Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson, Lyndon Baines

Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1908–73, 36th President of the United States (1963–69), b. near Stonewall, Tex.

Early Life

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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Lyndon B. Johnson: Selected full-text books and articles

Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President
Robert Dallek.
Oxford University Press, 2004
A Companion to Lyndon B. Johnson
Mitchell B. Lerner.
Wiley-Blackwell, 2012
Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Uses of Power
Bernard J. Firestone; Robert C. Vogt.
Greenwood Press, 1988
The Wages of Globalism: Lyndon Johnson and the Limits of American Power
H. W. Brands.
Oxford University Press, 1997
LBJ and the Polls
Bruce E. Altschuler.
University Presses of Florida, 1990
Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960
Robert Dallek.
Oxford University Press, 1991
Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973
Robert Dallek.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Johnson's War/Johnson's Great Society: The Guns and Butter Trap
Jeffrey W. Helsing.
Praeger Publishers, 2000
President Johnson's War on Poverty: Rhetoric and History
David Zarefsky.
University of Alabama Press, 1986
Lyndon Johnson: The Tragic Self : a Psychohistorical Portrait
Hyman L. Muslin; Thomas H. Jobe.
Insight Books, 1991
The Politician: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson : The Drive for Power, from the Frontier to Master of the Senate
Ronnie Dugger.
W. W. Norton, 1982
Lyndon Johnson's War: The Road to Stalemate in Vietnam
Larry Berman.
W. W. Norton, 1991
Shadows of Vietnam: Lyndon Johnson's Wars
Frank E. Vandiver.
Texas A&M University Press, 1997
Defending the Free World: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and the Vietnam War, 1961-1965
Orrin Schwab.
Praeger, 1998
The President and His Inner Circle: Leadership Style and the Advisory Process in Foreign Affairs
Thomas Preston.
Columbia University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Lyndon Johnson and the Partial Bombing Halt in Vietnam, 1967-1968"
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