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President Johnson

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President Johnson

Lyndon B Johnson was president of the United States from 1963 until 1969. He became president after President Kennedy was assassinated. During his presidency, Johnson oversaw civil rights legislation, social service programs, and expanded US involvement in the Vietnam War.

What impact did Johnson have on the US? What did he accomplish, and what was his downfall?

Facts about President Johnson

President Johnson Portrait of President Johnson StudySmarterPortrait of President Johnson, Wikimedia Commons.

Johnson was born in 1908 in Texas. He lacked direction until he enrolled in the Southwest Texas State Teachers College in 1928. During his studies, he spent a period teaching at a predominantly Mexican-American school where many of the students came from poverty. This experience would inform his political career.

In 1930, Johnson was involved in the congressional campaign of Richard Kleberg. When Kleberg was successful, Johnson moved to Washington DC with him as his legislative assistant. Having entered the world of politics, Johnson also got married in 1934 to a woman called Claudia Alta Taylor.

Johnson then worked as director of the National Youth Administration in Texas, which was a program of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In 1937, Johnson was elected to the US House of Representatives as a Democrat where he remained for 12 years. During this period, he served in the Second World War for six months as a lieutenant commander in the Navy.

In 1948, Johnson was elected to the US Senate. He quickly gained power as a senator, and by 1951 he was Democratic whip. By 1953, he was the minority leader and when the Democrats won a majority in 1955, Johnson became the youngest man to be the majority leader.

In the Senate, Johnson worked to secure the passage of the 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts, as well as leading the way in the US space race after the Soviet Union launched the satellite Sputnik.

Johnson lost the presidential nomination to John F Kennedy in 1960 but accepted Kennedy’s invitation to run as his vice-presidential candidate. As Vice President, Johnson was involved in the space program, military policy, and was the chair of the President’s Committee for Equal Employment Opportunity.

How did Johnson become President?

On 22 November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The same day, Johnson was sworn in as president and began working to calm national hysteria which came from Kennedy’s assassination.

On 27 November, Johnson urged Congress to pass Kennedy’s legislative agenda that he had been unable to do during his lifetime. Two days later, Johnson created a special commission to investigate Kennedy’s assassination.

President Johnson’s domestic policy

In 1964, Johnson gave a speech outlining his domestic agenda. He called it the Great Society.

In your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time.

The Civil Rights Act signed by President Johnson

As part of the Great Society, he placed huge importance on Kennedy’s civil rights bill. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law on 2 July and was actually a much stronger version of Kennedy’s initial proposal. The Act:

  • Prohibited segregation and discrimination in public accommodations.
  • Prohibited discrimination in employment and union membership.
  • Created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to ensure the above.
  • Furthered guarantees of equal voting rights.
  • Authorised the Office of Education to help with school desegregation.

Johnson also passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act in August. A few months prior to this, he called on white Americans to come together with African-Americans to secure civil rights. The Voting Rights Act outlawed literacy tests and other practices which were designed to prevent African Americans from voting. Three million African American voters were registered in the South by 1968, compared to only one million in 1964.

Other domestic policy

Johnson’s Great Society also involved the ‘war on poverty’. This comprised programs to help the unemployed, funding for education, and the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid to provide health benefits to the elderly and the poor. The 1965 Immigration Act abolished the National Origins Formula, which had discriminated against Asians and Southern and Eastern Europeans.

Other key domestic policies included:

  • The 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, which created the Office of Economic Opportunity.
  • Allocating huge funding to housing reform and education.
  • The creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965.
  • The creation of the National Endowment for Humanities and the National Endowment for Arts in 1965.
  • The creation of the Department of Transportation in 1966.
  • The 1965 Water Quality Act and the 1967 Air Quality Act.

President Johnson’s foreign policy

Johnson’s popularity was not to last, however, as foreign policy was his downfall. He increased American involvement in the Vietnam War, which earned him huge opposition.

In August 1964, North Vietnamese gunboats supposedly attacked US destroyers in the Gulf on Tonkin. In response, Johnson ordered bombing raids on North Vietnam and Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed Johnson to take any measure to prevent further aggression.

Johnson increased US troops in Vietnam and in February 1965, he ordered a series of huge bombing raids on North Vietnam known as ‘Operation Rolling Thunder’. By the end of 1965, there were around 180,000 US military personnel in Vietnam which increased further to around 550,000 in 1968.

In January 1968, the crew of a US intelligence vessel were captured by North Korea and were held for 11 months. The following week, the Tet Offensive involved coordinated attacks by the North against the South. Although it was a military failure, it eroded support for the war at home.

The casualties of the Vietnam War, and the huge financial cost led to opposition. Student demonstrations began in 1965, and this sentiment grew from 1967. Johnson became vastly unpopular.

How did the Vietnam War affect the Great Society?

The huge cost of the war diverted finances away from Johnson’s domestic policies. His involvement in Vietnam also cost the Democrats greatly in the 1966 congressional elections, and by late 1966, Johnson was struggling to get his domestic measures through Congress.

Discontent grew as the prosperity promised by the Great Society was not achieved. Many African-Americans particularly continued to suffer from poverty, which contributed to the intensification of the Civil Rights movement. Violence erupted in the mid-60s and there were fears of a ‘race war’.

Other foreign policy

Although Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union were high due to the Vietnam War, Johnson was able to ease tensions in some other areas. In January 1967, he signed the Outer Space Treaty with the Soviets which banned nuclear weapons in space. The US was also involved in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which prevented transferring nuclear weapons to other countries. Johnson also met with the Soviet leader Aleksej Kosygin to mediate their conflicting interests in the Middle East.

Johnson also faced a series of issues in Latin America:

  • Cuban leader Fidel Castro demanded the US return Guantanamo Naval Base to Cuba and shut off its water supply. Johnson directed the Navy to create its own water supply and the Cubans retracted their demand.
  • Johnson put down a riot in Panama against US control of the Panama Canal Zone but entered into negotiations about the issue.
  • Johnson sent 20,000 marines to the Dominican Republic after an uprising attempted to restore the elected leader Juan Bosch to power; Johnson backed the right-wing Reid Cabral.

The end of Johnson’s presidency

On 31 March 1968, Johnson gave a nationally televised address in which he announced that he had reduced bombing of North Vietnam, was requesting peace talks, and would not seek renomination for President. His presidency ended on 20 January 1969 and he retired in Texas.

Lyndon B Johnson’s cause of death

Johnson suffered a heart attack in January 1973 and died. He died less than a week before the Vietnam War ended.

Lyndon B Johnson’s presidency: a timeline

22 November 1963President Kennedy was assassinated and Johnson became president.
27 November 1963Johnson addressed Congress, calling on legislators to pass Kennedy's legislative agenda.
29 November 1963Johnson created a commission to investigate Kennedy's assassination.
January 1964A riot in Panama challenged US control of the Panama Canal Zone.
23 January 1964The 24th Amendment to the Constitution abolished poll taxes.
February 1964Johnson and Castro clashed over the Guantanamo Naval Base.
22 May 1964Johnson announced his ‘Great Society’ in a speech at the University of Michigan.
2 July 1964Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
7 August 1964Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
30 August 1964Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act.
3 November 1964Johnson was elected as President.
20 January 1965Johnson was reinaugurated.
9 February 1965Johnson began bombing North Vietnam.
15 March 1965Johnson called on white Americans to join together with African-Americans.
11 April 1965Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
28 April 1965Johnson sent marines to the Dominican Republic.
28 July 1965Johnson increased ground troops in Vietnam.
30 July 1965Medicare and Medicaid were created.
6 August 1965Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.
9 September 1965Johnson created the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
29 September 1965Johnson created the National Endowment for Humanities and the National Endowment for Arts.
2 October 1965Johnson signed the Water Quality Act.
1 December 1965The 1965 Immigration Act was signed.
7 March 1966The Supreme Court upheld the Voting Rights Act.
15 October 1966The Department of Transportation was created.
26 January 1967Johnson signed the Outer Space Treaty with the USSR.
13 June 1967Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. He was the first African-American to serve.
21 November 1967Johnson signed the Air Quality Act.
23 January 1968North Korea captured the crew of a US intelligence ship, the USS Pueblo.
30 January 1968The Tet Offensive occurred in Vietnam.
31s March 1968Johnson announced he had reduced bombing in Vietnam, was requesting peace talks, and would not seek renomination for President.
1 July 1968The Non-proliferation Treaty was signed.
20 January 1969Johnson’s presidency ended.

President Johnson - Key takeaways

  • President Johnson became president after John F Kennedy was assassinated, and pushed through pieces of his legislative agenda that he was not able to, most notably the 1964 Civil Rights Act which was the most significant piece of civil rights legislation ever passed.
  • Johnson was committed to civil rights, and also passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act, spoke out about civil rights, and appointed the first African-American to the Supreme Court.
  • Johnson's ‘Great Society’ demanded an end to poverty and injustice, and involved an expansion of government intervention in the ‘war on poverty’.
  • Johnson expanded US involvement in Vietnam, which was his undoing. US casualties and the huge financial cost of the war led to disapproval and protest; by 1967, his approval was at an all-time low.
  • The Vietnam War eroded Johnson’s power and ability to pass domestic programs, and in 1968 he announced he would not seek renomination for President.

Frequently Asked Questions about President Johnson

President Johnson was known for his ‘Great Society’ policies against poverty and injustice, his signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and his actions in Vietnam.

The collective name for Johnson’s programs was ‘The Great Society’.

President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in the White House.

The US had joined the Vietnam War under President Kennedy, and Johnson was similarly committed to winning against the communist threat in Vietnam.

Final President Johnson Quiz

Question

What experience early in Johnson's life impacted his political career?

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Answer

He taught at a predominantly Mexican American school where many of the students came from poverty.

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Question

When was Johnson elected to the House of Representatives?

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Answer

1937

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Question

How long did Johnson serve in the US Senate?

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Answer

12 years

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Question

When and why did Johnson become president?

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Answer

22 November 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated. 

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Question

What term refers to Johnson's domestic agenda?

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Answer

The Great Society

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Question

Give three things the 1964 Civil Rights act did.

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Answer

Any three of:

  • prohibited segregation and discrimination in public accommodations
  • prohibited discrimination in employment and union membership
  • created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to ensure the above
  • furthered guarantees of equal voting rights
  • authorised the Office of Education to help with school desegregation

Show question

Question

What year did Johnson pass the Voting Rights Act?

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Answer

1965

Show question

Question

Give five pieces of Johnson's domestic policy other than civil rights legislation.

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Answer

Any five of:

  • The introduction of Medicare and Medicaid
  • The 1965 Immigration Act
  • The 1964 Economic Opportunity Act
  • Allocating huge funding to housing reform and education 
  • The creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965
  • The creation of the National Endowment for Humanities and the National Endowment for Arts in 1965
  • The creation of the Department of Transportation in 1966
  • The 1965 Water Quality Act
  • The 1967 Air Quality Act

Show question

Question

What foreign policy event caused the decline in Johnson's popularity? 

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Answer

The Vietnam War

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Question

What resolution allowed Johnson to take any measure to prevent aggression from North Vietnam?

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Answer

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

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Question

How many military personnel were in Vietnam by 1968?

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Answer

550,000

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Question

When did student demonstrations against the Vietnam War begin?

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Answer

1965

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Question

How did the Vietnam War affect the Great Society?

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Answer

The huge cost of the war diverted finances away from Johnson's domestic policies and by late 1966, Johnson was struggling to get his domestic measures through Congress.

 

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Question

What three issues did Johnson face in Latin America?

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Answer

  • Disputes with Cuban leader Fidel Castro over the Guantanamo Naval Base.
  • A riot in Panama against US control of the Panama Canal Zone.
  • An uprising in the Dominican Republican attempted to restore the elected leader Juan Bosch to power; Johnson backed the right-wing Reid Cabral. 

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Question

What two international treaties did Johnson sign?

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Answer

The Outer Space Treaty and the Non-proliferation Treaty

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Question

What did Johnson announce on 31 March 1968?

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Answer

He had reduced bombing of North Vietnam, was requesting peace talks, and would not seek renomination for President.

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