Lyndon B. Johnson


Lyndon Baines Johnson (/ˈlɪndən ˈbnz/; August 27, 1908 – January 22, 1973), often referred to by his initials LBJ, was an American politician who served as the 36th president of the United States from 1963 to 1969. He became president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, under whom he had served as the 37th vice president from 1961 to 1963. A Democrat from Texas, Johnson also served as a U.S. representative and U.S. senator.

Lyndon B. Johnson
Official portrait, 1964
36th President of the United States
In office
November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969
Vice President
Preceded byJohn F. Kennedy
Succeeded byRichard Nixon
37th Vice President of the United States
In office
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Preceded byRichard Nixon
Succeeded byHubert Humphrey
United States Senator
from Texas
In office
January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1961
Preceded byW. Lee O'Daniel
Succeeded byWilliam A. Blakley
Senatorial positions
Senate Majority Leader
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 3, 1961
WhipEarle C. Clements
Mike Mansfield
Preceded byWilliam F. Knowland
Succeeded byMike Mansfield
Senate Minority Leader
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1955
WhipEarle C. Clements
Preceded byStyles Bridges
Succeeded byWilliam F. Knowland
Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1961
Preceded byErnest McFarland
Succeeded byMike Mansfield
Senate Majority Whip
In office
January 3, 1951 – January 3, 1953
LeaderErnest McFarland
Preceded byFrancis J. Myers
Succeeded byLeverett Saltonstall
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 10th district
In office
April 10, 1937 – January 3, 1949
Preceded byJames P. Buchanan
Succeeded byHomer Thornberry
Personal details
Lyndon Baines Johnson

(1908-08-27)August 27, 1908
Gillespie County, Texas, U.S.
DiedJanuary 22, 1973(1973-01-22) (aged 64)
Gillespie County, Texas, U.S.
Resting placeJohnson Family Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1934)
RelativesGeorge Washington Baines (great-grandfather), Philip Bobbitt (nephew)
  • Politician
  • teacher
Civilian awardsPresidential Medal of Freedom (posthumously, 1980)
SignatureCursive signature in ink
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Branch/serviceUnited States Navy
Years of service
  • 1940–1941 (inactive)
  • 1941–1942 (active)
  • 1942–1964 (reserve)
Rank Commander
Military awardsSilver Star

Born in Stonewall, Texas, Johnson worked as a high school teacher and a congressional aide before winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1937. In 1948, he was controversially declared winner in the Democratic Party's primary for the 1948 Senate election in Texas and won the general election.[1] He became Senate majority whip in 1951, Senate Democratic leader in 1953 and majority leader in 1954. In 1960, Johnson ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. Ultimately, Senator Kennedy bested Johnson and his other rivals for the nomination before surprising many by offering to make Johnson his vice presidential running mate. The Kennedy–Johnson ticket won the general election. Vice President Johnson assumed the presidency in 1963, after President Kennedy was assassinated. The following year, Johnson was elected to the presidency in a landslide, winning the largest share of the popular vote for the Democratic Party in history, and the highest for any candidate since the advent of widespread popular elections in the 1820s.

Johnson's Great Society was aimed at expanding civil rights, public broadcasting, access to health care, aid to education and the arts, urban and rural development, and public services. He sought to create better living conditions for low-income Americans by spearheading the war on poverty. As part of these efforts, Johnson signed the Social Security Amendments of 1965, which resulted in the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. Johnson made the Apollo program a national priority; enacted the Higher Education Act of 1965, which established federally insured student loans; and signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which laid the groundwork for U.S. immigration policy today. Johnson's stance on civil rights put him at odds with other white, Southern Democrats. His civil rights legacy was shaped by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Johnson's foreign policy prioritized containment of communism, including in the ongoing Vietnam War. He launched a full-scale military intervention in Southeast Asia, dramatically increasing the number of American military personnel deployed; casualties soared among U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese civilians. In 1968, the communist Tet Offensive inflamed the anti-war movement and public opinion turned against the United States's involvement in the war. In Europe, Johnson maintained the postwar policies of his predecessors, by continuing to promote and foster political integration and economic cooperation among Western European nations.[2]

During his presidency, the American political landscape transformed significantly,[3][4] as white Southerners who were once staunch Democrats began moving to the Republican Party[5][6] and Black voters who sporadically supported the Democrats prior to 1964 began shifting towards the party in historic numbers.[7][8] Due to his domestic agenda, Johnson's presidency marked the peak of modern American liberalism in the 20th century.[9] Johnson faced further troubles with race riots in major cities and increasing crime. His political opponents seized the opportunity and raised demands for "law and order" policies. Johnson began his presidency with near-universal support, but his approval declined throughout his presidency as the public became frustrated with both the Vietnam War and domestic unrest. Johnson initially sought to run for re-election; however, following disappointing results in the New Hampshire primary he withdrew his candidacy. Johnson returned to his Texas ranch, where he died in 1973.

Public opinion and academic assessments of Johnson's legacy have fluctuated greatly. Historians and scholars rank Johnson in the upper tier for his accomplishments regarding domestic policy. His administration passed many major laws that made substantial changes in civil rights, health care, welfare, and education. Conversely, Johnson is heavily criticized for his foreign policy, namely escalating American involvement in the Vietnam War.[10][11]

Early life

A seven-year-old Johnson, wearing his trademark cowboy hat, at his childhood farmhouse near Stonewall, Texas, in 1915

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, near Stonewall, Texas, in a small farmhouse on the Pedernales River.[12] He was the eldest of five children born to Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr. and Rebekah Baines.[13][14] Johnson had one brother, Sam Houston Johnson, and three sisters, Rebekah, Josefa, and Lucia.[15] Johnson had English-Irish, German, and Ulster Scots ancestry.[16] Through his mother, he was a great-grandson of Baptist clergyman George Washington Baines.[17]

Johnson's paternal grandfather, Samuel Ealy Johnson Sr., was raised Baptist and for a time was a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In his later years, Samuel Sr. became a Christadelphian; Samuel Jr. also joined the Christadelphian Church toward the end of his life.[18] Johnson was influenced in his positive attitude toward Jews by the religious beliefs that his family, especially his grandfather, had shared with him.[19]

Johnson grew up poor, with his father losing a great deal of money.[20] Biographer Robert Caro described him as being raised "in a land without electricity, where the soil was so rocky that it was hard to earn a living from it."[20]

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.[21] At 15, Johnson was the youngest in 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 odd jobs before returning to Texas, where he worked as a day laborer.[22]

In 1926, Johnson enrolled at SWTSTC. He worked his way through school, participated in debate and campus politics, and edited the school newspaper, The College Star.[23] 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, 90 miles (140 km) south of San Antonio. The job helped him to save money to complete his education, and he graduated in 1930 with a Bachelor of Science in history and his certificate of qualification as a high school teacher.[24][25] He briefly taught at Pearsall High School in Pearsall before taking a position teaching public speaking at Sam Houston High School in Houston.[26]

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.[27]

Entry into politics


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. This marked Johnson's formal introduction to politics. Johnson secured the position on the recommendation of his father and that of state senator Welly Hopkins, for whom Johnson had campaigned in 1930.[28] Kleberg had little interest in the day-to-day duties of a Congressman, instead delegating them to Johnson.[29] After Franklin D. Roosevelt won the 1932 U.S. presidential election, Johnson became a lifelong supporter of Roosevelt's New Deal.[30] 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.[31]

On November 17, 1934, Johnson married Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Taylor from Karnack, Texas. The two first met after he attended but did not graduate from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. for several months.[32] During their first date, Johnson asked her to marry him; many dates later, she finally agreed.[33] The wedding was officiated by Arthur R. McKinstry at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in San Antonio.[34] They had two daughters: Lynda Bird in 1944 and Luci Baines in 1947. Johnson gave his children names with the LBJ initials; his dog was named Little Beagle Johnson, and his home was the LBJ Ranch. His initials were on his cufflinks, ashtrays, and clothes.[35] During his marriage, Johnson had affairs with "numerous"[36] women, including Alice Marsh, who assisted him politically.[36]

In 1935, Johnson was appointed head of the Texas National Youth Administration, which enabled him to create government-funded education and job opportunities for young people. He resigned two years later to run for Congress. A notoriously tough boss, Johnson often demanded long workdays and work on weekends.[37] He was described by friends, fellow politicians, and historians as motivated by lust for power and control. As Caro observes, "Johnson's ambition was uncommon – in the degree to which it was unencumbered by even the slightest excess weight of ideology, of philosophy, of principles, of beliefs."[38]

U.S. House of Representatives (1937–1949)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (left), Texas governor James Burr V Allred (center), and Johnson (right) in 1937; Johnson later used an edited version of this photo with Allred airbrushed out in his 1941 senatorial campaign.[39]

In 1937, after the death of 13-term congressman James P. Buchanan, Johnson successfully campaigned in a special election for Texas's 10th congressional district, which included Austin and the surrounding hill country. He ran on a New Deal platform and was effectively aided by his wife. He served as a U.S. Representative from April 10, 1937, to January 3, 1949.[40] President Roosevelt found Johnson to be a political ally and conduit for information, particularly regarding the internal politics of Texas and the machinations of Vice President John Nance Garner and House Speaker 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 financed much of Johnson's future career.

1941 U.S. Senate election


In April 1941, incumbent U.S. Senator Morris Sheppard from Texas died. Under Texas law, a special election for a vacant Senate seat must be held within a few months of the vacancy, meaning that the election would not be held during a normal November election, giving Johnson the chance to run without forfeiting his seat in the House.[41] The election would be held without party primaries, and with no runoff, meaning that Johnson would have to compete against every Democrat—without the chance of facing the frontrunner, Governor W. Lee "Pappy" O’Daniel, in a 1-on-1 runoff election.[41] The first pre-election polls showed Johnson receiving only 5% of the vote, but Johnson ran a fierce campaign, barnstorming the state and emphasizing his close relationship with President Roosevelt.[41]

On Election Day, Johnson held a strong lead in the returns throughout the whole night, and with 96 percent of the ballots counted, Johnson held a 5,000-vote lead.[41] According to John Connally, future Governor and Johnson's campaign manager, local election officials began calling Connally's office and asking him about whether they should report the vote tallies.[41] Connally told them to report the votes, which allegedly allowed O'Daniel's political allies among the South and East Texas party bosses to know the exact number of fraudulent votes needed for O'Daniel to catch up to Johnson.[41] According to Connally,

The opposition then—Governor O'Daniel and his people—knew exactly how many votes they had to have to take the lead... They kept changing the results, and our lead got smaller and smaller and smaller. Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, we wound up on the short side of the stick and lost the election by 1,311 votes. I'm basically responsible for losing that 1941 campaign. We let them know exactly how many votes they had to have.[41]

In addition to O'Daniel's allies, state business interests aligned with former impeached and convicted Texas Governor "Pa" Ferguson had been concerned with O'Daniel's support of prohibition as Governor; they believed that he could do much less damage to their cause in the Senate.[41] The lieutenant governor, Coke R. Stevenson, was not in favor of prohibition, making his possible promotion to Governor a key selling point for the state's business interests in manipulating the election results.[41] In the final vote tally, Johnson fell short by just 0.23% of the vote.[42]

While Johnson's loss in the 1941 Senate race was a stinging defeat, he did not have to give up his seat in the House, which permitted him to maintain numerous allies, including George Berham Parr, who ran a political machine in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.[43] U.S. Senator W. Lee O'Daniel became unpopular during his time in the Senate, and decided to forgo a bid for re-election in 1948,[44] so Johnson began preparing for a close Senate runoff by arranging for his supporters who controlled votes, including Parr, to withhold their final tallies until the statewide results were announced.[43] By waiting until the statewide result was reported, Johnson was able to know the figure he had to surpass and so could add as many votes as necessary to his total.[43] It would prove consequential, as Johnson would win the Democratic primary in 1948 by just 87 votes.[45]

Active military duty (1941–1942)

Johnson as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve in March 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 first orders were to report to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C., for instruction and training.[46] Following his training, Johnson asked Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal for a job in Washington, D.C. He was instead sent 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 wanted a trusted political ally to obtain it. Forrestal suggested Johnson. Roosevelt assigned Johnson to a three-man survey team covering the Southwest Pacific.[47]

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. Reports vary on what happened to the aircraft carrying Johnson during that mission. MacArthur recommended Johnson for the Silver Star for gallantry in action;[48] the citation indicated that the mission came under attack and Johnson's aircraft experienced mechanical problems, forcing it to turn back before reaching its objective.[49] Others claim that the aircraft turned back because of generator trouble before encountering enemy aircraft and never came under fire, an account that is supported by the aircraft's official flight records.[49][48] Other airplanes that continued came under fire near the target about the same time Johnson's plane was recorded as having landed back at the original airbase.[49] Johnson's biographer Robert Caro was quoted as saying "I think that the weight of the evidence at this moment is that the plane was attacked by Zeroes and that he was cool under fire",[49] but also "The fact is, LBJ never got within sight of Japanese forces. His combat experience was a myth."[50]

Johnson used a movie camera to record conditions,[51] and reported to Roosevelt, 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.[48] He argued that the southwest Pacific urgently needed a higher priority and a larger share of war supplies. Warplanes that were sent there were "far inferior" to Japanese planes, and U.S. Navy morale there was poor. Johnson 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,[52] 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 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."[53]

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 discharged from active duty on July 17, 1942, but remained in the Navy Reserve, where he was promoted to commander on October 19, 1949, effective June 2, 1948. He resigned from the Navy Reserve effective January 18, 1964.[54]

U.S. Senate (1949–1961)


1948 U.S. Senate election


In the 1948 elections, Johnson again ran for the Senate and won the general election after being declared winner in a highly controversial Democratic Party primary election 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.

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. However, Johnson's victory was based on 200 "patently fraudulent"[55]: 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, at the end of the list of voters. Some on this part of the list insisted that they had not voted that day.[56] Election judge Luis Salas said in 1977 that he had certified 202 fraudulent ballots for Johnson.[57] 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.[58] The Democratic State Central Committee voted to certify Johnson's nomination by a majority of one (29–28). The state Democratic convention upheld Johnson. Stevenson went to court, eventually taking his case before the U.S. Supreme Court, but with timely help from his friend and future U.S. 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.[59]

Freshman senator to majority whip

Johnson's United States Senate portrait in the 1950s

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 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 national attention through his handling of media. Johnson ensured that every report was endorsed unanimously by his committee. He used his political influence in the Senate to receive broadcast licenses from the Federal Communications Commission in his wife's name.[57][60] 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 in this capacity from 1951 to 1953.[40]

Senate Democratic leader

President Johnson giving "The Treatment" to U.S. Senator Richard Russell Jr. in 1963

In the 1952 general election, Republicans won a majority in both the House and Senate. In January 1953, Johnson was chosen by his fellow Democrats as Senate 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, with Democrats winning the majority in the Senate, he became majority leader. Johnson's duties were to schedule legislation and help pass measures favored by the Democrats. Johnson, House Speaker Sam Rayburn, and President Eisenhower worked well together in passing Eisenhower's domestic and foreign agenda.[61]

In 1956, during the Suez Crisis, Johnson tried to prevent the U.S. government from criticizing Israel for its invasion of the Sinai Peninsula. Along with much of the rest of the nation, Johnson was appalled by the threat of possible Soviet domination of space flight implied by the launch of the Soviets' launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite, and used his influence to ensure passage of the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established NASA.

Historians Caro and Dallek consider Johnson the most effective Senate majority leader ever. 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.[62] Robert Baker claimed that Johnson would occasionally send senators on NATO trips so they were absent and unable to cast dissenting votes.[63] Central to Johnson's control was "The Treatment",[64] 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 itself – 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.[65]

In 1955, Johnson persuaded U.S. Senator Wayne Morse, an Independent, to join the Democratic caucus.[66]

During his tenure as Majority Leader, Johnson did not sign the 1956 Southern Manifesto,[67][68] and shepherded the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 to passage—the first civil rights bills to pass Congress since the Enforcement Acts and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 during Reconstruction.[74]

On July 2, 1955, at age 46, Johnson, a 60-cigarette-per-day smoker, suffered a near-fatal heart attack, which inspired him to discontinue smoking. Five months later, Johnson's doctors reported he had made "a most satisfactory recovery", and Johnson announced that he would remain as his party's leader in the Senate.[75][76]

Campaigns of 1960


In 1960, Johnson's success in the Senate rendered him a potential Democratic presidential candidate. Four years earlier, he was viewed as the favorite son candidate of the Texas delegation at the party's 1956 convention in Chicago, and he appeared to be well positioning to run for the 1960 nomination. James H. Rowe repeatedly urged Johnson to launch a campaign in early 1959, but Johnson thought it was better to wait, thinking that John F. Kennedy's candidacy would create a division in the ranks that could then be exploited. Rowe finally joined the Humphrey campaign in frustration, another move that Johnson thought played into his own strategy.[77]

Candidacy for president


In July 1960, Johnson finally entered the campaign. Johnson's late entry in the race, coupled with his reluctance to leave Washington, D.C., allowed rival John F. Kennedy to secure a substantial early lead in securing support from Democratic state party officials. Johnson underestimated Kennedy's endearing charm and intelligence in comparison to his perceived crude and wheeling-dealing "Landslide Lyndon" style.[78] Caro suggests that Johnson's hesitancy to enter the race resulted from his fear of losing.[79]

Johnson attempted in vain to capitalize on Kennedy's youth, poor health, and failure to take a position regarding McCarthyism.[80] He had formed a "Stop Kennedy" coalition with Adlai Stevenson, Stuart Symington, and Hubert Humphrey, but it proved a failure. Despite Johnson having the support of established Democrats and the party leadership, this did not translate into popular approval. 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."[81]

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 realized 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", and Illinois AFL-CIO President Reuben Soderstrom asserted Kennedy had "made chumps out of leaders of the American labor movement".[82][83] After much discussion with party leaders and others, Kennedy offered Johnson the vice presidential nomination at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel on July 14, the morning after Kennedy was nominated, and Johnson accepted. From that point to the actual nomination that evening, several facts are in dispute, including whether convention chairman LeRoy Collins' had the two-thirds majority required to begin the convention's proceedings.[84]

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:

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.[85]

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, but lost a special election in May 1961 to Tower.

Vice presidency (1961–1963)

President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Johnson outside the White House in August 1961
Vice President Johnson and Attorney General Robert Kennedy meeting with civil rights leaders at the White House on June 22, 1963

After the election, Johnson was concerned about the traditionally ineffective nature of his new office and sought authority not allotted to him as vice president. 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.[86]

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.[87] Kennedy similarly turned down early requests from Johnson to be given an office adjacent to the Oval Office and to employ a full-time staff within the White House.[88] In 1961, Kennedy appointed Johnson's friend Sarah T. Hughes to a federal judgeship. Johnson tried but failed to have Hughes nominated at the beginning of his vice presidency. House Speaker Sam Rayburn wrangled the appointment from Kennedy in exchange for support of an administration bill.

Many members of the Kennedy White House were openly contemptuous of Johnson, including the president's brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and they ridiculed his comparatively brusque and crude manner. Then Congressman Tip O'Neill recalled that the Kennedy brothers "had a disdain for Johnson that they didn't even try to hide.... They actually took pride in snubbing him."[89]

Kennedy made efforts to keep Johnson busy and informed, 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."[90] Kennedy appointed him to jobs such as the head of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, where Johnson worked with African Americans and other minorities. Kennedy may have intended this to remain a nominal position, but Taylor Branch contends in his book Pillar of Fire that Johnson pushed the Kennedy administration's actions further and faster for civil rights than Kennedy originally intended.[citation needed]

Johnson went on multiple minor diplomatic missions, which gave him some insights into global issues and opportunities for self-promotion. During his visit to West Berlin on August 19–20, 1961, Johnson sought to calm Berliners who were outraged by the building of the Berlin Wall.[91] 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.[92]

Kennedy also appointed Johnson Chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council. The Soviets beat the United States with the first crewed spaceflight in April 1961, and Kennedy gave Johnson the task of evaluating the U.S. space program and recommending a project that would allow the United States to catch up or beat the Soviets.[93] Johnson recommended that the United States gain the leadership role by committing to landing an American on the Moon in the 1960s.[94][95] Kennedy assigned priority to the space program, but Johnson's appointment provided cover in case of a failure.[96]

In August 1963, Johnson was touched by a Senate scandal 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 alleged bribery and financial malfeasance. One witness alleged that Baker 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, however, fed rumors in Washington circles that Kennedy was planning on dropping Johnson from the Democratic ticket in the 1964 presidential election. However, on October 31, 1963, a reporter asked if he intended and expected to retain Johnson on the ticket. Kennedy replied, "Yes to both those questions."[97] There is little doubt that Robert Kennedy and Johnson hated each other,[98] yet John and Robert Kennedy agreed that dropping Johnson from the ticket could produce heavy losses in the South.[99][100]


Johnson is sworn in as president aboard Air Force One at Dallas Love Field two hours and eight minutes following Kennedy's assassination as Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Kennedy look on.

On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas. Immediately following Kennedy's assassination, Johnson likely suffered a second heart attack. According to media reports, Johnson "was rushed to the emergency room. He appeared scared out of his wits, his face was pale and he was holding his chest. The physician who saw him thought that he was having another heart attack (probably correctly), but the final diagnosis released to the public was that he was suffering only from angina."[101][102][103]

Presidency (1963–1969)


Johnson was sworn in as the nation's 36th president, aboard Air Force One at Dallas Love Field two hours and eight minutes after Kennedy's assassination, by Sarah T. Hughes, a U.S. District Judge and family friend.[104][105]

In the rush, Johnson took the oath of office using a Roman Catholic missal from President Kennedy's desk,[106] despite not being Catholic,[107] due to the missal being mistaken for a Bible.[107] Cecil Stoughton's iconic photograph of Johnson taking the oath of office as Mrs. Kennedy looks on is the most famous photo ever taken aboard a presidential aircraft.[107][108]

Johnson was convinced he needed to make an impression of an immediate transition of power to provide stability to a grieving nation.[109] Johnson and the Secret Service were concerned that he could also be a target of a conspiracy,[110] and felt compelled to rapidly return the new president to Washington, D.C.[110] Some[who?] asserted that Johnson acted with excessive haste in assuming the presidency.[111][112]

On November 27, 1963, Johnson 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.[112]

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. 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 Attorney General Robert Kennedy, with whom he had a notoriously difficult relationship, until Kennedy left in 1964 to run for the Senate.[119] Although Johnson had no official chief of staff, Walter Jenkins 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 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]

Johnson assumed the presidency amid a healthy economy with steady growth and low unemployment, and with no serious international crises. He focused his attention on domestic policy until escalation of the Vietnam War began in August 1964.

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 initiated his War on Poverty, recruiting Kennedy relative Sargent Shriver, then head of the Peace Corps, to spearhead the effort. In March 1964, Johnson 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, a domestic counterpart to the Peace Corps.[124]

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Johnson meeting with civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. (left), Whitney Young, and James Farmer in the Oval Office on January 18, 1964

President Kennedy had submitted a civil rights bill to Congress in June 1963, which met with strong opposition.[125][126] Johnson renewed the effort and asked Bobby Kennedy to spearhead the undertaking 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] 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 S. 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 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 attempting to kill it. Johnson used 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 soon passed it 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] The following evening, Johnson told aide Bill Moyers, "I think we may have lost the South for your lifetime – and mine", anticipating a backlash from Southern whites against Johnson's Democratic Party.[135][136]

Biographer Randall B. Woods has argued that Johnson effectively used appeals to Judeo-Christian ethics to garner support for civil rights. 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"?[137]

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."[138] Johnson shared the beliefs of his mentor, FDR, in that he paired liberal and religious values, believing that freedom and social justice served both God and man.[139]

Great Society


Johnson wanted a catchy slogan for the 1964 campaign to describe his proposed domestic agenda. 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 it in a speech Johnson gave at the University of Michigan in May 1964. The speech encompassed movements of urban renewal, modern transportation, clean environment, anti-poverty measures, healthcare reforms, crime control, and educational reforms.[140]

1964 presidential election

In the 1964 presidential election, Johnson won 486 electoral college votes to Barry Goldwater's 52

In Spring 1964, Johnson was not optimistic about his prospects of being elected president.[141] 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 Internal Revenue Service, Johnson obtained an agreement. This substantially boosted his self-confidence and image.[142]

Robert F. Kennedy was widely considered an impeccable choice for Johnson's vice presidential running mate but Johnson and Kennedy had never liked each other, and Johnson, afraid that Kennedy would be credited with his election as president, consistently opposed the idea of including him as a running mate.[143] Kennedy was undecided about accepting an offer as Johnson's running mate, knowing that the prospect rankled Johnson. Barry Goldwater's poor polling numbers was perceived as reducing the political significance of Johnson's selection of a running mate.[144] Hubert Humphrey's selection as vice president then became a foregone conclusion and was thought to strengthen Johnson in the Midwest and industrial Northeast.[145] Knowing the degree of frustration inherent in the office of vice president, Johnson put Humphrey through a gauntlet of interviews to guarantee his loyalty. Having made the decision, he kept the announcement from the press until the last moment to maximize media speculation and coverage.[146]

In preparation for the Democratic convention in Atlantic City, Johnson requested the FBI send 30 agents to cover convention activities; the objective of the squad was to inform the White House staff of any disruptive activities. 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 included wiretaps of Martin Luther King's room and 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.[147]

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 to manage the problem.[148] 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".[149] 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".[150]

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, followed by a countdown and explosion of a nuclear bomb. The message conveyed was that electing Goldwater risked 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".[151] CIA Director William Colby asserted that Tracy Barnes instructed the CIA to spy on the Goldwater campaign and the Republican National Committee to provide information to Johnson's campaign.[152] Johnson won the presidency by a landslide with 61.05 percent of the vote, making it the highest ever share of the popular vote.[153] 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.[154] 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.[155]

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."[156] He was reticent to push Southern congressmen 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.[157]

President Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965

Johnson gave a congressional speech 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.[158]

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—"eight of the eleven Southern states of the former confederacy" (Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, 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.[159] 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 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 officeholders in 1965 mushroomed to 6,000 in 1989.[158]

After the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo, Johnson went on television to announce the arrest of four Ku Klux Klans men 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.[b][160] He turned to themes of Christian redemption to push for civil rights, mobilizing support from churches.[161] 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 ..."[162]

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 federal cabinet secretary. 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.[163] On April 5, Johnson wrote to the United States House of Representatives urging passage of the Fair Housing Act.[164] 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.[163][165]


President Johnson signs the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 as U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, and others look on

The sweeping Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 reformed the country's immigration system and removed all national origins quotas dating from the 1920s. The annual rate of inflow doubled between 1965 and 1970, and doubled again by 1990, with dramatic increases from Asia and Latin America, including Mexico.[57] Scholars give Johnson little credit for the law, which was not one of his priorities; he had supported the McCarren–Walter Act of 1952, which proved unpopular with reformers.[166]

Federal funding for education


Johnson, whose own ticket out of poverty was a public education in Texas, fervently believed that education was an essential component of the American dream, especially for minorities who endured poor facilities and tight-fisted local budgets.[167] 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, Johnson 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;[168] 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.[169]

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][171] Johnson's second major education program was the Higher Education Act of 1965, which focused on funding for lower-income students. In 1967, Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act to create educational television programs to supplement broadcast networks.

In 1965, Johnson set up the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, to support the study of literature, history, and law, and arts such as music, painting, and sculpture (as the WPA once did).[172]

"War on Poverty" and healthcare reform

Former president Truman and wife Bess at Johnson's signing of the Medicare Bill in 1965, as Lady Bird and Hubert Humphrey look on

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.[173]

During the Johnson administration, national poverty declined significantly, with the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line dropping from 23 to 12 percent.[10] 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 was required 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 fall 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 largely a failure.[174]

Johnson's initial effort to improve healthcare was the creation of The Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Strokes (HDCS). These diseases accounted for 71 percent of the nation's deaths in 1962.[175] 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.[176] 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 three layers: hospital insurance under Social Security; a voluntary insurance program for doctor visits; and an expanded medical welfare program for the poor, known as Medicaid.[177] The bill passed the house by a margin of 110 votes on April 8. The effort in the Senate was considerably more complicated, but the Medicare bill passed Congress on July 28.[178] Medicare now covers tens of millions of Americans.[179] 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.[180]



In March 1965, Johnson sent to Congress a transportation message which included the creation of a new Transportation Department, comprising 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.[181]

Gun control


Though Johnson had already introduced a gun control bill on June 6, 1968, after the assassination of Robert Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson's press secretary Liz Carpenter, in a memo to the president, worried that the country had been "brainwashed by high drama," and that Johnson "need[ed] some quick dramatic actions" that addressed "the issue of violence." In October, Johnson signed the Gun Control Act of 1968, but did not invoke the memory of Robert Kennedy as he had so often done with his brother–an omission historian Jeff Shesol has argued was motivated by Johnson's longstanding contempt for Robert.[182]

Space program

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson (center left) and Vice President Spiro Agnew (center right) witness the liftoff of Apollo 11, the first manned space aircraft to land on the Moon, on July 16, 1969

During the Johnson administration, NASA conducted the Gemini crewed space program, developed the Saturn V rocket and its launch facility, and prepared to make the first crewed 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 own investigation.[183]

Johnson maintained his staunch support of Apollo through Congressional and press controversy, and the program recovered. The first two crewed missions, Apollo 7 and the first crewed 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."[184][185] 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.[186]

Urban riots

The aftermath of a race riot in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., in April 1968

Major riots in black neighborhoods caused a series of "long hot summers." They started with 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 with the riots in Watts. After 34 people were killed and $35 million (equivalent to $338.39 million in 2023) in property was damaged, the public feared an expansion of the violence to other cities, and so the appetite for additional programs in Johnson's agenda was lost.[187]

Six days of rioting in Newark in 1967 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 burned for three more days, resulting in the deaths of 43 and the injury of 2,250. Approximately 4,000 were arrested, and property damage ranged into the hundreds of millions.

In April 1968, following the Martin Luther King assassination, riots erupted in over 100 cities. Johnson called for even more billions to be spent in the cities and another federal civil rights law regarding housing, but his requests 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 and his own party.[188] Johnson created the Kerner Commission to study the problem of urban riots, headed by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner.[57] According to George Christian, Johnson's press secretary, Johnson was unsurprised by the riots, saying: "What did you expect? ... 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."[189]

Following the riots in Washington, D.C. and the assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968, Johnson concluded that "a condition of domestic violence and disorder" existed in the nation, and he issued an executive order mobilizing combat-equipped troops. The New York Times reported that 4,000 regular U.S. Army and National Guard troops entered the 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 Capitol and White House.[190]

Backlash against Johnson (1966–1967)

Lady Bird Johnson and Johnson with Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos on September 12, 1966

In 1966, the press sensed a credibility gap between what Johnson was saying in press conferences and what was happening in the Vietnam War, which led to less favorable coverage of Johnson and his administration.[191]

By the end of 1966, 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.[192] 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 his diminished popularity, Johnson said, "I am a dominating personality, and when I get things done I don't always please all the people."[193] Johnson also blamed the press, saying they showed "complete irresponsibility and lie and misstate facts and have no one to be answerable to", and "the preachers, liberals and professors" who had turned against him.[194]

In the congressional elections of 1966, the Republicans gained three seats in the Senate and 47 in the House, reinvigorating the conservative coalition, which made it more difficult for Johnson to pass additional Great Society legislation. However, Congress ultimately passed almost 96 percent of the administration's Great Society programs.[195]

Vietnam War


At Kennedy's death, there were 16,000 American military personnel in Vietnam supporting South Vietnam in the war against North Vietnam.[196] Vietnam had been partitioned at the 1954 Geneva Conference, with North Vietnam led by a Communist government. Johnson subscribed to the Domino Theory and to a containment policy that required the United States to make a serious effort to stop all Communist expansion.[197] 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.[198] 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 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 wanted to keep discussions about Vietnam out of the 1964 presidential campaign, he felt obligated to respond, and sought and obtained from 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, as Truman received by proceeding without congressional endorsement of military action in the Korean War. Responding to the purported attack also blunted campaign criticism of Johnson's perceived weakness, which was the political messaging of Barry Goldwater, Johnson's Republican opponent. 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 Vietnam's independence through material and advice, as opposed to any offensive posture.[199] 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.[145]

In the 1964 presidential campaign, Johnson restated his determination to provide measured support for Vietnam while avoiding another Korea, but privately had a sense that no matter what he did, things were likely to end badly. He had great passion for 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, and an attack on Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam.[200] Johnson decided against retaliatory action after consultation with the Joint Chiefs and after public pollster Lou Harris confirmed that his decision would not detrimentally impact him in the 1964 presidential election.[201] By the end of 1964, there were approximately 23,000 military personnel in South Vietnam; U.S. casualties for 1964 totaled 1,278.[196]

Over the winter of 1964 and 1965, Johnson was pressured by the military to begin a bombing campaign to forcefully resist a communist takeover in South Vietnam. A plurality in the polls at the time was in favor of military action, with only 26 to 30 percent opposed.[202] Johnson revised his priorities, and a new preference for stronger action came at the end of January, along with another change of the government in South Vietnam. Johnson agreed with McGeorge Bundy and McNamara that a continued passive role would lead to defeat and 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".[203]


Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and General Westmoreland in Da Nang in August 1965 as Johnson was preparing to commence a systematic bombing campaign, known as Operation Rolling Thunder, in the Vietnam War

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 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.[204] 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.[205]

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 authorized a change in mission from defensive to offensive operations; he nevertheless insisted that this was not to be publicly represented as a policy change.[206]

By mid-June, the total U.S. ground forces in Vietnam had increased to 82,000 or by 150 percent.[207] 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.[208] Westmoreland recommended that Johnson increase ground troops even further, to 175,000. After consulting with his principals, Johnson announced in a press conference that he had decided to increase U.S. troops to 125,000, which was slightly less aggressively than Westmoreland recommended, with additional forces to be sent later upon request. Johnson described himself at the time as boxed in by unpalatable choices: sending Americans to die in Vietnam and being attacked as an interventionist, or giving in to the communists and risking being impeached. He continued to insist that his decision "did not imply any change in policy whatsoever". 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."[209] By October 1965, over 200,000 troops were deployed in Vietnam.[210]

On November 8, 1965, Johnson underwent surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital to remove his gallbladder and a kidney stone. After the procedure, Johnson's doctors reported that the president had come through the surgery "beautifully as expected."[211] He was able to resume his duties the following day, and he met with reporters a couple of days later to reassure the nation that he was recovering well. Although Johnson was incapacitated during surgery, there was no transfer of presidential power to Vice President Humphrey, since no constitutional procedure then existed to do so. The Twenty-fifth Amendment, which Congress sent to the states for ratification four months earlier, included such provisions, but was not ratified until 1967.[212][213]


Johnson awarding a medal to a U.S. soldier during a visit to South Vietnam in 1966

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 Senate Armed Services Committee, declared in June 1966 that it was time to "get it over or get out". Johnson responded, telling media, "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 opponent of his Vietnam War policies in Congress was James William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations,[216] who convened a series of public hearings in February on the progress of the war.[217] Johnson began to seriously consider a more focused bombing campaign against North Vietnam's petroleum, oil, and lubrication facilities 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 U.S. Defense Department study indicated that the bombing campaign was having minimal impact on North Vietnam.[220]

In fall 1966, multiple sources reported 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 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 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, including representatives from South Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand.[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 as approval for Johnson's Vietnam policies reached 63 percent in November. The following month, in December, however, Johnson's Vietnam approval rating fell back down to the 40s; Johnson had become anxious about his ability to justify further war casualties, and he talked of the need for a decisive victory despite the growing unpopularity of the war.[225] 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".[226]

By the end of 1966, it was clear that pacification efforts, like the bombing campaign, were proving ineffective. Johnson agreed to McNamara's new recommendation to add 70,000 troops in 1967 to the 400,000 previously that were already in Vietnam. While McNamara recommended no increased bombings, Johnson agreed with CIA recommendations to increase the bombings.[227] Despite initial secret talks being held with North Vietnam in Saigon, Hanoi, and Warsaw, the bombings increased, which led to a discontinuation of the talks, which North Vietnam labeled as not genuine.[228]


Vietnam War protestors march at the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., on October 21, 1967, as support for the Vietnam War was falling and the anti-Vietnam War movement was increasing

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 U.S. withdrawal.[229] A Gallup poll in July 1967 showed that 52 percent of Americans disapproved of the president's handling of the war, and only 34 percent thought progress was being made.[230] 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.[231] 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".[232] 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 about the conflict that provided hope of improvement, though those were of questionable reliability. Meantime, the CIA was reporting wide food shortages in Hanoi and an unstable power grid, as well as military manpower reductions.[233]

By mid-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 next steps in the war. At the time, the war was being described by media and others as having reached 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".[234] Though Westmoreland sought the deployment of additional U.S. troops, Johnson agreed to an increase of 55,000 troops, fewer than Westmoreland sought, which brought the total number of U.S. troops deployed in Vietnam to 525,000.[235] In August, Johnson, with support from the Joint Chiefs', chose to expand the air campaign, exempting only Hanoi, Haiphong, and a buffer zone with China from its list of targets.[236] In September, Ho Chi Minh and North Vietnamese premier Pham Van Dong appeared amenable to French mediation, leading Johnson to cease bombing in a 10-mile zone around Hanoi. In a Texas speech, known as the "San Antonio formula", Johnson agreed to halt all bombing if Ho Chi Minh would launch productive discussions and if North Vietnam would not seek to take advantage of the halt. North Vietnam was unresponsive to the proposal, but Johnson pursued the possibility of negotiations and paused the bombings.[237]

With the war still arguably in a stalemate and with growing and widespread disapproval of the conflict, Johnson convened a group called the "Wise Men" for an in-depth look at the war, including Dean Acheson, General Omar Bradley, George Ball, McGeorge Bundy, Arthur Dean, C. Douglas Dillon, Abe Fortas, Averell Harriman, Henry Cabot Lodge, Robert Daniel Murphy, and Maxwell D. Taylor.[238] At the time, McNamara reversed his position on the Vietnam War, recommending a cap of 525,000 on the number of forces deployed and that the bombing be halted since he saw no military progress from it. This recommendation agitated Johnson, and McNamara soon resigned. Except for George Ball, the "Wise Men" all agreed the administration should "press forward".[239] Johnson was confident that Hanoi would await the 1968 U.S. election results before deciding to negotiate.[240]

On June 23, 1967, Johnson traveled to Los Angeles for a Democratic fundraiser. Thousands of anti-war protesters led by a coalition of peace protestors tried to march past the hotel where he was speaking. 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. When the march slowed, a police order was given to disperse the crowd. The riot act was read and 51 protestors arrested.[241][242] The Los Angeles demonstration was one of the first massive war protests in the United States, and the first in Los Angeles. The demonstration ended with protesters clashing with riot police, setting a pattern for the massive anti-Vietnam War protests that followed.[243] Due to the size and violence of this event, Johnson attempted no further public speeches outside military bases.[243][242]

In October, with ever-increasing public protests against the war, Johnson engaged the FBI and the CIA to investigate, monitor, and undermine anti-war activists.[244] In mid-October, there was a demonstration of 100,000 at the Pentagon; Johnson and Dean Rusk were convinced that foreign communist sources were behind the demonstration, but that was refuted in the CIA's findings.[245]


Walt Rostow, Johnson's national security advisor, meeting with Johnson in the Situation Room in 1968, where the two reviewed a map of the region where the Battle of Khe Sanh was being waged

On January 30, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army launched the Tet Offensive against South Vietnam's five largest cities, including Saigon and the U.S. embassy there. While the Tet Offensive failed militarily, it was a psychological victory, definitively turning American public opinion against the war. Iconically, Walter Cronkite of CBS News, voted the nation's "most trusted person" in February, opined on the air that the conflict was deadlocked. Johnson allegedly reacted by saying "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America".[246] [247] 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.[248] 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".[249] 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 announced, "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President".[250]

In March, Johnson decided to restrict future bombing with the result that 75 percent of North Vietnam's territory, containing 90 percent of its population, 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,[251] which after two months were no more productive.[252]

As casualties mounted and success seemed less immediately possible, Johnson's popularity plummeted. College students and others protested, burned draft cards, and chanted, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"[197] 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 converged to protest.[253] 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".[254]

Despite recommendations in August from Harriman, Vance, Clifford, and Bundy to halt bombing as an incentive for Hanoi to engage in substantive peace talks, Johnson refused.[255] 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 until after the election.[256] After the election, Johnson's primary focus on Vietnam was to get Saigon to join the Paris peace talks. Only after Nixon added his urging did they do so. Even then they argued about procedural matters until after Nixon took office.[257]

Surveillance of Martin Luther King


Johnson continued the FBI's wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr. authorized by the Kennedy administration under Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.[258] Johnson also authorized the tapping of phone conversations of others, including the Vietnamese friends of a Nixon associate.[259]

International trips

Countries visited by Johnson during his presidency

Johnson made eleven international trips to twenty countries during his presidency.[260] 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.[261] One of the most unusual international trips in presidential history occurred before Christmas 1967. The President began the trip by going to the memorial for Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, who was presumed drowned in a swimming accident. 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.[citation needed]

1968 presidential election

Johnson meeting with Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon in the White House in July 1968

In early January 1968, Johnson asked former speechwriter Horace Busby to draft a statement announcing his withdrawal from the 1968 presidential election to be included in his upcoming State of the Union address, but Johnson ultimately did not include it.

Since Johnson had served less than 24 months of President Kennedy's term, he was constitutionally permitted to run for a second full term in 1968.[262][263] Initially, no prominent Democratic candidate was prepared to run against a sitting Democratic president. 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, which was scheduled to hold the next primary, showed Johnson, who had not left the White House to campaign, trailing badly.[citation needed]

In 1968, Johnson found himself losing control of his party, which was splitting into four generally antagonistic factions. The first consisted of Johnson (and Humphrey), labor unions, and local party bosses led by Richard J. Daley, the mayor of Chicago. The second 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 F. Kennedy. The fourth group was traditionally segregationist white Southerners, who rallied behind George C. Wallace and the American Independent Party. Varying positions on the Vietnam War was one of several issues that splintered the party, and Johnson saw no way to win the war[197] or unite the party long enough to win re-election.[264]

Although it was not made public at the time, Johnson was worried about his failing health and was concerned that he might not live through another term. The previous year, in 1967, he secretly commissioned an actuarial study that accurately predicted he would die at age 64.[265]

On March 28, spurred by his health issues and the growing realization that his political capital was vanishing, Johnson again considered withdrawing and discussed the possibility with Joseph A. Califano Jr and Harry McPherson.[266] Three days after meeting with Califano and McPherson, Johnson announced that "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."[267] The next day, the president's approval ratings increased from 36 percent to 49 percent.[268]

After Robert Kennedy's assassination, Johnson rallied the party bosses and unions to nominate Humphrey at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Personal correspondences between the President and some Republicans suggested Johnson tacitly supported Nelson Rockefeller's campaign. He reportedly said that if Rockefeller became the Republican nominee, he would not campaign against him.[269]

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. A week later, on November 5, Republican candidate Richard Nixon won the 1968 presidential election.

Judicial appointments

Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall, the first African American justice, to the Supreme Court.

Johnson appointed Justices Abe Fortas (1965) and Thurgood Marshall (1967) 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 to provide him with inside information, as he was able to get from the legislative branch. Abe Fortas in particular 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.[270] 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.[citation needed]

Post-presidency (1969–1973)

Johnson with longer hair during an interview in August 1972, five months before his death

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.

— Historian Michael Beschloss[271]

After leaving the presidency in January 1969, Johnson went home to his ranch in Stonewall, Texas, accompanied by 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, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963–1969, published in 1971.[272] 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 it "remain a working ranch and not become a sterile relic of the past".[273]

Johnson gave Nixon high grades in foreign policy, but worried that his successor was being pressured into removing U.S. forces 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.[274]

During the 1972 presidential election, Johnson only reluctantly endorsed Democratic nominee George McGovern, a senator from South Dakota; McGovern had long opposed Johnson's foreign and defense policies. The McGovern nomination and platform dismayed him. Nixon could be defeated, Johnson insisted, "if only the Democrats don't go too far left".[265] Johnson felt Edmund Muskie would be more likely to defeat Nixon; however, he declined 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.[275]

Failing health

Johnson wearing a cowboy hat at his ranch in Texas, 1972

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. Johnson had also resumed smoking, having not smoked since his near-fatal heart attack in July 1955. The following summer, again gripped by chronic chest pains, he lost 15 pounds (6.8 kg) in less than a month on a crash diet.[citation needed]

In April 1972, Johnson had another heart attack while visiting his daughter, Lynda, in Virginia. "I'm hurting real bad",[265] he confided to friends. The chest pains returned nearly every afternoon ‍—‌ 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 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. Johnson flew to Houston to consult with heart specialist Michael DeBakey, where he learned his condition was terminal. DeBakey found that despite two of Johnson's coronary arteries being in urgent need of a coronary bypass, the former president's heart was in such poor condition that he likely would have died during surgery.[274]

Death and funeral

President Richard Nixon paying his last tributes to his predecessor Former President Johnson in 1973.
Johnson's grave

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, and told Cronkite that it was better for his heart "to smoke than to be nervous".[276]

At approximately 3:40 P.M. Central on January 22, 1973, Johnson suffered his final 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 "appear[ing] to be dead".[277] They attempted resuscitation, and Johnson was airlifted in one of his planes to San Antonio International Airport, en route to Brooke Army Medical Center. However, cardiologist and Army colonel George McGranahan pronounced him dead on arrival at the airport at 4:33 P.M. Johnson was 64.[277]

Shortly after the former president was pronounced dead, Johnson's press secretary Tom Johnson (no relation) telephoned Cronkite to tell him. Cronkite was anchoring CBS Evening News live at the moment Johnson reached him, which enabled him to report on President Johnson's death as he received direct information.[278] Nixon mentioned Johnson's death in a speech he gave the day after Johnson died, announcing the peace agreement to end the Vietnam War.[279][280]



After lying in repose at his presidential library, Johnson was honored with a state funeral. Texas Congressman J. J. Pickle and former Secretary of State Dean Rusk eulogized him when he lay in state at the Capitol.[281][282] The funeral took place on January 25 at the National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., where he had often worshiped as president. The service was presided over by President Nixon and attended by foreign dignitaries, led by Eisaku Satō, who had served as Japanese prime minister during Johnson's presidency.[283] Eulogies were given by George Davis, the church's pastor, and W. Marvin Watson, Johnson's last Postmaster General and a longtime advisor.[284]

Johnson was buried in his family's private cemetery at the house in which he was born. Eulogies were given by former Texas governor Connally and 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, beginning with Richard Nixon's second inauguration following the 1972 election.[285] As Johnson died only two days after the inauguration,[282][285] the remainder of the ceremonies surrounding the inauguration were cancelled to allow for a full state funeral,[285] and many of the military men who participated in the inauguration took part in the funeral.[285] 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.[282]

Personality and public image


According to biographer Randall Woods, Johnson posed in many different roles:

"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".[286]

Johnson had his particular brand of persuasion, known as "The Johnson Treatment".[287] "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. He was often seen as an ambitious, tireless, and imposing figure who was ruthlessly effective at getting legislation passed. He typically worked 18- to 20-hour days without a break and had no regular leisure activities. He stood 6 feet 3.5 inches (1.918 m) tall.[288][289][290]

Johnson's cowboy hat and boots reflected his Texas roots and 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 cattle. The National Park Service keeps a herd descended from Johnson's and maintains the ranch property.[291]

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, and explicitly inspired his foreign-policy approach to Christian internationalism and nation-building. For example, in a 1966 speech he quoted at length from the Social Creed of the Methodist Church, adding "It would be very hard for me to write a more perfect description of the American ideal."[292]


Front view of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum located on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin, Texas

Scholars have viewed Johnson through the lens of both his legislative achievements and his lack of success in the Vietnam War. His overall rating among historians has remained relatively steady, and his average ranking is higher than any of the eight presidents who followed him, although similar to Reagan and Clinton.[293] In public polling of presidential favorability of Johnson and the presidents who succeeded him Johnson tends to appear more towards the bottom of lists, typically excepting George W. Bush and Richard Nixon, and sometimes Gerald Ford.

Historian Kent Germany explains:

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."[294]



The Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston was renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1973,[295] and the United States Department of Education headquarters was named after Johnson in 2007.[296] The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin was named in his honor, as is the Lyndon B. Johnson National Grassland. Also named for him are schools in Austin and Laredo, Texas; Melbourne, Florida; and Jackson, Kentucky. Interstate 635 in Dallas is named the Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway. The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac was dedicated in 1976.

Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1980.[297] Texas created a state holiday on August 27 to mark Johnson's birthday, known as Lyndon Baines Johnson Day.[298]

Major legislation signed


Significant regulatory changes

  • 1968: FCC creates national emergency number 9-1-1


  • National Aeronautics and Space Act (1962)[306]
  • Choices We Face (1969)[307]
  • The Vantage Point (1971)[308]

See also



  1. ^ Johnson was vice president under John F. Kennedy and became president upon Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963. As this was prior to the adoption of the Twenty-fifth Amendment in 1967, a vacancy in the office of vice president was not filled until the next ensuing election and inauguration.
  2. ^ President Grant, on October 17, 1871, suspended habeas corpus in nine South Carolina counties, sent in troops, and prosecuted the Klan in the federal district court.


  1. ^ "Lyndon Baines Johnson, 37th Vice President (1961–1963)". US Senate. Archived from the original on July 24, 2019. Retrieved October 5, 2019.
  2. ^ Guderzo, Max (August 9, 2006). "Johnson and European integration: A missed chance for transatlantic power". Cold War History. 4 (2): 89–114. doi:10.1080/14682740412331391825. ISSN 1468-2745. S2CID 154907129. Retrieved February 17, 2023.
  3. ^ "George Wallace and the 1968 Election". Retrieved May 27, 2021.
  4. ^ Kalk, Bruce H. (1994). "Wormley's Hotel Revisited: Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy and the End of the Second Reconstruction". The North Carolina Historical Review. 71 (1): 85–105. ISSN 0029-2494. JSTOR 23521324.
  5. ^ Powell, John A. "The New Southern Strategy". Othering & Belonging Institute. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved April 11, 2022.
  6. ^ Mason, Robert (2005). ""I Was Going to Build a New Republican Party and a New Majority": Richard Nixon as Party Leader, 1969-73" (PDF). Journal of American Studies. 39 (3): 463–483. doi:10.1017/S0021875805000617. hdl:20.500.11820/361235a1-ebf6-45b0-b0f6-7be2e83e0767. ISSN 0021-8758. JSTOR 27557693. S2CID 146442665. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 15, 2023.
  7. ^ Brown, Frank (2004). "Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and Forces against Brown". The Journal of Negro Education. 73 (3): 191–208. doi:10.2307/4129605. ISSN 0022-2984. JSTOR 4129605.
  8. ^ Meier, August (1956). "The Negro and the Democratic Party, 1875-1915". Phylon. 17 (2): 173–191. doi:10.2307/272592. ISSN 0885-6818. JSTOR 272592.
  9. ^ "Biographies of Presidents – Lyndon Johnson". The Presidents of the USA. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  10. ^ a b Dallek, Robert. "Presidency: How Do Historians Evaluate the Administration of Lyndon Johnson?". History News Network. Archived from the original on January 9, 2021. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  11. ^ "Survey of Presidential Leadership – Lyndon Johnson". C-SPAN. Archived from the original on February 9, 2011. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  12. ^ "Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park: LBJ Ranch District" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  13. ^ "JOHNSON, REBEKAH BAINES". Texas State Historical Association. June 15, 2010. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  14. ^ Johnson, Rebekah Baines (1965). A Family Album. McGraw Hill.
  15. ^ Newlon, Clarke (1970). L. B. J., the man from Johnson City. Dodd, Mead. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-396-04983-8.
  16. ^ "Lyndon B. Johnson". The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Archived from the original on November 13, 2013. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  17. ^ "George Washington Baines". Baylor University. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  18. ^ "Religion and President Johnson". Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Archived from the original on December 5, 2000. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  19. ^ Banta, Joseph (January 1964). "President Lyndon B. Johnson". The Christadelphian. 101: 26.
  20. ^ a b Braver, Rita (January 22, 2023). "LBJ and his monumental presidency". CBS News. Retrieved January 22, 2023.
  21. ^ Greenbaum, Patty; Lewis, Lisa; Drake, Anne; Loven, Zazel, eds. (1990). Yearbook. New York, NY: Dolphin. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-385-41625-2.
  22. ^ Woods 2006, pp. 44–48
  23. ^ The Student Editorials of Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ Common Experience, Paper 1. 1968. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  24. ^ Van Oudekerke, Rodney (2011). Historic San Marcos: An Illustrated History. San Antonio, TX: Historical Publishing Network. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-9353-7740-5 – via Google Books.
  25. ^ Fredericks, Janet Patricia (1982). "I". The Educational Views of Lyndon Baines Johnson Prior to His Presidency (PhD). Loyola University Chicago. p. 6.
  26. ^ "President Lyndon B. Johnson's Biography". Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Archived from the original on January 18, 2012. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  27. ^ "Remarks at Southwest Texas State College Upon Signing the Higher Education Act of 1965". Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Archived from the original on July 14, 2007. Retrieved April 11, 2006.
  28. ^ Woods 2006, pp. 69, 73–75
  29. ^ Woods 2006, pp. 76–80
  30. ^ Woods 2006, pp. 87–88
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Works cited

  • Bernstein, Irving (1996). Guns or Butter: The Presidency of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195063127.
  • Caro, Robert (1982). The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-679-72945-7.
  • Caro, Robert (1990). The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-52835-9.
  • Caro, Robert (2002). The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master Of The Senate. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-72095-1.
  • Caro, Robert (2012). The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-71325-5.
  • Dallek, Robert (1991). Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908–1960. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195079043.
  • Dallek, Robert (1998). Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961–1973. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-505465-1.
  • Gould, Lewis L. (2010). 1968: The Election That Changed America. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. ISBN 978-1-56663-862-3.
  • Reeves, Richard (1993). President Kennedy: Profile of Power. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-64879-4.
  • Walsh, Kenneth T. (2003). Air Force One: a history of the presidents and their planes. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 978-1-4013-0004-3.
  • Woods, Randall (2006). LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-0-684-83458-0.

Further reading

  • Andrew, John A. (1999). Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. ISBN 978-1-56663-185-3. OCLC 37884743.
  • Berman, Larry (1991). Lyndon Johnson's War: The Road to Stalemate in Vietnam.
  • Bornet, Vaughn Davis (1983). The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-0242-1.
  • Brands, H.W. (1997). The Wages of Globalism: Lyndon Johnson and the Limits of American Power. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-511377-8.
  • Cohen, Warren I.; Tuckerm, Nancy Bernkopf, eds. (1994). Lyndon Johnson Confronts the World: American Foreign Policy 1963–1968. Cambridge University Press.
  • Colman, Jonathan (2010). The Foreign Policy of Lyndon B. Johnson: The United States and the World, 1963–1969 (PDF). Edinburgh University Press.
  • Dallek, Robert (2004). Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-1-280-50296-5., abridged version of his two-volume biography
  • Ellis, Sylvia (2013). Freedom's Pragmatist: Lyndon Johnson and Civil Rights. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.
  • Gavin, Francis J.; Lawrence, Mark Atwood, eds. (2014). Beyond the Cold War: Lyndon Johnson and the New Global Challenges of the 1960s. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199790692.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-979069-2.
  • Lichtenstein, Nelson, ed. (1976). Political Profiles: The Johnson Years. short biographies of 400+ key politicians
  • Schulman, Bruce J. (1995). Lyndon B. Johnson and American Liberalism: A Brief Biography with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-08351-9.
  • Schwarz, Jordan A. (2011). The New Dealers: Power politics in the age of Roosevelt. Vintage. pp. 364–284. ISBN 9780679747819.
  • Vandiver, Frank E. (1997). Shadows of Vietnam: Lyndon Johnson's Wars.
  • Woods, Randall B. (2016). Prisoners of Hope: Lyndon B. Johnson, the Great Society, and the Limits of Liberalism.
  • Zarefsky, David (1986). President Johnson's War on Poverty.


  • Catsam, Derek (2007). "The Civil Rights Movement and the Presidency in the Hot Years of the Cold War: A Historical and Historiographical Assessment". History Compass. 6 (1): 314–344. doi:10.1111/j.1478-0542.2007.00486.x.
  • Germany, Kent B. (2009). "Historians and the Many Lyndon Johnsons: A Review Essay". Journal of Southern History. 75 (4): 1001–1028. JSTOR 27779121.
  • Lerner, Mitchell B. (2012). A Companion to Lyndon B. Johnson. scholarly essays on all aspects of Johnson's career.