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Lyndon Baines Johnson was born in Stonewall, Texas, and trained as a teacher and lawyer.
While working as secretary to a Texan congressman, he attracted the attention of Franklin Roosevelt, who in 1936 appointed him director of the National Youth Administration in Texas.
During World War II he went to Australia and New Zealand as President Roosevelt’s special emissary.
He was a member of Congress between 1937 and 1949 and the Senate from 1949 to 1960. As a Texan, he brought critical Southern support as J F Kennedy‘s vice-presidential running mate in 1960.
Johnson was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States in the aircraft carrying John F Kennedy’s body back to Washington after the Dallas assassination (pictured below).
Air Force One touched down at Andrews Air Force on 22 November a little after 6 pm, a mere two minutes after technicians had cobbled together a bank of microphones that would enable the new president to address a shocked nation.
Before he spoke, however, the coffin containing the body of his predecessor, John F Kennedy, was taken off the plane, accompanied by his widow, Jacqueline, her suit and stockings stained with his blood. Though it had been suggested she freshen up, the former first lady declined saying, “Let them see what they’ve done”.
Johnson successfully won congressional support for many of Kennedy’s New Frontier proposals, most conspicuously in the area of civil rights. He moved beyond the New Frontier to declare ”war on poverty” supported by Great Society legislation (civil rights, education, alleviation of poverty).
His foreign policy met with considerably less success, however.
After the Tonkin Gulf Incident which escalated US involvement in the Vietnam War, Johnson began America’s direct involvement in the ground war in Vietnam, and by 1968 over 550,000 American soldiers were inside Vietnam.
The support won by Johnson’s domestic reforms dissipated, and as casualties mounted (US troops were being killed at the rate of over 1,000 a month) and success seemed further away than ever, Johnson’s popularity plummeted.
College students and others protested, burned draft cards, and chanted “Hey, hey, LBJ – how many kids did you kill today?”.
He declined to run for re-election in 1968, stating “I shall not seek, nor will I accept the nomination of my party for, another term as your President”.
Lyndon Johnson died at his ranch on 22 January 1973 at the age of 64, from a heart attack (his third). He was found dead by Secret Service agents, in his bed, with a telephone in his hand.
His health had been affected by years of heavy smoking, poor dietary habits and stress. The former president had severe heart disease and had previously suffered heart attacks in July 1955 and April 1972.
His death came the day before a ceasefire was signed in Vietnam.