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LBJ Presidency Was Born On Heels Of Tragedy

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The 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination also serves as a reminder to how Lyndon Johnson stepped in to lead the country during a perilous moment in history. NY1's Jon Weinstein filed the following report.

At the very moment John F. Kennedy was shot, the man who would assume the presidency only hours later, Lyndon B. Johnson, was as confused about what was happening as everyone else. Johnson was riding two cars behind Kennedy. Johnson's biographer Robert Caro says a Secret Service agent immediately reacted to protect him.

"Throws him to the floor, jumps over the back of the front seat himself, and throws himself on top of Johnson's body to shield him from any possible second bullets," Caro said.

Caro says Johnson was rushed to the same hospital as Kennedy and stood in a secured room with his wife and waited for news but for 40 minutes heard nothing. That is until two aides to Kennedy come into the room.

"[One] runs over to Johnson for orders and addresses him as Mr. President, it's the first time he knows he's president," Caro said.

Caro says Johnson's demeanor immediately changed, as he came to grip with what was happening. Historians note Johnson and the Kennedy's had an uneasy relationship, with LBJ often feeling frozen out of the decision making and governing process. But in one of that days most iconic images, Jackie Kennedy is seen next to Johnson as he takes the oath.

"He wants her there because he wants the nation to see it as a symbol of continuity and stability, that one president is dead but it goes on. So he asks, he sends someone to ask her to come out and she says, 'For the sake of history I should do it,'" Caro said.

Johnson was known as a master legislator before he became vice president and Columbia University's Thomas Edsall says that Johnson was well prepared to step in from day one.

"He knew how to take full advantage of what that moment did for him politically," Edsall said.

"On that very day, it wasn't just that a president was killed. Also a president was created, and to watch Johnson take the reins of power with such a sure hand and get the government moving," Caro added.

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