Lyndon B. Johnson


Early Life.
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Johnson was born on Aug. 27, 1908, near Johnson City, Tex., the eldest
son of Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., and Rebekah Baines Johnson. His father, a
struggling farmer and cattle speculator in the hill country of Texas,
provided only an uncertain income for his family. Politically active, Sam
Johnson served five terms in the Texas legislature. His mother had varied
cultural interests and placed high value on education; she was fiercely
ambitious for her children.

Johnson attended public schools in Johnson City and received a B.S.
degree from Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos. He then
taught for a year in Houston before going to Washington in 1931 as
secretary to a Democratic Texas congressman, Richard M. Kleberg. During
the next 4 years Johnson developed a wide network of political contacts in
Washington, D.C. On Nov. 17, 1934, he married Claudia Alta Taylor, known
as "Lady Bird." A warm, intelligent, ambitious woman, she was a great asset
to Johnson's career. They had two daughters, Lynda Byrd, born in 1944, and
Luci Baines, born in 1947. In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt entered the
White House. Johnson greatly admired the president, who named him, at age
27, to head the National Youth Administration in Texas. This job, which
Johnson held from 1935 to 1937, entailed helping young people obtain
employment and schooling. It confirmed Johnson's faith in the positive
potential of government and won for him a group of supporters in Texas.

In 1937, Johnson sought and won a Texas seat in Congress, where he
championed public works, reclamation, and public power programs. When war
came to Europe he backed Roosevelt's efforts to aid the Allies. During
World War II he served a brief tour of active duty with the U.S. Navy in
the Pacific (1941-42) but returned to Capitol Hill when Roosevelt recalled
members of Congress from active duty. Johnson continued to support
Roosevelt's military and foreign-policy programs. During the 1940s,
Johnson and his wife developed profitable business ventures, including a
radio station, in Texas. In 1948 he ran for the U.S. Senate, winning the
Democratic party primary by only 87 votes. (This was his second try; in
1941 he had run for the Senate and lost to a conservative opponent.) The
opposition accused him of fraud and tagged him "Landslide Lyndon." Although
challenged, unsuccessfully, in the courts, he took office in 1949.


Senator and Vice-President.
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Johnson moved quickly into the Senate hierarchy. In 1953 he won the job
of Senate Democratic leader. The next year he was easily reelected as
senator and returned to Washington as majority leader, a post he held for
the next 6 years despite a serious heart attack in 1955. The Texan proved
to be a shrewd, skillful Senate leader. A consistent opponent of civil
rights legislation until 1957, he developed excellent personal
relationships with powerful conservative Southerners. A hard worker, he
impressed colleagues with his attention to the details of legislation and
his willingness to compromise.

In the late 1950s, Johnson began to think seriously of running for the
presidency in 1960. His record had been fairly conservative, however.
Many Democratic liberals resented his friendly association with the
Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower; others considered him a tool
of wealthy Southwestern gas and oil interests. Either to soften this image
as a conservative or in response to inner conviction, Johnson moved
slightly to the left on some domestic issues, especially on civil rights
laws, which he supported in 1957 and 1960. Although these laws proved
ineffective, Johnson had demonstrated that he was a very resourceful Senate
leader.

To many northern Democrats, however, Johnson remained a sectional candidate.
The presidential nomination of 1960 went to Senator John F. Kennedy of
Massachusetts. Kennedy, a northern Roman Catholic, then selected Johnson as
his running mate to balance the Democratic ticket. In November 1960 the
Democrats defeated the Republican candidates, Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot
Lodge, by a narrow margin. Johnson was appointed by Kennedy to head the
President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, a post that enabled
him to work on behalf of blacks and other minorities. As vice-president, he
also undertook some missions abroad, which offered him some limited insights
into international problems.

Presidency.
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The assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, elevated
Johnson to the White House, where he quickly proved a masterful, reassuring
leader in the realm of domestic affairs. In 1964, Congress passed a
tax-reduction law that promised to promote economic growth and the Economic
Opportunity Act, which launched the program called the War on Poverty.
Johnson was especially skillful in securing a strong Civil Rights Act in
1964.