Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973) was the 36th President
of the United States
. He was a shrewd and somewhat dirty politician, sometimes going so far as to rig elections. He inherited the presidency when John F. Kennedy
was killed in 1963, and was re-elected in 1964. He decided not to seek re-election in 1968. His wife, "Lady Bird" Johnson
, was famous for her efforts in the beautification of America. Though Johnson made many civil rights reforms during his terms in office, he will always be remembered more for his involvement in the Vietnam War
Johnson was born on August 27, 1908 on his family's farm near Johnson City, Texas. His father, Sam Johnson, had served on the Texas state legislature for quite a while but eventually decided to retire to a quiet life as a farmer. This life led the Johnson family into poverty. Johnson would never forget his humble beginnings and he would push for legislation that benefitted the poor throughout his career. Throughout Johnson's early years, he made it quite clear how ambitious he was, but he did not excel in school. After graduating high school, he was refused admission to college. Johnson worked in a few menial jobs near his home in Texas and on the road in California. Eventually Johnson was arrested after he started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Having learned a little more about the world, Johnson was accepted to and enrolled in Southwest Texas State University in 1927.
Johnson graduated from Southwest Texas State with his degree in history after three years. He went immediately into a teaching job were he taught a group of Hispanic students. He encouraged his students to achieve the best of their potential and they responded very positively. It was here that Johnson obtained a sympathy for minorities and began to fully understand the problems of racism that plagued his students' lives. Johnson's career in education was short-lived; his father had connections and Johnson was able to get a job as a clerk for a Texan Congressman in Washington. Johnson assisted him to the best of his ability and impressed all of the right people.
Johnson's solid reputation as a hard worker earned him the title of director of the National Youth Administration in Texas. On a visit home to see his family, Johnson met Lady Bird and proposed to her almost immediately after meeting her. Lady Bird's family fortune would be a major advantage to Johnson as his political career advanced.
Johnson campaigned for the United States House of Representatives in 1937. He ran on the platform of social reform and belief in Franklin Roosevelt's domestic policies. Johnson wanted to step up to the Senate as soon as possible, and his ambition hindered him from being the best Representative he could be. He pushed for much legislation to be passed for internal improvements and other social reforms. He ran for Senator in 1941 but lost to the Governor of Texas, W. Lee O'Daniel. Both candidates attempted to tamper with the election, but O'Daniel was much more successful. With that experience leaving a bad taste in his mouth, Johnson was determined to win a Senate seat.
After 12 years in the House of Representatives, Johnson finally won his Senate seat in 1949, which he would occupy for another 12 years. Johnson's amazingly quick political climb continued. In 1951, he became the Democratic Party whip. Two years after that, many Democrats were removed from their Senate positions and Johnson was able to become the Senate Minority Leader. In 1954, when the Democrats regained power in the Senate and Johnson re-elected, he became the Senate Majority Leader. He had risen to be the most powerful Senator in a little more than six years. Johnson's techniques in convincing senators to vote his way became famous. With Johnson as Senate Majority Leader, a lot of legislation was passed. The stage was set for Johnson to announce his candidacy for the vice presidency in 1952.
Johnson's bid for vice president did not succeed, and he failed again in 1956. The Democratic Party did not believe that the Texan would make a good running mate for Adlai Stevenson. However, when Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy received the nomination in 1960, Johnson was nominated to be his running mate. Though Johnson had his eyes set on running for President that year, he accepted. Johnson helped Kennedy carry key Southern states on his way to a very slim margin of victory over Richard M. Nixon.
Johnson assumed the presidency in 1963 after the assassination of Kennedy. One of the conspiracy theories behind Kennedy's assassination is that Johnson arranged to have Kennedy killed so he could be President. Of course, this is not very likely. Johnson took the oath of office making him President aboard Air Force One on the way back to Washington after the tragedy. He kept all of Kennedy's cabinet members and advisors, and began using his time as President wisely. Though Johnson was a new President, re-election in 1964 was not difficult for him at all. His opponent was the right-wing Republican Barry Goldwater. The Republican Party was split in 1964 between the moderates and conservatives, and Goldwater was a member of the latter. Many moderate Republicans voted for Johnson and he won by a landslide.
Johnson began his plans to pass major legislation for civil rights and implement his plan for a "Great Society". The major piece of legislation signed by Johnson was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This bill made racial segregation illegal. Johnson also took steps to end the denial of voting rights to minorities. Johnson made a new department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He placed an African American man, Robert Weaver, in charge of it. Many of these new policies were not well accepted by some conservatives and there was a great amount of backlash. Race riots occurred in many cities. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Never before had America seen such racial tension.
On top of all the domestic problems, Johnson was faced with international trouble. His predecessor had sent military advisors to Vietnam to help with the rising conflict there. Johnson committed more "advisors" there, but it was clear that this conflict would not subside. In 1964 his campaign promises included staying out of that very war. Johnson was faced with a dilemma: he could break his promise to the American people, or he could help contain the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. When an American ship was fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin, Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed almost unanimously and troops were officially sent to Vietnam. Congress never actually declared war on Vietnam, as the Resolution allowed the President to commit troops as he pleased. His decision quieted politicians and critics, but many lives were lost. The Tet Offensive brought a wave of despair over the American people and the popularity Johnson had worked so hard for was crumbling. Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy announced his candidacy for President, challenging the incumbent President for his own party's nomination. Shattered, Johnson announced that he would not accept nomination for the 1968 election. Richard M. Nixon was elected President in 1968, promising to end the war with some shrewd political moves.
His political career over, Johnson retired home to his ranch in Texas. He died after a short retirement in which he focused on writing his memoirs. Johnson passed away on January 22, 1973. He served his country during some rough times, and made decisions that he believed were right despite what effects they would have on his popularity. Regardless of whether or not he will be remembered as a good President, he will always be remembered as a strong leader.