Lyndon B Johnson


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

Johnson moved quickly into the Senate hierarchy. In 1953 he won the job of Senate Democratic leader. The next year he was easily re-elected 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.


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