Lyndon B. 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. 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. 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. 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.
In 1948 he ran for the U.S. Senate, winning the Democratic Party primary by only 87 votes. 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. In the late 1950s, Johnson began to think seriously of running for the presidency in 1960. His record had been fairly conservative, however. The presidential nomination of 1960 went to Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kennedy 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. Kennedy appointed Johnson 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
Bibliography for Lyndon B. Johnson
DiBacco, Mason, and Christian Appy. History of The United States.
Evanston: McDougal Littell, 1997
Grolier Online. Encyclopedia Americana: Lyndon B. Johnson.
http://www.grolier.com/presidents/ea/bios/36pjohn.html, May 10, 1999
The White House Website. Johnson B., Lyndon, 36th President.
http://www2.whitehouse.gov/WH/glimpse/presidents/html/lj36.html, May 10, 1999