Vice President Johnson Quotes JFK's Famous "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You" Challenge

June 29, 1961

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Vice President Johnson Quotes JFK's Famous "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You" Challenge
Typed Letter Signed
1 page | SMC 1454

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      Background

      Lyndon Baines Johnson didn’t much like being Vice President. He had hoped and planned for the presidency, but fate and Jack Kennedy had cast him in the second spot. All his life he had wanted to be the best. Power, money, love – he had to have the most, and did, right up until 1961 when he became the Vice-President. Suddenly, after thirty years of accomplishment – a leader in the House, a master of the Senate, the most powerful Majority Leader in American history – he was in a dead end job. “Every time I came into John Kennedy’s presence,” he said, “I felt like a goddamn raven hovering over his shoulder.” So what did he do? More than wait. Even if it killed him, he’d act the loyal Veep, and if that meant mouthing the Boss’s words, then he’d voice them with the gusto of a brass band. In this letter, Johnson reveals this surprising capacity for sacrifice. Here Johnson actually quotes (well, misquotes) JFK’s famous credo in thanking a noted lawyer for contributing a thoughtful report on business investment...

      “You are a can-do man!

      “When you hear your President say, “Do not ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” you take it seriously. Your memorandum showed great perception and real research.

      “If we had more citizens like you, we could all keep our shirts on!”


      What Johnson recognized was that there was, unhappily, something in the world more important than himself: his duty to the Kennedy administration. The giant Johnson was big enough to make himself small enough to serve it.


      Typed Letter Signed, as Vice President, 1 page, Washington, June 29, 1961. To Benjamin A. Javits.
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