Lyndon Baines Johnson Essay Research Paper Lyndon

Lyndon Baines Johnson Essay, Research Paper

Lyndon Baines Johnson


Johnson was born on Aug. 27, 1908, near Johnson City, Tex., the eldest son of

Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., and Rebekah Baines Johnson. His father, a struggling farmer and

cattle speculator in the hill country of Texas, provided only an uncertain income for his

family. Politically active, Sam Johnson served five terms in the Texas legislature. His

mother had varied cultural interests and placed high value on education; she was fiercely

ambitious for her children. Johnson attended public schools in Johnson City and received

a B.S. degree from Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos. He then

taught for a year in Houston before going to Washington in 1931 as secretary to a

democratic Texas congressman, Richard M. Kleberg. During the next 4 years Johnson

developed a wide network of political contacts in Washington, D.C. On Nov. 17, 1934,

he married Claudia Alta Taylor, known as “Lady Bird.” A warm, intelligent, ambitious

woman, she was a great asset to Johnson’s career. They had two daughters, Lynda Byrd,

born in 1944, and Luci Baines, born in 1947. In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt entered the

White House. Johnson greatly admired the president, who named him, at age 27, to head

the National Youth Administration in Texas. This job, which Johnson held from 1935

to 1937, entailed helping young people obtain employment and schooling. It confirmed

Johnson’s faith in the positive potential of government and won for him a group of

supporters in Texas.

In 1937, Johnson sought and won a Texas seat in Congress, where he championed

public works, reclamation, and public power programs. When war came to Europe he

backed Roosevelt’s efforts to aid the Allies. During World War II he served a brief tour

of active duty with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific (1941-42) but returned to Capitol Hill

when Roosevelt recalled members of Congress from active duty. Johnson continued to

support Roosevelt’s military and foreign-policy programs. During the 1940s, Johnson and

his wife developed profitable business ventures, including a radio station, in Texas.

In 1948 he ran for the U.S. Senate, winning the Democratic party primary by only

87 votes. (This was his second try; in 1941 he had run for the Senate and lost to a

conservative opponent.) The opposition accused him of fraud and tagged him “Landslide

Lyndon.” Although challenged, unsuccessfully, in the courts, he took office in 1949.

Johnson moved quickly into the Senate hierarchy. In 1953 he won the job of Senate

Democratic leader. The next year he was easily re-elected as senator and returned to

Washington as majority leader, a post he held for the next 6 years despite a serious heart

attack in 1955. The Texan proved to be a shrewd, skillful Senate leader. A consistent

opponent of civil rights legislation until 1957, he developed excellent personal

relationships with powerful conservative Southerners. A hard worker, he impressed

colleagues with his attention to the details of legislation and his willingness to


In the late 1950s, Johnson began to think seriously of running for the presidency in

1960. His record had been fairly conservative, however. Many Democratic liberals

resented his friendly association with the Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower;

others considered him a tool of wealthy Southwestern gas and oil interests. Either to

soften this image as a conservative or in response to inner conviction, Johnson moved

slightly to the left on some domestic issues, especially on civil rights laws, which he

supported in 1957 and 1960. Although these laws proved ineffective, Johnson had

demonstrated that he was a very resourceful Senate leader.

To many northern Democrats, however, Johnson remained a sectional candidate.

The presidential nomination of 1960 went to Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Kennedy, a northern Roman Catholic, then selected Johnson as his running mate to

balance the Democratic ticket. In November 1960 the Democrats defeated the

Republican candidates, Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, by a narrow margin.

Johnson was appointed by Kennedy to head the President’s Committee on Equal

Employment Opportunities, a post that enabled him to work on behalf of blacks and other

minorities. As vice-president, he also undertook some missions abroad, which offered

him some limited insights into international problems.

The assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, elevated Johnson

to the White House, where he quickly proved a masterful, reassuring leader in the realm

of domestic affairs. In 1964, Congress passed a tax-reduction law that promised to

promote economic growth and the Economic Opportunity Act, which launched the

program called the War on Poverty. Johnson was especially skillful in securing a strong

Civil Rights Act in 1964. In the years to come it proved to be a vital source of legal

authority against racial and sexual discrimination. In 1964 the Republicans nominated

Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona as their presidential nominee. Goldwater was

an extreme conservative in domestic policy and an advocate of strong military action to

protect American interests in Vietnam. Johnson had increased the number of U.S.

military personnel there from 16,000 at the time of Kennedy’s assassination to nearly

25,000 a year later. Contrasted to Goldwater, however, he seemed a model of restraint.

Johnson, with Hubert H. Humphrey as his running mate, ran a low-key campaign and

overwhelmed Goldwater in the election. The Arizonan won only his home state and five

others in the Deep South.

Johnson’s triumph in 1964 gave him a mandate for the Great Society, as he called

his domestic program. Congress responded by passing the MEDICARE program, which

provided health services to the elderly, approving federal aid to elementary and secondary

education, supplementing the War on Poverty, and creating the Department of Housing

and Urban Development. It also passed another important civil rights law — the Voting

Rights Act of 1965.

At this point Johnson began the rapid deepening of U.S. involvement in Vietnam; as

early as February 1965, U.S. planes began to bomb North Vietnam. American troop

strength in Vietnam increased to more than 180,000 by the end of the year and to 500,000

by 1968. Many influences led Johnson to such a policy . Among them were personal

factors such as his temperamental activism, faith in U.S. military power, and staunch

anti-communism. These qualities also led him to intervene militarily in the Dominican

Republic — allegedly to stop a Communist takeover — in April 1965. Like many

Americans who recalled the “appeasement” of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Johnson

thought the United States must be firm or incur a loss of credibility.

While the nation became deeply involved in Vietnam, racial tension sharpened at

home, culminating in widespread urban race riots between 1965 and 1968. The

breakdown of the interracial civil rights movement, together with the imperfections of

some of Johnson’s Great Society programs, resulted in Republican gains in the 1966

elections and effectively thwarted Johnson’s hope s for further congressional cooperation.

It was the policy of military escalation in Vietnam, however, that proved to be

Johnson’s undoing as president. It deflected attention from domestic concerns, resulted in

sharp inflation, and prompted rising criticism, especially among young, draft-aged people.

Escalation also failed to win the war. The drawn-out struggle made Johnson even more

secretive, dogmatic, and hypersensitive to criticism. His usually sure political instincts

were failing.

The New Hampshire presidential primary of 1968, in which the anti-war candidate

Eugene McCarthy made a strong showing, revealed the dwindling of Johnson’s support.

Some of Johnson’s closest advisors now began to counsel a de-escalation policy in

Vietnam. Confronted by mounting opposition, Johnson made two surprise

announcements on Mar. 31, 1968: he would stop the bombing in most of North Vietnam

and seek a negotiated end to the war, and he would no t run for re-election.

Johnson’s influence thereafter remained strong enough to dictate the nomination of

Vice-President Humphrey, who had supported the war, as the Democratic presidential

candidate for the 1968 election. Although Johnson stopped all bombing of the North on

November 1, he failed to make real concessions at the peace table, and the war dragged

on. Humphrey lost in a close race with the Republican candidate, Richard M. Nixon.

After stepping down from the presidency in January 1969, Johnson returned to his

ranch in Texas. There he and his aides prepared his memoirs, which were published in

1971 as The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963-1969. He also

supervised construction of the Johnson presidential library in Austin. Johnson died on

Jan. 22, 1973, 5 days before the conclusion of the treaty by which the United States

withdrew from Vietnam.



Evans, Rowland, and Novak, Robert, Lyndon B. Johnson, The Exercise of Power : A

Political Biography (1966);

Geyelin, Philip, Lyndon B. Johnson and the World (1966);

Goldman, Eric F., The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson (1969);

Kearns, Doris, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1976).


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