|Born||Aug. 27, 1908, near Stonewall, TX|
|Education||Southwest Texas State Teachers College, B.S., 1930|
Georgetown Law School, 1934
|Military service||U.S. Navy, 1942|
|Previous public office|| ♦ aide to U.S. Representative Richard Kleberg, 1932-34|
♦ Texas director, National Youth Administration, 1935-37;
♦ House of Representatives, 1937-49
♦ U.S. Senate, 1949-61;
♦ Senate majority whip: 1951-53;
♦ Senate minority leader, 1953-55;
Senate majority leader, 1955-61;
♦ Vice President, 1961-63
|Died||Jan. 22, 1973, Johnson City, Tex.|
Johnson grew up in Johnson City, Texas, which was named for his grandfather. After high school he went to California for a year, then returned home and worked on a road gang. After graduating from Southwest Texas State Teachers College he taught at a high school in Houston.
In 1935 he became Texas director of the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency, and began building a campaign organization for his political career. Meanwhile, Johnson's wife bought an Austin radio station and gradually accumulated a large fortune that made the family financially secure.
Johnson was elected to Congress in a special election in 1937 as a New Deal Democrat, and remained in the House until 1949. In 1941 he was defeated in a special election for the U.S. Senate. He was the first member of Congress to go into active duty during World War II, winning a Silver Star for gallantry in action when his plane was fired upon in the South Pacific.
In July 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered all legislators in active service to report back to Congress, and Johnson returned to the House.
In 1948, after winning a runoff Democratic senatorial primary against Texas governor Coke Stevenson by only 87 votes out of a million cast, Johnson won the general election against his Republican opponent by a 2-to-1 margin. Because of the likelihood that some of his votes in the primary were obtained fraudulently, he became known to his enemies as “landslide Lyndon.”
Johnson quickly moved up the ladder in the Senate. He became the Democratic party whip in 1951, chaired the Preparedness Committee, which investigated government contracts during the Korean War, was elected minority leader in 1953, and ran the Senate as majority leader after the 1954 election returned it to Democratic control. He instituted the Johnson Rule, giving every Democratic senator, no matter how junior, at least one good committee assignment.
As majority leader, Johnson established a remarkable record of legislation, including passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1960. In doing so, Johnson became identified as a Westerner rather than a Southerner in order to advance his Presidential ambitions—no Southern officeholder had been elected President for more than a century.
In 1960 Johnson ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination but lost to Senator John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy offered Johnson the Vice Presidency, he accepted, to the astonishment of many of Kennedy's aides. Johnson helped Kennedy win several Southern and Western states that were decisive in the Democratic victory. As Vice President, Johnson headed the space council, which decided to put the headquarters for manned space flight in Houston, Texas. He also chaired the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and the Peace Corps Advisory Council.
On November 22, 1963, John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Johnson had been in the President's motorcade, and he took the oath of office on Air Force One, which flew the new President, along with Jacqueline Kennedy and her slain husband, back to Washington. “Let us continue,” he told the nation, announcing that he would keep Kennedy's cabinet and top aides.
Johnson continued with Kennedy's domestic programs, expanding them and labeling them the Great Society. He won passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended racial discrimination in public accommodations, and passage of a set of programs to reduce poverty, which led to the creation of the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1964.
In the summer of 1964, Johnson was nominated by the Democrats by acclamation. He crushed his Republican opponent, conservative Barry Goldwater, winning more than 61 percent of the popular vote. In the next two years Congress passed a federal aid to education act, health care reimbursement programs for the aged and the poor, new urban programs (including the Department of Urban Affairs), a tax cut that sparked economic growth, and a foreign trade bill that spurred U.S. exports. In 1967 Congress approved a new Department of Transportation.
Perhaps the most significant law Johnson won from Congress was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a measure to protect the voting rights of blacks in the South; it tripled the number of black registered voters within three years, and within a decade changed the Democratic party from a party of white conservative segregationists into a biracial coalition of moderates.
Johnson's domestic achievements were soon obscured by foreign affairs, however. The Aug., 1964, incident leading Congress to pass the Tonkin Gulf resolution gave Johnson the authority to take any action necessary to protect American troops in Vietnam. Convinced that South Vietnam was about to fall to Communist forces, Johnson began (Feb., 1965) the bombing of North Vietnam. Within three years he increased American forces in South Vietnam from 20,000 to over 500,000 (see Vietnam War). Johnson's actions eventually aroused widespread opposition in Congress and among the public, and a vigorous antiwar movement developed.
U.S. troops in Vietnam increased to 100,000 by the fall, and more than half a million by the end of 1966.
Antiwar sentiment in the United States led to demonstrations against the war on college campuses and in Washington. With no end to the war in sight and American casualties growing rapidly, Johnson's popularity slid. By late 1966 his ability to get Congress to pass his programs had diminished.
Johnson made progress in arms control talks with the Soviet Union, though in January 1967 he signed the Outer Space Treaty with Soviet premier Aleksei Kosygin, which banned placement of nuclear weapons in earth orbit, on the moon or other planets, or in deep space. In 1968 the United States became a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which prohibited the transfer of nuclear weapons to other nations and prohibited assistance to nonnuclear nations in the making or acquisition of nuclear arms.
In January 1968 the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive in Saigon and other cities. Americans watched television images of the American embassy under siege, and public opposition to the war increased. In March Johnson barely defeated an antiwar Democratic challenger, Eugene McCarthy, in the New Hampshire primary. Knowing that with the Democrats so divided his renomination would be worthless, Johnson withdrew from the race on March 31. He also announced a reduction in the bombings of North Vietnam in an attempt to seek peace. But the war continued with no letup on the ground, and American casualties passed the 40,000 mark. Johnson helped his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, secure the Democratic nomination, but his war policies hurt Humphrey, who lost the election to Richard Nixon.
In giving up his office after one elected term, Johnson followed the pattern set by other Vice Presidents who took office after the death of an incumbent. Although Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Harry Truman were subsequently elected in their own right, none of them ran immediately for a second elected term.
In January 1969, an exhausted and emotionally spent Johnson retired to his ranch near Johnson City, Texas. He worked on his memoirs and helped organize his Presidential library at the University of Texas in Austin.
He died of a heart attack on his beloved ranch, just one day before the Paris Peace Accord, which ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, was concluded.
Johnson was often seen as a wildly ambitious, very intelligent, tireless, and imposing figure who was ruthlessly effective at getting legislation passed. He worked 18-20-hour days without break and was apparently absent of any leisure activities. According to biographers, "there was no more powerful majority leader in American history."
Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973) created new programs in health, education, human rights, and conservation and attacked the crushing 20th-century problems of urban blight and poverty with what he called the "War on Poverty."
But he is remembered mostly for the Vietnam war. When he stepped down the nation was bitterly divided.
Historians argue that Johnson's presidency marked the peak of modern liberalism in the United States after the New Deal era. Johnson is ranked favorably by many historians because of his domestic policies.