The Passage of Power is the 4th large volume (and last one so far, but more are coming) in Robert A. Caro’s magisterial biography of one of our most complex presidents: Lyndon Johnson.
This volume covers the period from 1960 to 1964 and is divided in five parts which cover:
1. Johnson’s decision to run for President in 1960.
2. The 1960 election
3. His role as vice president to JFK
4. The assassination
5. The transition period immediately after the assassination.
As such, it really covers two passages of power: In the first, Johnson gave up the enormous power he had as Senate Majority leader to be vice president. In the second, Johnson took on even more power as president.
LBJ, throughout his life, had won elections by working harder than his opponents (one person said “I didn’t think it was possible for a man to work that hard), having more money than his opponents (supplied through bribes from Texas businessmen) and being more ruthless than his opponents (even to the extent of cheating beyond what was considered normal in Texas at the time, which is quite a lot of cheating). But, when he went up against Kennedy he faced a man who worked almost as hard at running, if not as hard; whose father had at least as much money as Johnson’s sponsors and whose brother (Robert) was pretty darn ruthless. He lost the election.
In addition, throughout his life, Johnson had taken “nothing” jobs and, through his instinct for power and his mastery of the organization’s rules, turned them into positions of power. He thought he would be able to do this with the vice-presidency. He failed.
Just before the assassination was, perhaps, the lowest point in his life. He was powerless, he was ridiculed, he was humiliated. And Johnson was a man who hated humiliation. Then, with the shots in Dallas, he became president. His actions over the next several months were nothing short of magnificent. Gone were the negative aspects of his personality.
Later, those aspects would re-emerge; Caro will cover that in the next volume. But as this volume closed, LBJ was at his highest point.