tv Lincoln and Kennedy Assassinations CSPAN February 15, 2016 3:30pm-4:41pm EST
reminded how important it is for citizens to be informed. >> to me, c-span is a home for political junkies and a way to track the government as it happens. >> it's a great way for us to stay informed. >> a lot of c-span fans on the hill, my colleagues, they're going it say, i saw you ones. >> so much more that c-span does to make sure that people outside the beltway know what's going on inside it. >> c-span's "washington journal" live every day with news and policy issues that impact you. join the conversation with medic members of congress, reporters, experts and other c-span viewers. tomorrow, three journalists discuss their approach to covering washington, including politico editor in chief, co-founder, john harris. kristin roberts, national editor, will discuss the big stories of campaign 2016, especially events surrounding
the race between hillary clinton and bernie sanders. and alex isenstadt, how candidates plan to win nevada. live at 7:00 a.m. eastern tomorrow morning. join the discussion. >> coming up next on the civil war, author and historian james sw swanson compares the assassinations of abraham lincoln and john f. kennedy. highlights the differences, backgrounds of the assassins and state of the country at the time. he also talks about the experience and reactions of the two widows. the lincoln forum hosted this talk. it just over an hour. >> i'm harold holzer, vice chairman of the lincoln forum. welcome to lincoln forum 20, the 20th anniversary of our great
organization. it's time now to welcome our evening speaker. it's always interesting to find the reasons, the inspiration, that make a lincoln student into a lincoln scholar. what makes inspiration? what creates it? in the case of, say, george h.cohan, we know he was born on the fourth of july, yankee doodle dandy, born on the fourth of july and became a superpatriot and writer 0 of patriotic music. james swanson was born on the 12th of february. and as he has told me, and told many people to whom he has spoken, it changed his life. he began as a student -- oh, i
just got my own joke. it was unintended. this is going to be a very dignified introduction for c-span, isn't it? he began as a student reading in his room. he became a checker early in his life and a serious collector later in his life. and then he wrote a phenomenally successful book called "manhunt." and judging from the book lines that sound him everywhere he goes, it remains one of the most popular and relevant books written about lincoln in our generation. particularly in the 150th year of the assassination. i think you all know that he followed it with bloody crimes, the book about the pursuit of jefferson davis and the lincoln funeral, another great success.
and "end of days" his book about the kennedy assassination. i was proud to have been one of two authors who appeared at fords theater on the 150th anniversary of the actual assassination. i was the other author, our gft tonight was "the" author. not only spoke beautifully from the stage but addressed just an astonishing vigil of hundreds and hundreds of people that massed outside on 10th street all through the night in imitation of the vigil that awaited news of the gravely injured president. james was the glue that kept that evening together and brought the context that people needed. i think probably the most relevant thing, and the most wonderful thing that anybody has
said about his work, and i quote it here, patricia cornwell, who is one of the most famous thriller writers of our time was quoted in "newsweek," not long ago, that the two best nonfiction -- she doesn't want to include herself -- the two best nonfiction crime book ever written were "in cold blood" and "manhunt." truman capote could not be with us tonight, but we are so thrilled to welcome our friend, james swanson. [ applause ] >> thank you, harold, for that kind interduxds. happy to be back at the lincoln
forum. it was here a number o years ago i gave my first book talk ever as an author. and it was also the first time i've ever been on c-span. and i'm proud to say i've been on c-span a number of times since then but the folks from'reminded me tonight, harold, you far outdone me on that, you've been on 125 times. and i have only -- i've only been on 20 or 30, something like that. but thanks for having me the first time, frank and harold, and thank you for having me back. i sat through many afterdifferent speeches just like this and so i know what you're going through. you've had dinner. you've had wine. i recognize the head bobbing, the alertness coming back to consciousness. and i was in the audience i would want to hear the speaker say, lincoln and jfk were great guys, thank you for coming.
any questions? but i'll talk a little longer than that. tonight i'm going to talk about two of the most compelling men in american history, abraham lincoln and john f. kennedy. we've recently observed important anniversaries for each man. april 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the assassination of abraham lincoln. and november 2013, we marked the 50th anniversary of the murder of john kennedy. and having written books about both of events, of these anniversaries were deeply meaningful to me. i'll pause for a moment and explain briefly my interest in these stories because when an author gives a talk, i'm always keen on knowing what got them in it, why are they interest the. harold mentioned my birthday as the key thing that got me interested in lincoln. and on my 10th birthday, my grandmoth grandmother, a vet an of the old chicago tabloid newspaper scene
gave me an unusual gift, not a baseball mit or a bat or a bicycle. she gave me an engraving of john wilkes' booth deringer's pistol used to kill abraham lincoln that was framed with a clipping from "the chicago tribune" 18 of 5, the morning that lincoln died. i hung that on buy bedroom wall. i must have read that story a hundred times booth, actor, assassin, leaps to the stage, runs out the back door, and then, and at that point someone cut the clipping off in mid sentence. and so, very much like citizen kaine and rosebud, that became my iconic object as a child. i still have it, it on my mantle in my home in washington and that was really the key. in the case of john kennedy, i was alive, almost 4 years old, but don't remember the assassination of jfk but i do
remember this, the girls who lived across the street were playmates of mine, they were older, they were about 6, and 9, and their father was a conservative greek man who didn't want them to watch television and they didn't own a television. his daughters were going to go to harvard and weren't going to be poisoned by american tv. i remember my mother saying to me, a few days after november 22nd, jamie, get out of your pajamas, get dressed the girls are coming over. i said why? and my mother said they're coming to watch television. and even at 4 i knew that was remarkable they could come and watch tv. i said why is that? and my mother said, the president of 0 the united states has died and we're going to watch his body carried in a horse-drawn carriage to the u.s. capitol where he will lie in state. i remember that like it was yesterday. and i am sure many of you in this audience remember exactly where you were, what you were doing on november 22nd, 1963.
and my mother was an artist and i discovered in her closet -- she called it her morgue, she had clippings, old photographs, material -- when i was 7 or 8 i dis covered her collection of "life and look" magazine and newspapers from 1963. i didn't know what it meant, i didn't know john f. kennedy. when my mother came upstairs i knew from her tears something terrible happened in america on that day. i've been interested in jfk almost as long as i've been interested in abraham lincoln. and although these events are separated by almost 100 years, there are a number of revealing and interesting comparisons and differences between lincoln and kennedy. i'm sure you know some of them already. do you remember the souvenir penny? do you remember that penn that had john f. kennedy's face engraved on it facing lincoln? all of those mysterious coincidences. a couple. we've all bought them at the gift shop when we went to civil
war battlefields in 1960s and '70s. lincoln shot in a theater and his assassin killed in a warehouse, garrett farm. oswald shot kennedy from a warehouse and he was captured in a theater. and so that would reveal something about these events. both presidents had a vice president named johnson. jfk had a secretary named lincoln and lincoln had a secretary named kennedy, which is not exactly really true. we think of the principal secretary of of course as nicole lay and hay and stoddard, to an exte extent. both elects in the year ending in 6-0. 1860 and 1960. jfk was asked about this. and he wrote a letter back to someone and he said, are you aware, senator kennedy, that presidents elected with zero, you know, harrison, lincoln and
others, were died in office. and kennedy wrote, yes i'm aware of that but history will tell if that will happen to me. and so on that penny went on and on. but the real contrast, more compelling, first, the context of the assassinations. lincoln was killed at the climate maximum of one of the most dramatic stories in american history. a time of unprecedented threat and violence, washington was a cesspool of espionage and disloyalty. 750,000 people had died in the civil war. the attack stunned the nation. booth tried to decapitate the entire u.s. government. the war was still on, lincoln was commander in chief, he was looking for domestic policy but the where was not over. there was more to surrender. he existed in the context of no
proper presidential security. there was no secret service. there was some military guards sometime. there was some policemen at the white house most of the time. lincoln, himself, was much to blame for his lack of security. he eschewed it. he could and should have been more well-guarded. any one of us in this room tonight could have gone to lincoln's white house and more likely than not we could have said, i'm here to see the president. what's your business? i want to talk him about this or that. i want a pass, i want a pardon, i want to talk to him about my son a prisoner of war, i want an appointment as post master. we lookly would have been told, you have to wait a couple of hours, the president will give you a couple of minutes after you walked in the door chzs of white house. there was a climate of danger and fear and menace and 750,000 people that died.
but abraham lincoln was essentially still unguarded. he search received 100 death threats. someone tried to send him a jar of poisoned food. a scheme to send him clothes infected with yellow fever. john wilkes booth didn't bother going to ford's theater he could gone to the white house said i am booth, an actor. without a doubt he would have be went to the white house and could have shot him at the table. at the peak of journey, father abraham, aged physically in office, his appearance changed, he was viewed as venerable, as a man almost accomplished his mission. many ministers, black easter sermons talked about how god had chosen to take him after he completed his mission which was winning the civil war, preserving the union, ending
slavery. and many people thought that lincoln's job was done. he was at his full maturity. in the case of john kennedy, it was a different situation. we were not at a time of national crisis at moment of the assassination. yes, there had been crisis in the kennedy administration, but that hat occurred earlier. the bay of pigs, disaster. the cuban missile crisis, that almost led to war. but by november 1963, kennedy was steadier in office, as lincoln got steadier in office as time went on. and in fact, he recently concluded the limited nuclear test ban why with the soviet union. jfk thought that was his greatest achievement to date and lincoln thought his eman passion proclamation was his greatest achievement. . john kennedy talked about us breathing same air, we all have our children, and so there was
not a feeling of crisis and looming danger in america in november 1963. yes, there had been civil rights disasters, the bombing of the church in birmingham killing those poor little girls in sunday school. a racial crisis going on in america but it was not equivalent to the union being torn asunder and 750,000 dead. jfk's assassination came out of the blue and was shocking in that context. he did have secret service, it is not what it is today. at the time of john kennedy, the secret service philosophy was to protect the immediate vicinity of the president. within a few feet of him. the agents would be near him, watch the crowdsing look around. today the theory is, occupy the field, keep the public, you know, a block away, seal the president in a bubble. at the time of jfk, people could get right up close to him, and jfk encouraged that.
many of his events. he didn't want a sealed limousine, or separate himself from the people. both lincoln and jfk didn't want to be imperial presidents. they did not want to be separated from the people that they temporarily governed. and they have that in common. let's turn to their assassins. who were they? booth was a famous and much admired man. he was successful. he had money. yes, he did have a hoarseness problem with his throat, he didn't act quite as much. he would be received in society. he dated a senator's daughter, many other women. he was also not a snob. you would have liked john wilkes booth, no matter wheyou were in society. he had a knack of getting along with people and not being above them. booth was well-liked and socially connected. he had been plotting for several
months, we all know now about the earlier conspiracy to kidnap president lincoln, which booth had to give up when the war came to an end. booth seems not to have stalked lincoln in the sense he didn't make attempts to get into the white house, he didn't repeatedly stalk him to 15 sass nate him. a very much last-minute decision to kill lincoln. the reason booth acted was because he learned lincoln was coming to him. his home, away from home, to ford's theater. that was very much the precipitating event. midday, april 14, 1865, booth was sitting on the front steps of ford's theater, reading his mail, laughing at a funny letter, actors then could collect their mail from theaters they were known at. hear lincoln is coming tonight. and that's when booth, i'm convinced, decided to act at the very last minute. his conspirators were still in
town. they had weapons, revolvers, knives, he could round them up. he knew he had justify enough time, if he acted quickly, to get ready by 8:00, 8:30 that night. his motives were mixed. certainly, they were expressly political. he hated abraham lincoln, he had spoken about it, he had written about it. but he had other motives, too, aside from toppling the tyrant, as he called lincoln. as a boy booth told his sister, asia booth, fame, i must have fame. booth wanted to be remembered forever. and we do remember him. it worked. his method was fascinating. he chose to perform the assassination. it was a theatrical act. no one saw booth actually shoot lincoln but everyone saw him after he jumped to the stage. he could have concealed himself.
he could have worn a disguise. he could have shaved his mustache. he could have lifted a cloak up. instead he paused, raised the bloody dagger in the air, thrus know, it is i, john wilkes book, that has slain the tyrant. then he cried out that motto. then he cried out something which is more fascinating, i think, as he was about to leave the stage he was heard to say, really, i have done it. then he vanished. he wrote letters to newspapers that he wanted to be published. he implicated hisful l fuellow conspirators. ever the actor, he performed the entire assassination. he performed the escape. he performed his final death act engaging the soldiers for a couple hours in dialogudialogue.
drop your men. another stain on the old banner. they debated him for a couple hours. he loved that. he knew that they would remember his words. he knew that they would write them down. so it was very much a public act. booth was young, just 26. very emotional. and he would die within 12 days after an intense manhunt. lee harvey oswald is a fascinating character to counter with booth. in every way that booth was a winner and a star and admired and his company was desired, lee harvey oswald was a lifetime loser. from the time of his teenage years, his father died before he was born, lived in different homes in cities with his unstable mother. by 15, he was truant skipping high school, violent encounters,
attempted to stab someone way knife, developed delusions of grandeur. developed an interest in communism when he was handed a pamphlet in new york city. oswald was less a communist than someone who is using his interest in communism to be fascinating and interesting and unusual. he was a malcontent in the u.s. marine corps. didn't fit in. i met a marine who served with oswald in japan. he later said, when we heard it was oswald, we thought, of course it was him. we knew he was weird. he we knew he was nuts. we knew he was unstable and didn't fit in. the fascination with russia, defecting to russia, coming back, turning against russia. then he becomes obsessed with the cuban revolution. he wants to hijack a plane and go to cuba. his wife says, are you crazy? later, she said he wouldn't have been happy anywhere but on the
moon. he was always on a quest for something. violent, brutal husband. low wage, minimum wage jobs his entire life. could never hold a job. always thought he was smarter than everyone else. always thought he was better than everyone else. finally, he decided to make something of himself. in april 1963, in a little remembered episode, when he tried to assassinate a u.s. army general in dallas, texas, with a rifle. he missed general walker's head by an inch. but that gave him the taste for blood. he had never killed a man. he was in the marine corps in peace time. he had never been in bat. though he missed, loafed planning the escapade. it excited him greatly. the next time, as it turned out, he wouldn't have to stalk someone and hunt them down. his next victim would come to him. he was also young, 24 years old. he would die within two days of the assassination. the manhunt did not last long
for him. he was captured less than an hour and a half after he killed the president. there's one interesting comparison also in the case of booth and oswald. in terms of what was their plot. booth organized a conspiracy to assassinate abraham lincoln and others. we know the names of most of the conspirat conspirators. lewis powell did say while in prison, you haven't got the half of us. i'm sure some of the conspiracy to kidnap were still on the loose. we don't know their names to this day. in the case of oswald -- i realize this is somewhat controversial because it defies what 60% of the american people believe. those 60% are wrong. the evidence i believe is
overwhelming, total, convincing that it was not a conspiracy. it really was lee harvey oswald. i can't get into the detail of this now, because that's a separate lecture. if you want to hear more of my view on this, c-span found my one-hour lecture hosted by chief justice roberts at the supreme court about the kennedy assassination. i do think there were two plots with booth, which was a conspiracy. oswald, not. i do believe oswald's motives were less political than booth's. os oswald's motives were about expressing himself, his frustration, the fact he was nowhere and nothing. his wife left him. the night before he killed president kennedy, he begged his wife to reconcile with him and move back in with him. i'm convinced that if she had done that, then the next
morning, oswald would not have removed his wedding ring, placed it in a china cup she brought from russia, taken all the money he had and laid it on the dresser and gone out with his rifle that day. how history can turn on little events like that. now the characters of both men. lincoln was a fatalist who believed in and sometimes feared the power of dreams. there are at least two lincoln letters where he refers to this. one time in the 1840s, he writes about a terrible dream. another time he writes to mary and says, i had a terrible dream about tad last night, take his pistol away from him. he had the famous dream of the ship moving rapidly towards a dark and distant shore.
he was at the prow ship. he said he had this dream before important events. he said -- he told his cabinet on the day of the assassination, he had just had that dream the night before. there's another great lincoln dream which, unfortunately, is fraudulent. it's a great story. i'm sure you have heard it. the dream where lincoln awakes at nigh moaning and crying. he finds a coffin and says, who is dead in the white house. he is told, the president, he was killed by an assassin. i'm convinced, along with others, that lincoln's legal intimate from illinois and later marshal of the district of columbia manufactured that dream for his later books on abraham lincoln. we're convinced that that dream didn't happen. it's very much in the spirit of lincoln, who did have these dreams and believed in their power. lincoln was able to have the
long death bed vigil. that was very powerful for the american people. it allowed paintings, drawings, sketches to present lincoln at peace, dieing quietly in a bed surrounded by those who served him and loved him. and that fantasy was believable because of that imagery. of course, it was a brutal, bloody crime. booth was a racist and a murderer. and he stole from lincoln the joy he should have had from savoring the end of the war. he left behind a widow and two children. in the case of jfk, he was also a fatalist. in fact, on the morning of november 22, 1963, when he was in his hotel suite before getting on the plane for the brief flight to dallas, he said, jackie, when we got here last night, it was raining, it was
crowded, we were being jostled. anyone could have pulled a pistol out of his briefcase and shot me and vanished into the crowd. and then he said another thing. after he saw an ad in the dallas paper that said welcome, mr. kennedy, to dallas, it was an ad placed by someone who hated kennedy. and it was a 12 point ad saying he was a communist, he was helping the communists in vietnam. he said, jackie, look at this. we're heading into nut country today. then he said this. he said, another thing -- and he said this in the presence of jackie and dave powers, his beloved aide. he said, what would stop a man with a rifle and a tall building from shooting me? little did he know that less than one hour later a man would do that. that man was already waiting in
the building for him to come to dallas when jfk said that. lincoln had no time for good-byes. he was unconscious immediately when booth's bullet struck him. at least those surrounding him could feel they said good-bye to him. jfk experienced a brutal, ugly death that no one who knew him could console themselves. there was no death bed vigil. no farewells, no prayers over the dieing. it was a total shock, even to those in the car. the first shot missed. the second shot struck him in the upper back, lower neck. not a fatal wound. he probably could have survived that if treated quickly. at that point, jackie was turning to face him. his elbows had gone up in a neurological reflex because the
second bullet came close to the spine. she was trying to push down his elbow with her white gloved hand. you can see it in the film. you can see it in certain photographs. as she turned to him and looked in his face and their faces were six inches apart, the third shot blew the top of his head off. at that point, she climbed on the back of the car. not to escape. jackie's critics said she was trying to escape. she saw part of his skull landed on the back of the trunk and she wanted to retrieve it thinking that it might be needed by the doctors to treat him. clint hill, the secret service agent, chased after the car just before the third shot was fired. but before he could get to it, oswald fired the fatal shot. his intention, clint hill, was to push them down in the car and cover them with his body so he would be shot rather than jackie
or the president. mary lincoln sees that lincoln is unconscious. there's no amount of blood. no one could figure out how lincoln was wounded. it was a relatively quiet, unbloody scene in the box at ford theater. clint hill pushes jackie down. she said to him, they shot his head off. i have his blood and brains all over me. she endured a much worse trauma than mary lincoln did. they were each beside their husband. for jfk there was no time for farewell. the reaction was the same but different. lincoln's assassination stunned the nation. people likened it to a comet from space or a planetary phenomenon. one newspaper said a nation
bendeth down in tears. the news spread slowly because of the limitation of news spreading by foot or horse or telegram. the news media did a great job of telling the story. i like to say that reporters during the civil war was as good or better than today because they had to paint pictures only with words. they were masters of it. george alfred townsend wrote books and pamphlets about john wilkes booth and the assassination. and i think america was more in mourning on april 15, 1865 than on any day since the death of george washington in 1799. it was a true national trauma. and the funeral train journey made it more so. it took lincoln's corps on a 13-day journey across the nation. the great symbolism i think was
this. it was not just abraham lincoln coming home on that train. although walt witman said coffin that slowly passes. somehow the american people adopted that funeral train as bringing home everyone. every husband, every father, every son, every brother, every lover lost in that war. lincoln was coming home with all of them on that train symbolically. that's why i think that that funeral to this day is the most powerful funeral in american history. even compared to kennedy. i think when we look at the photographs, when we read the news accounts, we can only get a glimpse of what it must have felt like to be in america in the spring of 1865. now, later, lincoln and booth were bedevilled by various other conspiracy theaters. it was the confederate states of america. yes, i know about black flag
warfare, did the south want revenge. no smoking gun exists that ties the confederate leadership to the assassination of lincoln. i personally don't believe that robert e. lee or others would have countenanced such a thing. 20 generals said we do not believe in assassination, we do not countenance assassination. it was not us. other people eventually blamed secretary of war edwin stanton. of course, that really was -- came to the floor in 1937. why was lincoln murdered? lincoln loved stanton. lincoln said, stanton is the shore on which the waves of rebellion crash and are broken. without him i could not live. they knew each other well. they were together constantly.
they appreciated each other's talents. they didn't get along before the war. he called lincoln the original gorilla. but during the war, lincoln really came to appreciate stanton's unique qualities that helped him win the war. it is inconceivable to me that edwin stanton would have plotted to murder abraham lincoln. other rumors abounded the catholic church assassinated lincoln. but it was booth's own little conspiracy. and the signs and symbols that we saw in april '65 were very much like those in november's 63. newspapers blackboardered. businesses closed with professionally lettered signs. photographs of the dead president going up. the magazines, the "life" magazine.
the new york herald, harper's weekly. very similar. people kept these things. but somehow the death of lincoln is less visceral today. that's partly because i think everyone who knew abraham lincoln is dead. everyone who knew anyone who knew abraham lincoln is dead. then to that third generation, the people who knew the people who knew the people who knew lincoln are gone. we don't feel the immediate suffering the way many of us do in this room who remember november 22, 1963. so remember how you felt then. that's how america felt after the assassination of abraham lincoln. in the case of kennedy, it shocked the nation. it's estimated that within one
hour, 150 million people learned that john f. kennedy had been killed. it was instantaneously transmitted, after the first 15 minutes or so, by television, by radio, by nonstop news coverage over three days. it was absolute saturation. it was the first event like that that united the nation around a singular traumatic news story. and the news networks did a wonderful job of xhem rcommemor that. like in the case of lincoln. many crocodile tears were cried. many people in new york and ohio rejoiced over the death of lincoln. countless people rejoiced in the south. many people rejoiced in it the death of lincoln. friends remember in texas and tennessee where some children cheered when it was announced that president kennedy had been killed.
people did not watch kennedy go on a funeral journey across america. all of america came symbolically to washington to watch jfk's funeral. so as much as lincoln's and more, the whole nation participated in this. in the civil war, you could only participate by reading the news accounts of philadelphia, chicago, indianapolis, the other stops on the funeral train. but you couldn't see it live. we saw it all. we even saw the murder of the assassin lee harvey oswald on live television. it really seared it into american memory. now i think i will turn to the widows. this will be most controversial part of my talk to any mary lincoln fans here. i will confess, my bias at the outset.
mary lincoln was no jackie kennedy. for that matter, mary lincoln was no verena davis. i share the view of mary lincoln, i will confess that at the outset, mary lincoln was not a feminist pioneer, not a hero of the civil war. she was not abraham lincoln's great partner. yes, mary lincoln did recognize early on that abraham lincoln had the x factor. and that is to her credit. without her, i don't think lincoln would have learned how to groom himself, how to socialize properly with people. he was a truly uncouth western earn. he needed to be civilized. mary lincoln did a good job of civilizing him in the 1840s and 1850s. but after then, i have more doubts. mary was present at the scene of the assassination. we must be sympathetic to her.
two of her children had died. one after a terrible illness in the white house that crushed abraham lincoln. i'm convinced the two worst things that happened to abraham lincoln were the death of ann rutledge and willie lincoln. how 345lincoln suppressed the m of ann. mary knew someone had come into the box. there had been noise. there had been movement. lincoln looked like he had fallen asleep in his chair. he slumped and his childrn drop. thenen pandemonium. they doesn't know what happened. dr. leo comes into the box. he pronounced the wound mortal. at that point, i think mary lincoln has gone into shock. she's taken to the peterson
house across the street where the president has been taken. she is brought to the front parlor of the peterson house. on a few occasions, she's brought back to the death bed. at one point stanton orders her out of the room because he thinks she's become too emotional. which was a cruel decision on stanton's part. mary lincoln summons her few close friends in washington. most of official washington did not like her. she summons mary jane wells and a few other people. and she spends the night out in that front room. she doesn't summon tad to the peterson house. he goes home from another theater to the white house where he spends the night. now, i think that after abraham lincoln dies, mary lincoln descended into a kind of temporary madness where she went into a deep solution eclusion a
white house. she kept tad in a room with her where she was moaning and crying and grieving. and he was very frightened by this. she did not participate in any of the funeral events for her husband. she did allow there to be a funeral train to take him home to springfield where she agreed that he would be buried. she almost didn't allow it. she got mad at the people in springfield. she thought the plans were too grandiose. so there was much controversy. it was very difficult for stanton and others to deal with mary lincoln during this time. she didn't understand or couldn't handle the fact that the american people wanted more of her, wanted more of the first widow of an assassinated president. and so she stayed in the white house for more than a month. she wouldn't leave. the stories are true about things she took from the white
house. one of my favorite accounts of her leaving washington comes from benjamin brown french, the commissioner of public buildings, who wrote, today mrs. lincoln leaves the white house. it's good that she goes. i dare not write even here the things i know she has done. in terms of public finance, appropriation -- misappropriation of funds, the appropriation of objects, the obsession with material possessions. and that was very much the attitude of official washington. it was very much a good riddance to mary lincoln. and mary lincoln really did nothing of consequence to enhance the myth or lure of her husband. she even wrote an insane letter accusing andrew johnson of plotting the assassination of her husband. so now i will turn to jackie kennedy.
she, too, was frantic. she was in that terrible car ride for ten minutes. her pink suit stained with blood. she then went to the hospital. a nurse tried to keep her out of the emergency room. jackie pushed her aside. she said, i want to be with him when he dies. jackie thought he was probably dead already. when the car pulled to a stop, david powers ran up and said, mr. president, what have they done? and jackie looked up and said, he's dead, dave. she wouldn't release his body when the secret service agents and clint hill tried to take the president and bring him in. they realized she didn't want anyone to see the president that way. so clint hill took his jacket off. he draped it over the president's head and jackie released him. clint told me that later he burned that jacket. it so reminded him of what happened that day. she then comes in the hospital.
comes into the emergency room. she presents the doctors with what she has in her hands. she has part of his brain in her hands. she thinks they need it to somehow fix him. she's in a state of shock. she then gets on air force 1. she refuses to change her clothes. i want them to see what they've done. she poses for that famous photograph with lyndon johnson because she says later, i knew i had to do it for history. she's thinking about the image of her husband in history. before she poses for the photograph, it's suggested she change clothes. later she says, i looked at myself in the mirror. his blood and brains were on any face. they were in my hair. i took a handkerchief and wiped them off. why did i do that? i shouldn't have done that. then she kept the clothes on and people saw it. the plane lands.
the american people see her for the first time since the assassination. 180 million people gasp when they see her get off air force 1 still wearing that suit. and blood on her stockings, on her suit. then she makes an interesting decision. she decides she's essentially not going to leave the president's side. she knows history. she and jack loved american history. she knew that mary lincoln didn't leave the white house for a month. she knew that mary lincoln had these issues. so she walks him into the east room where they put the coffin. she then sleeps for a few hours. then she escorts him to the u.s. capitol. she escorts him to the funeral at st. matthew's. she escorts him to the final burial place until she can't follow him anymore. she's going to stay at his side
except when she's actually asleep. and she keeps it together. and she helps the american people get through the assassination of john kennedy through her brilliant self-possession and dignity and the way she honored her husband by saying, make the funeral like abraham lincoln's. we will never forget that funeral because of how she planned it and what she did and the sendoff she gave him. because she was so interested in honoring him and honoring his legacy. she only broke down during the actual memorial service at st. matthew's. the cardinal had come down. he had married them ten years earlier. he had spoken over their dead children. another thing he had in common with abraham lincoln, two dead children for jfk and two for abraham and mary. jackie was keeping it together until the cardinal then in
english said, and may the angels, dear jack, escort you to paradise. at that moment, she began shaking uncontrollably. and couldn't stop crying. caroline said, it's all right, mommy, i will take care of you. john, junior, whose birthday was that day, he was 3 years old on the day of his father's funeral, said, where is my daddy? he didn't know what was happening. then perhaps mindful of mary lincoln's example, jackie wants to leave the white house within two weeks. and she does it. then a little later she gives a television address, a movie address to the nation. it was shown as a short film in movie theaters. she talks about jfk's legacy. and most moving part is, she talks about the kennedy lie
blair -- library. i thank the american people for the letters. she received approximately 900,000 letters from the american people. most of which were destroyed by the kennedy library because they didn't want to store them any longer. which was a tragedy. but then jackie says, all his bright light gone from the world. what she was alluding to was one of the great differences between lincoln and kennedy, people saw lincoln as having completed his mission, run his course, have done his service. whereas, jfk, the future was a great unknown. he was going to face re-election and go on to other things. the bright light comment is interesting. because it's here in gettysburg that jackie got the idea for the eternal flame at arlington national cemetery. you have seen the photographs of the president behind the wheel
of the convertible touring gettysburg. they saw the essential light of peace monument dedicated in 1938. jackie remembered that and she said she wanted an eternal flame at jfk's grave. and she got it. now what about the legacy of lincoln and jfk? do they relate to each other? they seem to different. lincoln would be the first to say he is an unattractive man. he is a compelling and interesting looking man. not much of a dresser. he owned three or four suits. wore dirty shirts. wasn't a style maven. jfk changed suits three times a day. he wore the finest clothing. he and jackie were the epitome of american style, the new frontier, lincoln was not. physically, they couldn't have been more different. but they have many interesting things in common. i would love to have seen the
conversation between the two of them, because i think they really would have hit it off. or got and long and found certain things and certain profound things in common. first, they were very physically active in their youth. lincoln with the wrestling matches. jfk with the football and other sports before his back injuries and his war injuries. they believed in physical action and they took pleasure from that and they were good at it. as i mentioned, they both suffered the personal tragedy. lincoln lost an infant son. the kennedys had the death of the girl that jackie would have named arabella and then the death of patrick after two days from lung disease. they both had incredibly curious minds. neither one was a scholar. we all know abraham lincoln had
little more than a year of formal schooling. lincoln is a graduate of the first grade, essentially. but he had a ph.d. in human relations and human psychology. all those decades of legal practice on the frontier. he saw the heights and depths that man can know, rape, murder, theft, cattle thieving, defamation, breech of contract. he saw it all. jfk was obviously better educated. not a scholar, but a great active and curious mind very much like lincoln's. both were absolutely unforgettable men. if would you have met abraham lincoln in person -- we know this from everyone who knew him. they said in photographs and paintings, you don't get it. in person, his eyes lit up like a lantern. his face could change expression
from sadness to joy to laughter to delirious laughter one moment to the next. which we can't get a sense of except from these stories. they both had the x factor. whatever that thing is that made lincoln lincoln. i have always believed we can't fully explain what made lincoln great. there was something in him, the way you can't explain shakespeare, mozart. how else could someone with a first grade education write those wonderful things that we still remember today? jfk had an unforgettable charis charisma. you can see it in the press conferences, in the films. when jfk gave that first inaugural address, we remember it today, because it was so charismatic, so wonderful. remember jfk giving the speech at american university about the
pact with the soviets for nuclear arms. when he says, communism is repugnant to the freedom and dignity of man, is that not lincoln saying, as i would not be a slave, i would not be a master? if slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. lincoln and kennedy were absolutely committed to their view of the world. i have said before that abraham lincoln is one of the greatest killers in american history. he and jefferson davis share that title. lincoln would have sent 2 million soldiers to their deaths to vindicate those principals of free election, liberty and union. lincoln was not the kindly father abraham looking to get along. lincoln was ruthless when he believed he was fighting for essential and undeniable principals. jfk felt the same way. they were both cool. they had analytical minds. they weren't hot heads. both had few real friends.
they were private and distant. very much like ronald reagan. jfk and lincoln were very private people. and detached. many people thought they knew them. very few did. yes, they loved to laugh. they love a crowd. they enjoyed being with people. but they could be alone in a crowd. both had confidence in themselves. both grew in confidence during their presidencies. abraham lincoln thought that destiny had called him. not so much because destiny thought he was a great man but he was a man called for this specific task and purpose. jfk felt he was destined to survive his wounds in world war ii, to survive multiple illnesses and operations and almost death. both loved history.
they loved books and reading and history and could talk about it all night. that's the thing that would have united them best among other things. and also this. both men -- i will bring this to a close talking about i think the most essential thick about bo both of them. i would like to end not with their assassinations but with their lives. they were both dreamers who loved poetry, who loved imagination. and both believe this, with every fiber of their being. they believed in american greatness and in american exceptionalism and in america's important and vital and unique role in the world. for that, neither man would ever apologize. that was the great thing that i think united them. jackie kennedy said one thing
after the death of her husband that i think is so true about abraham lincoln and jfk. let me just read it to you. it's a couple sentences. john kennedy believes so strongly that one's aim should not just be the most comfortable life possible but we should all do something to right the wrongs we see and not just complain about them. we owe that to our country. he believed, jacqueline kennedy said, that one man can make a difference and that every man should try. so 50 years after that brilliant sunny fall day in dallas on november 22, 1963, 150 years after that moody tearful night in april 1865, to this day, we cannot let them go. thank you. [ applause ]
>> if you have questions, please come to the microphone in the front. >> one of the most controversial issues with the lincoln assassination in a recent book again took you on and you didn't have it right was how booth left ford's theater and got to the tavern when every exit of the city was guarded. >> so what's your point? >> you wrote that book --
>> you mean was there a conspiracy let him escape the city? >> i want your words on how he did it. okay? >> in my opinion, he talked his way across that bridge. people in washington thought the war was over. there was no reason to be concerned about a man leaving washington. there was no reason to try to keep people from leaving the city. so i believe he used his actor's skill to talk his way across. sergeant cobb was not part of a conspiracy. i believe it was simple as booth riding across the bridge and explaining why he wanted to go back into maryland. >> the other connection that you didn't mention is apparently that jackie kennedy reached out to professor robertson trying to -- she wanted jfk's funeral to be like lincoln's. and she actually reached out to
professor robertson to get the same -- to find the details of lincoln's funeral. and then the actual -- he was able to procure it for the lincoln -- for the kennedy funeral. >> yes. jackie did want it to be very much like lincoln's. and she did reach out to bud robertson who was -- was he still chairman of the -- >> he was a young man apparently at that time. >> executive director of the civil war centennial commission. but jackie was very conscious of history. jfk was very interested in abraham lincoln, knowledgeable about lincoln. jackie did have very much in mind the lincoln precedent for the funeral. >> you knocked the wind out of me when you said that the dream that lincoln had and the body was in the white house. >> i'm sorry. i wanted to believe that dream, too. >> so i have 30 books on the
lincoln assassination. what book or books should i go to find the real dream that happened? >> well, in ed steerer's book, i believe he has the real dream. in my book i have the real dream. about the ship and it is also in the diary of gideon wells. those three sources among others document the dream about the ship moving towards the distant shore. >> thank you for affirming that lee harvey oswald killed jfk. we talked about historical movies this morning. the harm they do with their inaccurate history. how much harm, if not ougall th harm, did the horrible movie jfk -- >> it included every conspiracy. lincoln johnson, the cia, naval
intelligence, anti-communist cubans, the soviet union. have i forgotten any? >> the mafia. many people who believe in the conspiracy theories haven't decided which conspiracy they believe in. many of them are mutually conflicting. the jfk movie had -- give you one little example. i was talking to a high school class about my kennedy book. they said, well, os warwald sai didn't bring a rifle. it was curtain rods. one, one, he had curtains all right. i believe in the most simple explanation is often the true one. within an hour of the assassination, a thorough search of the book depository revealed
the empty paper bag, the presence of the rifle and the entire texas school book deposit depository, no curtain rods were ever found. >> thank you. >> good evening. how would -- what are your observations of future president's gerald ford's contributions to the warren study and final report? >> the warren commission is so complicated to cover in a brief story. i would say, watch my hour on c-span on the warren commission. but the seven commissioners, including congressman gerald ford, did not work full-time on the warren commission. it was never expected that they would. it was the 14 staff attorneys and then the junior staff that worked every day on the warren commission. the interesting thing about
gerald ford is, during his confirmation as vice president, he was questioned about whether he made improper use of confidential warren commission documents to write his book, "portrait of the assassin." in my mind, gerald ford was not a singular or influential member of the warren commission. the staff did much of the work, supervised by the chief justice. he was involved at the key meetings. he attended all the meetings. but i don't feel that gerald ford was a major player or mover in the warren commission. >> final question. >> follow-up to the statement that you talked about, mentioned about motion pictures, interpretation, conspiracies. george f. will recently was very critical of bill o'reilly's big on killing lincoln because of historical inaccuracies. would you like to make any comment as a follow-up?
fine. >> you might very well say that. i couldn't possibly comment. >> just as bamary lincoln might have thrown away her and her husband's dignity. i wonder about jackie remarrying? didn't this take away dignity? >> here is the thing about jackie and onassis. remember this. jackie had seen her husband shot to death in front of her. she then tried to move home to georgetown. and stalkers and fans and worshipers hounded her. they looked in her windows. they took photographs. she didn't feel safe. she moved to a bigger house in georgetown more off the street. they found her. tour buses would pull up.
people would surprise her and the children. then robert kennedy is assassinated. jackie was really feeling under siege. martin luther king is assassinated. she wanted safety more than anything. and i think the reason she married onassis was for safety and to get away. jfk would not have approved. during the)riz presidency, jack went with her sister on a yacht voyage with onassis. before that voyage, jfk called in clint hill, her secret service agent and said, keep her away electric ofrom onassis. so onassis was under investigation by the united states government for financial improprie improprieties. jfk would have been appalled. you have to put yourself in the position jackie was in in the later 1960s, feeli ining besieg.
>> thank you very much. >> thank you. [ applause ] president's day on american history tv. vietnam hearings 50 years later. from february 1966, the senate foreign relations committee chaired by senator j. william fulbright, gives time to critics of the war and members of the john s johnson administration in hearings televised live to the nation. here is a preview. >> the vietnam hearings were probably some of the most extraordinary hearings ever held by congress. they were hearings and investigation into a war that was still being fought, that the congress and particularly the senate wanted to know why we were in vietnam, what the administration's policies were. and they wanted to hear from opponents of the war.
they gave equal status to critics of the war as they did to supporters of the war. it was a real debate. george kennan was of america's most distinguished diplomats and theoryists. he wrote an article for a magazine and signed it mr. x because he was a diplomat and couldn't take sides in this issue. really suggesting that the policy of the united states needed to follow was containment. it was the containment theory was the rational for the united states to send troops to vietnam. and here was the author of the containment theory saying, no, it doesn't apply here. this is a mistake. >> it's clear that however justified our action may be in our own eyes, it has failed to win either enthusiasm or confidence even among people normally friendly to us. our motives are widely
misinterpreted. and the spectacle -- the spectacle emphasized and reproduced in thousands of press photographs and stories that appear in the press of the world, the spectacle of americans inflicting grievous injury on the lives of the poor and helpless people and particularly a people of different race and color. no matter how warranted by military necessity or by the excesses of the adversary our operations may seem to us to be or may genuinely be, this spectacle produces reactions among millions of people throughout the world row foundly debtmental to the image we would like them to hold of the country. i am not saying had ining this right. i'm saying it is so and bound in the circumstances to be so. and a victory purchased at the price of further such damage would be a hollow one in terms o