Lyndon B. Johnson


Johnson was born on Aug. 27, 1908, near Johnson City, Tex.,
the eldest son of Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., and Rebekah Baines
Johnson. His father, a struggling farmer and cattle
speculator in the hill country of Texas, provided only an
uncertain income for his family. Politically active, Sam
Johnson served five terms in the Texas legislature. His
mother had varied cultural interests and placed high value
on education; she was fiercely ambitious for her children.
Johnson attended public schools in Johnson City and
received a B.S. degree from Southwest Texas State Teachers
College in San Marcos. He then taught for a year in Houston
before going to Washington in 1931 as secretary to a
Democratic Texas congressman, Richard M. Kleberg. During
the next 4 years Johnson developed a wide network of
political contacts in Washington, D.C. On Nov. 17, 1934, he
married Claudia Alta Taylor, known as "Lady Bird." A warm,
intelligent, ambitious woman, she was a great asset to
Johnson's career. They had two daughters, Lynda Byrd, born
in 1944, and Luci Baines, born in 1947. In 1933, Franklin
D. Roosevelt entered the White House. Johnson greatly
admired the president, who named him, at age 27, to head
the National Youth Administration in Texas. This job, which
Johnson held from 1935 to 1937, entailed helping young
people obtain employment and schooling. It confirmed
Johnson's faith in the positive potential of government and
won for him a group of supporters in Texas.
In 1937, Johnson sought and won a Texas seat in Congress,
where he championed public works, reclamation, and public
power programs. When war came to Europe he backed
Roosevelt's efforts to aid the Allies. During World War II
he served a brief tour of active duty with the U.S. Navy in
the Pacific (1941-42) but returned to Capitol Hill when
Roosevelt recalled members of Congress from active duty.
Johnson continued to support Roosevelt's military and
foreign-policy programs. During the 1940s, Johnson and his
wife developed profitable business ventures, including a
radio station, in Texas. In 1948 he ran for the U.S.
Senate, winning the Democratic party primary by only 87
votes. (This was his second try; in 1941 he had run for the
Senate and lost to a conservative opponent.) The opposition
accused him of fraud and tagged him "Landslide Lyndon."
Although challenged, unsuccessfully, in the courts, he took
office in 1949.
Senator and Vice-President. ---------------------------
Johnson moved quickly into the Senate hierarchy. In 1953 he
won the job of Senate Democratic leader. The next year he
was easily reelected as senator and returned to Washington
as majority leader, a post he held for the next 6 years
despite a serious heart attack in 1955. The Texan proved to
be a shrewd, skillful Senate leader. A consistent opponent
of civil rights legislation until 1957, he developed
excellent personal relationships with powerful conservative
Southerners. A hard worker, he impressed colleagues with
his attention to the details of legislation and his
willingness to compromise.
In the late 1950s, Johnson began to think seriously of
running for the presidency in 1960. His record had been
fairly conservative, however. Many Democratic liberals
resented his friendly association with the Republican
president, Dwight D. Eisenhower; others considered him a
tool of wealthy Southwestern gas and oil interests. Either
to soften this image as a conservative or in response to
inner conviction, Johnson moved slightly to the left on
some domestic issues, especially on civil rights laws,
which he supported in 1957 and 1960. Although these laws
proved ineffective, Johnson had demonstrated that he was a
very resourceful Senate leader.
To many northern Democrats, however, Johnson remained a
sectional candidate. The presidential nomination of 1960
went to Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kennedy,
a northern Roman Catholic, then selected Johnson as his
running mate to balance the Democratic ticket. In November
1960 the Democrats defeated the Republican candidates,
Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, by a narrow margin.
Johnson was appointed by Kennedy to head the President's
Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, a post that
enabled him to work on behalf of blacks and other
minorities. As vice-president, he also undertook some
missions abroad, which offered him some limited insights
into international problems. Presidency. -----------
The assassination of President Kennedy on November 22,
1963, elevated Johnson to the White House, where he quickly
proved a masterful, reassuring leader in the realm of
domestic affairs. In 1964, Congress passed a tax-reduction
law that promised to promote economic growth and the
Economic Opportunity Act, which launched the program called
the War on Poverty. Johnson was especially skillful in
securing a strong Civil Rights Act in 1964. In the years to
come it proved to be a vital source of legal authority
against racial and sexual discrimination. In 1964 the
Republicans nominated Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona
as their presidential nominee. Goldwater was an extreme
conservative in domestic policy and an advocate of strong
military action to protect American interests in Vietnam.
Johnson had increased the number of U.S. military personnel
there from 16,000 at the time of Kennedy's assassination to
nearly 25,000 a year later. Contrasted to Goldwater,
however, he seemed a model of restraint. Johnson, with
Hubert H. Humphrey as his running mate, ran a low-key
campaign and overwhelmed Goldwater in the election. The
Arizonan won only his home state and five others in the
Deep South.
Johnson's triumph in 1964 gave him a mandate for the Great
Society, as he called his domestic program. Congress
responded by passing the MEDICARE program, which provided
health services to the elderly, approving federal aid to
elementary and secondary education, supplementing the War
on Poverty, and creating the Department of Housing and
Urban Development. It also passed another important civil
rights law--the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
At this point Johnson began the rapid deepening of U.S.
involvement in Vietnam; as early as February 1965, U.S.
planes began to bomb North Vietnam. American troop strength
in Vietnam increased to more than 180,000 by the end of the
year and to 500,000 by 1968. Many influences led Johnson to
such a policy. Among them were personal factors such as his
temperamental activism, faith in U.S. military power, and
staunch anticommunism. These qualities also led him to
intervene militarily in the Dominican Republic--allegedly
to stop a Communist takeover--in April 1965. Like many
Americans who recalled the "appeasement" of Nazi Germany in
the 1930s, Johnson thought the United States must be firm
or incur a loss of credibility.
While the nation became deeply involved in Vietnam, racial
tension sharpened at home, culminating in widespread urban
race riots between 1965 and 1968. The breakdown of the
interracial civil rights movement, together with the
imperfections of some of Johnson's Great Society programs,
resulted in Republican gains in the 1966 elections and
effectively thwarted Johnson's hopes for further
congressional cooperation.
It was the policy of military escalation in Vietnam,
however, that proved to be Johnson's undoing as president.
It deflected attention from domestic concerns, resulted in
sharp inflation, and prompted rising criticism, especially
among young, draft-aged people. Escalation also failed to
win the war. The drawn-out struggle made Johnson even more
secretive, dogmatic, and hypersensitive to criticism. His
usually sure political instincts were failing.
The New Hampshire presidential primary of 1968, in which
the antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy made a strong
showing, revealed the dwindling of Johnson's support. Some
of Johnson's closest advisors now began to counsel a
de-escalation policy in Vietnam. Confronted by mounting
opposition, Johnson made two surprise announcements on Mar.
31, 1968: he would stop the bombing in most of North
Vietnam and seek a negotiated end to the war, and he would
not run for reelection.
Johnson's influence thereafter remained strong enough to
dictate the nomination of Vice-President Humphrey, who had
supported the war, as the Democratic presidential candidate
for the 1968 election. Although Johnson stopped all bombing
of the North on November 1, he failed to make real
concessions at the peace table, and the war dragged on.
Humphrey lost in a close race with the Republican
candidate, Richard M. Nixon. Retirement. -----------
After stepping down from the presidency in January 1969,
Johnson returned to his ranch in Texas. There he and his
aides prepared his memoirs, which were published in 1971 as
The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency,
1963-1969. He also supervised construction of the Johnson
presidential library in Austin. Johnson died on Jan. 22,
1973, 5 days before the conclusion of the treaty by which
the United States withdrew from Vietnam. 
Evans, Rowland, and Novak, Robert, Lyndon B. Johnson, The
Exercise of
Power: A Political Biography (1966);
Geyelin, Philip, Lyndon B. Johnson and the World (1966);
Goldman, Eric F., The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson (1969);
Johnson, Lady Bird, White House Diary (1970);
Kearns, Doris, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1976);
Schandler, Herbert, The Unmaking of a President: Lyndon
Johnson and
Vietnam (1977);
White, Theodore, The Making of the President--1964 (1965);
Wicker, Tom, JFK and LBJ: The Influence of Personality Upon
(1968; repr. 1970).#

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