Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Swearing In of Nicholas deB. Katzenbach as Attorney General and Ramsey Clark as Deputy Attorney General.

February 13, 1965

Mr. Justice Clark and Mr. justice White, ladies and gentlemen:

In my part of the country there is an old saying that the town which can't support one lawyer can always support two lawyers. I am sure that this town that we live in could and would rather adequately support either Mr. Katzenbach or Mr. Clark as private attorneys. But the country is fortunate, as they are both fortunate themselves, to have these two brilliant and extremely talented and dedicated young men supporting one another at the helm of the Department of Justice.

This is a very proud day for me and for the families of both of these unusual men. It is also, I think, a happy day for the United States of America.

Nick Katzenbach and Ramsey Clark to me epitomize the very finest qualities of their profession and of their generation. The Office of Attorney General is an old office in our American system. It was one of the first four that were created but it is a much more honored and a much more important office today than when it was first established.

The first Attorney General, Edmund Randolph, made the complaint that he was "a mongrel between the State and the United States." He had the title and the honor of being Attorney General of the United States, but he was left to support himself in the courts of his home State.

President Monroe some years later reminded Congress that the Attorney General had no office space and no clerk and no messenger, and he had to pay his own fuel bill and buy his own stationery.

I hesitate to observe to the Budget Director, but this might present some fine opportunities for economies that we probably should explore.

In our early history up to the Wilson ado ministration the largest number of our Attorney Generals were born in Pennsylvania, as was Mr. Katzenbach. Since then we have had somewhat better representation from Texas, since Woodrow Wilson gave us our first Attorney General, Thomas Watt Gregory, and Harry Truman gave us the father of Ramsey Clark, my beloved friend Tom Clark. So I am proud today to welcome and congratulate both of these outstanding young Americans to positions of highest trust and to tell them that no two men in Washington enjoy my confidence more fully than they do.

I think it is all right to tell a little story about the Attorney General. When his distinguished predecessor was resigning from office, he came and made three recommendations to me. He told me he wanted to tender his resignation but he would like to recommend that I name as his successor Mr. Katzenbach, that he felt sure I would be elected but he would at least like for him to serve out the rest of this term if I weren't, because he had come into the Department and worked at any assignment that was given to him selflessly and without hope of personal advancement. I told him I thought it was a good suggestion, I would consider it and I did. I asked Mr. Katzenbach to stay with me and he did.

After I was inaugurated I called him back to my office and before he came I looked through the file to see who had recommended him and how many endorsements he had gotten from the various committees in the country and what the bar had insisted that I do and how many ultimatums I had received. I couldn't find one word about Nick Katzenbach. The whole file showed the job that he had been doing all through the months but not a personal word about

So I called him in and asked him what his hopes were about his future and he said, well he wanted to continue to serve his country and his President in any way he could. I asked him if he would be interested in a high judicial appointment. And he said, "Every lawyer has great respect for the bench but I have a desire now to stay in the executive department and to contribute what I can here."

I asked him if he would consider another assignment; it was a job that wasn't in the Cabinet. And he said, "Oh, yes, I want to do anything that I think I can do for my country and for my President."

I thanked him very much. Then I reviewed the various places that needed filling and 4 or 5 days later I called him late in the evening--6 or 7 o'clock--and asked him if he and Mrs. Katzenbach would come and join us for dinner.

I reminded him that no one had endorsed him and no one had written bar association ultimatums to me but I had come to the conclusion, after careful deliberation, that he was the man I wanted to be the President's lawyer and the first lawyer of this land for this country, that I had come to that conclusion on my own because of the quality of his performance and that he had no idea how much I appreciated the way he had handled the whole matter and how selfless he had been. He said, "Well, if that is what you want me to do, we'll go on doing it." And that was it.

We had talked about Ramsey who was sitting out in my front office about 2 or 3 weeks helping me with some very difficult chores ranging over a wide variety of fields. We had concluded that his performance as Assistant Attorney General not only had equipped him and qualified him but he would make a very able assistant to Mr. Katzenbach as Deputy Attorney General.

So the next morning I thought I should call some of the Senators so they would know I was going to send a nomination up and I got busy calling them and I forgot to tell Ramsey. Somehow or other Nick checked back and said, "I just happened to remember. Have you talked to Senator so and so? You may want to talk to him." I said yes, and scratched my head and that reminded me I hadn't talked to Ramsey yet. So he comes without endorsement, too. He is only recommended by the Attorney General and the President, and I am so thankful that their families could be here with us because this is a very proud day for them and for us.

I neglected to observe that perhaps one of the reasons these men are so selfless and love their country so much is one of them spent a good deal of time in a prison camp and he knows something about what it is to have the kind of government that we have and the kind of system we have. He is very fortunate to be here with us.

The other spent a good deal of time in the uniform of the United States Marines. I don't know--maybe this job is going to be even a tougher one.

Note: The President spoke at 12:10 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. His opening words referred to Tom C. Clark and Byron R. White, Associate Justices of the United States Supreme Court. Later he referred to former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, predecessor of Mr. Katzenbach.

Mr. Katzenbach spent part of World War II in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Mr. Clark served in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1945-1946.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Swearing In of Nicholas deB. Katzenbach as Attorney General and Ramsey Clark as Deputy Attorney General. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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