Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson

36th President, 1963-1969

Early Life and Pre-presidency

Official Presidential portrait of Johnson Artist: Elizabeth Shoumatoff, 1968

Official Presidential portrait of Johnson
Artist: Elizabeth Shoumatoff, 1968

  • Born Lyndon Baines Johnson on August 27, 1908 in Stonewall, Texas.
  • Parents: Samuel Ealy Johnson, Jr. and Rebekah Baines. Siblings: Sam Houston, Rebekah, Josefa, and Lucia.
  • Graduated from Johnson City High School in 1924.
  • Enrolled at Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College in 1926 and graduated in 1930.
  • Taught at Welhausen School in Cotulla, Texas from 1928 to 1929 as a student teacher.
  • Taught at Pearsall High School in Pearsall, Texas after graduating, then at Sam Houston High School in Houston, Texas.
  • Worked as an aide to Congressman Richard M. Kleberg from 1931 to 1935.
  • Married Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor (1912–2007) on November 17, 1934. Children: Lynda Bird (1944– ) and Luci Baines (1947– ).
  • Appointed director of the National Youth Administration in Texas in 1935 and resigned in 1937.
  • Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1937 and served until 1949. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 1941 but lost.
  • When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, Johnson obtained an officer’s commission in the Naval Reserve.
  • Appointed by then President Franklin Roosevelt to inspect the progress in the Pacific and was awarded a Silver Star by the President.
  • Ran for the U.S. Senate again in 1948 and won in a controversial election. He served from 1949 to 1961.
  • Nominated as the Vice Presidential candidate of John F. Kennedy for the Democratic Party in the 1960 election. They won, but Johnson would not serve as Vice President for long.
  • On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas while traveling in a motorcade. Two hours later, Johnson was sworn in as the President of the United States.

Presidency

White House photo of Johnson, 1964

White House photo of Johnson, 1964

  • Took his oath of office on November 22, 1963 in a conference room aboard Air Force One at Love Field, Dallas, Texas.
  • On November 29, 1963, created a special commission to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy: The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren. It was also known as the Warren Commission.
  • Issued Executive Order 11129 on November 29, 1963 renaming the Launch Operations Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Florida as the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
  • Signed the Civil Rights Act in July 1964. The law outlawed major types of discrimination such as sex, race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion.
  • The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, gave the President the power to pursue military action in Vietnam without consulting the Senate.
  • Signed the Revenue Act of 1964 in February and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 in August as part of his “War on Poverty” program.
  • Elected for a first full term as President in the 1964 election.
  • On February 9, 1965, ordered the bombing of North Vietnam, marking the start of U.S. fighting in the Vietnam War. In July, he ordered more troops to Vietnam.
  • Signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in April, 1965. The law provided for the funding of primary and secondary education and put emphasis on equal access to education. In November 1965, he signed the Higher Education Act, which provided federal funding to universities and financial assistance to college and postgraduate students.
  • In July 1965, signed the Social Security Amendments of 1965. The legislation created Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law in August. It outlawed many discriminatory practices that had prevented African–Americans from voting such as passing literacy tests and paying poll taxes. In March 1966, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the law’s constitutionality.
  • Signed the Immigration Act of 1965 in October. The law removed the national origin system of immigration quotas that had prevented Latin Americans, Asians, and Africans from entering the country. Instead, the law focused on immigrants’ skills and family relationships with U.S. citizens and residents.
  • In March 1968, Johnson ordered a partial halt in the bombing in North Vietnam. In May 1968, the U.S. and North Vietnam met in Paris for peace talks.
  • His term was marked by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader, in April, 1968 and Robert Kennedy in June 1968. The brother of President Kennedy was seeking the Democratic Party nomination for President.
  • During his term, NASA conducted several spaceflight tests to land on the moon. The Apollo 1 to 8 missions were all conducted during his term.

Post-presidency

Johnson after his Presidency, 1972 Courtesy LBJ Museum & Library

Johnson after his Presidency, 1972
Courtesy LBJ Museum & Library

  • Retired to his ranch in Stonewall, Texas.
  • He published his memoir The Vantage Point in 1971.
  • He opened and dedicated the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas in May 1971 with then President Richard Nixon.
  • His health began to fail soon after he retired. In March 1970, he had an angina attack and was ordered to lose weight. In April 1972, he suffered a major heart attack. He was also diagnosed with diverticulosis, but his heart was too weak to have surgery.
  • Attended former President Harry S. Truman’s funeral on December 28, 1972. It would be his last public appearance.
  • Died on January 22, 1973 of a heart attack at his Texas ranch.
  • His body was brought to Washington, D.C. for a state funeral and lay in state at the U.S. Capitol. On January 25, 1973, a funeral service was held at the National City Christian Church.
  • He was buried in the family cemetery on his ranch in Stonewall, Texas. In his final will, Johnson donated his farm to the government, but the cemetery remains a private property and no visitors are allowed in.
  • The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is the President’s former ranch. It includes the house where he was born. It was originally designated as the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Site in 1969, but it was redesignated as a National Historical Park in 1980.
  • The Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site is just across the Pedernales River from the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. It was officially dedicated in 1970 with the Johnson family in attendance.
  • In 1973, NASA renamed its Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas as the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.
  • The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove is located on Columbia Island in Washington, D.C. It was authorized by Congress in December 1973 and dedicated in September 1974.

 

Detailed Biography

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born in Stonewall Texas on 27 August 1908 to Samuel Ealy Johnson Junior and Rebekah Baines Johnson. He became the 36th President of the United States of America upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1973, and then was elected to a second term. He is mostly known for promoting legislation which advanced the civil rights movement, although is heavily criticised for his involvement in the Vietnam War.

 

Family History, Childhood & Education

Lyndon’s father, Samuel Ealy Johnson Junior was born on 11 October 1877 in Buda, Texas to parents Samuel Ealy Johnson Senior, a cattle rancher and civil war soldier and Eliza Bunton. The Johnson family was known locally for farming and agriculture and had settled in Texas prior to the Civil War. The family fought in the war and eventually founded the nearby town of Johnson City in the aftermath of the war.

Samuel junior had to leave school early, some sources say, because of health problems, and he spent time on his Uncle’s ranch, recovering his health. When he returned home, he wanted to pursue a career in teaching and found he could still apply for a state teaching certificate event though he hadn’t finished school. He taught at local schools for a few years from 1896, however he had to return home to his family farm to support his father who was too ill to manage it himself.

Samuel junior threw himself into the work and the farm prospered, enabling Samuel to hire farm hands so he could focus on growing the business. He began to invest in the cotton business, but in 1905 he lost all his money and by 1906 he was several thousand dollars in debt.

Samuel moved into politics in 1904 when his brother-in-law, Judge Clarence W. Martin encouraged him to run for the House of Representatives. He was successfully elected and replaced his father-in-law Joseph Wilson Baines, as representative for the 89th district, serving five terms in total between 1904 and 1923, although there were some gaps between terms when Samuel returned to business, but with limited success.

On 20 August 1907 Samuel married Rebekah Baines, daughter of his political predecessor and friend of the family. Rebekah Baines was born on 26 June 1881 in McKinney, Texas to parents Ruth Huffman and Joseph Wilson Baines.

Joseph was a successful politician, serving as secretary of state under Governor John Ireland as well as serving a term as member of the Texas House of Representatives, as we have seen. Prior to this, he studied Law, attended Baylor University, and was involved as an owner and publisher of several local newspapers. Joseph passed his interest in journalism on to his daughter Rebekah who studied literature at Baylor University, the University of Texas, and Baylor Female College, although she never gained a formal degree. Following the death of her father in 1906, Rebekah returned to her family home and worked as a news reporter for several daily newspapers.

Following her marriage to Samuel Junior, the couple moved to his farm and she continued to work as a journalist. The Texas State Historical Association website states that Rebekah was “disappointed in her husband and frustrated by the poverty and isolation of Hill County farm life. She tried hard to instil her love of education and culture into her children.”

The couple had five children together, Lyndon Baines born on 27 August 1908, Rebekah born in 1910, Josefa born in 1912, Samuel Houston born in 1914, and Lucia born in 1916. It’s clear that Rebekah had a great influence on the life and career of Lyndon who lauded his mother in books and letters about her life. Lyndon struggled in school and was not naturally gifted, however due to his Mother’s encouraging influence he was able to persevere and graduate from Johnson City School in 1924.

Samuel Junior died in 1937 after suffering a series of heart attacks. Rebekah outlived her husband by twenty years, living in Austin, Texas and dying in 1958.

 

Political Beginnings & Marriage

Following school, Lyndon decided to continue his education and enrolled at what would become Texas State University, but at the time was Southwest Texas Teachers College, funding his education by teaching in his spare time at a school for disadvantaged Mexican-American students. During these years he discovered a burgeoning interest in politics, participating in debates and political societies. When he graduated in 1930, he began to teach locally, but the political bug had bitten him, and he soon turned his attention to politics. He gained an appointment as legislative secretary to Texas Democratic Congressman Richard M. Kleberg and relocated to Washington DC to begin a political career. He spent his time in Washington, meeting influential people and building a network of politicians and friends including aides to President Franklin D. Roosevelt who he could call on in later years.

In 1934, Lyndon met Claudia Alta Taylor, known to her friends as Lady Bird.

Claudia was born in Karnack, East Texas on 22 December 1912 to a wealthy general store owner, Thomas Jefferson Taylor, and homemaker mother, Minnie Pattillo Taylor who also came from a prominent wealthy family. She had two older brothers, Thomas Jefferson Junior and Antonio J. Taylor. According to family myth, Claudia gained her nickname via a nursemaid who said Claudia was “as purty as a lady bird”, hence the nickname stuck. Lady Bird’s Mother died when she was just five years old and she was subsequently raised by her father and wider family. She spent much of her childhood exploring and playing in the bayous around Caddo Lake in East Texas, where she forged a deep connection and love of the natural world, a passion which would be prominent throughout her life and career.

She graduated from Marshall High School in 1928, and then from Saint Mary’s Episcopal School for Girls in Dallas in 1930. She went on to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Austin, Texas, graduating in 1934 with a degree in history and journalism.

Around the time that she graduated from University, she met the charismatic and ambitious Lyndon Baines Johnson who happened to be visiting Austin as part of his congressional work. It’s possible that they bonded over the common ground between Johnson’s mother’s journalist career and Lady Bird’s family history in journalism and her career aspirations. Johnson was raised in a strong feminine household and he may have seen something of his mother’s spirit in Lady Bird. The couple dated for just a few weeks before becoming engaged and marrying in November 1934.

After the wedding, the couple moved to Washington DC so that Lyndon could continue his work for Texas Congressman Richard Kleberg.

 

Early Political Career

In 1935, Lyndon moved jobs, working for the National Youth Administration, the youngest state director at just twenty-six years old, and worked on national youth unemployment and poverty. This work enabled him to gain contacts across Texas which would be particularly useful in his political career in later years.

1937 saw the first political opportunity open up for Johnson. James P. Buchanen, the 12-term congressman from Johnson’s home district, died and as a result, elections were called to find a successor. At this point Lady Bird truly stepped into her role as political wife. Johnson wanted to run in the election, but their household income would not stretch to finance it and so Lady Bird used $10,000 of an inheritance fund from her mother, to fund Johnson’s election campaign. Due to the funds and the contacts that Lyndon had garnered over the years, his campaign was successful and on 13 May 1937 he won twice as many votes as his next rival and was sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives.

 

War & Family

On 7 December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and thus drew America into the Second World War. Johnson left his seat in Congress and volunteered for the Navy, supposedly helped out by President Roosevelt to gain a position as lieutenant commander.

Whilst her husband was abroad fighting in the war, Lady Bird remained at home running Johnson’s congressional office. She began to realise that between the war and the chance of defeat in the elections, politics was not necessarily a financially stable career with a stable income. It was during this time that Lady Bird used some more of her inheritance money to purchase a struggling radio station in Austin, Texas. She used clever strategies such as increasing ad revenue and her knowledge of journalism to turn the finances around at the station, becoming a successful businesswoman who supported the family with a stable income. She said years later that she learned a lot about herself and her abilities during the war. She is reportedly the only first lady to build and then maintain her own fortune, using her own money.

Lyndon returned to the US in 1942 when President Roosevelt ordered all serving congressmen to return from active service and serve politics instead. By this time, the thirty-year-old Lady Bird was ready to start a family, but she had already suffered a number of miscarriages. Despite their initial trouble starting a family, over the next three years, Lady Bird and Lyndon welcomed two daughters into their home, Lynda Bird, named for her father and mother, born on 19 March 1944, and Luci Baines, born on 2 July 1947. Lady Bird had another pregnancy after the birth of Luci, but sadly lost the baby during the first trimester.

 

Senator to Vice President

In 1948, Lyndon was successfully elected as Texas Senator. He was known as being a people person, and spent time getting to know his political colleagues and their skills and abilities, placing them in key positions for success. This allowed him to be very compelling and persuasive and he advanced quickly until he became the youngest minority leader in Senate history in 1953.

For the next seven years Johnson was consistently re-elected to his position as Senator, continuing to build his network of friends and influential people. He initially set his sights on the presidency in 1960 but didn’t get the chance to run as John F. Kennedy won the candidacy for the democratic party at the first vote. Despite his success to the candidacy, Kennedy knew that he would need the support of the southern states to win the election, and so he chose Johnson as his running mate and subsequent Vice President on his succession.

Johnson served Kennedy as Vice President for three years and in that time, he worked on the space programme, equal opportunity legislation, and also negotiations on the nuclear test ban treaty.

 

Kennedy’s Assassination and Elected President

On 22 November 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and assassinated whilst travelling in his vehicle as part of a vehicular parade in Dallas, Texas. Johnson was also part of the parade, travelling two cars behind the President alongside Lady Bird. In the hours after the assassination, Johnson was sworn in as the 36thPresident of the United States of America, whilst travelling back to Washington DC aboard Air Force One.

As a President who had come to the position via the assassination of his predecessor, Johnson felt that he needed to spend the last year of the term adhering to the plans and ambitions of Kennedy, although he did push through some of his own legislations.

In 1964, Johnson decided to pursue the Presidency via an election, having not been elected by the people previously. He ran against Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, however Goldwater pedalled strong conservative views which did not sit well with the American people, and Johnson subsequently won the election with 60% of the public vote, ‘the largest margin of victory in U.S. election history’ (biography.com).

As a legitimate President, voted in by the people, Johnson felt he was able to pursue legislation that was more closely aligned to his own views, particularly, tackling poverty and discrimination in America.

One of the first actions of his presidency was to sign the Civil Rights Act on 2 July 1964. Civil Rights in America had been growing in influence over the previous ten years following from the 1954 case of Brown vs. Board of Education where segregation in schools was legally marked as unconstitutional, to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Kennedy had promised the passage of a Civil Rights bill in his election campaign, and Johnson continued in his own Presidency to push the bill through, signing it publicly in a televised ceremony. The act itself prohibited racial discrimination in the work place and ended segregation in public places. It also laid the ground work for further legislation to create equal rights for all US citizens, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act signed by Johnson in 1965 was one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in US history, and overruled all barriers to voting which black Americans faced. The act supported the 15thamendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1870, which allowed any American man to vote regardless of “race, colour, or previous condition of servitude.” Despite this amendment, many states continued to discriminate against black Americans, especially in the South – Johnson’s act supported and enforced this amendment.

Another domestic agenda which Johnson heavily pushed was his “Great Society” package. The ambition of this agenda was to create an America which grew in terms of the arts, education, health, civil rights, and more. Key legislative bills passed during this time included the voting rights act mentioned above, as well as the Medicare and Medicaid acts which helped elderly and low-income Americans respectively access health-care either through specialist insurance or funded health care programmes.

Overseas, Johnson’s presidency was dominated by the Vietnam War which had been burgeoning since the Second World War but which specifically involved America from 1954 until 1973 when President Nixon recalled all US troops.

During Johnson’s Presidency, at the height of the fighting in Vietnam, Johnson was heavily criticised for his handling of the war, for America’s increased involvement, and protests against the war were rife during his presidency. By 1968, at the end of Johnson’s term, 500,000 US soldiers were fighting in the war and an end to the conflict did not appear to be in sight. Whilst Johnson began the procedures for peace talks, his term came to an end before the war did, and he shocked the nation by announcing that he would not be running in the 1968 election to renew his presidency. It became the responsibility of his successor Nixon to bring an end to the war.

Johnson marked his last years in office by passing the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental or purchase of housing based on race, gender, national origin or religion.

Whilst Johnsons foreign policies were heavily criticised during his Presidency, his domestic agendas and legislation changed the face of America and significantly advanced the civil rights movement.

 

Retirement, Family and Death

During Lyndon’s political career, Lady Bird had continued to work within the media, growing the family business, LBJ Holdings to include more radio stations across Texas as well as a television station. The company grew over the years, and whilst several areas were sold, such as the television station in 1975, Lady Bird continued to be involved in LBJ Holdings well into her 80’s.

During their years in the White House, Lady Bird became known at the Environmental First Lady. She used her love of nature and natural surroundings to push for improvements and legislation around protecting the environment, creating the First Lady’s Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, which then grew to the entire country. One of her most remembered influences was the passing of the Beautification Act of 1965, which became known as “Lady Bird’s Bill” because of how staunchly she supported it. The act controlled outdoor advertising, the placement and concealment from general view of waste disposal centres or junkyards, and a campaign to beautify the nation’s highways. Lady Bird was involved in many other environmental issues and as a result, Columbia Island in the Potomac River was renamed Lady Bird Johnson Park in recognition of her work.

Upon Lyndon’s retirement from office, the family relocated back to Texas. Lyndon began working on his presidential library, and Lady Bird focused her efforts on local and regional environmental issues as well as serving on the Advisory Board for National Parks, Historic Sites and Monuments, and also continuing her work in LBJ Holdings.

Lady Bird and Lyndon’s two daughters, Lynda and Luci were twenty and seventeen years old when they moved into the White House, and both were married during Lyndon’s Presidency, in the national spotlight.

Lynda married Charles Robb, a US Marine who would later become Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and then Governor of Virginia, making Lynda First Lady of Virginia. Her husband’s political career in turn created a political career of her own and in more recent years she has been involved in public works as well as serving on the Board of Directors for the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centre.

Luci married Patrick Nugent, an Air National Guardsman in 1966 but the couple divorced in 1979 and Luci went on to marry Ian Turpin, a Canadian financier in 1984. Despite having a rebellious youth, Luci created a successful career for herself as a businesswoman and philanthropist, working with her sister on the board of Directors for the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centre.

Lady Bird and Lyndon have seven grandchildren, Lucinda Desha, Catherine Lewis, and Jennifer Wickliffe, daughters of Lynda and Charles; and Patrick Lyndon, Nicole Marie, Rebekah Johnson and Claudia Taylor, children of Luci and Patrick. Luci also has a stepson via her second marriage.

Sadly, Lyndon would only meet four of his seven grandchildren as he died at his ranch on 22 January 1973 of a heart attack.

Lady Bird outlived her husband by thirty-four years. She continued her work in the media as well as serving on several boards, continuing her environmental work and spending time with her growing family. Her health began to fail in the late 80’s and she suffered a stroke in August 1993, also becoming blind as a result of macular degeneration. She suffered a second, more severe stroke in 2002 which left her wheel chair bound.

She died of natural causes at home on 11 July 2007 at the age of 94.

 

Bibliography

Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr. Biography:
https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjo24

Rebekah Baines Biography:
https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjo22

Lyndon B Johnson biography on Biography.com:
https://www.biography.com/people/lyndon-b-johnson-9356122

Lyndon B Johnson biography on History.com:
https://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/lyndon-b-johnson#section_8

Lyndon B Johnson on the White House website:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/lyndon-b-johnson/

LBJ Library biography:
http://www.lbjlibrary.org/lyndon-baines-johnson/lbj-biography

Lady Bird Johnson Biography:
http://www.ladybirdjohnson.org/biography/

Lady Bird Johnson Biography:
https://www.biography.com/people/lady-bird-johnson-9356088

Lady Bird Johnson Biography:
http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=37