Born into a rural Texas family, Lyndon Johnson first exhibited a mastery for politics while in college at Southwest Texas State Teachers College in the late 1920s. Recognizing his potential, Congressman Richard Kleberg offered Johnson a job in his Washington office in 1931. Over the course of the next four years, Johnson used his position as a congressional secretary to master the labyrinthine power structure of New Deal-era Washington, eventually using his political connections to win an appointment as state director of the National Youth Administration in Texas in 1935. Two years later, having campaigned on a solidly New Deal platform, Johnson won his first election to Congress. Remaining a Congressman for eleven years, LBJ was eventually elected to the Senate in 1948. Rising meteorically through the Senate hierarchy, Johnson obtained the coveted position of Senate Majority Leader in 1954 where he became known for his mastery of detail and his ability to forge compromises on strongly contested legislation (such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960). Although he had wanted to be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee in 1960, he accepted a place on the ticket as the vice-presidential nominee instead. When John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon that fall, LBJ left the Senate for the vice-presidency, ultimately becoming president after Kennedy's assassination in November 1963. As president, he pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress and launched the series of legislative initiatives known as the Great Society. The following year, LBJ overwhelmed Barry Goldwater to win a presidential term in his own right, having campaigned on the most liberal Democratic platform since the New Deal.
LBJ remained president until January 1969, during which time his administration became associated with the landmark domestic legislation of his Great Society program (including Medicaid, Medicare, federal aid to education, immigration reform and federal protection of voting rights) and a costly effort to prevent a Communist takeover in South Vietnam. While many of the Great Society programs were popular with the public, the war in Vietnam was not. An increasing number of Americans disapproved of the military presence in Southeast Asia and many blamed Johnson for having escalated American involvement in 1965. Damaged by the war, LBJ declined to run for another term in office and retired to his Texas ranch in January 1969. In failing health for some time, Johnson died of a heart attack in January 1973.
Sources: American National Biography Online. Internet on-line. Available From http://www.anb.org; Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, eds., Reader's Companion to American History (Boston: Houghton Miffflin, 1991).
Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .
For more information, visit The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers home page at https://erpapers.columbian.gwu.edu/.
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