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Lyndon Johnson

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Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, was a big man, both in stature and in his ability to get things done. At 6'4" and over 200 pounds he towered over many of his contemporaries and would get right in your face to convince you to his way of thinking. He was a very insecure individual who needed the approval and affection of the American people. For most of his political career he got that approval, then the Vietnam conflict came, and in 4 short years Lyndon saw that affection, approval, and his presidency vanish.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27th 1908. The first son of Sam Ealy Johnson Jr. and Rebekah Baines Johnson. Lyndon grew up in poverty on the family farm and learned at an early age that life in the hill country of Texas was hard. Both his father and grandfather had lost fortunes in cattle and farming. (Unger) His mother was an educated woman who considered her family superior to that of the Johnson's. She was a college graduate with fine features and genteel demeanor; she looked and acted like an aristocrat. She came to feel that she had married beneath her and once told her son that his "daddy was not a man to discuss higher things... he was vulgar and ignorant".(Unger) She was inconsistent with her love and attitude towards Lyndon. When he pleased her and did as she wanted, she would abundantly adorn him with affection, and likewise when he upset her, or did poorly in his school work, she would pull back her affection and at times not talk to him for days. (Unger) He was raised with this emotional instability which caused him to strive for approval and affection. He didn't want to upset anyone and wanted everyone to love him. This fear of rejection and need for approval would play a major part in his decisions as president and ultimately cause his downfall.

After graduating high school Lyndon informed his parents that he was sick of school and would not be going to college. After making plans with a couple of buddies they were off to California to make their fortunes. It didn't go as planned and in less than a year he was back in Texas. He was again under the wings of his parents and was broke and disillusioned. His friends and neighbors had noticed a change. "Before he went to California, he was just a happy-go-lucky boy," said a neighbor. "When he came back, well... I saw what disappointment had done." (Unger) It was during the drive back form California that Lyndon decided to become a politician.

His grandfather, Sam Sr., was caught up in the revolt of the Texas small farmers against the dominance of the planter-business elite during the 1890's when cotton was a disastrous 6 cents a pound and the railroads had them be the throat. He became a Populist and ran on the People's Party ticket for the state legislature in 1892. Although he lost the election, Populism did not die in Texas (Unger). Lyndon remembers listening to grandfather "talk about the plight of the tenant farmer, the necessity for the worker to have protection for bargaining...". (Drugger) His Father, Sam Jr., initially a teacher, yearned to be a lawyer. Finding it impossible to gather the necessary funds for law school, he went back to the farm, where he waited for something better to come along. In 1904 a seat for the Texas legislature became vacant. He ran for it and won. He served five terms in the Texas state legislature. (Unger) Lyndon's father, like his grandfather, was a defender of the "common man." He opposed the trusts and big business. "My father," said Lyndon, "was a liberal, progressive fella that dealt in helping the poor." (Unger) The political lives of his grandfather and father gave Lyndon his desire to enter politics and greatly influenced his political career.

In 1927, Lyndon entered Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos.

After graduation, Lyndon taught public speaking and debate at a Houston high school. In 1931 Lyndon campaigned for Richard M. Kleberg who was running for congress from the state of Texas. He was well liked, seemed to have a grasp for politics, and did such a great job campaigning that Kleberg asked Lyndon to come to Washington to be his congressional aid. (lbjlib) Lyndon packed his suitcase and was in Washington in less than two weeks. He was thrilled. This was the beginning of his political career that would last 38 years.

Johnson acted as congressional aid for three years learning the political ropes. He would read everything he could get his hands on concerning politics. It was once said that "if it wasn't political." (Grubin) Johnson didn't read it. Johnson once told a roommate back at Sam Marcos "the way you get ahead in this world, you get close to those that are the heads of things." (Unger)

Johnson, eager to climb the ladder in Washington, spent as much time as he possibly could meeting everyone he could. It seemed that the clerks and aids in Washington were the ones who knew what was really going on and why. They knew who had drinking problems, problems in their marriages, and most of all who had the real power. Johnson was determined to learn all these things and to meet those with the power. He learned fast.

Appointed by President Roosevelt to be the director of the Texas National Youth Administration in 1935 he was able to use this position to build his political influence. After only two years he resigned the position to make his first run for political office. He ran for the congressional seat from the 10th district in Texas in 1937 and easily won the election. In congress he fought for rural electrification, public housing, and eliminating government waste. (lbjlib) He was known in his later years at the white house to continually turn off the lights when no one was in the room. In a National TV and radio interview in 1964 he said "I don't believe that we are going to make the Treasury over by cutting out a few automobiles or turning out a few lights. But I do think it is a good example when you walk through the corridor and you see the closets where lights burn all day and all night just because someone didn't turn them off." (Johnson) As a congressman for the next 11 years he honed his skills as a negotiator and go-getter while building his influence and power. He formed working relationships with some of Washington's most powerful players. His game plan was to some day become President.

In 1948 he won a highly contested primary race for the senate by 87 votes and earned the nickname "Landslide Lyndon". He defeated the Republican candidate and earned his first term in the senate. (lbjlib) Six years later, at age 46, he became the senate majority leader,



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