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Lyndon Johnson on Death of Civil Rights Workers

Lyndon Johnson on Death of Civil Rights Workers

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After receiving news that the bodies of three missing civil rights workers were found in Mississippi on August 4, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson calls Civil Rights Counselor Lee White and asks him to inform the families of the victims.

Civil death: how millions of Americans lost their right to vote

C ivil death is a form of punishment that extinguishes someone’s civil rights. It’s a concept that has been reshaped and reinterpreted over many generations, persisting in the form of felony disenfranchisement, through which a citizen loses their right to vote due to a felony conviction.

There are an estimated 6 million Americans who cannot vote in the country’s elections because of some form of civil death. Depending on the state they live in, they might even lose their right to vote permanently, or for years after they are released from prison. While the US has come to see this form of civil death as status quo, it is actually rare for a democratic country to take away a citizen’s voting rights after they leave prison, let alone forever. Countries like Germany and Denmark allow prisoners to vote while incarcerated, while others restore their rights immediately after release.

The US’s history of restricting the number of people who can vote in elections goes back to the colonies – and it’s a history that has disproportionately affected black people. Here is the story of how civil death in the US came to be.

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“The worse the public perception, the more important the effective defense is,” Clark said. “That’s where you really measure whether our rights are applicable in the most hateful circumstances.”

Asked in the same interview about today’s civil rights activism — including the Black Lives Matter movement — Clark said: “I am not involved anymore. . But I am all for its aspirations.

“I don’t think we’ve overcome our history of racism, which involves human slavery,” he said. “It’s incredible that a country that talks so much about freedom would come from a country that practiced human slavery for so long. It’s up to each generation to do better.”

The Divided Legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson

As death drew close, the 36th president was shadowed by the shame of Vietnam even as he longed to be remembered for his achievements in civil rights—and he spent himself on a final speech to enshrine that record.

About the author: Doris Kearns Goodwin is a biographer and historian who worked as a White House Fellow under Lyndon Johnson.

N o man wanted more ferociously to be remembered than Lyndon B. Johnson. A metamorphosis had taken place when, in 1955, as majority leader of the Senate, he suffered a serious heart attack. In the months that followed, he fell into a depression so consuming that it appeared he was grieving over his own death. “He’d just sort of lie there,” one aide recalled. “You’d feel that he wasn’t there at all, that there was some representation of Johnson alongside of you, something mechanical. Then one day he got up and he hollered to have somebody come up and give him a shave, and just in a matter of minutes the whole hospital started to click.”

The crucial tonic, it soon became clear, was not administered by the doctors and the nurses, but by the spate of more than 4,000 letters of concern, condolence, and love he had received. They invigorated him as if they’d been life-giving transfusions. During his recovery, Johnson’s New Deal friend Jim Rowe sent him a recently published biography of Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln, as a young man, had suffered an incapacitating depression, he had told friends that he was more than willing to die, but that he had accomplished nothing “to link his name with something that would redound to the interest of his fellow man.” Would “any human being remember that he had lived?” Would anyone remember anything he had done?

Johnson now asked himself a similar set of questions. He had laid the foundation of a substantial fortune, but what purpose did that wealth serve? He had learned to manipulate the legislative machine of the Senate with a deftness without parallel in American history. But to what end? What large and lasting benefit to the people at large had issued from such an accumulation of power? When he returned to the Senate, he rededicated himself to the values that had originally drawn him into public service—the idea that government should be used to help those who needed help: people of color, the elderly, the sick, the undereducated, the ill-housed. He had returned from the crucible of his massive heart attack with a clarified purpose, a deep resolve to move his country forward on a progressive path.

On the brutal day in November 1963 when Johnson assumed the presidency, he knew exactly where he wanted to take the country in domestic affairs and he had a working idea of how to get there: “I’m going to get Kennedy’s tax cut out of the Senate Finance Committee, and we’re going to get this economy humming again. Then I’m going to pass Kennedy’s civil-rights bill, which has been hung up too long in the Congress. And I’m going to pass it without changing a comma or a single word. After that we’ll pass legislation that allows everyone anywhere in the country to vote, with all the barriers down. And that’s not all. We’re going to get a law that says every boy and girl in this country, no matter how poor, or the color of their skin, or the region they come from, is going to be able to get all the education they can take by loan, scholarship, or grant, right from the federal government. And I aim to pass Harry Truman’s medical-insurance bill that got nowhere before.”

Within two years of his taking the presidential oath, every single one of these goals had been achieved. Under Johnson’s domestic leadership, Republicans and Democrats worked together to engineer the greatest advancements in civil rights since the Civil War. Together, they launched a comprehensive and progressive vision for American society that has left an enduring imprint upon the landscape of our daily lives.

At this glorious summit of achievement, no one could have conceived that the president’s consummate exercise of power was drawing to a close. Yet, as the terrain shifted from the domestic policies of the Great Society to the war in Vietnam, Johnson demonstrated an epic failure of leadership that would compromise his credibility, forever scar his legacy, and nearly tear the country apart. A majority of people came to believe that he had systematically misled them. This lack of trust forced his hand. He made the decision in 1968 not to run again. When he left office, he knew that the war had split his legacy in two. The four years left to him were more bitter than sweet, as I was there to witness.

D uring his last months in the White House , Johnson had often spoken with me about going to Texas to work with him full-time, not only on his memoirs, but also on the establishment of his presidential library, in Austin. As my White House fellowship was concluding, however, I was looking forward to returning to Harvard, where I was scheduled to begin teaching. When I hesitated and asked if we could work out something on a part-time basis, Johnson replied with an emphatic, “No. Either you come or you don’t.”

On his last day in the White House, Johnson called me into the Oval Office. “I need help,” he said quietly, “part-time as you wish, on weekends, during vacation, whatever you can give.” This time I had no hesitation. “Of course I will,” I said. “Thanks a lot,” he replied, adding, “Now you take care of yourself up there at Harvard. Don’t let them get at you, for God’s sake, don’t let their hatred for Lyndon Johnson poison your feelings about me.”

I turned to go, but he called me back to say one more thing. “It’s not easy to get the help you need when you’re no longer on top of the world. I know that and I won’t forget what you’re doing for me.”

So in the months and years that followed, while beginning my teaching career at Harvard, I spent academic breaks and parts of summer vacations in Austin and at the ranch. I became part of a small team of former speechwriters, aides, and staff members assisting Johnson in the process of writing his memoirs. Happily, I was assigned to the chapters on civil rights and Congress, but we all worked together, combing through files and preparing questions for recorded conversations with the president that were designed to serve as the basis for the book.

During discussions about the Vietnam War, Johnson would invariably stiffen, shuffling through his papers before uttering a word, his voice hardening and dropping to a whisper. Unlike Harry Truman, Johnson was the type, Franklin D. Roosevelt described, who would “wear out the carpets walking up and down worrying whether they have decided something correctly.” Truman, Johnson once wistfully explained to me, “never looks back and asks, ‘Should I have done it? Oh! Should I have done it!’ No, he just knows he made up his mind as best he could and that’s that. There’s no going back. I wish I had some of that quality, for there’s nothing worse than going back over a decision made, retracing the steps that led to it, and imagining what it’d be like if you took another turn. It can drive you crazy.” Though rarely voiced, Johnson’s regrets over Vietnam were turned over in his mind every day.

By contrast, when he recounted stories about working with Congress on domestic issues, his vitality filled the room. He would rise from his desk and stride up and down, employing his masterful gifts for mimicry and storytelling while impersonating Harry Byrd, Richard Russell, Hubert Humphrey, and Everett Dirksen, rendering vivid snatches of dialogue on the budget and civil rights. These were full-blown theatrical performances, the language enhanced by his facial expressions and extravagant gestures. His spirits aroused, Johnson was able to tap once more the positive energy of the early days of his presidency.

In preliminary drafts of the two chapters I was working on, I quoted directly from the arresting stories Johnson told, hoping to capture something of his natural speaking style, his wide-ranging insights, impersonations, and bawdy humor. “God damn it, I can’t say this,” he instructed me after reading the pages. “It’s a presidential memoir, damn it, and I’ve got to come out looking like a statesman, not some backwoods politician!” No amount of argument could convince him that his repertoire of stories was appropriate for a dignified memoir. Consequently, his vernacular voice and outlandish depictions, and the swiftness of his mind, were left on the cutting-room floor—only to reemerge when the Lyndon Johnson tapes, his secretly recorded private telephone conversations from the White House, were finally released to the public.

Johnson was never fully engaged in his memoirs. He repeatedly addressed the idea that history’s judgment was already stacked against him: “All the historians are Harvard people. It just isn’t fair. Poor old Hoover from West Branch, Iowa, had no chance with that crowd … Nor does Lyndon Johnson from Stonewall, Texas.” If such statements contained more than a habitual strain of self-pity, they also signified that he knew that his presidency had not been all he had hoped. His aversion to the memoir project also represented an antipathy to the final tying up of his life’s work. Finishing his memoirs meant that his long public service, his usefulness, was done with. “There’s nothing I can do about it,” he said. “So I might as well give up and put my energies in the one thing they cannot take away from me—and that is my ranch.”

D uring these years , Johnson’s altered appearance was striking. Gone was the slicked, groomed hair now, over time, it grew into long white curls over his collar. His dark presidential suit and polished oxfords had been traded in for short sleeves and work boots. An informal atmosphere prevailed in the place Lady Bird called “our heart’s home.” Family dinners often took place in the small kitchen or, as in so many homes in Middle America, on trays before the television in the comfortable living room.

Even a cursory inspection, however, suggested anything but a conventional middle-class existence. A massive communications network enabled Johnson instantaneously to receive and transmit information to the world at large. In that era before cell phones, Johnson’s telephones floated on a special raft in the swimming pool. Phones were handy when sitting on the toilet, riding in any of his cars, or cruising on his motorboat. A three-screen television console was built into a cabinet in his bedroom. If necessary, Johnson’s voice could be broadcast on 13 loudspeakers installed at strategic points on the ranch.

I would sometimes accompany Johnson on his early-morning drives to inspect his fields and give instructions to the workers. The grand disparity of power between the White House and the ranch lent an inherent pathos, even comedy, to the urgency with which Johnson conducted briefings for his ranch hands. “Now,” he would begin, “I want each of you to make a solemn pledge that you will not go to bed tonight until you are sure that every steer has everything he needs. We’ve got a chance of producing some of the finest beef in the country if we work at it, if we dedicate ourselves to the job.”

No detail was too small to warrant the label “HP”—high priority. “Get some itch medicine for the sore eye of that big brown cow in Pasture One. Start the sprinklers in Pasture Three. Fix the right wheel in the green tractor.” Status reports on legislation that had been staples of Johnson’s night reading in the White House were replaced by reports of how many eggs had been laid that day: “Monday, 162 Tuesday, 144 … Thursday, 158 … Saturday, 104.” He initialed these daily memos and made further inquiries. “Only 104 on Saturday? Out of 200 hens? What do you reckon is the matter with those hens?”

When I think back over these years, my most vivid memories are the walks we took in the late afternoons after the day’s work on the memoirs was done. Those walks, setting out from the ranch, traversed the actual way stations of Johnson’s childhood. Less than a mile down the road was the house where he was born, painstakingly restored as a public museum. He liked to check the variety of license plates in the parking lot and track the attendance sheets to see how many people had visited that week, a gauge of how the winds of historical judgment might blow. Across the field, hardly a stone’s throw from his birth house, was the cottage site where his grandfather had once lived. There, Johnson could find refuge there, he would revel in his grandfather’s vast world of cowboy tales and ancestral lore. On a rise further down the road stood the Junction School, where his formal learning had commenced.

Clustered along this road was the nucleus of his life: ranch, birth house, grandfather’s cottage, school—and finally, across the road, beneath enormous pin oaks overlooking the meandering Pedernales River, the Johnson family cemetery. “Here’s where my mother lies,” he would say, pointing to her grave in the small burial plot. “And here’s where my daddy is buried. And here is where I’m going to be, too.”

Rarely was there a moment of silence on our walks, a moment not filled with the sound of Johnson’s voice. He found comfort and relief in moving backward in time from his tumultuous presidency to the early years of his upward climb. He spoke with pride of his teaching days in the impoverished town of Cotulla, of the work he had done to introduce all manner of activities to his Mexican American students. He relished memories under Franklin D. Roosevelt, putting thousands of needy young people to work in the National Youth Administration building roadside parks, school gyms, and swimming pools. He returned again and again to the story of how he had brought electric power to the Hill Country, and how electricity had changed the daily lives of thousands of farm families, letting them enjoy such modern conveniences as electric lights, refrigerators, and washing machines for the first time. He spoke of the joy he took in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which, despite the weakness of its enforcement procedures, opened the door to the far larger achievements of the 89th Congress during his first 18 months as president.

“Those were the days when we really got something done,” he said, “the days when my dream of making life better for more people than even FDR truly seemed possible. Think of how far we might have reached if things had gone differently.” He sucked in a deep breath, shook his head, and exhaled, his expression revealing a deep and unsettling well of sadness.

Returning that night to my room at the ranch, making notes on what he had said, I asked myself a question I would ask many times in the years to follow: Why was he telling me all these things? Why was he allowing me to see his vulnerability and sorrow? Perhaps it was because I was a young woman and aspired to become a historian, two constituencies he badly wanted to reach, to persuade, to shape, and to inspire. Perhaps, to a lesser extent, it was because I possessed an Ivy League pedigree, which he both held in contempt and coveted. Or maybe it was simply that I listened with sleepless intensity as he strove to come to terms with the meaning of his life.

For the more we talked, the more it seemed to me that he believed his life was drawing to a close. Indeed, I later found out that he had commissioned an actuarial table while still in the White House which statistically predicted, based on his family history of heart failure, that he would likely die at 64. Only a little more than a year into his retirement, in the spring of 1970, severe chest pains sent him to Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio, where he was diagnosed with angina. He embarked on a strict regime of diet and exercise, but it was not long before he resumed eating rich foods, drinking Cutty Sark, and chain smoking. “I’m an old man, so what’s the difference?” he said. “I don’t want to linger the way Eisenhower did. When I go, I want to go fast.”

I n April of 1972, Johnson suffered a second massive heart attack while staying at the Virginia home of his daughter, Lynda. Against doctor’s orders, he insisted on returning to Texas to recuperate. Reprising his father’s dying wish, he wanted to return to a place where “people know when you’re sick and care when you die.” Though he managed to survive this second near-fatal heart attack, his remaining time was filled with pain. Mornings would begin fairly well, but by afternoons, he confided to friends, he often experienced “a series of sharp, jolting pains in the chest that left him scared and breathless.” A portable oxygen tank beside his bed provided only temporary relief.

Johnson was scheduled to speak at a civil-rights symposium at the LBJ Library on December 11, 1972. All the leaders of the civil-rights community would be present: Roy Wilkins, Clarence Mitchell, Hubert Humphrey, Julian Bond, Barbara Jordan, Vernon Jordan, and former Chief Justice Earl Warren, among many others. On the Sunday night before the symposium’s opening, however, a treacherous ice storm descended on Austin. It was unclear if the event would even proceed. “So cold and icy was it,” Library Director Harry Middleton recalled, “that we got word that the plane carrying many of the participants from Washington couldn’t land at the Austin airport, and they would have to come here by bus.”

“Lyndon had been quite sick the night before and up most of the night,” Lady Bird remembered. “The doctor insisted that he absolutely, positively could not go.” Nevertheless, wearing “a dark-blue presidential suit” and “flawlessly polished oxfords,” he headed out over the icy roads on the 70-mile trek to Austin. Though he had given up driving in recent months, he became so agitated by the driver’s slow pace that he took the wheel himself.

Those who watched the former president ascend the steps to the stage knew that determination alone drove him. He struggled noticeably to reach the lectern. The pains in his chest were such that he paused to place a nitroglycerine tablet in his mouth. If this effort was to cost him his life, so be it. He spoke haltingly, acknowledging that he no longer spoke in public “very often” or for “very long,” but, he emphasized, there were now things that he wanted to say.

“Of all the records that are housed in this library, 31 million papers over a 40-year period of public life,” he began, the record relating to civil rights “holds the most of myself within it, and holds for me the most intimate meanings.” While admitting that civil rights had not always been his priority, he had come to believe that “the essence of government” lay in ensuring “the dignity and innate integrity of life for every individual”—“regardless of color, creed, ancestry, sex, or age.”

Continuing, Johnson insisted, “I don’t want this symposium to come here and spend two days talking about what we have done the progress has been much too small. We haven’t done nearly enough. I’m kind of ashamed of myself that I had six years and couldn’t do more than I did.”

The plight of being “black in a white society,” he argued, remained the chief unaddressed problem of our nation. “Until we address unequal history, we cannot overcome unequal opportunity.” Until blacks “stand on level and equal ground,” we cannot rest. It must be our goal “to assure that all Americans play by the same rules and all Americans play against the same odds.”

“And if our efforts continue,” he concluded, “and if our will is strong, and if our hearts are right, and if courage remains our constant companion, then, my fellow Americans, I am confident we shall overcome.”

Five weeks after this address, Johnson suffered a fatal heart attack. The man who needed to be surrounded by people all his life was alone. At 3:50 p.m., he called the ranch switchboard for the Secret Service. By the time they reached his bedroom, Lyndon B. Johnson was dead. As he had long foretold, he was 64 years old. Three days later, he was buried in the family cemetery, in the sheltering shade of the massive oak trees.

This keynote address was Lyndon B. Johnson’s last public statement. By going to the symposium, Lady Bird later said, “he knew what he was spending, and had a right to decide how to spend it.” The choice he made that day represented his hope that history would recall the time when he had been willing to risk everything for civil rights, to push in all the chips, the entire capital of his presidency. “If I am ever to be remembered,” Johnson told me, “it will be for civil rights.”

This article has been adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s forthcoming bookLeadership: In Turbulent Times.

Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson’s parents were Samuel Ealy and Rebekah Baines Johnson. Johnson married Claudia Taylor (Lady Bird) in 1934. They had two daughters: Lynda Bird and Luci Baines.


The tragic shooting of President Kennedy elevated Johnson into the presidency. Johnson promised to not only continue Kennedy’s work, but to also implement his own vision for America, which he called “The Great Society.” To realize this dream, he declared an “unconditional war on poverty” and also promised to end racism, asserting that “This is not merely an economic issue or a social, political, or international issue. It is a moral issue.”

Johnson wasted no time. He soon signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended segregation in schools, work sites, and public places. He also signed the Economic Opportunity Act, which created the Office of Economic Opportunity––an umbrella agency designed to provide job training, adult education, and loans to small businesses. The EOA also implemented such programs as Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA), the Job Corps, Head Start, and Family Planning centers, all conceived to confront unemployment and poverty directly. Almost a year later he signed legislation that instituted government-funded healthcare for the elderly and disadvantaged in Medicare and Medicaid. Johnson is also credited with signing environmental legislation to guarantee clean air and water. Many Americans prospered under Johnson’s programs, and he won the 1964 election overwhelmingly.

Two clouds cast dismal shadows over Johnson’s Great Society and presidency. The first was the ongoing struggle for civil rights. Despite new antipoverty and antidiscrimination legislation and programs, massive unrest and rioting swept the nation. Martin Luther King Jr. led marches and demonstrations that inspired many, but riots continued and King was murdered in 1968.

The Vietnam War served as a second source of anxiety. President Kennedy had sent U.S. military advisors to South Vietnam in 1961, but in 1964 Johnson had asked Congress to engage in the war. Johnson believed Communism to be a severe threat, and he was committed to preventing a Communist takeover in South Vietnam. By 1966 the U.S. had sent almost 400,000 soldiers to Vietnam. Only 109 Americans had died in Vietnam before Johnson took office, but by the end of his term, over 30,000 Americans had died. Americans became increasingly disgusted with the war, and Johnson’s popularity plummeted. Therefore, in March of 1968, Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection to the presidency. He retired to his ranch in Texas.


In his first address to Congress as president, Johnson stated, “All I have I would have gladly given not to be standing here today. The greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time. . . . An assassin’s bullet has thrust upon me the awesome burden of the presidency. On the 20th day of January, in 1961, John F. Kennedy told his countrymen, ‘ . . . let us begin.’ Today, in this moment of new resolve, I would say to all my fellow Americans, let us continue.” (November 27, 1963)

“This administration, today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty.” (First Inaugural Address January 8, 1964)

“The promise of America is a simple promise: Every person shall share in the blessings of this land. And they shall share on the basis of their merits as a person. They shall not be judged by their color or by their beliefs, or by their religion, or by where they were born, or the neighborhood in which they live.”

“The women of America represent a reservoir of talent that is still underused. It is too often underpaid, and almost always underpromoted.” (Remarks at the Federal Woman’s Award Ceremony at the White House March 2, 1965)

At This Time

1964: The 24th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, abolishing poll taxes • In March Jack Ruby is convicted of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald and sentenced to death • Johnson signs The Civil Rights Act of 1964 • In August three civil rights workers are found dead in Mississippi • Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving the President power to pursue military action in Vietnam • In August Johnson signs the Economic Opportunity Act, creating the Office of Economic Opportunity and beginning the War on Poverty • Martin Luther King Jr. is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize • Khrushchev is forced to resign as leader of the Soviet Union and is replaced by Leonid Brezhnev • The Beatles arrive in New York for their first U.S. tour • 1965: Nine American soldiers are killed in an attack on U.S. barracks in Pleiku, Vietnam, and Johnson begins bombing North Vietnam • Malcolm X is assassinated by other black Muslims in New York City • Martin Luther King Jr. leads a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama • Johnson signs the Elementary and Secondary Education Act • The U.S. Supreme Court finds a Connecticut law banning the use of contraceptives unconstitutional • In July Martin Luther King Jr. leads a demonstration in Chicago in an attempt to bring the Civil Rights Movement to the North • Johnson signs legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law • In August the Watts Riots break out in Los Angeles • Consumer advocate Ralph Nader publishes Unsafe at Any Speed • “Op” art (nonobjective art directed at optical illusions based on use of color, form, and perspective in unusual ways) becomes trendy • 1966: Fearing that American involvement in Vietnam will draw France into a world war, French president Charles de Gaulle announces that France will withdraw from NATO • The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upholds the Voting Rights Act of 1965 • The White House Conference on Civil Rights urges Congress to pass further civil rights legislation • In Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the constitutional provision against self-incrimination applies to police interrogations • Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale found the Black Panther Party • Truman Capote writes In Cold Blood • The World Jewish Congress in Brussels attempts to promote Jewish-Christian understanding • Alfred Hitchcock produces his 50th film, Torn Curtain • The Soviet spacecraft Luna 9 and the American spacecraft Surveyor 1 land on the moon • Miniskirts become fashionable • 78 million cars are registered in the U.S • Color TV is widely available • 1967: A launch pad fire during tests for the Apollo program kills three astronauts • The 25th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, providing rules of succession upon the death or incapacitation of the president, and enabling the president to appoint a new vice-president in the case of a vacancy • In July riots break out in Newark, New Jersey and later spread across Detroit, Michigan • Stanford University biochemists produce a synthetic version of DNA • China explodes its first hydrogen bomb • Dr. Christiaan N. Barnard performs the world’s first human heart transplant in South Africa • Mickey Mantle hits his 500th career home run • 1968: North Vietnamese troops surprise South Vietnamese and American troops by attacking during the Tet holiday • While the Tet Offensive is not a military loss for the U.S., it leads to a loss of confidence in the Johnson administration’s prosecution of the war • In March U.S. forces in Vietnam massacre hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children in the hamlet of My Lai • News of the massacre does not reach the public until November 1969 • Robert Kennedy enters the race for the Democratic nomination for president • In March Johnson announces a partial bombing halt and his unwillingness to seek reelection to the presidency • Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee • In May the U.S. and North Vietnam begin peace talks in Paris • On June 5 Senator Robert Kennedy is assassinated after winning the Democratic primary in California • The Soviet Union invades Czechoslovakia to end the movement toward greater freedom and independence • In November Leonid Brezhnev announces that the Soviet Union has the right to intervene anywhere in its sphere of influence • This “Brezhnev Doctrine” becomes central to Soviet foreign policy • Popular films include The Odd Couple starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey • James D. Watson publishes The Double Helix, which explains the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA • Violent crimes have increased 57% in the U.S. since 1960

Did You Know?

Every member of Johnson’s family shared his “LBJ” initials: his wife (Lady Bird), his daughters (Lynda Bird and Luci Baines), and even the family dog (Little Beagle Johnson).

In June 1965 Johnson and his wife hosted a Festival of the Arts at the White House, which was the first festival of its kind sponsored by a president. The Johnsons had invited many principal artists, writers, and musicians to showcase a stunning variety of American visual, literary, and performance arts. The award-winning, African-American jazz singer Sarah Vaughan delighted the audience with a 30-minute performance. A White House staffer encountered Miss Vaughan sobbing in her dressing room following her performance. She explained, “Nothing is the matter. It’s just that twenty years ago when I came to Washington I couldn’t even get a hotel room, and tonight I sang for the President of the United States in the White House––and then, he asked me to dance with him. It is more than I can stand!”

Learn More

    Information about and access to resources at the LBJ Library and Museum in Austin, Texas.
    Biographical information, essays, and access to Johnson’s presidential speeches sponsored by the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

Field Trips for Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
Austin, Texas

The Johnson Library is a research facility with 45 million pages of documents from Johnson’s political career. In addition, there are photos and other media available for research. The museum exhibits a wide range of items related to the life and presidency of LBJ.

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site
Stonewall, Texas

This historic site features a visitor center, the Behrens Cabin and the living history center, The Sauer-Beckmann Farm.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Johnson City, Texas

Comprised of the Johnson City District and the LBJ Ranch, the park provides a complete look at Johnson’s life—his birth and childhood, his political life, retirement, and his final resting place.

Johnson, Lyndon B. (1908 – 1973)

Introduction: In the 1960 campaign, Lyndon B. Johnson was elected Vice President as John F. Kennedy’s running mate. On November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson was sworn in as the 36th United States President, with a vision to build “A Great Society” for the American people. In his first years of office he obtained passage of one of the most extensive legislative programs in the Nation’s history. Maintaining collective security, he carried on the rapidly growing struggle to restrain Communist encroachment in Viet Nam.

First he obtained enactment of the measures President Kennedy had been urging at the time of his death–a new civil rights bill and a tax cut. Next he urged the Nation “to build a great society, a place where the meaning of man’s life matches the marvels of man’s labor.” In 1964, Johnson won the Presidency with 61 percent of the vote and had the widest popular margin in American history–more than 15,000,000 votes.

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, 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.

The Boyhood That Shaped LBJ

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, in central Texas, not far from Johnson City, which his family had helped settle. Growing up, he felt the sting of rural poverty, working his way through Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now known as Texas State University), and learning compassion for the poverty and discrimination of others when he taught students of Mexican descent in Cotulla, Texas.

In 1937 he campaigned successfully for the House of Representatives on a New Deal platform, effectively aided by his wife, the former Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor, whom he had married after a whirlwind courtship in 1934.

During World War II, Lyndon Johnson served briefly in the Navy as a lieutenant commander, receiving a Silver Star in the South Pacific. After six terms in the House, he was elected to the Senate in 1948. In 1953, he became the youngest Minority Leader in Senate history, and the following year, when the Democrats won control, Majority Leader. With rare legislative skill he obtained passage of a number of measures during the Eisenhower Administration. He became, by many accounts, the most powerful Majority Leader of the twentieth century.

In the 1960 campaign, Johnson, as John F. Kennedy’s running mate, was elected Vice President. On November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Lyndon Baines Johnson became the 36 th President.

“Let us continue…”

Shortly after assuming the Presidency, Johnson used his legislative prowess to pass two bills that Kennedy had endorsed but was unable to get through Congress at the time of his death: a tax cut and a civil rights act. The latter, which would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, became the first effective civil rights law since Reconstruction, outlawing segregation and discrimination throughout American society. Next he enacted his own agenda, urging the Nation “to build a great society, a place where the meaning of man’s life matches the marvels of man’s labor.” In 1964, with Hubert Humphrey as his running mate, Johnson won the Presidency against Republican challenger, Barry Goldwater, garnering 61 percent of the vote and had the widest popular margin in American history—more than 15,000,000 votes.

The War Against Poverty, Public Broadcasting, Medicare, and more

President Johnson used his 1964 mandate to bring his vision for a Great Society to fruition in 1965, pushing forward a sweeping legislative agenda that would become one of the most ambitious and far-reaching in the nation’s history. Congress, at times augmenting or amending Johnson’s legislation, rapidly enacted his recommendations. As a result, his administration passed more than sixty education bills, initiated a wide-scale fight against poverty, saw federal support of the arts and humanities, championed urban renewal, environmental beautification and conservation, enabled development of depressed regions and pushed for control and prevention of crime and delinquency. Millions of elderly people were also given the means for proper medical care through the 1965 Medicare Amendment to the Social Security Act.

Johnson’s Great Society also included the continued advancement of civil rights. He realized the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which removed poll taxes and tests that represented an obstacle to the ballot among many Americans of color, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, preventing discrimination in housing sales and rentals. Additionally, he appointed the first African American cabinet member and U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.

Mankind Walks on the Moon

Under Johnson, the U.S. also made impressive gains in its space program, which he had championed since its start. When three American astronauts successfully orbited the moon on Apollo 8 in December 1968, becoming the first to leave earth’s orbit, Johnson congratulated them: “You’ve taken…all of us, all over the world, into a new era.” The mission set the stage for the Apollo 11 mission seven months later, which saw men walk on the moon for the first time.

Nevertheless, two overriding crises had been gaining momentum since 1965. Despite the beginning of new antipoverty 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 the U.S. war in Vietnam, which the U.S. had committed to under Eisenhower and Kennedy. Despite Johnson’s efforts to end Communist aggression by increasing U.S. troop involvement to leverage a peaceful settlement, fighting continued. Controversy and protests over the war—and Johnson—had become acute by the end of March 1968, when Johnson limited the bombing of North Vietnam in order to initiate peace negotiations. At the same time, he startled the world by withdrawing as a candidate for re-election so that he might devote his full efforts, unimpeded by politics, to the quest to strike an honorable peace.

“I want to be the President who helped to end war among the brothers of this earth.”

When Johnson left office, peace talks were underway. He 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.

Today Americans continue to feel the impact of Johnson’s legislative legacy in nearly every aspect of American life.

LBJ Champions the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Part 2

Meanwhile, civil rights was mired in the House Rules Committee, where Judge Smith would not give it a hearing. On December 2, Johnson called Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, to enlist her editors in pressuring representatives to sign a discharge petition. That would bring the bill out of the Rules Committee. Many representatives were against a discharge petition on principle, believing that it undermined the committee system. LBJ suggested that the Post run articles arguing "every day, front page . . . [about] individuals: 'Why are you against a hearing?' Point them up, and have their pictures, and have editorials, and have everything else that is in a dignified way for a hearing on the floor."

To persuade Republicans to sign the petition, LBJ continued:

Articles critical of Smith and those who were cooperating with him began to appear in the Post.

Now, for once, Chairman Smith faced a serious challenge to his power to kill a bill that he disliked. An unlikely coalition had come together on the Rules Committee, of liberal Democrats, moderate and liberal Republicans, and a single conservative midwesterner, Republican Clarence Brown of Ohio. Brown controlled enough GOP votes to force Smith's hand by threatening to wrest control of the committee from him. Rather than face that loss of power and resulting humiliation, Smith agreed to hold hearings on civil rights in early January. There would be no need for a discharge petition.

Smith did not give up without a fight. His committee held hearings for three weeks, but in the end the chairman asked for the votes to be counted. The bill passed, 11-4.

Meanwhile, the nation's clergy had begun to throw its weight behind civil rights. The National Council of Churches would eventually spend $400,000 in its lobbying efforts. Historian Robert Mann wrote, "During the House debate, the gallery sometimes seems to overflow with ministers, priests, and rabbis—most of them voluntary watchdogs, or 'gallery watchers,' who tracked the votes and other activities of House members."

But Howard Smith had one last arrow in his quiver—perhaps "bombshell" would be a better term. During the debate on the House floor on Title VII, the equal employment part of the bill, the Virginian offered an amendment stating that not only should discrimination in employment based on race, creed, color, and national origin be illegal, as Title VII then stated, but distinctions based on sex as well. The House was thunderstruck. Now the question was not only where did the predominantly male Representatives stand on the question of race, but where did they stand on women?

Certainly Smith hoped that such a divisive issue would torpedo the civil rights bill, if not in the House, then in the Senate. But the new-found strength of the civil rights movement trumped Smith's ace. The House gulped, then accepted Smith's amendment. On February 10, 1964, the bill passed the House 290 to 130.

Despite this progress, LBJ was pessimistic. In that kind of mood he would vent to anybody who was handy—he once vented to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs about a civil service pay bill—and on December 20 he complained to Jim Webb, head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration:

If you don't pass the civil rights bill, and you don't pass the tax bill, you can't do it. And I don't see any hope for passing either one right now. That's my honest judgment.

And the civil rights bill is going to be out of the House . . . and they'll [the southern senators] start filibustering. [Senator Richard] Russell's got the votes, where you cannot put cloture on. So the tax bill'll get behind the civil rights bill. And your civil rights'll be defeated, and by that time, it'll be too late for taxes. And I'll go to the country with nothing.

The Senate is not governed in its debates by a rules committee, as is the House. One of the Senate's most cherished traditions is that of unlimited debate, which in 1964 could only be terminated a vote of two-thirds of the Senate: the cloture rule. Senators generally were reluctant to take any action that might make it easier to get cloture. So a southern filibuster against the civil rights bill was a virtual certainty, as the history of the 1957 and 1960 acts had shown. Only when civil rights advocates agreed to gut those bills had the southerners relented and allowed them to come to a vote.

Meanwhile, Johnson moved to cover his flank on the tax bill. In early January 1964 he invited Senator Harry Byrd, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to lunch to tell him he was trying to "stop the—and arrest the—spending and try to be as frugal as I can. . . . you are my inspiration for doing it." This was language that Byrd liked to hear he wanted good news on the budget. Jack Valenti, sitting in on the lunch, described it:

The prime motive of that lunch was to get Byrd's agreement to release the tax cut from the committee, bring it to a vote so that it could go to the floor of the Senate. . . . He said to Harry: "This tax cut is vital to my program. I've got to have it." And Harry Byrd said, "Well, Mr. President, I don't see how we can get a tax cut as long as this budget is so big."

At that time the noise in the corridors was that the budget would be $107 billion to $109 billion. The President said to Harry Byrd, "Well now, Harry, suppose I could get this budget under $100 billion? I don't know that I can, but if I do, what do you think?" . . . . [A]nd Harry Byrd said, "We might be able to do some business." Then the President said, "Well, if I get this budget under $100 billion, Harry, do you think we can get this tax cut out of your committee and onto the floor?". . . . Harry Byrd said yes, he thought that if the budget came in under $100 billion, yes, he thought it was possible that the committee might act on it.

Immediately the President concluded that lunch. He had gotten a commitment out of Harry Byrd and he knew his man pretty well and knew that once Byrd gave his word he would not renege on it.

Even as he worked to get the tax bill out of the Senate Finance Committee, Johnson was devising strategy for the fight over the civil rights bill.

Johnson had arranged with Mike Mansfield, a Montana Democrat, his successor as Senate majority leader, to have Humphrey manage the civil rights bill. Humphrey's bona fides on civil rights were impeccable, and he was a good political tactician, although LBJ always mistrusted Humphrey for his loquacity and what Johnson considered a tendency to excessive liberalism.

Humphrey later recalled how LBJ worked on him when the President went into high gear on the 1964 bill. The President called him to the Oval Office, and in true Johnson fashion, issued a challenge:

The key to Senate passage of the civil rights bill was Minority Leader Dirksen, for only with substantial help from Senate Republicans was there any hope of success. Humphrey recalled LBJ putting it this way: "Now you know that bill can't pass unless you get Ev Dirksen. You and I are going to get Ev. . . . You make up your mind now that you've got to spend time with Ev Dirksen. You've got to play to Ev Dirksen. You've got to let him have a piece of the action. He's got to look good all the time."

So Humphrey spent considerable time conferring with Dirksen, in Dirksen's office. That infuriated Humphrey&'s liberal associates, who fumed, "You&'re the manager of the bill. We're the majority party. Why don't you call Dirksen to your office?" Humphrey replied, "I don't care where we meet Dirksen. We can meet him in a nightclub, in the bottom of a mine or in a manhole. It doesn't make any difference to me. I just want to meet Dirksen. I just want to get there."

Humphrey went public with that strategy. In early 1964 he made an appearance on Meet the Press. When asked how he expected to get civil rights passed, in light of Dirksen's early vocal opposition, Humphrey recalled replying, "Well, I think Senator Dirksen is a reasonable man. Those are his current opinions and they are strongly held, but I think that as the debate goes on he'll see that there is reason for what we're trying to do. . . . Senator Dirksen is not only a great senator, he is a great American, and he is going to see the necessity of this legislation."

Humphrey said later that LBJ immediately phoned him and exclaimed: "Boy, that was right. You're doing just right now. You just keep at that. . . . Don't you let those bomb throwers [LBJ's favorite synonym for liberals] now, talk you out of seeing Dirksen. You get in there and see Dirksen! You drink with Dirksen! You talk to Dirksen! You listen to Dirksen!"

On February 26 the Senate voted to place the bill on the Senate calendar rather than refer it to the Judiciary Committee, which was dominated by southerners. On March 26 the Senate agreed to begin debate on the floor.

Now the southerners began their expected filibuster. In past filibusters on civil rights, the southern senators, under the leadership of Richard Russell, a Georgia Democrat and a Johnson mentor, with superior discipline and organization, had worn down their opponents until they agreed to a compromise. This time things would be different, but the fight would be arduous and the outcome not foreordained.

Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach was the administration's point man in the coming struggle, and he advised beating the southerners at their own game. The pro–civil rights senators should simply out-organize and outlast the southerners until the necessary votes for cloture had been gathered. Humphrey agreed. Johnson was skeptical at first but allowed himself to be convinced.

Humphrey's Democratic forces prevented the filibustering southerners from using the parliamentary device of a quorum call, then resting their voices and their feet, while keeping the floor.

But all depended on getting the votes to impose cloture. If Russell and his southerners could delay action on civil rights through the summer and into the convention season, they hoped that their opposition might lose heart and accept compromise as they had in the past.

To get enough votes to impose cloture, Humphrey needed Dirksen's support, and some compromises were required. On May 13, Humphrey and Dirksen agreed on a key issue—the government would sue only in cases involving a "pattern or practice" of discrimination in public accommodations or fair employment. Not until June 10, however, was Mansfield able to call for a vote on cloture. The Senate then voted 71-29 to shut off further debate. On June 19 the Senate passed the civil rights bill, 73-27.

Still, there was the possibility that the House would insist on a conference committee of senators and representatives to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

After a bipartisan coalition took control of the House Rules Committee from Chairman Smith, the panel reported a resolution accepting the Senate version of the bill, ruling that only a single hour of debate on the bill would be allowed on the House floor.

On July 2, the House voted 289-126 to accept the Senate version of the bill. On the same day President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the East Room of the White House.

The act elaborated on some voting rights issues in Titles I, VIII and XI, but the true successor to the civil rights measures of 1957 and 1960 was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the 1964 legislation, employment discrimination was addressed in Title VII, the only one in the 1964 act to include gender as a protected category, owing to Judge Smith's miscalculation.

The principal objects of attention and controversy in 1964 were the provisions mandating desegregation of public accommodations and facilities. Title II contained the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin in public accommodations such as restaurants, lodgings, and entertainment venues if their operation "affect[ed] commerce" or if such discrimination was "supported by State action" such as Jim Crow laws. Title III permitted the Justice Department, upon receipt of a "meritorious" complaint, to sue to desegregate public facilities, other than schools, owned or operated by state or local governments. Title IV permitted the attorney general to file suit to desegregate public schools or colleges under certain conditions, but it explicitly did not empower any federal official or court to require transportation of students to achieve racial balance.

The real hammer that broke segregated school systems, however, was Title VI, which barred discrimination in "any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Gary Orfield has written that fund cutoffs accomplished more by the end of the Johnson administration than had a decade of litigation following the Brown v. Board of Education decision, giving the Civil Rights Act "more impact on American education than any of the Federal education laws of the twentieth century." Beyond its effect against racial discrimination, the language in this title was the model for subsequent anti-discrimination legislation affecting gender, disabilities, and age. And Hugh Davis Graham has argued that Title VI, not Titles II or VII, which appeared to be the most important at the time, was actually the most significant because of its application in succeeding years to other institutions that had come to rely on federal money.

Finally, the impact of the 1964 act on the American political scene was profound. Bill Moyers, a former aide to LBJ, recalled, in a statement during a 1990 symposium at the Johnson Library:

The night that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, I found him in the bedroom, exceedingly depressed. The headline of the bulldog edition of the Washington Post said, "Johnson Signs Civil Rights Act." The airwaves were full of discussions about how unprecedented this was and historic, and yet he was depressed. I asked him why.

He said, "I think we've just delivered the South to the Republican Party for the rest of my life, and yours."

Ted Gittinger conducted oral history interviews for twelve years at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and is now director of special projects there.

Allen Fisher has been an archivist at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library since 1991 and works primarily with domestic policy collections.

Note on Sources

The LBJ telephone tapes at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, are an invaluable resource. Through these, one hears the President directly, with no intermediaries.

Michael Beschloss's volumes on Johnson's telephone tapes provide interpretations of their context that would otherwise escape most readers: Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963–1964, and Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1964–1965 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997, 2001).

The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia has published an excellent study on the 1964 Civil Rights Act in a volume in its Presidential Recordings Program: Jonathan Rosenberg and Zachary Karabell, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice: The Civil Rights Tapes (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003). As the title suggests, the book is an overview of material from the surreptitious recordings those two Presidents made of meetings and telephone conversations during the struggle to pass a strong civil rights bill.

The recordings from the Johnson years are available for listening in the Reading Room at the LBJ Library and for purchase from the Archives. See the library's website for information about the collection and descriptions of the conversations released to date. The LBJ Museum Store carries a CD with twenty-six selected conversations from November 1963 to December 1965, and the Presidential Recordings Program's website has sound files in three formats.

The Jack Valenti and Bill Moyers quotations are from the proceedings of a 1990 symposium, The Johnson Years: The Difference He Made (Austin: The University of Texas Board of Regents, 1993). The quotations by Hubert Humphrey, George Reedy, A. Philip Randolph, Lawrence O'Brien, and Roy Wilkins are from their oral history interviews in the LBJ Library archives.

Julian E. Zelizer, Taxing America: Wilbur D. Mills, Congress, and the State (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998) is an excellent source for the connection between the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the tax issue.

Two narratives were particularly useful for background on the passage of the bill: Charles and Barbara Whalen, The Longest Debate (Cabin John, MD: Seven Locks Press, 1985), and Robert Mann, The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell, and the Struggle for Civil Rights (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996). For the significance of various parts of the act, see Legacies of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, edited by Bernard Grofman (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000).


Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, near Stonewall, Texas, in a small farmhouse on the Pedernales River. [15] He was the eldest of five children born to Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr. and Rebekah Baines. [16] [17] Johnson had one brother, Sam Houston Johnson, and three sisters, Rebekah, Josefa, and Lucia. [18] The nearby small town of Johnson City, Texas, was named after LBJ's father's cousin, James Polk Johnson, [19] [20] whose forebears had moved west from Georgia. [21] Johnson had English-Irish, German, and Ulster Scots ancestry. [22] Through his mother, he was a great-grandson of pioneer Baptist clergyman George Washington Baines, who pastored eight churches in Texas, as well as others in Arkansas and Louisiana. Baines was also the president of Baylor University during the American Civil War. [23]

Johnson's grandfather, Samuel Ealy Johnson Sr., was raised as a Baptist and for a time was a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In his later years, the grandfather became a Christadelphian Johnson's father also joined the Christadelphian Church toward the end of his life. [24] Later, as a politician, Johnson was influenced in his positive attitude toward Jews by the religious beliefs that his family, especially his grandfather, had shared with him. [25] Johnson's favorite Bible verse came from the King James Version of Isaiah 1:18. "Come now, and let us reason together . " [26]

In school, Johnson was a talkative youth who was elected president of his 11th-grade class. He graduated in 1924 from Johnson City High School, where he participated in public speaking, debate, and baseball. [27] [28] At the age of 15, Johnson was the youngest member of his class. Pressured by his parents to attend college, he enrolled at a "sub college" of Southwest Texas State Teachers College (SWTSTC) in the summer of 1924, where students from unaccredited high schools could take the 12th-grade courses needed for admission to college. He left the school just weeks after his arrival and decided to move to southern California. He worked at his cousin's legal practice and in various odd jobs before returning to Texas, where he worked as a day laborer. [29]

In 1926, Johnson managed to enroll at SWTSTC (now Texas State University). He worked his way through school, participated in debate and campus politics, and edited the school newspaper, The College Star. [30] The college years refined his skills of persuasion and political organization. For nine months, from 1928 to 1929, Johnson paused his studies to teach Mexican–American children at the segregated Welhausen School in Cotulla, some 90 miles (140 km) south of San Antonio in La Salle County. The job helped him to save money to complete his education, and he graduated in 1930 with a Bachelor of Science degree in history and his certificate of qualification as a high school teacher. [31] [32] He briefly taught at Pearsall High School before taking a position as teacher of public speaking at Sam Houston High School in Houston. [33]

When he returned to San Marcos in 1965, after signing the Higher Education Act of 1965, Johnson reminisced:

I shall never forget the faces of the boys and the girls in that little Welhausen Mexican School, and I remember even yet the pain of realizing and knowing then that college was closed to practically every one of those children because they were too poor. And I think it was then that I made up my mind that this nation could never rest while the door to knowledge remained closed to any American. [34]

After Richard M. Kleberg won a 1931 special election to represent Texas in the United States House of Representatives, he appointed Johnson as his legislative secretary. Johnson got the position on the recommendation of his father and that of State Senator Welly Hopkins, for whom Johnson had campaigned in 1930. [36] Kleberg had little interest in performing the day-to-day duties of a Congressman, instead delegating them to Johnson. [37] After Franklin D. Roosevelt won the 1932 presidential election, Johnson became a staunch supporter of Roosevelt's New Deal. [38] Johnson was elected speaker of the "Little Congress", a group of Congressional aides, where he cultivated Congressmen, newspapermen, and lobbyists. Johnson's friends soon included aides to President Roosevelt as well as fellow Texans such as Vice President John Nance Garner and Congressman Sam Rayburn. [39]

Johnson married Claudia Alta Taylor, also known as "Lady Bird", of Karnack, Texas, on November 17, 1934. He met her after he had attended Georgetown University Law Center for several months. Johnson later quit his Georgetown studies after the first semester in 1934. [40] During their first date he asked her to marry him many dates later, she finally agreed. [41] The wedding was officiated by Rev. Arthur R. McKinstry at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in San Antonio. [42] They had two daughters, Lynda Bird, born in 1944, and Luci Baines, born in 1947. Johnson gave his children names with the LBJ initials his dog was Little Beagle Johnson. His home was the LBJ Ranch his initials were on his cufflinks, ashtrays, and clothes. [43] During his marriage, Lyndon Johnson had affairs with multiple women, in particular with Alice Marsh (née Glass) who assisted him politically. [44]

In 1935, he was appointed head of the Texas National Youth Administration, which enabled him to use the government to create education and job opportunities for young people. He resigned two years later to run for Congress. Johnson, a notoriously tough boss throughout his career, often demanded long workdays and work on weekends. [45] He was described by friends, fellow politicians, and historians as motivated by an exceptional lust for power and control. As Johnson's biographer Robert Caro observes, "Johnson's ambition was uncommonn – in the degree to which it was unencumbered by even the slightest excess weight of ideology, of philosophy, of principles, of beliefs." [46]

In 1937, after the death of thirteen-term Congressman James P. Buchanan, Johnson successfully campaigned in a special election for Texas's 10th congressional district, that covered Austin and the surrounding hill country. He ran on a New Deal platform and was effectively aided by his wife. He served in the House from April 10, 1937, to January 3, 1949. [47] President Franklin D. Roosevelt found Johnson to be a welcome ally and conduit for information, particularly about issues concerning internal politics in Texas (Operation Texas) and the machinations of Vice President John Nance Garner and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. Johnson was immediately appointed to the Naval Affairs Committee. He worked for rural electrification and other improvements for his district. Johnson steered the projects towards contractors he knew, such as Herman and George Brown, who would finance much of Johnson's future career. [28] In 1941, he ran for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in a special election, losing narrowly to the sitting Governor of Texas, businessman and radio personality W. Lee O'Daniel. O'Daniel received 175,590 votes (30.49 percent) to Johnson's 174,279 (30.26 percent).

Active military duty (1941–1942)

Johnson was appointed a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve on June 21, 1940. While serving as a U.S. representative, he was called to active duty three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. His orders were to report to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C., for instruction and training. [48] Following his training, he asked Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal for a combat assignment. [49] He was sent instead to inspect shipyard facilities in Texas and on the West Coast. In the spring of 1942, President Roosevelt decided he needed better information on conditions in the Southwest Pacific, and to send a highly trusted political ally to get it. From a suggestion by Forrestal, Roosevelt assigned Johnson to a three-man survey team covering the Southwest Pacific. [50]

Johnson reported to General Douglas MacArthur in Australia. Johnson and two U.S. Army officers went to the 22nd Bomb Group base, which was assigned the high-risk mission of bombing the Japanese airbase at Lae in New Guinea. On June 9, 1942, Johnson volunteered as an observer for an airstrike on New Guinea by B-26 bombers. Reports vary on what happened to the aircraft carrying Johnson during that mission. Johnson's biographer Robert Caro accepts Johnson's account and supports it with testimony from the aircrew concerned: the aircraft was attacked, disabling one engine and it turned back before reaching its objective, though remaining under heavy fire. Others claim that it turned back because of generator trouble before reaching the objective and before encountering enemy aircraft and never came under fire this is supported by official flight records. [51] [52] Other airplanes that continued to the target came under fire near the target about the same time Johnson's plane was recorded as having landed back at the original airbase. MacArthur recommended Johnson for the Silver Star for gallantry in action: the only member of the crew to receive a decoration. [52] After it was approved by the Army, he presented the medal to Johnson, with the following citation: [51]

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, 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 despite the hazards involved. His gallant actions enabled him to obtain and return with valuable information.

Johnson, who had used a movie camera to record conditions, [53] reported to Roosevelt, to Navy leaders, and Congress that conditions were deplorable and unacceptable: some historians have suggested this was in exchange for MacArthur's recommendation to award the Silver Star. [52] He argued that the southwest Pacific urgently needed a higher priority and a larger share of war supplies. The warplanes sent there, for example, were "far inferior" to Japanese planes and morale was bad. He told Forrestal that the Pacific Fleet had a "critical" need for 6,800 additional experienced men. Johnson prepared a twelve-point program to upgrade the effort in the region, stressing "greater cooperation and coordination within the various commands and between the different war theaters". Congress responded by making Johnson chairman of a high-powered subcommittee of the Naval Affairs Committee, [54] with a mission similar to that of the Truman Committee in the Senate. He probed the peacetime "business as usual" inefficiencies that permeated the naval war and demanded that admirals shape up and get the job done. Johnson went too far when he proposed a bill that would crack down on the draft exemptions of shipyard workers if they were absent from work too often organized labor blocked the bill and denounced him. Johnson's biographer Robert Dallek concludes, "The mission was a temporary exposure to danger calculated to satisfy Johnson's personal and political wishes, but it also represented a genuine effort on his part, however misplaced, to improve the lot of America's fighting men." [55]

In addition to the Silver Star, Johnson received the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. He was released from active duty on July 17, 1942, and remained in the Navy Reserve, later promoted to Commander on October 19, 1949 (effective June 2, 1948). He resigned from the Navy Reserve effective January 18, 1964. [56]

1948 U.S. Senate election

In the 1948 elections, Johnson again ran for the Senate and won in a highly controversial Democratic Party primary against the well-known former governor Coke Stevenson. Johnson drew crowds to fairgrounds with his rented helicopter, dubbed "The Johnson City Windmill". He raised money to flood the state with campaign circulars and won over conservatives by casting doubts on Stevenson's support for the Taft-Hartley Act (curbing union power). Stevenson came in first in the primary but lacked a majority, so a runoff election was held Johnson campaigned harder, while Stevenson's efforts slumped due to a lack of funds.

Historian of the United States presidency Michael Beschloss observes that Johnson "gave white supremacist speeches" during the 1948 campaign, cementing his reputation as a moderate in American politics, which enabled his future success in advancing civil rights causes. [57]

The runoff vote count, handled by the Democratic State Central Committee, took a week. Johnson was announced the winner by 87 votes out of 988,295, an extremely narrow margin of victory. However, Johnson's victory was based on 200 "patently fraudulent" [58] : 608 ballots reported six days after the election from Box 13 in Jim Wells County, in an area dominated by political boss George Parr. The added names were in alphabetical order and written with the same pen and handwriting, following at the end of the list of voters. Some of the persons in this part of the list insisted that they had not voted that day. [59] Election judge Luis Salas said in 1977 that he had certified 202 fraudulent ballots for Johnson. [60] Robert Caro made the case in his 1990 book that Johnson had stolen the election in Jim Wells County, and that there were thousands of fraudulent votes in other counties as well, including 10,000 votes switched in San Antonio. [61] The Democratic State Central Committee voted to certify Johnson's nomination by a majority of one (29–28), with the last vote cast on Johnson's behalf by the publisher Frank W. Mayborn of Temple, Texas. The state Democratic convention upheld Johnson. Stevenson went to court, eventually taking his case before the US Supreme Court, but with timely help from his friend and future US Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, Johnson prevailed on the basis that jurisdiction over naming a nominee rested with the party, not the federal government. Johnson soundly defeated Republican Jack Porter in the general election in November and went to Washington, permanently dubbed "Landslide Lyndon". Johnson, dismissive of his critics, happily adopted the nickname. [62]

Freshman senator to majority whip

Once in the Senate, Johnson was known among his colleagues for his highly successful "courtships" of older senators, especially Senator Richard Russell, Democrat from Georgia, the leader of the Conservative coalition and arguably the most powerful man in the Senate. Johnson proceeded to gain Russell's favor in the same way he had "courted" Speaker Sam Rayburn and gained his crucial support in the House.

Johnson was appointed to the Senate Armed Services Committee, and in 1950 helped create the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee. He became its chairman, and conducted investigations of defense costs and efficiency. These investigations revealed old investigations and demanded actions that were already being taken in part by the Truman administration, although it can be said that the committee's investigations reinforced the need for changes. Johnson gained headlines and national attention through his handling of the press, the efficiency with which his committee issued new reports, and the fact that he ensured that every report was endorsed unanimously by the committee. He used his political influence in the Senate to receive broadcast licenses from the Federal Communications Commission in his wife's name. [60] [63] After the 1950 general elections, Johnson was chosen as Senate Majority Whip in 1951 under the new Majority Leader, Ernest McFarland of Arizona, and served from 1951 to 1953. [47]

Senate Democratic leader

In the 1952 general election, Republicans won a majority in both the House and Senate. Among defeated Democrats that year was McFarland, who lost to upstart Barry Goldwater. In January 1953, Johnson was chosen by his fellow Democrats to be Minority Leader he became the most junior senator ever elected to this position. One of his first actions was to eliminate the seniority system in making appointments to committees while retaining it for chairmanships. In the 1954 election, Johnson was re-elected to the Senate and, since the Democrats won the majority in the Senate, then became majority leader. Former Majority Leader William Knowland of California, became the Minority Leader. Johnson's duties were to schedule legislation and help pass measures favored by the Democrats. Johnson, Rayburn and President Dwight D. Eisenhower worked well together in passing Eisenhower's domestic and foreign agenda. [64]

During the Suez Crisis, Johnson tried to prevent the U.S. government from criticizing the Israeli invasion of the Sinai peninsula. Along with the rest of the nation, Johnson was appalled by the threat of possible Soviet domination of space flight implied by the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite Sputnik 1 and used his influence to ensure passage of the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established the civilian space agency NASA.

Historians Caro and Dallek consider Lyndon Johnson the most effective Senate majority leader in history. He was unusually proficient at gathering information. One biographer suggests he was "the greatest intelligence gatherer Washington has ever known", discovering exactly where every senator stood on issues, his philosophy and prejudices, his strengths and weaknesses and what it took to get his vote. [65] Robert Baker claimed that Johnson would occasionally send senators on NATO trips to avoid their dissenting votes. [66] Central to Johnson's control was "The Treatment", [67] described by two journalists:

The Treatment could last ten minutes or four hours. It came, enveloping its target, at the Johnson Ranch swimming pool, in one of Johnson's offices, in the Senate cloakroom, on the floor of the Senate itselff – wherever Johnson might find a fellow Senator within his reach. Its tone could be supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint, and the hint of threat. It was all of these together. It ran the gamut of human emotions. Its velocity was breathtaking and it was all in one direction. Interjections from the target were rare. Johnson anticipated them before they could be spoken. He moved in close, his face a scant millimeter from his target, his eyes widening and narrowing, his eyebrows rising and falling. From his pockets poured clippings, memos, statistics. Mimicry, humor, and the genius of analogy made The Treatment an almost hypnotic experience and rendered the target stunned and helpless. [68]

In 1955, Democratic majority's new Leader Lyndon Johnson persuaded Oregon's Independent Wayne Morse to join the Democratic caucus. [69]

A 60-cigarette-per-day smoker, Johnson suffered a near-fatal heart attack on July 2, 1955. He abruptly gave up smoking as a result and, with only a couple of exceptions, did not resume the habit until after he left the White House on January 20, 1969. Johnson announced he would remain as his party's leader in the Senate on New Year's Eve 1955, his doctors reporting he had made "a most satisfactory recovery" since his heart attack five months prior. [70] [71]

Johnson's success in the Senate rendered him a potential Democratic presidential candidate he had been the "favorite son" candidate of the Texas delegation at the Party's national convention in 1956, and appeared to be in a strong position to run for the 1960 nomination. Jim Rowe repeatedly urged Johnson to launch a campaign in early 1959, but Johnson thought it better to wait, thinking that John Kennedy's efforts would create a division in the ranks which could then be exploited. Rowe finally joined the Humphrey campaign in frustration, another move that Johnson thought played into his own strategy. [72]

Candidacy for president

Johnson made a late entry into the campaign in July 1960 which, coupled with a reluctance to leave Washington, allowed the rival Kennedy campaign to secure a substantial early advantage among Democratic state party officials. Johnson underestimated Kennedy's endearing qualities of charm and intelligence, as compared to his reputation as the more crude and wheeling-dealing "Landslide Lyndon". [73] Caro suggests that Johnson's hesitancy was the result of an overwhelming fear of failure. [74]

Johnson attempted in vain to capitalize on Kennedy's youth, poor health, and failure to take a position regarding Joseph McCarthy. [75] He had formed a "Stop Kennedy" coalition with Adlai Stevenson, Stuart Symington, and Hubert Humphrey, but it proved a failure. Johnson received 409 votes on the only ballot at the Democratic convention to Kennedy's 806, and so the convention nominated Kennedy. Tip O'Neill was a representative from Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts at that time, and he recalled that Johnson approached him at the convention and said, "Tip, I know you have to support Kennedy at the start, but I'd like to have you with me on the second ballot." O'Neill replied, "Senator, there's not going to be any second ballot." [76]

Vice-presidential nomination

According to Kennedy's Special Counsel Myer Feldman and Kennedy himself, it is impossible to reconstruct the precise manner in which Johnson's vice-presidential nomination ultimately took place. Kennedy did realize that he could not be elected without the support of traditional Southern Democrats, most of whom had backed Johnson nevertheless, labor leaders were unanimous in their opposition to Johnson. AFL-CIO President George Meany called Johnson "the arch-foe of labor", while Illinois AFL-CIO President Reuben Soderstrom asserted Kennedy had "made chumps out of leaders of the American labor movement". [77] [78] After much back and forth with party leaders and others on the matter, Kennedy did offer Johnson the vice-presidential nomination at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel at 10:15 am on July 14, the morning after he was nominated, and Johnson accepted. From that point to the actual nomination that evening, the facts are in dispute in many respects. (Convention chairman LeRoy Collins' declaration of a two-thirds majority in favor by voice vote is even disputed.) [79]

Seymour Hersh stated that Robert F. Kennedy (known as Bobby) hated Johnson for his attacks on the Kennedy family, and later maintained that his brother offered the position to Johnson merely as a courtesy, expecting him to decline. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. concurred with Robert Kennedy's version of events, and put forth that John Kennedy would have preferred Stuart Symington as his running-mate, alleging that Johnson teamed with House Speaker Sam Rayburn and pressured Kennedy to favor Johnson. [80] Robert Kennedy wanted his brother to choose labor leader Walter Reuther. [81]

Biographer Robert Caro offered a different perspective he wrote that the Kennedy campaign was desperate to win what was forecast to be a very close election against Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.. Johnson was needed on the ticket to help carry Texas and the Southern states. Caro's research showed that on July 14, John Kennedy started the process while Johnson was still asleep. At 6:30 am, John Kennedy asked Robert Kennedy to prepare an estimate of upcoming electoral votes "including Texas". [82] Robert called Pierre Salinger and Kenneth O'Donnell to assist him. Salinger realized the ramifications of counting Texas votes as their own and asked him whether he was considering a Kennedy–Johnson ticket, and Robert replied "yes". [82] Caro contends that it was then that John Kennedy called Johnson to arrange a meeting he also called Pennsylvania governor David L. Lawrence, a Johnson backer, to request that he nominate Johnson for vice president if Johnson were to accept the role. According to Caro, Kennedy and Johnson met and Johnson said that Kennedy would have trouble with Kennedy supporters who were anti-Johnson. Kennedy returned to his suite to announce the Kennedy–Johnson ticket to his closest supporters, including northern political bosses. O'Donnell was angry at what he considered a betrayal by Kennedy, who had previously cast Johnson as anti-labor and anti-liberal. Afterward, Robert Kennedy visited labor leaders who were extremely unhappy with the choice of Johnson and, after seeing the depth of labor opposition to Johnson, Robert ran messages between the hotel suites of his brother and Johnson—apparently trying to undermine the proposed ticket without John Kennedy's authorization. [82]

Caro continues in his analysis that Robert Kennedy tried to get Johnson to agree to be the Democratic Party chairman rather than the vice president. Johnson refused to accept a change in plans unless it came directly from John Kennedy. Despite his brother's interference, John Kennedy was firm that Johnson was who he wanted as running mate he met with staffers such as Larry O'Brien, his national campaign manager, to say that Johnson was to be vice president. O'Brien recalled later that John Kennedy's words were wholly unexpected, but that after a brief consideration of the electoral vote situation, he thought "it was a stroke of genius". [82] When John and Robert Kennedy next saw their father Joe Kennedy, he told them that signing Johnson as running mate was the smartest thing they had ever done. [83]

Another account of how Johnson's nomination came about was told by Evelyn Lincoln, JFK's secretary (both before and during his presidency). In 1993, in a videotaped interview, she described how the decision was made, stating she was the only witness to a private meeting between John and Robert Kennedy in a suite at the Biltmore Hotel where they made the decision. She said she went in and out of the room as they spoke and, while she was in the room, heard them say that Johnson had tried to blackmail JFK into offering him the vice-presidential nomination with evidence of his womanizing provided by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. She also overheard them discuss possible ways to avoid making the offer, and ultimately conclude that JFK had no choice. [84] [85]

Re-election to U.S. Senate

At the same time as his vice presidential run, Johnson also sought a third term in the U.S. Senate. According to Robert Caro, "On November 8, 1960, Lyndon Johnson won an election for both the vice presidency of the United States, on the Kennedy–Johnson ticket, and for a third term as senator (he had Texas law changed to allow him to run for both offices). When he won the vice presidency, he made arrangements to resign from the Senate, as he was required to do under federal law, as soon as it convened on January 3, 1961." [86] (In 1988, Lloyd Bentsen, the vice presidential running mate of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, and a senator from Texas, took advantage of "Lyndon's law", and was able to retain his seat in the Senate despite Dukakis's loss to George H. W. Bush.)

Johnson was re-elected senator with 1,306,605 votes (58 percent) to Republican John Tower's 927,653 (41.1 percent). Fellow Democrat William A. Blakley was appointed to replace Johnson as senator, but Blakley lost a special election in May 1961 to Tower.

After the election, Johnson was quite concerned about the traditionally ineffective nature of his new office and set about to assume authority not allotted to the position. He initially sought a transfer of the authority of Senate majority leader to the vice presidency, since that office made him president of the Senate, but faced vehement opposition from the Democratic Caucus, including members whom he had counted as his supporters. [87]

Johnson sought to increase his influence within the executive branch. He drafted an executive order for Kennedy's signature, granting Johnson "general supervision" over matters of national security, and requiring all government agencies to "cooperate fully with the vice president in the carrying out of these assignments". Kennedy's response was to sign a non-binding letter requesting Johnson to "review" national security policies instead. [88] Kennedy similarly turned down early requests from Johnson to be given an office adjacent to the Oval Office and to employ a full-time Vice Presidential staff within the White House. [89] His lack of influence was thrown into relief later in 1961 when Kennedy appointed Johnson's friend Sarah T. Hughes to a federal judgeship, whereas Johnson had tried and failed to garner the nomination for Hughes at the beginning of his vice presidency. House Speaker Sam Rayburn wrangled the appointment from Kennedy in exchange for support of an administration bill.

Moreover, many members of the Kennedy White House were contemptuous of Johnson, including the president's brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and they ridiculed his comparatively brusque, crude manner. Congressman Tip O'Neill recalled that the Kennedy men "had a disdain for Johnson that they didn't even try to hide. They actually took pride in snubbing him." [90]

Kennedy, however, made efforts to keep Johnson busy, informed, and at the White House often, telling aides, "I can't afford to have my vice president, who knows every reporter in Washington, going around saying we're all screwed up, so we're going to keep him happy." [91] Kennedy appointed him to jobs such as the head of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, through which he worked with African Americans and other minorities. Kennedy may have intended this to remain a more nominal position, but Taylor Branch contends in Pillar of Fire that Johnson pushed the Kennedy administration's actions further and faster for civil rights than Kennedy originally intended to go. Branch notes the irony of Johnson being the advocate for civil rights when the Kennedy family had hoped that he would appeal to conservative southern voters. In particular, he notes Johnson's Memorial Day 1963 speech at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as being a catalyst that led to more action. [ citation needed ]

Johnson took on numerous minor diplomatic missions, which gave him some insights into global issues, as well as opportunities for self-promotion in the name of showing the country's flag. During his visit to West Berlin on August 19–20, 1961, Johnson calmed Berliners who were outraged by the building of the Berlin Wall. [92] He also attended Cabinet and National Security Council meetings. Kennedy gave Johnson control over all presidential appointments involving Texas, and appointed him chairman of the President's Ad Hoc Committee for Science. [93]

Kennedy also appointed Johnson Chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council. The Soviets beat the United States with the first manned spaceflight in April 1961, and Kennedy gave Johnson the task of evaluating the state of the U.S. space program and recommending a project that would allow the United States to catch up or beat the Soviets. [94] Johnson responded with a recommendation that the United States gain the leadership role by committing the resources to embark on a project to land an American on the Moon in the 1960s. [95] [96] Kennedy assigned priority to the space program, but Johnson's appointment provided potential cover in case of a failure. [97]

Johnson was touched by a Senate scandal in August 1963 when Bobby Baker, the Secretary to the Majority Leader of the Senate and a protégé of Johnson's, came under investigation by the Senate Rules Committee for allegations of bribery and financial malfeasance. One witness alleged that Baker had arranged for the witness to give kickbacks for the Vice President. Baker resigned in October, and the investigation did not expand to Johnson. The negative publicity from the affair fed rumors in Washington circles that Kennedy was planning on dropping Johnson from the Democratic ticket in the upcoming 1964 presidential election. However, on October 31, 1963, a reporter asked if he intended and expected to have Johnson on the ticket the following year. Kennedy replied, "Yes to both those questions." [98] There is little doubt that Robert Kennedy and Johnson hated each other, [99] yet John and Robert Kennedy agreed that dropping Johnson from the ticket could produce heavy losses in the South in the 1964 election, and they agreed that Johnson would stay on the ticket. [100] [101]

Johnson's presidency took place during a healthy economy, with steady growth and low unemployment. Regarding the rest of the world, there were no serious controversies with major countries. Attention, therefore, focused on domestic policy, and, after 1966, on the Vietnam War.


Johnson was quickly sworn in as president on Air Force One in Dallas on November 22, 1963, just two hours and eight minutes after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, amid suspicions of a conspiracy against the government. [102] He was sworn in by U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes, a family friend. [103] In the rush, Johnson took the oath of office using a Roman Catholic missal from President Kennedy's desk, [104] despite not being Catholic, [105] due to the missal being mistaken for a Bible. [106] Cecil Stoughton's iconic photograph of Johnson taking the presidential oath of office as Mrs. Kennedy looks on is the most famous photo ever taken aboard a presidential aircraft. [107] [108]

Johnson was convinced of the need to make an immediate transition of power after the assassination to provide stability to a grieving nation in shock. [109] He and the Secret Service were concerned that he could also be a target of a conspiracy, [110] and felt compelled to rapidly remove the new president from Dallas and return him to Washington. [110] This was greeted by some with assertions that Johnson was in too much haste to assume power. [111] [112]

On November 27, 1963, the new president delivered his Let Us Continue speech to a joint session of Congress, saying that "No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the Civil Rights Bill for which he fought so long." [113] The wave of national grief following the assassination gave enormous momentum to Johnson's promise to carry out Kennedy's plans and his policy of seizing Kennedy's legacy to give momentum to his legislative agenda. [ citation needed ]

On November 29, 1963, just one week after Kennedy's assassination, Johnson issued an executive order to rename NASA's Apollo Launch Operations Center and the NASA/Air Force Cape Canaveral launch facilities as the John F. Kennedy Space Center. [114] Cape Canaveral was officially known as Cape Kennedy from 1963 until 1973. [115] [116]

Also on November 29, Johnson established a panel headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, known as the Warren Commission, through executive order to investigate Kennedy's assassination and surrounding conspiracies. [117] The commission conducted extensive research and hearings and unanimously concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination. However, the report remains controversial among some conspiracy theorists. [118]

Johnson retained senior Kennedy appointees, some for the full term of his presidency. He even retained Robert Kennedy as Attorney General, with whom he had a notoriously difficult relationship. Robert Kennedy remained in office for a few months until leaving in 1964 to run for the Senate. [119] Although Johnson had no official chief of staff, Walter Jenkins was the first among a handful of equals and presided over the details of daily operations at the White House. George Reedy, who was Johnson's second-longest-serving aide, assumed the post of press secretary when John F. Kennedy's own Pierre Salinger left that post in March 1964. [120] Horace Busby was another "triple-threat man", as Johnson referred to his aides. He served primarily as a speechwriter and political analyst. [121] Bill Moyers was the youngest member of Johnson's staff he handled scheduling and speechwriting part-time. [122]

Legislative initiatives

The new president thought it advantageous to quickly pursue one of Kennedy's primary legislative goals—a tax cut. Johnson worked closely with Harry F. Byrd of Virginia to negotiate a reduction in the budget below $100 billion in exchange for what became overwhelming Senate approval of the Revenue Act of 1964. Congressional approval followed at the end of February, and facilitated efforts to follow on civil rights. [123] In late 1963, Johnson also launched the initial offensive of his War on Poverty, recruiting Kennedy relative Sargent Shriver, then head of the Peace Corps, to spearhead the effort. In March 1964, LBJ sent to Congress the Economic Opportunity Act, which created the Job Corps and the Community Action Program, designed to attack poverty locally. The act also created VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America, a domestic counterpart to the Peace Corps. [124]

Civil Rights Act of 1964

President Kennedy had submitted a civil rights bill to Congress in June 1963, which was met with strong opposition. [125] [126] Johnson renewed the effort and asked Bobby Kennedy to spearhead the undertaking for the administration on Capitol Hill. This provided adequate political cover for Johnson should the effort fail but if it were successful, Johnson would receive ample credit. [127] Historian Robert Caro notes that the bill Kennedy had submitted was facing the same tactics that prevented the passage of civil rights bills in the past: southern congressmen and senators used congressional procedure to prevent it from coming to a vote. [128] In particular, they held up all of the major bills Kennedy had proposed and that were considered urgent, especially the tax reform bill, to force the bill's supporters to pull it. [128]

Johnson was quite familiar with the procedural tactic, as he played a role in a similar tactic against a civil rights bill that Harry Truman had submitted to Congress fifteen years earlier. [128] In that fight, a rent-control renewal bill was held up until the civil rights bill was withdrawn. [128] Believing that the current course meant that the Civil Rights Act would suffer the same fate, he adopted a different strategy from that of Kennedy, who had mostly removed himself from the legislative process. By tackling the tax cut first, the previous tactic was eliminated. [129]

Passing the civil rights bill in the House required getting it through the Rules Committee, which had been holding it up in an attempt to kill it. Johnson decided on a campaign to use a discharge petition to force it onto the House floor. [130] Facing a growing threat that they would be bypassed, the House rules committee approved the bill and moved it to the floor of the full House, which passed it shortly thereafter by a vote of 290–110. [131] In the Senate, since the tax bill had passed three days earlier, the anti-civil rights senators were left with the filibuster as their only remaining tool. Overcoming the filibuster required the support of over twenty Republicans, who were growing less supportive because their party was about to nominate for president a candidate who opposed the bill. [132] According to Caro, Johnson ultimately could convince Republican leader Everett Dirksen to support the bill that amassed the necessary Republican votes to overcome the filibuster in March 1964 after 75 hours of debate, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 71–29. [133] [134] Johnson signed the fortified Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law on July 2. [134] Legend has it that the evening after signing the bill, Johnson told an aide, "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican party for a long time to come", anticipating a coming backlash from Southern whites against Johnson's Democratic Party. [135]

Biographer Randall B. Woods has argued that Johnson effectively used appeals to Judeo-Christian ethics to garner support for the civil rights law. Woods writes that Johnson undermined the Southern filibuster against the bill:

LBJ wrapped white America in a moral straitjacket. How could individuals who fervently, continuously, and overwhelmingly identified themselves with a merciful and just God continue to condone racial discrimination, police brutality, and segregation? Where in the Judeo-Christian ethic was there justification for killing young girls in a church in Alabama, denying an equal education to black children, barring fathers and mothers from competing for jobs that would feed and clothe their families? Was Jim Crow to be America's response to "Godless Communism"? [136]

Woods states that Johnson's religiosity ran deep: "At 15 he joined the Disciples of Christ, or Christian, church and would forever believe that it was the duty of the rich to care for the poor, the strong to assist the weak, and the educated to speak for the inarticulate." [137] Johnson shared the beliefs of his mentor, FDR, in that he paired liberal values to religious values, believing that freedom and social justice served both God and man. [138]

The Great Society

Johnson wanted a catchy slogan for the 1964 campaign to describe his proposed domestic agenda for 1965. Eric Goldman, who joined the White House in December of that year, thought Johnson's domestic program was best captured in the title of Walter Lippman's book, The Good Society. Richard Goodwin tweaked it to "The Great Society" and incorporated this in detail as part of a speech for Johnson in May 1964 at the University of Michigan. It encompassed movements of urban renewal, modern transportation, clean environment, anti-poverty, healthcare reform, crime control, and educational reform. [139]

1964 presidential election

In Spring 1964, Johnson did not look optimistically upon the prospect of being elected president in his own right. [140] A pivotal change took place in April when he assumed personal management of negotiations between the railroad brotherhood and the railroad industry over the issue of featherbedding. Johnson emphasized to the parties the potential impact upon the economy of a strike. After considerable horse-trading, especially with the carriers who won promises from the president for greater freedom in setting rights and more liberal depreciation allowances from the IRS, Johnson got an agreement. This substantially boosted his self-confidence as well as his image. [141]

That same year, Robert F. Kennedy was widely considered an impeccable choice to run as Johnson's vice presidential running mate but Johnson and Kennedy had never liked one another and Johnson, afraid that Kennedy would be credited with his election as president, abhorred the idea and opposed it at every turn. [142] Kennedy was himself undecided about the position and, knowing that the prospect rankled Johnson, was content to eliminate himself from consideration. Ultimately, Goldwater's poor polling numbers degraded any dependence Johnson might have had on Kennedy as his running mate. [143] Hubert Humphrey's selection as vice president then became a foregone conclusion and was thought to strengthen Johnson in the Midwest and industrial Northeast. [144] Johnson, knowing full well the degree of frustration inherent in the office of vice president, put Humphrey through a gauntlet of interviews to guarantee his absolute loyalty and having made the decision, he kept the announcement from the press until the last moment to maximize media speculation and coverage. [145]

In preparation for the Democratic convention, Johnson requested the FBI send a squad of thirty agents to cover convention activities the objective of the squad was to inform the White House staff of any disruptive activities on the floor. The squad's focus narrowed upon the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) delegation, which sought to displace the white segregationist delegation regularly selected in the state. The squad's activities also included wiretaps of Martin Luther King's room as well as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). From beginning to end, the squad's assignment was carefully couched in terms of the monitoring of disruptive activities that might endanger the president and other high-ranking officials. [146]

Johnson was very concerned about potential political damage from media coverage of racial tensions exposed by a credentials fight between the MFDP and the segregationist delegation, and he assigned Humphrey the job of managing the problem. [147] The convention's Credentials Committee declared that two MFDP delegates in the delegation be seated as observers and agreed to "bar future delegations from states where any citizens are deprived of the right to vote because of their race or color". [148] The MFDP rejected the committee's ruling. The convention became the apparent personal triumph that Johnson craved, but a sense of betrayal caused by the marginalization of the MFDP would trigger disaffection with Johnson and the Democratic Party from the left SNCC chairman John Lewis would call it a "turning point in the civil rights movement". [149]

Early in the 1964 presidential campaign, Barry Goldwater appeared to be a strong contender, with strong support from the South, which threatened Johnson's position as he had predicted in reaction to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. However, Goldwater lost momentum as his campaign progressed. On September 7, 1964, Johnson's campaign managers broadcast the "Daisy ad". It portrayed a little girl picking petals from a daisy, counting up to ten. Then a baritone voice took over, counted down from ten to zero and the visual showed the explosion of a nuclear bomb. The message conveyed was that electing Goldwater president held the danger of a nuclear war. Goldwater's campaign message was best symbolized by the bumper sticker displayed by supporters claiming "In your heart, you know he's right". Opponents captured the spirit of Johnson's campaign with bumper stickers that said "In your heart, you know he might" and "In your guts, you know he's nuts". [150] CIA Director William Colby asserted that Tracy Barnes instructed the CIA of the United States to spy on the Goldwater campaign and the Republican National Committee to provide information to Johnson's campaign. [151] Johnson won the presidency by a landslide with 61.05 percent of the vote, making it the highest ever share of the popular vote. [152] At the time, this was also the widest popular margin in the 20th century—more than 15.95 million votes—this was later surpassed by incumbent President Nixon's victory in 1972. [153] In the Electoral College, Johnson defeated Goldwater by a margin of 486 to 52. Johnson won 44 states, compared to Goldwater's six. Voters also gave Johnson the largest majorities in Congress since FDR's election in 1936—a Senate with a 68–32 majority and a house with a 295–140 Democratic margin. [154]

Voting Rights Act

Johnson began his elected presidential term with similar motives as he had upon succeeding to the office, ready to "carry forward the plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Not because of our sorrow or sympathy, but because they are right." [155] He was reticent to push southern congressmen even further after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and suspected their support may have been temporarily tapped out. Nevertheless, the Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama led by Martin Luther King ultimately led Johnson to initiate a debate on a voting rights bill in February 1965. [156]

Johnson gave a congressional speech—Dallek considers it his greatest—in which he said "rarely at any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself . rarely are we met with the challenge . to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation." [157] In 1965, he achieved passage of a second civil rights bill called the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in voting, thus allowing millions of southern blacks to vote for the first time. Under the act, several states—"seven of the eleven southern states of the former confederacy" (Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia)—were subjected to the procedure of preclearance in 1965, while Texas, then home to the largest African American population of any state, followed in 1975. [158] The Senate passed the voting rights bill by a vote of 77–19 after 2 1/2 months, and it won passage in the house in July, 333–85. The results were significant: between the years of 1968 and 1980, the number of southern black elected state and federal officeholders nearly doubled. The act also made a large difference in the numbers of black elected officials nationally a few hundred black office-holders in 1965 mushroomed to 6,000 in 1989. [157]

After the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo, Johnson went on television to announce the arrest of four Ku Klux Klansmen implicated in her death. He angrily denounced the Klan as a "hooded society of bigots," and warned them to "return to a decent society before it's too late". Johnson was the first President to arrest and prosecute members of the Klan since Ulysses S. Grant about 93 years earlier. [b] [159] He turned to themes of Christian redemption to push for civil rights, thereby mobilizing support from churches North and South. [160] At the Howard University commencement address on June 4, 1965, he said that both the government and the nation needed to help achieve these goals: "To shatter forever not only the barriers of law and public practice but the walls which bound the condition of many by the color of his skin. To dissolve, as best we can, the antique enmities of the heart which diminish the holder, divide the great democracy, and do wrong—great wrong—to the children of God . " [161]

In 1967, Johnson nominated civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall to be the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court. To head the new Department of Housing and Urban Development, Johnson appointed Robert C. Weaver, the first African-American cabinet secretary in any U.S. presidential administration. In 1968, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed, or national origin. The impetus for the law's passage came from the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement, the April 4, 1968, assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the civil unrest across the country following King's death. [162] On April 5, Johnson wrote a letter to the United States House of Representatives urging passage of the Fair Housing Act. [163] With newly urgent attention from legislative director Joseph Califano and Democratic Speaker of the House John McCormack, the bill (which was previously stalled) passed the House by a wide margin on April 10. [162] [164]


With the passage of the sweeping Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the country's immigration system was reformed and all national origins quotas dating from the 1920s were removed. The annual rate of inflow doubled between 1965 and 1970, and doubled again by 1990, with dramatic increases from Asia and Latin American countries including Mexico. [60] Scholars give Johnson little credit for the law, which was not one of his priorities he had supported the McCarren–Walter Act of 1952 that was unpopular with reformers. [165]

Federal funding for education

Johnson, whose own ticket out of poverty was a public education in Texas, fervently believed that education was a cure for ignorance and poverty, and was an essential component of the American dream, especially for minorities who endured poor facilities and tight-fisted budgets from local taxes. [166] He made education the top priority of the Great Society agenda, with an emphasis on helping poor children. After the 1964 landslide brought in many new liberal Congressmen, LBJ launched a legislative effort that took the name of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The bill sought to double federal spending on education from $4 billion to $8 billion [167] with considerable facilitating by the White House, it passed the House by a vote of 263 to 153 on March 26, and then it remarkably passed without a change in the Senate, by 73 to 8, without going through the usual conference committee. This was a historic accomplishment by the president, with the billion-dollar bill passing as introduced just 87 days before. [168]

For the first time, large amounts of federal money went to public schools. In practice ESEA meant helping all public school districts, with more money going to districts that had large proportions of students from poor families (which included all the big cities). [169] For the first time, private schools (most of them Catholic schools in the inner cities) received services, such as library funding, comprising about 12 percent of the ESEA budget. Though federal funds were involved, they were administered by local officials, and by 1977 it was reported that less than half of the funds were applied toward the education of children under the poverty line. Dallek further reports that researchers cited by Hugh Davis Graham soon found that poverty had more to do with family background and neighborhood conditions than the quantity of education a child received. Early studies suggested initial improvements for poor children helped by ESEA reading and math programs, but later assessments indicated that benefits faded quickly and left pupils little better off than those not in the schemes. Johnson's second major education program was the Higher Education Act of 1965, which focused on funding for lower-income students, including grants, work-study money, and government loans.

Although ESEA solidified Johnson's support among K-12 teachers' unions, neither the Higher Education Act nor the new endowments mollified the college professors and students growing increasingly uneasy with the war in Vietnam. [170] In 1967, Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act to create educational television programs to supplement the broadcast networks.

In 1965, Johnson also set up the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, to support academic subjects such as literature, history, and law, and arts such as music, painting, and sculpture (as the WPA once did). [171]

"War on Poverty" and healthcare reform

In 1964, at Johnson's request, Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1964 and the Economic Opportunity Act, as part of the war on poverty. Johnson set in motion legislation creating programs such as Head Start, food stamps and Work Study. [172] During Johnson's years in office, national poverty declined significantly, with the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line dropping from 23 percent to 12 percent. [13]

Johnson took an additional step in the War on Poverty with an urban renewal effort, presenting to Congress in January 1966 the "Demonstration Cities Program". To be eligible a city would need to demonstrate its readiness to "arrest blight and decay and make a substantial impact on the development of its entire city". Johnson requested an investment of $400 million per year totaling $2.4 billion. In the fall of 1966 the Congress passed a substantially reduced program costing $900 million, which Johnson later called the Model Cities Program. Changing the name had little effect on the success of the bill the New York Times wrote 22 years later that the program was, for the most part, a failure. [173]

Johnson's initial effort to improve healthcare was the creation of The Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Strokes (HDCS). Combined, these diseases accounted for 71 percent of the nation's deaths in 1962. [174] To enact recommendations of the commission, Johnson asked Congress for funds to set up the Regional Medical Program (RMP), to create a network of hospitals with federally funded research and practice Congress passed a significantly watered-down version.

As a back-up position, in 1965 Johnson turned his focus to hospital insurance for the aged under Social Security. [175] The key player in initiating this program, named Medicare, was Wilbur Mills, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. To reduce Republican opposition, Mills suggested that Medicare be fashioned as a three-layer cake: hospital insurance under Social Security a voluntary insurance program for doctor visits and an expanded medical welfare program for the poor, known as Medicaid. [176] The bill passed the house by a margin of 110 votes on April 8. The effort in the Senate was considerably more complicated however, the Medicare bill passed Congress on July 28 after negotiation in a conference committee. [177] Medicare now covers tens of millions of Americans. [178] Johnson gave the first two Medicare cards to former President Harry S Truman and his wife Bess after signing the Medicare bill at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. [179]


In March 1965, Johnson sent to Congress a transportation message which included the creation of a new Transportation Department, which would include the Commerce Department's Office of Transportation, the Bureau of Public Roads, the Federal Aviation Agency, the Coast Guard, the Maritime Administration, the Civil Aeronautics Board, and the Interstate Commerce Commission. The bill passed the Senate after some negotiation over navigation projects in the house, passage required negotiation over maritime interests and the bill was signed October 15, 1965. [180]

Gun control

On October 22, 1968, Lyndon Johnson signed the Gun Control Act of 1968, one of the largest and farthest-reaching federal gun control laws in American history. Much of the motivation for this large expansion of federal gun regulations came as a response to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. [ citation needed ]

Space program

During Johnson's administration, NASA conducted the Gemini manned space program, developed the Saturn V rocket and its launch facility, and prepared to make the first manned Apollo program flights. On January 27, 1967, the nation was stunned when the entire crew of Apollo 1 was killed in a cabin fire during a spacecraft test on the launch pad, stopping Apollo in its tracks. Rather than appointing another Warren-style commission, Johnson accepted Administrator James E. Webb's request for NASA to do its investigation, holding itself accountable to Congress and the President. [181] Johnson maintained his staunch support of Apollo through Congressional and press controversy, and the program recovered. The first two manned missions, Apollo 7 and the first manned flight to the Moon, Apollo 8, were completed by the end of Johnson's term. He congratulated the Apollo 8 crew, saying, "You've taken . all of us, all over the world, into a new era." [182] [183] On July 16, 1969, Johnson attended the launch of the first Moon landing mission Apollo 11, becoming the first former or incumbent U.S. president to witness a rocket launch. [184]

Urban riots

Major riots in black neighborhoods caused a series of "long hot summers." They started with a violent disturbance in the Harlem riots in 1964, and the Watts district of Los Angeles in 1965, and extended to 1971. The momentum for the advancement of civil rights came to a sudden halt in the summer of 1965, with the riots in Watts. After 34 people were killed and $35 million (equivalent to $287.43 million in 2020) in the property was damaged, the public feared an expansion of the violence to other cities, and so the appetite for additional programs in LBJ's agenda was lost. [185]

Newark burned in 1967, where six days of rioting left 26 dead, 1,500 injured, and the inner city a burned-out shell. In Detroit in 1967, Governor George Romney sent in 7,400 national guard troops to quell fire bombings, looting, and attacks on businesses and police. Johnson finally sent in federal troops with tanks and machine guns. Detroit continued to burn for three more days until finally, 43 were dead, 2,250 were injured, 4,000 were arrested property damage ranged into the hundreds of millions. The biggest wave of riots came in April 1968, in over a hundred cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Johnson called for even more billions to be spent in the cities and another federal civil rights law regarding housing, but this request had little Congressional support. Johnson's popularity plummeted as a massive white political backlash took shape, reinforcing the sense Johnson had lost control of the streets of major cities as well as his party. [186] Johnson created the Kerner Commission to study the problem of urban riots, headed by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. [60] According to press secretary George Christian, Johnson was unsurprised by the riots, saying: "What did you expect? I don't know why we're so surprised. When you put your foot on a man's neck and hold him down for three hundred years, and then you let him up, what's he going to do? He's going to knock your block off." [187]

As a result of rioting in Washington D.C. after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Johnson determined that "a condition of domestic violence and disorder" existed and issued a proclamation and executive order mobilizing combat-equipped troops. The New York Times reported that 4,000 regular Army and National Guard troops entered into the nation's capital "to try to end riotous looting, burglarizing and burning by roving bands of Negro youths". Some of the troops were sent to guard the Capital and the White House. [188]

Backlash against Johnson (1966–1967)

In 1966, the press sensed a "credibility gap" between what Johnson was saying in press conferences and what was happening on the ground in Vietnam, which led to much less favorable coverage. [189]

By year's end, the Democratic governor of Missouri, Warren E. Hearnes, warned that Johnson would lose the state by 100,000 votes, despite winning by a margin of 500,000 in 1964. "Frustration over Vietnam too much federal spending and . taxation no great public support for your Great Society programs and . public disenchantment with the civil rights programs "had eroded the President's standing, the governor reported. [190] There were bright spots in January 1967, Johnson boasted that wages were the highest in history, unemployment was at a 13-year low, and corporate profits and farm incomes were greater than ever a 4.5 percent jump in consumer prices was worrisome, as was the rise in interest rates. Johnson asked for a temporary 6 percent surcharge in income taxes to cover the mounting deficit caused by increased spending. Johnson's approval ratings stayed below 50 percent by January 1967, the number of his strong supporters had plunged to 16 percent, from 25 percent four months before. He ran about even with Republican George Romney in trial matchups that spring. Asked to explain why he was unpopular, Johnson responded, "I am a dominating personality, and when I get things done I don't always please all the people." [191] Johnson also blamed the press, saying they showed "complete irresponsibility and lie and misstate facts and have no one to be answerable to". He also blamed "the preachers, liberals and professors" who had turned against him. [192] In the congressional elections of 1966, the Republicans gained three seats in the Senate and 47 in the House, reinvigorating the conservative coalition and making it more difficult for Johnson to pass any additional Great Society legislation. However, in the end, Congress passed almost 96 percent of the administration's Great Society programs, which Johnson then signed into law. [193]

Vietnam War

At Kennedy's death, there were 16,000 American military personnel stationed in Vietnam supporting South Vietnam in the war against North Vietnam. [194] Vietnam had been partitioned at the 1954 Geneva Conference into two countries, with North Vietnam led by a Communist government. Johnson subscribed to the Domino Theory in Vietnam and to a containment policy that required America to make a serious effort to stop all Communist expansion. [195] On taking office, Johnson immediately reversed Kennedy's order to withdraw 1,000 military personnel by the end of 1963. [196] In late summer 1964, Johnson seriously questioned the value of staying in Vietnam but, after meeting with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell D. Taylor, declared his readiness "to do more when we had a base" or when Saigon was politically more stable. [197] He expanded the numbers and roles of the American military following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. [ citation needed ]

In August 1964, allegations arose from the military that two U.S. destroyers had been attacked by some North Vietnamese torpedo boats in international waters 40 miles (64 km) from the Vietnamese coast in the Gulf of Tonkin naval communications and reports of the attack were contradictory. Although Johnson very much wanted to keep discussions about Vietnam out of the 1964 election campaign, he felt forced to respond to the supposed aggression by the Vietnamese, so he sought and obtained from the Congress the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7. Johnson was determined to embolden his image on foreign policy, and also wanted to prevent criticism such as Truman had received in Korea by proceeding without congressional endorsement of military action. Responding to the purported attack would also blunt presidential campaign criticism of weakness from the hawkish Goldwater camp. The resolution gave congressional approval for use of military force by the commander-in-chief to repel future attacks and also to assist members of SEATO requesting assistance. Johnson later in the campaign expressed assurance that the primary U.S. goal remained the preservation of South Vietnamese independence through material and advice, as opposed to any U.S. offensive posture. [198] The public's reaction to the resolution at the time was positive—48 percent favored stronger measures in Vietnam and only 14 percent wanted to negotiate a settlement and leave. [144]

In the 1964 presidential campaign, Johnson restated his determination to provide measured support for Vietnam while avoiding another Korea but privately he had a sense of foreboding about Vietnam—a feeling that no matter what he did things would end badly. Indeed, his heart was on his Great Society agenda, and he even felt that his political opponents favored greater intervention in Vietnam to divert attention and resources away from his War on Poverty. The situation on the ground was aggravated in the fall by additional Viet Minh attacks on U.S. ships in the Tonkin Gulf, as well as an attack on Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam. [199] Johnson decided against retaliatory action at the time after consultation with the Joint Chiefs, and also after public pollster Lou Harris confirmed that his decision would not detrimentally affect him at the polls. [200] By the end of 1964, there were approximately 23,000 military personnel in South Vietnam U.S. casualties for 1964 totaled 1,278. [194]

In the winter of 1964–1965, Johnson was pressured by the military to begin a bombing campaign to forcefully resist a communist takeover in South Vietnam moreover, a plurality in the polls at the time was in favor of military action against the communists, with only 26 to 30 percent opposed. [201] Johnson revised his priorities, and a new preference for stronger action came at the end of January with yet another change of government in Saigon. He then agreed with Mac Bundy and McNamara that the continued passive role would only lead to defeat and withdrawal in humiliation. Johnson said, "Stable government or no stable government in Saigon we will do what we ought to do. I'm prepared to do that we will move strongly. General Nguyễn Khánh (head of the new government) is our boy". [202]

Johnson decided on a systematic bombing campaign in February after a ground report from Bundy recommending immediate U.S. action to avoid defeat also, the Viet Cong had just killed eight U.S. advisers and wounded dozens of others in an attack at Pleiku Air Base. The eight-week bombing campaign became known as Operation Rolling Thunder. Johnson's instructions for public consumption were clear: there was to be no comment that the war effort had been expanded. [203] Long-term estimates of the bombing campaign ranged from an expectation that Hanoi would rein in the Viet Cong to one of provoking Hanoi and the Viet Cong into an intensification of the war. But the short-term expectations were consistent that the morale and stability of the South Vietnamese government would be bolstered. By limiting the information given out to the public, and even to Congress, Johnson maximized his flexibility to change course. [204]

In March, Bundy began to urge the use of ground forces—air operations alone, he counseled, would not stop Hanoi's aggression against the South. Johnson approved an increase in logistical troops of 18,000 to 20,000 and the deployment of two additional Marine battalions and a Marine air squadron, in addition to planning for the deployment of two more divisions. More significantly, he also authorized a change in mission from defensive to offensive operations he nevertheless continued to insist that this was not to be publicly represented as a change in existing policy. [205]

By the middle of June, the total U.S. ground forces in Vietnam have increased to 82,000 or by 150 percent. [206] That same month, Ambassador Taylor reported that the bombing offensive against North Vietnam had been ineffective and that the South Vietnamese army was outclassed and in danger of collapse. [207] General Westmoreland shortly thereafter recommended the president further increase ground troops from 82,000 to 175,000. After consulting with his principals, Johnson, desirous of a low profile, chose to announce at a press conference an increase to 125,000 troops, with additional forces to be sent later upon request. Johnson described himself at the time as boxed in by unpalatable choices—between sending Americans to die in Vietnam and giving in to the communists. If he sent additional troops he would be attacked as an interventionist and if he did not he thought he risked being impeached. He continued to insist that his decision "did not imply any change in policy whatsoever". Of his desire to veil the decision, Johnson jested privately, "If you have a mother-in-law with only one eye, and she has it in the center of her forehead, you don't keep her in the living room". [208] By October 1965 there were over 200,000 troops deployed in Vietnam. [209]

Johnson underwent surgery on November 8, 1965, at the Bethesda Naval Hospital to remove his gallbladder and a kidney stone. Afterward, his doctors reported that the president had come through the surgery "beautifully as expected" [210] he was able to resume his duties the next day. He met with reporters a couple of days later and reassured the nation that he was recovering well. Although Johnson was incapacitated during surgery, there was no transfer of presidential power to Vice President Humphrey, as no constitutional procedure to do so existed at the time. The Twenty-fifth Amendment, which Congress had sent to the states for ratification four months earlier, included procedures for the orderly transfer of power in the case of presidential incapacity, but was not ratified until 1967. [211] [212]

Public and political impatience with the war began to emerge in the spring of 1966, and Johnson's approval ratings reached a new low of 41 percent. Sen. Richard Russell, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, reflected the national mood in June 1966 when he declared it was time to "get it over or get out". [213] Johnson responded by saying to the press, "we are trying to provide the maximum deterrence that we can to communist aggression with a minimum of cost." [214] In response to the intensified criticism of the war effort, Johnson raised suspicions of communist subversion in the country, and press relations became strained. [215] Johnson's primary war policy opponent in Congress was the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, James William Fulbright, [216] who convened a series of public hearings in February to question a range of experts on the progress of the war. [217] The persistent Johnson began to seriously consider a more focused bombing campaign against petroleum, oil and lubrication facilities in North Vietnam, in hopes of accelerating victory. [218] Humphrey, Rusk, and McNamara all agreed, and the bombing began at the end of June. [219] In July, polling results indicated that Americans favored the bombing campaign by a five-to-one margin however, in August a Defense Department study indicated that the bombing campaign had little impact on North Vietnam. [220]

In the fall of 1966, multiple sources began to report that progress was being made against the North Vietnamese logistics and infrastructure Johnson was urged from every corner to begin peace discussions. There was no shortage of peace initiatives nevertheless, among protesters, English philosopher Bertrand Russell attacked Johnson's policy as "a barbaric aggressive war of conquest", and in June he initiated the International War Crimes Tribunal as a means to condemn the American effort. [221] The gap with Hanoi was an unbridgeable demand on both sides for a unilateral end to bombing and withdrawal of forces. In August, Johnson appointed Averell Harriman "Ambassador for Peace" to promote negotiations. Westmoreland and McNamara then recommended a concerted program to promote pacification Johnson formally placed this effort under military control in October. [222] Also in October 1966, to reassure and promote his war effort, Johnson initiated a meeting with allies in Manila—the South Vietnamese, Thais, South Koreans, Filipinos, Australians, and New Zealanders. [223] The conference ended with pronouncements to stand fast against communist aggression and to promote ideals of democracy and development in Vietnam and across Asia. [224] For Johnson it was a fleeting public relations success—confirmed by a 63 percent Vietnam approval rating in November. [225] Nevertheless, in December, Johnson's Vietnam approval rating was again back down in the 40s LBJ had become anxious to justify war casualties, and talked of the need for a decisive victory, despite the unpopularity of the cause. [226] In a discussion about the war with former President Dwight Eisenhower on October 3, 1966, Johnson said he was "trying to win it just as fast as I can in every way that I know how" and later stated that he needed "all the help I can get". [227]

By year's end, it was clear that current pacification efforts were ineffectual, as had been the air campaign. Johnson then agreed to McNamara's new recommendation to add 70,000 troops in 1967 to the 400,000 previously committed. While McNamara recommended no increase in the level of bombing, Johnson agreed with CIA recommendations to increase them. [228] The increased bombing began despite initial secret talks being held in Saigon, Hanoi, and Warsaw. While the bombing ended the talks, North Vietnamese intentions were not considered genuine. [229]

In January and February 1967, probes were made to assess North Vietnamese's willingness to discuss peace, but they fell on deaf ears. Ho Chi Minh declared that the only solution was a unilateral withdrawal by the U.S. [230] A Gallup poll taken in July 1967 showed that 52 percent of the country disapproved of the president's handling of the war, and only 34 percent thought progress was being made. [231] Johnson's anger and frustration over the lack of a solution to Vietnam and its effect on him politically was exhibited in a statement to Robert F. Kennedy, who had become a prominent public critic of the war and loomed as a potential challenger in the 1968 presidential election. [232] Johnson had just received several reports predicting military progress by the summer, and warned Kennedy, "I'll destroy you and every one of your dove friends in six months", he shouted. "You'll be dead politically in six months". [233] McNamara offered Johnson a way out of Vietnam in May the administration could declare its objective in the war—South Vietnam's self-determination—was being achieved and the upcoming September elections in South Vietnam would provide the chance for a coalition government. The United States could reasonably expect that country to then assume responsibility for the election outcome. But Johnson was reluctant, in light of some optimistic reports, again of questionable reliability, which matched the negative assessments about the conflict and provided hope for improvement. The CIA was reporting wide food shortages in Hanoi and an unstable power grid, as well as military manpower reductions. [234]

By the middle of 1967, nearly 70,000 Americans had been killed or wounded in the war. In July, Johnson sent McNamara, Wheeler, and other officials to meet with Westmoreland and reach an agreement on plans for the immediate future. At that time the war was being commonly described by the press and others as a "stalemate". Westmoreland said such a description was pure fiction, and that "we are winning slowly but steadily and the pace can excel if we reinforce our successes". [235] Though Westmoreland sought many more, Johnson agreed to an increase of 55,000 troops bringing the total to 525,000. [236] In August Johnson, with the Joint Chiefs' support, decided to expand the air campaign and exempted only Hanoi, Haiphong and a buffer zone with China from the target list. [237] In September Ho Chi Minh and North Vietnamese premier, Pham Van Dong appeared amenable to French mediation, so Johnson ceased bombing in a 10-mile zone around Hanoi this was met with dissatisfaction. In a Texas speech, Johnson agreed to halt all bombing if Ho Chi Minh would launch productive and meaningful discussions and if North Vietnam would not seek to take advantage of the halt this was named the "San Antonio" formula. There was no response, but Johnson pursued the possibility of negotiations with such a bombing pause. [238]

With the war still arguably in a stalemate and light of the widespread disapproval of the conflict, Johnson convened a group called the "Wise Men" for a fresh, in-depth look at the war—Dean Acheson, General Omar Bradley, George Ball, Mac Bundy, Arthur Dean, Douglas Dillon, Abe Fortas, Averell Harriman, Henry Cabot Lodge, Robert Murphy and Max Taylor. [239] At that time McNamara, reversing his position on the war, recommended that a cap of 525,000 is placed on the number of forces deployed and that the bombing be halted since he could see no success. Johnson was quite agitated by this recommendation and McNamara's resignation soon followed. [240] Except for George Ball, the "Wise Men" all agreed the administration should "press forward". [241] Johnson was confident that Hanoi would await the 1968 U.S. election results before deciding to negotiate. [242]

On June 23, 1967, Johnson traveled to Los Angeles for a Democratic fundraiser. Thousands of anti-war protesters tried to march past the hotel where he was speaking. The march was led by a coalition of peace protestors. However, a small group of Progressive Labor Party and SDS protestors activists placed themselves at the head of the march and, when they reached the hotel, staged a sit-down. Efforts by march monitors to keep the main body of the marchers moving were only partially successful. Hundreds of LAPD officers were massed at the hotel and when the march slowed an order was given to disperse the crowd. The Riot Act was read and 51 protestors arrested. [243] [244] This was one of the first massive war protests in the United States, and the first in Los Angeles. Ending in a clash with riot police, it set a pattern for the massive protests which followed. [245] Due to the size and violence of this event, Johnson attempted no further public speeches in venues outside military bases. [245] [244]

In October, with the ever-increasing public protests against the war, Johnson engaged the FBI and the CIA to investigate, monitor and undermine anti-war activists. [246] In mid-October, there was a demonstration of 100,000 at the Pentagon Johnson and Rusk were convinced that foreign communist sources were behind the demonstration, which was refuted by CIA findings. [247]

As casualties mounted and success seemed further away than ever, Johnson's popularity plummeted. College students and others protested, burned draft cards, and chanted, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" [195] Johnson could scarcely travel anywhere without facing protests, and was not allowed by the Secret Service to attend the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where thousands of hippies, yippies, Black Panthers and other opponents of Johnson's policies both in Vietnam and in the ghettos converged to protest. [248] Thus by 1968, the public was polarized, with the "hawks" rejecting Johnson's refusal to continue the war indefinitely, and the "doves" rejecting his current war policies. Support for Johnson's middle position continued to shrink until he finally rejected containment and sought a peace settlement. By late summer, he realized that Nixon was closer to his position than Humphrey. He continued to support Humphrey publicly in the election, and personally despised Nixon. One of Johnson's well-known quotes was "the Democratic party at its worst, is still better than the Republican party at its best". [249]

On January 30, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive against South Vietnam's five largest cities, including Saigon and the U.S. embassy there and other government installations. While the Tet Offensive failed militarily, it was a psychological victory, definitively turning American public opinion against the war effort. Iconically, Walter Cronkite of CBS News, voted the nation's "most trusted person" in February, opined on the air that the conflict was deadlocked and that additional fighting would change nothing. Johnson reacted, saying "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America". [250] Indeed, demoralization about the war was everywhere 26 percent then approved of Johnson's handling of Vietnam 63 percent disapproved. Johnson agreed to increase the troop level by 22,000, despite a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs for ten times that number. [251] By March 1968, Johnson was secretly desperate for an honorable way out of the war. Clark Clifford, the new Defense Secretary, described the war as "a loser" and proposed to "cut losses and get out". [252] On March 31, Johnson spoke to the nation of "Steps to Limit the War in Vietnam". He then announced an immediate unilateral halt to the bombing of North Vietnam and announced his intention to seek out peace talks anywhere at any time. At the close of his speech he also announced, "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President". [253]

In March, Johnson decided to restrict future bombing with the result that 90 percent of North Vietnam's population and 75 percent of its territory was off-limits to bombing. In April he succeeded in opening discussions of peace talks, and after extensive negotiations over the site, Paris was agreed to and talks began in May. When the talks failed to yield any results the decision was made to resort to private discussions in Paris. [255] Two months later it was apparent that private discussions proved to be no more productive. [256] Despite recommendations in August from Harriman, Vance, Clifford, and Bundy to halt bombing as an incentive for Hanoi to seriously engage in substantive peace talks, Johnson refused. [257] In October, when the parties came close to an agreement on a bombing halt, Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon intervened with the South Vietnamese, making promises of better terms, to delay a settlement on the issue until after the election. [258] After the election, Johnson's primary focus on Vietnam was to get Saigon to join the Paris peace talks. Ironically, only after Nixon added his urging did they do so. Even then they argued about procedural matters until after Nixon took office. [259]

The Six-Day War and Israel

In a 1993 interview for the Johnson Presidential Library oral history archives, Johnson's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara stated that a carrier battle group, the U.S. 6th Fleet, sent on a training exercise toward Gibraltar, was re-positioned back towards the eastern Mediterranean to be able to assist Israel during the Six-Day War of June 1967. Given the rapid Israeli advances following their strike on Egypt, the administration "thought the situation was so tense in Israel that perhaps the Syrians, fearing Israel would attack them, or the Soviets supporting the Syrians might wish to redress the balance of power and might attack Israel". The Soviets learned of this course correction and regarded it as an offensive move. In a hotline message from Moscow, Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin said, "If you want war you're going to get war." [260]

The Soviet Union supported its Arab allies. [261] In May 1967, the Soviets started a surge deployment of their naval forces into the East Mediterranean. Early in the crisis they began to shadow the U.S. and British carriers with destroyers and intelligence collecting vessels. The Soviet naval squadron in the Mediterranean was sufficiently strong to act as a major restraint on the U.S. Navy. [262] In a 1983 interview with The Boston Globe, McNamara claimed that "We damn near had war". He said Kosygin was angry that "we had turned around a carrier in the Mediterranean". [263]

Surveillance of Martin Luther King

Johnson continued the FBI's wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr. that had been previously authorized by the Kennedy administration under Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. [264] As a result of listening to the FBI's tapes, remarks on King's extra-marital activities were made by several prominent officials, including Johnson, who once said that King was a "hypocritical preacher". [265] This was despite the fact that Johnson himself had multiple extramarital affairs. [44] Johnson also authorized the tapping of phone conversations of others, including the Vietnamese friends of a Nixon associate. [266]

International trips

Johnson made eleven international trips to twenty countries during his presidency. [267] He flew five hundred twenty-three thousand miles (841,690 km) aboard Air Force One while in office. His October 1966 visit to Australia sparked demonstrations from anti-war protesters. [268] One of the most unusual international trips in presidential history occurred before Christmas in 1967. The President began the trip by going to the memorial service for Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, who had disappeared in a swimming accident and was presumed drowned. The White House did not reveal in advance to the press that the President would make the first round-the-world presidential trip. The trip was twenty-six thousand nine hundred fifty-nine miles (43,386.3 km) completed in only 112.5 hours (4.7 days). Air Force One crossed the equator twice, stopped at Travis Air Force Base, in Honolulu, Pago Pago, Canberra, Melbourne, Vietnam, Karachi, and Rome.

1968 presidential election

As he had served less than 24 months of President Kennedy's term, Johnson was constitutionally permitted to run for a second full term in the 1968 presidential election under the provisions of the 22nd Amendment. [269] [270] Initially, no prominent Democratic candidate was prepared to run against a sitting president of the Democratic Party. Only Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota challenged Johnson as an anti-war candidate in the New Hampshire primary, hoping to pressure the Democrats to oppose the Vietnam War. On March 12, McCarthy won 42 percent of the primary vote to Johnson's 49 percent, an amazingly strong showing for such a challenger. Four days later, Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York entered the race. Internal polling by Johnson's campaign in Wisconsin, the next state to hold a primary election, showed the President trailing badly. Johnson did not leave the White House to campaign.

By this time Johnson had lost control of the Democratic Party, which was splitting into four generally antagonistic factions. The first consisted of Johnson (and Humphrey), labor unions, and local party bosses led by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. The second group consisted of students and intellectuals who were vociferously against the war and rallied behind McCarthy. The third group was Catholics, Hispanics, and African Americans, who rallied behind Robert Kennedy. The fourth group was traditionally segregationist white Southerners, who rallied behind George C. Wallace and the American Independent Party. Vietnam was one of many issues that splintered the party, and Johnson could see no way to win the war [195] and no way to unite the party long enough for him to win re-election. [271]

Also, although it was not made public at the time, Johnson had become more worried about his failing health and was concerned that he might not live through another four-year term. In 1967, he secretly commissioned an actuarial study that accurately predicted he would die at 64. [272]

In early January 1968, Johnson asked former speechwriter Horace Busby to draft a withdrawal statement that he could put into his upcoming State of the Union address, but the president did not include it. Two months later, however, spurred by his health concerns and by a growing realization that his political capital was all but gone, Johnson again considered withdrawing discussing the possibility with Joseph Califano and Harry McPherson on March 28. [273] Three days later, he shocked the nation when he announced he would not run for re-election by concluding with the line: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President." [274] The next day, the president's approval ratings increased from 36 percent to 49 percent. [275]

Historians have debated the factors that led to Johnson's surprise decision. Shesol says Johnson wanted out of the White House but also wanted vindication when the indicators turned negative he decided to leave. [276] Gould says that Johnson had neglected the party, was hurting it by his Vietnam policies and underestimated McCarthy's strength until the last minute, when it was too late for Johnson to recover. [277] Woods says Johnson realized he needed to leave for the nation to heal. [278] Dallek says that Johnson had no further domestic goals, and realized that his personality had eroded his popularity. His health was not good, and he was preoccupied with the Kennedy campaign his wife was pressing for his retirement and his base of support continued to shrink. Leaving the race would allow him to pose as a peacemaker. [279] Bennett, however, says Johnson "had been forced out of a reelection race in 1968 by outrage over his policy in Southeast Asia". [280]

After Robert Kennedy's assassination, Johnson rallied the party bosses and unions to give Humphrey the nomination at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Personal correspondences between the President and some in the Republican Party suggested Johnson tacitly supported Nelson Rockefeller's campaign. He reportedly said that if Rockefeller became the Republican nominee, he would not campaign against him (and would not campaign for Humphrey). [281] In what was termed the October surprise, Johnson announced to the nation on October 31, 1968, that he had ordered a complete cessation of "all air, naval and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam", effective November 1, should the Hanoi Government be willing to negotiate and citing progress with the Paris peace talks. In the end, Democrats did not fully unite behind Humphrey, enabling Republican candidate Richard Nixon to win the election.

Judicial appointments

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

Johnson anticipated court challenges to his legislative measures in 1965 and thought it advantageous to have a "mole" in the Supreme Court who he thought could provide him with inside information, as he was able to get from the legislative branch. Abe Fortas in particular was the individual that Johnson thought could fill the bill. The opportunity arose when an opening occurred for Ambassador to the UN, with Adlai Stevenson's death Associate Justice Arthur Goldberg accepted Johnson's offer to transfer to the UN position. Johnson insisted on Fortas assuming Goldberg's seat, over Fortas's wife's objection that it was too early in his career. Mrs. Fortas expressed disapproval to Johnson personally afterward. [282] When Earl Warren announced his retirement in 1968, Johnson nominated Fortas to succeed him as Chief Justice of the United States, and nominated Homer Thornberry to succeed Fortas as Associate Justice. However, Fortas's nomination was filibustered by senators, and neither nominee was voted upon by the full Senate.

On Inauguration Day (January 20, 1969), Johnson saw Nixon sworn in, then got on the plane to fly back to Texas. When the front door of the plane closed, Johnson pulled out a cigarette—his first cigarette he had smoked since his heart attack in 1955. One of his daughters pulled it out of his mouth and said, "Daddy, what are you doing? You're going to kill yourself." He took it back and said, "I've now raised you, girls. I've now been President. Now it's my time!" From that point on, he went into a very self-destructive spiral.

After leaving the presidency in January 1969, Johnson went home to his ranch in Stonewall, Texas, accompanied by a former aide and speechwriter Harry J. Middleton, who would draft Johnson's first book, The Choices We Face, and work with him on his memoirs entitled The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963–1969, published in 1971. [284] That year, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum 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 provision that the ranch "remain a working ranch and not become a sterile relic of the past". [285]

Johnson gave Nixon high grades in foreign policy but worried that his successor was being pressured into removing U.S. forces too quickly from South Vietnam before the South Vietnamese were able to defend themselves. "If the South falls to the Communists, we can have a serious backlash here at home," he warned. [286]

During the 1972 presidential election, Johnson reluctantly endorsed Democratic presidential nominee George S. McGovern, a senator from South Dakota McGovern had long opposed Johnson's foreign and defense policies. The McGovern nomination and presidential platform dismayed him. Nixon could be defeated, Johnson insisted, "if only the Democrats don't go too far left". [272] Johnson had felt Edmund Muskie would be more likely to defeat Nixon however, he declined an invitation to try to stop McGovern receiving the nomination as he felt his unpopularity within the Democratic party was such that anything he said was more likely to help McGovern. Johnson's protégé John Connally had served as President Nixon's Secretary of the Treasury and then stepped down to head "Democrats for Nixon", a group funded by Republicans. It was the first time that Connally and Johnson were on opposite sides of a general election campaign. [287]

Heart issues

In March 1970, Johnson suffered an attack of angina and was taken to Brooke Army General Hospital in San Antonio. He had gained more than 25 pounds (11 kg) since leaving the White House he now weighed around 235 pounds (107 kg) and was urged to lose considerable weight. He had also resumed smoking after nearly 15 years of not smoking. The following summer, again gripped by chest pains, he lost 15 pounds (6.8 kg) in less than a month on a crash diet.

In April 1972, Johnson had a second heart attack while visiting his daughter, Lynda, in Virginia. "I'm hurting real bad", [272] he confided to friends. The chest pains returned nearly every afternoon‍—‌a series of sharp, jolting pains that left him frightened and breathless. A portable oxygen tank was kept by his bed, and he periodically interrupted what he was doing to lie down and don the mask. He continued to smoke heavily and, although nominally living on a low-calorie, low-cholesterol diet, kept to it only intermittently. Meanwhile, he began to experience severe abdominal pains, diagnosed as diverticulosis. His heart condition rapidly worsened and surgery was recommended, so Johnson flew to Houston to consult with heart specialist Dr. Michael DeBakey, where he learned his condition was terminal. DeBakey found Johnson's heart to be in such poor condition that although two of his coronary arteries required bypass surgery, the former president was not well enough to consider an attempt and would likely have died in surgery. [286]

Johnson recorded an hour-long television interview with newsman Walter Cronkite at his ranch on January 12, 1973, in which he discussed his legacy, particularly about the civil rights movement. He was still smoking heavily at the time, and told Cronkite that it was better for his heart "to smoke than to be nervous". [288]

Ten days later, at approximately 3:39 p.m. Central Time on January 22, 1973, Johnson suffered a massive heart attack in his bedroom. He managed to telephone the Secret Service agents on the ranch, who found him still holding the telephone receiver, unconscious and not breathing. Johnson was airlifted in one of his planes to San Antonio and taken to Brooke Army Medical Center, where cardiologist and Army colonel Dr. George McGranahan pronounced him dead on arrival. He was 64 years old. [289]

Shortly after Johnson's death, his press secretary Tom Johnson telephoned the newsroom at CBS. Cronkite was live on the air with CBS Evening News at the time, and a report on Vietnam was airing. The call was patched through to Cronkite, and while Johnson relayed the information the director cut out of the report to return to the news desk. Cronkite, still on the phone, kept Johnson on the call while he gathered whatever available relevant information, then repeated it to his viewers. [290] Johnson's death came two days after Richard Nixon's second inauguration, which followed Nixon's landslide victory in the 1972 election.

After lying in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, [291] Johnson was honored with a state funeral in which Texas Congressman J. J. Pickle and former Secretary of State Dean Rusk eulogized him at the Capitol. [292] The final services took place on January 25. The funeral was held at the National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., where he had often worshiped as president. The service was presided over by President Richard Nixon and attended by foreign dignitaries, led by Eisaku Satō, who had served as Japanese prime minister during Johnson's presidency. [293] Eulogies were given by the Rev. Dr. George Davis, the church's pastor, and W. Marvin Watson, former postmaster general. [294] Nixon did not speak, though he attended, as is customary for presidents during state funerals, but the eulogists turned to him and lauded him for his tributes, [294] as Rusk did the day before, as Nixon mentioned Johnson's death in a speech he gave the day after Johnson died, announcing the peace agreement to end the Vietnam War. [295]

Johnson was buried in his family's private cemetery a few yards from the house in which he was born. Eulogies were given by former Texas governor John Connally and the Reverend Billy Graham, the minister who officiated at the burial rites. The state funeral, the last for a president until Richard Nixon's in 1994, was part of an unexpectedly busy week in Washington, as the Military District of Washington (MDW) dealt with its second major task in less than a week, beginning with Nixon's second inauguration. [296] The inauguration affected the state funeral in various ways, because Johnson died only two days after the inauguration. [292] [296] The MDW and the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee canceled the remainder of the ceremonies surrounding the inauguration, to allow for a full state funeral, [296] and many of the military men who participated in the inauguration took part in the funeral. [296] It also meant that Johnson's casket traveled the entire length of the Capitol, entering through the Senate wing when taken into the rotunda to lie in state and exiting through the House wing steps due to inauguration construction on the East Front steps. [292]

According to biographer Randall Woods, Johnson posed in many different roles. Depending on the circumstances, he could be:

"Johnson the Son of the Tenant Farmer, Johnson the Great Compromiser, Johnson the All-Knowing, Johnson the Humble, Johnson the Warrior, Johnson the Dove, Johnson the Romantic, Johnson the Hard-Headed Pragmatist, Johnson the Preserver of Traditions, Johnson the Crusader for Social Justice, Johnson the Magnanimous, Johnson the Vindictive or Johnson the Uncouth, LBJ the Hick, Lyndon the Satyr, and Johnson the Usurper". [297]

Other historians have noted how he played additional roles, as Kent Germany reports:

"the big daddy, the southerner-westerner-Texan, the American dreamer, the politician, the father's son, the rising star, the flawed giant, the Periclean paradox (domestic dreams undone by war), the very human, the tragedy, the pathbreaker, the ascender, and the master." [298]

Johnson was often seen as a wildly ambitious, tireless, and imposing figure who was ruthlessly effective at getting legislation passed. He worked 18- to 20-hour days without break and was absent of any leisure activities. "There was no more powerful majority leader in American history," biographer Robert Dallek writes. Dallek stated that Johnson had biographies on all the senators, knew what their ambitions, hopes, and tastes were and used it to his advantage in securing votes. Another Johnson biographer noted, "He could get up every day and learn what their fears, their desires, their wishes, their wants were and he could then manipulate, dominate, persuade and cajole them." As President, Johnson vetoed 30 bills no other President in history vetoed so many bills and never had a single one overridden by Congress. At 6 feet 3.5 inches (1.918 m) tall, [299] [300] [301] Johnson had his particular brand of persuasion, known as "The Johnson Treatment". [302] A contemporary writes, "It was an incredible blend of badgering, cajolery, reminders of past favors, promises of future favors, predictions of gloom if something doesn't happen. When that man started to work on you, all of a sudden, you just felt that you were standing under a waterfall and the stuff was pouring on you." [302]

Johnson's cowboy hat and boots reflected his Texas roots and genuine love of the rural hill country. From 250 acres (100 ha) of land that he was given by an aunt in 1951, he created a 2,700-acre (1,100 ha) working ranch with 400 head of registered Hereford cattle. The National Park Service keeps a herd of Hereford cattle descended from Johnson's registered herd and maintains the ranch property. [303]

Biographer Randall Woods argues that Social Gospel themes Johnson learned from childhood allowed him to transform social problems into moral problems. This helps explain his longtime commitment to social justice, as exemplified by the Great Society and his commitment to racial equality. The Social Gospel explicitly inspired his foreign-policy approach to a sort of Christian internationalism and nation-building. For example, in a 1966 speech he quoted at length from the Social Creed of the Methodist Church issued in 1940, adding "It would be very hard for me to write a more perfect description of the American ideal." [304]

Historian Kent Germany explains Johnson's poor public image:

The man who was elected to the White House by one of the widest margins in U.S. history and pushed through as much legislation as any other American politician now seems to be remembered best by the public for succeeding an assassinated hero, steering the country into a quagmire in Vietnam, cheating on his saintly wife, exposing his stitched-up belly, using profanity, picking up dogs by their ears, swimming naked with advisers in the White House pool, and emptying his bowels while conducting official business. Of all those issues, Johnson's reputation suffers the most from his management of the Vietnam War, something that has overshadowed his civil rights and domestic policy accomplishments and caused Johnson himself to regret his handling of "the woman I really loved--the Great Society." [305]

Scholars, on the other hand, have viewed Johnson both through the lens of his historic legislative achievements, and his lack of success in the Vietnam War. His overall rating among historians has remained relatively steady over the past 35 years, and his average ranking is higher than any of the eight presidents who followed him, although similar to Reagan and Clinton. [306]

The Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston was renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1973. [307] Texas created a legal state holiday to be observed on August 27 to mark Johnson's birthday, known as Lyndon Baines Johnson Day. [308] The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac was dedicated on April 6, 1976.

The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs was named in his honor, as is the Lyndon B. Johnson National Grassland. Also named for him are Lyndon B. Johnson High School in Austin, Texas Lyndon B. Johnson High School in Laredo, Texas Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School in Melbourne, Florida and Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School in Jackson, Kentucky. Interstate 635 in Dallas, Texas, is named the Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway.

Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1980. [309]

On March 23, 2007, President George W. Bush signed legislation naming the United States Department of Education headquarters after President Johnson. [310]

Writer: LBJ changed "in a moment" after JFK death

(CBS News) The assassination of President John F. Kennedy changed the world in a moment, but according to author Robert Caro, it was President Lyndon B. Johnson who was drastically - and immediately - altered by the event.

Caro said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning," "To see him (be sworn in as president on Nov. 22, 1963), it's like he changes in a moment. (He changed) from the insecurity of the vice presidential years - where he had been treated very badly and acted hanging dog and gloomy - (to) suddenly. (witnesses said) when they saw him on the plane, when he gets back to Air Force One in Dallas, they said they saw a different man. I mean, he was in charge."

Caro, a Pulitzer Prize winner, has spent more than 30 years researching the life of Johnson and has now released "The Passage of Power," the fourth in his series of books on Johnson.

The book also details the tense relationship between Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy.

"You don't want to use words like this as a historian, but hatred is the right word to describe Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson," Caro said. "They hated each other from the first time they met. Someone said the first time they met, it was like two strange dogs walking into a room and there was a low growl and the hair rises on their neck. It never stops. . (Robert Kennedy) can humiliate Johnson and he humiliates him at every opportunity and then with the crack of a gunshot, the world is reversed and Johnson has the power over Bobby Kennedy."

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But Johnson always feared Robert Kennedy, Caro said. "He hated (Robert Kennedy), but he knew what a great politician he was because you know why? He had been fighting against him for the 1960 nomination. Bobby Kennedy was running Jack's campaign. Johnson was known as the best vote counter. He realizes there's a guy against him who's just as good as he is."

For more with Caro on his book, his writing process and why he always wears a suit and tie, watch the video in the player above.

VI. Culture and Activism

Epitomizing the folk music and protest culture of 1960s youth, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan are pictured here singing together at the March on Washington in 1963. Wikimedia.

The 1960s wrought enormous cultural change. The United States that entered the decade looked and sounded little like the one that left it. Rebellion rocked the supposedly hidebound conservatism of the 1950s as the youth counterculture became mainstream. Native Americans, Chicanos, women, and environmentalists participated in movements demonstrating that rights activism could be applied to ethnicity, gender, and nature. Even established religious institutions such as the Catholic Church underwent transformations, emphasizing freedom and tolerance. In each instance, the decade brought substantial progress and evidence that activism remained fluid and unfinished.

Much of the counterculture was filtered through popular culture and consumption. The fifties consumer culture still saturated the country, and advertisers continued to appeal to teenagers and the expanding youth market. During the 1960s, though, advertisers looked to a growing counterculture to sell their products. Popular culture and popular advertising in the 1950s had promoted an ethos of “fitting in” and buying products to conform. The new countercultural ethos touted individuality and rebellion. Some advertisers were subtle ads for Volkswagens (VWs) acknowledged the flaws and strange look of their cars. One ad read, “Presenting America’s slowest fastback,” which “won’t go over 72 mph even though the speedometer shows a wildly optimistic top speed of 90.” Another stated, “And if you run out of gas, it’s easy to push.” By marketing the car’s flaws and reframing them as positive qualities, the advertisers commercialized young people’s resistance to commercialism, while simultaneously positioning the VW as a car for those wanting to stand out in a crowd. A more obviously countercultural ad for the VW Bug showed two cars: one black and one painted multicolor in the hippie style the contrasting captions read, “We do our thing,” and “You do yours.”

Companies marketed their products as countercultural in and of themselves. One of the more obvious examples was a 1968 ad from Columbia Records, a hugely successful record label since the 1920s. The ad pictured a group of stock rebellious characters—a shaggy-haired white hippie, a buttoned-up Beat, two biker types, and a Black jazz man sporting an Afro—in a jail cell. The counterculture had been busted, the ad states, but “the man can’t bust our music.” Merely buying records from Columbia was an act of rebellion, one that brought the buyer closer to the counterculture figures portrayed in the ad. 17

But it wasn’t just advertising: the culture was changing and changing rapidly. Conservative cultural norms were falling everywhere. The dominant style of women’s fashion in the 1950s, for instance, was the poodle skirt and the sweater, tight-waisted and buttoned up. The 1960s ushered in an era of much less restrictive clothing. Capri pants became popular casual wear. Skirts became shorter. When Mary Quant invented the miniskirt in 1964, she said it was a garment “in which you could move, in which you could run and jump.” 18 By the late 1960s, the hippies’ more androgynous look became trendy. Such trends bespoke the new popular ethos of the 1960s: freedom, rebellion, and individuality.

In a decade plagued by social and political instability, the American counterculture also sought psychedelic drugs as its remedy for alienation. For middle-class white teenagers, society had become stagnant and bureaucratic. The New Left, for instance, arose on college campuses frustrated with the lifeless bureaucracies that they believed strangled true freedom. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) began its life as a drug used primarily in psychological research before trickling down into college campuses and out into society at large. The counterculture’s notion that American stagnation could be remedied by a spiritual-psychedelic experience drew heavily from psychologists and sociologists. The popularity of these drugs also spurred a political backlash. By 1966, enough incidents had been connected to LSD to spur a Senate hearing on the drug, and newspapers were reporting that hundreds of LSD users had been admitted to psychiatric wards.

The counterculture conquered popular culture. Rock ’n’ roll, liberalized sexuality, an embrace of diversity, recreational drug use, unalloyed idealism, and pure earnestness marked a new generation. Criticized by conservatives as culturally dangerous and by leftists as empty narcissism, the youth culture nevertheless dominated headlines and steered American culture. Perhaps one hundred thousand youth descended on San Francisco for the utopic promise of 1967’s Summer of Love. 1969’s Woodstock concert in New York became shorthand for the new youth culture and its mixture of politics, protest, and personal fulfillment. While the ascendance of the hippies would be both exaggerated and short-lived, and while Vietnam and Richard Nixon shattered much of its idealism, the counterculture’s liberated social norms and its embrace of personal fulfillment still define much of American culture.