The definitive study of Lyndon Johnson is Robert Caro’s magnificent series — The Years of Lyndon Johnson — which is up to four volumes so far: The Path To Power, Means of Ascent, Master of the Senate, and The Passage of Power. I don’t know if there has ever been a more detailed series of books ever written about one person, but it is a must-read. It’s takes a commitment to dive into the series since Caro’s almost spent as much time writing the books as it took LBJ to actually live the story told by them and it’s not until the most recent volume (The Passage of Power) that Caro begins delving into LBJ as President. I’m hoping we get the fifth (and final?) volume sometime this decade, but reading the entire series will make it feel like you know Lyndon Johnson.
For those who, unlike me, actually have a personal life, you may not want to devote every waking hour to reading about LBJ via Mr. Caro’s masterpiece. In that case, I’d highly recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. Goodwin has proven her ability over the past couple of decades as one of our great historians, and I think Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream is her best work. When LBJ left office, he prepared to write his autobiography, The Vantage Point. LBJ hired Goodwin to help him research and write the book, but he wanted it to sound Presidential or statesmanlike — basically, the opposite of the candid, off-the-cuff LBJ that was always the most fascinating. The result was that The Vantage Point is stiff and unnecessarily formal — like when LBJ would give a speech on television via prepared remarks rather than the barn-burning, passionate campaign speeches that he would give extemporaneously while on the campaign trail.
After LBJ died, Goodwin culled together the raw notes and anecdotes from hours of working alongside of and talking to Johnson for his autobiography, and she put together Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream — perhaps one of the most personal biographies ever written about a President. Johnson’s candor, his brilliance, his incredible political intuition, his deep insecurities, and everything that made him so remarkable and/or frustrating to those who came face-to-face with him, worked for him, and battle against him shine brightly through in Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. Goodwin basically wrote the book that LBJ should have written because his voice is clear on each and every page. It’s certainly one of the best books ever written about a President, and it’s enhanced not only by Goodwin’s skill as an historian, but because of the unique access she had to LBJ from the time he left the White House.
There are an awful lot of “What ifs?” in that question, but there is one much bigger problem with your question: Richard Nixon actually WAS President longer than LBJ was. It wasn’t that big of a difference, but the fact is that Nixon’s Presidency lasted about five months longer than Lyndon Johnson’s Administration.
Probably not. And it’s not so much because of Grant’s limitations but due to the fact that almost everybody would have failed in his position at that time.
In his recent biography of Grant, The Man Who Saved the Union, H.W. Brands suggested that Lincoln wouldn’t have been considered as great of a President as he is today if he hadn’t been assassinated the week the Civil War ended:
"Had Lincoln lived, the war’s end would have forced him to answer questions he had avoided amid the fighting. He would have been required to say whether emancipation implied citizenship for the freedmen; whether citizenship entailed suffrage; how far political equality, if it came to that, demanded social equality; and who would enforce the rights of African Americans against the resistance the assertion of such rights must inevitably evoke. In short, he would have been required to specify what reconstruction meant."
Since Lincoln was dead less than a week after General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox, those tasks fell to Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant. It’s no surprise that Johnson and Grant are considered by many historians to be among the worst Presidents in American history, but they presided over a period that was no less difficult than the years of Pierce and Buchanan. In a way, it may have been tougher because instead of holding the nation together, Johnson and Grant had to actually put the country back together. They also had to figure out how to handle the newly-emancipated slaves, the defeated Confederates, the conquered Southern leaders, and the utter destruction in the South, which was literally occupied territory.
Johnson was a Democrat instead of a Republican and the only Southern Senator who remained loyal to the Union. He was hated by the former Confederates and he wanted to punish them. But Johnson was also a vicious racist. Obviously, these things did not come together and result in a good President. Johnson’s battles with Congress resulted in his impeachment and he was one vote away from a conviction in the Senate which would have removed him from office. From the moment that Abraham Lincoln’s heart stopped beating at 7:22 AM on April 15, 1865, Andrew Johnson had no chance whatsoever at being successful in Lincoln’s place.
Grant — who also hated Johnson (and the feeling was mutual) — got along much better with Congress and was a better man than Andrew Johnson was. He still had his troubles, but anybody in that spot at that time — including Lincoln, as Brands noted — would have struggled. Quite frankly, I don’t think Grant is as bad of a President as he has traditionally been ranked — in my Presidential Rankings last year, I had Grant ranked 30th out of 43. In fact, Grant’s reputation as President has been improving over the past 20 or so years. In 1948, Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. had Grant ranked as the second worst President in history — worse than everybody except Harding, including Buchanan! In 1990, Siena College had Grant ranked 37th out of 40. But in 2010, Siena’s rankings saw Grant jump to 26th out of 43 and the year before, C-SPAN had him at 23rd out of 42. I think C-SPAN has him a bit too high and I can’t see him rising any higher then the mid-20s, but he’s certainly not one of the five worst Presidents in history. Was he a good President? No, probably not. General Grant is on the $50 bill because of his military achievements and he never truly fit in the world of politics. But I don’t think he was a bad President, either.
I completely agree with you. JFK had legislation bottled up in Congress for weeks and weeks before he died. LBJ got a lot of that legislation moving again within days of becoming President. Had he lived, I don’t think JFK would have passed anything close to the amount of legislation that LBJ pushed through Congress. I would have liked to have asked Schlesinger when exactly Kennedy was planning on beginning to accomplish some of the legislative victories that he was so certain that JFK would achieve. I respect Schlesinger as a historian, but I definitely agree with you about him being a Kennedy partisan.
(This is coming from the guy who posted approximately 800 things about LBJ to celebrate his 105th birthday last month.)
At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, a young man from Texas won a gold medal in heavyweight boxing while an old man from Texas proudly watched from the White House in Washington, D.C.
As a teenager growing up in Houston’s rough Fifth Ward, George Foreman was spending his days and nights fighting in the streets and committing petty crimes. Foreman had little education, few role models, no direction and found the crippling poverty that he lived in to be unbearable. Then, in 1965, he heard of the Job Corps.
One of the foundations of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War On Poverty, the Job Corps was created in 1964 to provide vocational training and technical education, free of charge, to students aged 16 through 24. For many young Americans, the Job Corps as an opportunity. For George Foreman, it was a path to superstardom and success.
After beginning his Job Corps training in Oregon, Foreman was stationed at a center in California where a Job Corps supervisor named Doc Broadus encouraged the 6’4” Texan to consider boxing. Just three years after he signed up for the centerpiece program of LBJ’s Great Society, George Foreman was representing his country in the Olympics.
To this day, Foreman credits the Job Corps for saving his life. Later, he would proudly declare that “Job Corps took me from the mean streets and out of a nightmare lifestyle into a mode where the most incredible dreams came true.”
Following Foreman’s gold medal victory at the 1968 Olympics, he was invited to the White House by President Johnson and became a proud symbol of a Great Society success story. At the White House, President Johnson asked Foreman when he thought he’d win the world championship and Foreman recalled that “I told him I hoped it would be quick, as I needed the money. He laughed about that.”
As LBJ headed into retirement in Texas, George Foreman embarked on a successful professional boxing career and with a 37-0 record, he prepared to fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship against the undefeated champion — Joe Frazier. Foreman started going by the nickname “The Fighting Corpsman”, paying tribute to his Job Corps roots because “it had been President Johnson’s Job Corps which changed my direction in life. I thought all those Job Corps men out there would see that one among them was making it, and maybe it would help them believe they could as well.”
The Fighting Corpsman was a heavy underdog on January 22, 1973 as he challenged Joe Frazier for the world heavyweight championship in Kingston, Jamaica. Most boxing reporters and students of the game thought that the match wouldn’t last very long and they were correct. Foreman dominated Frazier, knocking him down six times in two rounds before the referee finally stepped in and stopped the beating. As millions watched the fight on television, sportscaster Howard Cosell made one of the most famous calls in history, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”. At just 24 years old, George Foreman — the Fighting Corpsman — was the heavyweight champion of the world.
The victory was George Foreman’s, but no one would have taken more pride in the results of that fight than the architect of the program that turned Foreman’s life around, Lyndon B. Johnson. Sadly, Johnson never saw the fight. Just hours earlier on the very day that Foreman won the title in Jamaica, Lyndon Johnson suffered a fatal heart attack at the LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas. As fans were filing into the arena in Jamaica, Lyndon Johnson died en route to a hospital in Texas.
For the new champion, the victory was bittersweet. “I felt robbed that night while winning it as I had hoped he would be able to read what happened in Jamaica which could never have been possible had he not had that Job Corps idea and that it would include me.” In 1983, George Foreman donated the championship belt that he won on the day of LBJ’s death to the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas where it is on display today — a memento from a coincidental day 38 years ago when two Texans were united by accomplishment and cemented in history.
I said in this answer that LBJ was a BAMF and didn’t give any reason why other than the fact that I like LBJ.
Here’s a little evidence for his BAMF credentials:
After he visited Marines getting ready to ship out to Vietnam, LBJ headed towards a helicopter for departure when stopped by a young Marine:
Marine: “Mr. President, that’s your helicopter over there, sir.”
LBJ: “Son, they are all my helicopters.”
West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard visited LBJ at the LBJ ranch during Johnson’s Presidency and said, “I understand you were born in a log cabin, Mr. President.”
LBJ responded, “No, Mr. Chancellor, I was born in a manger.”
LBJ enjoyed taking journalists who accompanied him on trips to the LBJ Ranch on tours of his beloved land. Driving around the ranch with a reporter from CBS, Johnson stopped the car and walked over to some brush to urinate.
CBS Reporter: “Aren’t you afraid a rattlesnake might bite it?”
LBJ: “Hell, it is part rattlesnake.”
"If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim’." — Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973), 36th President of the United States (1963-1969), on the cynicism of the media
When Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as President on board Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, Jackie Kennedy was standing next to him, her pink Chanel dress, white gloves, and bare legs smeared with the blood and brain matter of her assassinated husband. Traumatized and almost certainly in shock, Jackie wanted to support the new President and new First Lady as power was officially transferred in the same solemn ceremony that has always marked such an occasion in American History. As the Presidential airplane left Dallas and returned to the nation’s capital, Jackie sat in the back of the plane with the coffin containing her husband’s body.
Despite her deep personal loss, her traumatic experience, and her obvious physical exhaustion, Jackie threw herself into planning President Kennedy’s funeral as soon as she returned to Washington, D.C. Jackie was sensitive to the needs of the country and protective of her husband’s legacy. When she arrived at the White House, she requested information about the exact specifications of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral after he was assassinated in 1865. Even though it was the middle of the night, Kennedy staffers went to the National Archives and the Library of Congress to research the Lincoln funeral and Jackie helped make plans for the pageantry that would commence over the next few days. With a few minor exceptions, JFK’s funeral was nearly an exact replica of Lincoln’s funeral almost 100 years earlier. The effect was monumental. Kennedy’s funeral will always be remembered as a dignified, iconic moment in our nation’s history.
As Jackie Kennedy prepared to bury the 35th President, Lyndon Johnson consumed himself with becoming the 36th President, continuing Kennedy’s work and leading the nation through the darkness of the assassination and its aftermath. When Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base on the night of November 22nd, the Secret Service urged now-President Johnson to take a helicopter directly to the White House. Johnson immediately vetoed the move as he thought it would disrespectful for him to land on the South Lawn of the White House (as Presidents regularly do) while Kennedy’s family still lived in the building. When LBJ arrived at the White House via motorcade to begin his work that night, the new President went directly to an office in the Old Executive Office Building rather than working out of the Oval Office.
Over the next few weeks, President Johnson extended many kindnesses to Jackie Kennedy. LBJ and Jackie had always had an extremely close relationship, and Johnson never forgot how kind Jackie had been when LBJ was Vice President — a depressing time for Johnson due to his lack of power and influence. During his Vice Presidency, Johnson had experienced many problems with members of Kennedy’s Administration, but was always treated very well by President and Mrs. Kennedy.
The Kennedys had two young children who had just lost their father, and the first thing that LBJ did as President was write two letters to President Kennedy’s children to read when they were old enough to understand them. When JFK was elected President, the Kennedys hoped that their daughter Caroline would be able to attend a normal school with children her age. When it became apparent that the logistics wouldn’t allow that, a room was prepared at the White House for Caroline’s teacher to hold class daily. When JFK was assassinated, LBJ insisted that Caroline’s class continue using the White House for classes as long as Jackie wished. In fact, LBJ urged Jackie to continue living in the White House throughout the entirety of his term. Jackie moved out within a few weeks, but she appreciated President Johnson’s offer.
What Jackie Kennedy most appreciated, however, was President Johnson’s presence at John F. Kennedy’s funeral. On November 25, 1963, the entire nation stopped and world leaders gathered in Washington to bury the slain President (one place that the nation didn’t stop was Dallas, where JFK’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed as he was being transferred to another police facility). Kennedy’s funeral was historic and emotional. The enduring image is of John F. Kennedy, Jr. — celebrating his 3rd birthday on that very day — stepping forward to salute as father’s flag-draped casket passed by.
Another stirring image from that day was accompanying President Kennedy’s funeral cortége. As Kennedy’s casket rested on the exact same caisson that carried Abraham Lincoln’s casket, a remarkable procession of some of the most famous, powerful people in the world followed behind it. Led by Jackie Kennedy and the slain Presidents two brothers, Robert F. Kennedy and Edward Kennedy, scores and scores of political leaders, diplomats, monarchs, and more trailed the casket, marching in complete silence other than the sounds of their feet on the pavement. Dozens upon dozens of countries were represented — not just by ambassadors or minor officials, but by Kings, Queens, Emperors, Presidents, and Prime Ministers. When one looks at the photos, our eyes are immediately drawn to the majestic strength of Jackie Kennedy leading the procession. If the faces of those behind her are scanned, they reveal legendary leaders such as Charles de Galle, Haile Selassie, U Thant, Golda Meier, King Baudoiun I, Lester Pearson, Willy Brandt, Queen Frederica, Eamon de Valera, Prince Philip, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and scores of other international figures, not to mention the leading Americans, who took to the streets of Washington, D.C. — on foot — to honor President Kennedy.
It’s often forgotten that Lyndon Johnson was there. Johnson was such a larger-than-life character and so rarely relegated to the background that it’s difficult to imagine a scene where he would not be the major player. Since President Kennedy had been murdered in broad daylight on the streets of a major American city just three days earlier, the Secret Service — understandably nervous due to their failure to protect one President that week — was adamantly opposed to President Johnson’s participation. Johnson overruled the Secret Service concerns and turned down their insistence that he ride in an armor-plated limousine. For maybe the only time in his life, Lyndon Johnson — now President of the United States — went virtually unnoticed to the public.
Yet, one person did notice. And, on November 26, 1963, despite all that she had been through; despite all that she was feeling; despite all that she had lost; despite the fact that just 24 hours earlier she had buried her husband, the father of her two young children, the 34-year-old widowed former First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy sat down in the White House and wrote this letter to the new President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson:
Dear Mr. President,
Thank you for walking yesterday - behind Jack. You did not have to do that - I am sure many people forbid you to take such a risk - but you did it anyway.
Thank you for your letters to my children. What those letters will mean to them later - you can imagine. The touching thing is, they have always loved you so much, they were most moved to have a letter from you now.
And most of all, Mr. President, thank you for the way you have always treated me - the way you and Lady Bird have always been to me - before, when Jack was alive, and now as President.
I think the relationship of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential families could be a rather strained one. From the history I have been reading ever since I came to the White House, I gather it often was in the past.
But you were Jack’s right arm - and I always thought the greatest act of a gentleman that I had seen on this earth - was how you - the Majority Leader when he came to the Senate as just another little freshman who looked up to you and took orders from you, could then serve as Vice President to a man who had served under you and been taught by you.
But more than that we were friends, all four of us. All you did for me as a friend and the happy times we had. I always thought way before the nomination that Lady Bird should be First Lady - but I don’t need to tell you here what I think of her qualities - her extraordinary grace of character - her willingness to assume ever burden - She assumed so many for me and I love her very much - and I love your two daughters - Lynda Bird most because I know her the best - and we first met when neither of us could get a seat to hear President Eisenhower’s State of the Union message, and someone found us a place on one of the steps on the aisle where we sat together. If we had known then what our relationship would be now.
It was so strange - last night I was wandering through this house. There in the Treaty Room is your chandelier, and I had framed - the page we all signed - you - Senator Dirksen and Mike Mansfield - underneath I had written “The day the Vice President brought the East Room chandelier back from the Capitol.”
Then in the library I showed Bobby the Lincoln Record book you gave - you see all you gave - and now you are called on to give so much more.
Your office - you are the first President to sit in it as it looks today. Jack always wanted a red rug - and I had curtains designed for it that I thought were as dignified as they should be for a President’s office.
Late last night a moving man asked me if I wanted Jack’s ship pictures left on the wall for you (They were clearing the office to make room for you) - I said no because I remembered all the fun Jack had those first days hanging pictures of things he loved, setting out his collection of whales teeth etc.
But of course they are there only waiting for you to ask for them if the walls look too bare. I thought you would want to put things from Texas in it - I pictured some gleaming longhorns - I hope you put them somewhere.
It mustn’t be very much help to you your first day in office - to hear children on the lawn at recess. It is just one more example of your kindness that you let them stay - I promise - they will soon be gone -
Thank you Mr. President
At the LBJ Library on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin, there are many displays of priceless, historic artifacts that tell the story of the years of Lyndon Johnson, his service to the United States, and the world that he knew. As you pass through the exhibits, it’s difficult not to be astonished, inspired, and touched by what you see around you during your visit. Many of the things you’ll see there will take your breath away, but nothing leaves an impression on your heart and soul like the seven pieces of paper containing these words in Jackie Kennedy’s handwriting — words that somehow convey strength and fragility, evoke optimism and sadness, and simultaneously project support while demonstrating a sense of loss that very few of us can imagine. Items like these are the source materials for what history truly is — a biography of humanity, a story about people.