January 1, 1807: New Year’s Day Levee at the White House

The greatest exhibition in Washington is the Levee of Mr. Jefferson on New Year’s day. A large number of fashionable and respectable people here make it a point to visit the President on the first of January, and that gentleman is always civil enough to be at home and receive them. It is the only great Levee day at our Court. On this occasion the company assembles voluntarily, and without invitation.

Among the personages present I observed the King and Queen of the Mandans, a tribe of Indians living about 1,600 miles up the River Missouri. LeveeHis Majesty was dressed in a sort of regimental Coat, given him by the Government since his arrival, and her Majesty, wrapped in a blanket sat on one of the sofas in the great Audience chamber, and received the visits of the ladies and people of quality; when I had the honor of being introduced she did not rise, nor did she quit her seat during any part of the ceremony.

Another person of distinction was the French minister. This great military character is distinguished by the uncommon size and extent of his whiskers, which cover the greater part of his cheeks, and also by the profusion of lace covering his full dress coat. The British minister and lady were there; they have lately succeeded Mr. and Mrs. Merry and being newly arrived, they attracted a good deal of notice, particularly the lady, who is a pretty Philadelphian.

The greater part of the Senators were there, and the few whose wives were in town brought them thither to partake of this great exhibition. So were present the principal heads of the executive departments, with their help mates. They came forth on this grand occasion to pay the homage of their respects to the chief magistrate of the Nation. The members of the House of Representatives, the respectable resident inhabitants, the officers of the army and navy, the strangers of consideration who happened to be in the city, and the Osage Indians, men and women, little and big, crowded into the President’s house to share in the festivities of the morning.

The day was very favorable, and the assembly brilliant as you may suppose. Great mirth and humor prevailed, and you may easily conceive wherefore, when it is computed that besides the smiles, cordiality and welcome which the Company received from their generous entertainer, they consumed for him a quarter cask of wine, a barrel of punch and an hundred weight of cake, besides other nicknacks to a considerable amount.

While the refreshments were passing around and the company were helping themselves, a band of music entertained them with martial and enlivening airs. Before the hour of dinner the assemblage of people dispersed, well pleased with their manner of spending the morning, and in high hope that Mr. Jefferson might long continue in the Presidential chair. The ladies in particular were charmed with his handsome way of doing things.

October 13, 1937: My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

We were sixteen at dinner last night and I was thrilled to have Franklin, Jr., and Ethel come up from Charlottesville. This was the first time I had seen Ethel since she came back from abroad and though they both told me their house was not really in order they seemed delighted with everything that they have done so far and with their household and with life in general. It is grand to be young and happy!

Eleanor RooseveltAs I looked at my two daughters-in-law, I could not help thinking how lucky we are! All the boys seem to have chosen, not only people that one can enjoy looking at, but the better you know them the more you like them. Best of all apparently we can all have good times together and I think it is a good thing for a family to be able to look back on happy times. I couldn’t sit down at table until I opened an enormous package which stretched across the arms of my chair and discovered that Jimmy and Betsy had brought me a pair of snow shoes. Jimmy remarked that he had a date with me to go up this winter to see the farm which he hopes to buy in Massachusetts and that I would certainly need them!

It occurred to us suddenly at dinner that we would like to dance afterwards and my brother and I decided that we would search the household for some one who could play the piano. At first we could put our finger on no one and the usher said he would send out to get some one. Then it occurred to us that there was a gentleman coming in to do some work who might be diverted into playing, and who had the gift of music. We corralled him and he not only played for us to dance, but later the entire party got around the piano and sang. My husband had as good a time as any one, and amused us all enormously by singing one or two old college songs.

This gay evening meant work afterwards for several of the party. Finally Secretary Morgenthau and Jimmy were told that they could go home and some of us went to bed, leaving a few of them still at their labors. When I went in to see my husband this morning, he looked at me disgustedly and said: “It was three o’clock before I went to sleep!” But I am quite sure that the good time they had earlier in the evening was worth the loss of sleep!

August 4, 1964: A Long Day in the Life of Lyndon Johnson

Tuesday, August 4th, 1964, should have been another sleepy summer day in the humid District of Columbia.

President Lyndon B. Johnson was awakened as usual by 7:00 AM and eating breakfast by 7:05.

His daily schedule got underway at 8:01 with a quick call to his Secretary of Agriculture, Orville Freeman. Then it was off for a “working breakfast” at 8:05 with his Legislative Leaders (Speaker McCormack, Senators Smathers and Mansfield, and Congressmen Boggs and Albert) and his aides (Larry O’Brien, Walter Jenkins, Bill Moyers, George Reedy, and Jack Valenti).lbj

In the middle of the breakfast, at 9:12, the President was summoned to take a call from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara – Two US Navy Warships, the “Maddox” and the “C Turner Joy” were under attack in the Gulf of Tonkin from North Vietnamese aircraft and PT boats, and retaliatory actions were being planned.

At 9:34 LBJ returned to his office with Hale Boggs and Carl Albert. He picked up the phone and started making and taking calls. At 9:41 he called Jack Valenti. At 9:43 he took another call from McNamara. Another call to Jack Valenti. Larry O’Brien and Bill Moyers joined the group. At 10:20 AM he called Congressman Phil Landrum.

The calls stopped briefly at 10:25 when Major General R.G. MacDonnell of the Army Corps of Engineers stopped in for seven minutes. Then at 10:34, S K Patil, the Railway Minister of India, entered with MacGeorge Bundy and a translator. Patil presented a letter from his Prime Minister, had his picture taken with LBJ, and was out by 10:39.

At 10:40 the President’s Secretary called to remind him to call Mr. Sweeterman. “OK, Never mind” was the President’s response, so Congressman George Mahon came in to meet with the President until 11:30, during which time LBJ talked to McNamara (twice), Budget Director Gordon, Senator Anderson, Speaker McCormick, Walter Jenkins, Jack Valenti, and the Governor of West Virginia.

He made 11 more phone calls before 12:35 when he headed for the Cabinet Room. A National Security Council meeting had been scheduled to discuss the situation in Cyprus. Bobby Kennedy, CIA Director McCone, Robert McNamara, Cyrus Vance, General Curtis LeMay, Dean Rusk, George Ball, McGeorge Bundy, and Phil Talbott were among the men that sat around the big table. The agenda had now changed; the topic was now Viet Nam.

At 1:06 PM President Johnson excused himself so that he could meet with 26 visiting doctors representing the National Medical Association.

Thirty minutes later, he headed back to the Executive Mansion for lunch with Secretary Rusk, McNamara, CIA Director McCone, McGeorge Bundy, and Cyrus Vance.

At 2:35 he joined Mrs. Johnson’s tea group (three couples visiting from Texas with their Washington in-laws and various small children), and then took a few minutes to send letters and flowers to an ailing Senator and a Senator’s daughter.

After tea with Lady Bird, he made six more phone calls, and then sent three nominations to the Senate for approval (two Federal Judges and an Attorney General for the Oregon District). By 3:35, he was able to head upstairs with Senator Russell to make more phone calls.

At 5:45 Rear Admiral Arthur Graila, who was about to take the South Atlantic fleet on a Latin American cruise, stopped by with two photographers for a quick handshake and a picture – He was out by 5:47. At 5:54 Thomas Vail, the young publisher of the Cleveland Plain Dealer got the same treatment.

At 6:15 the President instructed the telephone operator to call Barry Goldwater at Balboa Bay Club in California “at 6:40, no 6:37”. He had an important message to convey to his Republican opponent and it was urgent that they talk.

At 6:16, the National Security Council reconvened. At 6:38, a message was sent in – Barry Goldwater was on a boat and it might take 20 minutes to reach him – Should they reach him by air? The President replied in the affirmative.

By 6:45 LBJ was back in the Cabinet Room with the Legislative Leaders. At 8:01 Cartha Daloach, Assistant Director of the FBI, interrupted the meeting with another call. He informed the President that the bodies of three young Civil Rights workers (Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney) had just been found in a shallow grave in Mississippi.

The President huddled in his office with McNamara, Rusk and Bundy, and made a few more calls, including one to Mrs. Johnson at 8:35. At 8:47, a message arrived that Goldwater knew he was trying to reach him, but the marine radio keeps cutting in and out.

Now LBJ needed to reach the Governor of Mississippi. At 9:23 PM he got the message that Governor Johnson was also out on a boat. A patrol boat was dispatched to retrieve him. The President then made a call to the Governor of New Jersey, and one to his daughter, Linda Bird Johnson. He finally got through to Mississippi Governor at 9:35, and at 10:06 also connected with Goldwater.

By 10:28 he was able to retire to the Mansion for dinner with Mrs. Johnson, bringing along McGeorge Bundy and Jack Valenti, and then back to the office at 11:20.

Finally, at 11:34 PM, LBJ headed to the Fish Room. 16-1/2 hours after he had started his day, the bright lights came on, and Lyndon Johnson looked straight into the national network television cameras. It had been a long, long day, but he still needed to talk to directly to the American people:

“My fellow Americans:
As President and Commander in Chief, it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action . . .”


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