Lyndon B. Johnson

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Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Term of office November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969
Preceded by John F. Kennedy
Succeeded by Richard M. Nixon
Date of birth August 27, 1908
Place of birth Gillespie County, Texas
Spouse Lady Bird Johnson
Political party Democrat

Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908January 22, 1973), often referred to as LBJ, was the thirty-sixth President of the United States (19631969). After serving a long career in the US Congress, Johnson became the Vice President under John F. Kennedy (19611963) and later ascended to the presidency following Kennedy's assassination.


Early years

Johnson was born in Stonewall, Texas on August 27, 1908 in a small farmhouse in a poor area on the Pedernales River. His parents, Samuel Ealy Johnson and Rebekah Baines, had four more children: his sisters Rebekah (1910-1978), Josefa (1912-1961) and Lucia (1916-1997) and his brother Sam Houston (1914-1978). Johnson attended public schools and graduated from Johnson City High School in 1924.

In 1927 Johnson enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers' College. Even though he participated in debate and campus politics, edited the school newspaper, and spent a year away from his studies teaching school, Johnson somehow managed to graduate in only 312 days.

Entering politics

Soon after he graduated from college, Johnson taught public speaking and debate in a Houston high school. However, he soon quit his job teaching and went into the field of 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 1931 Johnson campaigned for Richard M. Kleberg and was later rewarded for his work in the campaign with an appointment to be the newly elected congressman's secretary. As secretary, Johnson became acquainted with people of influence, found out how they had reached their positions, and gained their respect for his abilities. Johnson's friends soon included some of the men who worked around President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as fellow Texans such as Vice President John Nance Garner.

During his tenure as secretary, Johnson met Claudia Alta Taylor (generally known as Lady Bird), a young woman who was also from Texas. After only a short period of dating, the two were married on November 17, 1934, Johnson actually proposed to her within 24 hours of meeting her. The couple later had two daughters, Lynda Bird, born in 1944, and Luci, born in 1947. It should be noted that Johnson loved to give everything his own initials. His daughters' given names are examples, as was his dog later in life (Little Beagle Johnson).

In 1935, Johnson became the head of the Texas National Youth Administration. His new post enabled him to use the powers of government to find educational and job opportunities for young people. The position in effect enabled him to build political pull with his constituents. He served as the head for two years, only resigning to run for Congress. Johnson was a notoriously tough boss with his employees throughout his career, often demanding long workdays and work on weekends; he worked as much as they did, if not more.

FDR, Gov. Allred of Texas & LBJ
FDR, Gov. Allred of Texas & LBJ

Johnson received his first degree in Freemasonry on October 30, 1937. After receiving the degree he found that his congressional duties took so much time he was unable to pursue the masonic degrees. ^^

Member of Congress

In 1937, Johnson ran for Congress in a special election for the 10th Congressional District of Texas 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 showed a personal interest in the young Texan from the time he entered Congress. Johnson was immediately appointed to the Naval Affairs Committee, a job that carried high importance for a freshman congressman. He also worked for rural electrification and other improvements for his district. In 1941, Johnson ran for the U.S. Senate in a special election against the sitting governor of Texas, radio personality W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel. Though Johnson was expected to win, he was defeated by controversial late returns in an election marked by massive fraud on the part of both campaigns. During his last campaign, he promised that he would serve in the military should war break out; in December 1941, the U.S. entered World War II.

War record

During World War II he served briefly in the United States Navy as a Lieutenant Commander. Awards and decorations included the Silver Star, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

After World War II, some sources challenged the circumstances in which Johnson had been awarded his Silver Star. It was speculated that the decoration was largely for political purposes. On NPR, in a narrative about medals and politicians, it was stated Johnson demanded the Silver Star from General Douglas MacArthur because he had been in an airplane that had been fired upon.

Lyndon Johnson's Silver Star citation is as follows:

For gallantry in action in the vicinity of Port Moresby and Salamaua, New Guinea on June 9, 1942. While on a mission of obtaining information in the Southwest Pacific area, Lieutenant Commander Johnson, in order to obtain personal knowledge of combat conditions, volunteered as an observer on a hazardous aerial combat mission over hostile positions in New Guinea. As our planes neared the target area they were intercepted by eight hostile fighters. When, at this time, the plane in which Lieutenant Commander Johnson was an observer, developed mechanical trouble and was forced to turn back alone, presenting a favorable target to the enemy fighters, he evidenced marked coolness in spite of the hazards involved. His gallant action enabled him to obtain and return with valuable information.

Shortly after this incident, President Roosevelt ordered members of Congress serving in the military to return to their offices, and Johnson was discharged forthwith. He returned to his seat in the House of Representatives where he continued to serve through 1949.

Senate years

In 1948, Johnson again ran for the Senate and this time won. This election was highly controversial: a three-way Democratic Party primary left Johnson in a run-off with former governor Coke Stevenson. Johnson campaigned very hard and won by only 87 votes out of a million cast. Stevenson contested the vote count. There were allegations that Johnson's campaign manager, John Connally, was connected with 202 ballots in Jim Wells County that had curiously been cast in alphabetical order. [1][2]). In Robert A. Caro's 1989 book Means of Ascent, he argued that Johnson had rigged the election not only there, but at least 10,000 ballots in Bexar County alone. In the federal court case arising from the election, Johnson hired Abe Fortas to represent him. Fortas persuaded U.S. Supreme Court justice Hugo Black to dissolve the federal injunction nullifying Johnson's runoff victory. Johnson went on to win the general election, but the Texas media sardonically nicknamed him "Landslide Lyndon" in reference to his bout with Stevenson.

Once in the Senate, Johnson immediately began to work toward his ultimate goal: the presidency. Johnson was known among his colleagues for his highly successful "courtships" of older Senators, especially Senator Richard Russell, patrician leader of the Southern bloc and arguably the most powerful man in the Senate. Johnson, always at his best when working one-on-one, proceeded to gain Russell's favor in the same way as 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. With Russell's support, Johnson eventually was able to become its chairman and conducted a number of investigations of defense costs and efficiency. These investigations—couched in headline-grabbing phraseology but largely devoid of substance—tended to recycle old investigations and demand actions that were already being taken by the Truman administration. However, Johnson's brilliant strategic leaks, his overall manipulation of the press, the incredible speed at which his committee issued new reports (less incredible considering the recycled content), and the fact that he ensured every report was endorsed unanimously by the committee all got him headlines and national attention.

Senate Democratic leader

After only a few years in the Senate, Johnson was moving up in leadership power. In 1953, he was chosen by his fellow Democrats to be the minority leader. Thus, he became the youngest man ever named to the post by either major political party. One of his first actions was to eliminate the seniority system in committee selection. In 1954, Johnson was re-elected to the Senate and since the Democrats won the majority in the Senate, Johnson became majority leader. His duties were to schedule legislation and help pass measures favored by the Democrats.

Vice Presidency

Johnson's success in the Senate led to his name being widely mentioned as 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.

During the convention, Kennedy designated Johnson as his choice for vice president. Some later reports (such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.) 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 get Johnson on the ticket to help carry Southern voters.

In November 1960 the Kennedy/Johnson duo beat out Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., by a narrow margin. There were serious accusations of voter fraud, especially in Illinois (home of the political machine run by Richard J. Daley) and Johnson's home state of Texas. However, there were no criminal convictions. The only state to have its results changed was Hawaii-which was ruled to have gone to Kennedy not Nixon.

Upon swearing in, Kennedy appointed Johnson to head the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, which led him to work with blacks and other minorities. During his tenure as Vice President, Johnson also took on some international missions, which gave him limited insights into foreign problems. He also sat on Cabinet and National Security meetings, giving him an insight into the presidency. Kennedy gave Johnson control over all presidential appointments involving Texans.

Johnson was crucially made chairman of the President's Ad Hoc Committee for Science. When in April 1961 the U.S.S.R. 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 would benefit Texas and southern states most directly so steered the recommendation towards a crash program for a manned lunar landing.


Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn-in aboard Air Force One by federal judge Sarah T. Hughes, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn-in aboard Air Force One by federal judge Sarah T. Hughes, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
President Johnson signs the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
President Johnson signs the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Johnson was sworn-in as President on Air Force One in Dallas at Love Field Airport after the assassination of President Kennedy 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.

In his first year, Johnson faced conflicts with everyone from Senators to speechwriters who wanted to honor Kennedy's legacy, but were reluctant to support new propositions by Johnson. Johnson used his famous charm and strong-arm tactics, to push through his new policies. 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. Johnson also hired Jerri Whittington, the first African-American White House secretary, and appointed Jack Valenti as his "special assistant."

An example of his strong arm tactics was 'The Treatment'; this was where he saw people alone in a small adjoining room where he would pull his chair close to the guests and lean forward until his nose was inches away from the visitor's face. Members of Congress from whom Johnson wanted a vote looked visibly shaken after their meeting with the President.

In 1964, Johnson won the Presidency in his own right with 61 percent of the vote and the widest popular margin in American history—more than 15,000,000 votes. However, 1964 was also the year that Johnson supported the racist Democratic delegates from Mississippi and denied the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party seats at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. To appease the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) chaired by Dr. Aaron Henry with the intent of seating a passionate and charismatic leader of the Mississippi Freedom Movement, Fannie Lou Hamer, the Democrats at the convention offered the MFDP an unsatisfactory compromise and the MFDP rejected it rather than appear concilatory in the eyes of their "comrades". In the same year, Johnson lost the popular vote to Republican challenger Barry Goldwater in the Deep South states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina, a region that had voted for Democrats since the Reconstruction era. The election, though a success for the Democratic Party, marked the beginning of the long transformation of the Democrats' Solid South to a Republican bastion.

President Johnson signing the Medicare amendment. Harry Truman and his wife, Bess are on far right
President Johnson signing the Medicare amendment. Harry Truman and his wife, Bess are on far right

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 delinquency, and removal of obstacles to the right to vote. Congress, at times augmenting or amending, rapidly enacted Johnson's recommendations. Millions of elderly people found succor through the 1965 Medicare amendment to the Social Security Act.

Under Johnson, the country made spectacular explorations of space in a program he 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…."

Nevertheless, two overriding crises had been gaining momentum since 1965. Despite the beginning of new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination programs, unrest and rioting in black ghettos troubled the nation. President Johnson steadily exerted his influence against segregation and on behalf of law and order, but there was no early solution.

The other crisis arose from Vietnam. Despite Johnson's efforts to end Communist insurgency and achieve a settlement, fighting continued. Controversy over the war had become acute by the end of March 1968, when he limited the bombing of North Vietnam in order to begin negotiations. At the same time, he startled the world by withdrawing as a candidate for re-election (which candidacy was being seriously challenged by other Democrats). He said he was withdrawing as a candidate so he could devote his full efforts, unimpeded by politics, to the quest for peace.

Vietnam War

President Johnson had a dislike for the American war effort in Vietnam, which he had inherited from Kennedy, but expanded considerably following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (less than 3 weeks after the Republican Convention of 1964 which had nominated Barry Goldwater for president). Though he would often privately curse the war, referring to it as his "bitch mistress," at the same time Johnson believed that America could not afford to look weak in the eyes of the world, and so he escalated the war effort continuously from 1964 to 1968, which resulted in thousands of American deaths. In one speech, he said of the Vietnam conflict "If we allow Vietnam to fall, tomorrow we’ll be fighting in Hawaii, and next week in San Francisco" - alluding to Eisenhower's 'Domino Theory'.

At the same time, Johnson was afraid that too much focus on Vietnam would distract attention from his Great Society programs, so the levels of military escalation, while significant, were never enough to make any real headway in the war. Against his wishes, Johnson's presidency was soon dominated by the Vietnam War. As more and more American soldiers and civilians were killed in Vietnam, Johnson's popularity declined, particularly in the face of student protests. During these protests students would often chant the line, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?" In what was termed an October surprise, Johnson announced to the nation on March 31, 1968 that he ordered a complete cessation of "all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam" effective November 1 citing progress with the Paris peace talks. And at the end of his speech he shocked the country by telling them he would not run for re-election, by saying: "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)


Cabinet appointments

President Lyndon B. Johnson 1963–1969
Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey 1965–1969
State Dean Rusk 1961–1969
Treasury C. Douglas Dillon 1961–1965
  Henry H. Fowler 1965–1968
  Joseph W. Barr 1968–1969
Defense Robert S. McNamara 1961–1968
  Clark M. Clifford 1968–1969
Justice Robert F. Kennedy 1961–1964
  Nicholas deB. Katzenbach 1964–1966
  Ramsey Clark 1966–1969
Postmaster General John A. Gronouski 1963–1965
  Lawrence F. O'Brien 1965–1968
  W. Marvin Watson 1968–1969
Interior Stewart L. Udall 1961–1969
Agriculture Orville L. Freeman 1961–1969
Commerce Luther H. Hodges 1961–1965
  John T. Connor 1965–1967
  Alexander B. Trowbridge 1967–1968
  Cyrus R. Smith 1968–1969
Labor W. Willard Wirtz 1962–1967
HEW Anthony J. Celebrezze 1962–1965
  John W. Gardner 1965–1968
  Wilbur J. Cohen 1968–1969
HUD Robert Clifton Weaver 1966–1968
  Robert Coldwell Wood 1969–1969
Transportation Alan Stephenson Boyd 1967–1969

Supreme Court appointments

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

Retirement, death, and honors

Under the 22nd Amendment, Johnson was still eligible for a second full term, having served less than two years of Kennedy's term. However, on March 31, 1968, after the Tet Offensive, a narrow victory over Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, the entry of Robert Kennedy into the presidential race, and new lows in the opinion polls, he announced, in an address to the nation, that he would no longer seek renomination for the presidency. He cited the growing division within the country over the war as his reason. The Democratic nomination eventually went to Johnson's Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who was later defeated in the 1968 election by Richard M. Nixon.

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, which is the most visited presidential library in the nation—over a quarter million visitors per year—opened on 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 proviso that the ranch "remain a working ranch and not become a sterile relic of the past" [3].

Johnson died at 4:33 PM on January 22, 1973 from a third heart attack at his ranch, at the age of 64. His health ruined by years of heavy smoking and stress, the former President had severe heart disease. He was found in his bed, reaching for his phone. Johnson was honored with a state funeral in which Texas Congressman J.J. Pickle and former Secretary of State Dean Rusk eulogized 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 worshipped often when president. The service, which foreign dignitaries, led by former Japanese prime minister Eisaku Sato, attended, was the first presidential funeral to feature a eulogy. They came from former White House Chief of Staff, and Postmaster General W. Marvin Watson, and the church's rector, Rev. Dr. George Davis, a very close friend of the Johnsons who officiated the services in Washington. Though he attended the service, Nixon did not speak, as customary for presidents during presidential funerals, but both eulogists turned to him as they spoke and lauded him for his tributes to the former president, as Rusk had the day before.

John Connally pays tribute to an old friend
John Connally pays tribute to an old friend

Johnson was buried that afternoon at his ranch in Texas. The burial service was the first presidential burial to feature a eulogy, and the eulogies were delivered by former Texas Democratic governor John Connally, an LBJ protege and fellow Texan, who was wounded in the assassination that made Johnson president, and by the minister who officiated the services, Rev. Billy Graham. Anita Bryant closed the services by singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," paying tribute to her friendship with the former president, at his own request. The state funeral was part of a busy week for the Military District of Washington, which began with Nixon's second inauguration.1

Later in 1973, President Nixon signed Congressional legislation renaming the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Also, the Texas State Legislature created a legal state holiday to be observed on August 27 to mark LBJ's birthday. It is known as Lyndon Baines Johnson Day.

Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1980.

Personal trivia

  • Lyndon Johnson was 6 ft 3 1/2 in (192 cm) tall and weighed about 215 pounds, the second tallest president after Abraham Lincoln at 6 ft 4 in (193 cm) and 180 pounds (82 kg).
  • 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 received the photographic portraits without having to pay a cent. The White House press corps would make 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.
  • Johnson seemed to crave personal approval. After delivering a major speech on civil rights, he called 32 people, all of whom he knew would greatly approve of his speech, to ask what they thought. All of these people, recorded for posterity in White House tapes, were overwhelmingly complimentary.
  • At his ranch in Texas, he was fond of taking visitors in the car while driving 90 miles an hour down country roads, drinking scotch from a paper cup.
  • His favorite soft drink was Fresca, which he drank constantly. He had a soda tap installed in the Oval Office.
  • Johnson, while using the White House bathroom, was known to insist that others accompany him and continue to discuss official matters, take dictation, or another convenient pretense. This was one of Johnson's many tactics for asserting psychological power over others.
  • All other American presidents born in the 20th century were born after LBJ.
  • The only American president to have ever visited Malaysia.

Further information

See also

Further reading

  • Barrett, David Marshall. Advice and Dissent: An Organizational Analysis of the Evolution of Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam Advisory System, 1965-1968. (University of Notre Dame, 1990)
  • Casey, Francis Michael. The Vietnam Policy of President Lyndon Baines Johnson in Response to the Theory of the Protracted Conflict as Applied in the Politics of Indochina: A Case Study of Threat Perception and Assessment in the Crisis Management Process of a Pluralistic Society. (Claremont Graduate School, 1976)
  • Cherwitz, Richard Arnold. The Rhetoric of the Gulf of Tonkin: A Study of the Crisis Speaking of President Lyndon B. Johnson. (University of Iowa, 1978)
  • Goodnight, Lisa Jo. The Conservative Voice of a Liberal President: An Analysis of Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam Rhetoric. (Purdue University, 1993)
  • Kearns Goodwin, Doris. Lyndon Johnson & the American Dream. (1977)
  • Logevall, Fredrik Bengt Johan. Fear to Negotiate: Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, 1963-1965. (Yale University, 1993)
  • Turner, Kathleen Jane. The Effect of Presidential-Press Interaction on Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam War Rhetoric. (Purdue University, 1978)
  • Winter-Berger, Robert N. The Washington pay-off: a lobbyist's own story of corruption in government. (Secaucus, New Jersey : L. Stuart 1972)

Johnson career documentary

Johnson is the subject of an extensive multi-volume biography: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro. So far three volumes have appeared:

  1. The Path to Power (1982),
  2. Means of Ascent (1990),
  3. Master of the Senate (2002).

References and external links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Wikisource has original text related to this article:


Preceded by:
James P. Buchanan
U.S. Representative for Texas' 10th Congressional District
Succeeded by:
Homer Thornberry
Preceded by:
W. Lee O'Daniel
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Texas
Succeeded by:
William Blakley
Preceded by:
H. Styles Bridges
Senate Minority Leader
Succeeded by:
William F. Knowland
Preceded by:
William F. Knowland
Senate Majority Leader
Succeeded by:
Michael J. Mansfield
Preceded by:
Estes Kefauver
Democratic Party Vice Presidential candidate
1960 (won)
Succeeded by:
Hubert H. Humphrey
Preceded by:
Richard Nixon
Vice President of the United States
January 20, 1961November 22, 1963
Succeeded by:
Hubert H. Humphrey
Preceded by:
John F. Kennedy
President of the United States
November 22, 1963January 20, 1969
Succeeded by:
Richard Nixon
Preceded by:
John F. Kennedy
Democratic Party Presidential candidate
1964 (won)
Succeeded by:
Hubert H. Humphrey
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