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JACQUELINE KENNEDY, HISTORIC CONVERSATIONS: THE SIXTH CONVERSATION III

March 23, 2012

JACQUELINE KENNEDY, HISTORIC CONVERSATIONS: THE SIXTH CONVERSATION III

Knoxville, Tennessee (JFK+50) Today JFK+50 continues our report on the sixth conversation from “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy,” published by Hyperion.


The sixth conversation was recorded on June 2, 1964.

Arthur Schlesinger brings up a meeting at the White House in 1962 in which Princeton professor David Donald* spoke about the Civil War. 

Schlesinger says while he wasn’t there, JFK mentioned it to him later & apparently found it stimulating.

Jacqueline Kennedy responds:

“It was so strange because I remember when the question period started, everyone was very quiet & rather nervous in the White House & the President there & Jack asked Donald, ‘Would Lincoln have been as great a President if he’d lived?’

And Donald….had agreed with him that Lincoln….was better that he died when he did.

JFK+50 Comment

Lincoln had successfully led the nation through the most difficult crisis in our history.  The question JFK posed is an important one given the difficulties of the reconstruction period following the Civil War. If Lincoln had lived to finish his 2nd term, would history’s judgment of his greatness be diminished?

Mrs. Kennedy continues…

And then I remember Jack saying after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when it all turned out so fantastically, he said, ‘Well, if anyone’s ever going to shoot me, this would be the day they should do it.'”

Mr. Schlesinger says, “Oh, really?”

Jacqueline Kennedy continues….

“I mean, it’s so strange, these things that come back, because he saw then that he would be–you know, he said, it will never top this. “

Mr. Schlesinger then asks:

“Had that Lincoln question that he asked Donald–one that he discussed before?  Been on his mind?”

Mrs. Kennedy responds….

“Oh, yes, because all the time we discussed it.

The 1st year I was married, I took a course in American history….from Professor Jules Davids.**

 I’d never taken American history & I used to come home full of these things & I was so excited. And Jack was excited that I was so interested. 

 So at that time, we would talk a lot about Lincoln…&…if he lived.”

*David H. Donald (1920-2009) earned his PhD under Lincoln scholar James G. Randall at the University of Illinois.

Donald’s 1st book, about Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon, was published in 1948.  

Donald won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 & 1988.


David Herbert Donald, http://www.millsaps.edu

**Jules Davids (1921-1996) was professor of diplomatic history at Georgetown School of Foreign Service.

Professor Davids, who graduated from Brooklyn College,  provided editorial assistance on JFK’s ‘Profiles In Courage’ & his students included Bill Clinton & historian Douglas Brinkley.

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