Lyndon B. Johnson

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Lyndon B. Johnson
LBJ by Shoumatoff.jpg
36th President of the United States
From: November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969
Vice President Hubert Humphrey
Predecessor John F. Kennedy
Successor Richard Nixon
37th Vice President of the United States
From: January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
President John F. Kennedy
Predecessor Richard Nixon
Successor Hubert Humphrey
Senior U.S. Senator from Texas
From: January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1961
Predecessor Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel
Successor William A. Blakley (interim)
John Tower (permanent)
Former U.S. Representative from Texas's 10th Congressional District
From: April 10, 1937 – January 3, 1949
Predecessor James P. Buchanan
Successor Homer Thornberry
Party Democrat
Spouse(s) Lady Bird Johnson
Religion Disciples of Christ

Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908 – January 22, 1973), often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States of America (1963–1969). After serving in the House and Senate since 1937, Johnson was elected vice president in 1960, and in November 1963, he succeeded to the presidency following President John F. Kennedy's assassination. President Kennedy disliked his Vice President Johnson so much that Kennedy ostracized him from social events, and Johnson was perhaps the most crooked, bullying politician ever to become president.[1]

Johnson for the first twenty years of his political career opposed every single piece of civil rights legislation. In 1937, as a New Deal congressman, he denounced the Gavagan–Wagner Act, a major anti-lynching bill, as "pernicious," downplaying lynching itself as "no more indefensible than this bill, which is a reckless, arrogant, and illegal attempt upon the part of the Federal Government to usurp the lawmaking and the law-enforcing powers and agencies of the State governments."[2] Later when campaigning for U.S. Senate in 1948 during the Democratic primary, Johnson boasted of opposing anti-lynching and anti–poll tax legislation:[3]

I have voted AGAINST the so-called poll tax repeal bill; the poll tax should be repealed by those states which enacted them. I have voted against the so-called anti-lynching bill; the state can, and DOES, enforce the law against murder.

—Johnson, mid-1948

In Texas, Johnson stole his first election to the U.S. Senate, as recounted by historians.[4][5] As president in 1964, Johnson ordered the CIA to infiltrate and spy on his conservative opponent, Barry Goldwater, which enabled Johnson to preempt Goldwater's initiatives with Johnson's own. Johnson also lied about the Gulf of Tonkin attack in order to boost his reelection efforts in 1964.

Johnson began his career as a liberal New Dealer, later when he became a senator he initially aligned himself with the Southern Democrats, although by the time he ascended to Senate Leadership he espoused moderate politics in an attempt to bridge both wings of the fractious Democratic Party. However, as president, he seized the leadership of liberalism citing Franklin D. Roosevelt as his role model. Johnson moved the Democratic Party to the left, and pushed through Congress the Great Society, comprising liberal economic policy including Medicare (free health care for the elderly), Medicaid (free health care for the poor), aid to education, and a major "War on Poverty". As part of his jobs program, he greatly escalated the American troop strength in Vietnam through conscription, from 16,000 in 1963 to 23,000 by the end of 1964 and finally to 550,000 by early 1968. Unemployment consequently remained in check.

Johnson won reelection in a landslide in 1964 over conservative leader Barry Goldwater, and proceeded to push through a massive expansion of federal programs known as the "Welfare State." This included Medicare, food stamps, and federal spending on education. Johnson also supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which passed over a Democratic filibuster.

Johnson's popularity steadily declined after 1966 and his reelection bid in 1968 collapsed as a result of turmoil in his Democratic party primarily due to Johnson's mishandling (and micromanagement) of the Vietnam War (which also ironically involved the intentionally false reporting by Walter Cronkite on the Tet Offensive). Johnson was humiliated by a primary challenge to his reelection from fellow Democrat Eugene McCarthy in early 1968 in New Hampshire, and then LBJ withdrew as a candidate for reelection. His Vice President Hubert Humphrey lost in the general election due in part to Johnson's unpopularity.

Early years

Johnson was maternally descended from a pioneer Baptist clergyman, George Washington Baines, who pastored numerous small rural churches in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Baines was also the president of Baylor University during the American Civil War. George Baines was the grandfather of Johnson's mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson.

Johnson was born in Stonewall, Texas, in a small farmhouse in a poor farming area along the Pedernales River. His parents, Samuel Ealy Johnson, Jr. and the former Rebekah Baines, had three girls and two boys. The nearby village of Johnson City, Texas, was named after a relative who came from Georgia. In school, Johnson was an awkward, talkative youth and was elected president of his eleventh-grade class.[6] He graduated from Johnson City High School in 1924.[7]

In 1926, Johnson enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers' College (now called Texas State University-San Marcos). He worked his way through school, participated in debate and campus politics, edited the school newspaper, and graduated in 1931. Biographer Robert Caro asserts he was known as "the biggest liar on campus." [8] The college years refined his remarkable skills of persuasion and political organization. One year Johnson taught mostly Mexican American children at the Welhausen School in Cotulla, Texas. When he returned to San Marcos in 1965, after having signed the Higher Education Act, Johnson looked back:

"I shall never forget the faces of the boys and the girls in that little Welhausen Mexican School, and I remember even yet the pain of realizing and knowing then that college was closed to practically every one of those children because they were too poor. And I think it was then that I made up my mind that this Nation could never rest while the door to knowledge remained closed to any American."[9]

Early political career

After graduation, Johnson briefly taught public speaking at Genesee Community College and debate in a Houston high school, then entered politics. Johnson's father had served five terms in the Texas legislature and was a close friend to one of Texas's rising political figures, Congressman Sam Rayburn. In 1930, Johnson campaigned for Texas state Senator Welly Hopkins in his run for Congress. Hopkins recommended him to Congressman Richard M. Kleberg, who appointed Johnson as Kleberg's legislative secretary. LBJ was elected speaker of the "Little Congress," a group of Congressional aides, where he cultivated Congressmen, newspapermen and lobbyists. Johnson's friends soon included aides to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as fellow Texans such as Vice President John Nance Garner. He became a surrogate son to Sam Rayburn.

Johnson married Claudia Alta Taylor (already nicknamed "Lady Bird") of Karnack, Texas on November 17, 1934, after she had attended Georgetown University Law School for several months. They had two daughters, Lynda Bird Johnson, born in 1944, and Luci Baines Johnson, born in 1947. Johnson enjoyed giving people and animals his own LBJ initials; his daughters' given names are examples, as was his dog Little Beagle Johnson.

In 1935, he was appointed head of the Texas National Youth Administration (NYA), which enabled him to use the government to create educational and job opportunities for young people. He resigned two years later to run for Congress. Johnson was a notoriously tough boss throughout his career, often demanding long workdays and work on weekends; he worked as hard as any of them.[10]

House years

Johnson resigned from his NYA job in 1937 to run successfully in a special election for a seat in the House of Representatives representing Austin and the surrounding Hill Country. He ran on a New Deal platform and was effectively aided by his wife, Lady Bird Johnson.

President Roosevelt found Johnson to be a welcome ally and conduit for information, particularly with regards to issues concerning internal politics in Texas (informally dubbed "Operation Texas") and the machinations of Vice President Garner and House Speaker Sam Rayburn. Johnson was immediately appointed to the powerful Naval Affairs Committee. He worked for rural electrification and other improvements for his district. Johnson steered the projects towards contractors which he personally knew, such as the Brown Brothers, Herman and George, who would finance much of Johnson's future career.[11] In 1941, he ran for the U.S. Senate (while not giving up his House seat) in a special election against the sitting governor, radio personality W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel. Johnson was not expected to win against the popular governor, but he ran a strong race and was declared the winner in unofficial returns. He ultimately was defeated by controversial official returns in an election marked by massive fraud on the part of both campaigns.

Senate years

See also: Democrat_election_fraud#1948_Texas_Senate

In 1948, Johnson won an election for U.S. Senate by stealing the election, according even to historians sympathetic to him. Johnson ran against former governor Coke Stevenson; neither candidate won a majority of the votes in the election, which under Texas law forced a runoff between Johnson and Stevenson. Johnson then claimed an 87-vote victory over Stevenson in the runoff, which was fraudulent.[12] Johnson's partner in crime in the election theft, Abe Fortas, whom Johnson later appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States and was confirmed by a two-thirds majority of the Democrat Senate, is the only Supreme Court Justice to have resigned over corruption charges.

Segregationist caucus

After joining the Senate, Johnson established relationships with several senior senators, including Richard Russell. Johnson was appointed to the powerful Armed Services Committee in 1950, and became chairman of the Preparedness Subcommittee which brought him into the public spotlight much like Harry Truman used the "Truman Committee" during the Second World War. He was named minority whip in 1951 under Democratic leader Bob McFarland, and he became the leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate in 1953. His first major policy, with the support of Russell, was to bypass the Seniority rule in committee assignments, which meant that Senators became reliant on his favor in order to obtain positions on important committees. This move, in combination with his strong personality gave him power of senators that had not been seen before (or since) in Senate History. He is often referred to as the "Master of the Senate". Surprisingly, after he became majority leader in 1955 he supported many of Eisenhower's proposals despite the partisan resistance of the liberal wing of the Democratic party. This allowed him to bask in the reflected glow of Eisenhower's immense popularity and gain a reputation for working across the aisle and getting things done.

Although publicly posing as a Civil Rights hero, in private Johnson was—like most southern Democrats of the 1960s—a racist: When his sometime chauffeur, Robert Parker, told LBJ he'd prefer to be called by his name rather than "boy," "n***er" or "chief," Johnson replied, "As long as you are black, and you're gonna be black till the day you die, no one's gonna call you by your goddamn name. So no matter what you are called, n***er, you just let it roll off your back like water, and you’ll make it. Just pretend you’re a goddamn piece of furniture."[13]

In his capacity as Majority Leader of the Senate, Johnson joined with Strom Thurmond to kill the Civil Rights Act of 1957. But when Senate Republicans reintroduced the bill, LBJ said, "I'm going to have to bring up the n***er bill again," according to LBJ's White House Special Counsel Harry McPherson.[14] "Let's face it. Our ass is in a crack. We're gonna have to let this n***er bill pass," he told Senator John Stennis (D-MS), according to a Pulitzer Prize winning[15] biography.[16] According to Bancroft Prize winning[17] biographer Robert Dallek, he asked Senator Sam Rayburn (D-TX), "Sam, why don't you all let this n***er bill pass?"[18] According to former Harvard historian and Johnson staffer Doris Kearns Goodwin, LBJ explained his position to Senator Richard Russell, Jr. (D-GA) thus:

These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference.[19]

Johnson saw to it that once the bill reached the Senate judiciary committee it was weakened enough to ensure passage, the first passed since Reconstruction. Johnson then took credit. He was a master at balancing the powerful southern wing of the Democratic party with the liberal northern and eastern wing. He would employ very effective tactics of persuasion with senators; including intimidation, flattery, threats and promises. Johnson sought the Democratic nomination for president prior to the 1960 election, but accepted the nomination for vice-president following Kennedy's nomination.


President Lyndon Johnson ran for reelection in the shadow of Kennedy
See also: Great Society and Johnson administration

Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn into the Office of the President just hours after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The Oath of Office took place aboard Air Force One just prior to the flight to Washington DC from Dallas. It was administered by Sarah T. Hughes (one of the first justices to hear and write the decision for Roe v. Wade in favor of abortion).[20] Also, since no Bible could be found aboard Air Force One, Johnson recited the oath with his hand on a Roman Catholic missal which had been in Kennedy's desk.[21] Largely because of the KGB's disinformation campaign shortly after the JFK assassination, Johnson was often believed by conspiracy theorists to have been the one who arranged for Kennedy's assassination to get into the presidency. However, declassified CIA documents in 2015 that dated back to the assassination revealed that Johnson learned from the CIA that the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had been getting visas for escape from the country via Cuba and the Soviet Union only three days after the assassination occurred, making this motive unlikely.[22]

As President, Johnson greatly expanded the federal government with his Great Society programs. He played a key role in helping the civil rights movement win legislative victories, pushing for the adoption of the Civil Rights Act (1964), which outlawed segregation, and the Voting Rights Act (1965), which guaranteed African-Americans' right to vote. President Johnson's support for civil rights was purely partisan. Discussing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with two southern governors on Air Force One, LBJ stated, “I’ll have them n***ers voting Democratic for two hundred years,” according to Air Force One steward Robert M. MacMillan. “That was the reason he was pushing the bill," added MacMillan, an African American, "not because he wanted equality for everyone. It was strictly a political ploy for the Democratic Party. He was phony from the word go.”[23]

Johnson also appointed NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall the first African American Supreme Court Justice. When a young White House attorney recommended Federal Judge William Henry Hastie—who had been Marshall's professor at Harvard Law School—as a more qualified African American candidate, LBJ rejected the light-skinned Hastie, explaining, "Son, when I appoint a n***er to the court, I want everyone to know he's a n***er."[24]

Johnson's meltdown.

During the 1964 Presidential campaign, Johnson ran "the most negative political ad in American history," a campaign ad titled "Daisy," smearing Republican challenger Barry Goldwater as a warmonger who threatened nuclear devastation. Thus "the negative political ad was born, initiating the clever use of image and sound to paint an opponent in negative or scary terms."

Johnson, the alleged "peace candidate", won the 1964 presidential election in a landslide over Goldwater, yet greatly expanded American involvement in Vietnam (see Vietnam War). In November 1965, during a meeting with his Joint Chiefs, after stating how they could mine the North Vietnamese ports as well as do massive aerial strikes on Hanoi to prevent Soviet or other Communist aid from going into the region, although Johnson seemingly acted receptive, he then turned around and started screaming various obscenities, including using the f-word more freely as an adjective than a Marine at boot camp, and told them he was disgusted with their naivety and made clear that he wasn't going to let "military idiots" drag him into World War III before bluntly dismissing them by telling them to "get the hell out of [Johnson's] office!"[25] His popularity plunged as the death toll from the conflict in Vietnam steadily increased. In early 1968, faced with plummeting poll numbers and mounting public opposition to his foreign policy, Johnson announced that he would neither seek nor accept his party's nomination for the presidency in 1968. This decision may have been brought about by his surprisingly narrow victory in the New Hampshire primary over Eugene McCarthy, a liberal anti-war Democrat. It is widely thought that had he run, he would have been trounced in the primaries or in the subsequent general election—eventually won by Republican Richard M. Nixon. Another reason he decided to not pursue reelection may have also had to do with the then-recent reporting of the 1968 Tet Offensive by Walter Cronkite that falsely implied that America was losing the Vietnam War (with Johnson allegedly stating to his aides during the broadcast that "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America"), coupled by a failed attempt to explain otherwise to the American public.[26]


Even MSNBC admits that Johnson was a racist.[27]

Johnson has been caught on tape saying the n-word.[28] He also was reported to have said after signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, "I’ll have those n*****s voting Democrat for the next 200 years.”[29]

See also



Presidential years

  • Altschuler, Bruce E.; LBJ and the Polls (1990) online edition
  • Andrew, John A. Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society (1999) 224 pp. excerpt and online search from
  • Bernstein, Irving. Guns or Butter: The Presidency of Lyndon Johnson 1994.
  • Bornet, Vaughn Davis. The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. 1983
  • Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 (1989) excerpt and text search
  • Branch, Taylor. Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 (1999) excerpt and text search
  • Branch, Taylor. At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 (2007)
  • Divine, Robert A., ed. The Johnson Years. Vol. 1: Foreign Policy, the Great Society and the White House. 1981; essays by scholars
  • Divine, Robert A., ed. The Johnson Years. Vol. 2: Vietnam, the Environment, and Science. 1987; essays by scholars
  • Divine, Robert A., ed. The Johnson Years. Vol. 3: LBJ at Home and Abroad. 1994; essays by scholars excerpt and online search from
  • Firestone, Bernard J., and Robert C. Vogt, eds. Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Uses of Power. (1988); essays by scholars online edition
  • Graham, Hugh Davis. The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development of National Policy, 1960-1972 (1990)
  • Gould, Lewis L. Lady Bird Johnson and the Environment. 1988.
  • Lichtenstein, Nelson, ed. Political Profiles: The Johnson Years. 1976. short biographies of 400+ key politicians
  • Mann, Robert. The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell, and the Struggle for Civil Rights. 1996.
  • Milkis, Sidney M. and Jerome M. Mileur, eds. The Great Society And The High Tide Of Liberalism (2005) 490pp of essays by scholars; excerpt and online search from
  • Redford, Emmette S., and Marlan Blissett. Organizing the Executive Branch: The Johnson Presidency. 1981.
  • Shesol, Jeff. Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud That Shaped a Decade 1997.
  • White, Theodore H. The Making of the President, 1964 1965. online at ACLS e-books
  • Zarefsky, David. President Johnson's War on Poverty 1986.


  • Barrett, David Marshall. Advice and Dissent: An Organizational Analysis of the Evolution of Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam Advisory System, 1965–1968. (University of Notre Dame, 1990)
  • Berman, Larry. Lyndon Johnson's War: The Road to Stalemate in Vietnam (1991)
  • Brands, H. W. The Wages of Globalism: Lyndon Johnson and the Limits of American Power (1997)
  • Casey, Francis Michael. The Vietnam Policy of President Lyndon Baines Johnson in Response to the Theory of the Protracted Conflict as Applied in the Politics of Indochina: A Case Study of Threat Perception and Assessment in the Crisis Management Process of a Pluralistic Society. (Claremont Graduate School, 1976)
  • Cherwitz, Richard Arnold. The Rhetoric of the Gulf of Tonkin: A Study of the Crisis Speaking of President Lyndon B. Johnson. (University of Iowa, 1978)
  • Goodnight, Lisa Jo. The Conservative Voice of a Liberal President: An Analysis of Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam Rhetoric. (Purdue University, 1993)
  • Kaiser, David E. American tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the origins of the Vietnam War. (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000) ISBN 0-674-00225-3
  • Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam, A History. (Penguin, 1991), balanced assessment
  • Logevall, Fredrik Bengt Johan. Fear to Negotiate: Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, 1963–1965. (Yale University, 1993)
  • Turner, Kathleen Jane. The Effect of Presidential-Press Interaction on Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam War Rhetoric. (Purdue University, 1978)
  • Vandiver, Frank E. Shadows of Vietnam: Lyndon Johnson's Wars (1997) online edition
  • Woods, Randall B. "The Politics of Idealism: Lyndon Johnson, Civil Rights, and Vietnam," Diplomatic History (2007) 31 (1), 1–18. online at Blackwell-Synergy

Primary sources

  • Barrett David M. ed. "Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam Papers: A Documentary Collection" (1997). Documents from LBJ Library and other archives.
  • Beschloss Michael R. ed. Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963–1964 (1997). Transcribed recordings of LBJ's phone calls.
  • Beschloss, Michael R. ed. Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1964-1965 (2002) excerpt and online search from
  • Califano Joseph A., Jr. The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson (1991). By a cabinet member.
  • Council of Economic Advisors, Economic Report of the President (annual 1947- ), complete series online; important analysis of current trends and policies, plus statistcial tables
  • Gallup, George H. ed. The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion, 1935–1971, volume 3: 1959–1971 (1972). Summary of poll data.
  • Johnson Lyndon B. The Vantage Point: Perspectives on the Presidency, 1963–1969 (1971). LBJ's memoirs.
  • Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson (10 volumes, GPO, 1965–70). All speeches and official statements.
  • Reedy, George Lyndon B. Johnson: A Memoir (1982), ISBN 0-8362-6610-2. A memoir by the press secretary.


  1. LBJ Tapes on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident Source: John Prados, The White House Tapes
  2. Bean, Jonathan J. (June 18, 2009). Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader, pp. 168–69. Google Books. Retrieved May 29, 2023.
  3. Caro, Robert A. (February 3, 1991). My Search for Coke Stevenson. The New York Times. Retrieved February 29, 2023.
  4. Federer, Bill (November 14, 2018) How ‘Landslide Lyndon’ stole the Senate race in 1948 World Tribune. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  5. Tolchin, Martin (February 11, 1990) How Johnson Won Election He'd Lost New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  8. Caro, Robert A. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. New York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc. 1982. p. xx
  9. see "Remarks at Southwest Texas State College Upon Signing the Higher Education Act of 1965"
  10. Woods, (2006), p. 131
  11. Caro, (1982) is full of details.
  12. See eg Robert A Caro Master of the Senate Means of Assent
  13. Robert Parker and Richard L. Rashke, Capitol Hill in Black and White (Penguin Group, 1989), ISBN 0515101893, p. v.
  14. Michael L. Gillette, Transcript, Harry McPherson Oral History Interview VI, 5/16/85, LBJ Library, 16 May 1985.
  15. Biography or Autobiography. Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
  16. Caro, Robert A. (2002). The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, Volume 3. New York: Knopf. p. 954. ISBN 0394528360.
  17. The Bancroft Prizes: Previous Awards. The Columbia University Libraries/Information Services
  18. Dallek, Robert (1991). Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 519. ISBN 0195054350.
  19. Goodwin, Doris Kearns (1977). Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. New York: New American Library. p. 155. ISBN 0451140826
  20. University of North Texas Libraries, Sarah T. Hughes Collection,
  21. New York Times, "After a Time of Tragedy, a Beginning Toward the 'Great Society,'" January 1973. Online at
  23. Interview with Robert M. MacMillan, March 23, 1993, cited in Ronald Kessler, Inside the White House (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 33, ISBN 0671879197.
  24. Dallek, Robert (1991). Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 519. ISBN 0195054350. Hastie had previously been considered for the Court by Eisenhower in 1956, who shelved the idea because Hastie's nomination would have been "filibustered to death by Southerners on the floor of the Senate" (All 22 southern Senators at the time were white Democrats); and again in 1962 by Kennedy, who rejected him after white liberals -- Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice William O. Douglas -- objected that Hastie, an African American, was too conservative (As Warren put it, "He's not a liberal, and he'll be opposed to the measures we're interested in.") During World War II, Hastie had laid the groundwork for the 1947 integration of the US armed forces when he resigned as aide to Secretary of War Henry Stimson in protest of segregated training in the US Army Air Force for the Tuskeegee Airmen.
  25. Cheers and Tears: A Marine's Story of Combat in Peace and War (2002).

External links