Lyndon B.johnson’s Mandate: Ruthless Election Campaign, Vietnam War, Space Program, Civil Rights Activist
Lyndon B. Johnson was the 36th President of the United States. In addition to being a person of integrity, he also made some substantial changes to America. Without Lyndon B. Johnson, America’s history would likely be entirely different. Johnson had a strong sense of personal ethics. He made decisions to support things that he determined were right. He was willing to fight for what he believed in. There are many important contributions that Johnson made to America; this research paper will focus on the policy changes that occurred under Johnson and how they served to shape the course of American history by increasing civil rights for minorities and expanding several government programs.
INTRO / EARLY LIFE
From a young age, Johnson demonstrated the characteristics of a leader. He graduated high school at an early age. While most people do not graduate high school until their late teens, Johnson managed to graduate at the early age of 15 years old (“Lyndon Baines Johnson.”). He demonstrated a willingness to take risks from a young age. Immediately after graduating high school, Johnson moved out to California with some of his friends (“Lyndon Baines Johnson.”). Most people are hesitant to face uncertainty and move to a new city. Johnson was excited at the opportunity and wanted to see other places of the world. He performed several different jobs during his time in California. He returned back home after about a year had passed. His jobs during his teens were not similar to his later political roles. Instead, he performed whatever work was available in order to support himself. He was an elevator operator at one point. He later worked on road construction (“Lyndon Baines Johnson.”). It is likely that Johnson’s interactions with people from different locations and social classes contributed to his later efforts to achieve enhanced legal rights for minorities.
After his trip to California and his decision to move back home, Johnson decided that he wanted to pursue higher education. He enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers College (Kelly). In order to pay for his tuition, he worked odd jobs and even served as a janitor at one point (Kelly). Even while doing whatever was necessary to get by, Johnson demonstrated many leadership qualities. He took some time off of school to assist in educating younger grades. He also edited the school newspaper and took part in the debate team. The debate team that he was a part of won the district championship in 1931 (Kelly). Johnson had a strong work ethic. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty and do what needed to be done in order to succeed. As such, his work ethic also carried over into his academic and political life. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1931 (Kelly).
Several years after he was elected to the House of Representatives, he briefly attended Georgetown University Law School. His stay there was not long. He soon met his future wife while on a vacation to his hometown in Texas. He asked her to marry him and within less than a year the two were legally married (Kelly). It is likely that Johnson’s upbringing contributed to many of the decisions that he made later in life. He worked hard as a youth. While some educated people were mainly in contact with only other upper-class people, Johnson had experience with all social classes. He was a talented academic that could hold a conversation with well-educated people. In addition, he also was down to earth and could relate to lower-class people from his time spent doing janitorial and construction work. The ability to connect with different groups of people is likely what contributed to his success as a politician. Later on during his political career, many of his policies accounted for the interests of different social classes of people. Instead of only approving legislation that was beneficial to one particular demographic, his work in office helped several different groups of minorities and disadvantaged people.
SPACE EXPLORATION PROGRAM
One major contribution that Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) made to America was his assistance in promoting legislation that resulted in a moon exploration trip. Many people respect America for innovation. America was the first nation to do several important things, and a constant willingness to attempt new things is what contributes to America’s reputation. Before LBJ was President, he was a member of congress. During the years between 1956 and 1958, the idea of travelling off the planet began to gain popularity. It started off with Russia sending a probe into outer space to take photographs (Wasser). However, the situation escalated when Americans began to discuss the possibility of sending a manned aircraft to the moon. LBJ was the senate Majority Leader at the time. His influence over congressional affairs was substantial. People respected his ideas and his ability to clearly express them.
Johnson was one of the most influential supporters of the space program. In the years before his presidency, he was involved in pushing the agenda of the space program (Wasser). The program was not entirely about American innovation. Instead, it happened during a time when the United States and Russia were engaging in threats and attempts to develop advanced weaponry (Wasser). It was thought that a spacecraft could be used to take photographs from space. These photographs would give Americans the upper hand in the conflict and allow them to see some of the military developments that were taking place in Russia. The United States initially attempted to send balloons over Russia and claimed that they were for weather research purposes (Wasser). However, things escalated more quickly after Russia launched a space satellite. This gave the Americans the green light to pursue their own program to send people and satellites into outer space (Wasser). Although the hidden objective of the space program was related to gaining an upper hand on Russia in the cold war, it was not advertised to the public in that way. Politicians, such as LBJ, presented it to the American people as an innovative mission. They gained public support by appealing to citizens’ sense of American heritage. Johnson was influential in both gaining public support for the moon mission and also in gaining congressional approval for it. He was skilled at communicating ideas and responding to potential criticism. Without LBJ in office during the time of the moon program, it is hard to know how long the program would have been postponed.
During Johnson’s first Presidential term, the war in Vietnam became a major issue. The idea of sending American soldiers to risk their lives in order to prevent a foreign conflict was not popular in America (Page & Brody 983). A major issue was that it was right around the end of LBJ’s first term. He would be up for re-election within several months of when he was faced with the important decision of whether or not to send American troops to assist the South Vietnamese people. In private talks and congressional meetings, Johnson claimed that he knew it was necessary for American troops to assist the Vietnamese people (Page & Brody 981). However, he also wanted to increase his chances of getting re-elected. An incident occurred that increased the chances that Johnson would be able to gain support for American involvement in the war. During a U.S. Navy reconnaissance mission, one of their ships was attacked (Page & Brody 982). The attacking of an American ship was all that Johnson needed in order to gain public support for American involvement in the war (Kelly). It is one thing for people to have conflicts in other parts of the world, but the issue becomes much more sensitive to American citizens when their own people were under attack. Johnson won the Presidential election in 1964 and sent ground troops to assist South Vietnam shortly thereafter.
Later on in the conflict in Vietnam, the issue had still not been solved. North Vietnamese forces were still strong and waging battles against both U.S. and South Vietnamese people. LBJ eventually authorized more marines to be sent to assist with the battle in Vietnam (“Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam”). It was originally intended to be a short-term defense mission. However, it ended up lasting several years. Although the conflict may have been unavoidable, Johnson’s ability to gain support is respectable. Even after the United States had been involved in the conflict for a while, he still had the support of the American people. In 1965, a poll revealed that 80% of Americans supported LBJ’s decision to send troops abroad (“Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam”). Many Presidents have been faced with situations in which they must make important military decisions. However, few of them are effective in gaining widespread support. It is not uncommon for almost half of Americans polled to be against any form of military involvement, particularly when it is abroad and not likely to affect domestic life. Thanks to a combination of Johnson’s communication skills and also the unique circumstances of the war, he was able to gain widespread support for foreign military involvement.
CIVIL RIGHTS POLICIES
One of the most significant aspects of LBJ’s Presidency is the progress that he made towards civil rights. Johnson did not merely advocate civil rights when it was popular or would help him gain office. Instead, he was dedicated to advancing civil rights from the moment that he was elected President. During his time as President, LBJ supported and passed more legislation for civil rights than any other President in our Nation’s history. An interesting point about LBJ is that he came from Texas. Texas was not a particularly progressive state that was in favor of rights for minorities. It had a large population of farmers and field workers that previously profited from the work of slaves. As such, it was not common for people coming from Texas to have a strong interest in advancing the rights of minorities. However, LBJ was different because he had travelled a lot. Ever since he was young, he would travel to different places and see different ways of life. In addition, he also did construction and janitorial work. Those trades are sometimes regarded as dirty work that only lower-class or minority people choose out of necessity. It is likely that during his time travelling and doing whatever work he could, he gained an increased amount of respect for people from different social classes. As a result of his increased interaction with different social classes, LBJ made substantial changes to American policy that improved life for minorities.
President Johnson signed several major pieces of legislation that gave increased rights to minorities. One was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This legislation came about in response to research conducted by the Civil Rights Commission (Kenworthy) . The group conducted research that found that life was not equal for many minorities. While some public officials claimed that minorities had an equal chance a good life, the research conducted by the group indicated otherwise. It was more difficult for minorities to obtain employment and other benefits. In response, congress drafted a bill to better protect the rights of minorities. The bill was originally created under John F. Kennedy. After Kennedy’s assassination, LBJ stated that the best way to honor his death was to pass the legislation that he tried to while he was still living. LBJ also gave several influential speeches and made public appearances in support of the legislation. A year later, LBJ pushed to pass an additional piece of legislation that protected the voting rights of minorities. The previous Civil Rights Act gave additional rights to minorities, but there will still violations of their rights that were taking place (Kenworthy). Some states used cleverly disguised voting laws to prevent a substantial portion of the population from expressing their political opinion (Kenworthy). For example, literacy tests were used in some states. Since not everyone had equal access to education at the time, the failure to pass literacy tests was more likely to affect minority voters. In addition, some states also placed a high tax at the polls. Not everyone could afford to pay the tax. Thus, the political power of lower-class citizens was weakened by the implementation of poll taxes. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 addressed many of the deceptive ways that politicians could use to silence the vote of minorities. It made it illegal for states to create voting laws without first gaining Federal approval (Kenworthy). This meant that states could not pass laws that barred minorities from voicing their political opinions. Johnson made civil rights issues one of the most salient points of his Presidency. There were few other issues that he spoke about or defended more passionately than civil rights. Some people claimed that he was using it as a political tactic in order to gain support from the Democratic Party. However, regardless of his individual reasons for pursuing the legislation, it is certainly true that the civil rights legislation helped many people. Even in the event that he was pursuing them for his own political gain, they still improved the lives of many people living in America and can thus be seen as a highly positive thing.
Another way in which President Johnson showed his support for minorities was through the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Similar to some other pieces of legislation that he passed, the bill was originated under Kennedy (CIS). The bill was proposed in response to some of the flaws in American immigration policy (CIS). The previous laws placed caps on immigration numbers based on the existing ethnic composition of America. Since early America was not dominated by African Americans or Mexicans, they were given lower immigration quotas than some Europeans. In other words, the laws allowed higher numbers of certain immigrants to come to America and placed tighter restrictions on other races. It was based entirely on race (CIS). By being born in one part of the world, a person would have less of a chance at coming to America than if they were born in a different part of the world. President Kennedy and other members of congress recognized how unfair such a system was. During the 1960s, when increased attention was given to equal rights for all people, it was discovered that immigration law was in desperate need of reform. The new proposed legislation changed the immigration system. Instead of having fixed quotas based on national origin, the new legislation gave preference to skilled workers and relatives of U.S. citizens (CIS). People that wanted to come to America could work hard and develop skills that would increase their chance of being accepted into America. Although the bill did not get passed under Kennedy, LBJ worked hard to ensure that the bill had enough support and would get passed by congress. Similar to the other bills that Johnson passionately supported, he made it a priority during his Presidency to push legislation that would remove unfair discrimination that existed in previous years. Without the persuasive effort of LBJ, it is possible that several laws would have taken many more years before being recognized as reasonable.
An influential aspect of Johnson’s Presidency was his decision to appoint Thurgood Marshall. Many of his other legislative actions were initiated by Kennedy or other congressional members. His effort was merely to push the legislation forward and gain support for it. In contrast, his decision to appoint Thurgood Marshal is significant because it was an action that he initiated. Kennedy had selected Marshall for a lower court, but it was entirely Johnson’s decision to appoint him to the Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall was the first African American Supreme Court Justice (Williams). His appointment is significant because it served as evidence of how times were changing in America. Prior to the 1960s, it was difficult for some minorities to vote or even receive an education. After the many laws and reforms that were passed under Johnson, the political and social climate in America began to change. The Supreme Court was previously only composed of white individuals. Many of them came from wealthy upper-class families and attended prestigious law schools that were not a viable option for minorities. Marshall beat the odds of his time by going to law school and becoming a judge. He worked with the NAACP as a lawyer for several years and helped to expand national awareness about unfair treatment that minorities were facing (Williams). His position in the Supreme Court served to show Americans that race and skin color did not matter. Marshall’s great grandfather was a slave (Williams). Despite the discrimination that he faced growing up, he beat the odds and showed that skin color does not matter when it comes to education or legal knowledge. Johnson made the decision to appoint Marshall both because of his legal expertise and also because he would be better able to protect the rights of minorities. The Supreme Court is tasked with reviewing cases to ensure that the law was followed appropriately. However, it is hard to imagine that all of their decisions would have been fair if they were only ever made by one race of people. By including the vote of a minority race in their decisions, The Supreme Court was better able to make decisions that accounted for the rights of all American people.
President Johnson supported the rights of elderly and disabled people. While some people may claim that his civil rights efforts were merely an attempt to gain political support from minorities, his decision to pass the Medicare program demonstrated that he had the best interests of all citizens in the mind. The Medicare program was not exclusively for minorities or disadvantaged people. Rather, it gave increased medical benefits to elderly people of any race. The idea was proposed about 10 years prior to LBJ taking office as President (Glass). When it was initially proposed, there was a substantial amount of controversy over it. Many Republicans did not want the government to be involved in a healthcare program that would likely cost a substantial amount and was not guaranteed to be effective. The program remained a topic of debate until Johnson’s Presidency. During his Presidency, his persuasive efforts led to the passage of the program. In 1965, he issued the first Medicare card to Truman (Glass). The Medicare program is a good example of something that LBJ worked hard to pass during his Presidency. Like some of the other laws, it was initiated before his time in office. He made it a major priority during his time in office to bring laws and programs into the spotlight and gain support for them.
An important point to keep in mind when discussing the changes brought about by Johnson is that the Democrats controlled both houses of congress during his Presidency. This meant that legislation could be passed much more easily. When power is divided between the two parties of congress, legislation can sometimes drag on for years before an agreement is reached. People that do not respect LBJ could make the case that his Presidential success was due to the Democratic Party controlling both houses. However, a counter to that claim would be that he played a role in the Democrats gaining that power. His talent at communicating his ideas served to unite people. It is possible that the Democrats would not have won control of both houses if it had not been for the persuasive speeches given by Johnson. Even before he was President, he was skilled at gaining support for whatever position he chose. It is likely that many swing voters opted to vote for him and the Democratic Party in response to speeches they heard or presentations that they witnessed. In addition, he was also elected in the years following the tragic assassination of John f. Kennedy. It is also likely that some swing voters opted to vote for him and the Democratic Party because they felt sad about what happened to Kennedy and could relate with the Democratic Party on an emotional level.
Lyndon B. Johnson made many significant changes to American law. His Presidency will go down in history as one of the periods in which substantial progress was made for minorities. It is true that the Democratic Party did control chambers of congress, which contributed to the amount of bills that were passed. However, it is likely that Johnson himself contributed to the Democrats gaining increased control of congress in the first place. His public speech ability and ambition were not matched by many other people. If a different President was elected after Kennedy, it is not likely that we would have seen the rapid advancement of minority rights that occurred under Johnson.
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Lyndon B. Johnson was the 36th President of the United States. In addition to being a person of integrity, he also made some substantial changes to America. Without Lyndon B. […]