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John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan: dependence and interdependence

Ashton, Nigel J (2022) John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan: dependence and interdependence. In: Cullinane, Michael Patrick and Farr, Martin, (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Presidents and Prime Ministers From Cleveland and Salisbury to Trump and Johnson. Palgrave Macmillan, London, UK, 199 - 216. ISBN 9783030722753

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Identification Number: 10.1007/978-3-030-72276-0_10


In the summer of 1968, nearly five years after John F. Kennedy’s untimely death in Dallas on 22 November 1963, the young Charles Lysaght, who was beginning work on a biography of Brendan Bracken, was invited to lunch with Harold Macmillan at his home, Birch Grove, in Sussex. As ever with Macmillan, the conversation ranged widely, over publishing, politics and people. Macmillan was “wonderfully learned, full of ideas and literary and historical allusions,” Lysaght later recollected. But he was also plainly lonely. When Lysaght got up to leave after lunch, Macmillan called him back and showed him instead into his study. Surveying the room, Lysaght noticed a photograph of Macmillan’s American mother on his desk. Casting his eye further in the otherwise sparsely furnished room, Lysaght’s gaze alighted on several prominent pictures of President Kennedy. Following his guest’s eye, Macmillan “spoke wistfully and romantically of Kennedy’s visit to him only a few months before the fatal day in Dallas.” It was a final encounter on which Macmillan dwelt many times during the later years of his life, capturing, in his mind’s eye, the precise moment of the president’s departure: Lysaght’s experience of a wistful, melancholic Macmillan was far from unique. His official biographer, Alistair Horne, who visited Birch Grove regularly from 1979 onwards to meet his subject, noted that it was a house of ghosts. “In a place of honour in the library, where they had worked together during that visit in 1963, there was the rocking-chair, still draped with its plaid rug, bought specially for President Kennedy.” The tangible symbols of the rocking-chair and the photographs at Birch Grove were complemented by an impassioned private correspondence struck up between Macmillan and the president’s widow, Jackie Kennedy, which carried on throughout the remainder of the former prime minister’s life. The bereaved First Lady wrote again and again as she later recollected, “with no restraint at all on my emotions.” The surviving letters certainly bear witness to that testimony. On the unique quality of the Kennedy–Macmillan relationship versus other previous or prospective presidential-prime ministerial relationships, Jackie was adamant: In her later testimony, Jackie Kennedy added one further factor beyond common purpose and character which she felt underpinned their relationship: the inspiration Kennedy had received in the loneliness of the presidency from having someone he could talk to almost as an equal. Kennedy himself had earlier offered private testimony to the same effect: “I feel at home with Macmillan,” he confided to the journalist Henry Brandon, “because I can share my loneliness with him.” However intangible this factor might seem, it is worth bearing in mind when we come to consider the functioning of their personal relationship during the key junctures of the Kennedy presidency, especially during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962.

Item Type: Book Section
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author, under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG
Divisions: International History
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
E History America > E151 United States (General)
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
Date Deposited: 22 Feb 2022 00:01
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 05:56

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