Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson Biography.com

U.S. Vice President, U.S. President(1908–1973)
Lyndon B. Johnson was elected vice president of the U.S. in 1960 and became the 36th president in 1963, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Synopsis

Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, was born in Texas on August 27, 1908. He was elected vice president of the United States in 1960, and became the 36th president in 1963, after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. During his administration, Johnson initiated the "Great Society" social service programs, signed the Civil Rights Act into law, and bore the brunt of national opposition to his vast expansion of American involvement in the Vietnam War. Johnson died in Texas on January 22, 1973.

Younger Years

Born in Stonewall, Texas, on August 27, 1908, Lyndon Baines Johnson's family had settled in Texas before the Civil War. His parents, Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr. and Rebekah Baines Johnson, had three girls and two boys. Lyndon was the oldest, born August 27, 1908. The nearby town of Johnson City was named after the Johnson family, known for farming and ranching. Lyndon's father was a rancher and part-time politician, but did not inherit the family's ranching talent and ran into financial difficulty, losing the family farm when Lyndon was in his early teens.

Lyndon B. Johnson struggled in school, but managed to graduate from Johnson City High School in 1924. He enrolled at Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Texas State University) and participated in debates and campus politics. After graduating in 1930, he briefly taught school, but his political ambitions had already taken shape: In 1931, Johnson won an appointment as legislative secretary to Texas Democratic Congressman Richard M. Kleberg, and relocated to Washington, D.C. He quickly built a network of congressmen, newspapermen, lobbyists and friends, including aides to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In 1934, Lyndon B. Johnson met Claudia Alta Taylor, known to her friends as "Lady Bird." Claudia soon became Johnson's top aide. She used a modest inherence to bankroll his 1937 run for Congress, and ran his office for several years. She later bought a radio station and then a television station, which made the Johnsons wealthy.

Early Political Career

After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, President Roosevelt helped Lyndon B. Johnson win a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a lieutenant commander. Johnson served on a tour of the South Pacific and flew one combat mission. Not long into the mission, Johnson's plane was forced to turn back due to mechanical difficulty, but he managed to receive a Silver Star medal for his participation. Soon after, he returned to his legislative duties in Washington, D.C.

In a close and controversial election, Lyndon B. Johnson was elected as a senator for Texas in 1948. He advanced quickly and, with is connections, became the youngest minority leader in Senate history in 1953. Democrats won control of the Senate the following year, and Johnson was elected majority leader.

Johnson had an uncanny ability to gather information on his fellow legislators, and knew where each of his colleagues stood on political issues. With incredible persuasion skills and an imposing presence, he was able to "button-hole" political allies and opponents alike to convince them of his way of thinking. Subsequently, he was able to obtain passage of a number of measures during the Eisenhower administration.

Vice President

By 1960, Lyndon B. Johnson had set his sights on the White House. However, he was overwhelmed by the young and energetic senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, who was nominated for president on the first ballot at the Democratic Convention. Kennedy realized that he could not be elected without the support of traditional Southern Democrats, most of whom had backed Johnson. Thusly, after the convention, Kennedy offered Johnson the vice presidency and Johnson accepted. Johnson delivered the South, and the JFK/LBJ ticket won the election against Republican candidate Richard Nixon by the smallest of margins.

Though never comfortable in the role, as vice president, Johnson headed the space program, oversaw negotiations on the nuclear test ban treaty, and worked to push through equal opportunity legislation for minorities. He also strongly supported Kennedy's decision to send American military advisors to South Vietnam to help fight off a communist insurgency. However, Johnson was never in Kennedy's inner circle and was frustrated by his lack of influence, particularly on legislative issues.

Lyndon Johnson Harry Truman Photo

READ ARTICLE: “Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Medicare” by Mark K. Updegrove, Director of the LBJ Presidential Library. Pictured: President Johnson and former president Harry Truman at the signing of the Medicare Bill on July 30, 1965. (Photo: LBJ Presidential Library)

Presidency

On November, 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas while traveling in a motorcade. Johnson was only two cars behind Kennedy when the shots rang out. Just a few hours later, Johnson was sworn in as the 36th president aboard Air Force One on its return to Washington, D.C. Over the next year, he endorsed the late president's programs and pushed through Congress a few of his own, including a tax cut and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- the first effective civil rights law since Reconstruction.

In 1964, Johnson ran for the presidency against conservative Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. With public sentiment largely for Democrats and Goldwater's staunch conservatism, Johnson won by a landslide; he received 61 percent of the popular vote -- the biggest margin of victory in U.S. election history. Johnson used his election mandate to wage war on poverty in the United States and communism in South East Asia.

In 1965, Johnson pushed a sweeping legislative agenda known as the "Great Society," which would become the most ambitious and far-reaching domestic program in the nation's history. With strong bipartisan support, scores of bills were passed that championed urban renewal, education, the arts, environmental beautification and conservation, and the development of depressed regions in the country. Great Society legislation also included the passage of the Medicare and Medicaid acts and the Voting Rights Act, and led to the establishment of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In 1968, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.

Final Years

By 1967, the escalating war in Vietnam was consuming Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency. Criticism surrounded his administration's handling of the war found in the nation's media, and anti-war protests had begun to spring up on college campuses and major cities. By 1968, more than 500,000 U.S. troops were in Vietnam, and there seemed to be no end in sight. As the next election campaign geared up, Democrats were split into four factions, each despising the other three, and Johnson had lost control of his party. His approval rating plummeted to 36 percent. On March 31, 1968, Johnson shocked the nation by announcing that he would not seek re-election.

When Johnson left office in January 1969, peace talks in Vietnam were under way, but it would take another four years before the United States was completely out of Vietnam.

Johnson died suddenly of a heart attack at his Texas ranch on January 22, 1973. The day before his death, he had learned that peace was at hand in Vietnam.

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