Lyndon B. Johnson  

36th President of the United States

"Were there no outside world," wrote journalist Theodore H. White in 1969, "... Lyndon Johnson might conceivably have gone down as the greatest of the twentieth century Presidents."  But the world of foreign affairs, in the form of the Vietnam War, did intrude upon Johnson who for so much of his political career was concerned chiefly with domestic programs, and his response to the war eventually destroyed his hold on the electorate.

Johnson was born in 1908 near Stonewall, Texas.  He graduated from Southwest Texas State Teachers College in 1930, taught high school for a year and then plunged into politics, accompanying Texas Congressman Richard M. Kleberg to Washington as his legislative secretary in 1931.  The young Johnson learned quickly, and soon caught the eye of influential Texas Congressman Sam Rayburn and of the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who warmly appreciated his zealous support of the New Deal and made him a protege, appointing him Texas administrator of the National Youth Administration in 1935.  Meanwhile, in 1934, Johnson had met and married Claudia Alta (Lady Bird) Taylor, whose vivacity, shrewdness and ambition proved enormous assets to her husband's career.

Although Johnson stayed clear of the 1960 presidential primaries, he made a strenuous last-ditched convention effort to obtain the Democratic nomination.  He was swamped by the forces of John F. Kennedy, who then astonished the nation by asking Johnson, whose practical abilities Kennedy respected and whose southern support he sorely needed, to be his running mate. Johnson accepted.  Old-fashioned stumping by Johnson brought in enough Southern and Western support to help garner Kennedy's razor-thin victory margin.  The Vice Presidency did not suit Johnson's activist temperament, but he remained a loyal subordinate to the President.

On November 22, 1963, two hours after Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President aboard Air Force One, the presidential jet, at Love Field outside the city.  He lost little time in taking charge.  Much of Kennedy's domestic program had been bottled up in Congress; Johnson got it passed.  Employing emotional appeals to patriotism, sympathy for the late President and his own brand of persuasion, Johnson won adoption of the sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Tax Reduction Act, Federal aid to education and mass transportation, and extensive anti-poverty legislation--all within nine months of taking office.  Running for the Presidency in his own right in 1964, Johnson defeated Senator Barry M. Goldwater by one of the widest popular margins in American history.  Johnson then launched his Great Society program, an all-embracing package of domestic legislation, and in doing so compiled a legislative record unmatched since the early days of the New Deal.

By early spring of 1968--when he outpolled primary challenger Eugene McCarthy by the thinnest of margins in New Hampshire--it was apparent his Administration was in grave trouble.  But even his most intimate aides were stunned when, on March 31, Johnson announced during a television address to the nation that he would neither seek nor accept renomination.  At the same time he ordered a sharp reduction in the bombing of North Vietnam and called for peace negotiations, which were initiated in Paris during his term in office.  

In his last political act, Johnson used his remaining influence to secure the political nomination for Vice President Hubert Humphrey at the strife-torn Chicago convention in August, 1968.  Johnson then retired to his ranch in Johnson City to work on his memoirs and assemble documents for the Johnson Library at the University of Texas.  His book, The Vantage Point, was published in 1971.  He died of a heart attack early in 1973.

It should be noted that Lyndon Johnson only received the first or "Entered Apprentice" Degree in Freemasonry at Johnson City Lodge No. 561 in Johnson City, Texas.




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