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Lyndon Baines Johnson

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Johnson, Lyndon Baines (1908–73), 36th president of the United States. Johnson became chief executive upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, then was elected to a full term by an unprecedented majority. His 5 years in office were marked by far-reaching liberal legislation, but also by mounting domestic unrest and massive escalation of the U.S. war in Vietnam.

Early life

After graduating from high school in 1924, Johnson worked at various jobs before attending college, from which he graduated in 1930. After teaching high school for 2 years, he went to Washington, D.C., as the secretary to a new member of Congress from Texas. In 1934, Johnson married Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor. The Johnsons had 2 daughters.

Political career

In 1937, Johnson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was reelected 5 times. In 1948, he was elected to the Senate; in 1955, he became Senate majority leader. Johnson became one of the most powerful figures on Capitol Hill. One of his most notable achievements was the Senate's 1957 passage of the first major civil-rights bill since Reconstruction.

In 1960, Johnson ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, but John F. Kennedy won it. Johnson accepted the vice-presidential nomination. The Kennedy-Johnson ticket narrowly defeated Republican candidates Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge.

As vice president, Johnson held an office with relatively little power. That changed suddenly on Nov. 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Tex. Johnson took the oath of office the same afternoon.

President

Johnson promised to continue the Kennedy program, and Congress soon passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a new tax law, both Kennedy measures. Johnson also proposed a “War on Poverty” and persuaded Congress to appropriate almost $950 million for anti-poverty programs. In 1964, Johnson and running mate Hubert H. Humphrey won a landslide victory over Barry Goldwater and William Miller. Now president in his own right, Johnson formulated a wide-reaching program, called “the Great Society,” for improving U.S. life. At first, Johnson enjoyed unrivaled popularity and wielded tremendous influence. From 1963 to 1967, Congress enacted 226 major proposals out of 252 requests—a 92% rate of success for Johnson's administration.

But the overwhelming issue of Johnson's presidency was an unpopular and bloody war. Kennedy had sent the first U.S. troops to Vietnam, but under Johnson their advisory role became a combative one. Johnson gradually committed more troops; by mid-1966,300,000 U.S. troops were in Vietnam and the fighting showed no signs of nearing an end, despite massive U.S. bombing of North Vietnam and heavy loss of life on both sides.

By 1966, the U.S. was deeply divided over the war. Racial unrest—including riots in the overcrowded slums of several large cities—further taxed an already strained administration. On Mar. 31, 1968, Johnson announced that he would not run for reelection.

Retirement

After leaving office in Jan. 1969, Johnson retired to his Texas ranch. He avoided involvement in politics, devoting his time to publishing his memoirs, establishing the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, and running his ranch. He died on Jan. 22, 1973.

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