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1 page | SMC 2051
BackgroundThe participants in the hand-off were, as befit the dignity of the office, punctilious. The day before the inauguration of the 35th president, President-Elect Kennedy met in the White House with the 34th, President Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower, to discuss nuclear codes, conflict in Southeast Asia, Castro in Cuba. Their talk was respectful, cordial, substantive. But what they thought, and most especially about each other, was not, and had not ever been, quite so polite...
J.F.K, Eisenhower privately sneered, was "Little Boy Blue." J.F.K. called Ike "that old a--hole." Eisenhower liked to purposely mispronounce Kennedy's name. JFK said that Ike was a cipher in the presidency. Their enmity may well have gone beyond politics, further back, way before the election, to the Second World War itself. JFK had been a lowly navy lieutenant junior grade; Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. To Ike, then, JFK seemed a "young whippersnapper"; to Kennedy, Ike was a "cold bastard." But when on January 20th, 1961, the youngest person ever elected to the presidency succeeded the man who was then the oldest ever to hold the office, good manners prevailed, as this letter, written on Kennedy's first full day of office, attests:
On my first day in office I want to send you a note of special thanks for your many acts of cordiality and assistance during the weeks since the election. I am certain that your generous assistance has made this one of the most effective transitions in the history of our Republic. I have very much enjoyed personally the association which we have had in this common effort. With all good wishes to you and Mrs. Eisenhower in the days ahead...
Unremarked, if not unremembered, was Mrs. Eisenhower's comment, spoken to Mrs. Kennedy, on their way to the inauguration. Spying Ike in a formal topper, Mamie chirped "Doesn’t Ike look like Paddy the Irishman in that hat?” But that faux pas aside, the transition went smoothly enough - and the next day, "Jack" Kennedy, having first thanked his predecessor, took command of the Republic.
Typed Letter Signed (“Jack”), as President, 1 page, quarto, The White House, Washington, January 21, 1961. To President Dwight D. Eisenhower