leads to a freeway route to the Dallas Trade Mart, where he was to speak.

Witnesses heard three shots. Two hit the President, one in the head and one in the neck.

The third shot wounded Gov. John B. Connally of Texas in the side, but his condition was reported not critical.


As the gunfire rang in the street, a reporter in the caravan screamed, “MY GOD! They’re shooting at the president!”

The motorcade slowed and then sped forward at breakneck speed to Parkland Hospital near the Trade Mart.

Onlookers, terrified at the sight and sound of the assassination, dived face forward for protection onto a grassy park at the entrance of the underpass, fearing more shots. Police swarmed into the scene.

Secret Service men helped Mrs. Kennedy away from the car. Hospital attendants aided Connally and his wife.

The shots were fired at 12:30 p.m. and the president died at 1 p.m. He was 46 and the youngest man ever elected president.

Bob Jackson, a Dallas Times Herald photographer, said he looked around as he heard the shots and saw the rifle barrel disappearing into the upper floor window. He did not see the gunman.

Johnson’s political ambitions carried him to a senatorial flight with Coke Stevenson, which has gained the president more slams than votes. LBJ won by 87 votes, and, to this day, Stevenson supporters tell the story of Duval County, of people coming back from the grave to vote — and of the political machine that led Friday to the White House.

That was in 1948 — and not too many years later, Johnson was welding the Senate together as majority leader.

He followed closely the moves of his great friend, Sam Rayburn, speaker of the house.

Politically, Johnson has sometimes been a mystery, because of his middle-of-the-road policy. You might say he rode the government like a horse – with a leg on either side and sitting tall in the saddle.


“I am a free man, an American, a United States senator and a Democrat, in that order,” Johnson once said of himself.

“I am also a liberal, a conservative, a Texan, a taxpayer, a rancher, a businessman, a consumer, a parent, a voter and not as young as I used to be, nor as old as I expect to be — and I am all those things in no fixed order.”

And now he is President of these United States.