Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) was born on August 27, 1908 in a small farmhouse on the Pedernales River near the town of Johnson City which was named after his family. Lyndon was the first child of Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., and Rebekah Baines Johnson. He was pure Texan and his family included some of the earliest settlers of the Lone Star State. They had been cattlemen, cotton farmers, and soldiers for the Confederacy. Lyndon’s father was a rancher and part-time politician, but ran into financial difficulty and lost the family farm causing Lyndon to experience poverty when he was growing up.
At the age of four, Lyndon began running to the nearby one-room “Junction School” daily to play with his cousins at recess. His mother persuaded the teacher, Miss Kathryn Deadrich, to take him as a pupil and he would sit in his teacher’s lap and recite his lessons. His school term was cut short by whooping cough.
The Johnson’s abandoned the farm in 1913 and moved to Johnson City. The family house, while comfortable by the standards of the rural South at the time, had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing. Lyndon, like his father, wanted more for his future and when he was twelve, he told classmates, “You know, someday I’m going to be president of the United States.” Later in life, Lyndon would remember: “When I was fourteen years old I decided I was not going to be the victim of a system which would allow the price of a commodity like cotton to drop from forty cents to six cents and destroy the homes of people like my own family.”
Lyndon was president of his six-member senior class but struggled in school, he managed to graduate from Johnson City High School on May 24, 1924 when he was fifteen. Although his parents saved money to send Lyndon to summer courses at Southwest Texas State Teachers College, wasn’t allowed into the college.
Lyndon bought a car and along with five friends drove to California where he worked odd jobs to include his cousin’s law office. Lyndon hitchhiked back to Texas and worked on a road crew, he started to drink and get into fights which eventually led to his arrest. In 1927, he started to pursue a teaching career and enrolled in the Southwest Texas State Teachers College. He earned money as a janitor and as an office helper.
He dropped out of school for a year to serve as principal and teach fifth, sixth, and seventh grades at a Mexican-American school in the south Texas town of Cotulla. This firsthand look at the effects of poverty and discrimination made a deep impression on Lyndon and sparked a lifelong desire to find solutions to these problems.
Lyndon graduated with a Bachelor’s degree on August 19, 1930 and worked briefly at the high school, in Pearsall, Texas. He then took a job teaching public speaking at Sam Houston High School in Houston, with his debate team winning the district championship.
Lyndon helped Richard Kleberg, a friend of his father, in some local campaigns. When he was elected to the House of Representatives in November 1931 he asked Lyndon to be his secretary in Washington. He held the job for over three years and learned how Congress worked and began to meet influential people and learned about the political process. In 1933, he was elected speaker of the “Little Congress,” an organization of congressional workers.
He returned to Texas in 1934 to visit his family and met a twenty-one-year-old woman named Claudia Alta Taylor, a member of a wealthy East Texas family. Lyndon decided almost instantly that she should be his wife and after just a couple of months of courting they were married on November 17, 1934 in San Antonio. Claudia, was known to her friends as “Lady Bird,” a nickname given to her by her nanny, was a recent graduate of the University of Texas, where she finished near the top of her class. She was a source of stability in Lyndon’s life as well as a shrewd judge of people. They would eventually have two daughters, Lynda Bird (1944-) and Luci Baines (1947-) making everyone in the Johnson family having the same initials, even the family dog was named Little Beagle Johnson.
Lyndon resigned as Secretary to Representative Kleberg in July 1935 to accept President Roosevelt’s appointment as the Texas Director of the National Youth Administration (NYA), a federal program aimed at helping young people find jobs or volunteer work during the Great Depression. He was the youngest state director at 26 years old.
James Buchanan, the congressman in his home district died in 1937. Lyndon used Claudia’s inheritance and her increasing assets of a local radio station she recently purchased to win the election against nine other candidates, he was just twenty-eight years old.
In Congress, Lyndon worked hard for rural electrification, public housing, and eliminating government waste and was appointed to the House Committee on Naval Affairs at the request of President Roosevelt. He would eventually be re-elected five times, he was also the first member of Congress to volunteer for active duty in the military when the United States entered World War II.
On June 21, 1940, he was appointed Lieutenant Commander in the U. S. Naval Reserve and reported for active duty in December 1941. Lyndon served on a tour of the South Pacific and flew one combat mission where his plane was forced to turn back due to mechanical difficulty, but he managed to receive a Silver Star medal for his participation. President Roosevelt ordered all members of Congress in the armed forces to return to their offices and Lyndon was released from active duty on July 16, 1942. Observing wartime industrial and technological trends, Lyndon invested and became well-to-do for the first time. Lady Bird, meanwhile, gave birth to their two daughters, one born in 1944 and another three years later.
When one of Texas’s two U.S. senators died in 1941, Lyndon seemed certain to inherit the job, but the former radio star-turned-governor, W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel entered the race late and won by 1,311 votes. When Senator W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel left office in 1948 Lyndon faced former Governor Coke Stevenson for the Democratic ticket. Lyndon won the primary by 87 votes but faced speculations of voter fraud. He became the Democratic candidate for the Senate seat. In the general election on November 2, he earned the nickname “Landslide Lyndon” when he defeated the Republican Jack Porter and was elected to the U. S. Senate.
At the age of 44 Lyndon became the youngest Minority Leader in Senate history, the following year, when the Democrats won control, Majority Leader. His ability to work productively with Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and unite his party behind important legislation made him a powerful figure in Washington. Lyndon would gather information on his fellow legislators, and knew where each of them stood on political issues. In order to gain their support he would give them the “Johnson Treatment,” where he would lean toward his prey, and tower over them speaking softly, flattering, swearing, and even bribing them, until he won their vote.
His aggressive work habits resulted in him suffering a massive heart attack on July 2 1955, he wasn’t even fifty years old yet. He returned to the LBJ Ranch to recuperate, he quit smoking, lost weight, and when he returned to Washington in December, delegated more of his work.
Always wanting to be more influential he was thrilled to be the first legislator in Washington with a car phone. When Everett Dirksen, Republican Minority Leader and a friendly rival, also acquired one, he telephoned Lyndon’s limo to say that he was calling from his new car phone. Lyndon replied, “Can you hold on a minute, Ev? My other phone is ringing.”
Lyndon turned his sights on the presidency but in 1960 he was out-campaigned for the Democratic Party’s nomination by his Senate colleague, John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kennedy announced his candidacy early and spent large sums of money on his campaign. Lyndon was hoping that Kennedy’s youth and Catholicism would prevent him from winning, but it never did.
Kennedy realized that he could not win the election without the support of traditional Southern Democrats, so he offered Lyndon the vice presidency and he accepted. With Lyndon’s support Kennedy won the election against the Republican candidate Richard Nixon, it was the closest presidential race of the century. After Lyndon won the election to the vice presidency one of his secretaries recalls that he “looked as if he’d lost his last friend on earth…I don’t think I ever saw a more unhappy man.”
Lyndon was also re-elected to his third term in the United States Senate and on January 3, 1961 he took the oath of office for the full six-year term in the Senate and immediately resigned. On January 20, Lyndon took the oath of office as Vice President of the United States.
On April 20 President Kennedy sent Lyndon a memorandum asking him to research the space program to determine if going to the moon and back with a man before the Soviet Union could be achieved. He responded back on April 28, that a manned moon trip was possible by 1966 or 1967 and on May 25, President Kennedy announced to Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”
Lyndon regarded most of his assignments as busy work, and he was convinced that the President was ignoring him. He envied President Kennedy’s handsome appearance, his upper class reputation and charm. Despite Johnson’s physically imposing presence, he suffered from deep-seated feelings of inferiority and he frequently said, it was his curse to have come from “the wrong part of the country.”
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while traveling in a motorcade in Dallas Texas with his wife Jackie sitting by his side. Lyndon was only two cars behind Kennedy when the shots rang out. Just a few hours later, Lyndon was sworn in as the 36th president aboard Air Force One on its return flight back to Washington, D.C., both his wife and Jacklyn Kennedy, still in her blood stained dress, stood by his side. Two weeks later, the Johnson’s moved into the White House. One adviser never forgot the image of a mover packing Kennedy’s trademark rocking chair while another carried in Lyndon’s cowboy saddle.
The day after Kennedy’s burial Lyndon reversed Kennedy’s order to pull out of Vietnam thus beginning the War in Vietnam and giving the military industrial complex what it wanted, billions in defense spending.
He kept Kennedy’s cabinet and top aides, telling them that he and the nation needed them to provide continuity. Within days, Lyndon grasped the reins of government and obtained enactment of the measures President Kennedy had been urging at the time of his death, a tax cut and a new civil rights bill which was signed into law on July 2, 1964.
On August 2, 1964 the Vietnam conflict escalated when North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. August 4, a second North Vietnamese PT boat attack was reported on the USS Maddox and her escort, the USS C. Turner Joy. Lyndon ordered retaliatory air strikes against North Vietnam and on August 7, with only two dissenting votes in the Senate and none in the House, Congress passed the Southeast Asia Resolution. It allowed Lyndon to take “all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”
Lyndon begin his campaigning for the 1964 Presidential election around the theme of building a “Great Society.” He said, “The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.” On August 26, he was nominated for President of the United States at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, with Hubert Humphrey as the Vice President.
On November 3, 1964 Lyndon was elected President of the United States against Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. He received 61 percent of the votes and had the widest popular margin in American history, more than 15,000,000 votes.
Lyndon introduced new reforms that he believed would build a Great Society for all Americans. He created the Medicare and Medicaid programs to provide federal health insurance for elderly and poor Americans. He also introduced measures to improve education, preventing crime and reducing air and water pollution. His vision for a Great Society for all Americans improved the lives of millions of Americans and contributed to economic growth and prosperity.
Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson believed her chief duty was to help her “husband do his job,” she significantly expanded the role of the First Lady. She was the first First Lady to have a staff director and press secretary and she actively pursued her own agenda, including environmental beautification.
In 1965, black demonstrators in Alabama, marching for voting rights were attacked by police dogs and beaten bloody in scenes that appeared on national television. Lyndon seized the opportunity to propose the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law was passed by Congress and black voter turnout tripled within four years, almost equaling white turnouts throughout the South. Lyndon also nominated Thurgood Marshall, a civil rights lawyer and great-grandson of a slave to serve as the first African American on the U.S. Supreme Court. Lyndon said, “It was the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place.”
The increased civil rights racial tensions resulted in race riots throughout the country and federal troops were deployed in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Detroit. In the summer of 1968, Martin Luther King Jr., one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, was gunned down by a lone assassin in Memphis Tennessee.
Lyndon addressed the inequality in education issues when he signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It supplied money to colleges to fund certain students and projects, included federal aid for elementary and secondary education, provided services for poorer districts, and Catholic parochial schools. He signed the bill at the one-room schoolhouse that he had attended as a child near Stonewall, Texas with the teacher whose lap Lyndon sat on as a four-year-old.
The situation in South Vietnam deteriorated and Lyndon increased U. S. military forces in Vietnam from 75,000 men to 125,000. He said he would order further military increases as they were needed, committing the United States to major combat in Vietnam. Like the three presidents before him, Lyndon was determined to prevent North Vietnamese Communists from taking over the United States supported government of South Vietnam. He believed that America’s national security depended on containing the spread of communism around the world.
Public support begin to deteriorate for the war when American casualties increased and by the end of 1967 amounted to nearly 500 causalities a week and was more than 500,000 by the end of 1968. The financial cost of the war was reaching $25 billion in 1967, which diverted money from Lyndon’s Great Society programs and it began to fuel inflation.
“You aren’t learning anything when you’re talking.”
“I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in” About Edgar J Hoover
“I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling rejected by the American people. I’m tired of waking up in the middle of the night worrying about the war.”
“It is the excitement of becoming – always becoming, trying, probing, falling, resting, and trying again- but always trying and always gaining…”
“Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.”
“The CIA is made up of boys whose families sent them to Princeton but wouldn’t let them into the family brokerage business.”
“We have entered an age in which education is not just a luxury permitting some men an advantage over others. It has become a necessity without which a person is defenseless in this complex, industrialized society. … We have truly entered the century of the educated man.”
“When things haven’t gone well for you, call in a secretary or a staff man and chew him out. You will sleep better and they will appreciate the attention.”
“A rioter with a Molotov cocktail in his hands is not fighting for civil rights any more than a Klansman with a sheet on his back and mask on his face. They are both more or less what the law declares them lawbreakers, destroyers of constitutional rights and liberties and ultimately destroyers of a free America.”
“If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read President Can’t Swim.”
“War is always the same. It is young men dying in the fullness of their promise. It is trying to kill a man that you do not even know well enough to hate. Therefore, to know war is to know that there is still madness in the world.”
“We can draw lessons from the past, but we cannot live in it.”
“Every child must be encouraged to get as much education as he has the ability to take. We want this not only for his sake but for the nations sake. Nothing matters more to the future of our country: not military preparedness for armed might is worthless if we lack the brain power to build a world of peace; not our productive economy for we cannot sustain growth without trained manpower; not our democratic system of government for freedom is fragile if citizens are ignorant.”
“In this age when there can be no losers in peace and no victors in war, we must recognize the obligation to match national strength with national restraint.”
“The noblest search is the search for excellence.”
“Organized crime constitutes nothing less than a guerilla war against society.”
“Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There’s nothing to do but to stand there and take it.”
“We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. … It is time now to write the next chapter-and to write it in the books of law.”
“A man can take a little bourbon without getting drunk, but if you hold his mouth open and pour in a quart, he’s going to get sick on it.”
“Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.”
“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or to lose.”
“What we won when all of our people united … must not be lost in suspicion and distrust and selfishness and politics. … Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as president.”
“As it was 189 years ago, so today the cause of America is a revolutionary cause. And I am proud this morning to salute you as fellow revolutionaries. Neither you nor I are willing to accept the tyranny of poverty, nor the dictatorship of ignorance, nor the despotism of ill health, nor the oppression of bias and prejudice and bigotry. We want change. We want progress. We want it both abroad and at home and we aim to get it.”
“Poverty must not be a bar to learning and learning must offer an escape from poverty.”
“America has not always been kind to its artists and scholars. Somehow the scientists always seem to get the penthouse while the arts and humanities get the basement.”
“The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.”
“I’d rather give my life than be afraid to give it.”
“I’ll have those niggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years.” About the Great Society plan.
“I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help-and God’s.”
“If you let a bully come in your front yard, he’ll be on your porch the next day and the day after that he’ll rape your wife in your own bed.” (On appeasement)
“Our numbers have increased in Vietnam because the aggression of others has increased in Vietnam. There is not, and there will not be, a mindless escalation.”
“Presidents quickly realize that while a single act might destroy the world they live in, no one single decision can make life suddenly better or can turn history around for good.”
“I knew from the start if I left a woman I really loved — the Great Society — in order to fight that bitch of a war in Vietnam then I would lose everything at home. My hopes my dreams.”
“Boys, I may not know much, but I know chicken shit from chicken salad.”
“Jerry Ford is so dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.”
“These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.”
“Jack was out kissing babies while I was out passing bills. Someone had to tend the store.”
“Every man has a right to a Saturday night bath.”
“I believe, with abiding conviction, that this people-nurtured by their deep faith, tutored by their hard lessons, moved by their high aspirations-have the will to meet the trials that these times impose.”
“I don’t believe I’ll ever get credit for anything I do in foreign affairs, no matter how successful it is, because I didn’t go to Harvard.”
“There can no longer be anyone too poor to vote.”
“To conclude that women are unfitted to the task of our historic society seems to me the equivalent of closing male eyes to female facts.”
“When I was a boy … we didn’t wake up with Vietnam and have Cyprus for lunch and the Congo for dinner.”
“I believe that the essence of government lies with unceasing concern for the welfare and dignity and decency and innate integrity of life for every individual. I don’t like to say this and wish I didn’t have to add these words to make it clear but I will regardless of color, creed, ancestry, sex or age.”
“They call upon us to supply American boys to do the job that Asian boys should do.”
“I report to you that our country is challenged at home and abroad that it is our will that is being tried and not our strength our sense of purpose and not our ability to achieve a better America.”
“It is the common failing of totalitarian regimes that they cannot really understand the nature of our democracy. They mistake dissent for disloyalty. They mistake restlessness for a rejection of policy. They mistake a few committees for a country. They misjudge individual speeches for public policy.” (Answering North Vietnamese charge that US could not endure)
“I won’t have you electioneering on my doorstep. Every time you get in trouble in Parliament you run over here with your shirttail hanging out.” (To Prime Minister Harold Wilson)
“A compassionate government keeps faith with the trust of the people and cherishes the future of their children.”
“All that Hubert needs over there is a gal to answer the phone and a pencil with an eraser on it.”
“America is not merely a nation but a nation of nations.”
“Democracy is a constant tension between truth and half-truth and, in the arsenal of truth, there is no greater weapon than fact.”
“I believe the destiny of your generation-and your nation-is a rendezvous with excellence.”
“I greet you as the shapers of American society.”
“I seldom think of politics more than 18 hours a day.”
“I want to make a policy statement. I am unabashedly in favor of women.” (On appointing 10 women to top government positions)
“If two men agree on everything, you may be sure that one of them is doing the thinking.”
“Light at the end of the tunnel we don’t even have a tunnel we don’t even know where the tunnel is.”
“Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man. Because all Americans just must have the right to vote. And we are going to give them that right. All Americans must have the privileges of citizenship regardless of race. And they are going to have those privileges of citizenship regardless of race.”
“Our purpose in Vietnam is to prevent the success of aggression. It is not conquest, it is not empire, it is not foreign bases, it is not domination. It is, simply put, just to prevent the forceful conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam.”
“The American city should be a collection of communities where every member has a right to belong. It should be a place where every man feels safe on his streets and in the house of his friends. It should be a place where each individual’s dignity and self-respect is strengthened by the respect and affection of his neighbors. It should be a place where each of us can find the satisfaction and warmth which comes from being a member of the community of man. This is what man sought at the dawn of civilization. It is what we seek today.”
“The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.”
“The hungry world cannot be fed until and unless the growth of its resources and the growth of its population come into balance. Each man and woman-and each nation –must make decisions of conscience and policy in the face of this great problem.”
“The Negro says, ‘Now.’ Others say, ‘Never.’ The voice of responsible Americans … says, ‘Together.’ There is no other way.”
“There are plenty of recommendations on how to get out of trouble cheaply and fast. Most of them come down to this Deny your responsibility.”
“This administration here and now declares unconditional war on poverty.”
“We Americans know-although others appear to forget-the risk of spreading conflict. We still seek no wider war.” (On ordering retaliatory action against North Vietnam)
“We have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.”
Lyndon B. Johnson
How LBJ Saved the Civil Rights Act
Lyndon Johnson was a civil rights hero. But also a racist.
Lyndon B. Johnson: The President’s Inaugural Address
How Lyndon B. Johnson Spent Election Day 1964
The History Place – Great Speeches Collection: Lyndon B. Johnson
LBJ killed JFK
Fun Facts on Lyndon B. Johnson
6 of LBJ’s Favorite Things
44 Obscure Facts You Didn’t Know About U.S. Presidents
Famous quotes by Lyndon B. Johnson:
Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: The Most Revealing Portrait of a President and Presidential Power Ever Written
The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years
Lyndon B. Johnson: The American Presidents Series: The 36th President, 1963-1969
Flawed Giant: Lyndon B. Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 1st Edition
LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination
Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream
Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President
Lyndon B. Johnson: A Memoir
The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1)
LBJ: The 36th President of the United States
President Lyndon B Johnson Biography
How Did LBJ Make His Money? The Disturbing Story of His Political Rise and Corruption (1990)
The LBJ-RFK Relationship – Why Did JFK Choose Johnson? Robert Caro Part 1 (2012)
Did LBJ Kill JFK? The Conspiracy to Murder President Kennedy (2013)