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 re-elected
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.
---------- 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 anti-communism. 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 hope s 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
anti-war 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
no t run for re-election. 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
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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