For twelve years Evelyn Lincoln served as John F. Kennedy’s devoted secretary. Following Kennedy’s murder she penned a memoir of her time as his assistant under the title “My Twelve Years with John F. Kennedy”. As his secretary she was a first hand witness to his daily routine and the decision making process behind some of the biggest moments in American history. The relationship between Kennedy and Vice-President Lyndon Johnson has been documented in scores of books. But Lincoln’s account is a welcomed look into the unusual relationship between two polar opposite individuals.
It will be expected that Lincoln speaks fondly of her boss. A good secretary becomes an extension of the person that is served listening to their gripes, anticipating their next move and putting the pieces back together again after a major fallout. Lincoln is all of these but that is not the goal of this book. This book is the record of what she saw and heard between John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson. And what we learn in the book will either confirm what many felt all along or seem like the unsubstantiated ramblings of a secretary in mourning and bitter at the new Commander-In-Chief. In her defense, never in the book does she show a personal vendetta against Johnson. She only reports what she observed during her time with both of these legendary figures.
The book begins before Kennedy is elected to the presidency. In fact, in the early part of the book, he is about to declare his candidacy and gears up for what turned out to be a bitter campaign against Johnson for the Democratic nomination. The animosity and sometimes vindictive methods employed during the primaries made it even more unusual that the two former enemies ended up working together in Washington. But what is clear is that they were never “friends” in any sense of the word. They established a cordial and professional working relationship that was sometimes fragile and tense. Tragically it culminated with the events in Dallas.
Lincoln does shed light on two moments in JFK’s campaign that have been the subject of heavy debate for many years. His decision to accept Johnson as the vice-president caused shock, suspicion and in some cases outrage for Johnson was not liked in many parts of the United States. The often purported story is that Kennedy offered Johnson the nomination believing that he could help pull the southern states which resisted civil rights legislation and were wary of a Irish-Catholic nominee. There is also the belief that Johnson blackmailed his way onto the ticket. What the real reason was for Johnson’s inclusion we will never know for Kennedy took it with him to his grave. But Lincoln does give us enough to see that Johnson’s version of the events leading up to his appointment as vice-president were way off base.
Towards the end of 1963 as Kennedy was preparing for his reelection campaign in 1964, he began to develop a series of agendas that he was determined to accomplish during a second term. The biggest question surrounding his administration was if Johnson would remain on the ticket. Scandals began to surround Johnson through affiliates with the most dangerous being the Bobby Baker debacle. It has been said that Bobby Kennedy had been monitoring the cases building against Johnson who may have possibly landed in jail. Apparently Jack had told him they would speak about it when he returned from Dallas. What would have happened if he did return we will never know. But what we do know from Lincoln’s journal is that before he left for Dallas he made it very clear exactly who would be his running mate for 1964. Her admissions which we have no reason to doubt, serve as concrete statement on what was going through Kennedy’s mind in regards to the future of his administration.
The book is only 207 pages but within these pages is a good journal kept by an interesting woman who served one of the greatest political figures this world has ever seen. And in his short time in office, he touched the lives of many including his own secretary who duly devoted twelve years of her life to him.