I was hoping to attend the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address but was unable to do so. However, given there was another historic anniversary in November – John F. Kennedy’s assassination – I thought it might be interesting to compare both presidents from a long-standing parallel that originated after Kennedy was assassinated.
These are the basic facts.
Kennedy and Lincoln were interested in civil rights. Both presidents were elected to Congress 100 years apart (1846, 1946) and were elected president 100 years apart (1860, 1960). Each had seven letters in his last name. Both had young sons who died while the fathers were in office (Lincoln’s son William, Kennedy’s son Patrick), though Lincoln’s son was 11 and Kennedy’s son, born prematurely, died two days after birth.
Both presidents were assassinated on Fridays, were shot from behind while seated and sustained head wounds. Both were sitting next to their wives at the time.
Lincoln and Kennedy were in the company of another couple when assassinated, and both men from the other couple (Maj. Henry Rathbone, Gov. John Connally) were injured, and each had eight letters in his last name.
Both assassins were known by three names (John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald) and had ties to the South. Booth ran from the theater to a warehouse; Oswald ran from a warehouse to a theater. Both assassins were killed by gunshots before being tried.
Lincoln and Kennedy were succeeded by Southern Democratic vice presidents named Johnson, and both Johnsons had first names with six letters: Andrew and Lyndon. The Johnsons were born 100 years apart (1808, 1908). Neither ran for a second full term because of unpopularity in office (Andrew was impeached; Lyndon’s escalation of the Vietnam War was extremely unpopular).
They left office 100 years (1869, 1969) apart.
These parallels have fascinated history buffs for the past 50 years.
There are differences, of course: Lincoln was a Republican, Kennedy a Democrat, and Lincoln was in his second term, Kennedy his first. Lincoln’s murder was a federal crime because he was killed in Washington, D.C.; Kennedy’s was not because he was killed in Dallas. Lincoln was killed in April and Kennedy in November.
But it is the similarities that continue to intrigue people. The normally dependable website snopes.com clearly dropped the ball on this so-called myth, discounting all of the similarities as merely coincidence.
What might have happened had the men not been assassinated? Reconstruction would have gone much better under Lincoln’s guidance. He was willing to forgive the South, meaning there would not have been an impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and Johnson would not have been president.
With Kennedy no doubt serving two terms in office, would he have entangled us in Vietnam the way LBJ did? Historians doubt it. Would Johnson have run in 1968? Would Nixon have defeated Johnson in that election? Had Johnson won, there would have been no open door policy with China, no Watergate, no President Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter.
And what if Nixon really had won that controversial 1960 election and served from 1961-69? There would have been no JFK assassination, no Vietnam War, no Watergate scandal.
What would American events looked like if the stream of history were changed? We can only guess in retrospect.
Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident. He writes an occasional column.