Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908 – January 22, 1973), often referred to as LBJ, was an American politician who served as the 36th President of the United States from 1963 to 1969, assuming the office after serving as the 37th Vice President of the United States under President John F. Kennedy from 1961 to 1963.
- A Democrat from Texas, he also served as a United States Representative and as the Majority Leader in the United States Senate. Johnson is one of only four people who have served in all four federal elected positions.
- Born in a farmhouse in Stonewall, Texas, Johnson was a high school teacher and worked as a Congressional aide before winning election to the House of Representatives in 1937. He won election to the Senate in 1948, and was appointed the position of Senate Majority Whip in 1951.
- He became the Senate Minority Leader in 1953 and the Senate Majority Leader in 1955. As a leader in the Senate, Johnson became known for his domineering personality and the “Johnson treatment”, his aggressive coercion of powerful politicians to advance legislation.
- Johnson ran for the Democratic nomination in the 1960 presidential election. Although unsuccessful, he accepted the invitation of then-Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts to be his running mate. They went on to win a close election over the Republican ticket of Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., and Johnson was sworn in as Vice President on January 20, 1961.
- On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas, and died the same day while hospitalized; Johnson succeeded Kennedy as president. The following year, Johnson won a landslide in 1964, defeating Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.
In domestic policy, Johnson designed the “Great Society” legislation by expanding civil rights, public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, aid to education, the arts, urban and rural development, public services, and his “War on Poverty.”
- Assisted in part by a growing economy, the War on Poverty helped millions of Americans rise above the poverty line during his administration.
- Civil rights bills that he signed into law banned racial discrimination in public facilities, interstate commerce, the workplace, and housing; the Voting Rights Act prohibited certain requirements in southern states used to disenfranchise African Americans.
- With the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the country’s immigration system was reformed, encouraging greater immigration from regions other than Europe. Johnson’s presidency marked the peak of modern liberalism after the New Deal era.
In foreign policy, Johnson escalated American involvement in the Vietnam War.
- In 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted Johnson the power to use military force in Southeast Asia without having to ask for an official declaration of war.
- The number of American military personnel in Vietnam increased dramatically, from 16,000 advisors in non-combat roles in 1963 to 525,000 in 1967, many in combat roles. American casualties soared and the peace process bogged down.
- Growing unease with the war stimulated a large, angry antiwar movement based especially on university campuses.
Johnson faced further troubles when summer riots broke out in most major cities after 1965, and crime rates soared, as his opponents raised demands for “law and order” policies.
- While he began his presidency with widespread approval, support for Johnson declined as the public became upset with both the war and the growing violence at home.
- In 1968, the Democratic Party factionalized as antiwar elements denounced Johnson; he ended his bid for renomination after a disappointing finish in the New Hampshire primary.
- Nixon was elected to succeed him, as the New Deal coalition that had dominated presidential politics for 36 years collapsed. After he left office in January 1969, Johnson returned to his Texas ranch, where he died of a heart attack at age 64 on January 22, 1973.
Johnson is ranked favorably by many historians because of his domestic policies and the passage of many major laws that affected civil rights, gun control, wilderness preservation, and Social Security. He also drew substantial criticism for his handling of the Vietnam War.
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Words of Wisdom
A president's hardest task is not to do what is right, but to know what is right.