"The Most Insignificant Office"
THE morning of January 20, 1961, dawned cold and clear. The eighteen-mile-an-hour wind gusts and the seven inches of snow that had fallen on Washington, D.C., the previous day gave way to bright sunshine and a twenty-two-degree noontime temperature. On the east wing of the Capitol, where an inaugural platform and temporary wooden grandstands had been erected, thousands had gathered to witness the swearing-in of the new President and Vice President. As Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Vice President-elect, walked onto the platform, a Texas partisan rose to his feet, waved his ten-gallon hat, and shouted, "All the Way with LBJ," Johnson's campaign slogan in his 1960 bid for the presidency. Johnson waved and smiled.
His look of pleasure at the friendly reception masked the mixed feelings he had had since accepting John F. Kennedy's proposal to become his running mate. At 12:40, as he shed his overcoat and stepped forward to take the oath of office, Johnson was nervous and distracted. During the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" by Marian Anderson he had stood glum and silent. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, Johnson's fellow Texan and strongest supporter in Congress since LBJ had entered the Lower House in 1937, administered the oath. Despite the brevity and familiarity of the pledge, Johnson stumbled over its closing words. 1
He was a reluctant Vice President. He had hoped and planned for the presidency, but fate or the limitations of his time, place, and personality had cast him in the second spot. And he despised it. From his earliest days in the Texas Hill Country, he had aspired to be the best, to outdo friend and foe. He needed to win higher standing, hold greater power, earn more money than anyone else. Some inner sense of want drove him to seek status, control, and wealth. Being less than top dog made him feel rejected and unworthy.