Once again, short on time. This is a President that deserves some special recognition as he kept the country together after JFK’s death. Once a VP, this President took over after the most popular President ever elected was assassinated.
Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908 – January 22, 1973), often referred to as LBJ, was the thirty-sixth President of the United States from 1963 to 1969. Johnson served a long career in both houses of the U.S. Congress, and in 1960 he was selected by then-Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to be his running-mate. After Kennedy won the 1960 presidential election, Johnson became the thirty-seventh Vice President, and in 1963, he succeeded to the role of presidency following Kennedy’s assassination. He was a major leader of the Democratic Party and as President was responsible for designing the Great Society, comprising liberal legislation including civil rights laws, Medicare (health care for the elderly), Medicaid (health care for the poor), aid to education, and a “War on Poverty.” Simultaneously, he escalated the American involvement in the Vietnam War, from 16,000 American soldiers in 1963 to 550,000 in early 1968.
He was elected President in his own right in a landslide victory in 1964, but his popularity steadily declined after 1966 and his reelection bid in 1968 collapsed as a result of turmoil in his party. He withdrew from the race to concentrate on peacemaking. Johnson was renowned for his domineering (or dominating) personality and the “Johnson treatment,” his arm-twisting of powerful politicians.
Johnson died after a heart attack, the third in his lifetime, on January 22, 1973.
After America entered the war in December 1941, Johnson, still in Congress, became a commissioned officer in the Navy Reserves, then asked Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal for a combat assignment. Instead he was sent to inspect the shipyard facilities in Texas and on the West Coast. In the spring of 1942, President Roosevelt needed his own reports on what conditions were like in the Southwest Pacific. Roosevelt felt information that flowed up the military chain of command needed to be supplemented by a highly trusted political aide. From a suggestion by Forrestal, President Roosevelt assigned Johnson to a three-man survey team of the Southwest Pacific.
Johnson reported to General Douglas MacArthur in Australia. Johnson and two Army officers went to the 22nd Bomb Group base, which was assigned the high risk mission of bombing the Japanese airbase at Lae in New Guinea. A colonel took Johnson’s original seat on one bomber; it was shot down and everyone died. Reports vary on what happened to the B-26 Marauder carrying Johnson. Some accounts say it was also attacked by Japanese fighters but survived, while others claim it turned back before reaching the objective and never came under fire. MacArthur awarded LBJ the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest medal, for his actions.
Johnson reported back to Roosevelt, to the Navy leaders, and to Congress, that conditions were deplorable and unacceptable. He argued the South West Pacific urgently needed a higher priority and a bigger share of war supplies. The warplanes sent there, for example, were “far inferior” to Japanese planes, and morale was bad. He told Forrestal that the Pacific Fleet had a “critical” need for 6,800 additional experienced men. Johnson prepared a twelve-point program to upgrade the effort in the region, stressing “greater cooperation and coordination within the various commands and between the different war theaters.” Congress responded by making Johnson chairman of a high-powered subcommittee of the Naval Affairs committee. With a mission similar to that of the Truman Committee in the Senate, he probed into the peacetime “business as usual” inefficiencies that permeated the naval war and demanded that admirals shape up and get the job done. However, Johnson went too far when he proposed a bill that would crack down on the draft exemptions of shipyard workers if they were too often absent. Organized labor blocked the bill and denounced Johnson. Johnson’s mission thus had a significant impact in upgrading the South Pacific theater and in helping along the entire naval war effort. Johnson’s biographer concludes, “The mission was a temporary exposure to danger calculated to satisfy Johnson’s personal and political wishes, but it also represented a genuine effort on his part, however misplaced, to improve the lot of America’s fighting men.”
1948 contested election
In 1948, Johnson again ran for the Senate and won. This election was highly controversial: a three-way Democratic Party primary saw Johnson facing a well-known former governor, Coke Stevenson, and a third candidate. Johnson drew crowds to fairgrounds with his rented helicopter dubbed “The Flying Windmill”. He raised money to flood the state with campaign circulars, and won over conservatives by voting for the Taft-Hartley act curbing unions and by criticizing unions on the stump. Stevenson came in first, but lacked a majority, so a runoff was held. Johnson campaigned even harder, while Stevenson’s efforts were poor. The runoff count took a week as the two candidates see-sawed for the lead. The Democratic State Central Committee handled the count (not the state, because it was a party primary), and it finally announced Johnson won by eighty-seven votes. The committee voted 29-28 to certify Johnson’s nomination, with the last vote cast on Johnson’s behalf by the Temple publisher Frank W. Mayborn, who rushed back to Texas from a business trip in Nashville, Tennessee. There were many allegations of fraud on both sides. Thus one writer alleges that Johnson’s campaign manager, John B. Connally, was connected with 202 ballots in Precinct 13 in Jim Wells County that had curiously been cast in alphabetical order. Robert Caro argued in his 1989 book that Johnson had rigged the election in Jim Wells County, and other counties in South Texas, as well as rigging 10,000 ballots in Bexar County alone.
However, the state Democratic convention upheld Johnson. Stevenson went to court, but — with timely help from his friend Abe Fortas — Johnson prevailed. Johnson was elected senator in November, and went to Washington, D.C. tagged with the label “Landslide Lyndon,” which he often used deprecatingly to refer to him.
Johnson’s success in the Senate made him a possible Democratic presidential candidate. He was Texas’ “favorite son” candidate at the party’s national convention in 1956. In 1960, Johnson received 409 votes on the first and only ballot at the Democratic convention, which nominated John F. Kennedy. The possibility that Lyndon Johnson, who for nearly twenty-four years had been a member of congress, might someday become president of the United States increased when he took the oath as vice president on January 20, 1961 (Vaughn Davis Bornet, The Presidency of LBJ, p. 1).
Tip O’Neill, then a representative from Kennedy’s home state of Massachusetts, recalled that Johnson approached him at the convention and said, “Tip, I’d like to have you with me on the second ballot.” O’Neill, understanding the influence of the Kennedy name, replied, “Senator, there’s not going to be any second ballot.”
During the convention, Kennedy designated Johnson as his choice for Vice President. Some later reports (such as Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.‘s) say that Kennedy offered the position to Johnson as a courtesy and did not expect him to accept. Others (such as W. Marvin Watson) say that the Kennedy campaign was desperate to win the 1960 election against Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and needed Johnson on the ticket to help carry Southern states.
While he ran for vice president with John F. Kennedy, Johnson also sought a third term in the U.S. Senate. His popularity was such that Texas law was changed to permit him to run for two offices at the same time. Johnson was reelected senator, with 1,306,605 votes (58 percent) to Republican John Tower‘s 927,653 (41.1 percent). Fellow Democrat William A. Blakley was appointed to replace Johnson as Senator, but Blakley lost a special election in May 1961 to Tower. In 1988, Lloyd Bentsen, the Vice Presidential running mate of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, and also a Senator from Texas, also took advantage of “Lyndon’s law,” and was able to retain his seat in Senate despite Dukakis’ loss to George H. W. Bush.
After the election, Johnson found himself powerless. Despite Kennedy’s efforts to have Johnson busy, informed and at the White House often, his advisors and even some of his family were dismissive to the Texan. Kennedy appointed him to nominal jobs such as head of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, through which he worked with African Americans and other minorities. Though Kennedy probably intended this to remain a nominal position, Taylor Branch in Pillar of Fire contends that Johnson served to force the Kennedy administration’s actions for civil rights further and faster than Kennedy intended to go. Branch notes the irony of Johnson, who the Kennedy family hoped would appeal to conservative southern voters, being the advocate for civil rights. In particular he notes Johnson’s Memorial Day 1963 speech at Gettysburg as being a catalyst that led to much more action than otherwise would have occurred.
Johnson took on numerous minor diplomatic missions, which gave him limited insights into international issues. He was allowed to observe Cabinet and National Security Council meetings. Kennedy did give Johnson control over all presidential appointments involving Texas, and he was appointed chairman of the President’s Ad Hoc Committee for Science. When, in April 1961, the Soviets beat the U.S. with the first manned spaceflight Kennedy tasked Johnson with coming up with a ‘scientific bonanza’ that would prove world leadership. Johnson knew that Project Apollo and an enlarged NASA were feasible, so he steered the recommendation towards a program for landing an American on the moon.
Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
[The Brainiac’s note: Incidently, although you cannot see it in this picture, there are reports that the First Lady was still splattered with JFK’s blood from the shooting. There had not been time for her to change before the swearing-in of LBJ, as she had requested to be present.]
An hour and 39 minutes after President Kennedy was shot two cars in front of him in a Dealey Plaza motorcade, Johnson was sworn in as President on Air Force One in Dallas at Love Field Airport on November 22, 1963. He was sworn in by Federal Judge Sarah T. Hughes, a very close friend of his family, making him the first President sworn in by a woman. He is also the only President to have been sworn in on Texas soil. Johnson was not sworn on a Bible, as none could be found aboard Air Force One; a Roman Catholic missal was discovered in Kennedy’s desk, and this book was used during the swearing-in ceremony.
To investigate Kennedy’s murder, Johnson created a special panel called the Warren Commission. This panel, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, conducted hearings about the assassination and concluded that Oswald did indeed shoot the President without conspiring with anyone. Not everyone agreed with the Warren Commission, however, and numerous public and private investigations continued for decades after Johnson left office.
The wave of national grief and soul-searching following the assassination gave enormous momentum to Johnson’s promise to carry out Kennedy’s programs. He retained the senior Kennedy appointees, some for the full term of his presidency. Even the late President’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, with whom Johnson had an infamously-difficult relationship, remained in office until leaving in 1964 to run for the Senate.
1964 Presidential election
In the 1964 election, LBJ often appealed to the memory of JFK in his electoral campaign
On September 7, 1964, Johnson’s campaign managers for the 1964 presidential election broadcast the “Daisy ad.” It portrayed a little girl picking petals from a daisy, counting up to ten. Then a baritone voice took over, counted down from ten to zero and a nuclear bomb exploded. The message was that Barry Goldwater meant nuclear war. Although it was soon pulled off the air, it escalated into a very heated election. Johnson won by a sweeping landslide. Johnson won the presidency with 61 percent of the vote and the then-widest popular margin in the 20th century — more than 15 million votes (this was later surpassed by Nixon’s defeat of McGovern in 1972).
In the summer of 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was organized with the purpose of challenging Mississippi’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention of that year as not representative of all Mississippians. At national convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey the MFDP claimed the seats for delegates for Mississippi, not on the grounds of the Party rules, but because the official Mississippi delegation had been elected by a primary conducted under Jim Crow laws in which blacks were excluded because of poll taxes, literacy tests, and even violence against black voters. The national Party’s liberal leaders supported a compromise in which the white delegation and the MFDP would have an even division of the seats; Johnson was concerned that, while the regular Democrats of Mississippi would probably vote for Goldwater anyway, if the Democratic Party rejected the regular Democrats, he would lose the Democratic Party political structure that he needed to win in the South. Eventually, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther and black civil rights leaders (including Roy Wilkins, Martin Luther King, and Bayard Rustin worked out a compromise with MFDP leaders: the MFDP would receive two non-voting seats on the floor of the Convention; the regular Mississippi delegation would be required to pledge to support the party ticket; and no future Democratic convention would accept a delegation chosen by a discriminatory poll. When the leaders took the proposal back to the 64 members who had made the bus trip to Atlantic City, they voted it down. As MFDP Vice Chair Fannie Lou Hamer said, “We didn’t come all the way up here to compromise for no more than we’d gotten here. We didn’t come all this way for no two seats, ’cause all of us is tired.” The failure of the compromise effort allowed the rest of the Democratic Party to conclude that the MFDP was simply being unreasonable, and they lost a great deal of their liberal support. After that, the convention went smoothly for LBJ without a searing battle over civil rights. Johnson carried the South as a whole in the election, but he lost the white voters to Goldwater in the Deep South states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina.
So, some more useless tidbits with history!