Lyndon Baines Johnson, (1908-1973), 36th President of the United States
•Born: Aug. 27, 1908, near Johnson City, Texas
•Education: Southwest Texas State Teachers College (graduated 1930)
•Profession: Teacher, Public Official
•Religious Affiliation: Disciples of Christ
•Marriage: Nov. 17, 1934, to Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor (1912- )
•Children: Lynda Bird Johnson (1944- ); Luci Baines Johnson (1947- )
•Political Affiliation: Democrat
•Writings: The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963-1969 (1971)
•Died: Jan. 22, 1973, near Johnson City, Texas
•Buried: Near Johnson City, Texas
•Vice-President: Hubert H. Humphrey (1965-69)
He also promoted GED Programs and contributed to their popularity. Today GED courses are widely available.
1908 August 27, born near Stonewall, Texas
1924 Graduated from Johnson City, Texas, high school
1927-30 Attended Southwest Texas State Teachers College, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree
1930-31 Taught public speaking and debate at Sam Houston High School in Houston, Texas
1934 November 17, married Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor
1935-37 Director of the National Youth Administration in Texas
1937-48 U.S. representative from Texas
1941-42 Served on active duty during World War II as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy
1949-60 U.S. senator from Texas; majority leader of the Senate, 1955-60
1961-63 Vice President of the United States
1963-69 Thirty-sixth President of the United States
1973 January 22, died at his ranch near Johnson City, Texas
Lyndon Baines Johnson, (1908-1973), 36th President of the United States. Born far from the centers of power, he devoted his life to the art of politics and eventually reached the most powerful position in the world, the presidency. Earlier, as Senate floor leader of the Democratic Party, he became one of the most important men in Washington.
Frustrated in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960, Johnson settled for the vice presidency under John F. Kennedy and contributed significantly to the ticket’s victory that fall. For nearly three years he served as a loyal and unusually active lieutenant to the dynamic younger man who in 1960 had defeated his presidential aspirations and then selected him as a running mate.
Then, as a result of the tragic assassination of President Kennedy, Johnson found himself occupying the White House. He quickly broke the legislative deadlock between the president and Congress and obtained enactment of major domestic measures proposed by his predecessor.
In the 1964 presidential election, Johnson overwhelmed Sen. Barry Goldwater. He then expanded his program of domestic reform, which he believed would lead to a “Great Society.” But the rest of the world did not respond so readily to Johnson’s innovating tendencies. His popularity and ability to control events declined, chiefly because of his decision to escalate the war in Vietnam. Unexpectedly, he decided not to seek reelection in 1968.
Boyhood and Education
Johnson’s early life contained few hints of the lofty position he would one day attain. He was born near Johnson City in southwestern Texas on Aug. 27, 1908. His family, longtime residents of Texas, had not become wealthy. His parents occupied a farm in poor, hilly farming country and they could not provide their son with many advantages. He attended public schools and graduated from Johnson City High School in 1924.
In 1927 Johnson was ready to heed his mother’s appeals that he further his education. He enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos. Even though he participated actively in debate and campus politics, edited the school paper, and spent a year away from his studies teaching school, he managed to graduate in 312 days. The energy that characterized his later career was already apparent.
Early Public Career
For the first year after college, Johnson taught public speaking and debate in a Houston high school, but politics drew him away from the classroom. His political interests had developed early, for many members of his family participated in politics. His father served five terms in the Texas legislature and was a friend of one of the rising figures in state politics, Congressman Sam Rayburn.
In 1931 Lyndon campaigned for Richard M. Kleberg and was rewarded with an appointment as the new congressman’s secretary. This post provided many opportunities for a young man eager and able to learn.
Arriving in Washington when the old order was giving way to the New Deal, Johnson quickly discovered where power lay and how best to use the machinery of government. He became acquainted with people of influence, found out how they had reached their positions, and gained their respect for his abilities. His friends and admirers soon included some of the men around President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as Texans like Rayburn and Vice President John Nance Garner.
During his four years as a congressional secretary, Johnson met Claudia Alta Taylor, a young woman from Texas known to her family and friends as “Lady Bird.” After a whirlwind courtship, they were married on Nov. 17, 1934.
The couple had two daughters, Lynda Bird (who married Charles S. Robb, elected governor of Virginia in 1981), born in 1944, and Luci Baines, born in 1947. From the beginning of their marriage, Lady Bird’s charm, talent, energy, and ambition assisted her husband’s career in many ways.
By 1935, Johnson had established himself in Washington as a young man of promise and also as an ardent New Dealer. He admired Roosevelt and accepted his positive attitude toward government, seeing it as a power for great accomplishment.
As a consequence, in August, although not yet 27 years old, Johnson became the Texas administrator of the National Youth Administration, a post that enabled him to use the powers of government to find educational and job opportunities for young people. The position also enabled him to build political strength, for those who benefited from his work–and soon there were thousands–were grateful for his help.
Member of Congress
Confident of strong support, Johnson decided to reach for a higher rung on the political ladder. In 1937 the seat in Texas’ 10th congressional district became vacant, and he filed for it. Challenging a field of five anti-New Deal Democrats, he campaigned as a thoroughgoing supporter of President Roosevelt. The young politician finished far ahead of his closest opponent.
Returning to Washington he knew and that knew him, Johnson did not have to wait long for a position of importance in the House of Representatives. He had made a good impression on F.D.R., and the president as well as friends like Rayburn, now one of the congressional leaders, took steps to see to it that the freshman from Texas obtained good committee assignments.
Armed with some influence and much know-how, Johnson battled strenuously and successfully for federal projects for his district. He demonstrated a strong interest in public power, flood control, reclamation, and public housing. As World War II approached, he also joined the president in his battles against isolationists and pacifists and revealed strong convictions about the importance of power international affairs. As a member of the Naval Affairs Committee, Johnson fought hard for the development of naval power.
In 1941, Johnson suffered his first political setback. For some time, Texas Democrats had been dividing along pro-Roosevelt and anti-Roosevelt lines, and Johnson had managed to oppose such leaders of the latter faction as Vice President Garner without alienating them. In 1941 one of the state’s seats in the U.S. Senate became vacant, and Johnson, after a conference with the president, announced his candidacy from the steps of the White House. He ran with open support from Roosevelt but lost to W. Lee O’Daniel, one of the anti-Roosevelt Democrats.
For nearly eight more years Johnson had to satisfy himself with the political opportunities that the House of Representatives provided. He joined the Navy in December 1941 and saw action in the Pacific, where he received the Silver Star from Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He returned to Washington in July 1942 after Roosevelt ordered all congressmen on active duty to return to their lawmaking responsibilities.
During the remainder of the war, Johnson devoted much of his time to the development of the armed forces. When the war was over, he remained a champion of armed strength and also supported the new foreign policy of “containment” that was taking shape under the leadership of President Truman.
In domestic affairs, the congressman, like many Americans in the years right after 1945, moved somewhat to the right. He refused to join the liberals who hoped to enlarge the New Deal. Johnson hoped only to preserve the major domestic programs that Roosevelt had established. He accepted the widely held view that labor had become too powerful and that new federal controls on its activity were needed. Consequently, he supported the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.
Election to Senate
Johnson’s mood apparently reflected the feeling of many Texans, for in 1948 they rewarded him with the seat in the Senate that he had sought unsuccessfully seven years before. He campaigned vigorously and won the runoff Democratic Primary Election by the razor-thin margin of 87 votes out of nearly 900,000. The outcome led to charges and countercharges of fraud. It produced suits and countersuits, all of which Johnson won, and it gave him the nickname “Landslide Lyndon.”
Rise to National Leadership
After an easy victory over his Republican opponent in the 1948 Senate election, Johnson moved into the arena in which he was to attain a position of national leadership. He immediately became a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and thereby gained another opportunity to promote military preparedness.
He supported and defended Truman’s decision to intervene in Korea and insisted that a very strong stand must be taken against Communist expansion in the Far East. But he was not fully satisfied with the conduct of the war.
Senate Majority Leader
Johnson advanced rapidly in the Senate. In 1951 he became party whip, an office in which he was responsible chiefly for getting members of his party to the Senate chamber for important votes.
The post gave him a chance to provide some leadership for his party and to develop his conciliatory powers. However, a much larger opportunity opened up in 1953. The party’s leader in the Senate, Ernest McFarland of Arizona, had been defeated in the election of 1952, and Johnson’s years of legislative experience and his connections with most factions of the party recommended him for the post.
Elected party leader in 1953, Johnson at first had only the minority in the Senate to lead, but in the congressional elections of 1954 the Democrats regained a majority, and they kept it throughout the remainder of Eisenhower’s two terms as president. Johnson contributed to his own rise to majority leader in 1955 by campaigning vigorously for other Democrats in 1954. He easily won his own bid for a second term.
Johnson had now moved into a very significant position. The floor leader has the task of providing direction for his party in the Senate. The task is difficult, for senators have responsibilities to their constituents as well as to their party leaders. Nevertheless, Johnson served as a party leader in the Senate for an unusually long period and played his role in an unusually skillful and successful way. One basis of Johnson’s success was his intense devotion to his job.
A basic part of Johnson’s strategy as a Democratic leader in the Senate was cooperation with the Republican president. The senator looked upon the presidency as the one office capable of providing national leadership in the American system; and so, instead of trying to be a “prime minister” himself, he encouraged Eisenhower to act.
Believing that no president could be cut down without hurting the office and the country, Johnson counseled his colleagues against the large-scale attack on Eisenhower. He did not suggest, however, that the Democrats should make Congress a rubber stamp for the president. Johnson himself opposed the administration at times, especially in the late 1950s, when he charged that not enough was being done to explore outer space and develop military strength.
Yet, on foreign policy especially, the Democrats in the Senate gave much support to the president, often more than he received from his own party. In part, this was so because Eisenhower’s foreign policy was essentially a continuation of Truman’s.
Johnson’s test of success was the passage of laws. Congress existed to legislate, and his task was to keep the legislative process moving. He worked to avoid bitter fights within the Democratic party that would block action.
He tried to find common ground that men with power and differing points of view could occupy. To accomplish his objective he had only the tools of a senator at his disposal, not the powers of a president. The oratory was not a tool that he emphasized; persuasion was.
Johnson relied chiefly upon negotiation and discussion with his colleagues, and he supplemented this technique with his power to do favors. He could help individual senators to move their pet bills along or to get desirable committee assignments; he could call upon them to play the roles that would be most helpful. He searched constantly for ways of uniting a majority of senators behind a proposal.
This often meant, of course, that a compromise had to be found. Thus, for example, in 1954, faced with a badly divided party on the question of censuring Republican Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, Johnson limited the issue to the question of the honor of the Senate and thereby obtained a unanimous Democratic vote for censure that contributed to the decline of the senator’s influence.
Civil rights provided the most significant illustration of Johnson’s techniques and their consequences. In 1957 he faced civil rights proposals by the Eisenhower administration that were supported by Northern Democrats and opposed by Southerners.
This situation posed the possibility of further Republican gains among black voters in the North. Seeking a compromise that would hold his party together, Johnson obtained a narrowing of the bill to focus on voting rights and a change providing jury trials for those accused of violating the voting rights of others. The result was the first civil rights law since Reconstruction.
Johnson’s support for civil rights, especially the very strong support he provided for a second law in 1960, also concerned chiefly with voting, was part of his move in a liberal direction as the presidential election approached.
Previously, although he had refused to join with other Southerners in their manifesto protesting the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision on segregation in public schools, he had regularly voted with the South against civil rights bills. In 1948 he had vigorously denounced President Truman’s civil rights program.
In 1960, however, although he had not become a militant liberal on civil rights, he had moved to a moderate position. At the same time, on economic questions, he had emerged as a moderate liberal. Here he had moved back close to a position he had occupied in the 1930s.
Candidate for National Office
Johnson had raised his sights above the Senate and was determined that the Democratic National Convention in 1960 he would play a different role than he had in 1956.
Then he had been the traditional hopeless Southern candidate; in 1960 he hoped for national support. He and his advisers, headed by Rayburn, the veteran speaker of the House of Representatives, expected that the convention would become deadlocked and hoped that then the party leaders would recall Johnson’s skill as majority leader and the favors they had received from the high command in Congress and would nominate him for the presidency. Thus he did not declare his candidacy until July.
Johnson stayed out of the primaries and devoted himself to the work of the Senate, hoping to make an attractive record. But his decision to avoid the primaries prevented him from claiming persuasively that he could win the North.
There, liberals especially regarded him as too Southern in both points of view and style. Despite rather strenuous last-minute efforts, including excursions outside Washington and suggestions that Kennedy was too young and inexperienced, Johnson could not overcome the many advantages that Kennedy had, including his successful quest for the votes of varied groups in the primaries.
To the surprise of many and the dismay of some, Kennedy, after winning the nomination, asked Johnson to run for the Vice Presidency. He did so not only because Johnson had influence in areas–the South and the Senate–in which Kennedy needed help in order to win and to succeed with his program.
Johnson accepted because of the new opportunities for leadership that the office could provide and because he believed that he could promote unity in the party and help it return to the White House. Campaigning hard, he helped to contain, though he did not completely quell, the revolt of Southern Democrats against Kennedy. He thereby contributed to the election of the ticket, by a narrow margin, over Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
In office, Johnson became an unusually active vice president. He participated significantly in the decision-making process. He frequently offered advice on the moods of Congress and the ways to deal with it, and he served as a channel from the White House to the legislators.
He accepted special assignments, such as the chairmanship of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, an agency that enlarged job opportunities for blacks. This post also gave him a chance to develop his views on civil rights and demonstrate that he was free from racial prejudice.
Johnson made many trips for the administration, some of them designed to build support for it in the country. Several trips took him abroad to carry the president’s views and to report back on conditions. In the process, Johnson enlarged his knowledge of world affairs.
His tour of Southeast Asia in May 1961 was designed chiefly to assure pro-Western Asians that the United States had no intention of withdrawing and to put pressure on Premier Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam to step up his efforts to improve conditions in that country.
Johnson’s report, on his return, stressed the importance of the area for the United States and the consequent need for American action there. Later in the year he journeyed to Berlin after the building of the wall and attempted, with considerable success, to reassure the West Berliners of the strength of the American commitment.
Johnson’s years as vice president were not fully satisfying. He admired the president and served him loyally, even though he disagreed privately with some of his policies. He received loyalty in return, including public assurances from the president that he planned to have Johnson on the ticket in 1964, assurances that were designed to quash rumors to the contrary.
But tension existed between the vice president and some members of the White House staff, and he was disturbed that greater use was not made of his ability to deal with Congress. Clearly, the vice president did not offer enough responsibility for a man of Johnson’s temperament.
With tragic suddenness, Johnson was catapulted to the top. In November 1963 he and Kennedy went to Texas in the hope of ending the latest phase of the battle going on inside the state’s Democratic Party since the late 1930s. In the midst of the trip, on November 22, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
Johnson took the oath office aboard the presidential plane, Air Force One, at Dallas’ Love Field about 112 hours after Kennedy died. Then he flew to Washington, hoping to calm the fears of the nation and assure the people that Kennedy’s policies at home and abroad would be continued.
A mandate from the Voters
Johnson hoped for a victory of landslide proportions. He wanted, among other things, to produce a convincing demonstration of his right to rule, and he worked hard to obtain it. He campaigned strenuously and found great satisfaction in the size and enthusiasm of the crowds and the chance to get close to the people.
The Goldwater group assumed there was a vast reservoir of conservative voters who could be mobilized by a genuinely conservative candidate, but outside the South, these conservatives failed to appear. Instead, many moderate Republicans were driven into Johnson’s camp, and others decided to stay home on election day.
The president picked up much more support from the nation’s leading newspapers and large businessmen than Democratic candidates for the presidency customarily had, and black voters came close to a total boycott of the Republican ticket. Johnson emerged with more than 60% of the popular vote. He received the electoral votes of all the states except Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Goldwater’s home state of Arizona.
The Democratic party, in general, won a smashing victory, and Johnson faced a very favorable situation when the lawmakers returned to Washington in January 1965. In the Senate, Democrats held 67 of the 100 seats.
The party added 37 representatives to its delegation in the House, bringing the total to 295 of the 435 congressmen. Behind these figures lay an even more significant story: the weakening of the conservative bloc and the strengthening of the liberal contingent in the House. In 1964, Congress had been closely divided on the more controversial and liberal measures in Johnson’s legislative program; now a clear majority was ready to vote for them. Furthermore, the president had a program prepared.
Since the spring of 1964, Johnson had talked about building a “Great Society,” and he had organized a series of “task forces” to help give concrete meaning to this concept. With their help, by January 1965, he was armed with a series of messages and drafts of bills.
The first sessions of the 89th Congress passed into law a variety of proposals, some of which had been bottled up for years.
The Vietnam Dilemma
Johnson assumed that the international situation would give him more time and money for domestic problems than any president had since the 1930s. He faced problems in the world, but the Soviet Union, the chief worry of American presidents since 1945, seemed much less dangerous and threatening than it had been.
The People’s Republic of China, however, was moving rapidly to the front as an object of concern in Washington, for it seemed determined to expand its power and influence, especially in Asia, and to destroy the American position there.
The major Chinese technique was the encouragement and support of revolutionaries, particularly those employing guerrilla tactics. Increasingly, American policymakers concluded that the United States must play the lead role in containing China, as it had in containing the Soviet Union.
The new containment policy focused on South Vietnam, where, beginning in the late 1950s, the revolutionary Vietcong had been trying to overthrow a government that had American support. The Vietcong had support from Communist North Vietnam, a nation with ties to China.
Johnson came to office convinced that the United States had to honor its commitments to South Vietnam and resist the revolution, but he was convinced also that success depended chiefly on the South Vietnamese. In his view, their government had to carry out the program of social and economic reform and development needed to gain the support of the people, and their army had to do the fighting. He felt that the United States could only encourage and assist the development of political and military programs.
The American military force in South Vietnam was enlarged in 1964 from 16,000 to nearly 25,000 men, officially serving as advisers to the government forces. They were drawn increasingly into the fighting. In August, American planes raided installations in North Vietnam in response to attacks on American naval vessels. Johnson obtained a resolution from Congress authorizing him to do whatever the situation demanded. Yet he warned against demands, from Goldwater and others, for a large increase in the country’s military role.
In 1965, Johnson felt compelled to take the steps that he had warned against in 1964 because the political and military situation in South Vietnam had deteriorated rapidly and a Vietcong victory seemed likely. As the administration viewed it, such a victory not only would give the Communists control of a significant area but also would suggest that the United States could not protect other countries against revolutionaries employing guerrilla tactics and receiving assistance from the outside.
Thus, Johnson “Americanized” the war. Beginning in February 1965, American planes bombed North Vietnam, gradually increasing the size of the attacks and the importance of the targets. American bombers also began to hit targets in South Vietnam. And a rapid expansion of American ground forces got underway in July.
By the end of the year, some 180,000 American troops were in Vietnam, and the number doubled during 1966. The president hoped that his escalation would check the infiltration of men and supplies from the north and create a military situation that would bring the North Vietnamese to the bargaining table, willing to accept terms agreeable to him.
American military action did halt the Vietcong’s military drive toward victory, and American aid strengthened the South Vietnamese government. Infiltration, however, continued. Johnson and his lieutenants repeatedly called for negotiations. They backed up their overtures with appeals to leaders outside the United States, promises of aid in developing all of Vietnam, and pauses in the bombing.
The enemy, however, encouraged by additional support from China and the Soviet Union, continued to see the battlefield as providing greater opportunities than the bargaining table, and the opposing sides remained far apart on such basic issues as the role of the National Liberation Front (NLF, the Vietcong) in South Vietnam’s future. Despite the great power available to him, Johnson seemed to be caught, at least temporarily, in a situation that he could not master.
In April 1965, Johnson was suddenly confronted with another trouble spot. In the Dominican Republic supporters of Juan Bosch, a Social Democrat who had been elected president in 1962 but overthrown the following year, rebelled. Johnson intervened with more than 20,000 troops. The administration feared that Communists would seize control of the revolution.
Fear of “another Cuba,” in other words, was apparently the most important influence. There was also a desire to demonstrate that the United States would act decisively when its interests were threatened. American intervention in the Caribbean state destroyed any chance the revolutionaries had and led to a cease-fire. Johnson was satisfied that his action had promoted democracy and defeated the Communists.
The President and His Critics
For his actions in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic, Johnson was severely criticized. As expected, criticism–and also threats–came from the Russians and the Chinese. They, however, were not alone; although a number of world leaders supported Johnson on Vietnam, disapproval of his actions also came from nearly every part of the world. Prominent Americans, such as J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and public demonstrations contributed to the swelling protest movement.
At home, critics divided into two groups. “Doves” pictured Johnson as too quick to resort to force, denounced the destructiveness of his military actions, called for a reduction of or an end to the fighting, raised doubts about the sincerity of Johnson’s peace efforts, and advocated negotiations, including negotiations with the NLF.
They charged that the chief executive was not properly sympathetic with revolutionary movements and challenged his interpretations, insisting that he greatly exaggerated Chinese influence in Vietnam and North Vietnamese and Communist control of the Vietcong.
The “doves” denied that America’s interests demanded support for South Vietnam and doubted that the United States had the power required to play a large role on the Asian mainland. They argued that the administration’s behavior was poisoning U.S. relations with its allies and with the Soviet Union and was running the risk of a major war with China.
The “hawks,” on the other hand, maintained that the President was not using enough military power. They accepted his assumptions as to the importance of the war but insisted that he should seek a quick and total victory and that the Air Force have more freedom to select targets.
Popular confidence in Johnson declined rapidly. Although 63% of the people approved of his handling of his office in January 1966, only 44% did so in October. Approval shot up–but only temporarily–when he acted in a restrained fashion during the Arab-Israeli War in June 1967 and then moved on to a summit meeting with Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin.
Johnson did not ignore his “dovish” critics. At times, he questioned their patriotism, denounced their methods, and suggested that they harmed the nation and its fighting men by encouraging the enemy to persist in hope of obtaining a more satisfactory settlement.
He viewed the war as a war of aggression, not a civil war, and insisted that the United States had to fight to limit Communist expansion, demonstrate that aggression was no longer an acceptable means of promoting political change, and prevent a larger war. He frequently made dramatic, lengthy trips outside the country to meet other leaders, and also drew heavily on the prestige of his top military commander in Vietnam Gen. William Westmoreland, who returned home twice in 1967 and spoke optimistically about the war. The President insisted that he was eager to negotiate and would stop the bombing when the conditions were right.
In 1966 the failure of escalation to end the war and the President’s preoccupation with the war began to interfere with his ability to influence events at home. Facing mounting demands for reductions in domestic spending, he did not call for the anticipated expansion of the war on poverty. He did not battle as strenuously for civil rights as he had in 1964 and 1965, and for the first time, Congress defeated one of his civil rights bills. Then, the 1966 congressional elections weakened his authority still more, as the Republicans gained 47 seats in the House and three in the Senate.
Johnson’s domestic proposals in 1967 and 1968 reflected his awareness of new limits on his power. Although he continued to insist that the country could afford both the war in Asia and the Great Society programs at home, his critics charged that the United States could not pay for both “guns” and “butter.” Moreover, they said, the demands of the war drained funds from vitally needed domestic programs. Inflation, which had been moderate in the Kennedy and Eisenhower administrations, rose sharply.
Rioting in the black neighborhoods of many large cities, sporadic for several years, reached a peak in the summer of 1967. Johnson admitted that the riots revealed that not enough was being done to solve the problems in the cities, and he insisted that suppression, while necessary (he did send federal troops into Detroit), was not enough.
But he did not call for bold new programs or substantial enlargement of established ones. Instead, he called for enactment of proposals made earlier and tried to press business leaders to assist the urban poor.
The war now occupied the top spot on Johnson’s agenda. He continued to reject suggestions that the bombing of the north should be stopped, and he drew instead on the advice of advocates of emphasis on military pressure. By 1968, the U.S. troop level was close to 500,000. The Vietcong and North Vietnamese, however, suddenly mounted a major offensive early in 1968. It contradicted the administration’s optimism and enlarged the ranks of Johnson’s critics.
Two Democratic critics now moved forward. Senator Eugene McCarthy demonstrated surprising strength in the New Hampshire presidential primary in a contest with Johnson. Then, Senator Robert Kennedy announced that he would also seek the presidency.
In this situation, Johnson announced two major decisions on March 31. The first was a pause in the bombing of almost all of North Vietnam; the second, his determination not to seek another term. Subsequently, public approval of his leadership jumped again; Congress endorsed his proposals for fair housing and a tax increase, and negotiations with North Vietnam began in Paris.
The period of success was brief. Congress offered new resistance to his proposals. The Paris negotiators made no progress. Although the Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s choice as his successor, Johnson’s absence from the convention suggested his weakening grip on the party.
Many former supporters of McCarthy and Kennedy refused to support Humphrey, while George Wallace gained much support as a third-party candidate. In October, the Senate failed to approve Johnson’s nomination of Abe Fortas to be chief justice of the United States. In November, Humphrey lost to the Republican candidate, Richard M. Nixon, a result regarded as an expression of public disapproval of the Johnson administration.
Although Johnson halted the bombing of North Vietnam entirely on November 1, the Paris peace talks made no significant progress. Furthermore, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 helped frustrate the president’s hopes for a summit meeting to deal with arms reduction and other problems. Johnson left office on Jan. 20, 1969, with his hopes for world peace unrealized.
Johnson had devoted most of his lifetime to politics, had acquired an unusually large amount of power, and had used it to promote change. But he had tried to do more than the resources of his nation, his office, and his talents would allow. He had tried to control events thousands of miles from home at the same time that he attempted to reshape the life of the United States. Johnson’s accomplishments were not insignificant, but they fell short of the magnitude of the problems he faced.
After retiring, Johnson devoted some of his time to writing and editing his memoirs. But he again suffered from a heart ailment, and he died at his ranch near Johnson City, Texas, on Jan. 22, 1973.