Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908 - January 22, 1973), often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th (1963-1969) President of the United States. He took office after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He brought to the office enormous political skills and high ideals but was brought down by a few glaring flaws.
Johnson was Congressman for the 10th Texas district from 1937 to 1948, a Texas Senator from 1948-1960, Senate Minority leader from 1952-1955, and Senate Majority Leader from 1955-1960. In 1960 he ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination. He was defeated by JFK, but won the vice presidency on Kennedy's ticket.
Johnson had huge ambition and mostly high ideals, combined with a more thorough knowledge of how to get legislation through the U.S. Congress than any president has ever had. He had no hobbies, and other than his own immediate family, few interests outside politics, with the possible exception of overseeing his large Texas ranch, the "LBJ Ranch". He named or nicknamed most people and things close to him with his own initials, from his wife, "Lady Bird" Johnson, to his dog, "Little Beagle Johnson".
Although LBJ was unusually progressive for a Texas politician, he had a close relationship with the petroleum industry and other Texas businesses, such as the construction firm Brown and Root. His connections and political career also earned him enormous wealth, including a radio and television network which was held and managed by his wife. After having lost a Senate primary to ballot-stuffing in 1941, Johnson employed the same tactics in his succesful 1948 nomination campaign.
After Kennedy's assassination, Johnson served out the remainder of the term in manner he felt was consistent with Kennedy's agenda. He convinced Kennedy's cabinet to serve out the rest of the term, including Robert Kennedy (despite the acrimonious relationship between Johnson and Kennedy). He also used his considerable political savvy to ensure passage the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These actions allowed Johnson to easily win the 1964 presidential election.
He had a distaste for the American war effort in Vietnam, which he had inherited from John Kennedy. But Johnson believed that America could not afford to look weak in the eyes of the world, and so he escalated the war effort continuously from 1965-1968, which resulted in thousands of American deaths and perhaps ten times the number of deaths in Vietnam. At the same time, Johnson was afraid that too much focus on Vietnam would distract attention from his Great Society programs, so the levels of military escalation, while significant, were never significant enough to make any real headway in the war. This approach was very unpopular with both The Pentagon and America's South Vietnam allies. Against his wishes, Johnson's presidency was soon dominated by the Vietnam War. As more and more American soldiers died in Vietnam, Johnson's popularity declined, particularly in the face of student protests ("Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?").
As a result, in March of 1968, LBJ announced he would not seek re-election, and he retired from public life at the end of his term. Depressed and alone, he died four years later.
Johnson is the subject of an extensive multi-volume biography: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro. So far three volumes have appeared:
Lyndon Johnson being sworn in aboard Air Force One, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy
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