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Lyndon B Johnson

Lyndon B Johnson

The tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy thrust Lyndon B. Johnson, often called "LBJ," into office. Johnson was a Southerner and a Democrat, but found himself at odds with traditional Southern Democrats over the social order of the Jim Crow South. Although Kennedy is better remembered, it was Johnson who moved ahead with Kennedy's goals of Civil Rights, social welfare, and winning the space race, all while bringing America deeper into the contentious Vietnam War. How did Johnson struggle to his party and the nation together throughout the tumultuous 1960s?

US History Lyndon B Johnson StudySmarterFig. 1 - Lyndon B. Johnson.

Early Life of Lyndon B. Johnson

Originally a school teacher, Lyndon Johnson entered politics by winning the US House of Representatives election in 1937, representing the state of Texas. Over the next two decades, Johnson would climb through the ranks of Congress, only taking a short leave to serve in WWII.

He went to the Senate in 1948, where he became Majority Whip in 1951, Minority leader of the Republican-dominated Congress in 1953, and finally, Majority Leader when Democrats took back the Congress in 1957. Johnson became known as a shrewd leader in Congress, gaining the favor of important allies and negotiating deals.

After Pearl Harbor, Johnson was activated to serve as an Officer in the Naval Reserve from December 1941 to July 1942, taking a break from his service in the House. During this time, he was assigned to investigate the condition of the US military in the Pacific theater for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

US History Lyndon B Johnson Sworn in as President StudySmarterFig. 2 - Johnson Sworn in as President.

Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson

Barely over two hours after the death of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president. He was far more prepared for the role and involved in Kennedy's affairs than Harry S. Truman had been upon inheriting the office after Franklin Delano Roosevelt's death. Johnson had a notoriously difficult relationship with JFK. Yet, despite their dislike for one another, Kennedy had appointed Johnson to prominent committees and allowed him to review national defense information that kept Johnson well-informed on the nation's affairs.

Johnson also had a bitter relationship with John F. Kennedy's brother Robert Kennedy, yet kept him on as Attorney General until Robert left to run for the Senate in 1964.

1964 Reelection

With over 60% of the popular vote, Johnson had the most significant landslide victory of any US president when he faced Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964. Inside the Democratic Party, the nominating convention had been full of strife. The traditional Mississippi Democratic Party was for whites only. Yet, it was challenged that year by a nondiscriminatory organization called the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party (MDFP), which sought to take the convention seats as the official democratic party organization in Mississippi.

Johnson had supported Civil Rights legislation and had already beaten a primary challenge by segregationist Democrat George Wallace, but feared sitting the MDFP would alienate the South completely. He attempted to negotiate a compromise, but the MDFP walked out of the convention instead. Despite his attempts, Johnson lost the Southern states of Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana over his Civil Rights stance.

Only James Monroe in 1820 won a US presidential election by a greater margin than Johnson, but that was because he ran unopposed!

Lyndon B. Johnson Accomplishments

During his time in office, Johnson was an influential president, able to get a great deal of his legislative agenda through Congress. Even though they had a hard relationship while Kennedy was alive, Johnson worked hard to turn the goodwill existing after the Kennedy assassination into legislative action. Kennedy's goals, like tax cuts and Civil Rights legislation, became a reality under Johnson with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Revenue Act of 1964. His Great Society Program was a massive reform to social welfare in the United States, and he also led the way in the Space Race.

The Great Society

A term coined in a May 1964 speech, The Great Society, was Johnson's massive domestic spending agenda to build on the economic prosperity that the US had been experiencing since the 1950s. He also discussed a "War on Poverty," where his programs would help lift many Americans out of poverty. The Great Society programs addressed social welfare with food stamps and Medicaid and provided money for education and job training, urban renewal, the arts, and environmental protection. In this way, the Great Society was aimed not just at meeting short-term needs but improving Americans' long-term economic prospects and improving society through an emphasis on arts and culture. Conservatives resented the initiative as offering "handouts," while liberals felt it did not do enough and were upset when some projects' funding was diverted to the Vietnam War.

Great Society Legislation

  • Economic Opportunity Act of 1964
  • Food Stamp Act of 1964
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965
  • Higher Education Act of 1965
  • Bilingual Education Act of 1968
  • Social Security Act of 1965
  • Public Broadcasting act of 1967
  • National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities Act

Lyndon B. Johnson Civil Rights

From the beginning of Johnson's Presidency, he made Civil Rights a key issue. Just days after the assassination of Kennedy, Johnson appealed to Congress to pass Civil Rights legislation to honor the legacy of the fallen President. While Southern Democrats had long opposed such legislation, Johnson used his experience in Congress to outmaneuver segregationists. He employed tactics such as passing other issues earlier, convincing Republicans to support the legislation, and even threatening to go around the House Rules Committee. Johnson was able to pass several key pieces of Civil Rights legislation.

US History Lyndon B Johnson Signing Civil Rights Act 1964 StudySmarterFig. 3 - Johnson Signing the Civil Rights Act.

Civil Rights Legislation Passed Under Johnson

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • Civil Rights Act of 1968

Few men in our time have better understood the value of space exploration than Lyndon Johnson."

— Richard Nixon1

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Race

Johnson had long fought for America's investment in space exploration to compete against the Soviet Union in the Space Race. In Congress, he had chaired the Special Committee on Space and Aeronautics in 1958 and fought for the creation of NASA that summer. While Johnson was Vice President, Kennedy focused on other issues, allowing Johnson to chair the National Space Council, where he fought for more funding for the Space Race. As President, he renamed the NASA facility at Cape Canaveral as the John F. Kennedy Space Center in honor of Kennedy's push for progress in the space race.

Lyndon B. Johnson Controversies

Although Johnson was highly successful in his early presidency, by 1966, controversy began to swallow much of the public's goodwill toward the president. By 1968, the upheaval of the 1960s was on full display, with urban riots over Civil Rights issues and protests over the Vietnam War. Johnson's popularity was heading into steep decline as many felt American society was falling apart.

Vietnam War

Johnson inherited US involvement in Vietnam that went back to President Eisenhower. While Kennedy had planned to withdraw 1,000 of the 16,000 US troops in Vietnam by the end of 1963, Johnson took the opposite path. Politically, Johnson feared being seen as soft on Communism and personally felt that containment was the best policy.

Initially, many Americans supported a hawkish stance against Communist expansion. Congress even approved US involvement through the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution 1964. The tides turned as the war dragged on with no end in sight and American casualties mounting, resulting in a vigorous anti-war protest movement and lagging approval rates in the polls.

  • By 1966, Johnson's public optimism about the war, compared to negative press coverage of how the war was going, became known as a credibility gap.
  • Under Johnson, the US troop level in Vietnam reached over half a million by 1968. That same year amounted to the highest casualties in the war.

US History Vietnam Protest StudySmarterFig. 4 - Vietnam War Protestors.

Domestic Unrest

Domestic unrest in urban areas was already accelerating with riots over Civil Rights issues and police behavior in Harlem in 1964 and the Watts Riots in Los Angeles in 1965, where 35 people died. Although demonstrations against US involvement in the Vietnam War had been happening since 1963, they gained steam in 1965, and a 1966 change to draft rules threw gas on the anti-war fire. By 1968, massive demonstrations and sit-ins by college students were occurring nationwide. Urban violence had also steadily increased, with National Guard troops activated in 1967 riots and even federal troops called in to restore order after the April 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Before 1966, college students had been able to get a draft deferment, but that year a change was made that would allow students whose academic performance was in the bottom half of their class to be drafted.

1968 Presidential Election

Although Johnson's domestic policies may have been some of the most liberal in US history, his actions on the Vietnam War made him very unpopular on the left. From the right, domestic unrest in the late 1960s made "law and order" a rallying cry for the Republican Party and Richard Nixon. First, Senator Eugene McCarthy's anti-war challenge to Johnson in the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary received unexpectedly strong support, followed by Robert Kennedy's entrance into the race for the Democratic nomination. Johnson declared that he would not pursue or accept the Democratic nomination. The 1968 Democratic convention was famously tense as the party split into four factions: party establishment and labor unions, anti-war protestors, minority groups, and segregationists.

Before dropping out, internal polling done by the Johnson campaign showed him lagging far behind competitors for the Democratic nomination.

Lyndon B Johnson – Key takeaways

  • Elected Vice President in 1960, they became President after the November 1963 assassination of John F Kennedy.
  • Great Society domestic programs spent heavily on education, social welfare, the arts, urban renewal, and the environment.
  • Passed primary Civil Rights legislation over the objections of Southern Democrats
  • Drew America much deeper into the Vietnam War
  • Faced problems with domestic unrest over Civil Rights and Vietnam

Frequently Asked Questions about Lyndon B Johnson

Johnson believed in the policy of containment and feared looking weak on Communism.

Lyndon B. Johnson passed Civil Rights legislation, The Great Society programs addressing social welfare, education, urban renewal, culture, and the environment, as well as funding the Space Race. 

Lyndon Johnson died of a heart attack in 1973.

Johnson is remembered for Civil Rights, The Great Society domestic programs, the Space Race, and the Vietnam War.

Lyndon B. Johnson was the 36th president of the United States, taking over for John F. Kennedy.

Final Lyndon B Johnson Quiz

Question

What was Lyndon Johnson's The Great Society?

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Answer

A US domestic spending plan to to address social welfare, education, urban renewal and environment.

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Question

How did Lyndon Johnson do in the 1964 US presidential election?

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Answer

He won in a landslide against Barry Goldwater.

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Question

What foreign conflict did Lyndon Johnson draw the US deeper into?

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Answer

Vietnam War.

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Question

Johnson moved from Vice President to President after the President was _____.

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Answer

Assassinated.

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Question

Lyndon Johnson _____ Civil Rights legislation.

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Answer

Supported.

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Question

How did Lyndon Johnson compare to the previous Vice President who had inherited the Presidency, Harry Truman?

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Answer

Johnson was more prepared than Truman.

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Question

How did what Johnson said about the Vietnam War comapre to media coverage?

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Answer

Johnson was enthusiastic, the media coverage was negative.

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Question

During the Johnson adminsitration, _______ became a major issue that Republicans used in the 1968 election.

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Answer

Domestic Unrest.

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Question

Johnson _______ in the 1968 Democratic Presidential Primary. 

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Answer

Chose not to run.

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Question

Lyndon Johnson and John F Kennedy _______ each other. 

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Answer

Disliked.

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