Lyndon Baines Johnson
Johnson, Lyndon B.
Lyndon B. Johnson
Henry F. Graff
NOT since the first President Johnson took office in 1865 has a presidency begun amid such tragedy and turmoil as Lyndon Baines Johnson's did when he took the oath of office on 22 November 1963 aboard Air Force One, parked on Dallas' Love Field. It was the plane that earlier in the day had brought President John F. Kennedy to the city on a trip that was to end with his assassination. In its somber aftermath, when President Johnson received at the White House the dignitaries from around the world who had traveled to Washington for Kennedy's funeral, he stood in a brighter limelight than any incoming president had ever had to endure. He faced the daunting challenge of succeeding a martyr figure and of competing instantly with that memory for the public's approbation.
In attaining the White House, Johnson had fulfilled his life's ambition (as a mere twelve-year-old he had told his classmates, "Someday, I'm going to be president of the United States"), but he soon knew he would not inherit with his office the people's esteem. Many of the Kennedy faithful immediately and forever regarded Johnson as a "usurper" of Camelot, unworthy to sit in JFK's chair. Indeed, to them, the new man, notably less handsome and boyish than Kennedy, and "with a few gray hairs in his head" that Johnson liked to say were necessary in a chief executive, seemed virtually an impostor-president. They could not adjust to the Texas drawl hitherto unheard in the Oval Office, where it abruptly replaced the Boston-Harvard accent the nation had become accustomed to. Johnson even indulged a brand of humor that they found offensive: it was not witty and literary like their hero's, but often coarse and sometimes scatological.
The keepers of the Kennedy flame gave the appearance of awaiting impatiently the advent of another of the Kennedy brothers to the presidency—and behaving meanwhile as if they represented a kind of government-in-exile. An extremely sensitive man with deep personal insecurities despite the macho image he projected, Johnson felt demeaned, as suggested by his often-repeated reminder, "I'm the only president you have." He lived with his nightmare that in the line of the presidents he would be remembered as sandwiched between two Kennedys.
To be sure, Johnson had a host of admirers, too. Almost immediately he brought a new style to the White House, symbolized by the ending of haute cuisine dinners and their replacement by homelier American fare. Millions appreciated hearing about it. And many people everywhere seemed ready to see in Johnson's older, craggy face and in his long experience in Washington likely evidence of valuable experience and maturity. Finally—and not least of all—Lady Bird Johnson, the president's articulate and tactful wife, quickly won favorable attention which helped give reassurance to the country that this presidential couple was a satisfactory successor to the Kennedys.
Johnson, who for years had been a dominating voice in the Senate, was immensely proud of his reputation as a legislative giant justly compared to the likes of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun. Yet he believed that as vice president, during the thousand days of the Kennedy administration, his talents had been forced to lie fallow. Now, by a sudden turn of fortune, he had the levers of power in his grip, and he fairly lusted to work them—aiming to make his page in history glow as brilliantly as any other president's.
Lyndon Baines Johnson was born near Stonewall, Texas, on 27 August 1908. His father, Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., had been a member of the Texas House and had recently lost several thousand dollars speculating in cotton. His mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson, raised on the outskirts of the little town of Blanco, was the daughter of Joseph Wilson Baines, an attorney. He had previously occupied the seat that Sam Johnson held in the House. Rebekah worked her way through Baylor College at Belton, where she found encouragement for her lively literary and cultural interests.
When Lyndon was five years old, the family moved to Johnson City. Sam Johnson struggled to earn a living while Rebekah Johnson worked diligently to make ends meet. But there was never enough money, and Lyndon would often speak with disdain of the steady diet of grits, greens, cornbread, and fat-back of his early years. Although the family was never as hard up as Johnson later liked to say it had been, he developed what proved to be a lifelong sympathy for ordinary people whose lives were blighted by economic insecurity and deprivation. As a boy, Johnson resented having to wear homemade clothing that once included, to his unspeakable embarrassment, a Buster Brown suit. His mother did private tutoring in elocution in order to pay for dancing and violin instruction for him. He detested the training in both and eventually refused to have any more lessons. He would not be marked a "sissy." Ironically, in the White House his accomplished and tireless social dancing at public functions charmed and sometimes astonished his guests.
Even as a youth, Johnson yearned to have a share in the rising wealth around him, which was based chiefly on the booms in oil and beef. Still he despaired of gaining even a foothold. He put in time working for farmers in and around Johnson City. For a period he was a printer's devil at a local newspaper. He also shined shoes in a barber shop. As he grew up he appeared to be both ambitious and aimless.
Politics had begun to draw the boy's interest when Sam Johnson won back his old seat in the state legislature in 1919. Lyndon became a familiar sight at his father's side on the floor of the Texas House. Soon the youth was bent on becoming a politician as well as a millionaire. After a trip to California with some friends when he finished high school, he yielded to his mother's nagging advice to seek more education. He enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers College at San Marcos, from which he was graduated in 1930. To support himself, he had interrupted his studies to take a teaching job at a "Mexican" school in Cotulla, Texas. One day, voting analysts would credit Johnson's close ties with the Mexican-American community with helping to put Texas in the Kennedy-Johnson column in the election of 1960. Johnson also taught briefly in Pearsall and Houston, where he won acclaim training students in public speaking and debating.
But the world of politics proved irresistible. Johnson avidly seized an opportunity in 1931 to become private secretary to Richard Kleberg, son of the owner of the fabled King Ranch, who had just been elected to Congress. In Washington, Johnson quickly became as familiar with the labyrinths of the bureaucracy as he was with the landscape of his Texas hill country. Then, in 1934, he was married in San Antonio to Claudia Alta Taylor of Karnack, Texas, known invariably by her nickname, Lady Bird. Not yet twenty-two years old, Lady Bird Johnson brought much-needed stability to Johnson's life; her winsomeness combined with her shrewd judgment of people from the start helped significantly in furthering his career.
Politically, Johnson was a child of the new opportunities that the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt opened for office seekers eager to have a hand in enlarging and redistributing the nation's resources. After a creative stint as director of the National Youth Administration in Texas, Johnson was elected to the House of Representatives in 1937 to fill the unexpired term of James P. Buchanan in the Tenth District. Already inured to the ways of Congress, Johnson took worshipful counsel from Speaker Sam Rayburn, also a Texan. In turn, Rayburn, who was unmarried, treated Johnson like a son and turned him rapidly into an "insider" despite his lack of seniority. Johnson served in the House until 1948, having been reelected five times on an ever-growing reputation for his craft in directing to his constituents a goodly share of the bounty that New Deal economic programs provided.
Johnson interrupted his tenure in the House shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor to serve as a lieutenant commander, having been commissioned in the Naval Reserve in 1940. He was the first member of Congress to go on active duty in World War II. General Douglas MacArthur awarded him the Silver Star for "gallantry in action" when the patrol bomber Johnson was flying in was fired upon by Japanese Zeros near Port Moresby, in New Guinea. (Critics would later say that Johnson's political prominence rather than personal valor had won him the decoration. For the rest of his life, however, Johnson proudly wore the insignia of the medal in his lapel.) Almost immediately after receiving the award, Johnson responded to Roosevelt's directive that members of Congress leave military service and resume their legislative duties. After six months in uniform, Johnson was pleased to be back at his desk in Washington.
Johnson won election to the Senate in 1948 (he had failed in a bid in 1941) by a margin of eighty-seven votes, a squeaker that earned him the sobriquet "Landslide Lyndon." He held the seat until he became vice president in 1961. He was minority leader for two years and majority leader from 1956 to 1960, acquiring formidable fame among supporters as a legislative statesman and among detractors as a wheeler-dealer. His selection by Kennedy to be vice president, despite much opposition in the Kennedy camp, was the outcome of a disappointing effort to obtain the nomination for president.
As vice president, Johnson was ignored by many of the administration's prominent figures and was idle much of the time, his vaunted knowledge of Congress largely unused. Although he chaired some significant public committees and was sent on some missions abroad, he was convinced that most of his assignments were little more than busywork. He hid his smoldering resentment even as he made his initial appeal to the people as president an assurance of continuity of policies. Where Kennedy had urged in his inaugural, "Let us begin," Johnson, on 27 November 1963 in his first address to Congress, exhorted, "Today, in this moment of new resolve, I would say to all my fellow Americans, let us continue."
What Johnson lacked in Kennedy's urbanity, he made up for in energy so uncommon that one aide credited him with having "extra glands." Despite a severe heart attack in 1955—"the worst a man could have and still live," he liked to tell people—Johnson gave himself unstintingly to his work. Although he climbed into bed for a nap each afternoon, his long hours at his desk—spent mostly on the telephone—topped by his "night reading" left no doubt that he withheld nothing in fulfilling his duties. His desire to be embraced by the people and his constant sense of being unloved drove him to the limit relentlessly as he tried to earn his way into the company of the country's greatest presidents. He was tied to the reputation of Kennedy for his popularity in the beginning, and he struggled to create a devoted following of his own.
The desire to show he was in charge made his first month in office frenetic. From 23 November to 19 December he saw in his office almost seven hundred people alone or in small groups. Possibly to suggest that the new chief executive was economy-minded, the White House let it be known that he went about turning out unused electric lights every night—causing him to be dubbed for a time "Light Bulb Johnson." Still shaken by the circumstances of his own elevation to the presidency, Johnson consulted with Speaker of the House John McCormack of Massachusetts, next in line of succession, regarding any unexpected turnover of the White House.
About fifty pieces of proposed legislation were languishing in congressional committees, but the civil rights bill was the focus of Johnson's labors in the first several months. Its passage as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would thenceforth be the key-stone of Johnson's claim to fame as inheritor and keeper of the urban liberal base of the Democratic party. In seeking support for the bill's passage, he had beseeched Congress on sentimental grounds: "No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill." In short order, the bill that Kennedy had prepared had been made stronger by a number of amendments proposed by ardent advocates. The House passed the revised bill on 10 February. In the Senate it met a filibuster by southerners that lasted eighty-three days, ending on 10 June only with the enactment of a cloture resolution. The bill finally became law on 2 July.
Johnson, feeling special responsibility as a southerner, had made the bill's passage a personal crusade. His efforts can only be called Herculean, for he cajoled and pulled strings to round up support from early in the morning to late at night, day after day, week after week. On more than one occasion in the White House, he upbraided opponents or fence-sitters by fairly screaming as he faced them down—often nose-to-nose, "Do you know what it is to be black?"
The act set in place some of the most fundamental social changes in American history. Among its provisions, it forbade discrimination on account of race in places of public accommodation. It contained protection of the right of blacks to vote. It forbade discrimination on account of race or sex by employers and labor unions. Moreover, to help monitor the law's operation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established. To accelerate the desegregation of schools, the new law empowered the attorney general to challenge local discriminatory practices in court.
The Great Society
Johnson, having pushed through what he considered Kennedy's bill, now went to work on his own legislative program. He began with the Economic Opportunity Act, the first salvo of a concerted "war on poverty," as he called it, that would become one of the hallmarks of his presidency. The act, signed into law on 20 August 1964, was funded with an appropriation of $948 million. It eventually authorized ten programs under the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) established as part of the White House office. The programs included a "domestic Peace Corps" to operate in depressed areas of the country, known as Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA); the Job Corps, designed as a make-work program for the hard-core unemployed; Head Start, to help deprived children compensate for their cultural disadvantages; and community-action programs to give poor people a hand in running government programs. When the session of Congress ended, Johnson, competing in his mind with the legislative achievements of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Hundred Days," declared grandly, "This session of Congress has enacted more major legislation, met more national needs, disposed of more national issues than any other session of this century or the last."
Johnson was now hitting his stride in the work he was touted to be expert in—persuading Congress to act. The difficulties between the executive and legislative branches that Kennedy had been unable to surmount were apparently vanishing. As they did, so did the memory of Kennedy's New Frontier. Speaking at the University of Michigan on 22 May, Johnson unveiled his own vision of America: "In your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time."
The possibility of giving life to such a vision brought popular support to the intense new president, who apparently was indeed able to fill Kennedy's shoes. The opinion polls showed Johnson more popular than his predecessor had been at the comparable time in his presidency. An uncommon feeling of confidence and unity seemed to pervade the nation, even though perceptive people could see that the excitement connected with the spate of legislation masked the troubles that were brewing in Vietnam. There the Communists in the northern part of the country were bent on overrunning the southern part, which the United States was committed to support.
The Campaign of 1964
With these events—favorable and portentous—as a backdrop, the presidential campaign of 1964 got under way. It was a foregone conclusion that Johnson would have the Democratic nomination, which he received at Atlantic City late in August amid much hoopla over the selection of a vice presidential candidate. Johnson, who played a cat-and-mouse game with several possible candidates (he had already ruled out Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the late president), was searching for a man, he said, who was "attractive and prudent and progressive." He believed he had found him in Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, who had been his colleague in the Senate from the time they were both elected to it in 1948. (Johnson would keep Humphrey very busy, but on a short tether. When Winston Churchill died in 1965, Johnson could not attend the funeral because of illness. But he would not dispatch Humphrey in his place for reasons he never made public.)
Meanwhile, the Republicans had nominated the conservative Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, as they shunted aside the liberal, internationalist, eastern wing of the party, whose leaders included Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York. One of only six Republicans who had voted against the civil rights bill, Goldwater was hoping to win the election by cobbling together support in the South and in the West and by providing the nation with what he spoke of as "a choice, not an echo." When eastern Republicans sought to denounce conservative extremists in the party—especially the John Birch Society—Goldwater assured fellow Republicans in his acceptance address that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!" The alarm of moderates was heightened when Goldwater told a reporter that if he could, he would "drop a low-yield atomic bomb on Chinese supply lines in Vietnam."
Johnson campaigned as an experienced man whose restraint and judgment in military matters could be relied upon. It seemed unremarkable in July when five hundred more troops—so-called advisers—were dispatched to Vietnam because Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy had already been increasing gradually the American military presence there. And the general public seems not to have become exercised when, on 2 and 4 August, in murky circumstances, North Vietnamese torpedo boats allegedly attacked United States destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin near North Vietnam's coast. Johnson ordered massive air attacks on targets in North Vietnam in retaliation. Moreover, on 7 August he obtained a congressional resolution—ever since known as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution—supporting the president in whatever action he deemed necessary "to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression" in Southeast Asia. It was not unlike the resolution that Congress had given Eisenhower in 1958 when he sent marines into Lebanon, and its passage was widely approved in the country at large.
Johnson had the support of the middle sector of American political sentiment, which was eager both to avoid a nuclear confrontation and to leave untouched the major domestic reforms, to which people had grown accustomed. Goldwater's broadside attacks on the Social Security Act, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the graduated income tax played into Johnson's hands. The president could appear the solid man, continuing in international affairs the tried-and-true policies of the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy years. He had shown he was in the tradition of the New Deal by putting Humphrey on the ticket. He showed he was the peace candidate by saying of the conflict rapidly heating up in Vietnam, "We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves." Furthermore, where Republicans were saying of Goldwater, "In your heart, you know he's right," Democrats were responding, "In your heart, you know he might." Unlike his opponent, Johnson could be counted on, the country was assured, not to press the button that would start a nuclear war. The unabashed way in which Goldwater referred to the Soviet Union as "the enemy" also alarmed many voters, who concluded that Goldwater regarded open war with the Soviets as unavoidable.
In domestic matters Johnson seemed a wizard. Having staunchly supported and pressed upon Congress early in 1964 Kennedy's $80 billion tax cut proposal despite dire predictions by business people of its likely effect, economic activity flourished. All of the usual indicators—consumer spending, gross national product, and federal tax receipts—showed the success the Democrats had predicted.
Johnson received the election results at the Driskill Hotel in Austin. Amid his closest friends he reveled in the greatest popular victory in American history. With 43 million votes, he had run 16 million ahead of Goldwater, carrying 44 states and losing only Arizona and 5 states of the Deep South. The immense triumph had the effect of changing the politics of America, giving Johnson what he labeled "a mandate for unity." On his coattails rode to victory hundreds of Democratic candidates for lesser offices throughout the country. In the House of Representatives the Republicans lost 37 seats, giving the Democrats 295 places to 140 for the Republicans. The 2 seats the Democrats picked up in the Senate enlarged the margin of the Democrats, making it 68 to 32. The nation could see that one effect of Goldwater's anemic candidacy was to open the way for an expansion of the Great Society programs. Johnson would not have to endure the tug-of-war with Capitol Hill that had been Kennedy's lot.
Democratic voters thought that Johnson had earned the support he received because of the deftness he had shown in enlarging Kennedy's constituency of four years earlier. Moreover, following so closely on the heels of the assassination, the victory may have revealed the voters' desire not to have another change of president so soon. Johnson took his triumph to mean that he had a blank check to go ahead with an extensive program of social legislation. The president concluded happily that the national unity he had asked for in the sad days of November 1963 had been achieved.
Johnson's goal as president was to achieve consensus—to occupy that common ground on which the general citizenry and Congress alike could stand with him. One of his favorite sayings, "Come, let us reason together," became a rallying call to his banner. As a leader in the Senate he had already made known his fondness for consensus government even across party lines in the close working relationship he established with President Eisenhower. Now he would rely on the force and influence of his own personality rather than on the Democratic party itself. His persuasiveness with erstwhile colleagues on Capitol Hill, often involving psychological arm-twisting that long ago had been labeled the "Johnson treatment," would now be a feature of the relations between the executive and legislative branches.
Already Johnson's first year in office had revealed him a master, too, at self-advertising. Whether holding press conferences, walking his dogs on the White House lawn, or greeting new appointees with lavish fanfare, he was a constant item on the television screen. A photograph of him baring his new surgical scar (he had had his gall bladder removed) seemed undignified to many people, although it stamped him a down-to-earth man for countless others. He was at first an uncertain performer before the television camera, the now indispensable tool of politics, but he nevertheless conveyed a picture of strength. He projected a sense that with his bare hands he could seize the country's problems and subdue them.
The inauguration on 20 January 1965 was itself a symbol of national consensus. The first president elected from the South since Zachary Taylor in 1848, Johnson was serenaded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, singing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." His inaugural address was a ringing call for national unity and noble deeds couched in almost biblical language. The president declared that "the oath I have taken before you and before God is not mine alone but ours together." And in rhetoric that evoked Franklin Roosevelt, he stated, "For every generation there is a destiny. For some, history decides. For this generation the choice must be our own." The destiny was to fulfill the American "covenant with this land"—to achieve justice, liberty, and union. In speaking of the toil and tears that each generation must expend, he unashamedly echoed Winston Churchill. A sentence that called to mind Kennedy's full-throated call four years earlier to defend freedom wherever it was threatened was soon to prove prophetic: "If American lives must end, and American treasure be spilled, in countries that we barely know, then that is the price that change has demanded of conviction and of our enduring covenant."
The new Congress was soon at Johnson's beck and call. It established two new cabinet posts: the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to which Johnson appointed Robert C. Weaver, the first black to hold a cabinet post, and the Department of Transportation. Johnson soon appointed the first solicitor general who was black, Thurgood Marshall (and elevated him in 1967 to the Supreme Court).
The special messages that Johnson sent to Capitol Hill began to inundate the lawmakers, even before the inauguration. On 7 January 1965 he called for Medicare, federally supported medical health services for the elderly, and improved health services for children, the mentally retarded, and the disabled; and he insisted upon millions of dollars for medical research. He traveled to Independence, Missouri, to sign the Medicare bill in the presence of former president Harry Truman, whom Johnson saluted as the law's true progenitor.
Before Congress could catch its breath, he sent it a billion-dollar proposal that became the Education Act of 1965 to aid elementary and secondary public schools, provide preschool programs for young children, grant subsidies to school libraries, finance scholarships and loans to needy students, and extend a variety of help to small colleges. He put his signature on the bill in the one-room schoolhouse he had attended as a boy near Stonewall, Texas. At his side sat "Miss Katie," his first teacher.
Soon the president was pressing Congress to pass a revision of the immigration laws, liberalizing the national origins quota system. Johnson journeyed to the Statue of Liberty to sign the bill into law on 3 October. Meanwhile, under the Voting Rights Act, which Johnson had approved on 6 August, federal examiners went to work immediately, removing impediments to the registration of black voters in the South. No field of reform seemed beyond the interest and reach of the president, and his zeal in dramatizing his concerns was limitless.
Committed to enlarging the "quality of life," Johnson supported legislation for the beautification of highways that Lady Bird Johnson ardently sought. In the field of the arts, Johnson established the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities, with a wide agenda of unprecedented duties. The variegated list of laws the administration pursued included the Highway Safety Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
Johnson reserved special earnestness for the continuing War on Poverty. The Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965 authorized $1.1 billion to rehabilitate and develop the mountainous region from Pennsylvania to Alabama and Georgia, which was experiencing severe social and economic hardship. The far-reaching Housing Act of 1965 made possible the construction of 240,000 low-rent public-housing units and provided $3 billion in grants for urban renewal. In May 1966, Johnson approved a supplementary appropriation bill to make possible the subsidization of rents for low- and moderate-income families. Said the president as he signed the act, "While every man's house cannot be a castle, it need not be a hovel." Under the Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act of 1966, Johnson hoped to see large-scale rebuilding of the total economic and social environment of depressed urban communities. The law recognized, he said, "that our cities are made of people, not just bricks and mortar." The Eighty-ninth Congress completed under Johnson's baton the agenda of liberalism opened originally by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Speaker McCormack, who also had formed his views in the 1930s of the role of the federal government, shared Johnson's enthusiasm: "It is the Congress of accomplished hopes. It is the Congress of realized dreams."
Johnson never received the public adulation for his labors that he believed he had earned. In the private quarters of the White House, he had placed on the wall an old photograph of himself facing Roosevelt. Johnson had captioned it, "I listen." And unquestionably he had gone to school to FDR. Johnson's close aide Bill Moyers once said that to Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt was a book to be read and reread. Now, as a reform president, Johnson had "out-Roosevelted Roosevelt," but the beneficiaries did not make Johnson their hero as once they had deified Roosevelt.
By the 1960s the United States had become a welfare state. The largesse of government was no longer a gift but a due. Perhaps the relaxed atmosphere and general prosperity of Eisenhower's time had made it impossible to rekindle enthusiasm for a reforming president. Perhaps, too, many Americans saw Johnson as building a monument to himself as well as sweeping away the problems of industrial America. Where thoughtful people had once hoped to create a good society, Johnson had decided that his legacy to the nation would be Texas-size: the Great Society. He aroused not so much division as disbelief, a contaminant in the brew for immortality.
The liberalism Johnson espoused had been bred into his bones, so he could not see that its time might be drawing to a close. From his father, who taught the young Lyndon how to put his arm on people and serve the cause of social justice in the bargain, he acquired a model and the confidence to go and do likewise. When Johnson was imploring northern city bosses and southern cronies to take his way on civil rights, his nose almost on top of theirs, Texas old-timers could see Sam Johnson alive again.
From his mother the future chief executive acquired a sense of what he could make of himself. Even in his most rebellious time as a destructive and occasionally violent youth, Johnson must have had a picture in his mind's eye of a better young man who one day would please his mother. He later would say that he never made a major decision in his career without consulting her. It is not too much to guess that when Johnson said he wished to be remembered as "the education president," he could feel the influence of his mother who would accompany him to the front gate of their house each morning, reviewing with him the stuff of his lessons for the day.
Finally, Johnson was stamped by the models he took for himself from among the affluent cattlemen and oilmen he admired and envied. They tended to see the world through red-white-and-blue glasses and to regard physical power as the ultimate arbiter of disputes. Moreover, the Texas cowboy tradition of fiction and fact left its impress on Johnson. It reinforced his determination to plump for what was right and to be quick on the draw.
In a nation addicted to television, Johnson's personality became an object of public scrutiny. His penchant for secret conferral and for needlessly refusing to show his hand, which sometimes could seem conspiratorial, grated on associates and, after he entered the White House, on representatives of the media. Many of them began to see a "credibility gap" between the truth and certain White House utterances. The habit of dissimulating thwarted Johnson's hope to be loved by the people. The eager heartiness with which he embraced others by seeming to take them into his confidence may have been an indication of his awareness that he was not really loved in return, although this mannerism may have been accentuated by his considerable deafness, which he never acknowledged publicly.
The bawdy language that notably peppered his conversation suggests that he harbored a deep feeling of inferiority, which even his size—he stood six feet, three inches, and weighed two hundred pounds—could not overcome. The frustration of his youth that there were people richer and luckier than he appeared never to have left him. It seemed to show in his frequent comment that he came from "the wrong part of the country"—an irascible reference to the eastern establishment, which steadfastly regarded him as an outsider. Possibly he compensated for the felt deprivation in his remarkable love of creature comforts and especially in the fervor with which he outfitted his ranch on the Pedernales River.
Never far from his thoughts was the fear that his presidency, like Wilson's, might be destroyed by his physical incapacity. He later wrote, "Whenever I walked through the Red Room and saw Woodrow Wilson hanging there I thought of him stretched out upstairs in the White House, powerless to move, with the machinery of the American government in disarray around him." Johnson may have felt unconsciously that he had no time to lose, that the clock was running against him. Possibly his concern over his health helps explain the frenzy of his presidential activity. Or possibly with his eyes on history's judgment of him he simply wanted to "do it all." The White House staff was aware of Johnson's expressed concern that he might run out of problems to solve—never out of solutions.
In international politics, Johnson was unschooled, and he seemed to lean on precepts gleaned from personal experience. "I know these Latin Americans," he told some newspaper reporters when he had been in the White House only a short while. "I grew up with Mexicans. They'll come right into your yard and take it over if you let them.. . . But if you say to 'em right at the start, 'Hold on, just a minute,' they'll know they're dealing with somebody who'll stand up. And after that you can get along just fine." Still, Johnson was no hothead or saber rattler. The besetting concern over Fidel Castro's regime gave Johnson an opportunity to show his mettle early in his administration. The Cuban dictator was demanding the return to Cuba of the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay. To underscore his determination, he shut off the water to the American installation. Johnson countered the move immediately by instructing the navy to establish its own water supply. The Cubans working on the base were simply ordered to spend their wages there or be dismissed.
Johnson also showed moderation and self-control when nationalistic rioting took place in the Panama Canal Zone in early 1964. As demonstrators screamed, "Gringos, go home," President Roberto Chiari insisted that the time had come to revise the treaties governing United States-Panama relations. After the violence ended, Johnson agreed to enter into negotiations, declaring afterward that "it was indeed time for the United States and Panama to take a fresh look at our treaties." A United States-Panama treaty was finally signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, providing for Panama to assume full control of the canal at the end of 1999.
Latin America presented persistent problems. The Alliance for Progress had created high expectations throughout the region, but it was not yielding the improved standard of living the masses of people had been led to expect. Trouble broke out in the Dominican Republic on 24 April 1965. The civilian government of Donald Reid Cabral came under attack from liberal and radical followers of Juan Bosch. Bosch, heading a reform party, had received 60 percent of the votes in a national election in 1962, but he had been ousted in a coup d'état. The new regime under Reid Cabral received the support of the Department of State, although its leader apparently had little popular support. Moreover, the country was in increasing economic difficulties. In April 1965 a group of young army officers raised the banner of revolt, aiming to restore the exited Bosch to the presidency. Civil war ensued as the senior army officers, backed by conservative elements, opposed the insurgents. In the fierce fighting that followed, the military seemed to be winning. But the pro-Bosch forces gained strength by arming civilians in the city. As the struggle raged on, more than a thousand Americans became trapped in the Embajador Hotel. Ambassador W. Tapley Bennett, concerned for their safety, expressed anxiety over a possible Castro-like government emerging. He cabled President Johnson, urging that troops be landed immediately in order to protect American citizens. On 28 April marines waiting offshore aboard an aircraft carrier were landed and quickly established a cease-fire in Santo Domingo. The following month the Organization of American States (OAS) agreed to station a peacekeeping force in the Dominican Republic to replace the marines.
Johnson had possibly saved American lives and had prevented the rise of a Communist government. He was able, moreover, to withdraw the American forces gracefully when the OAS troops moved in. Still, he had lost some credibility as he sought to justify the steps he had taken. Two days after the dispatch of troops, he explained his actions on the ground that "people trained outside the Dominican Republic are seeking to gain control." On 2 May he identified the cause of the trouble as a "band of Communist conspirators." In private conversation Johnson stated that "we took out 5,641 people from forty-six nations—without even a sprained ankle.. . . If I hadn't acted, Castro would have had them all." Some Americans were inclined to agree with Bosch's assessment: "This was a democratic revolution smashed by the leading democracy of the world." Johnson had acted on his conviction that "the last thing the American people wanted . . . was another Cuba on our doorstep."
Under Johnson, relations with the Soviet Union seemed less menacing than did those with the People's Republic of China, although Johnson himself was not afraid of China. In 1967 he said: "Why would the Chinese want to take on the United States of America? . . . It would be like an eleven-year-old colored girl from Tennessee going up against Jack Dempsey." And he added, "One way to avoid [war with China] is to quit talking about it." Johnson's dour view of the Soviets possibly had been modified by the cordial meeting he held at Glassboro, New Jersey, with Premier Aleksey Kosygin in June 1967, which may have accelerated progress in the nuclear nonproliferation treaty the president was seeking.
Vietnam: An Entangling Alliance
Despite a folksy manner and intonation, which some Americans took as proof that he was only a regional man, Johnson knew that there was beyond the Pedernales a vastly different world full of treacherous risks. He sensed, too, that his place in history might ultimately depend on how he managed foreign affairs. He was no reader of history, but he had watched intently the doings of his predecessors and had an elephant's memory for their mistakes, particularly those that were politically expensive. He had seen how Truman's experience in "losing" China had hounded the Missourian to the end of his administration. He had pondered the frustration that Castro's coming to power had caused the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. Moreover, Johnson could vividly recall—and the details were constantly at the tip of his tongue—the efforts of Franklin Roosevelt and his people to buck the isolationist tide in the late 1930s and early 1940s. For Johnson that experience was like a remembered time of terror he did not wish to relive. Forthright steps like those he had taken in the Dominican Republic would help prevent it. They became linked with the war in Vietnam when he called upon Congress on 4 May 1965 for the sum of $700 million in additional military appropriations for both undertakings.
The Vietnam situation was a time bomb in the administration. Inherited from Kennedy and Eisenhower, like most of the problems Johnson faced, it gradually became an overwhelming force. During the campaign of 1964, it was beginning to move to the center of public attention. It had been creeping up slowly for years. At the time of Kennedy's assassination more than sixteen thousand Americans were stationed in Vietnam, and the danger of deeper involvement enlarged as the corruption and incompetence of the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem began to cause widespread unrest.
Johnson himself had visited South Vietnam as vice president and had seen at first hand how heavily American prestige was already committed there. Scarcely become president, though, he was privately telling confidants (which we now know from his telephone taping), "I don't think it's worth fighting for." Johnson, nevertheless, was about to become "the Vietnam president," unable to win the war the way he understood it had to be fought and unable to extricate the United States on terms he believed acceptable. Still, he was determined: "I am not going to be the president who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went."
Hardly settled into his own term of office in 1965, Johnson confronted on 6 February a Vietcong attack on the American barracks at Pleiku. Two days before the election a costly attack on the American installation at Bien Hoa had gone unanswered. Now American B-52 bombers assaulted North Vietnam, the beginning of Operation Rolling Thunder, the program of gradually intensified air attacks. Johnson ordered that American dependents be evacuated from Saigon. At the same time, the American military presence in Vietnam was beefed up.
At a news conference on 27 April, Johnson stated the issue as he saw it. The United States, he declared, is "engaged in a crucial issue in Vietnam.. . . Defeat in South Vietnam would deliver a friendly nation to terror and repression. It would encourage and spur on those who seek to conquer all free nations that are within their reach." The "domino theory" of the Eisenhower era received new reinforcement. If North Vietnam succeeded in taking over South Vietnam, said the president, "our own welfare, our own freedom would be in danger." He added: "This is the clearest lesson of our time. From Munich until today we have learned that to yield to aggression brings only greater threats and brings even more destructive war." He was certain that "this is the same battle which we [have] fought for a generation." He stood ready, he declared, to enter into unconditional discussions with the North Vietnamese. Even as he spoke so resolutely, the process was under way that would erode the Johnson administration and gradually turn the nation against him in scenes of fitful violence unprecedented in the history of the presidency. From the beginning of his presidency he was anguished over his plight, musing privately that "when I land troops they call me an interventionist [referring to his move in the Dominican Republic], and if I do nothing I'll be impeached." So, the troubling buildup in Vietnam continued. There were 33,500 American soldiers and marines in Vietnam in April 1965; there were 75,000 by the end of June. And the mission of the troops was gradually broadened from static defense to permit patrolling of the countryside.
Even as the American troop commitment was growing, Johnson had grave doubts about the course he had set the country on. Anxiously, he asked former President Eisenhower: "[Do] you think that we can really get beat out there?" And he was saying to Lady Bird Johnson, his most trusted confidante: "Vietnam is getting worse every day. I have the choice to go in with great casualty lists or to get out with disgrace. It's like being in an airplane and I have to choose between crashing with the plane or jumping out. I do not have a parachute."
In June, American forces took on an active role against the Vietcong in a zone northwest of Saigon. Nevertheless, the troops were instructed not to initiate offensive action. The air strikes, furthermore, were confined to nonindustrial targets some distance removed from Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam, and Haiphong, its principal port.
In July the military situation in South Vietnam worsened noticeably. The government was shakier than ever, and the Vietcong were pressing the attack. On 28 July the president announced that 50,000 more Americans would be sent to the war zone immediately. And he was looking further down the road: "Additional forces will be needed later, and they will be sent as requested." Johnson talked once again of the stakes: "If we are driven from the field in Vietnam, then no nation can ever again have the same confidence in American promise or in American protection." By the end of 1965, there were almost 185,000 uniformed Americans in Vietnam, and the end was not in sight.
The war, moreover, was spreading beyond Vietnam. The United States felt free to take action in Cambodia if necessary to protect American troops in South Vietnam. The bombing of infiltration routes in Laos was being intensified. And the bombardment of the Ho Chi Minh Trail leading from North Vietnam was raising the specter of possible Chinese intervention in the war. Johnson and his intimates were unable to define what a victory would be, and they were terrified of "another Korea"—a war with an indecisive outcome. Instead of victory, they preferred the phrase favorable settlement —defined by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara as coming about when the North Vietnamese ceased feeding "the fires of subversion and aggression in South Vietnam" so that South Vietnam could gradually "expand its control and shape the outcome." The president continued to use the words winning and losing. Until early 1968 he believed what he had been saying in mid-1965: "I know the other side is winning; so they do, too. No man wants to trade when he's winning." So he concluded that the United States would have to "apply the maximum deterrent until [the enemy] sobers up and unloads his pistol." Johnson persisted in a mistaken conviction that Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese leader, was, like most other politicians, ready sooner or later to make a deal.
At Christmastime 1965 the president conducted a worldwide effort—the "Johnson peace offensive"—aimed at commencing negotiations. Vice President Hubert Humphrey sped off to meet with Soviet Premier Kosygin in New Delhi; Ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg visited with Pope Paul VI, President Charles de Gaulle of France, and Prime Minister Harold Wilson of Great Britain; and Secretary of State Dean Rusk conferred in Saigon with South Vietnamese officials. The veteran diplomatic troubleshooter Averell Harriman went behind the Iron Curtain to present the position of the administration to ranking officials in Warsaw and Belgrade. The good offices of U Thant, the secretary general of the United Nations, were also earnestly enlisted. The peace offensive, launched with a dramatic and well-publicized halt in the bombing of the North, ended after thirty-seven days on 31 January 1966—an unmitigated failure.
Protest at Home
The war was beginning to threaten Johnson's prized consensus. The first sign had been the votes of Senators Ernest Gruening of Alaska and Wayne Morse of Oregon against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. But during 1965 other leading senators went into opposition. Two of the best known were William F. Fulbright of Arkansas and Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota. Fulbright, who was opposed to the resumption of bombing after the temporary halt, voiced his fear of an "ever-increasing escalation in the fighting." Morse, the most caustic of the critics, boldly and angrily predicted that the American people "will repudiate our war in Southeast Asia."
Johnson's response was more and more rancorous and hostile. He saw Americans as divided simply "between cut-and-run people and patriotic people." With deep sarcasm he said of his critics: "They have a real feeling for danger.. . . They see a fire and they turn off the hose because it is essential that we not waste any water." Mindful of Fulbright's opposition to the civil rights movement, Johnson pointedly explained the senator's opposition to the war as racist, asserting that the senator from Arkansas "cannot understand that people with brown skins value freedom too."
Johnson never accepted the widely held view of the Democratic "doves" (opponents of the war) that the conflict was a civil war and that the Vietcong had won the allegiance of most South Vietnamese even before the North Vietnamese had began their large-scale infiltration. While Johnson and his people insisted that China was the puppeteer manipulating the assault on South Vietnam, the doves scoffed, maintaining that if the United States restrained itself and did not force North Vietnam to seek Chinese assistance, an independent Communist Vietnam might evolve. The doves rejected, too, Johnson's insistence that the United States had a solemn obligation to act under the provisions of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). Johnson was adamant, taking pains to point out that Mike Mansfield of Montana, who had succeeded him as majority leader in the Senate and was increasingly opposed to the war, had been a signatory of the treaty establishing SEATO.
A serious defection from the phalanx of Great Society supporters was the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. King had concluded that the prosecution of the war was assuming a higher priority than the pledged expansion of civil rights. But Johnson remained adamant, at increasingly heavy cost to the nation's tranquillity and to the base of power that had carried him to his recent electoral victory.
By the end of 1966, the momentum of Johnson's Great Society program was slowing. Worse, the tide of domestic troubles—inflation, a price-wage squeeze, and mounting strikes—was rising, mostly because of the war in Vietnam. Yet the problems could not be managed unless the war ended. Besides, Johnson, having widened the war without calling for public sacrifice, continued to act as if the country could have "both guns and butter." The situation called for a cutback in domestic spending or an increase in taxes, but Johnson was unwilling to break up his immense majority in Congress by asking for either.
The air war in Vietnam had clearly not produced the results sought. Johnson, increasingly testy, even became disenchanted with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman, General Earle G. Wheeler, also a victim of heart trouble, he felt kin to. "Bomb, bomb, bomb, that's all you know," Johnson several times complained in frustration. The search-and-destroy operations of the troops under General William C. Westmoreland, the American commander in Vietnam, did not seem to put a strain on enemy manpower. "Westy" now had almost 500,000 men in Vietnam, more than 3,000 helicopters, 28 tactical fighter-bombers, and large numbers of giant B-52 bombers. The Vietnam landscape was so heavily pockmarked by the aerial assaults that experienced pilots could fly to their targets by following bomb craters whose configuration had become familiar to them.
In early August 1967, Johnson formalized to the generals his response to their latest request for troops—for 100,000 more. He would allow them 45,000 and thus bring to 525,000 the strength of the force in Vietnam by the middle of 1968. But he knew that progress in the war was not taking place. He asked Westmoreland, "When we add divisions, can't the enemy add divisions? If so where does it all end?" Expanding the war by calling up the reserves seemed out of the question. The American death toll was rising: by the end of 1967 it was approaching 500 a week. The cost of the war in 1967 was $25 billion, fueling what would prove to be a long cycle of inflation. Moreover, television news was for the first time in American history bringing the battlefield into the living room regularly. Millions were appalled at the use of napalm on villagers who seemed innocent victims of forces they could not comprehend. In the eyes of the world, the United States was Goliath mercilessly pummeling David.
The war had significantly changed the public's judgment of Johnson. Once seen as a political magician with a sure mastery of people and circumstances, he now seemed battered by events out of his control and beyond his ken. His vaunted capacity for wearing out his young aides was being enlarged by a fury regarding any form of dissent within the ranks. And the people saw a president who wearily wrestled with the politics of the nation's problems rather than with the problems themselves. His ill-temperedness, sometimes combined with disingenuousness, made his public persona unattractive to many Americans. It stood in the way of bringing Johnson the public sympathy a beleaguered president traditionally receives, as Kennedy had received it after the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs. Not even Lincoln in the darkest days of the Civil War had faced such intense dissent and public doubts about his course of action.
The opposition to the Vietnam War was given its most powerful expression by college students. One of their first responses had been the device of the teach-in—hours-long discussions of the war with many participants—the first of which took place on the campus of the University of Michigan on 24 March 1965—a one-day school moratorium during which professors spoke on the war instead of offering their regular lectures. The teach-in became familiar throughout the country. Moreover, it provided an opportunity for students to vent other grievances: against the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), against academic support of scientific work for defense purposes, against the exclusion of students from college decision making, and against a medley of real and imagined irritations. The public demonstrations, which may have been an important stimulus to draft resistance, seemed to merge with the uprising known as the youth movement. Johnson, who had never given up the fond hope of being remembered as a friend of education, was publicly taunted at student rallies, often with the stinging refrain, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"
Concurrently Johnson's relationship with the black community cooled noticeably. Some part of the disaffection was owing to the unpopular war, involving as it did the disruption of a land inhabited by people of color, but it also grew out of the alienation from a generally prosperous society of its black people, who did not share in the bounty, and out of a natural evolution of the civil rights movement from a call for integration to a demand for "black power." The neighborhoods of tenements and slums occupied by poor blacks in the North, now denominated ghettos, were notably marked by high unemployment and run-down schools. Even as the presidential campaign had gotten under way in 1964, a riot in New York erupted and lasted five days.
In the next few years the nation experienced "long, hot summers"—riots and the threats of riots in major cities. The Watts district of Los Angeles burst into flames in 1965, and black communities exploded in Cleveland in 1966, in Newark and Detroit in 1967, and in Washington, D.C., in 1968. Anxiety over possible race war gripped many cities as the words "Burn, baby, burn" were reported to be the battle cry of the rioters. The nation was reaping a whirlwind resulting from its long neglect and indifference to the needs of the black poor. As the destruction, including looting and attacks on white policemen, firemen, and National Guardsmen, rent the air, it was easy to find a scapegoat: Johnson and his war in Vietnam. Both he and the struggle in Asia became more unpopular than ever.
The president's response was to appoint the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, chaired by Governor Otto D. Kerner of Illinois. The report delivered to the president on 2 March 1968 blamed white racism for the troubles. The country, it declared, was dividing into two societies, one white, one black—"separate and unequal." Its recommendations included a call for open housing and other "massive" programs. Johnson praised the report, but it distressed him, too, for he said: "They always print that we don't do enough. They don't print what we do." Johnson felt stymied: the War on Poverty he had designed had spent more than $6 billion from 1964 to 1967, and poverty had not disappeared. Indeed, there was extensive proof of widespread malnutrition and even hunger in the country. Fresh evidence came to public attention just as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced that he was proposing a new antiballistic missile defense system that would cost $5 billion. Johnson was now the object of the new accusation that he was unable any longer to discern the nation's true priorities. Many Americans insisted that poverty could be wiped out if the money being spent on the war were diverted to the home front.
In October 1967 a mass protest by a group calling itself the National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam descended upon Washington. The administration was torn: Should it call a new bombing halt to satisfy the growing opposition at home, or should it intensify the war in order to satisfy the "hawks," who were eager to smite North Vietnam decisively? Before the end of November, a public opinion poll showed that confidence in Johnson's management of the war had dropped to 23 percent—the lowest point yet. Nevertheless, public support of the war effort itself remained at about 45 percent between November and March 1968.
The president and his principal spokesmen were finding it harder each week to avoid the chanting protesters, who seemed to be everywhere. For the first time in history, a president was unwelcome in public in most parts of the country, making him a veritable prisoner in the White House, "hunkered down" there, to use one of his favorite expressions. At the end of 1967 he traveled to Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Pakistan in four and a half days, returning to the White House on Christmas Eve after stopping off for a surprise meeting with the pope in the Vatican. Johnson was once again attempting to placate the doves. One means was to state a willingness to accept Vietcong representatives in discussions of the war at the United Nations. The immediate effect was to disrupt relations with South Vietnam, where President Nguyen Van Thieu expressed cold anger at Washington for seeming to have truck with the enemy.
In his State of the Union message of 17 January 1968, Johnson could report that "Americans are as prosperous as men have ever been in recorded history." Still, he took note of the disarray in the country, as he added, "Yet there is in the land a certain restlessness, a questioning." Privately the president was gloomy and depressed. By now, even McGeorge Bundy, who as Johnson's first special assistant for national security affairs had been an architect of the first phase of the war, had come out against its continuation.
The nation's discontent intruded into the White House itself when, on 18 January 1968, Mrs. Johnson held a luncheon for a group of white and black women who had been invited in order to discuss crime in the streets. One of the guests, Eartha Kitt, a prominent singer, rose shortly after the president had spoken briefly, to assert that young people were rebelling and smoking marijuana because of the war. "Boys I know across the nation feel it doesn't pay to be a good guy. They figure [that] with a [prison] record they don't have to go off to Vietnam." Johnson was furious over what he regarded as an affront to the presidency delivered in the White House itself and over the extensive coverage of the incident in the press and on television.
The Final Days
Johnson's political world was soon a shambles. In November 1967, Senator Eugene McCarthy had announced his audacious intention to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. McCarthy was opposed not only to the war but also to what he saw as the excessive power of the presidency under Johnson. For a brief time Johnson assumed that McCarthy was only a stalking-horse for Senator Robert Kennedy of New York, which incensed him all the more. The Kennedys, he had come to think, regarded themselves as superior people to himself.
In March 1968, Clark Clifford, Johnson's long-time informal adviser and widely regarded as a hawk, became the secretary of defense. The president did not want another doubting Thomas—as McNamara had become—serving in his cabinet. Nevertheless, events soon overwhelmed traditional categories. On 23 January the USS Pueblo, an intelligence-gathering vessel, was seized by North Korean gunboats while on patrol off the North Korean port of Wonsan, and the crew of eighty men imprisoned. The president, provoked and exasperated, restrained himself despite a public outcry for quick military retaliation. He responded by calling to active duty fifteen thousand air force and navy reservists and ordering the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Enterprise to assume a station off the coast of South Korea. His desire was to give assurance that despite the war in Vietnam, he continued to exercise freedom of military action. Following frustrating negotiations, the crew was freed eleven months later, after the United States admitted culpability for violating Korean waters and apologized. Apparently by prearrangement, the "confession" was repudiated after the men's release, for it obviously had been wrenched out of the United States under duress.
A week after the seizure of the Pueblo, critical developments changed the scene in Vietnam. While Saigon was celebrating Tet, the lunar new year, the Vietcong had launched an attack on the city, including the vital Tan Son Nhut Airport. Within two days every significant city or provincial capital in South Vietnam was under assault. General Westmoreland said that the concerted attack had been expected but not its size and destructiveness. The United States and South Vietnamese forces, caught by surprise, recovered quickly. Yet the recapture of the beautiful old capital of Hue, which contained many architectural treasures, took three weeks and some of the costliest fighting of the war. In the end, the city lay in ruins.
The administration insisted that in blunting the Tet offensive it had gained a victory, but the public generally perceived the outcome of the battle as a defeat. In truth, the struggle was a prelude to a decision in Washington to wind down the war. Johnson insisted at a press conference on 2 February that basic United States strategy would remain unchanged. He was relying heavily upon the assessment of the military situation by his generals. He and they, ever mindful of the decisive defeat that the North Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap had inflicted on the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, were determined that a similar disaster would not befall the American forces. When crack North Vietnamese units laid siege to the marine garrison and South Vietnamese regulars at Khe Sanh near the Laotian border in late 1967, fear of such an outcome ran high. Johnson anxiously followed the fierce encounter from the war room in the White House. The beleaguered troops—substantially reinforced in response to Johnson's order to hold at all cost—lifted the siege in early April. They had been given the heaviest air support ever accorded to ground forces. Johnson, temporarily relieved by the reports of these momentous battles, continued to rally support in the nation. He even personally bid farewell to a contingent of troops being hurried to the war zone.
The war was entering a new phase. General Wheeler, who had rushed to Vietnam after the Tet offensive, returned with a request from General Westmoreland for additional troops—206,000 of them. To raise and support that many men would require calling up reservists and adding $10 billion to the federal budget. Johnson, seemingly aware now that his goal of "carrying forward the Nation's struggle against aggression in Southeast Asia" was not going to be achieved, instructed Secretary Clifford to undertake a close study of the Westmoreland request. Clifford became the instrument through which the policy of constantly expanding the American presence in Vietnam was eventually reversed.
Johnson, meanwhile, had come to the conclusion that with the military force the United States had in Vietnam the Americans were not going to be able, as he put it, "to nail the coonskin to the wall." Political developments no doubt were determinative in leading Johnson to reexamine his position on staying the course. On 12 March, McCarthy, whom the president personally scorned, won 42 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary. Four days later, Robert Kennedy, no doubt emboldened by McCarthy's victory, entered the presidential race too.
The next two weeks were decisive for the president. He had reached certain conclusions, which he announced on 31 March in an address to the nation. He was halting the bombing of North Vietnam in the hope that the step would lead to peace, and he was going to give higher priority than ever to expanding the size of the South Vietnamese forces—that is, to "Vietnamizing" the war once again—and he was authorizing a small increase in the American forces in Vietnam.
At the end of his address he dropped a political bombshell: he would not be a candidate for reelection. He declared, "I have concluded that I should not permit the presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year." In his memoirs he later reported that he had decided even as he took the oath in January 1965 that he would never take it again. His health, he had concluded, would not stand the punishment of another term. Johnson did not mention that already the public opinion polls, which he followed intensely on all matters throughout his presidency, showed he would suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of McCarthy in the upcoming primary election in Wisconsin. Following the announcement, Johnson's political fortunes revived briefly as Congress passed his proposals for fair housing (embraced in the Civil Rights Act of 1968) and also a tax increase. But his presidency was soon in the doldrums again as the peace talks seemed to be going nowhere. In October his nominee for chief justice, Associate Justice Abe Fortas, was turned down by the Senate, the first time a president had been thus humiliated since 1795, when Washing-ton's nomination of John Rutledge as the second chief justice was rejected.
Event had piled upon event. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on 4 April. The riots that ensued added to the dismay of the American people at the low state to which public order and morale had fallen. Two months later Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. When the Democratic National Convention met in Chicago in August to choose a presidential candidate amid violence in the streets, as police and antiwar protesters battled each other, the party named Vice President Hubert Humphrey to carry its banner. Johnson's hold on the party had slipped so badly that he did not even attend the convention.
Humphrey, who felt deeply obligated personally to Johnson, was unable to shake the albatross of Johnson's dealings with the North Vietnamese, now negotiating in Paris with American negotiators. The Republicans had nominated Richard Nixon, who insisted—without specifying his meaning—that "new leadership can end the war in the Pacific and bring peace." The crowning disappointment of the summer of 1968 was the need to cancel Johnson's long-planned trip to Moscow for talks on the limiting of antiballistic missiles. All had been in readiness when, on 20 August, at the height of the tumultuous Democratic convention, 200,000 Russian and Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress a movement to liberalize society in that Iron Curtain country. The ratification of a proposed treaty was postponed. The president seemed trapped in a maze without an exit.
In retirement, Johnson worked on plans for his presidential library (dedicated in May 1971) on the campus of the University of Texas, in Austin. He devoted time, too, to the preparation of his memoirs, published under the title The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963–1969. Meanwhile, his heart condition worsened, and it was increasingly difficult for him to exert himself. In considerable physical distress, he presided over a memorable symposium on civil rights at his library only a few weeks before he died on 22 January 1973. He was buried on his beloved LBJ Ranch.
The war remains the dark side of Johnson's moon; domestic legislation is the shining side, particularly the civil rights laws that remain his monument. As his administration drew to a close, Johnson must have felt betrayed by history and by his close associates, whom he had regarded as his choicest inheritance from Kennedy, and by old friends like Senator Fulbright, the carping chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Johnson's wondrous hopes for America were not going to be realized in his time. The civil rights struggle had not yet completely moved from the streets into the courts, although, despite the burning cities of the late sixties, that process was clearly under way.
Johnson came to recognize that he was at the wrong point in history. Although his dream to re-make life for the deprived and underprivileged and to be recalled forever as their benefactor had been shattered by the awful bloodletting ten thousand miles from home, the ideal of a land without poverty or racial division remains his legacy to America. Possibly he sensed this when, in an unusual move, he delivered a State of the Union message on 14 January 1969, just before leaving office. His words were a last call for the passage of Great Society legislation. He plainly had not run out of problems requiring attention, as he once had feared he would.
Americans will continue to ponder the incomplete triumph at home and the unfinished and losing war abroad of its first cowboy president, who came out of the hill country of Texas, certain of how society's wrongs could be put right. As he left office to return to his ranch and to the other substantial interests that his political successes had given him the opportunity to acquire, he rested his case with history. And he could hope that one day Americans with a longer perspective on the Vietnam War would judge more favorably than had his contemporaries what he had attempted in Asia and the central role he had played in the tragic epoch that shook the nation to its roots.
Lyndon B. Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963–1969 (New York, 1971), is the president's memoirs, a team effort with loyalist writers. His My Hope for America (New York, 1964) is a campaign document containing his philosophy of government culled from some of his speeches. Lady Bird Johnson, A White House Diary (New York, 1970), is an impressive book of reminiscences based on the First Lady's daily talks into her tape recorder. Johnson's exchanges with members of the media are found in The Johnson Presidential Press Conferences, 2 vols. (New York, 1978).
Irving Bernstein, Guns or Butter: The Presidency of Lyndon Johnson (New York, 1996), is the best one-volume treatment, elaborating masterfully how the Vietnam War undermined the Great Society. Vaughn Davis Bornet, The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson (Lawrence, Kans., 1983), covers the ground, although it is turgid in style. A lively and penetrating one-volume biography is Paul K. Conkin, Big Daddy from the Pedernales: Lyndon Baines Johnson (Boston, 1986). Robert A. Caro, The Path to Power (New York, 1982) and Means of Ascent (New York, 1990), are the first two volumes of a planned four-volume study, The Years of Lyndon Johnson ; it is sharply critical and enormously detailed. Ronnie Dugger, The Drive for Power, from the Frontier to Master of the Senate (New York, 1982), also critical, is based substantially on many interviews with LBJ; it is the first volume of a projected study entitled The Politician: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson. Outstanding on Johnson's early career, and elegantly written, is Robert Dallek, Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908–1960 (New York, 1991). Leonard Baker, The Johnson Eclipse: A President's Vice Presidency (New York, 1966), is devoted to the most disappointing years in Johnson's public life.
Philip Reed Rulon, The Compassionate Samaritan: The Life of Lyndon Baines Johnson (Chicago, 1981), evaluates the man with fervent praise. Alfred Steinberg, Sam Johnson's Boy: A Close-up of the President from Texas (New York, 1968), concludes that LBJ failed to grow in office. Merle Miller, Lyndon: An Oral Biography (New York, 1980), brings Johnson to life through taped recollections of friends and associates. Louis Heren, No Hail, No Farewell (New York, 1970), is a judicious evaluation of the Johnson presidency by the chief Washington correspondent of the Times of London. William S. White, The Professional: Lyndon B. Johnson (Boston, 1964), is a compelling portrait that served as a campaign biography. The best account of Johnson's election to the presidency is Theodore H. White, The Making of the President: 1964 (New York, 1965). For the family background, books by Johnson's mother and brother are available: Rebekah Baines Johnson, A Family Album (New York, 1965), and Sam Houston Johnson, My Brother, Lyndon (New York, 1970).
George C. Herring, America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950–1975, 2d ed. (Philadelphia, 1986), is the best brief English-language history of the struggle. Herring's LBJ and Vietnam: A Different Kind of War (Austin, Tex., 1994), using newly released materials, exposes freshly some basic flaws in Johnson's management of the war. Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History, rev. ed. (New York, 1991), is a spirited, on-the-battlefield recounting. Another instructive review is Brian VanDeMark, Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (New York, 1991). Henry F. Graff, The Tuesday Cabinet: Deliberation and Decision on Peace and War Under Lyndon B. Johnson (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1970), presents the administration's rationale for fighting in Vietnam, based on extensive conversations over a period of years with the principal architects of the war. Frank E. Vandiver, Shadows of Vietnam: Lyndon Johnson's Wars (College Station, Tex., 1997), is an accounting of LBJ's performance as commander in chief. David M. Barrett, Uncertain Warriors: Lyndon Johnson and His Vietnam Advisers (Lawrence, Kans., 1993), aims to disentangle the sources of Johnson's policies. For a contemporaneous evocation of the atmosphere in which Johnson and his chief lieutenants made decisions, there is none better than David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (New York, 1972).
The role of Johnson's secretary of state in the shaping of the Vietnam War is set forth unemotionally in Dean Rusk's memoir, As I Saw It (New York, 1990). The secretary of defense's belated recounting of the failure of the Johnson policies and of how early he knew they were wrong is in Robert S. McNamara, with Brian VanDeMark, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (New York, 1995). Clark Clifford, with Richard Holbrooke, Counsel to the President: A Memoir (New York, 1991), recounts the author's labors as LBJ's second secretary of defense to begin winding down the war. Jack Valenti, A Very Human President (New York, 1975), is one of the best of the insiders' accounts, showing Johnson always reaching for lofty goals. Harry McPherson, A Political Education (Boston, 1972), is a superior set of recollections by a special assistant and counsel to the president. Joseph A. Califano, Jr., A Presidential Nation (New York, 1975), illuminates problems of the presidency as he saw them while serving as presidential assistant for domestic affairs. Califano's The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years (New York, 1991) gives an unsurpassed recital of Johnson at work on his legislative agenda. Doris Kearns, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (New York, 1976), is based on the author's experience as a White House fellow; psychoanalytically oriented, it purports to shed light on LBJ's relations with his mother. A penetrating appraisal of Johnson by his first press secretary is George Reedy, Lyndon B. Johnson: A Memoir (New York, 1982). George Christian, the last press secretary, covers sensitively Johnson's final hundred days in office in The President Steps Down: A Personal Memoir of the Transfer of Power (New York, 1970). Eric F. Goldman, The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson (New York, 1969), derives from his experience as "intellectual-in-residence" at the White House and tells persuasively of the changes that overtook Johnson as the war progressed.
Specialized studies on significant aspects of the Johnson years include Kathleen J. Turner, Lyndon Johnson's Dual War: Vietnam and the Press (Chicago, 1985), and Bruce E. Altschuler, LBJ and the Polls (Gainesville, Fla., 1990). The series on the administrative history of the Johnson White House published by the University of Texas Press contains W. Henry Lambright, Presidential Management of Science and Technology: The Johnson Presidency (Austin, Tex., 1985); James E. Anderson and Jared E. Hazleton, Managing Macroeconomic Policy: The Johnson Presidency (Austin, Tex., 1986); Neil D. McFeeley, Appointment of Judges: The Johnson Presidency (Austin, Tex., 1987); David M. Welborn and Jesse Burkhead, Intergovernmental Relations in the American Administrative State: The Johnson Presidency (Austin, Tex., 1989); Paul Y. Hammond, LBJ and the Presidential Management of Foreign Relations (Austin, Tex., 1992); and David M. Welborn, Regulation in the White House: The Johnson Presidency (Austin, Tex., 1993). William E. Leuchtenburg, In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan (Ithaca, N.Y, 1983), brilliantly illuminates LBJ's connection to Roosevelt in chapter 4. A good brief discussion of Johnson's economic policies by a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Nixon and Ford is in Herbert Stein, Presidential Economics: The Making of Economic Policy from Roosevelt to Reagan and Beyond (New York, 1984).
Only slightly out of date is Lyndon B. Johnson: A Bibliography, 2 vols. (Austin, Tex., 1984–1988). Invaluable still is Robert A. Divine, ed., Exploring the Johnson Years (Austin, Tex., 1981), which discusses in eight essays by Johnson scholars the available literature on LBJ and the resources of the Johnson Library in Austin.
A variety of finding aids, selected oral history transcripts, and descriptions of available recordings of Johnson's telephone conversations may be found by consulting the home page of the Johnson Library at http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu.
Recent works include Michael Beschloss, ed., Reaching for Glory: The Secret Johnson White House Tapes, 1964–1965 (New York, 2001); Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate (New York, 2002), the third of Caro's planned four-volume study The Years of Lyndon Johnson, detailing LBJ's rise in the legislative body; Lloyd C. Gardner, Pay Any Price: Lyndon Johnson and the Wars for Vietnam (Chicago, 1995); Robert Mann, The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell, and the Struggle for Civil Rights (New York, 1996); H. R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam (New York, 1997); and Jeff Shesol, Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud That Defined a Decade (New York, 1997).
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Lyndon B. Johnson's Speech Declining to Seek Re-Election (31 March 1968)
LYNDON B. JOHNSON'S SPEECH DECLINING TO SEEK RE-ELECTION (31 March 1968)
The administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973) had supported a gradual escalation of American involvement in the Vietnam crisis. After the disastrous Tet Offensive in 1968, however, Johnson and his advisors concluded that a cutback in the bombing of North Vietnam was a better course of action. In a surprisingly dramatic televised speech to the nation on March 31, Johnson announced that he was no longer seeking re-election so that he could work full-time on achieving peace in Vietnam.
The speech not only introduced a fundamental shift in the administration's Vietnam policies, but also served a larger political purpose. By aligning himself with the movement for peace, Johnson undercut the ability of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy to critique Johnson's war policies; he also failed to give an expected endorsement of his party's other candidate, Hubert Humphrey.
New York University
See also Vietnam War .
The President's Address to the Nation Announcing Steps To Limit the War in Vietnam and Reporting His Decision Not To Seek Reelection. March 31, 1968
Good evening, my fellow Americans:
Tonight I want to speak to you of peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
No other question so preoccupies our people. No other dream so absorbs the 250 million human beings who live in that part of the world. No other goal motivates American policy in Southeast Asia.
For years, representatives of our Government and others have traveled the world—seeking to find a basis for peace talks.
Since last September, they have carried the offer that I made public at San Antonio.
That offer was this:
That the United States would stop its bombardment of North Vietnam when that would lead promptly to productive discussions—and that we would assume that North Vietnam would not take military advantage of our restraint.
Hanoi denounced this offer, both privately and publicly. Even while the search for peace was going on, North Vietnam rushed their preparations for a savage assault on the people, the government, and the allies of South Vietnam.
Their attack—during the Tet holidays—failed to achieve its principal objectives.
It did not collapse the elected government of South Vietnam or shatter its army—as the Communists had hoped.
It did not produce a "general uprising" among the people of the cities as they had predicted.
The Communists were unable to maintain control of any of the more than 30 cities that they attacked. And they took very heavy casualties.
But they did compel the South Vietnamese and their allies to move certain forces from the countryside into the cities.
They caused widespread disruption and suffering. Their attacks, and the battles that followed, made refugees of half a million human beings.
The Communists may renew their attack any day.
They are, it appears, trying to make 1968 the year of decision in South Vietnam—the year that brings, if not final victory or defeat, at least a turning point in the struggle.
This much is clear:
If they do mount another round of heavy attacks, they will not succeed in destroying the fighting power of South Vietnam and its allies.
But tragically, this is also clear: Many men—on both sides of the struggle—will be lost. A nation that has already suffered 20 years of warfare will suffer once again. Armies on both sides will take new casualties. And the war will go on.
There is no need for this to be so.
There is no need to delay the talks that could bring an end to this long and this bloody war.
Tonight, I renew the offer I made last August—to stop the bombardment of North Vietnam. We ask that talks begin promptly, that they be serious talks on the substance of peace. We assume that during those talks Hanoi will not take advantage of our restraint.
We are prepared to move immediately toward peace through negotiations.
So, tonight, in the hope that this action will lead to early talks, I am taking the first step to deescalate the conflict. We are reducing—substantially reducing—the present level of hostilities.
And we are doing so unilaterally, and at once.
Tonight, I have ordered our aircraft and our naval vessels to make no attacks on North Vietnam, except in the area north of the demilitarized zone where the continuing enemy buildup directly threatens allied forward positions and where the movements of their troops and supplies are clearly related to that threat.
The area in which we are stopping our attacks includes almost 90 percent of North Vietnam's population, and most of its territory. Thus there will be no attacks around the principal populated areas, or in the food-producing areas of North Vietnam.
Even this very limited bombing of the North could come to an early end—if our restraint is matched by restraint in Hanoi. But I cannot in good conscience stop all bombing so long as to do so would immediately and directly endanger the lives of our men and our allies. Whether a complete bombing halt becomes possible in the future will be determined by events.
Our purpose in this action is to bring about a reduction in the level of violence that now exists.
It is to save the lives of brave men—and to save the lives of innocent women and children. It is to permit the contending forces to move closer to a political settlement.
And tonight, I call upon the United Kingdom and I call upon the Soviet Union—as cochairmen of the Geneva Conferences, and as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—to do all they can to move from the unilateral act of deescalation that I have just announced toward genuine peace in Southeast Asia.
Now, as in the past, the United States is ready to send its representatives to any forum, at any time, to discuss the means of bringing this ugly war to an end.
I am designating one of our most distinguished Americans, Ambassador Averell Harriman, as my personal representative for such talks. In addition, I have asked Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson, who returned from Moscow for consultation, to be available to join Ambassador Harriman at Geneva or any other suitable place—just as soon as Hanoi agrees to a conference.
I call upon President Ho Chi Minh to respond positively, and favorably, to this new step toward peace.
But if peace does not come now through negotiations, it will come when Hanoi understands that our common resolve is unshakable, and our common strength is invincible.
Tonight, we and the other allied nations are contributing 600,000 fighting men to assist 700,000 South Vietnamese troops in defending their little country.
Our presence there has always rested on this basic belief: The main burden of preserving their freedom must be carried out by them—by the South Vietnamese themselves.
We and our allies can only help to provide a shield behind which the people of South Vietnam can survive and can grow and develop. On their efforts—on their determination and resourcefulness—the outcome will ultimately depend.
That small, beleaguered nation has suffered terrible punishment for more than 20 years.
I pay tribute once again tonight to the great courage and endurance of its people. South Vietnam supports armed forces tonight of almost 700,000 men—and I call your attention to the fact that this is the equivalent of more than 10 million in our own population. Its people maintain their firm determination to be free of domination by the North.
There has been substantial progress, I think, in building a durable government during these last 3 years. The South Vietnam of 1965 could not have survived the enemy's Tet offensive of 1968. The elected government of South Vietnam survived that attack—and is rapidly repairing the devastation that it wrought.
The South Vietnamese know that further efforts are going to be required:
—to expand their own armed forces,
—to move back into the countryside as quickly as possible,
—to increase their taxes,
—to select the very best men that they have for civil and military responsibility,
—to achieve a new unity within their constitutional government, and
—to include in the national effort all those groups who wish to preserve South Vietnam's control over its own destiny.
Last week President Thieu ordered the mobilization of 135,000 additional South Vietnamese. He plans to reach—as soon as possible—a total military strength of more than 800,000 men.
To achieve this, the Government of South Vietnam started the drafting of 19-year-olds on March 1st. On May 1st, the Government will begin the drafting of 18-year-olds.
Last month, 10,000 men volunteered for military service—that was two and a half times the number of volunteers during the same month last year. Since the middle of January, more than 48,000 South Vietnamese have joined the armed forces—and nearly half of them volunteered to do so.
All men in the South Vietnamese armed forces have had their tours of duty extended for the duration of the war, and reserves are now being called up for immediate active duty.
President Thieu told his people last week:
"We must make greater efforts and accept more sacrifices because, as I have said many times, this is our country. The existence of our nation is at stake, and this is mainly a Vietnamese responsibility."
He warned his people that a major national effort is required to root out corruption and incompetence at all levels of government.
We applaud this evidence of determination on the part of South Vietnam. Our first priority will be to support their effort.
We shall accelerate the reequipment of South Vietnam's armed forces—in order to meet the enemy's increased firepower. This will enable them progressively to undertake a larger share of combat operations against the Communist invaders.
On many occasions I have told the American people that we would send to Vietnam those forces that are required to accomplish our mission there. So, with that as our guide, we have previously authorized a force level of approximately 525,000.
Some weeks ago—to help meet the enemy's new offensive—we sent to Vietnam about 11,000 additional Marine and airborne troops. They were deployed by air in 48 hours, on an emergency basis. But the artillery, tank, aircraft, medical, and other units that were needed to work with and to support these infantry troops in combat could not then accompany them by air on that short notice.
In order that these forces may reach maximum combat effectiveness, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended to me that we should prepare to send—during the next 5 months—support troops totaling approximately 13,500 men.
A portion of these men will be made available from our active forces. The balance will come from reserve component units which will be called up for service.
The actions that we have taken since the beginning of the year
—to reequip the South Vietnamese forces,
—to meet our responsibilities in Korea, as well as our responsibilities in Vietnam,
—to meet price increases and the cost of activating and deploying reserve forces,
—to replace helicopters and provide the other military supplies we need,
all of these actions are going to require additional expenditures.
The tentative estimate of those additional expenditures is $2.5 billion in this fiscal year, and $2.6 billion in the next fiscal year.
These projected increases in expenditures for our national security will bring into sharper focus the Nation's need for immediate action: action to protect the prosperity of the American people and to protect the strength and the stability of our American dollar.
On many occasions I have pointed out that, without a tax bill or decreased expenditures, next year's deficit would again be around $20 billion. I have emphasized the need to set strict priorities in our spending. I have stressed that failure to act and to act promptly and decisively would raise very strong doubts throughout the world about America's willingness to keep its financial house in order.
Yet Congress has not acted. And tonight we face the sharpest financial threat in the postwar era—a threat to the dollar's role as the keystone of international trade and finance in the world.
Last week, at the monetary conference in Stockholm, the major industrial countries decided to take a big step toward creating a new international monetary asset that will strengthen the international monetary system. I am very proud of the very able work done by Secretary Fowler and Chairman Martin of the Federal Reserve Board.
But to make this system work the United States just must bring its balance of payments to—or very close to—equilibrium. We must have a responsible fiscal policy in this country. The passage of a tax bill now, together with expenditure control that the Congress may desire and dictate, is absolutely necessary to protect this Nation's security, to continue our prosperity, and to meet the needs of our people.
What is at stake is 7 years of unparalleled prosperity. In those 7 years, the real income of the average American, after taxes, rose by almost 30 percent—a gain as large as that of the entire preceding 19 years.
So the steps that we must take to convince the world are exactly the steps we must take to sustain our own economic strength here at home. In the past 8 months, prices and interest rates have risen because of our inaction.
We must, therefore, now do everything we can to move from debate to action—from talking to voting. There is, I believe—I hope there is—in both Houses of the Congress—a growing sense of urgency that this situation just must be acted upon and must be corrected.
My budget in January was, we thought, a tight one. It fully reflected our evaluation of most of the demanding needs of this Nation.
But in these budgetary matters, the President does not decide alone. The Congress has the power and the duty to determine appropriations and taxes.
The Congress is now considering our proposals and they are considering reductions in the budget that we submitted.
As part of a program of fiscal restraint that includes the tax surcharge, I shall approve appropriate reductions in the January budget when and if Congress so decides that that should be done.
One thing is unmistakably clear, however: Our deficit just must be reduced. Failure to act could bring on conditions that would strike hardest at those people that all of us are trying so hard to help.
These times call for prudence in this land of plenty. I believe that we have the character to provide it, and tonight I plead with the Congress and with the people to act promptly to serve the national interest, and thereby serve all of our people.
Now let me give you my estimate of the chances for peace:
—the peace that will one day stop the bloodshed in South Vietnam,
—that will permit all the Vietnamese people to rebuild and develop their land,
—that will permit us to turn more fully to our own tasks here at home.
I cannot promise that the initiative that I have announced tonight will be completely successful in achieving peace any more than the 30 others that we have undertaken and agreed to in recent years.
But it is our fervent hope that North Vietnam, after years of fighting that have left the issue unresolved, will now cease its efforts to achieve a military victory and will join with us in moving toward the peace table.
And there may come a time when South Vietnamese—on both sides—are able to work out a way to settle their own differences by free political choice rather than by war.
As Hanoi considers its course, it should be in no doubt of our intentions. It must not miscalculate the pressures within our democracy in this election year.
We have no intention of widening this war.
But the United States will never accept a fake solution to this long and arduous struggle and call it peace.
No one can foretell the precise terms of an eventual settlement.
Our objective in South Vietnam has never been the annihilation of the enemy. It has been to bring about a recognition in Hanoi that its objective—taking over the South by force—could not be achieved.
We think that peace can be based on the Geneva Accords of 1954—under political conditions that permit the South Vietnamese—all the South Vietnamese—to chart their course free of any outside domination or interference, from us or from anyone else.
So tonight I reaffirm the pledge that we made at Manila—that we are prepared to withdraw our forces from South Vietnam as the other side withdraws its forces to the north, stops the infiltration, and the level of violence thus subsides.
Our goal of peace and self-determination in Vietnam is directly related to the future of all of Southeast Asia—where much has happened to inspire confidence during the past 10 years. We have done all that we knew how to do to contribute and to help build that confidence.
A number of its nations have shown what can be accomplished under conditions of security. Since 1966, Indonesia, the fifth largest nation in all the world, with a population of more than 100 million people, has had a government that is dedicated to peace with its neighbors and improved conditions for its own people. Political and economic cooperation between nations has grown rapidly.
I think every American can take a great deal of pride in the role that we have played in bringing this about in Southeast Asia. We can rightly judge—as responsible Southeast Asians themselves do—that the progress of the past 3 years would have been far less likely—if not completely impossible—if America's sons and others had not made their stand in Vietnam.
At Johns Hopkins University, about 3 years ago, I announced that the United States would take part in the great work of developing Southeast Asia, including the Mekong Valley, for all the people of that region. Our determination to help build a better land—a better land for men on both sides of the present conflict—has not diminished in the least. Indeed, the ravages of war, I think, have made it more urgent than ever.
So, I repeat on behalf of the United States again tonight what I said at Johns Hopkins—that North Vietnam could take its place in this common effort just as soon as peace comes.
Over time, a wider framework of peace and security in Southeast Asia may become possible. The new cooperation of the nations of the area could be a foundation-stone. Certainly friendship with the nations of such a Southeast Asia is what the United States seeks—and that is all that the United States seeks.
One day, my fellow citizens, there will be peace in Southeast Asia.
It will come because the people of Southeast Asia want it—those whose armies are at war tonight, and those who, though threatened, have thus far been spared.
Peace will come because Asians were willing to work for it—and to sacrifice for… and to die by the thousands for it.
But let it never be forgotten: Peace will come also because America sent her sons to help secure it.
It has not been easy—far from it. During the past 4 1/2 years, it has been my fate and my responsibility to be Commander in Chief. I have lived—daily and nightly—with the cost of this war. I know the pain that it has inflicted. I know, perhaps better than anyone, the misgivings that it has aroused.
Throughout this entire, long period, I have been sustained by a single principle: that what we are doing now, in Vietnam, is vital not only to the security of Southeast Asia but it is vital to the security of every American.
Surely we have treaties which we must respect. Surely we have commitments that we are going to keep.
Resolutions of the Congress testify to the need to resist aggression in the world and in Southeast Asia.
But the heart of our involvement in South Vietnam—under three different Presidents, three separate administrations—has always been America's own security.
And the larger purpose of our involvement has always been to help the nations of Southeast Asia become independent and stand alone, self-sustaining, as members of a great world community—at peace with themselves, and at peace with all others.
With such an Asia, our country—and the world—will be far more secure than it is tonight.
I believe that a peaceful Asia is far nearer to reality because of what America has done in Vietnam. I believe that the men who endure the dangers of battle—fighting there for us tonight—are helping the entire world avoid far greater conflicts, far wider wars, far more destruction, than this one.
The peace that will bring them home someday will come. Tonight I have offered the first in what I hope will be a series of mutual moves toward peace.
I pray that it will not be rejected by the leaders of North Vietnam. I pray that they will accept it as a means by which the sacrifices of their own people may be ended. And I ask your help and your support, my fellow citizens, for this effort to reach across the battlefield toward an early peace.
Finally, my fellow Americans, let me say this:
Of those to whom much is given, much is asked. I cannot say and no man could say that no more will be asked of us.
Yet, I believe that now, no less than when the decade began, this generation of Americans is willing to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
Since those words were spoken by John F. Kennedy, the people of America have kept that compact with mankind's noblest cause.
And we shall continue to keep it.
Yet, I believe that we must always be mindful of this one thing, whatever the trials and the tests ahead. The ultimate strength of our country and our cause will lie not in powerful weapons or infinite resources or boundless wealth, but will lie in the unity of our people.
This I believe very deeply.
Throughout my entire public career I have followed the personal philosophy that I am a free man, an American, a public servant, and a member of my party, in that order always and only.
For 37 years in the service of our Nation, first as a Congressman, as a Senator, and as Vice President, and now as your President, I have put the unity of the people first. I have put it ahead of any divisive partisanship.
And in these times as in times before, it is true that a house divided against itself by the spirit of faction, of party, of region, of religion, of race, is a house that cannot stand.
There is division in the American house now. There is divisiveness among us all tonight. And holding the trust that is mine, as President of all the people, I cannot disregard the peril to the progress of the American people and the hope and the prospect of peace for all peoples.
So, I would ask all Americans, whatever their personal interests or concern, to guard against divisiveness and all its ugly consequences.
Fifty-two months and 10 days ago, in a moment of tragedy and trauma, the duties of this office fell upon me. I asked then for your help and God's, that we might continue America on its course, binding up our wounds, healing our history, moving forward in new unity, to clear the American agenda and to keep the American commitment for all of our people.
United we have kept that commitment. United we have enlarged that commitment.
Through all time to come, I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, and a land of greater opportunity and fulfillment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement.
Our reward will come in the life of freedom, peace, and hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead.
What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics among any of our people.
Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.
With America's sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office—the Presidency of your country.
Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.
But let men everywhere know, however, that a strong, a confident, and a vigilant America stands ready tonight to seek an honorable peace—and stands ready tonight to defend an honored cause—whatever the price, whatever the burden, whatever the sacrifice that duty may require.
Thank you for listening.
Good night and God bless all of you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 9 p.m. in his office at the White House. The address was broadcast nationally.
source: U.S. Department of State Bulletin, 15 April 1968.
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Lyndon Baines Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson
As the thirty-sixth president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973) created new programs in health, education, human rights, and conservation and attacked the crushing 20th-century problems of urban blight and poverty with what he called the "War on Poverty."
Most commentators account Lyndon Johnson as one of America's most experienced and politically skilled presidents. He sponsored a flood of new legislation designed to better the quality of life among the disadvantaged and the dispossessed of the nation. In foreign policy he set about to strengthen regional arrangements of power so that new and small nations might develop their own form of political society without fear of intrusion from their more powerful neighbors. He inherited an American commitment in South Vietnam, and his determination to preserve the independence of that beleaguered country led to virulent attacks and, finally, his momentous decision not to seek reelection.
Lyndon Johnson was born on Aug. 27, 1908, near Johnson City, Texas, the small community founded by his forebears. Life was hard and plain in the Texas hill country at this time. Johnson's father struggled to raise his two sons and three daughters. His mother was a gentle woman, who encouraged her children to love books and gave them a sense of duty and responsibility. Johnson graduated from Southwest State Teachers College in San Marcos, Tex., with a bachelor of science degree, having combined his studies with a job teaching Mexican-American children.
Johnson's early teaching assignments were at Pearsall, Tex., and in the Houston high schools. In 1931, politics beckoned. He went to Washington, D.C., as secretary to Texas congressman Richard Kleberg. Almost immediately Johnson's talent for attracting affection and respect became visible. He was elected Speaker of the "Little Congress," an assembly of congressional secretaries on Capitol Hill.
On Nov. 17, 1934, an event occurred which Johnson always described as the most notable triumph of his life: he married Claudia (Lady Bird) Taylor of Karnak, Texas. She became his partner, confidant, and counselor, and from her, Johnson drew strength and love and reserves of support that never faltered.
Johnson's ultimate destiny was beginning to take shape. At age 27, he was already exhibiting his characteristic traits of energy, intellect, and tenacity when he resigned as a congressional secretary in 1935 to become the Texas director of the National Youth Administration. The origins of the later Johnson can be located in his conduct of this office; he surrounded himself with bright, young men and invested his duties with a 24-hour torrent of activity.
Rising through Congress
In 1937, the congressman from Texas's Tenth District died suddenly. When a special election was called to select a successor, Johnson hesitated only slightly. His wife provided campaign funds from her inheritance, and Johnson leaped into a race crowded with eight opponents. The only candidate to support President Franklin Roosevelt's court-packing plan, he did so with such vigor that the eyes of the nation were drawn to the outcome, and none watched it with more intensity than Roosevelt himself. To the amazement of political veterans, the 28-year-old Johnson won the race.
President Roosevelt, in Texas on a fishing trip, was so elated that he invited Johnson to accompany him back to Washington, D.C. Thus, Johnson became his personal protégé. With the aid of the powerful House Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas and the continuing support of the President, Johnson was brought into the councils of ruling establishmentarians of the House of Representatives.
In 1941, Johnson entered another special election, this time for a Senate seat made vacant by a death. Texans were surprised by the campaign he launched by helicopter. Nearly every community watched the tall, smiling Johnson alight from his helicopter. In a bitter campaign Johnson lost by 1,311 votes to that bizarre political phenomenon Governor W. Lee ("Pass the Biscuits Pappy") O'Daniel.
There was little time for Johnson to lick his wounds. That December he became the first member of Congress to enter active military duty. He joined the Navy and in 1942 received the Silver Star for gallantry in a bombing mission over New Guinea. When President Roosevelt ordered all congressmen back to the capital in 1942, Johnson reentered the House.
In 1948, Johnson's restless quest for higher office was finally successful. In a savagely fought senatorial campaign, he defeated a former governor of Texas by a celebrated margin of 87 votes. The elders of the Senate soon recognized that Johnson was no ordinary rookie senator. He did his homework, was knowledgable on every item that confronted the Senate, and was in instant command of all the nuances and subtleties of every important piece of legislation.
In January 1951, just 3 years into his first term, Johnson was elevated to Democratic "whip" (assistant minority leader). Regarding his age and tenure, no similar selection had ever been made in the history of the Senate. In 1953, when the post of minority leader in the Senate opened up Democratic senators without hesitation chose Johnson to take charge. With the congressional elections of 1954, the Democrats took command of both houses. And with this new alignment, Johnson again set a record as the youngest man ever to become majority leader.
The Johnson legend of leadership now became visible to the nation. Not since the early days of the republic had one man assumed such clear direction over the course and affairs of the Senate. Operating his office around the clock, intimately aware of all that transpired, and firmly fixed in his intent and design, Johnson was the "complete Senate leader." Now one voice spoke for the Democrats, as Johnson became the "second most powerful man in Washington, D.C."
The habits of work and discipline that would later confound the nation when Johnson became president were now on display in the Senate chamber. He handled the Senate with confidence and skill. The Republican opposition found it impossible to outflank this majority leader; legislation opposed by Johnson rarely found acceptance by the Senate. He encouraged new, young senators and found coveted spots for them on important committees.
Johnson led the first civil rights bill in 82 years through the Senate. He guided to final victory the first space legislation in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. In 1958, designated by President Dwight Eisenhower to represent the United States at the United Nations, he presented the resolution calling for the peaceful exploration of outer space. He exposed wastes in defense procurement during the Korean War and conducted defense hearings that were a model of accuracy and dispassionate scrutiny.
In 1960, Johnson briefly opposed John F. Kennedy for the Democratic presidential nomination; then Kennedy electrified the country by choosing Johnson as his vice-presidential running mate. While some Kennedy supporters grumbled, experts later agreed that Johnson's relentless campaigning in Texas and throughout the South had provided Kennedy with his winning margin.
Serving as Vice President
As vice-president, Johnson had important assignments. One of his principal tasks was the burgeoning space program, which was overshadowed by Russian triumphs with Sputnik and subsequent innovations that put the United States in an inferior role. Regarding civil rights, as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity forces, Johnson surprised many critics by putting uncompromising pressure on American industry. At the President's request, he made fact-finding trips to Berlin and to the Far East.
On Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Aboard the plane Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, Johnson took the presidential oath of office on November 23. Giving orders to take off seconds later, the new president flew back to Washington to take command of the government, while the nation grieved for its fallen leader.
Filling the Presidency
Five days after taking office, President Johnson appeared before a joint session of the Congress. Speaking with firmness and controlled passion, he pledged "we shall continue." Important legislation submitted by President Kennedy to the Congress, currently bottled up and seemingly stymied in various committees of both houses, was met by Johnson's deliberate and concentrated action. The new president—meeting round the clock with staff, Cabinet, and congressmen—unbuckled key legislation, so that within a few short months the tax cut and the civil rights bills were passed by Congress and signed by the President.
Six months after assuming the presidency, Johnson announced his concept of the "Great Society." The areas he considered vital were health and education; the whole complex of the urban society, with its accompanying ills of ghettos, pollution, housing, and transportation; civil rights; and conservation.
Johnson took his innovative domestic programs to the nation in the election of 1964. Meanwhile, the American involvement in Vietnam, sanctioned by three presidents, became an issue. Senator Barry Goldwater chastised Johnson for his liberal approach to domestic problems and suggested a massive step-up in the bombing of North Vietnam. Johnson traversed the nation and convinced it that his leadership was of such caliber that the voters could not afford to drive him from office. He won by a margin of almost 16 million votes, more than 61 percent of the total vote, the widest margin in totals and percentage of any presidential election in American history.
Barely pausing, the President, reinforced by this clear mandate, began a legislative program which was rivaled in scope and form only by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal a generation earlier. Between 1965 and 1968 more than 207 landmark bills were passed by the Congress.
In education, Johnson's administration tripled expenditures. By the end of 1968, 1.5 million students were receiving Federal aid to help them gain their college degrees; over 10 million people learned new skills through vocational education; and 19,000 school districts received special help under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. More than 600,000 disabled citizens were trained through vocational rehabilitation programs. Head Start and other pre-school programs brought specific assistance to more than 2 million children.
In the area of health, Johnson's administration increased Federal expenditures from $4 billion to $14 billion in 4 years. More than 20 million Americans were covered by Medicare, and more than 7 million received its benefits. About 31 million children were vaccinated against four severe diseases, reducing by 50 percent the number of children who suffered from these diseases, and more than 3 million children received health care under Medicaid in one year. Some 286 community mental health centers were built. More than 390,000 mothers and 680,000 infants received care through the Maternal and Child Health programs. Some 460,000 handicapped children were treated under the Crippled Children's Program.
Fighting poverty, the Johnson administration lifted more than 6,000,000 Americans out of the poverty depths. Over 100,000 young men and women completed Job Corps training; 2.2 million needy Americans were helped under the Food Stamp Program; school children benefited from the School Milk and School Lunch programs.
In the area of human and civil rights, the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, and within 3 years nearly 1 million Negroes registered to vote in the South. More than 98 percent of all the nation's hospitals agreed to provide services without discrimination. More than 28 percent of all Negro families by 1968 earned about $7,000 a year, doubling the 1960 figure. Some 35 percent more Negroes found professional, technical, and managerial jobs between 1964 and 1968.
In housing, in 4 years the Johnson administration generated the construction of 5.5 million new homes. Direct Federal expenditures for housing and community development increased from $635 million to nearly $3 billion. Two million families received Federal Housing Administration improvement loans. Federal assistance provided housing for 215,000 families earning less than $7,000 a year. Nearly $427 million was spent for water and sewage facilities in small towns. More than 3.5 million rural citizens benefited from economic opportunity loans, farm operation and emergency loans, and watershed and rural housing loans.
Most importantly, the Johnson administration presided over the longest upward curve of prosperity in the history of the nation. More than 85 months of unrivaled economic growth marked this as the strongest era of national prosperity. The average weekly wage of factory workers rose 18 percent in 4 years. Over 9 million additional workers were brought under minimum-wage protection. Total employment, increased by 7.5 million workers, added up to 75 million; the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest point in more than a decade.
In foreign affairs, where risk and confrontation stretched a perilous tightrope throughout the Johnson years, the President made significant achievements. In the Western Hemisphere, at Punta del Este, Uruguay, the Latin American nations agreed to a common market for the continent. Normal relations with Panama were restored and a new canal treaty negotiated. In Cyprus, at the brink of war, the President's special emissaries knitted a settlement that staved off conflict. A rebellion in the Congo, which would have had ugly repercussions throughout the continent, was put down with American aid in the form of transport planes. In the Dominican Republic, an incipient Communist threat was challenged by an overwhelming show of American force, with Latin American allies. Amid tangled criticism from sections of the press and some Latin American nations, the President persevered in the Dominican Republic, where democratic government and free elections were restored and U.S. troops promptly withdrawn.
An outer-space treaty was negotiated with the Soviet Union and a nuclear nonproliferation treaty was formulated and agreed to in Geneva. In June 1967 the President met with Premier Alexei Kosygin of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was successfully realigned after France withdrew, and the vast Western European alliance was restructured and strengthened.
It was the troubled Southeast Asian problem in South Vietnam to which Johnson devoted long, tormented hours. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy had declared that the security of the United States was involved in deterring aggression in South Vietnam from an intruding Communist government from the North. However, there was much disagreement in the United States over this venture; some critics claimed the Vietnam war was a civil one, an insurrection, and not an invasion. When Johnson first became chief executive, 16,000 American troops were in Vietnam as advisers and combat instructors. In 1965 the United States decided to increase its military support of South Vietnam and authorized commitment of more American troops. By 1968 there was considerable disaffection over the Asian policy, and many critics in and out of the Congress determined to force the Johnson administration to shrink its commitment and withdraw U.S. troops.
Beginning in April 1965 with the President's speech at Johns Hopkins University, in which he set forth the American policy of reconstruction of the area and the promulgation of the Asian Development Bank as an instrument of peace building, the Johnson administration attempted to negotiate with a seemingly intransigent North Vietnam, whose troops were infiltrating into the South in increasing numbers. A 37-day bombing pause in December 1965 raised hopes for negotiation, but lack of response from the North Vietnamese blotted this out, and the bombing resumed.
Assaulted by fierce and growing criticism, yet determined to fix some course of action which would diminish the war and commence serious peace talks, the President startled the nation and the world on March 31, 1968, by renouncing his claim to renomination for the presidency. Johnson said that he believed that the necessity for finding a structure of peaceful negotiation was so important that even his own political fortunes must not be allowed to stand in its way. Therefore, he stated, he would not seek renomination, so he could spend the rest of his days in the presidency searching for negotiation without any political taint marring a possible response from the enemy.
On May 11, 1968, it was announced that peace talks would indeed begin in Paris, and in November 1968 the President declared that all bombing of North Vietnam would cease.
Johnson retired to his ranch near San Antonio, Texas, where he took a keen interest in the care and sale of his cattle, while nursing a serious heart ailment.
The tragic Vietnam War was in its last days in January, 1973 when a period of mourning was declared to mark the death of President Harry S Truman. Shortly after it began, it also marked the death of Lyndon B. Johnson.
On the afternoon of January 22, 1973, Johnson suffered a heart attack while lying down to take a nap. He was flown to a hospital by his Secret Service agents, but was pronounced dead on arrival at 4:33 pm. His body lay in state first at the Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, then, as is usual for American presidents, in the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. until his burial on his beloved ranch.
While historians search the record and evaluate its significance, there seems little doubt that Lyndon Johnson's impress on the form and quality of life in the United States will be seen to be large. In the fields of health, education, civil rights, conservation, and the problem of the elderly, his legislative achievements have left their clear mark. His insistence that the pledges of the four preceding presidents be upheld in Southeast Asia is a subject for debate. But it must be argued that his peace-keeping efforts in the Middle East, in the Near East, in Africa, and in Latin America were forceful, remedial, and worthy of praise; the results have proved his policies' merits.
Johnson belongs in the tradition of the "strong president" he dominated the government with his energy and personality and invested his office with intimate knowledge of all government business. He was the target of intense and sometimes virulent criticism, just as all strong American presidents have found themselves ceaselessly and bitterly attacked.
Johnson's The Vantage Point (1971) presents his own perspectives on his White House years. There is not yet an authoritative or comprehensive biography of Johnson. Boothe Mooney, The Lyndon Johnson Story (1956; rev. ed. 1964); and Clarke Newlon, LBJ: The Man from Johnson City (1964; rev. ed. 1966), are journalistic; Sam Houston Johnson, My Brother Lyndon, edited by Enrique Hank Lopez, is a superficial and undocumented account by the President's brother.
Aspects of Johnson's life and presidency are treated in William S.White, Citadel: The Story of the U.S. Senate (1957); and The Professional: Lyndon B Johnson (1964); Michael Amrine, This Awesome Challenge: A Hundred Days of Lyndon Johnson (1964); Rebekah Baines Johnson, A Family Album, edited by John S. Moursund (1965); Charles Roberts, LBJ's Inner Circle (1965); Theodore H. White, The Making of the President (1965); Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Lyndon B. Johnson, The Exercise of Power: A Political Biography (1966); Philip Geyelin, Lyndon B. Johnson and the World (1966); Jim Bishop, A Day in the Life of President Johnson (1967); James Deakin, Lyndon Johnson's Credibility Gap (1968); Hugh Sidney, A Very Personal Presidency: Lyndon Johnson in the White House (1968); Tom Wicker, JFK and LBJ: The Influence of Personality upon Politics (1968); and Eric F. Goldman, The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson (1969); Lady Bird Johnson, White House Diary (1970), is a record of the Johnson presidency as experienced by his wife; for the mid-century political background see James L. Sundquist, Politics and Policy: The Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Years (1968). □
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Johnson, Lyndon B.
Lyndon B. Johnson
Born: August 27, 1908
Died: January 22, 1973
As the thirty-sixth president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson created new programs in health, education, human rights, and conservation. He was also aggressive in the fight against poverty, beginning what he called the "War on Poverty."
Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, in Stonewall, Texas. Johnson's father, Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., had served in the Texas legislature. After he lost a large sum of money trading cotton, he struggled to raise his two sons and three daughters. Johnson's mother was a gentle woman who encouraged her children to love books and gave them a sense of duty and responsibility. Johnson graduated from Southwest State Teachers College in San Marcos, Texas, with a bachelor's degree. While in college, he had combined his studies with a job teaching Mexican American children.
In 1931 Johnson went to Washington, D.C., and worked as secretary to Texas congressman Richard Kleberg (1887–1955). Almost immediately Johnson's talent for attracting affection and respect became visible. He was elected speaker of the "Little Congress," an assembly of congressional secretaries on Capitol Hill. On November 17, 1934, he married Claudia (Lady Bird) Taylor (1912–) of Karnak, Texas. With her, Johnson found constant strength, love, and support. At age twenty-seven Johnson returned to Texas to become the state director of the National Youth Administration.
Rising through Congress
In 1937 the congressman from Texas's Tenth District died suddenly. When a special election was called to select a replacement, Johnson joined a race crowded with seven other candidates. To the amazement of many long-standing politicians, the twenty-eight-year-old Johnson won the race. In 1941 he ran for a Senate seat but lost by a small margin. That December he became the first member of Congress to enter active military duty in World War II (1939–45; a war in which the Allies—France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, China, and from 1941 the United States—fought against the Axis powers—Germany, Italy, and Japan). He joined the navy and in 1942 received the Silver Star for his contribution to a bombing mission over New Guinea. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) ordered all congressmen in the military back to the capital in 1942, Johnson reentered the House.
In 1948 Johnson finally won election to the Senate. The other senators soon recognized that he was not an ordinary first-term senator. He was knowledgeable about every item that was brought before the Senate. In January 1951 Johnson was named Democratic "whip" (assistant minority leader). In 1953, when the post of minority leader in the Senate opened up, Democratic senators chose Johnson to take charge. After the Democrats won a majority of seats in both houses in the congressional elections of 1954, Johnson became the youngest man ever to serve as majority leader.
At that time, Johnson's leadership became visible to the nation. He led the first civil rights bill in eighty-two years through the Senate. Then in 1958, while representing the United States at the United Nations, he called for the peaceful exploration of outer space. He uncovered waste in defense spending and began an investigation. In 1960 Johnson briefly ran against John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) for the Democratic presidential nomination. Kennedy later chose Johnson as his vice presidential running mate. While some Kennedy supporters complained, experts later agreed that Johnson's tireless campaigning in Texas and the South led Kennedy to victory in the 1960 election.
Serving as vice president
Johnson had many important assignments as vice president. One of his tasks was to improve the growing U.S. space program, which had been overshadowed by explorations and new discoveries that had been made by the Soviet Union. Regarding civil rights, as chairman of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity forces, he surprised many critics by putting constant pressure on American businesses. The committee had been created by President Kennedy in 1961 to enforce an executive order prohibiting discrimination (unequal treatment) based on race in government employment.
Then on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The next day, aboard the plane Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, Johnson took the presidential oath of office. Giving orders to take off seconds later, the new president flew back to Washington to take command of the government while the nation grieved for its fallen leader.
Filling the presidency
Five days after taking office, President Johnson appeared before a joint session of Congress. Speaking firmly, he pledged, "We shall continue." The new president, meeting around the clock with staff, cabinet members, and congressmen, helped pass important legislation that had been put before Congress by President Kennedy but had been held up in various committees of both houses. Johnson especially pushed the passage of a civil rights bill that was much stronger than any that had come before, which had been of great importance to Kennedy. On July 2, 1964, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination (unequal treatment based on race) and segregation (separation based on race) in public places, employment, and voting, into law.
Six months after becoming president, Johnson announced his plan called the "Great Society." The areas he emphasized were health and education; urban problems such as pollution, housing, and transportation; civil rights; and preservation of natural resources. Johnson took his programs to the nation during his campaign for the 1964 election. Meanwhile, American involvement in the Vietnam War (1955–75; a war in Vietnam in which South Vietnam was fighting against a takeover by Communist North Vietnam) became an issue. Johnson's opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater (1909–1998), spoke against Johnson's approach to domestic problems and also suggested that the use of force against North Vietnam should be increased. Johnson traveled the nation and convinced voters that they could not afford to drive him from office. He won by the widest margin in any presidential election in American history.
After his huge victory President Johnson began a massive legislative program. Between 1965 and 1968 more than 207 bills were passed by Congress. During Johnson's presidency education and health spending were increased. Within three years of the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which made discrimination in voting illegal, nearly one million African Americans registered to vote in the South. Most importantly, the Johnson presidency was the strongest era of national prosperity (economic success), marked by more than eighty-five months of economic growth. The wages of factory workers increased, millions of workers were brought under minimum-wage protection, total employment increased, and the unemployment rate (the number of people who are unemployed) dropped to its lowest point in more than a decade.
The president also made important gains in foreign affairs. U.S. involvement in Cyprus and the Congo prevented the outbreak of wars in those countries. In the Dominican Republic, the threat of a Communist takeover was ended by an overwhelming show of force by the United States and Latin American countries. As a result, a democratic government and free elections were put back into place in the Dominican Republic, and U.S. troops left the country soon after. Talks on an outer space treaty with the Soviet Union were held, and in June 1967 the president met with Soviet leader Alexei Kosygin (1904–1980).
Johnson devoted the bulk of his time and effort to dealing with the Vietnam War. All three presidents that served before Johnson had declared that the security of the United States was involved in protecting South Vietnam from a communist takeover by North Vietnam. However, there was much disagreement in the United States over the way this problem should be solved. Some critics claimed the situation in Vietnam was a civil war, not an invasion, and they opposed U.S. involvement. In 1965 the United States increased its military support of South Vietnam and sent over more American troops. By 1968 many people who were against U.S. involvement in the war were calling on the Johnson administration to remove U.S. troops from Vietnam.
Bothered by increasing criticism, yet determined to end the war and begin serious peace talks, President Johnson startled the nation and the world on March 31, 1968, by stating that he would not run for election to another term as president. Johnson said that it was so important to resolve the Vietnam situation peacefully that even his own political future should not stand in the way of this goal. He said that he would not seek reelection so he could spend the rest of his days in office working on a settlement. On May 11, 1968, it was announced that peace talks would begin in Paris, France. Then in November 1968 the president declared that all bombing of North Vietnam would end.
At the end of Johnson's presidency, he retired to his ranch near San Antonio, Texas, where he became interested in the care and sale of his cattle. On January 22, 1973, Johnson suffered a heart attack while lying down to take a nap, and he died later that afternoon.
Lyndon Johnson was one of America's most experienced and politically skilled presidents. He tried to improve the quality of life for people living in the United States and to help new and small nations develop their own forms of government without fear of invasion from their more powerful neighbors.
For More Information
Califano, Joseph A., Jr. The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. Reprint, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000.
Dallek, Robert. Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Eskow, Dennis. Lyndon Baines Johnson. New York: Franklin Watts, 1993.
Johnson, Lyndon Baines. The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963–1969. New York: Holt, Rinehart, 1971.
Kaye, Tony. Lyndon B. Johnson. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.
Unger, Irwin, and Debi Unger. LBJ: A Life. New York: Wiley, 1999.
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"Johnson, Lyndon B.." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/johnson-lyndon-b-1
Johnson, Lyndon Baines
JOHNSON, LYNDON BAINES
Lyndon Baines Johnson was the thirty-sixth president of the United States, serving from 1963 to 1969. Like three other vice presidents in U.S. history, he assumed the office following the assassination of the president. He took office November 22, 1963, after john f. kennedy was killed in Dallas. Johnson's administration was marked by landmark changes in civil rights laws and social welfare programs, yet political support for him collapsed because of his escalation of the vietnam war.
Johnson was born August 27, 1908, near Stonewall, Texas. He was raised in Johnson City, Texas, which was named for his grandfather, who had served in the Texas Legislature. Johnson's father, Sam Ealy Johnson, also served in the Texas Legislature. Johnson graduated from Southwest Texas State Teachers College in 1930 with a teaching degree. He taught high school in Houston, until 1931, when he became involved with Democrat Richard M. Kleberg's campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. Johnson gave speeches and spoke to voters on Kleberg's behalf. When Kleberg was elected, he asked Johnson to accompany him to Washington, D.C., as his secretary. Johnson agreed, and his political career in Washington, D.C., was launched.
Johnson was not satisfied to be a secretary to a congressman. He began making friends with powerful Democrats, most notably Representative Sam Rayburn, of Texas. Rayburn, who would soon become Speaker of the House, had enormous influence. In 1935, after President franklin d. roosevelt named him director of the Texas division of the National Youth Administration, Johnson used his connections to put twelve thousand young people to work in public service jobs and to help another eighteen thousand go to college.
He quit this position in 1937 to run in a special election for the U.S. House of Representatives in Texas's Tenth Congressional District. In his campaign he supported Roosevelt's policies,
which came under heavy attack by Johnson's opponents. After Johnson was elected, Roosevelt made a point of getting to know him. Soon the two developed a long and lasting friendship.
Johnson remained in the House of Representatives until 1948, though he did spend a brief period in the Navy during world war ii. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 1941, and lost to Governor W. Lee O'Daniel by fewer than fourteen hundred votes. He ran again in 1948, this time against Coke R. Stevenson, a former Texas governor. Johnson won the 1948 Democratic primary election by eighty-seven votes, but Stevenson claimed that election fraud had allowed Johnson supporters to stuff the ballot box with votes from dead or fictitious persons. A federal district court judge ordered Johnson's name removed from the final election ballot pending an investigation of the fraud charges. Johnson enlisted a group of prominent Washington, D.C., attorneys, led by abe fortas, to overturn the order. The attorneys convinced Justice hugo l. black, of the U.S. Supreme Court, to reverse the order. With his name back on the ballot, Johnson went on to an easy victory.
Johnson moved quickly to gain power and influence in the Senate. Senator Richard B. Russell, of Georgia, became his mentor in the same way Sam Rayburn had been in the 1930s. In 1951 Johnson became the Democratic whip, which required that he maintain party discipline and encourage the attendance of Democratic senators. Two years later he was elected minority leader, at age forty-four the youngest member ever elected to that position. In 1955, after the Democrats took control of the Senate, he assumed the position of majority leader, the most powerful position in that body.
As majority leader Johnson worked at developing consensus with members from both parties. During this period he became famous for the "LBJ treatment," where he would use clever stratagems and steady persuasion to win reluctant colleagues over to his side. He developed a bipartisan approach with the administration of Republican president dwight d. eisenhower and sought common ground. He sustained a setback in 1955 when he suffered a heart attack, but returned to government service later that year.
Johnson wanted to be president, and he knew that opposing civil rights would destroy his chances on a national level. He was one of three Southern senators who refused to sign the Southern Manifesto, a 1956 document that
urged the South to resist with all legal methods the Supreme Court's decision outlawing racially segregated schools in brown v. board of education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954). In 1957 he put through the Senate the first civil rights bill in more than eighty years.
Senator John F. Kennedy, of Massachusetts, won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960 and named Johnson his vice presidential running mate. Johnson helped Kennedy in the southern states, and Kennedy won a narrow victory over Vice President richard m. nixon.
As vice president under Kennedy, Johnson performed numerous diplomatic missions and presided over the National Aeronautics and Space Council and the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities. When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Johnson took the oath of office in Dallas. In the months that followed, he concentrated on passing the slain president's legislative agenda. He proposed a war-on-poverty program, helped pass a tax cut, and oversaw the enactment of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.). This act outlawed racial and other types of discrimination in employment, education, and public accommodations. Civil rights for all persons was one part of Johnson's vision of what he called the great society.
"Poverty has many roots, but the tap root is ignorance."
—Lyndon B. Johnson
Johnson easily defeated conservative Republican senator barry m. goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. Under his administration Congress in 1965 enacted the medicare bill (42 U.S.C.A. § 1395 et seq.), which provided free supplementary health care for older persons as part of their social security benefits. Johnson also obtained large increases in federal aid to education; established the Departments of Transportation and of housing and urban development; and proposed the voting rights act of 1965 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1971 et seq.), which ensured protection against racially discriminatory voting practices that had disenfranchised nonwhites. This act changed the South, as it allowed African Americans to register to vote for the first time since Reconstruction. Finally, Johnson appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court thurgood marshall, the first African American to sit on the High Court.
International affairs did not go as smoothly for Johnson, especially regarding Vietnam. Kennedy had sent U.S. advisers to help South Vietnam repel what the government characterized as a Communist insurgency that was supported by North Vietnam. Johnson did not wish to abandon the South Vietnamese government, and soon his administration began escalating U.S. involvement. In August 1964 Johnson announced that North Vietnamese ships had attacked U.S. naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin. Johnson asked Congress for the authority to employ any necessary course of action to safeguard U.S. troops. Based on what turned out to be inaccurate information supplied by the Johnson administration, Congress gave the president this authority in its gulf of tonkin resolution (78 Stat. 384).
Following his reelection in 1964, Johnson used this resolution to justify military escalation. In February 1965 he authorized the bombing of North Vietnam. To continue the protection of the South Vietnamese government, Johnson increased the number of U.S. soldiers fighting in South Vietnam from twenty thousand to five hundred thousand during the next three years.
As the war escalated, so did antiwar sentiments, especially among college students, many of whom were subject to military conscription. As casualties mounted, antiwar demonstrations increased and support in Congress decreased. The strategy of escalation did not produce the victory military leaders predicted.
The cost of funding a war ended Johnson's Great Society initiatives. More important, the Vietnam War became the focal point for the nation. Johnson's popularity plummeted, and the nation was torn by conflict over the unpopular war. On March 31, 1968, Johnson announced he would not seek reelection. He spent the remainder of his term attempting to convince the South and North Vietnamese to begin a peace process. By the end of his administration, the Paris peace talks were started, which began a long negotiating process between North and South Vietnam.
Johnson left office in January 1969 and returned to his ranch near Johnson City. There he wrote an account of his years in office, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency (1971). His health deteriorated. Johnson died of a heart attack at his ranch, on January 22, 1973, less than one week before the signing of the accords that ended the Vietnam War.
Cowger, Thomas W., and Sherwin Markman, eds. 2003. Lyndon Johnson Remembered: An Intimate Portrait of a Presidency. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.
Langston, Thomas S. 2002. Lyndon Baines Johnson. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
Unger, Irwin, and Debi Unger. 1999. LBJ: A Life. New York: Wiley.
"Johnson, Lyndon Baines." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/johnson-lyndon-baines
"Johnson, Lyndon Baines." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved October 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/johnson-lyndon-baines
Johnson, Lyndon B.
Johnson, Lyndon B. 1908-1973
As thirty-sixth president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson presided over one of the most turbulent periods in American history. His administration’s confrontations with both severe domestic turmoil and international conflict highlight the potential and constraints of the modern presidency.
Johnson was born in Stonewall, a poor rural outpost located on the Pedernales River in central Texas. His political education began at an early age, as his paternal grandfather regaled his progeny with stories of his participation in the Populist movement of the late nineteenth century, while Johnson’s father was active in state and local politics and served in the Texas state legislature during Johnson’s youth.
Still, while politics played an important role in Johnson’s life in childhood, it was during his attendance at Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos that Johnson developed the attitudes and qualities that would suffuse his political career. Upon his arrival at the college, he quickly set about the task of studying the school’s internal dynamics and used the information he garnered to place himself close to its centers of power, a pattern he repeated several times during his participation in national politics. It was also at this juncture that Johnson articulated—in a series of editorials in the college newspaper—much of the philosophy that guided his political activities and approach to government later on.
After graduation, Johnson took a high school teaching position in Houston. Shortly thereafter, however, Johnson began to dabble with increasing seriousness in national politics, first as campaign manager for a Texas state legislator and then as a staffer for a newly elected member of the U.S. Congress. This latter position finally brought Johnson to Washington, D.C., where he remained for much of the duration of his political career. And as he had done in San Marcos, Johnson devoted his time to unearthing the sources of influence in the federal legislature and, armed with that knowledge, maneuvering himself as close to its power center as possible.
Johnson entered elective politics in 1937, when he was sent to Congress in a special election in Texas’s Tenth District. He served in the House of Representatives until his 1948 election to the Senate, where he rose quickly through the Democratic Party ranks to become Senate minority leader in 1953 and majority leader in 1955. It was in these roles that Johnson’s political career reached its zenith. Perhaps most notably, it was in these leadership roles that he perfected what quickly came to be known as “the Johnson treatment”: a repertoire of psychological appeals and talking points that Johnson employed to enforce party discipline and more generally coax and strong-arm recalcitrant colleagues to rally around his legislative agenda.
The Senate leadership roles thus presented an ideal platform for Johnson to exploit the deep understanding of legislative power he had cultivated during his congressional career. As a Texan who brought to politics both pragmatism and a keen awareness of the possibilities for using the power of government to address social problems, Johnson was pivotally poised to mediate between the congressional Democratic Party’s liberal and southern factions. In many ways, therefore, being Senate majority leader offered Johnson the opportunity to exert substantial influence over the course of national politics and public policy.
Nevertheless, Johnson left the Senate in 1961 to serve as President John F. Kennedy’s vice president until November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated during a political tour in Dallas, Texas. Johnson was sworn in as president that same afternoon and served out the remaining year of Kennedy’s term. Then in November 1964 he was elected president in his own right in a landslide victory against the Republican Party’s ultraconservative candidate, Barry Goldwater.
The hallmark of Johnson’s presidency was the Great Society program, which, as he described it in his commencement address at the University of Michigan in 1964, sought to “enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization” (Johnson 1965, p. 704). Specific initiatives included the declaration of a War on Poverty; the introduction of various laws aimed at improving education, Social Security, health care, and the environment; and the creation of Head Start, the Job Corps, and the National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities. Civil rights also figured prominently in Johnson’s domestic agenda. One of his first acts as president was to fulfill the Kennedy administration’s promise to support an antisegregation bill by working tirelessly to secure passage of the omnibus Civil Rights Act of 1964. A dramatic wave of protests in Alabama the following winter led him to champion ratification of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And although Congress failed to enact the civil rights legislation he introduced in 1966 and 1967, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination created favorable conditions for Johnson to push through a Fair Housing Act in 1968.
In foreign policy, Johnson was preoccupied primarily with the United States– protracted postwar effort to contain communism, in which the Vietnam War played a particularly prominent role. This conflict, which pitted North Vietnam and the Viet Cong against the southern Army of the Republic of Vietnam, began prior to Johnson’s accession to the presidency. Nevertheless, his administration was responsible for the sizable escalation of U.S. involvement in the struggle. Johnson’s war policies faced considerable opposition on the domestic front, especially from draft-age college students. This unrest contributed to Johnson’s decision to retire from politics rather than run for a second term in 1968.
The legacy of Johnson’s presidency is mixed. His ambitious agenda had many significant implications for the subsequent dynamics and practice of American politics, particularly with regard to the scope of domestic policy and federal-state relations. Nevertheless, the difficulties he faced in negotiating the highly charged social and political atmosphere of the late 1960s cast doubt on the possibility of effective presidential leadership and inaugurated an era of distrust in government.
SEE ALSO Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Great Society, The; Kennedy, John F.; Marshall, Thurgood; Presidency, The; Vietnam War; Voting Rights Act
Caro, Robert A. 1982–2002. The Years of Lyndon Johnson. 3 vols. New York: Knopf.
Dallek, Robert. 1998. Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961–1973. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Johnson, Lyndon B. 1965. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, Vol. 1. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Johnson, Lyndon B. 1971. The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963–1969. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Milkis, Sidney M., and Jerome Mileur, eds. 2005. The Great Society and the High Tide of Liberalism. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Shamira M. Gelbman
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Johnson, Lyndon B.
In the thirties, Johnson went to Washington and became an ardent admirer of FDR and his New Deal. In 1938, he captured his first elective office for the Tenth Congressional District, including the Hill Country and Austin, and was reelected several times. In 1948, he “won” an extremely close and tainted election to the Senate. He became minority leader of the Senate (1953), where he was a master congressional politician and emerged as a candidate for president.
The 1960 election was Johnson's big chance. But he believed it hopeless because he came from the South and the convention would be dominated by northern Democrats. He entered no primaries and made virtually no campaign, thereby ceding the nomination to John F. Kennedy on the first ballot. But Kennedy, concerned that his Catholicism would bring defeat in the South, offered Johnson the second place, and he accepted. Johnson's powerful campaign in the South made victory possible by a thin margin. Thus, for almost three years he served in the meaningless job of vice president, loyal, to be sure, but bored and frustrated. On 22 November 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald's bullet catapulted him into the presidency.
Johnson, with his exceptional intelligence, his feel for the legislative process, and his experience on Capitol Hill, was superbly qualified in domestic policy; he was less experienced in international affairs. Among the most aggressive cold warriors, Johnson determined to halt Soviet and Chinese expansion. His key advisers, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, both holdovers from the Kennedy administration, shared these views.
The Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations were baffled by the problem of Communist‐Nationalist influence in Vietnam. Kennedy had increased the number of U.S. advisers and introduced “Green Beret” counterinsurgency combat advisers. He had supported Ngo No Dingh Diem in South Vietnam. But Diem and his family were brutal and corrupt; the Viet Cong controlled much of the country; there was bitter Catholic‐Buddhist conflict; the Soviets and the Chinese supplied Ho Chi Minh in the North. The assassination of Diem and his brother with U.S. assent was followed by a revolving door of “governments” that quickly collapsed. There seemed no way to save South Vietnam from the Communists. A military venture appeared reckless, but the United States refused to accept Communist control of the South. The result was a limited commitment: financial support; U.S. military supplies and covert operations; and training the Vietnamese forces. This was the situation Johnson inherited.
As an accidental president obligated to complete Kennedy's legacy, he was not ready for war in 1964. He needed to legitimize his own presidency, which he achieved in November with his landslide electoral victory against Barry Goldwater.
Johnson's primary advisers concluded that South Vietnam was the linchpin of the Cold War. If it fell, the Communists would take over Southeast Asia, perhaps followed by South Korea, Taiwan, India, and Iran. This was Eisenhower's “domino theory” writ large. South Vietnam was so weak that the United States had no bargaining power with the North. To achieve peace, therefore, the United States must smash North Vietnam by bombing. The advisers did not mention a land war, but that was the only alternative if bombing failed.
This made no sense. The Communist world was divided and South Vietnam was in reality no linchpin at all. Air bombardment was little threat to an agricultural nation supplied by the Soviets. If the United States moved to a land war, Ho Chi Minh held the winning cards because it would mean guerrilla warfare. Dissenters, Undersecretary of State George Ball, Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield, as well as French president Charles de Gaulle, all made these arguments, but Johnson would not heed them.
Early in 1965, Johnson started air attacks with Operation Flaming Dart, which soon widened into Rolling Thunder. In March, the Marines splashed ashore to establish a base at Danang. On 6 April, Johnson signed National Security Action Memorandum No. 328, which authorized the use of American combat troops.
Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the U.S. commander in Vietnam, made enormous demands for troops; the president gave him part of what he asked. By mid‐1966, Westmoreland had 600,000 American troops with immense firepower, a huge air force, and a giant infrastructure. Johnson controlled their use, particularly the air war. The bombing had little military effect. Westmoreland waited for major battles where his firepower would prevail, but they seldom took place. Meantime the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong imposed a heavy toll in U.S. and South Vietnamese casualties.
Support for the war at home, strong at the outset, eroded steadily. Mounting casualties, lack of victory, and increasingly skeptical television coverage fed opposition. Opponents of the war staged massive demonstrations, and the Johnson administration started to crack internally.
The Tet Offensive, launched by the Viet Cong at the end of January 1968, caught Westmoreland by surprise. There were attacks on cities and towns throughout the country with many initial successes. Though American forces recaptured these places, it was at heavy cost to both sides.
Tet convinced the American people that the war could go on for years and might never be won. The Johnson administration was shredded, the peace and antiwar movements grew dramatically, conservatives in Congress ran roughshod over the Great Society, and the Democratic Party split. Johnson withdrew from the presidential race in 1968; Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated; and there were riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Richard M. Nixon prevailed over Johnson's vice president, Hubert Humphrey, in the 1968 election, with a promise to end the war with honor.
In 1969, Lyndon Johnson returned to his ranch to spend his few remaining years with his memories. He had been a bold president on domestic issues and a misguided one on the Vietnam War.
[See also Bombing, Ethics of; Bombing of Civilians; Vietnam Antiwar Movement; Vietnam War: Causes; Vietnam War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Vietnam War: Domestic Course.]
Lyndon Baines Johnson , The Vantage Point, 1971.
The Pentagon Papers, Senator Gravel, ed., 4 vols., 1971.
Stanley Karnow , Vietnam, A History, 1983.
Clark Clifford , Counsel to the President, 1991.
Robert S. McNamara , In Retrospect, 1995.
Irving Bernstein , Guns or Butter, 1996.
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Lyndon B. Johnson: Voting Rights Act Address
Lyndon B. Johnson: Voting Rights Act Address
On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to urge the passage of new voting rights legislation. Although Johnson had successfully engineered the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.) the year before, problems remained. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders demanded an end to racially discriminatory voting practices in the South. They organized public protests and voter registration drives that were met with intense resistance from local authorities.
When King and civil rights supporters marched to Selma, Alabama, in 1965 to demand voting rights, police met them with violence, and several marchers were murdered. The Selma violence, which was broadcast on television news programs, galvanized voting rights supporters in Congress. One week later, President Johnson responded by introducing the Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 et seq.), which included the harshest penalties ever imposed for denials of civil rights. Congress enacted the measure five months later.
In his address Johnson confronted the problem of racism and racial discrimination. He declared that "every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right." Johnson reminded the nation that the Fifteenth Amendment, which was passed after the Civil War, gives all citizens the right to vote regardless of race or color, yet states had defied the Constitution and erected barriers based on those forbidden grounds. In Johnson's view no constitutional or moral issue was at stake. Congress simply needed to enforce the amendment with strict penalties.
Johnson, a native of Texas, surprised the nation near the close of his speech when he invoked the famous civil rights anthem and declared "we shall overcome." He was greeted by stunned silence, followed by thunderous applause and tears. It was reported that Dr. King, watching the speech on television from Selma, wept. Many historians view the speech as the watershed moment of the civil rights revolution of the 1960s.
Lyndon B. Johnson: Voting Rights Act Address
I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.
I urge every member of both parties—Americans of all religions and of all colors—from every section of this country—to join me in that cause.
At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.
There is no Negro problem. There is no southern problem. There is no northern problem. There is only an American problem.
And we are met here tonight as Americans—not as Democrats or Republicans—we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.
This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, north and south: "All men are created equal"—"Government by consent of the governed"—"Give me liberty or give me death."…
Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in man's possessions. It cannot be found in his power or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being….
Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.
Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes….
Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books—and I have helped to put three of them there—can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it.
In such a case our duty must be clear to all of us. The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution.
We must now act in obedience to that oath.
Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote….
To those who seek to avoid action by their National Government in their home communities—who want to and who seek to maintain purely local control over elections—the answer is simple. Open your polling places to all your people. Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin. Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land. There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of States rights or National rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.
I have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer….
But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.
Their cause must be our cause too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome….
This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all—all black and white, all North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies—poverty, ignorance, disease—they are our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too—poverty, disease, and ignorance—we shall overcome.
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Johnson, Lyndon Baines
Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1908–73, 36th President of the United States (1963–69), b. near Stonewall, Tex.
Born into a farm family, he graduated (1930) from Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Southwest Texas State Univ.), in San Marcos. He taught in a Houston high school before becoming (1932) secretary to a Texas Congressman. In 1934 he married Claudia Alta Taylor (see Lady Bird Johnson), and they had two daughters, Lynda Bird and Luci Baines. A staunch New Dealer, Johnson gained the friendship of the influential Sam Rayburn, at whose behest President Franklin D. Roosevelt made him (1935) director in Texas of the National Youth Administration.
In the House and the Senate
In 1937, Johnson won election to a vacant congressional seat, and he was consistently reelected through 1946. Despite Roosevelt's support, however, he was defeated in a special election to the Senate in 1941. He served (1941–42) in the navy.
In 1948, Johnson was elected U.S. Senator from Texas after winning the Democratic primary by a mere 87 votes. A strong advocate of military preparedness, he persuaded the Armed Services Committee to set up (1950) the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee, of which he became chairman. Rising rapidly in the Senate hierarchy, Johnson became (1951) Democratic whip and then (1953) floor leader. As majority leader after the 1954 elections he wielded great power, exhibiting unusual skill in marshaling support for President Eisenhower's programs. He suffered a serious heart attack in 1955 but recovered to continue his senatorial command.
Johnson lost the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination to John F. Kennedy, but accepted Kennedy's offer of the vice presidential position. Elected with Kennedy, he energetically supported the President's programs, serving as an American emissary to nations throughout the world and as chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council and of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities. After Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, Johnson was sworn in as president and announced that he would strive to carry through Kennedy's programs.
Congress responded to Johnson's skillful prodding by enacting an $11 billion tax cut (Jan., 1964) and a sweeping Civil Rights Act (July, 1964). In May, 1964, Johnson called for a nationwide war against poverty and outlined a vast program of economic and social welfare legislation designed to create what he termed the Great Society. Elected (Nov., 1964) for a full term in a landslide over Senator Barry Goldwater, he pushed hard for his domestic program. The 89th Congress (1965–66) produced more major legislative action than any since the New Deal. A bill providing free medical care (Medicare) to the aged under Social Security was enacted, as was Medicaid; federal aid to education at all levels was greatly expanded; the Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided new safeguards for African-American voters; more money went to antipoverty programs; and the departments of Transportation and of Housing and Urban Development were added to the Cabinet.
Johnson's domestic achievements were soon obscured by foreign affairs, however. The Aug., 1964, incident leading Congress to pass the Tonkin Gulf resolution gave Johnson the authority to take any action necessary to protect American troops in Vietnam. Convinced that South Vietnam was about to fall to Communist forces, Johnson began (Feb., 1965) the bombing of North Vietnam. Within three years he increased American forces in South Vietnam from 20,000 to over 500,000 (see Vietnam War). Johnson's actions eventually aroused widespread opposition in Congress and among the public, and a vigorous antiwar movement developed.
As the cost of the war shot up, Congress scuttled many of Johnson's domestic programs. Riots in the African-American ghettos of large U.S. cities (1967) also dimmed the president's luster. By 1968 he was under sharp attack from all sides. After Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy began campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination, Johnson announced (Mar., 1968) that he would not run for reelection. At the same time he called a partial halt to the bombing of North Vietnam; two months later peace talks began in Paris. When Johnson retired from office (Jan., 1969), he left the nation bitterly divided by the war. He retired to Texas, where he died.
See his memoirs, The Vantage Point (1971); White House tape transcripts, selected and ed. by M. Beschloss (2 vol., 1997–2001), complete ed. by M. Holland et al. (3 vol., 2005–); H. McPherson, Political Education: A Washington Memoir (1972, repr. 1995); biographies by E. F. Goldman (1969), L. Heren (1970), G. E. Reedy (1970), R. Harwood and H. Johnson (1973), D. K. Goodwin (1976), R. A. Caro (4 vol., 1982–2012), R. Dallek (2 vol., 1991–98), R. B. Woods (2006), and C. Peters (2010).
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Johnson, Lyndon Baines
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