Lyndon B. Johnson, “Let Us Continue,” Teaching-Learning Materials

Classroom Activities

  1. Assess the symbolism of the speech’s title–“Let Us Continue.” Does such symbolism effectively establish an appropriate tone for the occasion that functions simultaneously to pay tribute to a fallen president while also bolstering the leadership qualities of the new president? How is the title linked to JFK’s famous words, “Let us Begin?” Are there alternative titles that would have been more appropriate? Why or why not?
  2. Review the New York Times articles listed in the selected biography as well as the Sheatsley and Feldman article located in the Public Opinion Quarterly. How would you describe the mood of the American public in the days directly following President Kennedy’s death? Taking the answer to this question into consideration, how critical to the stability of society would you rate this speech on a scale of 1-10. Why?
  3. Carefully study the text of “Let Us Continue.” How did Johnson approach foreign policy after the JFK assassination? Did he appear to extend the foreign policies of his predecessor or differ in his approach to those policies and commitments?
  4. Review the text of the speech closely. If you had to identify a lesson derived from the content of this address, what would it be? Analyzing the use of language and structure, what do you think is the most important part, section, or even sentence of the speech (if you believe there is just one)?
  5. Much of the essay contained in this unit talks about the different ways in which the White House speech writers sought to adapt to the rhetorical exigencies facing the new president. Do you think that understanding the speechwriting process is a significant part of understanding the content of the speech?
  6. Do you think that speechwriting is an ethical process given that the authorship of an address is often obscured? When considering the speechwriting process, do you consider a presidential speech that of the president or one that is developed by a team of speechwriters? Do you think it is important for presidents to have a strong hand in crafting their own speeches?
Student Research

  1. Prior to his assumption of the presidency, Johnson’s political career had been handicapped due to issues of credibility. (See, for example, The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson by Joseph Califano, Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President by Robert Dallek, and Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin). Write a research paper where you assess the actions taken or choices made by Johnson that attributed to this “gap of credibility.” Pay close to attention to his congressional career and the time period during which he served as Senate Majority Leader.
  2. When thrust into the Oval Office, President Johnson was also thrust into a set of commitments made by the previous (Kennedy) administration. In order to be made a president in his own right, Johnson would have to prove himself to the American public and break loose from the “caretaker” position. Read excerpts from Paul Henggeler’s In His Steps: Lyndon Johnson and Kennedy Mystique, Sean Savage’s JFK, LBJ, and the Democratic Party, and Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s Deeds Done in Words: Presidential Rhetoric and the Genres of Governance. What would Johnson and his speechwriters need to accomplish with the text and construction of “Let Us Continue” in order to shed the role of “caretaker” and win the trust and respect of the American populace?
  3. Read excerpts of LBJ’s memoir, The Vantage Point: Perspectives on the Presidency 1963-1969, which pertain to Johnson’s thoughts on winning the approval of the America public and establishing himself as a leader. From Johnson’s viewpoint, what is the most critical obstacle that he faces in winning the confidence of the American people? Detail your answer in a brief paper.
  4. After reviewing the newspaper articles provided in the references page included in this unit, use LexisNexis along with the ProQuest Historical New York Times in order to find additional sources which discuss the similarities and differences between Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy. What made up for the perceived disparity between these two men in terms of their leadership qualities and reputations? Which of these disparities worked in Johnson’s favor? Which worked against him?
  5. Read Beschloss’s book, Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes 1963-1964, and review Johnson’s daily diary during the period spanning November 23rd, the day President Kennedy was shot, to November 27th, when Johnson delivered his speech (Johnson’s diary is available online at the LBJ Library website). From this limited amount of research, which figures do you think played a key role in composing the ideas and language of “Let Us Continue?” After rereading the speech, can you link any of the concepts in the speech to a particular person or group of persons?
  6. Take a look at Kurt Ritter and Martin Medhurst’s book, Presidential Speechwriting: From the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution and Beyond, as well as Robert Hall’s article, “Lyndon Johnson’s Speech Preparation,” which are referenced in the accompanying resources page. Also, conduct research regarding the president and the speechwriter relationship and the importance of speechwriting to presidential success. More specifically, identify a presidential speechwriter and detail his or her relationship with the president in question and explain how involved this writer was in the workings of the administration.
  7. Locate and watch a video or read a transcript of Harry Truman’s Address Before a Joint Session of Congress on April 16, 1945 (for the text of this speech visit http://www.trumanlibrary.org/ww2/stofunio.htm). Compare and contrast this speech with the one Johnson delivered to Congress on November 27, 1963. Even though the circumstances Johnson was presented with after JFK’s assassination were different, Harry Truman was forced to deliver a similar address in the aftermath of Franklin Roosevelt’s untimely death when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while still in office. A respected and beloved president, FDR’s sudden death also left American citizens in a state of shock. Write a paper addressing the similarities and differences between the two speeches, assessing which speech addressed the rhetorical exigences more effectively.
Citizenship Resources

  1. In November of 2003, the Houston Business Journal wrote a short article appraising Bush’s emerging leadership and his ability to clearly and effectively communicate with the American people during the midst of a horrifying crisis–the terrorist attacks of September 11. The article claims that Bush’s words accumulated into six lessons that heads of government and leaders of all types of organizations could benefit from. Read over these lessons (http://www.sheltoncaudle.com/Files/HBJ_Bush.pdf). Compare Bush’s crisis communication plan explained in this article to Johnson’s response to the Kennedy assassination. Did Johnson’s address fulfill these lessons? Why or why not? Would the authors of this Houston Business Article likely contend that “Let Us Continue” effectively promoted Johnson’s leadership abilities? Are the differences in the way in which they handled these crisis situations explained by the unique contexts, the leaders’ political philosophies, the presidents’ personalities or other factors?
  2. In “Let Us Continue,” Johnson encouraged Americans to “put an end to the teaching and preaching of hate” (79), and for Americans to transform their scattered sorrows into a unified force, leaving the terrible acts of violence behind. He claimed, “in this day and age there can be no losers in peace and no victors in war–we must recognize the obligation to match national strength with national restraint” (24). Conduct a search of the Internet, and find out what you can about  Johnson’s legacy as it is seen in the eyes of American citizens today and the aftermath of his presidency. Did Johnson succeed in uniting America and fine-tuning his leadership skills along the way? Did he live up to the promises of his first heavily publicized speech, or were the constraints he placed upon himself too burdensome for him to manage?
  3. Conduct a search of the Internet and locate other American political crisis speeches that interpret unity as a prerequisite for peace. Is this notion of “peace” a primary term in contemporary crisis rhetoric in our society? Has the promotion of unity been a mechanism that American presidents have used in the past to stimulate their perceived leadership capabilities? What other terms are prevalent in crisis rhetoric today?
  4. Go to your campus library and check out one historical book written by a past presidential speechwriter and one more contemporary book written by a presidential speechwriter. Compare the two books and the ways in which the authors talk about the practice of presidential speechwriting? Based on your reading of these two books, assess what changes have occurred over time to the practice and assumptions of speechwriting as a profession.
  5. Conduct an Internet search for a contemporary news articles about the JFK assassination. Go to your campus library and also find news articles written in the immediate aftermath of JFK’s death. Compare the articles. Are there differences in the ways in which the news reported the assassination at the time of Kennedy’s death versus how they discuss the assassination now? Also, how is Lyndon Johnson’s ascension to the presidency discussed in 1963 versus now in these news articles?