. . . This is the time when our whole public system could go awry, not just the Republican party and the Democratic party but the American system of government.
-- Lyndon Johnson, November 25, 1963
Lyndon Johnson, trained to the use of power, his whole life geared to his driving ambition, had come now to the presidency itself, but under circumstances that could not conceivably have been more ominous. Driving through the sunny streets of Dallas in a motorcade on November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was murdered by a mail- order rifle fired by Lee Harvey Oswald. Tragedy struck in Johnson's own Texas, in the very city where, almost exactly three years earlier, he himself had been mobbed by screaming Republicans.
Now, when the nation mourned its dead President, the burden of binding the wound, of creating a sympathetic response between the new President and the millions of American citizens who loved the old, of reassuring Kennedy's Administration that he was worthy of its support, of showing a resolute face to the world, of moving a nation wrapped in sorrow out of its tears--the whole burden fell on this one man.
Here was Lyndon Johnson, the first Southern President since the Civil War, not elected but come to the office by an assassin's bullet; Lyndon Johnson, born in Texas and now the sudden repository of all the hopes of twenty million Negroes battling for equality; Lyndon Johnson, hotly opposed for the second office at the last convention by the liberal core of his own party; Lyndon Johnson, the legislative genius now challenged with the highest responsibility of executive power. Paradox crowded on paradox. The forbidding quality of these paradoxes was forgotten after the event, but they bore heavily on Johnson that November day.