August 7, 1964
US Senate Approves
Tonkin Gulf Resolution
The United States Senate approves the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, authorizing the President to "take all necessary measures" to repel attacks against US forces and to "prevent further aggression" in the area. The Resolution provides President Johnson with a blank check to take whatever action he deems appropriate in South Vietnam. It is the only congressional action, other than approving military funding, ever taken during the Vietnam War to authorize American actions during the war.
The attack on the Maddox and the subsequent belief that the it had and the Turner Joy had been attacked a second time, presented President Johnson an opportunity to receive bi-partisan support for his actions in Vietnam. Being the consummate legislator Johnson wanted a resolution that would gain support from both doves and hawks, and at the same time give him as much freedom of action as possible.
Johnson relied on both Secretary of Defense McNamara to sell the bill with the Hawks and the Senate Foreign Relations Chairman William Fulbright to sell the bill to the doves. The approach worked and thus Johnson received wide support. Public opinion polls showed that over 80% of the public supported Johnson actions in Vietnam as did almost all of the editorial writers at the time. The House of Representative passed the resolution unanimously. On August 7, 1964 the Senate passed the resolution with only two dissenting votes.
The resolution gave Johnson wide discretion on how to respond to the North Vietnamese and was the legal basis of most of what the US did in Vietnam after that.