|Lyndon B. Johnson|
November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969
|Vice President||None (1963–1965)
Hubert Humphrey (1965–1969)
|Preceded by||John F. Kennedy|
|Succeeded by||Richard Nixon|
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
|President||John F. Kennedy|
|Preceded by||Richard Nixon|
|Succeeded by||Hubert Humphrey|
January 3, 1955 – January 3, 1961
|Deputy||Earle C. Clements (1955–1957)
Mike Mansfield (1957–1961
|Preceded by||William F. Knowland|
|Succeeded by||Mike Mansfield|
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1955
|Deputy||Earle C. Clements|
|Preceded by||Styles Bridges|
|Succeeded by||William F. Knowland|
January 3, 1951 – January 3, 1953
|Preceded by||Francis J. Myers|
|Succeeded by||Leverett Saltonstall|
January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1961
|Preceded by||W. Lee O'Daniel|
|Succeeded by||William Blakley|
April 10, 1937 – January 3, 1949
|Preceded by||James P. Buchanan|
|Succeeded by||Homer Thornberry|
|Born||August 27, 1908
|Died||January 22, 1973 (aged 64)
|Resting place||Johnson Family Cemetery
|Spouse(s)||Lady Bird Johnson|
|Children||Lynda Bird Johnson Robb
Luci Baines Johnson Turpin
|Alma mater||Southwest Texas State Teachers' College|
|Profession||Teacher, Career politician|
|Religion||Disciples of Christ|
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1941–1942|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards|| Silver Star
Presidential Medal of Freedom (posthumous, 1980)
Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908 – January 22, 1973), often referred to as LBJ, served as the 36th President of the United States from 1963 to 1969 after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States from 1961 to 1963. He served in all four federal elected offices of the United States: Representative, Senator, Vice President, and President.
Johnson served as a United States Representative from Texas, from 1937–1949 and as United States Senator (as his grandfather foretold when Johnson was just an infant) from 1949–1961, including six years as United States Senate Majority Leader, two as Senate Minority Leader and two as Senate Majority Whip. After campaigning unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 1960, Johnson was asked by John F. Kennedy to be his running mate for the 1960 presidential election.
Johnson, a Democrat, succeeded to the presidency following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, completed Kennedy's term and was elected President in his own right, winning by a large margin in the 1964 Presidential election. Johnson was greatly supported by the Democratic Party and, as President, was responsible for designing the "Great Society" legislation that included laws that upheld civil rights, Public Broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education, and his "War on Poverty." He was renowned for his domineering personality and the "Johnson treatment," his arm twisting of powerful politicians in order to advance legislation.
Simultaneously, he greatly escalated direct American involvement in the Vietnam War. As the war dragged on, Johnson's popularity as President steadily declined. After the 1966 Congressional elections, his re-election bid in the 1968 United States presidential election collapsed as a result of turmoil within the Democratic Party related to opposition to the Vietnam War. He withdrew from the race amid growing opposition to his policy on the Vietnam War and a worse-than-expected showing in the New Hampshire primary.
Despite the failures of his foreign policy, Johnson is ranked favorably among historians due to his domestic policies.
Johnson was born near Stonewall, Texas, on August 27, 1908, in a small farmhouse on the Pedernales River. His parents, Samuel Ealy Johnson, Jr. and Rebekah Baines, had three girls and two boys: Johnson and his brother, Sam Houston Johnson (1914–1978), and sisters Rebekah (1910–1978), Josefa (1912–1961), and Lucia (1916–1997). The nearby small town of Johnson City, Texas was named after Johnson's father's cousin, James Polk Johnson, whose forebears had moved west from Georgia. The Johnsons were originally of Scots-Irish and English royal ancestry. In school, Johnson was an awkward, talkative youth and was elected president of his 11th-grade class. He graduated from Johnson City High School in 1924.
Johnson was maternally descended from a pioneer Baptist clergyman, George Washington Baines, who pastored some eight churches in Texas as well as others in Arkansas and Louisiana. Baines was also the president of Baylor University during the American Civil War. George Baines was the grandfather of Johnson's mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson (1881–1958).
Johnson's grandfather Samuel Ealy Johnson, Sr. was raised as a Baptist. Subsequently, in his early adulthood, he became a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In his later years he became a Christadelphian. According to Lady Bird Johnson, Johnson's father also joined the Christadelphian Church toward the end of his life. Later, as a politician Johnson was influenced in his attitude towards the Jews by the religious beliefs that his family, especially his grandfather, had shared with him (see Operation Texas).
In 1926, Johnson enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers' College (now Texas State University-San Marcos). He worked his way through school, participated in debate and campus politics, edited the school newspaper, dropped out of school in 1927 and returned one year later, graduating in 1930. The college years refined his skills of persuasion and political organization. In 1927 Johnson taught mostly Mexican children at the Welhausen School in Cotulla, some ninety miles south of San Antonio in La Salle County. In 1930 he taught in Pearsall High School in Pearsall, Texas and afterwards took a position as teacher of public speaking at Sam Houston High School in Houston. When he returned to San Marcos in 1965, after having signed the Higher Education Act of 1965, Johnson looked back:
Johnson briefly taught public speaking and debate in a Houston high school, then entered politics. Johnson's father had served five terms in the Texas legislature and was a close friend of one of Texas's rising political figures, Congressman Sam Rayburn. In 1930, Johnson campaigned for Texas State Senator Welly Hopkins in his run for Congress. Hopkins recommended him to Congressman Richard M. Kleberg, who appointed Johnson as Kleberg's legislative secretary. Johnson was elected speaker of the "Little Congress," a group of Congressional aides, where he cultivated Congressmen, newspapermen and lobbyists. Johnson's friends soon included aides to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as fellow Texans such as Vice President John Nance Garner. He became a surrogate son to Sam Rayburn.
Johnson married Claudia Alta Taylor (already nicknamed "Lady Bird") of Karnack, Texas on November 17, 1934 after having attended Georgetown University Law School for several months. They had two daughters, Lynda Bird, born in 1944, and Luci Baines, born in 1947. Johnson enjoyed giving people and animals his own initials; his daughters' given names are examples, as was his dog, Little Beagle Johnson.
In 1935, he was appointed head of the Texas National Youth Administration, which enabled him to use the government to create education and job opportunities for young people. He resigned two years later to run for Congress. Johnson, a notoriously tough boss throughout his career, often demanded long workdays and work on weekends.
He was described by friends, fellow politicians, and historians as motivated throughout his life by an exceptional lust for power and control. As Johnson's biographer Robert Caro observes, "Johnson's ambition was uncommon—in the degree to which it was unencumbered by even the slightest excess weight of ideology, of philosophy, of principles, of beliefs."
In 1937 Johnson successfully contested a special election for Texas's 10th congressional district, which covered Austin and the surrounding hill country. He ran on a New Deal platform and was effectively aided by his wife. He served in the House from April 10, 1937 to January 3, 1949.
President Roosevelt found Johnson to be a welcome ally and conduit for information, particularly with regard to issues concerning internal politics in Texas (Operation Texas) and the machinations of Vice President Garner and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. Johnson was immediately appointed to the Naval Affairs Committee. He worked for rural electrification and other improvements for his district. Johnson steered the projects towards contractors that he personally knew, such as the Brown Brothers, Herman and George, who would finance much of Johnson's future career. In 1941, he ran for the U.S. Senate in a special election against the sitting Governor of Texas, radio personality W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel in an election marked by massive fraud on the part of both campaigns. Johnson was not expected to win against the popular governor, but he ran a strong race and was declared the winner in unofficial returns — ultimately losing due to controversial official returns.
After America entered the war in December 1941, Johnson, still in Congress, became a commissioned officer in the Naval Reserve, then asked Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal for a combat assignment. Instead he was sent to inspect the shipyard facilities in Texas and on the West Coast. In the spring of 1942, President Roosevelt needed his own reports on what conditions were like in the Southwest Pacific. Roosevelt felt information that flowed up the military chain of command needed to be supplemented by a highly trusted political aide. From a suggestion by Forrestal, President Roosevelt assigned Johnson to a three-man survey team of the Southwest Pacific.
Johnson reported to General Douglas MacArthur in Australia. Johnson and two Army officers went to the 22d Bomb Group base, which was assigned the high risk mission of bombing the Japanese airbase at Lae in New Guinea. A colonel took Johnson's original seat on one bomber, and it was shot down with no survivors. Reports vary on what happened to the B-26 Marauder carrying Johnson. Some accounts say it was also attacked by Japanese fighters but survived, while others, including other members of the flight crew, claim it turned back due to generator trouble before reaching the objective and before encountering enemy aircraft and never came under fire, which is supported by official flight records. Other airplanes that continued to the target did come under fire near the target at about the same time that Johnson's plane was recorded as having landed back at the original airbase.
MacArthur awarded Johnson the Silver Star, the military's third-highest medal, although it is notable that no other members of the flight crew were awarded medals, and it is unclear what Johnson could have done in his role purely as an "observer" to deserve the medal, even if his aircraft had seen combat. Johnson's biographer, Robert Caro, stated, "The most you can say about Lyndon Johnson and his Silver Star is that it is surely one of the most undeserved Silver Stars in history, because if you accept everything that he said, he was still in action for no more than 13 minutes and only as an observer. Men who flew many missions, brave men, never got a Silver Star."
Johnson reported back to Roosevelt, to the Navy leaders, and to Congress that conditions were deplorable and unacceptable. He argued the South West Pacific urgently needed a higher priority and a larger share of war supplies. The warplanes sent there, for example, were "far inferior" to Japanese planes, and morale was bad. He told Forrestal that the Pacific Fleet had a "critical" need for 6,800 additional experienced men. Johnson prepared a twelve-point program to upgrade the effort in the region, stressing "greater cooperation and coordination within the various commands and between the different war theaters." Congress responded by making Johnson chairman of a high-powered subcommittee of the Naval Affairs committee. With a mission similar to that of the Truman Committee in the Senate, he probed into the peacetime "business as usual" inefficiencies that permeated the naval war and demanded that admirals shape up and get the job done. However, Johnson went too far when he proposed a bill that would crack down on the draft exemptions of shipyard workers if they were absent from work too often. Organized labor blocked the bill and denounced Johnson. Still, Johnson's mission had a substantial impact because it led to upgrading the South Pacific theater and aided the overall war effort immensely. Johnson's biographer concludes, "The mission was a temporary exposure to danger calculated to satisfy Johnson's personal and political wishes, but it also represented a genuine effort on his part, however misplaced, to improve the lot of America's fighting men."
In 1948, Johnson again ran for the Senate and won. This election was highly controversial: a three-way Democratic Party primary saw Johnson facing a well-known former governor, Coke Stevenson; and a third candidate. Johnson drew crowds to fairgrounds with his rented helicopter dubbed "The Flying Windmill". He raised money to flood the state with campaign circulars, and won over conservatives by voting for the Taft-Hartley act (curbing union power) as well as by criticizing unions himself.
Stevenson came in first, but lacked a majority, so a runoff was held. Johnson campaigned even harder this time around, while Stevenson's efforts were surprisingly poor. As the two candidates see-sawed for the lead, the runoff count took a week. The Democratic State Central Committee (not the state, because the matter was a party primary) handled the count, and it finally announced that Johnson had won by 87 votes. By a majority of one member (29-28) the committee voted to certify Johnson's nomination, with the last vote cast on Johnson's behalf by Temple (Texas) publisher Frank W. Mayborn, who rushed back to Texas from a business trip in Nashville.
There were many allegations of fraud on both sides. Thus, one writer alleges that Johnson's campaign manager, future Texas governor John B. Connally, was connected with 202 ballots in Precinct 13 in Jim Wells County that had curiously been cast in alphabetical order and all just at the close of polling. (All of the people whose names appeared on the ballots were found to have been dead on election day.) Robert Caro argued in his 1989 book that Johnson had stolen the election in Jim Wells County, and other counties in South Texas, as well as rigging 10,000 ballots in Bexar County alone. A judge, Luis Salas, said in 1977 that he had certified 202 fraudulent ballots for Johnson.
The state Democratic convention upheld Johnson. Stevenson went to court, but — with timely help from his friend Abe Fortas — Johnson prevailed. Johnson was elected senator in November, and went to Washington, D.C. tagged with the ironic label "Landslide Lyndon," which he often used deprecatingly to refer to himself.
Once in the Senate, Johnson was known among his colleagues for his highly successful "courtships" of older senators, especially Senator Richard Russell, patrician leader of the Conservative coalition and arguably the most powerful man in the Senate. Johnson proceeded to gain Russell's favor in the same way that he had "courted" Speaker Sam Rayburn and gained his crucial support in the House.
Johnson was appointed to the Senate Armed Services Committee, and later in 1950, he helped create the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee. Johnson became its chairman and conducted investigations of defense costs and efficiency. These investigations tended to dig out old forgotten investigations and demand actions that were already being taken by the Truman Administration, although it can be said that the committee's investigations caused the changes. However, Johnson's brilliant handling of the press, the efficiency with which his committee issued new reports, and the fact that he ensured every report was endorsed unanimously by the committee all brought him headlines and national attention.
In the 1952 general election Republicans won a majority in both House and Senate. Among defeated Democrats that year was McFarland, who lost to then-little-known Barry Goldwater, Johnson's future presidential opponent.
In January 1953, Johnson was chosen by his fellow Democrats to be the minority leader. Thus, he became the least senior Senator ever elected to this position, and one of the least senior party leaders in the history of the Senate. The whip is usually first in line to replace party leader (e.g., most recently whip Harry Reid became Senate Minority Leader after Tom Daschle's defeat).
One of his first actions was to eliminate the seniority system in appointment to a committee, while retaining it in terms of chairmanships. In the 1954 election, Johnson was re-elected to the Senate, and since the Democrats won the majority in the Senate, Johnson became majority leader. Former majority leader, William Knowland was elected minority leader. Johnson's duties were to schedule legislation and help pass measures favored by the Democrats. Johnson, Rayburn and President Dwight D. Eisenhower worked smoothly together in passing Eisenhower's domestic and foreign agenda. As Majority Leader, Johnson was responsible for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first civil rights legislation passed by the Senate since Reconstruction.
Historians Caro and Dallek consider Lyndon Johnson the most effective Senate majority leader in history. He was unusually proficient at gathering information. One biographer suggests he was "the greatest intelligence gatherer Washington has ever known", discovering exactly where every Senator stood, his philosophy and prejudices, his strengths and weaknesses, and what it took to break him. Robert Baker claimed that Johnson would occasionally send senators on NATO trips in order to avoid their dissenting votes. Central to Johnson's control was "The Treatment", described by two journalists:
Johnson's success in the Senate made him a possible Democratic presidential candidate. He was the "favorite son" candidate of the Texas delegation at the Party's national convention in 1956. In 1960, after the failure of the "Stop Kennedy" coalition he had formed with Adlai Stevenson, Stuart Symington, and Hubert Humphrey, Johnson received 409 votes on the only ballot at the Democratic convention, which nominated John F. Kennedy.
Tip O'Neill, then a representative from Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts, recalled that Johnson approached him at the convention and said, "Tip, I'd like to have you with me on the second ballot." O'Neill, understanding the influence of the Kennedy name, replied, "Senator, there's not going to be any second ballot."
During the convention, Kennedy designated Johnson as his choice for Vice President. Some later reports (such as Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s) say that Kennedy offered the position to Johnson as a courtesy and did not expect him to accept. Others (such as W. Marvin Watson) say that the Kennedy campaign was desperate to win the 1960 election against Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and needed Johnson on the ticket to help carry Southern states.
According to some other sources, Kennedy did not want Johnson to be his running-mate and Vice President, and did not even want to ask him. JFK's reported choice was Symington. Johnson, however, decided to seek the Vice Presidency and with Speaker Rayburn's help pressured Kennedy to give him a spot.
At the same time as his Vice Presidential run, Johnson also sought a third term in the U.S. Senate. According to Robert Caro, "On November 5, 1960, Lyndon Johnson won election for both the vice presidency of the United States, on the Kennedy-Johnson ticket, and for a third term as Senator (he had Texas law changed to allow him to run for both offices). When he won the vice presidency, he made arrangements to resign from the Senate, as he was required to do under federal law, as soon as it convened on January 3, 1961." (In 1988, Lloyd Bentsen, the Vice Presidential running mate of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, and also a Senator from Texas, took advantage of "Lyndon's law," and was able to retain his seat in the Senate despite Dukakis' loss to George H. W. Bush. The same went for Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut in 2000 after Al Gore lost to George W. Bush. In 2008, Joseph Biden was elected Vice President and was re-elected U.S. Senator, as Johnson had done in 1960.)
Johnson was re-elected Senator with 1,306,605 votes (58%) to Republican John Tower's 927,653 (41.1%). Fellow Democrat William A. Blakley was appointed to replace Johnson as Senator, but Blakley lost a special election in May 1961 to Tower.
After the election, Johnson found himself powerless. Despite Kennedy's efforts to keep Johnson busy, informed, and at the White House often, his advisors and even some of his family were more dismissive to the Texan. Kennedy appointed him to jobs such as head of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, through which he worked with African Americans and other minorities. Though Kennedy may have intended this to remain a more nominal position, Taylor Branch in Pillar of Fire contends that Johnson served to push the Kennedy administration's actions for civil rights further and faster than Kennedy originally intended to go. Branch notes the irony of Johnson, who the Kennedy family hoped would appeal to conservative southern voters, being the advocate for civil rights. In particular he notes Johnson's Memorial Day 1963 speech at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as being a catalyst that led to more action.
Johnson took on numerous minor diplomatic missions, which gave him limited insights into global issues. He was allowed to observe Cabinet and National Security Council meetings. Kennedy did give Johnson control over all presidential appointments involving Texas, and he was appointed chairman of the President's Ad Hoc Committee for Science. When, in April 1961, the Soviets beat the U.S. with the first manned spaceflight, Kennedy tasked Johnson with coming up with a 'scientific bonanza' that would prove world leadership. Johnson knew that Project Apollo and an enlarged NASA were feasible, so he steered the recommendation towards a program for landing an American on the moon.
Two hours and eight minutes after President Kennedy was assassinated in a motorcade at Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas, Johnson was sworn in as President on Air Force One in Dallas at Love Field Airport on November 22, 1963. He was sworn in by Federal Judge Sarah T. Hughes, a family friend, making him the first President sworn in by a woman. He is also the only President to have been sworn in on Texas soil. Johnson did not swear on a Bible, as there were none on Air Force One; a Roman Catholic missal was found in Kennedy's desk and was used for the swearing-in ceremony.
Johnson created a panel headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, known as the Warren Commission, to investigate Kennedy's assassination. The commission conducted hearings and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination. Not everyone agreed with the Warren Commission, however, and numerous public and private investigations continued for decades after Johnson left office. The wave of national grief following the assassination gave enormous momentum to Johnson's promise to carry out Kennedy's programs. He retained senior Kennedy appointees, some for the full term of his presidency. Even the late President's brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, with whom Johnson had a notoriously difficult relationship, remained in office until leaving in 1964 to run for the Senate.
On September 7, 1964, Johnson's campaign managers for the 1964 presidential election broadcast the "Daisy ad." It portrayed a little girl picking petals from a daisy, counting up to ten. Then a baritone voice took over, counted down from ten to zero and a nuclear bomb exploded. The message was that Barry Goldwater meant nuclear war. Although it only aired the one time, it escalated into a very heated election. Johnson won the presidency by a landslide with 61% of the vote and the then-widest popular margin in the 20th century — more than 15 million votes (this was later surpassed by incumbent President Nixon's defeat of Senator McGovern in 1972).. Percentage-wise, Johnson's popular vote margin of over 22 percentage points is a record that stands to this day.
In the summer of 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was organized with the purpose of challenging Mississippi's all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention of that year as not representative of all Mississippians. At the national convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey the MFDP claimed the seats for delegates for Mississippi, not on the grounds of the Party rules, but because the official Mississippi delegation had been elected by a primary conducted under Jim Crow laws in which blacks were excluded because of poll taxes, literacy tests, and even violence against black voters. The national Party’s liberal leaders supported a compromise in which the white delegation and the MFDP would have an even division of the seats; Johnson was concerned that, while the regular Democrats of Mississippi would probably vote for Goldwater anyway, if the Democratic Party rejected the regular Democrats, he would lose the Democratic Party political structure that he needed to win in the South. Eventually, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther and black civil rights leaders (including Roy Wilkins, Martin Luther King, and Bayard Rustin) worked out a compromise with MFDP leaders: the MFDP would receive two non-voting seats on the floor of the Convention; the regular Mississippi delegation would be required to pledge to support the party ticket; and no future Democratic convention would accept a delegation chosen by a discriminatory poll. When the leaders took the proposal back to the 64 members who had made the bus trip to Atlantic City, they voted it down. As MFDP Vice Chair Fannie Lou Hamer said, "We didn't come all the way up here to compromise for no more than we’d gotten here. We didn't come all this way for no two seats, 'cause all of us is tired." The failure of the compromise effort allowed the rest of the Democratic Party to conclude that the MFDP was simply being unreasonable, and they lost a great deal of their liberal support. After that, the convention went smoothly for Johnson without a searing battle over civil rights. Despite the landslide victory, Johnson, who carried the South as a whole in the election, lost the Deep South states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina, the first time a Democratic candidate had done so since Reconstruction.
Johnson won the presidency by a majority of 61 percent and said he would “carry forward the plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Not because of our sorrow or sympathy, but because they are right.” "1964 Year In Review"
Johnson played a role in a historic episode during the early 1960s, known as the Chicken War. France and West Germany had placed tariffs on imports of U.S. chicken. Diplomacy failed and on December 4, 1963, two weeks after taking office, President Johnson imposed a 25 percent tax (almost 10 times the average U.S. tariff) on potato starch, dextrin, brandy, and light trucks. Officially, the tax targeted items imported from Europe as approximating the value of lost American chicken sales to Europe.
In retrospect, audio tapes from the Johnson White House, revealed a quid pro quo unrelated to chicken. In January 1964, President Johnson attempted to convince United Auto Workers's president Walter Reuther not to initiate a strike just prior the 1964 election and to support the president's civil rights platform. Reuther in turn wanted Johnson to respond to Volkswagen's increased shipments to the United States.
The Chicken Tax directly curtailed importation of German-built Volkswagen Type 2 vans in configurations that qualified them as light trucks—that is, commercial vans and pickups. "In 1964 U.S. imports of "automobile trucks" from West Germany declined to a value of $5.7 million—about one-third the value imported in the previous year. Soon after, Volkswagen cargo vans and pickup trucks, the intended targets, "practically disappeared from the U.S. market."
As of 2009, the Chicken tax on light trucks remains in effect, having protected U.S. domestic automakers from foreign light truck production and reduced pressure on Detroit to introduce vehicles that polluted less or offered increased fuel economy. Robert Z. Lawrence, professor of International Trade and Investment at Harvard University, contends the Chicken Tax crippled the U.S. automobile industry, by insulating it from real competition in light trucks for 40 years.
In conjunction with the civil rights movement, Johnson overcame southern resistance and convinced Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed most forms of racial segregation. John Kennedy originally proposed the Act and had lined up the necessary votes in the House to pass his civil rights act by the time of his death in November 1963, but it was Johnson who pushed it through the Senate and signed it into law on July 2, 1964. Legend has it that, as he put down his pen, Johnson told an aide, "We have lost the South for a generation", anticipating a coming backlash from Southern whites against Johnson's Democratic Party.
In 1965, he achieved passage of a second civil rights bill, the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in voting, thus allowing millions of southern blacks to vote for the first time. In accordance with the act, several states, "seven of the eleven southern states of the former confederacy" - Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia — were subjected to the procedure of preclearance in 1965, while Texas, home to the majority of the African American population at the time, followed in 1975.
After the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo, Johnson went on television to announce the arrest of four Ku Klux Klansmen implicated in her death. He angrily denounced the Klan as a "hooded society of bigots," and warned them to "return to a decent society before it's too late." Johnson was the first President to arrest and prosecute members of the Klan since Ulysses S. Grant about 93 years earlier. He turned the themes of Christian redemption to push for civil rights, thereby mobilizing support from churches North and South.
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At the Howard University commencement address on June 4, 1965, he said that both the government and the nation needed to help achieve goals:
|“||To shatter forever not only the barriers of law and public practice, but the walls which bound the condition of many by the color of his skin. To dissolve, as best we can, the antique enmities of the heart which diminish the holder, divide the great democracy, and do wrong — great wrong — to the children of God...||”|
The Great Society program, with its name coined from one of Johnson's speeches, became Johnson's agenda for Congress in January 1965: aid to education, attack on disease, Medicare, urban renewal, beautification, conservation, development of depressed regions, a wide-scale fight against poverty, control and prevention of crime, and removal of obstacles to the right to vote. Congress, at times augmenting or amending, enacted many of Johnson's recommendations.
Johnson had a lifelong commitment to the belief that education was the cure for both ignorance and poverty, and was an essential component of the American Dream, especially for minorities who endured poor facilities and tight-fisted budgets from local taxes. He made education a top priority of the Great Society, with an emphasis on helping poor children. After the 1964 landslide brought in many new liberal Congressmen, he had the votes for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. For the first time, large amounts of federal money went to public schools. In practice ESEA meant helping all public school districts, with more money going to districts that had large proportions of students from poor families (which included all the big cities). However, for the first time private schools (most of them Catholic schools in the inner cities) received services, such as library funding, comprising about 12% of the ESEA budget. As Dallek reports, researchers soon found that poverty had more to do with family background and neighborhood conditions than the quantity of education a child received. Early studies suggested initial improvements for poor kids helped by ESEA reading and math programs, but later assessments indicated that benefits faded quickly and left students little better off than those not in the programs. Johnson’s second major education program was the Higher Education Act of 1965, which focused on funding for lower income students, including grants, work-study money, and government loans. He set up the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, to support humanists and artists (as the WPA once did). Although ESEA solidified Johnson's support among K-12 teachers' unions, neither the Higher Education Act nor the Endowments mollified the college professors and students growing increasingly uneasy with the war in Vietnam. In 1967 Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act to create educational television programs to supplement the broadcast networks.
In 1964, upon Johnson's request, Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1964 and the Economic Opportunity Act, which was in association with the war on poverty. Johnson set in motion bills and acts, creating programs such as Head Start, food stamps, work study, Medicare and Medicaid, which still exist today.
The medicare program was established to offer cheaper medical services to the elderly, today covering tens of millions of Americans. Johnson gave the first two Medicare cards to former President Harry S. Truman and his wife Bess after signing the medicare bill at the Truman Library.
During Johnson's administration, the first human spaceflight to the Moon, Apollo 8, was successfully flown by NASA in December 1968. The President congratulated the astronauts, saying, "You've taken ... all of us, all over the world, into a new era."
Major riots in black neighborhoods caused a series of "long hot summers." They started with a violent disturbance in Harlem in 1964 and the Watts district of Los Angeles in 1965, and extended to 1970. The biggest wave came in April 1968, when riots occurred in over a hundred cities in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Newark burned in 1967, where six days of rioting left 26 dead, 1500 injured, and the inner city a burned out shell. In Detroit in 1967, Governor George Romney sent in 7400 national guard troops to quell fire bombings, looting, and attacks on businesses and on police. Johnson finally sent in federal troops with tanks and machine guns. Detroit continued to burn for three more days until finally 43 were dead, 2250 were injured, 4000 were arrested; property damage ranged into the hundreds of millions; much of inner Detroit was never rebuilt. Johnson called for even more billions to be spent in the cities and another federal civil rights law regarding housing, but his political capital had been spent, and his Great Society programs lost support. Johnson's popularity plummeted as a massive white political backlash took shape, reinforcing the sense Johnson had lost control of the streets of major cities as well as his party.
Johnson's problems began to mount in 1966. The press had sensed a "Credibility gap" between what Johnson was saying in press conferences and what was happening on the ground in Vietnam, which led to much less favorable coverage of Johnson.
By year's end, the Democratic governor of Missouri warned that Johnson would lose the state by 100,000 votes, despite a half-million margin in 1964. "Frustration over Vietnam; too much federal spending and... taxation; no great public support for your Great Society programs; and ... public disenchantment with the civil rights programs" had eroded the President's standing, the governor reported. There were bright spots, however. In January 1967, Johnson boasted that wages were the highest in history, unemployment was at a 13-year low, and corporate profits and farm incomes were greater than ever; however, a 4.5% jump in consumer prices was worrisome, as well as the rise in interest rates. Johnson asked for a temporary 6% surcharge in income taxes to cover the mounting deficit caused by increased spending. Johnson's approval ratings stayed below 50%; by January 1967, the number of his strong supporters had plunged to 16%, from 25% four months before. He ran about even with Republican George Romney in trial matchups that spring. Asked to explain why he was unpopular, Johnson responded, "I am a dominating personality, and when I get things done I don't always please all the people." Johnson also blamed the press, saying they showed "complete irresponsibility and lie and misstate facts and have no one to be answerable to." He also blamed "the preachers, liberals and professors" who had turned against him. In the congressional elections of 1966, the Republicans gained three seats in the Senate and 47 in the House, reinvigorating the Conservative coalition and making it impossible for Johnson to pass any additional Great Society legislation.
Johnson increasingly focused on the American military effort in Vietnam. He firmly believed in the Domino Theory and that his containment policy required America to make a serious effort to stop all Communist expansion. At Kennedy's death, there were 16,000 American military advisors in Vietnam. As President, Lyndon Johnson immediately reversed his predecessor's order to withdraw 1,000 military personnel by the end of 1963 with his own NSAM #273 on November 26, 1963. Johnson expanded the numbers and roles of the American military following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (less than three weeks after the Republican Convention of 1964, which had nominated Barry Goldwater for President).
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the President the exclusive right to use military force without consulting the Senate, was based on a false pretext, as Johnson later admitted. It was Johnson who began America's direct involvement in the ground war in Vietnam. By 1968, over 550,000 American soldiers were inside Vietnam; in 1967 and 1968 they were being killed at the rate of over 1,000 a month.
Politically, Johnson closely watched the public opinion polls. His goal was not to adjust his policies to follow opinion, but rather to adjust opinion to support his policies. Until the Tet Offensive of 1968, he systematically downplayed the war: few speeches, no rallies or parades or advertising campaigns. He feared that publicity would charge up the hawks who wanted victory, and weaken both his containment policy and his higher priorities in domestic issues. Jacobs and Shapiro conclude, "Although Johnson held a core of support for his position, the president was unable to move Americans who held hawkish and dovish positions." Polls showed that beginning in 1965, the public was consistently 40-50% hawkish and 10-25% dovish. Johnson's aides told him, "Both hawks and doves [are frustrated with the war] ... and take it out on you."
Additionally, domestic issues were driving his polls down steadily from spring 1966 onward. A few analysts have theorized that "Vietnam had no independent impact on President Johnson's popularity at all after other effects, including a general overall downward trend in popularity, had been taken into account." The war did, however, grow less popular and continued to split the Democratic Party. The Republican Party was not completely pro or anti-war, and Nixon managed to get support from both groups by running on a reduction in troop levels with an eye toward eventually ending the campaign.
He often privately cursed the Vietnam War, and in a conversation with Robert McNamara, Johnson assailed "the bunch of commies" running the New York Times for their articles against the war effort. Johnson believed that America could not afford to lose and risk appearing weak in the eyes of the world. In a discussion about the war with former President Dwight Eisenhower, Johnson said he was "trying to win it just as fast as I can in every way that I know how" and later stated that he needed "all the help I can get." Johnson escalated the war effort continuously from 1964 to 1968, and the number of American deaths rose. In two weeks in May 1968 alone American deaths numbered 1,800 with total casualties at 18,000. Alluding to the Domino Theory, he said, "If we allow Vietnam to fall, tomorrow we’ll be fighting in Hawaii, and next week in San Francisco."
After the Tet offensive of January 1968, his presidency was dominated by the Vietnam War more than ever. Following evening news broadcaster Walter Cronkite's editorial report during the Tet Offensive that the war was unwinnable, Johnson is reported to have said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."
As casualties mounted and success seemed further away than ever, Johnson's popularity plummeted. College students and others protested, burned draft cards, and chanted, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" Johnson could scarcely travel anywhere without facing protests, and was not allowed by the Secret Service to attend the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where hundreds of thousands of hippies, yippies, Black Panthers and other opponents of Johnson's policies both in Vietnam and in the ghettoes converged to protest. Thus by 1968, the public was polarized, with the "hawks" rejecting Johnson's refusal to continue the war indefinitely, and the "doves" rejecting his current war policies. Support for Johnson's middle position continued to shrink until he finally rejected containment and sought a peace settlement. By late summer, however, he realized that Nixon was closer to his position than Humphrey. However, he continued to support Humphrey publicly in the election, and personally despised Nixon. One of Johnson's well known quotes was "the Democratic party at its worst, is still better than the Republican party at its best".
Perhaps Johnson, himself, best summed up his involvement in the Vietnam War as President:
|“||I knew from the start that I was bound to be crucifed either way I moved. If I left the woman I really loved — the Great Society - in order to get involved in that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home. All my programs.... But if I left that war and let the Communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward and my nation would be seen as an appeaser and we would both find it impossible to accomplish anything for anybody anywhere on the entire globe.||”|
In a 1993 interview for the Johnson Presidential Library oral history archives, Johnson's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara stated that a carrier battle group, the U.S. 6th Fleet, sent on a training exercise toward Gibraltar was re-positioned back towards the eastern Mediterranean to be able to defend Israel during the Six Day War of June 1967. Given the rapid Israeli advances following their preemptive strike on Egypt, the administration "thought the situation was so tense in Israel that perhaps the Syrians, fearing Israel would attack them, or the Russians supporting the Syrians might wish to redress the balance of power and might attack Israel". The Soviets learned of this course correction and regarded it as an offensive move. In a hotline message from Moscow, Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin said, "If you want war you're going to get war." McNamara noted, "The reason this happened was a) the Israelis had knocked hell out of the Egyptians; b) the Egyptians and Jordanians believed [?] a false charge that we were bombing Cairo from a carrier, and when Hussein came in the Israelis knocked hell out of him."
The Soviet Union supported its Arab allies. In May 1967, the Soviets started a surge deployment of their naval forces into the East Mediterranean. Early in the crisis they began to shadow the US and British carriers with destroyers and intelligence collecting vessels. The Soviet naval squadron in the Mediterranean was sufficiently strong to act as a major restraint on the U.S. Navy. In a 1983 interview with the Boston Globe, McNamara claimed that "We damn near had war". He said Kosygin was angry that "we had turned around a carrier in the Mediterranean".
Entering the 1968 election campaign, initially, no prominent Democratic candidate was prepared to run against a sitting president of the Democratic party. Only Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota challenged Johnson as an anti-war candidate in the New Hampshire primary, hoping to pressure the Democrats to oppose the war. On March 12, McCarthy won 42% of the primary vote to Johnson's 49%, an amazingly strong showing for such a challenger. Four days later, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy of New York entered the race. Internal polling by Johnson's campaign in Wisconsin, the next state to hold a primary election, showed the President trailing badly. Johnson did not leave the White House to campaign.
Johnson had lost control of the Democratic Party, which was splitting into four factions, each of which despised the other three. The first consisted of Johnson (and Humphrey), labor unions, and local party bosses (led by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley). The second group consisted of students and intellectuals who were vociferously against the war and rallied behind McCarthy. The third group were Catholics, Hispanics and African Americans, who rallied behind Robert Kennedy. The fourth group was traditional white Southerners, who rallied behind George C. Wallace and the American Independent Party. Vietnam was one of many issues that splintered the party, and Johnson could see no way to win Vietnam and no way to unite the party long enough for him to win re-election.
In addition, Johnson was concerned that he might not make it through another term. Therefore, at the end of a March 31 speech, he shocked the nation when he announced he would not run for re-election: "I shall not seek, nor will I accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President." He did rally the party bosses and unions to give Humphrey the nomination at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In what was termed the October surprise, Johnson announced to the nation on October 31, 1968, that he had ordered a complete cessation of "all air, naval and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam", effective November 1, should the Hanoi Government be willing to negotiate and citing progress with the Paris peace talks. In the end, the divided Democratic Party crumbled enabling Republican Richard Nixon to win the election.
Johnson was not disqualified from running for a second full term under the provisions of the 22nd Amendment; he had served less than 24 months of President Kennedy's term. Had he stayed in the race and won and served out the new term, he would have been president for 9 years and 2 months, second only to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Coincidentally, Johnson died just two days after what would have been the end of his second full term.
(All of the cabinet members when Johnson became President in 1963 had been serving under John F. Kennedy previously.)
|The Johnson Cabinet|
|President||Lyndon B. Johnson||1963–1969|
|Treasury||C. Douglas Dillon||1963–1965|
|Henry H. Fowler||1965–1968|
|Joseph W. Barr||1968–1969|
|Clark M. Clifford||1968–1969|
|Justice||Robert F. Kennedy||1963–1964|
|Nicholas deB. Katzenbach||1964–1966|
|Postmaster General||John A. Gronouski||1963–1965|
|W. Marvin Watson||1968–1969|
|Interior||Stewart Lee Udall||1963–1969|
|Agriculture||Orville Lothrop Freeman||1963–1969|
|Commerce||Luther Hartwell Hodges||1963–1965|
|John Thomas Connor||1965–1967|
|Alexander Buel Trowbridge||1967–1968|
|Cyrus Rowlett Smith||1968–1969|
|Labor||W. Willard Wirtz||1963–1969|
|John William Gardner||1965–1968|
|Wilbur Joseph Cohen||1968–1969|
|HUD||Robert Clifton Weaver||1966–1968|
|Robert Coldwell Wood||1969|
|Transportation||Alan Stephenson Boyd||1967–1969|
Johnson appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
In addition to his Supreme Court appointments, Johnson appointed 40 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, and 126 judges to the United States district courts. Johnson also had a small number of judicial appointment controversies, with one appellate and three district court nominees not being confirmed by the United States Senate before Johnson's presidency ended.
During 1973 testimony before Congress, the CEO of America's largest cooperative of milk producers said that while Johnson was President, his cooperative had leased Johnson's private jet at a "plush" price, which Johnson wanted to continue once he was out of office.
Johnson continued the FBI's wiretapping of Martin Luther King, Jr. that had been previously authorized by the Kennedy administration under Attorney General Robert Kennedy. As a result of listening to the FBI's tapes, remarks on King's personal lifestyle were made by several prominent officials, including Johnson, who once said that King was a “hypocritical preacher.” Johnson also authorized the tapping of phone conversations of others, including the Vietnamese friends of a Nixon associate.
In Latin America, Johnson directly and indirectly supported the overthrow of left-wing, democratically-elected president Juan Bosch of the Dominican Republic and João Goulart of Brazil, maintaining US support for anti-communist, authoritarian Latin American regimes. American foreign policy towards Latin America remained largely static until election of Jimmy Carter to the presidency in 1977.
After leaving the presidency in 1969, Johnson went home to his ranch in Johnson City, Texas. In 1971, he published his memoirs, The Vantage Point. That year, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum opened near the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. He donated his Texas ranch in his will to the public to form the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, with the provision that the ranch "remain a working ranch and not become a sterile relic of the past".
During the 1972 presidential election, Johnson supported Democratic presidential nominee George S. McGovern, a Senator from South Dakota, although McGovern had long opposed Johnson's foreign and defense policies. Johnson's protege John Connally had served as President Nixon's Secretary of the Treasury and then stepped down to head "Democrats for Nixon", a group funded by Republicans. It was the first time that Connally and Johnson were on opposite sides of a general election campaign.
|“||On Inauguration Day, Johnson saw Nixon sworn in, then got on the plane to fly back to Texas. When the front door of the plane closed, Johnson pulled out a cigarette—first cigarette he had smoked since his heart attack in 1955. One of his daughters pulled it out of his mouth and said, "Daddy, what are you doing? You're going to kill yourself." He took it back and said, "I've now raised you girls. I've now been President. Now it's my time!" From that point on, he went into a very self-destructive spiral.||”|
Lyndon Baines Johnson died at his ranch at 4:39 p.m. on January 22, 1973 at age 64, from a third heart attack. His death came two days after Nixon's second Inaugural, and on the same day that a ceasefire was signed in Vietnam and almost a month after another former president Harry S. Truman died. His health had been affected by years of drinking, heavy smoking, poor dietary habits and stress; the former president had severe heart disease. He had his first, nearly-fatal, heart attack in July 1955 and suffered a second one in April 1972, but had been unable to quit smoking after he left the oval office in 1969. He was found dead by Secret Service agents, in his bed, with a telephone in his hand. (The Age, January 23, 1973, pg 1)
The CBS Evening News was in progress that evening when Johnson's press secretary Tom Johnson (no relation) called the network. CBS News cut off a videotaped report on peace talks in Vietnam and switched back to Walter Cronkite, who was on the phone with Tom Johnson. Cronkite asked him to stand by, then reported the death of the 36th President.
Johnson was honored with a state funeral in which Texas Congressman J. J. Pickle and former Secretary of State Dean Rusk eulogized him at the Capitol. The final services took place on January 25. The funeral was held at the National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., where he had often worshiped as president. The service was presided over by President Richard Nixon and attended by foreign dignitaries such as former Japanese prime minister Eisaku Satō, who served as Japanese prime minister during Johnson's presidency. Eulogies were given by the Rev. Dr. George Davis, the church's pastor, and W. Marvin Watson, former postmaster general. Nixon did not speak, though he attended, as is customary for presidents during state funerals, but the eulogists turned to him and lauded him for his tributes, as Rusk did the day before.
Johnson was buried in his family cemetery (which can be viewed today by visitors to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Park in Stonewall, Texas), a few yards from the house in which he was born. Eulogies were given by John Connally and the Rev. Billy Graham, the minister who officiated the burial rites.
The state funeral was part of an unexpectedly busy week in Washington, as the Military District of Washington (MDW) dealt with their second major task in less than a week, beginning with Nixon's second inauguration.
Colonel J. Edward Melanson Jr., MDW public affairs chief, reacted: "We're finding out we're made of rubber." The MDW and the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee canceled the remainder of the ceremonies surrounding the inauguration to allow for a full state funeral, as Johnson died only two days after the inauguration.
The Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, was renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, and Texas created a legal state holiday to be observed on August 27 to mark Johnson's birthday. It is known as Lyndon Baines Johnson Day. The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac was dedicated on September 27, 1974.
Interstate 635 in Dallas is named the Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway.
Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1980.
Runway 17R/35L at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is known as the Lyndon B. Johnson Runway.
2008 was the celebration of the Johnson Centennial featuring special programs, events, and parties across Texas and in Washington, D.C. Johnson would have been 100 years old on August 27, 2008.
The student center at Texas State University is named after the former president.
Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-08-27 - 1973-01-22), often referred to as LBJ, was an American politician. After serving a long career in U.S. legislatures, Johnson became the Vice President under John F. Kennedy (1961–1963) and later succeeded to the 36th Presidency (1963–1969) after Kennedy's assassination.