Much of Johnson's Presidency was dominated by Vietnam. His most significant long-lasting policies were part of his idea of a "Great Society," which resulted in programs like Medicaid, as well as the elimination of legal discrimination against Blacks.
The Early Years
Lyndon Johnson was born in a farmhouse on the Pedernales River near Johnson City, Texas. Johnson grew up amidst poverty. He was taught by his mother to read by age four. He attended public schools in Johnson City, graduating from Johnson City High School in 1924. He spent two years traveling around California in a Model T Ford automobile doing odd jobs. He returned home in 1926. Between 1927 and 1930, Johnson attended Southwest Texas State Teachers College. After teaching for a short time following his graduation, Johnson became secretary to Democratic Representative Richard Kleberg.
In 1934 Johnson became the Director of the National Youth Administration in Texas. The Administration provided technical training and local public works jobs for thousands of Texans during the Depression.
In 1937, Johnson won a special election for the House of Representatives, for an area around Austin, Texas. Johnson was a strong supporter of President Roosevelt. He was not as a avid a supporter of Truman, voting against the President in some cases including participating in the overriding of Truman's veto of the Taft-Hartley Act.
Johnson was elected to the Senate in 1948. In the Democratic Primary, Johnson won by just 87 votes.
Johnson served on many prestigious committees in the Senate. In 1951, Johnson was elected Minority Whip of the Senate. In 1953, he became the minority leader. When the Democrats achieved control of the Senate in 1955, Johnson became Senate Majority Leader. He was 46 at the time, and was the youngest Majority Leader ever. He was effective in that role, often keeping the Senate in session into the night to complete its work. In 1957 he helped engineer the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Acts. This foreshadowed his future strong position on civil rights.
Johnson was a leading candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1960, but he lost to John F. Kennedy. Kennedy then chose Johnson as his running mate. Johnson reluctantly accepted. As Vice President, he traveled extensively. In Dallas, Vice President Johnson was riding two cars behind President Kennedy when the President was assassinated.
Accomplishments in Office
President Johnson's Presidency will be remembered for the "Great Society" programs for which he wanted to be remembered, and for the Vietnam War, which eventually forced his resignation.
Johnson's Great Society program was designed to fight poverty in the United States. It consisted of a series of legislation which included the Job Corps, to provide vocational training for disadvantaged youth; Volunteers in Service of America (VISTA) - a domestic Peace Corps; Head Start, to instruct disadvantaged preschoolers, among other programs. The other part of the Great Society program was the passage of civil rights legislation proposed by the Kennedy Administration. The legislation included voting rights legislation that increased minority voting. In addition, the Civil Rights Law outlawed discrimination in all aspects of American society. The Justice Department actively enforced this legislation. Between 1964 and 1967 race riots broke out on a regular basis.
During the Johnson Presidency, Medicare and Medicaid were established to provide medical insurance for those over 65 and those too poor to pay. During the Johnson Administration, the first environmental legislation was passed.
Johnson's Presidency was dominated by the Vietnam War. Johnson received broad Congressional approval to prevent further aggression against US forces and the South Vietnamese people. After an American base was attacked, the United States responded with a sustained air attack on targets in North Vietnam that became known as Rolling Thunder. At that point, President Johnson dispatched American ground troops to Vietnam. Their numbers grew from 180,000 at the end of 1965 to 550,000 in 1968. In January, 1968, the Communists launched the Tet offensive. The offensive was a military failure but a tremendous psychological success for the Vietnamese. Anti- war demonstrations increased at home and finally, in 1968, Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection.
The First Family
Father: Sam Ely Johnson Jr.
Mother: Rebekah Bains Johnson
Wife: Lady Bird Johnson
Daughters: Lynda Bird & Lucy Baines
Secretary of State: Dean Rusk
Secretaries of Treasury: Douglas Dillon, Henry Fowler, Joseph Barr
Secretaries of Defense: Robert McNamara, Clark Clifford
Attorney Generals: Robert Kennedy, Nicholas Katzenbach
Postmaster Generals: John Gronouski, Lawrence O'brien, Marvin Watson
Secretry of Interior: Stewart Udall
Secretary of Agriculutre: Orville Freem
Secretary of Commerce: Luther Hodges, John Connor, Alexander Trowbridge
Secretary of Labor: Williard Wirtz
Secretary of Health, Ed., and Welfare: Anthony Celebreze, John Gardner, Wilbur Cohen
Secretary of Housing and Urban Dev.: Robert Weaver, Rover Wood
Secretary of Transportation: Alan Boyd
Did You Know?
First President to take the oath of office in an airplane.
First President to be sworn in by a woman.
First Democratic President to carry Vermont.