Lyndon Baines Johnson (Stonewall, August 27, 1908 – Stonewall, January 22, 1973), commonly LBJ, was an American politician and the 36th president of the United States, a position he assumed after serving as the 37th vice president of the United States. He is one of four people who have held the four highest federal offices by election in the United States: representative, senator, vice president, and president. A member of the Texas Democratic Party, Johnson served in the House of Representatives from 1937-1949 and in the Senate from 1949-1961. After failing to secure the nomination for president in 1960, he was offered by John F. Kennedy to be his running mate in the 1960 election.
Johnson ascended to the presidency after Kennedy”s assassination on November 22, 1963, completing Kennedy”s term and being elected on his own by a large margin in the 1964 election. Johnson received strong support from the Democrats, and as president was responsible for creating the “Great Society” legislation, which included laws confirming civil rights, public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, education aid, and his “War on Poverty. He was known for his authoritarian personality and the “Johnson treatment,” his coercion of powerful politicians to advance legislation. During the first years of his presidency, the economy grew and millions of Americans rose out of poverty, especially because of his economic and social stimulus projects.
Johnson adopted a foreign policy geared toward anti-communism. He escalated American participation in the Vietnam War from sixteen thousand troops in the region in 1963 to 550 thousand in early 1968, increasing fatalities and decreasing the chances for peace. The involvement generated several anti-war movements mainly in universities across the country. Revolts began to occur in various regions and crime in major cities increased in 1965, and his opponents began to demand law and order measures. The Democratic Party split into several factions, and after not doing well at the New Hampshire convention in 1968, Johnson failed to get the nomination to seek re-election and had to drop out of the presidential race in 1968. Republican Richard Nixon eventually succeeded him. After leaving the presidency, he returned to his hometown of Stonewall, dying on January 22, 1973.
The legacy of his presidency divides opinion. Many historians argue that his administration marked the peak of American liberalism after the New Deal era. Johnson is well regarded by many scholars and historians for his domestic policies and the signing of several laws, including civil rights, gun control, and social security. Despite his domestic advances, many disqualify him as a good president due to the Vietnam War fiasco.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, popularly known LBJ, was born on August 27, 1908 in Stonewall, Texas, in a small house on the Pedernales River, the oldest of the five children of Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr. (1877-1937) and Rebekah Baines (Rebekah (1910-78), Josefa (1912-61), and Lucia (1916-97). The nearby town of Johnson City was so named after his father”s cousin, James Polk Johnson, whose ancestors had come from western Oglethorpe County, Georgia. LBJ had both English and German ancestry.
Johnson”s grandfather, Samuel Ealy Johnson Sr., was raised as a Baptist, and for a time was a member of the Disciples of Christ church. In his later years Johnson”s grandfather became a Christadelphian; Johnson”s father also joined the Christadelphian church at the end of his life. Later, as a politician, Johnson was influenced in his positive attitude toward Jews by the religious beliefs his family, especially his grandfather, had shared with him. Johnson”s favorite Bible verse came from the King James version of Isaiah 1:18. “Come then, and plead with me …”
He graduated from Johnson City High School in 1924, participated in public speaking, debates, and baseball. At 15, Johnson was the youngest in his class and is believed to have been the youngest graduate of the school. In the months after his graduation, Johnson moved to California amid pressure from his parents to make him go to college. Johnson supported himself by picking grapes. He enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers College (SWTSTC) in the summer of 1924, where students from discredited schools could take the courses necessary to get into SWTSTC in San Marcos.
In 1926, Johnson entered SWTSTC (now Texas State University). He was self-employed while in school, participating in debates and campus politics, and edited the university newspaper, The College Star. The college years improved his skills of persuasion and political organizing. For nine months, from 1928 to 1929, Johnson interrupted his studies to teach Mexican-American children at the Welhausen School in Cotulla, 90 miles (140 km) south of San Antonio in La Salle County. The job helped him save money to finish his education and he graduated in 1930. He taught at Pearsall High School in Pearsall, Texas, and then took a teaching position for Sam Houston High School in Houston. When he returned to San Marcos in 1965, after the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965, Johnson recalled:
I will never forget the faces of the boys and girls at the Welhausen Mexican school, and I remember even then the pain of realizing and knowing that college was closed to virtually 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 as long as the door to knowledge remained closed to any American citizen.
After years of teaching in Houston, Johnson entered politics. In 1930, he campaigned for Texas Senator Welly Hopkins during his race for Congress. Hopkins recommended Lyndon to Congressman Richard M. Kleberg, who made him his secretary for legislation. Johnson was then elected chairman of the “Little Congress,” a group of congressional aides, where he cultivated relationships with congressmen, journalists, and lobbyists. Johnson became friends, for example, with aides to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Vice President John Nance Garner.
Johnson married Claudia Alta Taylor, known as “Lady Bird,” of Karnack, Texas, on November 17, 1934, after he attended Georgetown University. The couple had two daughters, Lynda Bird, born in 1944, and Luci Baines, born in 1947. Johnson gave his daughters names that formed the initials “LBJ”; even the family dog, with its name being Little Beagle Johnson, and his private ranch (the LBJ Ranch) were also given his initials.
In 1935, he was appointed as head of the Texas National Youth Administration, which he used to gain government support for investing more in education and opportunities for young Americans. He resigned this position to run for Congress two years later. Johnson, who was known as a tough boss, required his aides to work long hours and also on weekends. He was described by friends, politicians, and historians as exceptionally motivated by his quest for power and control. As Johnson”s biographer Robert Caro noted, “Johnson”s ambition was unusual in the degree to which he was disentangled with the slightest excess of the weight of his ideology, philosophy, principles, and beliefs.”
House of Representatives (1937-1949)
In 1937, Johnson won the seat in the United States Congress for the 10th District of Texas, which encompasses the city of Austin. He campaigned on a platform that advocated New Deal policies. He eventually served in the House of Representatives from April 10, 1937 until January 3, 1949. President Franklin D. Roosevelt found that Johnson would be an important ally and conduit for information, especially for matters involving Texas domestic politics. Johnson was then appointed to serve on the House Committee on Naval Affairs. He worked to bring light to the rural areas of his state and improve the quality of life for the people in his district. Johnson would appoint to infrastructure projects companies he knew, such as Brown Brothers, Herman and George, that would later inject money into his political career. In 1941, he ran for the senate against W. Lee “Pappy” O”Daniel, but ultimately lost.
Johnson was appointed as a lieutenant commander to the United States Navy Reserve on June 21, 1940. While serving as a congressman, he was called to active duty three days after the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was sent to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C. for briefing and training. After his training, he asked Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal to send him into combat. But instead he was sent to installations in Texas and to the west coast. In the spring of 1942, President Roosevelt needed situation reports on conditions on battle fronts such as in the Southwest Pacific. Roosevelt felt that information of high importance had to come up the chain of command from politically reliable adjutant officers. At Secretary Forrestal”s suggestion, the President appointed Johnson to form a three-man group for the Southwest Pacific.
Johnson was reporting to General Douglas MacArthur in Australia. Johnson and two officers served at the base of the 22nd Bombardment Group that carried out air missions against Japanese bases in New Guinea. His roommate was a second lieutenant who served as a pilot of a B-17 aircraft. On June 9, 1942, Johnson volunteered to go as an observer on a bombing mission in a group of B-26s, with his roommate going in another plane. During this mission, his friend”s plane was shot down and he and everyone on board died. According to biographer Robert Caro, Johnson”s plane was attacked and suffered damage and he had to return to base before completing his mission. Other accounts state that the bomber that Lyndon was aboard had to return due to mechanical failure. MacArthur recommended that Johnson receive the Silver Star for bravery in action, which he personally presented to Lyndon.
Johnson, who carried a camera with him on his missions as an observer, reported to Roosevelt, Navy leaders, and Congress that the conditions of the military in the southwest Pacific were deplorable. He argued that priority was needed for the region and more supplies. The aircraft sent, for example, were “far inferior” to the Japanese and morale was low. He reported to Forrestal that the Pacific Fleet urgently needed reinforcements on the order of over 6,800 additional experienced men. Johnson prepared a twelve-point program to improve the situation in the region, stating that “greater cooperation and coordination was needed among the various commands and between the different theaters of operations.” Congress responded by placing Johnson in the position of head of the subcommittee on naval affairs. He worked to make the Navy”s bureaucracy more efficient and caught the attention of many admirals. In July 1942 Lyndon left active duty and returned to the reserve. He was promoted to the rank of Commander on October 19, 1949. He formally resigned from his reserve officer position on January 18, 1964.
Alternatives:Senate (1949-1961)The Senate (1949-1961)SenateSenate (1949 – 1961)
In the 1948 congressional elections, Johnson ran for the Senate again. The Democratic Party primaries were controversial. He faced Governor Coke Stevenson and a third candidate. Johnson would take crowds to see his speeches in a rented helicopter, “The Johnson City Windmill.” He used the money he raised to spread propaganda papers and newspapers around the city and won the conservative vote by criticizing unions (which at the time were springing up everywhere). Stevenson finished first in the primary but a runoff eventually occurred; Johnson began an even more aggressive campaign, while Stevenson staggered in his popularity.
Johnson won the party primary with a total of 988,295 votes (87 votes more than the runner-up). The Democratic committee validated Johnson”s victory by a lead of only one vote (29-28). There were several allegations of fraud. One writer charged that Johnson”s campaign manager, future Texas Governor John B. Connally, was connected with the administration of the ballots in Jim Wells County with the names of voters on the ballots strangely being written in alphabetical order and with the same pen and handwriting. Many people whose names were on the lists claimed that they had not even voted. Robert Caro claimed in his 1989 book that Johnson had indeed stolen the election in Jim Wells County and 10,000 ballots had been altered in Bexar County alone. Election Judge Luis Salas said in 1977 that he had caught 202 fraudulent ballots for Johnson. The Democratic Party convention nevertheless confirmed Johnson”s victory. Stevenson appealed to the judiciary, but failed. LBJ had no trouble beating Republican Jack Porter in the general election in October and went on to Washington to serve in the Senate.
Alternatives:Senator for TexasSenator from TexasTexas Senator
Once in the Senate, Johnson was known by his colleagues to be able to “court” old senators very well, especially Richard Russell, a Democrat from Georgia, leader of the “Conservative Coalition” and one of the most powerful men in the Senate. Johnson continued to gain Russell”s sympathy and the two developed a friendship.
Johnson was appointed to the Senate Committee on Armed Forces and in the late 1950s, he helped create the Subcommittee on Investigative Preparedness. Johnson became head of this subcommittee and led investigations into Defense spending and its effectiveness. Lyndon gained national attention because of the way he dealt with the press, the efficiency that his committee issued reports, and his assurance that each of these reports were approved unanimously. After the 1950 election, Johnson became second in command in the Senate below Ernest McFarland of Arizona, serving in this position from 1951 to 1953.
In the 1952 general election, the Republicans won a majority in both houses of Congress. Among the Democrats who lost their seats were Ernest McFarland, who had been replaced by Barry Goldwater. In January 1953, Johnson was chosen by his colleagues to be the Democratic minority leader in the Senate. In the 1954 election Johnson was re-elected and the Democrats won a majority in the Senate, giving LBJ control of the upper house. Johnson, as Senate majority leader, coordinated the legislative agenda to favor his party. Johnson, Sam Rayburn, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower worked well together, passing a series of domestic legislation and foreign policy measures.
During the Suez Crisis, Johnson tried to prevent the American government from criticizing the Israeli invasion of the Sinai Peninsula. Also on the foreign front, like the rest of the population, Johnson was concerned about the threat of Soviet domination of space research after the launch of the first human-launched artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. He used his influence in Congress to pass passage of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, which established the civilian NASA agency, which gave a new impetus to the U.S. space program.
Historians Caro and Dallek consider Lyndon Johnson to be one of the most effective Senate majority leaders in American history. He was very good at getting information. One biographer described him as “the greatest information gatherer Washington has ever known.” He knew what positions the senators held on each issue, their philosophies and prejudices, their strengths and weaknesses, and what it would take to change their minds. Robert Baker claims that Johnson occasionally sent the senators on NATO trips to avoid dissenting votes. One form of persuasion (or for some intimidation) was the famous “The Treatment” (“The Treatment”), which was described as:
The ”treatment” could take minutes or even hours. When it happened, it involved its target and could take place at Johnson”s ranch, in one of his offices, in the Senate chambers, or on the floor – wherever Johnson could find a senator to approach.He could use a pleading, accusatory, adulatory, exuberant, contemptuous, in tears, complaining, and even aggressive tone. It was all of these together. It was a whole range of human emotions. Its speed was breathtaking, and it was all in one direction. Interjections from the target were rare. Johnson anticipated when they intended to speak and interrupted them. He approached the person, his face was very close to his target, his eyes widened and narrowed, his eyebrows went up and down. Out of his pockets came notes, memos and statistics. Mimicry, humor, and analogy genius in The Treatment was a hypnotic experience and left his target frightened and helpless.
An avid smoker, Johnson suffered a near-fatal heart attack on July 2, 1955. Shortly thereafter he quit smoking, with a few exceptions, and did not return to the habit until the day he left the White House in January 1969.
Johnson”s successes in the Senate earned him enough popularity for him to seek the Democratic Party”s nomination for the presidency of the United States; he was described as the “favorite son” of the Texas delegation to the party”s 1956 national convention and seemed to be in a strong position to secure the nomination in 1960. Jim Rowe repeatedly urged Johnson to launch his campaign as early as 1959, but Johnson thought it best to wait, feeling that the candidacy of the young John Kennedy would create a division among Democrats that he could exploit. Rowe, frustrated, joined Humphrey”s campaign, in a move that Johnson also felt fit his strategy. Lyndon joined the campaign very late, only in July 1960 (five months before the national election) and his reluctance to leave Washington allowed the Kennedy campaign to make substantial inroads among the party leadership and among the electorate. Johnson underestimated Kennedy”s qualities, his charm and intelligence, compared to his reputation as a tough guy. The writer Caro suggested that Johnson”s exitance can be attributed to his fear of failure.
Johnson tried to attack Kennedy”s youth, his health problems, and his exitance from taking a definitive stand on Joseph McCarthy. He formed a coalition called “Stop Kennedy,” along with Adlai Stevenson, Stuart Symington, and Hubert Humphrey, but this failed. Johnson received only 409 votes at the Democratic convention, which ultimately nominated John F. Kennedy for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Tip O”Neill was a congressman from Massachusetts (where Kennedy lived) and he recalled that Johnson once approached him and said, “Tip, I know you have to support Kennedy at first, but I”d like to have you on my side on the second ballot. O”Neill replied, “Senator
According to Kennedy”s advisor, Myer Feldman, and JFK himself, it is difficult to determine precisely the way Johnson ended up getting the nomination to be vice president. Kennedy knew that he could not get elected without the support of the southern Democrats, who supported Johnson (yet labor and union leaders disliked Johnson. After much discussion, Kennedy offered Lyndon the vice presidency during a meeting at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel on July 14, 1960, and Johnson accepted.
Seymour Hersh stated that Robert F. Kennedy hated Johnson for attacking the Kennedy family and later claimed that the vice presidential position was only offered to Lyndon as a courtesy, hoping he would turn it down. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. agreed with Robert Kennedy”s version of events and claimed that John Kennedy would prefer Stuart Symington to be his running-mate, stating that Johnson had joined with House Speaker Sam Rayburn in pressuring Kennedy to nominate LBJ. Biographer Robert Caro, meanwhile, offered a different perspective. He wrote that Kennedy”s campaign was desperate to win the November 1960 election against then Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. Johnson was needed to get support from southern states (especially Texas). Kennedy”s campaign leadership set it as one of their priorities to get the Texas votes and the only way was through Johnson. A meeting was set up between JFK and LBJ. Pennsylvania Governor David L. Lawrence, a Johnson supporter, was also present. In the conversation, Lyndon expressed concern that Kennedy”s supporters who mostly disliked him. The differences were eventually overcome, and it was then agreed that Kennedy and Johnson would be on the ticket together as the Democratic Party candidates for president and vice president, respectively. Kenneth O”Donnell, a high-ranking member of the Kennedy campaign, was angry that he thought Johnson”s nomination was a betrayal, claiming that he was anti-labor and anti-liberal (progressive).
Robert Kennedy, who never trusted Johnson, tried to convince him to change his mind and become the chairman of the Democratic Party instead of a vice presidential candidate for the chief executive. Johnson stated that he would only back out if the request came directly from John Kennedy. The latter, in turn, was determined to go along with Johnson and met with leaders of his campaign, such as Larry O”Brien, to agree to confirm Johnson as his vice president. When John and Robert Kennedy met with their father, Joe, soon after, Joe stated that the decision to nominate Johnson as running mate was a very smart thing to do since it would be difficult to win the South. Many Southerners saw Kennedy as a liberal Northerner and the presence of Texan Lyndon Johnson would persuade them to vote for the Democrats still.
Alternatives:In officeIn the jobIn the officeIn the role
After the election, Johnson was concerned about the traditional inefficiency and irrelevance of his new vice-presidential position and sought to get more authority for his position than was anticipated. Initially he tried to transfer the authority of Senate Majority Leader to the vice presidency, since the vice position made him president of the Senate, but he faced a lot of resistance from his own party (including old supporters).
Johnson sought to increase his influence within the Executive Branch. He wrote an executive order for Kennedy to review, which gave himself “general supervision” over national security matters and required all government agencies to “cooperate fully with the vice president in carrying out his duties. Kennedy”s response was to sign an unofficial letter allowing Johnson to “evaluate” national security policies. The president had already denied similar requests by Johnson to become a major advisor within the Oval Office and to have a full staff within the White House for the Vice.
Many members of President John Kennedy”s staff were dismissive of Johnson, including his brother and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and they ridiculed his odd and crude behavior. Congressman Tip O”Neill claimed that Kennedy”s staff “had a disdain for Johnson that they didn”t even try to hide They even took pride in snubbing him.”
Kennedy, however, went out of his way to keep Johnson busy, informed, and inside the White House frequently, telling his aides, “I can”t have my vice president, who knows every reporter in Washington, saying we”re all screwed, so we”ll keep him happy.” Kennedy appointed LBJ to the position of head of the President”s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, giving him the opportunity to work with African Americans and other minorities. The president probably wanted Johnson to assume this role only nominally, but according to writer Taylor Branch in Pillar of Fire, it would have been Johnson who pushed the Kennedy administration to take more action and more emphatically for Civil Rights, faster than they intended. Branch points to the irony of the fact that LBJ was the most ardent supporter of Civil Rights, and Kennedy had chosen him as his vice president to get votes from conservative Southern whites. In particular, one notices an important speech by Johnson during Memorial Day in 1963 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he called for more commitment to the civil rights issue and got the president”s attention.
Johnson also took on several small diplomatic missions, which left him privy to some cases of foreign affairs issues, as well as opportunities for self-promotion in the name of showing the country”s flag. He was allowed to observe Cabinet and National Security Council meetings. Kennedy gave Lyndon control of all personnel appointments involving Texas and appointed him Ad Hoc Head of the President”s Committee on Science.
Kennedy also appointed Johnson as head of the National Space Aeronautics Board. The Soviets had succeeded in making the first manned flight into space in April 1961, and the president gave Lyndon the task of assessing the state of the U.S. space program and recommending a blueprint to get the Americans to surpass the Soviets in space exploration. Johnson responded by recommending that the United States invest heavily in its project to send man to the moon as early as the 1960s. Kennedy then gave more financial importance to the American space program, but Johnson”s appointment provided a cover for the government should the project fail.
Johnson was implicated in a congressional scandal in August 1963 when Bobby Baker, secretary to the Senate majority leader and his protégé, was investigated by a senate committee on allegations of bribery and financial malfeasance. A witness claimed that Baker arranged for people to give kickbacks to the vice president. Baker resigned in October and the investigation did not hit Johnson. The negative repercussions in Washington circles fueled rumors that Kennedy planned to dismiss Johnson from office for his re-election run in 1964. However, on October 31, 1963, a reporter asked if this was true and if Johnson would even be the vice president on the next slate. Kennedy responded by saying “yes”.
It was well known that Robert Kennedy and Johnson hated each other, yet the president and his brother knew that dismissing him from the ticket could cost them the South in the 1964 election.
Johnson inherited a healthy economy from Kennedy in 1963, with good GDP growth and low unemployment. There were not as many crises and controversies abroad, allowing the new president to focus more on domestic affairs. All this changed, however, with the increasing intensity of the Vietnam War.
Alternatives:Quick successionRapid succession
On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was shot to death while visiting the city of Dallas, Texas. Johnson was then sworn in as president aboard Air Force One (the presidential plane) the same day. In fact, the ceremony took place just two hours and eight minutes after JFK”s death. Almost immediately, conspiracy theories began to emerge implicating Lyndon in the event (even though no evidence to indicate this has been presented). He took the oath of office in the presence of Judge Sarah T. Hughes, a family friend. In the rush of the occasion, there was no Bible nearby, so a missal book that was on Kennedy”s desk was used in the oath of office. Cecil Stoughton”s iconic photo aboard the presidential plane showing Johnson taking the oath next to the now widowed Mrs. Kennedy has become one of the most important presidential photos in history.
Johnson was convinced that a quick succession and immediate transition of power after Kennedy”s assassination was necessary to provide stability for a nation that was suffering and in shock. He and the secret service were concerned that he might be the next target, so they decided to get the new president out of Dallas quickly and back to Washington. This gave many people the impression that Johnson was anxious to assume power soon.
A few days after the president”s death, Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech to Congress where he stated, “no ceremony or eulogy could be more eloquently to honor the memory of President Kennedy than the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which he had fought so hard for.” The wave of national grief following the president”s assassination gave Johnson political momentum to advance Kennedy”s legislations and he also embraced the dead president”s legacy to advance his own plans.
On November 29, 1963, one week after Kennedy”s assassination, Johnson signed an executive order to rename NASA”s Apollo Launch Operations Center and the local launch facilities “John F. Kennedy Space Center” in honor of the slain president. In fact, Cape Canaveral was known as Cape Kennedy from 1963 to 1973.
Johnson knew that the American public wanted answers as to who was responsible for Kennedy”s death. To try to curb the growing speculation that there was a conspiracy up the government”s chain of power, he ordered the chief justice, Earl Warren, to begin a formal investigation into the assassination, known as the Warren Commission. The commission did a great deal of research and listened to many people. It unanimously concluded among its members that only Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed Kennedy and that he acted alone. The investigation, however, was criticized by legal experts and conspiracy theorists who accused Johnson of trying to cover up the real motives and people responsible behind the assassination.
Johnson kept most of Kennedy”s cabinet members intact, with some serving with him throughout his presidency; among these officials was the attorney general, the former president”s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, with whom Lyndon had a difficult relationship. Robert left Johnson”s cabinet a few months later in 1964 to run for the Senate. Men like Robert McNamara (secretary of defense), Dean Rusk (secretary of state), and McGeorge Bundy (national security advisor), all appointed by Kennedy, also remained in the Johnson administration.
Even though Johnson did not have a chief of staff, Walter Jenkins was his chief aide and handled the day-to-day operational details of the White House. George Reedy, one of Johnson”s longtime aides, took over as press secretary once Pierre Salinger, who had been appointed to the position by John F. Kennedy, resigned in March 1964. Horace Busby was also an important aide. He served as speechwriter and political analyst for the new president. Bill Moyers was the youngest member of Johnson”s staff. He handled the agenda and also wrote speeches at times.
Alternatives:Legislative InitiativesLegislative initiatvesLegislative initiatveships
The new president thought it would be advantageous to quickly run after one of Kennedy”s legislative priorities, tax cuts. Johnson worked with Harry F. Byrd, a senator from Virginia, to negotiate a budget reduction to stay below $100 billion in exchange for Senate support for passage of the 1964 Revenue Act. Congress passed the bill in February 1964 and also advanced laws that tinkered with civil rights. Also in late 1963, Johnson had launched his “War on Poverty” project, recruiting a relative of the Kennedys, Sargent Shriver, then head of the Peace Corps organization, to lead this effort. In March 1964, LBJ sent to Congress the Economic Opportunity Act, which created the Job Corps and Community Action programs, designed to attack poverty at the local level. This law also created AmeriCorps VISTA, (Volunteers in Service to America), a domestic program on the Peace Corps model.
Alternatives:Civil RightsCivic Rights
President Kennedy had submitted a civil rights bill to Congress in June 1963, which faced great opposition from lawmakers. Johnson renewed the government”s efforts to pass the law and asked Bobby Kennedy to lead such an effort on Capitol Hill. Thus, should the law fail, Johnson could blame Bobby; but if it succeeded, Lyndon would take the credit. Historian Robert Caro noted that the bill written by Kennedy was facing the same opposition that other civil rights laws had faced in the past; southern congressmen and senators used every legal and legislative trick to bar a vote. In particular, they picked up other bills, such as tax reform, to congest the floor. Opposition civil rights congressmen would obstruct votes (the so-called Filibuster) and send bills they didn”t like to dead committees to delay the bills.
Unlike Kennedy, Johnson had extensive experience in Congress. He knew the obstructionist tactics and knew how to advance the bills he wanted, which committee to throw the bills to, and how to convince congressmen to support him. In the fight to pass the civil rights bill, he changed the tactics Kennedy had and decided to personally meddle in the affairs of the legislative branch.
Passing the civil rights bill in the House of Representatives would require passing it first in the House Rules Committee, where there it was stalled and dying. Johnson sweated out various techniques to get the bill to the floor. With no alternative, Congress had to move and passed it in Committee and brought it to a vote, where it passed the House by 290 to 110. In the Senate, its members had little choice but to resort to filibuster to stop the agenda. Johnson would need the support of at least 20 Republican senators to pass the filibuster, but the party was divided and its presidential candidate that year, Barry Goldwater, opposed the bill. According to Caro, it was when Johnson convinced Republican leader Everett Dirksen to support the bill that it eventually passed the Senate; after a 75-hour debate, the vote ended 71-29 in favor of the bill.
Johnson formally signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2 of that year. According to people close to the president, after signing the law, Johnson reportedly told an aide, “we have lost the South for a generation,” anticipating that white southerners, previously pro-Democratic, would turn against the party. In fact, since 1980, no Democratic Party candidate has won a majority of the vote in the southern United States.
Alternatives:The “Great SocietyThe “Big SocietyThe “Great Society”The “Big Society”
Johnson wanted a ”catchy” slogan for the 1964 campaign that would describe his domestic policy agenda for 1965. Eric Goldman, who had gone to the White House in December of that year, thought that Lyndon”s domestic program resembled the content of The Good Society. Richard Goodwin then switched to “The Great Society” and incorporated that detail into Johnson”s May 1964 speech at the University of Michigan. He talked about urban reform, more modern transportation, a clean environment, anti-poverty, health care reform, crime control, and education reform.
Alternatives:Gulf of Tonkin ResolutionTonkin Gulf Resolution
Alternatives:1964 ElectionElection of 1964Election 1964The 1964 Election
In the spring of 1964, Johnson was not optimistic about the prospects of winning the election by himself. A major change came in April where he took charge of negotiations between the railroad brotherhood and the railroad industry regarding improvements in working conditions. Johnson emphasized to the parties the potential economic impact of a strike. After several negotiations, the president promised greater freedom in adjusting entitlements and a more liberal depreciation of subsidies by the IRS and an agreement was reached. Johnson”s self-confidence rose and his image with workers improved.
It was considered that Robert F. Kennedy would be nominated as Johnson”s vice-president for the 1964 election, but the two still didn”t like each other at all. Lyndon felt that if he nominated Robert to be his vice president, he would take credit for electing him, which he would not accept. The next choice for vice president was Hubert Humphrey, and his selection would strengthen Johnson”s position in the Midwest and the industrial Northeast. Johnson knew the frustration of what a vice president”s lack of power caused in the person holding the position and so sought, through interviews, to find out and ensure Humphrey”s total loyalty. Johnson did not announce the choice of Humphrey to be his vice president until just near the time limit, to allow the press to speculate and focus more on his campaign.
In preparations for the Democratic convention, Johnson asked the FBI to send 30 agents to take on convention duties; the goal was to keep the White House informed of any disruptive activity. This group focused on organizations such as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (PDLM), which was taken over by a wing of anti-segregation bigots. The FBI men also tapped Martin Luther King”s phone, as well as the Student Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality.
Johnson was concerned about the political damage that media coverage of racial tensions could do, especially in the internal dispute among Democrats between those who favored racial segregation in the United States and those who wanted it ended. He assigned Humphrey the job of handling this problem. Members of the PDLM delegation eventually won observer seats and LBJ agreed to bar future delegations from states where citizens of color did not have the right to vote. The PDLM rejected this because of the position of the seats given to them. The convention went very well for Johnson and he received the party”s nomination to seek re-election as president, but there was a sense of betrayal due to the marginalization of the PDLM that eventually created a small rift between Johnson and the more radical anti-segregationist wing of the party.
At the beginning of the 1964 presidential campaign, Republican Barry Goldwater appeared to be a strong candidate, with plenty of support in the South, threatening Johnson”s position after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. However, Goldwater”s campaign lost momentum as time went on. Johnson”s team tried to show Barry as weak, claiming that he would leave America in danger of a Soviet nuclear attack. Goldwater was also accused by Lyndon”s campaign as a risky bet in a complicated period for the United States, when the country needed strong leadership.
Alternatives:Voting Rights ActThe Voting Rights Act
Johnson began his new term similar to the way he had taken office a year and a half before, ready to “carry forward the plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Not because we are sad or out of sympathy, but because they are right.” After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the hole between the segregationists and the Johnson administration grew. Then, in March of occurred the marches from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, led by Martin Luther King. The march and its repercussions led Congress to debate the creation of a law to protect the right to vote of specific groups, such as blacks.
Johnson urged congressmen to legislate to defend the freedom and voting rights of minorities, such as African Americans. LBJ stated that if the United States did not guarantee protection and equality for all, regardless of race, before the law, they would have failed as a nation. In August 1965, he signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which made any discrimination in the voting system illegal, allowing millions of blacks, especially in the South, to vote for the first time in their lives. Several states (seven of which were in the former Confederacy: Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia) tried legally to delay implementation of the law. Texas, for example, did not implement the voting rights law with full effect until 1975. One of the consequences of this law was also the increase in black representatives in the legislature, which more than doubled between 1968 and 1980.
After the death of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo, Johnson spoke to the public on television stating that the government had arrested four members of the Ku Klux Klan who were implicated in her death. He vehemently condemned the Klan as “a society of hooded racists” and warned them to “return to decent society before it is too late.” Lyndon became the first president to arrest and prosecute Klan members since Ulysses S. Grant, some 93 years earlier. He used the theme of Christian redemption to call for support for civil rights, thus winning support from churches in the South and North.
In 1967, Johnson appointed a civil rights lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, to become the first African-American Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. For head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he appointed the also African-American Robert C. Weaver (the first black secretary in a president”s cabinet). In 1968 Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which gave equal housing opportunities to everyone, regardless of race, creed, or background. Many civil rights laws were passed after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968 and the subsequent riots generated by this. One such law was the Fair Housing Act of 1965, passed six days after the Reverend”s death.
With the passage of the comprehensive Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the nation”s immigration system was reformed and all quotas created up to the 1920s were removed. Thus, the flow of foreign nationals into the United States more than doubled between 1965 and 1970, and doubled again in 1990, with most of the new immigrants coming from Asia and Latin America (especially Mexico). Modern scholars give Johnson little credit for this law, which was not one of his priorities; he had supported the McCarren-Walters Act of 1952, which was unpopular among reformers.
Alternatives:Federal Funding for EducationFederal Education Funding
Johnson, who had risen in life because of the Texas public education system, believed that education was the cure for ignorance and poverty, and was an essential component to the “American Dream,” especially for minorities. He made investment in education one of the priorities of his domestic agenda, the so-called “Great Society,” with an emphasis on helping poor children. After his big victory in the 1964 election, with many left-leaning liberal congressmen, LBJ launched several legislative initiatives, such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (or ESEA, in English) of 1965. With this law, the federal budget for education doubled, from $4 billion to $8 billion dollars. This bill is considered one of the greatest achievements of Johnson”s presidency.
Lyndon also created semi-independent government agencies, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, to support humanistic and artistic causes. Although these measures were well received by unions and teachers, his support among them waned during the Vietnam War. In 1967, Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act to create educational television broadcasts on the television networks.
“War on Poverty” and health care reform
Johnson went further with his War on Poverty, going beyond assistance programs. He presented to Congress in January 1966 the “Cities Demonstration Program.” The project, aimed at development, called for about $400 million a year, totaling $2.4 billion. The program passed in 1966, but in a very small way, with total investments not exceeding $900 million. Years later, it was assessed that the program turned out to be a failure for the most part.
In 1965, Johnson began to focus on expanding the number of Americans covered by health insurance, especially the elderly. Besides expanding investments in Social Security, he moved forward initiatives such as Medicare, to finance medical treatment and health insurance coverage for senior citizens. Another bill, Medicaid, was created to assist the poorest people. Both programs passed through Congress without many problems and received good popular acceptance. By 2010, four and a half decades after the program”s passage, Medicare covered about 48 million Americans (including 40 million elderly people). Johnson gave the first two Medicare cards to former President Harry Truman and his wife Bess shortly after the law signing ceremony.
Alternatives:Weapons ControlGun Control
On October 22, 1968, Lyndon Johnson signed the Gun Control Act of 1968, one of the largest and most comprehensive federal gun control laws in the history of the United States. A strong motivation for this gun regulation bill was the need for a government response to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Alternatives:Space ProgramSpace Programme
During the Johnson administration, NASA conducted Project Gemini, part of the manned space program, developing the Saturn V rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center Complex 39, which prepared for the first flights of the Apollo Program. On January 27, 1967, the public was shocked when the entire crew of Apollo 1 died in an accident, halting the program. Instead of setting up an investigative committee by Congress, the President accepted James Webb”s suggestion to require NASA to do its own investigation. Johnson maintained his unconditional support for the Apollo program and the project recovered. The manned Apollo 7 and Apollo 8 missions were completed under his administration. He congratulated the Apollo 8 crew on their mission, saying, “You took us … all of us, from all over the world, into a new era.” On July 16, 1969, Johnson attended the launch of the Apollo 11 mission (the first to land on the moon), becoming the first president to attend the launch of a space rocket.
Alternatives:Urban RevoltsUrban UprisingsUrban upheavals
Major riots, of a racial character, took place in the United States in the 1960s, called the “great hot summers”. One of the first riots started in Harlem, in July 1964, when a white policeman killed a black man under strange circumstances. In Los Angeles there were riots in 1965 and 1971. For the white population, these race riots caused many to lose faith with LBJ”s policies. Some of the largest protests took place in April 1968 in hundreds of cities after the death of the Reverend Martin Luther King, with looting, killing and rioting taking place in cities such as Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago and Kansas City.
In the city of Newark in 1967, six days of riots left 26 dead, 1,500 injured and part of the city burned. In the same year, this time in Detroit, Governor George Romney sent 7,400 National Guard troops to quell the riots. President Johnson sent federal troops to several rioting cities. Detroit ended up seeing four days of rioting that left 43 dead and 2,250 injured, as well as 4,000 arrests. Properties were damaged and millions of dollars in damages were reported. Johnson had to spend a few billion more to financially help cities affected by the riots or those that shared the same problems that instigated them, but it was not enough to calm the situation or convince the general population to have faith in the government. The president”s popularity plummeted and many whites felt that Johnson had lost control of the streets and his party. Johnson created the Kerner Commission to study the problem of urban riots. According to press secretary George Christian, Johnson was not surprised by the riots, saying, “What did you expect? I don”t know why we are surprised. When you put your foot on a man”s neck and hold him for three hundred years and then you let him go, what should happen? He”s just going to knock you down.
Alternatives:Vietnam ConflictConflict in VietnamVietnam Dispute
Johnson believed in the so-called “Domino Theory” and the “containment policy” against the Soviet Union for the purpose of stopping the communist advance in the world. When President Kennedy died, there were about 16,000 American military personnel in South Vietnam as advisors. Once in the presidency, Johnson reversed Kennedy”s policy of withdrawing 1,000 troops from Southeast Asia by 1963. He decided to expand the numbers and role of the American military in Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.
Johnson even, in 1964, questioned the purpose of the mission in Vietnam, but did not favor withdrawal from the region. After meetings with the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, and the Chief of Staff, General Maxwell D. Taylor, he declared his readiness to act “when he had a basis” or if Saigon was more politically stable. In the 1964 election, he reaffirmed that he would continue to support South Vietnam, while not wanting a repeat of what happened in Korea in the 1950s; but privately he spoke that he feared the crisis in Vietnam might drag on and not end well. In fact, his political priority remained domestic issues (the “Great Society”) and he felt that his opponents were trying to focus on the issue of intervention in Vietnam to divert attention and resources from his “War on Poverty.” But the military situation was escalating beyond the naval attacks in the Gulf of Tonkin, with attacks on American installations in southern Vietnam, such as at the Bien Hoa air base. Johnson decided not to launch major retaliatory strikes, seeking first more support from Congress and the people. By the end of 1964, there were about 23,000 American troops in South Vietnam. US losses in South Vietnam up to that time amounted to 1,278 soldiers (dead and wounded).
In early 1965, Johnson began to come under more pressure to initiate a massive air campaign against North Vietnam to prevent the Communists from further advancing in the South. A plurality of factors would force his hand to act more decisively, especially given South Vietnam”s ineffectiveness, or blatant incompetence, in fighting the Viet Cong guerrillas. In addition, with the fear of the “red threat” at the height of the Cold War, the American population now favored military operations to deter communism and saw Vietnam as a key piece in the policy of containment against Moscow. Johnson reviewed his priorities and decided to mobilize more quickly as January 1965 saw another change of government in Saigon. He then agreed with the recommendations of McGeorge Bundy and Robert McNamara and was persuaded by the argument that American passivity could encourage further aggression from the Communist Bloc and a withdrawal would be an unacceptable humiliation. The president stated, “Stable government or not in Saigon, we will do what we must. I am ready for it; we will move with force. General Nguyễn Khánh (head of the new government in South Vietnam) is our guy.” He then authorized the Pentagon to begin plans to escalate American military involvement in the Vietnam War.
Johnson decided to authorize a massive air bombing campaign in Vietnam in February 1965. His decision came after reports confirmed to him that if the United States did not intervene, the situation on the ground would be lost; moreover, the Viet Cong (the communist guerrillas operating in the south) had killed eight American military advisors and wounded twelve others in an attack on Pleiku Air Base. There then followed eight months of systematic bombing of North Vietnam and Communist guerrilla targets in the south in the so-called Operation Rolling Thunder. Instructions from Johnson were passed to limit the public”s knowledge of the air campaign, with the purpose of giving the impression that American participation was not expanding as much. The long-term goal was to force Hanoi to cease its support for the Viet Congs. There was also a need to increase the morale and stability of the South Vietnamese government. By giving as little information as possible to the American people and Congress, Johnson had the flexibility to alter the plans as he wished.
In March, national security adviser McGeorge Bundy began recommending an increased American military presence in Vietnam, since, he said, the air campaign alone would not be enough to make the North give up its aggression against the South. Johnson approved an increase in troops from 18,000 to 20,000, in addition to sending the Marines to the region, with additional army divisions on the way. There was also a change in the nature of the mission of these soldiers, moving from a primarily defensive to offensive posture, especially with special forces actions. Still, the president continued to not be completely honest with the public and insisted that there was no change in American policy toward the Vietnam conflict.
In February 1965, Johnson sent U.S. Marines to the Dominican Republic to protect the embassy there and to respond to another alleged communist threat in the context of the Dominican civil war. The unfolding events there were complicated and this reinforced Lyndon”s idea to educate the people, both supporters and opponents, that his strategy against communism in Vietnam would be effective and was necessary.
In April 1965, the then prime minister of Canada, Lester B. Pearson, gave a speech at Temple University in Philadelphia. There he criticized American actions in Southeast Asia and stated that he supported the idea of ending the bombing of North Vietnam so that diplomacy could resolve the conflict. President Johnson found criticism of American foreign policy by a foreigner on American soil intolerable. He called Pearson to Camp David, Maryland, the next day. Johnson allegedly grabbed Pearson by the lapel and shouted, “Don”t you come into my living room and piss on my carpet.” In fact, it was not only Canada that criticized the American stance. Several NATO allies such as Britain, Germany and Japan refused to support the Americans in Vietnam.
At the end of 1965, after consulting with the high command of the armed forces, Johnson decided to again increase the number of American troops in Vietnam, consisting of sending 15,000 more soldiers per month in early 1966. The monthly deployment of military personnel was preferred by the president, to avoid a large displacement of soldiers that would draw the attention of the press. At the same time, there was much deliberation about whether the United States should pause the bombing campaign, and Johnson decided to agree on December 28 to give peace talks a chance; when it was obvious that the negotiations were going nowhere, military operations eventually resumed on January 31, 1966. Concerned by the growing criticism of the war and an increase in the number of Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings, the president called another meeting in Honolulu with his advisors and military leaders. Representatives from South Vietnam were also present. By April 1966 Johnson had been encouraged because of reports of an increase in the number of casualties inflicted on the Viet Cong; still, he was concerned about the weakness of the southern government. Johnson wanted the South Vietnamese political leadership to take more democratic stances, such as calling a constituent assembly, but they were delayed.
In the fall of 1966, however, new reports indicated that the bombing had indeed damaged North Vietnam”s logistics and infrastructure sectors; Johnson was then pressed to use this moment to initiate peace talks and end the war. Proposals were made by various sides (including by the Soviet Union, Hanoi”s ally) but many claimed that the aggressive American posture made talks difficult. The United States was also accused of indiscriminate bombing, which ended in the death of many civilians. Both sides could not agree on the conditions for peace, which included not only a halt in the bombing but also the withdrawal of troops from the conflict zone. In August, Lyndon appointed Averell Harriman as “Ambassador for Peace” to promote negotiations. Westmoreland and McNamara recommended a cautious program for peace; Johnson then placed the peace effort in the hands of the military leadership. In October 1966, trying to promote the war effort, Johnson summoned allies to a meeting in Manila – representatives from South Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand attended. The conference ended with speeches of commitment to unite against the communist threat and to promote ideas of democracy and development in Vietnam and throughout Asia. For Johnson it was an important public relations victory. Still the popularity of the American president remained low (LBJ was anxious to justify the losses suffered in the war and spoke of the need to achieve a final victory, despite the unpopularity of the cause. He expressed his opinion that the conflict had to end as soon as possible and he would do everything possible to achieve this.
By the end of 1966 it was clear that the peace initiatives for Vietnam were fruitless and that the American bombing campaign remained ineffective in the big picture. Johnson then agreed to Robert McNamara”s suggestion to send 70,000 more troops into battle in 1967, increasing the number of troops in Southeast Asia to 400,000. McNamara, however, recommended that the level of bombing not increase, but Johnson chose to expand it as well, on the recommendation of the CIA. Peace talks were still continuing in Saigon, Hanoi and Warsaw. One of the main complaints was the continuous American bombing, which continued to wreak havoc in Vietnam, bringing little results and worsening the humanitarian crisis in the region.
The year 1967 would not see a reduction in hostilities, with bombing and ground missions (called “Search and Destroy”) increasing in intensity. In January and February, new peace talks ended in failure. Communist leader Ho Chi Minh had declared that the only solution was complete withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam. So the North Vietnamese began the year by intensifying their armed operations in the south. This went against what American military leaders were reporting. According to them, the enemy”s ability to wage war had deteriorated. These discrepancies in the data presented also existed in the estimated power of South Vietnam and whether they were even capable of stopping the communists. In February, Johnson decided to expand military actions to hit enemy supply routes in Laos and also authorized the air force to hit fifty-four new targets in the North. The navy also began mining the country”s waters.
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, considered one of the architects of the war, then began to offer plans to Johnson to end the conflict in Vietnam by May; the government would declare that the purpose of the war was to secure self-determination for South Vietnam and this was being achieved. In September there would be elections in the south, paving the way for a local coalition government. So the United States would have a way to justify a withdrawal from its combat mission and would transfer the responsibilities of defending the country to the South Vietnamese after these elections. But Johnson was reluctant. The American military leadership kept saying that a military victory was possible and they presented reports (of dubious veracity) where they indicated successes on the battlefields. The CIA claimed there was a shortage of food in Hanoi and also problems with energy supplies, as well as a weakening of its military power.
Despite the elections, the South Vietnamese government remained incompetent and riddled with corruption, but by September Ho Chi Minh and North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong seemed amenable to talks brokered by the French, and Johnson agreed to cease bombing in a 10-mile zone around Hanoi. The American military leadership was dissatisfied and sought authorization from the president to expand the bombing again, hitting the enemy capital and ports, but Lyndon was still hesitant. Johnson then stated that he would end all bombing against Vietnam if Ho Chi Minh initiated productive and meaningful talks and if North Vietnam did not seek advantages during the pause. Even with no response from the Vietnamese leadership, he ordered a new pause in the bombing to give negotiations another chance.
By the end of 1967, more Democrats joined the opposition to the war, including Tip O”Neill, once an ally. Opposition to the conflict among the population also began to grow. The FBI and CIA began to keep a close eye on anti-war movements. The American population was deeply dissatisfied. Internal racial unrest, economic stagnation, and, of course, the Vietnam situation had eroded the president”s popularity. As the war dragged on, the army had to increase recruitment rates by toughening conscription. This eventually alienated Johnson”s support base among the people and in his own party. In October, over 100,000 people protested the war in front of the Pentagon; Johnson and Rusk were convinced that communist movements were behind the anti-war demonstrations, but the CIA found no evidence of this.
As it became increasingly clear that the war was reaching a stalemate, the government”s approval ratings plummeted. Johnson convened a group, called the “Wise Men”, to make a general analysis of the war. In this group were Dean Acheson, General Omar Bradley, George Ball, Mac Bundy, Arthur Dean, Douglas Dillon, Abe Fortas, Averell Harriman, Henry Cabot Lodge, Robert Murphy, and General Max Taylor. At this point, Secretary McNamara, who now no longer favored the conflict, recommended that the number of troops in Vietnam not be increased from the current number of 525,000 men and that all bombing be ceased since, according to him, it had already proven profoundly ineffective. Johnson was angered by the proposal and claimed that McNamara was ready to “turn into another Forrestal” – a reference to the former defense secretary, James Forrestal, who had a mental breakdown after leaving his post. It was clear that the two were no longer on the same page. McNamara then sent a memo to the president on November 1, 1967, where he said that the course the country was on was completely wrong and that a drastic change was needed. President Johnson did not respond to him. Disillusioned, in February 1968, Robert McNamara resigned as Secretary of Defense. By that time, some 25,000 Americans had died in combat in Vietnam.
With the exception of George Ball, everyone in the “Wise Men” group agreed that the government should “push harder.” Johnson felt that Hanoi would not negotiate before the outcome of the 1968 American elections. At the end of 1967, targets of military and economic importance in the northern cities of Hanoi and Haiphong were bombed by American fighter planes and B-52s, following Johnson”s orders. This was the first time that the North Vietnamese capital and Vietnam”s largest port were bombed intensively. Dozens of civilians were killed, and despite the gigantic destruction, their objectives were not achieved, as the North”s will and ability to wage war did not diminish much.
In 1966 the press felt the “credibility gap” between what the Johnson administration was saying and what was actually happening in Vietnam, which led to much negative coverage of what was happening. Unlike in other wars, there was no press censorship in the Vietnam conflict and so, in the news, images of heavy fighting in the jungles of Vietnam and scenes of dead and wounded American soldiers, which contradicted the optimistic view that the government wanted to portray, reached American television stations.
In October 1966, Johnson became the first president of the United States to visit Australia. When he set foot in the country, thousands of people protested against LBJ and the war.
The year 1968 began extremely violent in Vietnam. Air bombing was entering its fourth year and ground operations did not seem to bring results. The number of American casualties began to skyrocket as well, and the prospects for victory were getting more and more distant. Thus, the popularity of the Johnson administration plummeted. Students and opponents of the war protested almost weekly, burning their recruitment cards. One of the most common slogans of the antiwar protesters was: “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? Johnson could barely travel anywhere without protests against him breaking out. The secret service had to ban him from attending the 1968 Democratic Convention, where thousands of hippies, yippies, black panthers, and other opponents intended to demonstrate against the war in Vietnam. So in 1968, with the public polarized, the “hardliners” rejected Johnson”s refusal to continue the war indefinitely and the “non-interventionists” did not support his war policies. Support for Johnson”s other policies also waned. In the late summer of 1968, he realized that Richard Nixon was likely to beat Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic candidate, in the presidential election. He continued to support Humphrey publicly and personally despised Nixon. Lyndon is reported to have said of this, “the Democratic Party at its worst is still better than the Republicans at their best.”
Johnson then decided to restrict future bombing raids against North Vietnam. In April 1968, peace talks resumed and in May Paris became the place where American, South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese leaders met. When the open discussions failed, private meetings were held to try for some understanding. After two months, nothing productive seemed to have emerged. Many cabinet members, such as Harriman, Vance, Clifford, and Bundy called for Johnson to end the bombing completely and not just slow it down, to try to bring the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table. The president refused. In October, Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement to end the air campaign against cities in North Vietnam, with Republican candidate Richard Nixon intervening with the South Vietnamese and stating that he would offer them better terms in the peace agreement with the North Vietnamese. It was agreed that peace talks should be held after the presidential election.
After the 1968 elections, Johnson tried to focus on forcing Saigon to join the peace talks in Paris. Ironically, only after Nixon (the now president-elect) insisted, that they decided to send their representatives to the French capital. Still, the South Vietnamese wanted to wait for the new American president to take office before returning to peace talks.
Along with other factors, the Vietnam War became the catalyst for the “anti-government” movement in the United States at the time. It eroded not only Johnson”s popularity as president, but also diminished the people”s confidence in the federal government as a whole. As the war dragged on, the Democratic party and its supporters were divided. The Republicans were not openly for or against the war, flirting with either side when it was convenient. In this way, Richard Nixon got support from the anti-communist, pro-war “hardliners” and also from those who were against the conflict and supported an end to hostilities. Nixon promised to get the United States troops out of the war and bring “Peace with honor.” He also promised the return of law and order and internal stability.
Johnson in the end blamed the Vietnam War for all the ills of his government. In a conversation with Robert McNamara, he blamed “a bunch of communists” who ran The New York Times for his articles against the war effort. In just two weeks of May 1968, some 1,800 Americans died in combat, with another 18,000 being wounded. Meanwhile, in the United States there was difficulty in finding new recruits to replace the increasing casualties. Desertions were frequent and many people refused to enlist to fight in a war that already meant nothing to them. Alluding to the “domino theory,” the president said, “if we allow Vietnam to fall, tomorrow we will fight in Hawaii and the next week in San Francisco.”
Johnson summarized his perspectives on Vietnam thus:
I knew that I was going to be crucified no matter what decision I made. If I left the woman I loved – the Great Society – to get involved with that bitch that was war on the other side of the world, I was going to lose everything at home. All my programs…. But if I left the war aside and allowed the Communists to take South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward and my nation would see me as an appeaser and we would both find it hard to conquer anything in the global sphere.
Biographers such as Robert Dallek claimed that Johnson suffered from “agonizing decisions” in the Vietnam War and felt that the conflict caused divisions in the United States and abroad. Johnson was afraid to order an all-out invasion of North Vietnam with ground troops, as he felt that this might provoke an intervention by China, just as had happened in the Korean War in 1950. And if the Soviets decided to get involved as well, perhaps the war could expand to a global level. It was not until the late 1980s that it was revealed that in fact thousands of Chinese and Russian soldiers were stationed in North Vietnam, not only to advise and arm the local communists, but also to protect them.
In March 1965, Johnson sent a transportation message to Congress that included the creation of a new Department of Transportation – which would include the Department of Commerce Office of Transportation, the Public Roads Agency, the Federal Aviation Agency, the Coast Guard, the Maritime Administration, the Civil Aeronautics Board, and the Interstate Commerce Commission. After some discussion, the bill passed the Senate. In the House, negotiations dragged on over naval issues of the bill, but it was eventually passed on October 15, 1965.
Alternatives:The Six Day War and IsraelThe Six-Day War and Israel
In an interview given in 1993, Johnson”s defense secretary, Robert McNamara, stated that a U.S. Sixth Fleet aircraft carrier battle group that was in Gibraltar was repositioned to the Mediterranean Sea to support Israel during the Six Day War in June 1967. Given the rapid advances made by the Israelis and their annexation of territory, the U.S. government felt that “the situation was tense in Israel and perhaps the Syrians, fearing to be the next target, or the Soviets supporting Syria want to change the balance of power in the region and perhaps attack Israel themselves.” The Soviet Union knew about the movement of the American fleet and consider it an aggressive move. On the hotline between the superpowers, Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin told the Americans, “if you want a war you will have it,
The Soviet Union supported much of the Arab nations surrounding Israel. In May 1967, the Soviets sent a fleet to the eastern Mediterranean. Near that region were American and British warships. In a 1983 interview with The Boston Globe, McNamara said that in fact there was almost an American-Soviet war in the Middle East. However, months later, both nations withdrew their ships and reduced tensions.
Alternatives:Elections 19681968 ElectionsElection 1968Elections of 1968
Johnson then gradually lost control of the Democratic Party, which split into factions, with all of them hating each other. There were the supporters of Johnson (and Humphrey), the unions, and the party bosses (led by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley). There were also the student and intellectual movements that were against the war and supported McCarthy. Others were the Catholics, Hispanics, and African-Americans, who strongly supported Robert Kennedy. And, of course, there were the pro-segregation white Southerners, who supported George C. Wallace and the American Independence Party. Vietnam was one of the main reasons that divided the party, and Johnson could not find a way to win the war soon enough but there was no time to do it and unify his allies.
Historians have debated the reasons Johnson decided not to run in 1968. Shesol says that Johnson wanted out of the White House but also wanted redemption; when the indicators turned negative, he decided to leave. Gould says that Johnson neglected his party, which was hurting from its actions in Vietnam, and underestimated McCarthy”s strength until the last minute, when it was too late for him to react. Woods spoke of Lyndon needing to leave so that the nation could heal from its internal divisions. Dallek states that the president no longer had domestic goals to pursue and had realized that his difficult personality eroded his popularity. His health was not good and he was worried about Kennedy”s strength. His wife was pushing for his retirement and his support base was waning fast. Pulling out of the presidential race would allow him to pass himself off as a “peacemaker.” Bennett, however, says that Johnson, “was forced out of the race in 1968 because of reactions to his policies in Southeast Asia.”
After the assassination of Robert Kennedy, Johnson rallied the party and union bosses to support Humphrey in his nomination as the Democratic candidate in 1968. Personal correspondence between the president and members of the Republican party stated that he might consider supporting Nelson Rockefeller. He had already said that if Rockefeller was the Republican candidate, he would not campaign against him (nor for Humphrey). On October 31, 1968, in the midst of the political chaos, he announced that he gave orders that all air and naval actions against North Vietnam would be ceased if the Communist leadership would commit to returning to the months of negotiations in Paris. In the end, the Democrats did not unite in Humphrey”s favor, allowing Richard Nixon to win the election that year.
Alternatives:Judicial notesCourt NotesJudicial notices
Johnson appointed the following justices to the United States Supreme Court:
Johnson, in 1965, anticipated that the Courts might challenge his legislation, and decided that it would be important to have an “insider” on the Supreme Court who could relay important information to him, just as he did in the legislature. Abe Fortas was then appointed for this purpose, with the latter being very loyal to him. However, the relationship between Abe and Lyndon turned out to be somewhat strained, especially because of the president”s tough personality. Still, when Earl Warren announced his retirement in 1968, Johnson nominated Fortas for Chief Justice of the United States and appointed Homer Thornberry to succeed Fortas as associate justice. But both nominations were blocked in the Senate. Johnson also appointed the first black justice in the history of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall.
In addition to the Supreme Court appointments, Johnson appointed 40 judges to the United States Court of Appeals and 126 judges to the District Courts. Four justices he appointed were ultimately not confirmed by the Senate before the end of the president”s term.
Alternatives:Espionage of Martin Luther KingMartin Luther King EspionageMartin Luther King”s EspionageSpying on Martin Luther King
Johnson allowed the FBI to continue the spying and wiretapping against Martin Luther King Jr. that had been previously authorized during the Kennedy administration under Attorney General Robert Kennedy. The results of the wiretapping raised questions about King”s extramarital affairs, although unproven. Johnson also authorized the wiretapping of other people”s phones, including Vietnamese friends of a Nixon associate.
Personality and public perception
According to biographer Radall Woods, Johnson had several roles. Depending on the circumstance, he could be:
Other historians, such as Kent Germany, have called him:
Johnson was seen as an ambitious, tireless, and imposing man who was brutally effective in getting through the legislation he wanted. He worked 18 to 20 hours a day without a break and did no pleasurable activities. Biographer Robert Dallek said that he knew all the senators, their ambitions, hopes and tastes and used this to his advantage. Another biographer claimed that Lyndon knew “their fears, their desires, what they wanted and manipulated, dominated and persuaded them.” At 6”1″ tall, Johnson had his own style of persuasion, known as “The Johnson Treatment.
Johnson often wore a cowboy hat and boots, reflecting his Texas origins and his love of rural life. In 1951 he inherited a 250-acre tract of land from an aunt. He then established a 2,700-acre ranch with at least 400 head of cattle. The National Park Service maintains a small herd on the property with animals descended from those Johnson raised.
Biographer Randall Woods claimed that the “social gospel” Johnson learned in his childhood allowed him to turn social problems into moral problems. This would explain his commitment to social policies, exemplified by him in his “Great Society” project and his comments in favor of racial equality in the United States. He also expanded his quasi-humanistic vision outside the country, when in Vietnam, to gain support from the people of that nation, he initiated a series of humanitarian assistance program.
After leaving the presidency in January 1969, Johnson went to his ranch in Stonewall, Texas, accompanied by his former aide and speechwriter Harry J. Middleton, who would go on to write Lyndon”s first book, The Choices We Face, would also work with him on his memoir, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963-1969, published in 1971. That year, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum opened on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. He donated, in his will, his Texas ranch to the public and the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park was opened there.
Johnson gave Nixon”s foreign policy a “good grade,” but was concerned about whether his successor was being pressured to withdraw American troops from Vietnam too quickly, before the South Vietnamese were really ready. He stated, “If the South falls before the Communists, we may have big problems at home.”
During the 1972 presidential election, Johnson supported the Democratic candidate George S. McGovern, a South Dakota senator, even though McGovern had been a longtime critic of LBJ”s (mainly foreign) policies. McGovern”s nomination and his platform left Johnson somewhat dismayed. Nixon could have been defeated “if only the Democrats didn”t go so far to the left,” he insisted. Johnson felt that Edmund Muskie, senator for Maine, would have been a better candidate; however, he refused to participate in campaigns against McGovern once the latter received the nomination. In addition, Johnson remained unpopular within the party, which could have actually strengthened McGovern”s slate. One of Lyndon”s protégés, John Connally, served as Nixon”s treasury secretary and also led the so-called “Democrats for Nixon,” a splinter group in the party that was funded by Republicans. This was one of the biggest defections of Johnson”s friends to the other side.
In March 1970, Johnson suffered an attack of angina and was taken to a military hospital in San Antonio. He was advised to change his routine and lose weight to become healthier. Johnson had gained a lot of weight after leaving the White House, reaching 107 kg. He also started smoking again after a break of almost fifteen years, which aggravated his health. The following summer, again plagued by chest pains, he went on a diet and even lost 20 pounds in one month. In April 1972, Johnson suffered his second heart attack while visiting his daughter, Lynda, in Charlottesville, Virginia. He continued to suffer from chest pains. A portable oxygen tank was then placed for his use beside his bed, and he would interrupt what he was doing for the day to lie down and use his air mask. Still, he continued to smoke and stopped losing weight. Then he also started to experience stomach pains. He was diagnosed with diverticulosis, with inflammation forming in his intestines. His condition worsened and surgery was recommended. Johnson then went to Houston to see Dr. Michael DeBakey. DeBakey discovered that the former president”s two coronary arteries were damaged and his heart was in such bad condition that surgery could have fatal complications. His health then continued to decline rapidly.
“After the swearing-in ceremony (January 20, 1969), Johnson watched Nixon being sworn in and then boarded a plane to Texas. When the plane door closed, Johnson took out a cigarette – his first since his heart attack in 1955. One of his daughters took the cigarette from his mouth and spoke, “Daddy, what are you doing? You”re going to kill yourself.” He took it back and said, “I”ve raised you girls. I”ve been president. Now it”s my turn.” From that point on, he followed a self-destructive path.”
With his health worsening, Johnson returned to his ranch. At approximately 3:39 p.m. on January 22, 1973, Johnson called the Secret Service building and complained of “massive chest pains.” Agents rushed to his room and found the former president on the floor, unconscious, with the phone still in his hands. Johnson was rushed to San Antonio and taken to a military hospital, but arrived dead at the office of the army cardiologist, Colonel Dr. George McGranahan.
Johnson died two days after the inauguration of Richard Nixon”s second term. His death left the country without a living former president, as Harry S. Truman had died a month earlier and Eisenhower in 1969.
After Lyndon”s death, his press secretary Tom Johnson called Walter Cronkite of CBS; Cronkite went live on the CBS Evening News and a report on Vietnam was interrupted so that he could talk about the former president”s death.
Johnson was honored with a State Funeral, where he received orations by Congressman J. J. Pickle and former Secretary of State Dean Rusk at the Capitol. The last ceremony took place on January 25. The formal funeral took place at a church in Washington, D.C. and was attended by President Richard Nixon, American politicians and foreign dignitaries such as former Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Satō. Closing orations were given by Reverend Dr. George Davis and former Postmaster General W. Marvin Watson. Nixon did not speak, only witnessed, as was customary at such funerals, but Nixon would mention Johnson in his speech on the Vietnam peace process.
Johnson was buried in the family cemetery in Stonewall, Texas, a few hundred yards away from where he was born. Johnson”s state funeral interrupted some of the plans for Nixon”s second inauguration, with many military personnel who were to parade being sent to the former president”s funeral service.
The command center for NASA”s manned flights in Houston was renamed the Lyndon Johnson Space Center in 1973, and the state of Texas created a holiday on August 27 in honor of Johnson”s birthday. The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac is a memorial erected in his honor on September 27, 1974.
A faculdade Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs tem o seu nome em sua honra, assim como a Lyndon B. Johnson National Grassland.
In Austin, there is a school called Lyndon B. Johnson High School. Another school, in Melbourne, Florida, is called Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School. Another school, LBJ Elementary in Jackson, Kentucky, is also named in honor of the former president.
Interstate 635, which cuts through Dallas, is called the Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway.
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Tropical Medical Center is named in honor of the 36th president who visited American Samoa on October 18, 1966.
The student center at Texas State University is named in honor of the former president, who graduated from this college.
Johnson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980.
On March 23, 2007, then-President George W. Bush signed a law naming the headquarters of the United States Department of Education the Lyndon Baines Johnson Federal Building.
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