Lyndon B. Johnson

In office
November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969
Vice President None (1963–1965),<br
Preceded by John F. Kennedy
Succeeded by Richard Nixon

In office
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
President John F. Kennedy
Preceded by Richard Nixon
Succeeded by Hubert Humphrey

In office
January 3, 1955 – January 3, 1961
Preceded by William F. Knowland
Succeeded by Mike Mansfield

In office
January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1961
Preceded by W. Lee O'Daniel
Succeeded by William Blakley

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas's 10th District
In office
April 10, 1937 – January 3, 1949
Preceded by James P. Buchanan
Succeeded by Homer Thornberry

Born August 27, 1908(1908-08-27)
Stonewall, Texas
Died January 22, 1973 (age 64)
Stonewall, Texas
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Lady Bird Johnson
Alma mater Southwest Texas State Teachers' College
Profession Teacher, Career politician
Religion Disciple of Christ

Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908January 22, 1973), often referred to as LBJ, was the thirty-sixth President of the United States (1963–1969). Johnson served a long career in the U.S. Congress, and in 1960 was selected by then-Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to be his running-mate. Johnson became the thirty-seventh Vice President, and in 1963, he succeeded to the presidency following Kennedy's assassination. He was a major leader of the Democratic Party and as President was responsible for designing his Great Society, comprising liberal legislation including civil rights laws, Medicare (health care for the elderly), Medicaid (health care for the poor), aid to education, and a "War on Poverty". Simultaneously, he escalated the American involvement in the Vietnam War, from 16,000 American soldiers in 1963 to 550,000 in early 1968.

He was elected President in his own right in a landslide victory in 1964, but his popularity steadily declined after 1966 and his reelection bid in 1968 collapsed as a result of turmoil in his party. He withdrew from the race to concentrate on peacemaking. Johnson was renowned for his domineering personality and the "Johnson treatment," his arm-twisting of powerful politicians.

Johnson suffered a massive heart attack in 1973, the third in his lifetime. He died January 22, 1973.

Early years[edit | edit source]

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, then in Independence, in Washington County during the American Civil War. George Baines was the grandfather of Johnson's mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson.

The President's grandfather, Samuel Ealy Johnson, was raised as a Baptist. Subsequently, in his early manhood, he became a member of the Christian Church. In his later years, he affiliated with the Christadelphians. According to Lady Bird Johnson, President Johnson's father, Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., also joined the Christadelphian Church toward the end of his life.[1]

Johnson was born in Stonewall, TX, on August 27, 1908, in a small farmhouse in a poor area on the Pedernales River. His parents, Samuel Ealy Johnson and the former Rebekah Baines, had three girls and two boys: LBJ 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 LBJ's father's cousin, James Polk Johnson, whose forebears had moved west from Georgia. In school, Johnson was an awkward, talkative youth and was elected president of his eleventh-grade class. He graduated from Johnson City High School in 1924.[2] In 1925, he worked as an elevator operator in downtown San Bernardino, California.[3][4]

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, and graduated in 1931. The college years refined his remarkable skills of persuasion and political organization. One year Johnson taught mostly Mexican children at the Welhausen School in Cotulla, some ninety miles south of San Antonio in La Salle County. When he returned to San Marcos in 1965, after having signed the Higher Education Act, Johnson looked back:

"I shall never forget the faces of the boys and the girls in that little Welhausen Mexican School, and I remember even yet the pain of realizing and knowing then that college was closed to practically every one of those children because they were too poor. And I think it was then that I made up my mind that this Nation could never rest while the door to knowledge remained closed to any American."[5]

Early political career[edit | edit source]

After graduation, Johnson briefly taught public speaking at Genesee Community College 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 to 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. LBJ 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.

President Roosevelt, Governor James Allred of Texas & Johnson. In later campaigns, Johnson edited Governor Allred out of the picture to assist his campaign

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 educational and job opportunities for young people. He resigned two years later to run for Congress. Johnson was a notoriously tough boss throughout his career, often demanding long workdays and work on weekends; he worked as hard as any of them.[6]

House years[edit | edit source]

In 1937, Johnson ran for Congress in a special election for Texas's 10th congressional district to represent Austin, Texas and the surrounding Hill Country. He ran on a New Deal platform and was effectively aided by his wife, Lady Bird Johnson.

President Roosevelt found Johnson to be a welcome ally and conduit for information, particularly with regards to issues concerning internal politics in Texas (Operation Texas) and the machinations of Vice President Garner and House Speaker 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.[7] (The Brown & Root company would eventually be a subsidiary of Halliburton.) In 1941, he ran for the U.S. Senate in a special election against the sitting governor, radio personality W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel. Johnson was not expected to win against the popular governor, but he ran a strong race and was declared the winner in unofficial returns. He was ultimately defeated by controversial official returns in an election marked by massive fraud on the part of both campaigns.

War record[edit | edit source]

After America entered the war in December 1941, Johnson, still in Congress, became a commissioned officer in the Navy Reserves, then asked Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal for a combat assignment.[8] 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 22nd 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; it was shot down and everyone died. Reports vary on what happened to the B-26 Marauder Johnson was on. Some accounts say it was also attacked by Japanese fighters but survived, while others claim it turned back before reaching the objective and never came under fire. MacArthur awarded LBJ the Silver Star, the military's third-highest medal, for his actions.

Johnson reported back to Roosevelt, to the Navy leaders, and to Congress, that conditions were deplorable and unacceptable. He argued the theater urgently needed a higher priority and a bigger 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 too often absent. Organized labor blocked the bill and denounced Johnson. Johnson's mission thus had a significant impact in upgrading the South Pacific theater and in helping along the entire naval war effort. 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."[9]

Senate years[edit | edit source]

1948 contested election[edit | edit source]

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 unions and by criticizing unions on the stump. Stevenson came in first, but lacked a majority, so a runoff was held. Johnson campaigned even harder, while Stevenson's efforts were poor. The runoff count took a week as the two candidates see-sawed for the lead. The Democratic State Central Committee handled the count (not the state, because it was a party primary), and it finally announced Johnson won by eighty-seven votes. The committee voted 29-28 to certify Johnson's nomination, with the last vote cast on Johnson's behalf by the Temple 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, John B. Connally, was connected with 202 ballots in Duval County that had curiously been cast in alphabetical order. Robert Caro argued in his 1989 book that Johnson had rigged the election in Duval County as well as rigging 10,000 ballots in Bexar County alone.[10]

However, 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 tagged with the sobriquet "Landslide Lyndon," which he often used deprecatingly to refer to himself.

Freshman Senator[edit | edit source]

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 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 at 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.

Senate Democratic leader[edit | edit source]

In January 1953, he 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. One of his first actions was to eliminate the seniority system in appointment to a committee, while retaining it in terms of chairmanships. The senate majority leader, Robert Taft of Ohio, died July 31, 1953. The Republicans elected William F. Knowland of California as new senate majority leader. In 1954, Johnson was re-elected to the Senate, and since the Democrats won the majority in the Senate, Johnson became majority leader. He was the youngest majority leader ever, and also the majority leader with the shortest time of service. Bill Knowland was elected Minority Leader. LBJ's duties were to schedule legislation and help pass measures favored by the Democrats. He, 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.

Johnson gives "The Treatment" to 90-year-old Rhode Island Senator Theodore F. Green in 1957

In 1959, Knowland retired from the Senate. Everett Dirksen of Illinois was elected minority leader. 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 win him over.[11] Central to Johnson's control was "The Treatment",[12] described by two journalists:[13]

The Treatment could last ten minutes or four hours. It came, enveloping its target, at the LBJ Ranch swimming pool, in one of LBJ's offices, in the Senate cloakroom, on the floor of the Senate itself — wherever Johnson might find a fellow Senator within his reach.
Its tone could be supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint and the hint of threat. It was all of these together. It ran the gamut of human emotions. Its velocity was breathtaking, and it was all in one direction. Interjections from the target were rare. Johnson anticipated them before they could be spoken. He moved in close, his face a scant millimeter from his target, his eyes widening and narrowing, his eyebrows rising and falling. From his pockets poured clippings, memos, statistics. Mimicry, humor, and the genius of analogy made The Treatment an almost hypnotic experience and rendered the target stunned and helpless.

Vice Presidency[edit | edit source]

Johnson's success in the Senate made him a possible Democratic presidential candidate. He was Texas' "favorite son" candidate at the party's national convention in 1956. In 1960, Johnson received 409 votes on the first and 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."[14]

During the convention, Kennedy designated Johnson as his choice for Vice President. Some later reports (such as Arthur M. Schlesinger'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, and needed Johnson on the ticket to help carry Southern states.

While he ran for vice president with John F. Kennedy, Johnson also sought a third term in the U.S. Senate. His popularity was such that Texas law was changed to permit him to run for two offices at the same time. Johnson was reelected senator, with 1,306,605 votes (58 percent) to Republican John Tower's 927,653 (41.1 percent). 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 have Johnson busy, informed and at the White House often, his advisors and even some of his family were dismissive to the Texan. Kennedy appointed him to nominal 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 probably intended this to remain a nominal position, Taylor Branch in Pillar of Fire contends that Johnson served to force the Kennedy administration's actions for civil rights further and faster than Kennedy 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 as being a catalyst that led to much more action than otherwise would have occurred.

Johnson took on numerous minor diplomatic missions, which gave him limited insights into international 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.

Presidency 1963–1969[edit | edit source]

Assassination of President John F. Kennedy[edit | edit source]

Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in aboard Air Force One by Federal Judge Sarah T. Hughes, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. To the right of Johnson (from the viewer's point of view) is Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of Kennedy; to his left is Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson.

Two hours after President Kennedy was shot two cars in front of him in a Dealey Plaza motorcade, 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 very close friend of his family, 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 was not sworn using a Bible, as none could be found aboard Air Force One. A Roman Catholic missal was discovered in Kennedy's desk, and this book was used during the swearing-in ceremony.

To investigate Kennedy's murder, Johnson created a special panel called the Warren Commission. This panel, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, conducted hearings about the assassination and concluded that Oswald did indeed shoot the President without conspiring with anyone. Not everyone agreed with the Warren Commission, however, and numerous public and private investigations continued for decades after Johnson left office.[15]

The wave of national grief and soul-searching following the assassination gave enormous momentum to Johnson's promise to carry out Kennedy's programs. He retained the senior Kennedy appointees, some, for the life of his presidency. Even the late President's brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, with whom Johnson had an infamously difficult relationship, remained in office until leaving in 1964 to run for the Senate.[16]

1964 Presidential election[edit | edit source]

In the 1964 election, LBJ often appealed to the memory of JFK in his electoral campaign

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 death. Although it was soon pulled off the air, it escalated into a continuously very heated election. Johnson won by a sweeping landslide. Johnson won the presidency with 61 percent of the vote and the then-widest popular margin in the 20th century — more than 15 million votes (this was later surpassed by Nixon's defeat of McGovern in 1972).[17]

At the national convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey a black activist group calling itself the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) demanded all the Mississippi seats, although it had not followed party rules and had few voters. To appease the MFDP, Johnson sent in Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther and the party's liberal leaders offered it two seats. The country's most prestigious civil rights leaders, including Roy Wilkins, Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin, all accepted the solution (as did all the states except Mississippi and Alabama), but the MFDP, coming under control of Black Power radicals, rejected any compromise. It therefore lost liberal support and the convention went smoothly for LBJ without a searing battle over civil rights.[18] Johnson carried the South as a whole in the election, but he lost the white voters to Goldwater in the Deep South states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina.

Civil rights[edit | edit source]

President Johnson signs the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964

In conjunction with the civil rights movement, Johnson overcame southern resistance and achieved passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which effectively outlawed most forms of racial segregation. In 1965, he achieved passage of a second civil rights bill, the Voting Rights Act, that outlawed discrimination in voting, thus allowing millions of southern blacks to vote for the first time. Shortly thereafter, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 73–27, and quickly passed through the House-Senate conference committee, which adopted the Senate version of the bill. The conference bill was passed by both houses of Congress, and was signed into law by President Johnson 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.[19]

In 1967, Johnson nominated civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall to be the first African American Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. After the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo, Johnson went on television to announce the arrest of four Ku Klux Klan's men 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." He turned the themes of Christian redemption to push for civil rights, thereby mobilizing support from churches North and South.[20] 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...'.[21]

Great Society[edit | edit source]

The Great Society program 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.

Federal aid to education[edit | edit source]

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 propositions 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 K12 teachers' unions, neither the Higher Education act nor the Endowments mollified the college professors and students growing increasingly uneasy with the war in Vietnam.[22]

War on Poverty[edit | edit source]

In 1964, upon Johnson's request, Congress passed a tax-reduction law and the Economic Opportunity Act, which was in association with the War on Poverty.

Medicare and Medicaid[edit | edit source]

Millions of elderly people were aided by the 1965 Medicare amendment to the Social Security Act. Poor people received federal money for medical care through the Medicaid program.[23]

President Johnson signing the Medicare amendment; Harry Truman observes while Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Truman's wife, Bess, look on

Space race[edit | edit source]

NASA made spectacular explorations in the space program Johnson had championed since its start. When three astronauts successfully orbited the moon in December 1968, Johnson congratulated them: "You've taken … all of us, all over the world, into a new era …."

Urban riots[edit | edit source]

Major riots in black ghettos 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 1966, 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 white-owned 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 40 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.[24]

President Johnson with Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt at the White House.

Backlash against Johnson: 1966–67[edit | edit source]

Johnson's problems began to mount in 1966. 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 thirteen-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 percent; 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.[25] In the congressional elections of 1966 the Republicans gained 47 seats, reinvigorating the Conservative coalition and making it impossible for Johnson to pass any additional Great Society legislation.

Vietnam War[edit | edit source]

President 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. Johnson expanded their numbers and roles following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (less than three weeks after the Republican Convention of 1964, which had nominated Barry Goldwater for President).

LBJ visits Shriners Hospital in Portland, Oregon, in September 1964

To this day, questions persist as to the legitimacy of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the President the exclusive right to use military force without consulting the Senate. It was Johnson who began America's direct involvement in the ground war in Vietnam. By 1968 there were 550,000 American soldiers inside Vietnam; in 1967 and 1968 they were being killed at the rate of over 1000 a month.[26]

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."[27]

It was domestic issues that were driving his polls down steadily from spring 1966 onward. Analysts report 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."[28]

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.[29]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."[30] 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." When reporters repeatedly pressed Johnson in late 1967 on why he was so committed to the war, Johnson exposed an old war wound to them and said, That is why.[31]

Walt Whitman Rostow showing President Lyndon B. Johnson a model of the Khe Sanh area in February 1968

After the Tet offensive of January 1968, his presidency was dominated by the Vietnam War more than ever. 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 policy 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 win the war, and the "doves" rejecting his continuation of containment. 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.[32]

1968 Presidential election[edit | edit source]

Entering the 1968 election campaign, initially, no prominent Democratic candidate was prepared to run against a sitting President of his own 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.

President Johnson meets with candidate Richard Nixon in July 1968

Johnson had lost control of the Democratic party, which was splitting into four factions, each of which despised the other three. The first comprised Johnson (and Humphrey), labor unions, and local party bosses (led by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley). The second group comprised students and intellectuals who were vociferously against the war, and rallied behind McCarthy. The third group comprised Catholics and blacks; they rallied behind Robert Kennedy. The fourth group was traditional white Southerners, who rallied behind George C. Wallace and his third party. Vietnam was one of many issues that splintered the party and Johnson could see no way to unite the party long enough for him to win reelection.[33]

Then, 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, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President" Text and audio of speech. (Not discussed publicly at the time was his concern that he might not make it through another term.) He did rally the party bosses and unions to give Humphrey the nomination. 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.

LBJ was not disqualified from running for a second term under the provisions of the 22nd Amendment; he had served less than 24 months of JFK's term. Had he stayed in the race and won and served out the new term, he would have been president for 9 years, second only to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Legislation and programs[edit | edit source]

Lyndon B. Johnson and his cabinet in 1968

Major legislation signed[edit | edit source]

Administration and Cabinet[edit | edit source]

(All of the cabinet members when Johnson became President in 1963 had been serving under John F. Kennedy previously.)

File:Lyndon B. Johnson - portrait.gif

Official White House portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson

President Lyndon B. Johnson 1963–1969
Vice President None 1963–1965
  Hubert Humphrey 1965–1969
State Dean Rusk 1963–1969
Treasury C. Douglas Dillon 1963–1965
  Henry H. Fowler 1965–1968
  Joseph W. Barr 1968–1969
Defense Robert McNamara 1963–1968
  Clark M. Clifford 1968–1969
Justice Robert F. Kennedy 1963–1964
  Nicholas deB. Katzenbach 1964–1966
  Ramsey Clark 1966–1969
Postmaster General John A. Gronouski 1963–1965
  Larry O'Brien 1965–1968
  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
HEW Anthony Celebrezze 1963–1965
  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

Supreme Court appointments[edit | edit source]

Johnson appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Post-presidency[edit | edit source]

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".[34]

Death[edit | edit source]

A memorial wreath at the grave of former U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, August 27, 1999.

Johnson died at 4:33 p.m. on January 22, 1973, from a third heart attack at his ranch, at age 64. His health was ruined by years of heavy smoking and stress, and the former President had severe heart disease. He was found in his bed, reaching for his phone (a PBS documentary titled, "Lady Bird" showed a clip of CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite on the phone with LBJ chief of staff Tom Johnson, announcing the former president's death and stating that it had occurred on an ambulance plane on its way to San Antonio).

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 worshiped often when president. The service, presided over by President Richard Nixon and attended by foreign dignitaries, led by former Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, was the first presidential funeral to feature eulogies, and they 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 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, with eulogies by John Connally and Reverend Billy Graham. The state funeral, the last until Ronald Reagan's in 2004, was part of a busy week for the Military District of Washington (MDW), beginning with Nixon's second inauguration.[35]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

The coat of arms granted to President Johnson in 1968

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 LBJ'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.

Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1980.

On March 23, 2007, President George W. Bush signed legislation naming the United States Department of Education headquarters after President Johnson. [2]

His widow, Lady Bird Johnson (b. 1912), passed away on July 11, 2007, at the age of 94 at her home in Austin, Texas.

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • Lyndon Johnson was 6 feet 3 inches (190 cm) tall and weighed about 216 pounds (98 kg), the second tallest President, behind Abraham Lincoln at 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm) tall.
  • LBJ's death, on January 22, 1973, followed the death of former President Truman by less than a month. This left the U.S. with no living former presidents until the resignation of Richard Nixon in August 1974.
  • President Johnson was granted a coat of arms by the American College of Heraldry and Arms in 1968.
  • He was baptized in the Pedernales River as a member of the Disciples of Christ in 1923.[36]
  • Johnson was famously frugal. Even as President, White House tapes recorded him asking a photographer to take his family portraits for free, saying he was a very poor man living on a weekly paycheck and had a very great deal of financial debt. In fact Johnson was a multimillionaire, but he still wasn't charged for the photographic portraits. The White House press corps made jokes at his expense regarding his habit of turning off all lights in the White House when the rooms were not in use. Johnson's secretary revealed years later that he would wash and reuse Styrofoam cups.[37]
  • His favorite soft drink was Fresca, which he drank constantly. Johnson had a small control box installed in the writing desk in the small personal office adjacent to the Oval Office. This control box contained two buttons, marked "Coffee" and "Fresca". Pushing one of these buttons would summon Johnson's military aide bringing the appropriate drink.[38]
  • His Secret Service codename was Volunteer[39].
  • Johnson, while using the White House bathroom, was known to insist that others accompany him and continue to discuss official matters or take dictation. Among those who received this "privilege" was Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post.[40]
  • Lake Granite Shoals, a reservoir of the Colorado River in central Texas was renamed Lake LBJ in 1965 in honor of the sitting President.
  • He was the only American President to have ever visited Malaysia (1966). In Labu, state of Negeri Sembilan, the village called FELDA L.B. Johnson was named after him during his visit to the village, with Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Malaysian prime minister.
  • He was the first American President to visit Turkey and Australia while in office.
  • Robert F. Kennedy greatly disliked Johnson and the feeling was mutual. Kennedy felt that Johnson was not worthy of the vice presidency, while Johnson merely regarded Kennedy as "Jack's Little Brother", a spoiled brat who was riding his older brother's coattails to success.[41]
  • Two Austin area broadcast radio stations using the call sign KLBJ, (590 kHz AM and 93.7 MHz FM), were once owned by the Johnson family before being sold to other commercial interests. The Johnsons also owned the first broadcast television station in the Austin area, KTBC (channel 7).
  • Born in 1908, LBJ was the second U.S. President born in the 20th century. John F. Kennedy, born in 1917, was the first.
  • He was one of only three southern Senators who refused to sign the Southern Manifesto.
  • When he was a young school teacher, Johnson petitioned the local Masonic Lodge for membership. He was accepted, and received his Entered Apprentice degree, but never advanced beyond that.
  • Barbara Garson wrote a notorious 1966 counterculture drama entitled MacBird, which satirically depicts then-President Lyndon Johnson as Macbeth, the Scottish king whose lust for power carried him to the throne.
  • The Johnson cult is a cargo cult initiated on New Hanover Island of Papua New Guinea. In 1964, they (invalidly) voted for Johnson as their assembly representative by way of protest against Australian colonialism.
  • It is also known that, when on a visit to the Pope, Johnson was given a precious painting from the Vatican, while Johnson gave a sculpture of himself.
  • The one and only hospital in American Samoa was named after him, LBJ Hospital located in Fagaalu.

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

Movies[edit | edit source]

Fiction[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

Sources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ "Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum — Religion and President Johnson". 
  2. ^ Caro, Robert A. Volume I
  3. ^ "735 — Remarks at a Rally in San Bernardino. October 28, 1964". 
  4. ^ "The Ultimate San Bernardino Trivia Quiz". 
  5. ^ "Remarks at Southwest Texas State College Upon Signing the Higher Education Act of 1965". Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Retrieved 2006-04-11. 
  6. ^ Woods, Randall (2006), p. 131
  7. ^ Caro, Robert A. (1982) is full of details.
  8. ^ Hove, Duane T. (2003). American Warriors: Five Presidents in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Burd Street Press. ISBN 1-57249-070.  [1]
  9. ^ Dallek, Robert. Lone Star Rising, p. 237
  10. ^ Woods, Randall (2006), p. 217; Caro, Robert A. (1989)
  11. ^ Woods, Randall (2006), p. 262
  12. ^
  13. ^ [[Robert Novak|]]. Lyndon B. Johnson: The Exercise of Power (1966), p. 104
  14. ^ John A. Farrell (2001). Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century: A Biography. Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-26049-5. 
  15. ^ The [[Assassination Records Review Board|]] noted in 1998 that Johnson became skeptical of some of the Warren Commission findings. See: Final Report, chapter 1, footnote 17 at
  16. ^ Dallek, Robert (1998). Chapter 2
  17. ^ Dallek, Robert (1998). Chapter 3
  18. ^ Evans and Novak (1966), pp. 451–456; Taylor Branch. Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963–65, pp. 444–470
  19. ^ {{cite news |last=Risen |first=Clay |title=How the South was won |publisher=[[2006-03-05|]]
  20. ^ Woods, Randall (2006), pp. 759–787
  21. ^ Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965. Volume II, entry 301, pp. 635–640 (1966)
  22. ^ Woods, Randall (2006), pp. 563–68; Dallek, Robert (1988), pp. 196–202
  23. ^ Patricia P. Martin and David A. Weaver. "Social Security: A Program and Policy History," Social Security Bulletin, volume 66, no. 1 (2005), see also online version
  24. ^ Woods, Randall (2006), pp. 790–795; Michael W. Flamm. Law And Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of [[Liberalism|]] in the 1960s (2005)
  25. ^ Dallek, Robert. Flawed Giant, pp. 391–396; quotes on pp. 391 and 396
  26. ^
  27. ^ Lawrence R. Jacobs and Robert Y. Shapiro. "Lyndon Johnson, Vietnam, and Public Opinion: Rethinking Realist Theory of Leadership." Presidential Studies Quarterly 29#3 (1999), p. 592
  28. ^ John E. Mueller. War, Presidents and Public Opinion (1973), p. 108
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ Dallek, Robert (1998). Flawed Giant: Lyndon B. Johnson and his Times, 1961–1973. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 754. ISBN 0–19-505465-2. 
  32. ^ Lewis L. Gould (1993), p. 98
  33. ^ Lewis L. Gould (1993). 1968: The Election that Changed America.
  34. ^ Harris, Marvin (December 1999). "Taming the wild pecan at Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park". Park Science 19 (2). 
  35. ^ Elsen, William A. "Ceremonial Group Had Busy 5 Weeks". [[The Washington Post|]], January 25, 1973.
  36. ^ LBJ Library Staff. "Religion and President Johnson". Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Retrieved 2006-04-11. 
  37. ^ Caro, Robert A. (2002).
  38. ^ Gulley, Bill; Mary Ellen Reece (1980). Breaking Cover. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 78-79. ISBN 0-671-24548–1. 
  39. ^
  40. ^ Caro, Robert A. (2002). Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Knopf. pp. 122. ISBN 0-394-52836-0. 
  41. ^ Dallek, Robert (2004), p. 139

External links[edit | edit source]

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