Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908 – 1973), often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States from November 22, 1963 to January 20, 1969. Before becoming president, he served as the Senate Minority Leader from 1953 to 1955; the Senate Majority Leader from 1955 to 1961; and finally as Vice President under John F. Kennedy from January 20, 1961 till the assassination of Kennedy on November 22, 1963. As President, Johnson is most renowned for his set of domestic programs known as the Great Society. These included legislation aimed to eliminate racial injustice like the influential Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act; as well as his War on Poverty which included many social welfare programs to aid the poor. LBJ was successful in reducing unemployment and poverty; and bringing about economic growth. He is also hailed as a civil rights hero and for doing more for education than any other president. However, the foreign policy of President Johnson was marred by the unsuccessful and costly U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Here are the 10 major accomplishments of President Lyndon B. Johnson as well as a brief summary of his failure in the Vietnam War.

 

#1 Lyndon B. Johnson served as the 36th President of the United States

Johnson served as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1937 to 1949. During World War II, he was appointed a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve in June, 1940. He worked on production and manpower problems that were slowing the production of ships and planes. He also participated as an observer on a number of bomber missions. He was awarded the Army Silver Star Medal for his bravery. Johnson served as a U.S. Senator from Texas from January 3, 1949 to January 3, 1961. From 1953 to 1955, he was the Senate Minority Leader and from 1955 to 1961, he was the Senate Majority Leader. He has been called the most effective Senate majority leader in history. Johnson became the 37th American Vice President on January 20, 1961. He served in this position till November 22, 1963; when he became the 36th President of the United States following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Johnson won the 1964 presidential election defeating the Republican nominee Barry Goldwater by a landslide with 61.05 percent of the popular vote and an electoral college margin of 486 to 52. Lyndon B. Johnson served as American President till January 20, 1969.

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Portrait
Official Presidential portrait of Lyndon Baines Johnson

 

#2 His political acumen aided the passing of the landmark civil rights bill

As the strength of the African-American civil rights movement grew, President John F. Kennedy introduced a bill in June 1963 to address the issue. However, at the time of his assassination in November, 1963, the bill had been languishing in the House with no hope of coming to a full vote. After becoming president, Johnson took the bold decision to champion the stalled civil-rights bill. Southern congressmen had been using congressional procedure to prevent the bill from coming to a vote. Passing it in the house required getting it through the Rules Committee, which had been holding it up in an attempt to kill it. Johnson decided to bypass the committee by using a procedure called discharge petition. The pressure worked and the Committee’s segregationist chairman, Howard Smith, rather than having it taken away from his committee, approved the bill and moved it to the floor of the house on January 30, 1964. Johnson also used his friendship with Harry F. Byrd to pass the tax cut bill, which the south was holding to pressure the administration to give up on civil-rights legislation. The Civil Rights bill was passed in the house by a vote of 290–110; and in March 1964; after 75 hours of debate, it passed the senate by a vote of 71–29.

President Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young and James Farmer
President Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young and James Farmer

 

#3 The influential Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed during his presidency

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964. It outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce. Its other features include prohibiting state and municipal governments from denying access to public facilities on the same grounds; barring unequal application of voter registration requirements; preventing discrimination by government agencies that received federal funds; and encouraging desegregation of public schools. Though the initial powers given to enforce the act were weak, they were supplemented during later years. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. It has been called the single most important piece of legislation passed by Congress in American history. It also paved the way for future legislation like the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the Civil Rights Act of 1968; and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964

 

#4 The 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed securing voting rights for minorities

On August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Act contains two types of provisions: “general provisions”, which apply nationwide; and “special provisions”, which apply to only certain states and local governments. The general provisions provide nationwide protections for voting rights. Among other things, they prohibit every state and local government from imposing any voting law that results in discrimination against racial or language minorities; they also outlaw literacy tests and similar devices that were historically used to disenfranchise people on the basis of race. Special provisions include prohibiting certain jurisdictions from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving preapproval from the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for D.C. The 1965 Voting Rights Act secured voting rights for racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. It is considered the most effective piece of federal civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country by the U.S. Department of Justice.

President Johnson at the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act
President Johnson with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks at the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act

 

#5 His tax cut bill led to economic growth and reduced unemployment

In 1963, President Kennedy had proposed a significant tax reduction bill but he struggled to get it passed in the House of Representatives against strong conservative resistance. After Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson made passage of the tax cut bill a top priority. He worked closely with influential Senator Harry F. Byrd of Virginia to negotiate a reduction in the budget below $100 billion in exchange for Byrd dropping his opposition. The bill was passed leading to the Revenue Act of 1964, signed into law by Johnson on February 26, 1964. The Act cut income tax rates by approximately 20%; reduced corporate tax rates and introduced a minimum standard deduction. The Tax Reduction Act achieved its goals of increasing personal incomes, consumption and capital investments. Unemployment fell from 5.2% in 1964 to 4.5% in 1965; and fell to 3.8% in 1966. Inflation-adjusted G.D.P. increased 5.8% in 1964 after a 4.4% rise in 1963. Growth improved to 6.5% in 1965 and 6.6% in 1966. These were the three best back-to-back years for economic growth in the postwar era and economists generally credit the tax cut for much of it.

GDP growth chart of Post WWII presidents
Lyndon B. Johnson leads the annual average GDP growth chart of Post WWII presidents

 

#6 The U.S. immigration policy was changed allowing more non-Europeans in

On October 3, Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The Act is also known as the Hart–Celler Act after Representative Emanuel Celler, who proposed the bill; and Senator Philip Hart, who co-sponsored it. The Act abolished the quota system based on national origins that had been American immigration policy since the 1920s. It maintained the per-country limits. However, it created preference visa categories that focused on immigrants’ skills and family relationships with U.S. citizens. The Hart–Celler Act marked a change in U.S. policy which had discriminated against all non-northern Europeans. It removed racial and national barriers allowing increased number of people to migrate to U.S. from Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Ultimately, it altered the demographic mix in the United States. Though the Act has many dissenters, many also consider it as an important achievement of the Johnson administration.

 

#7 Johnson initiated many social welfare programs to aid the poor

War on Poverty is the name given to the expansive social-welfare legislation introduced by the Johnson administration. In his first State of the Union address in January 1964, President Johnson asked Congress to declare an “unconditional war on poverty”. On August 20, 1964, he signed into law the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964; the legislation that came to define the War on Poverty. It created the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to coordinate federal antipoverty initiatives and empower the poor to transform their own communities. Among other things, the OEO administered programs such as Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), which aims to fight poverty in low-income communities; Job Corps, that offers free-of-charge education and vocational training to young people aged 16 to 24; and Head Start, that aims to end poverty by providing poor children with education, nutrition, etc. Most of OEO’s programs, including the ones mentioned above, are still in existence. For example, Head Start still serves over 1 million children and their families each year.

President Johnson signs the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964
President Johnson signs the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964

 

#8 His War on Poverty significantly decreased poverty rates in the United States

Apart from the Economic Opportunity Act, other major initiatives of the War on Poverty were the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965; and the Social Security Amendments of 1965. Food Stamp Act appropriated $75 million to 350,000 individuals in 40 counties and three cities. Housing and Urban Development Act greatly expanded funding for existing federal housing programs; and added new programs to help the poor, elderly, disabled and veterans. The Social Security Amendments created two programs: Medicare, which provides health insurance for Americans aged 65 and older; and Medicaid, that helps with medical costs for low income groups. The War on Poverty had a large impact with the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line dropping from 23% to 12%. Recent work has also shown that poverty rates fell from almost 26% in 1967 to 16% in 2010s, a fall greatly aided by programs begun under the War on Poverty.

United States poverty rate chart
Graph showing official and adjusted (actual) poverty rate in the United States

 

#9 President Johnson dramatically expanded the federal role in schooling

Lyndon B. Johnson made education a top priority as he believed that education was a cure for ignorance and poverty. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was passed in 1965. It was an extensive statute that funded primary and secondary education. It emphasized on equal access to education and established high standards and accountability. It also aimed to provide each child with fair and equal opportunities to achieve an exceptional education. The ESEA was the most far-reaching federal legislation affecting education ever passed by the United States Congress. Johnson’s second major education program was the Higher Education Act of 1965. It increased federal money given to universities; created scholarships; gave low-interest loans for students; and established a National Teachers Corps. Lyndon B. Johnson, more than any other president, made education a national priority.

President Johnson at the ESEA signing ceremony
President Johnson at the ESEA signing ceremony, with his childhood schoolteacher Ms. Kate Deadrich Loney

 

#10 Federal gun regulations were expanded during his presidency

In 1965, Johnson set up the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, two independent agencies to support academic subjects such as literature, history and law; and arts such as music, painting and sculpture. The same year, Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act was enacted to provide a set of national standards for cigarette packaging in order to inform the public that cigarette smoking is hazardous to health. In 1967, Public Broadcasting Act was passed which set up public broadcasting in the United States. On October 22, 1968, President Johnson signed the Gun Control Act of 1968, one of the largest and farthest-reaching federal gun control laws in American history. The act prohibited interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers. It also prohibited convicted felons, drug users and the mentally ill from purchasing handguns; and raised record-keeping and licensing requirements.

President Johnson on March 31, 1968
Lyndon B. Johnson speaks to the nation on March 31, 1968

 

Lyndon B. Johnson And The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was a conflict which began in 1955 and was fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese army was supported by the Soviet Union and other communist allies while the South Vietnamese army was supported by the United States and other anti-communist allies. Hence it was part of the Cold War. Lyndon B Johnson inherited the Vietnam War and the conflict dominated his foreign policy. Kennedy had increased the number of U.S. military personnel in Vietnam from under 700 in 1961 to over 16,000 by the time of his death. Though Johnson was personally unhappy with U.S. involvement in Vietnam; he believed it was necessary to stop Communist expansion at all cost. Johnson consistently increased the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam and by 1968, the number had increased to 500,000. He also shifted from defensive to offensive operations. By 1968, 30,000 Americans had lost their lives in the war. Lyndon B. Johnson was severely criticized and there was a large Anti-Vietnam War movement in U.S. against American involvement in the war. By the end of his presidency, Johnson could scarcely travel anywhere without facing protests.

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