LBJ Early Years and Rise to Presidency Research Proposal

Pages: 6 (2313 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 11  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History

LBJ: The Early Years

Author Ronnie Dugger (1982) begins his biography of the political life of Lyndon Baines Johnson by remarking that, "The burdens and terrors of the twentieth century are embodied in the politician as in no other professional (Dugger, 11)." Dugger agreeably goes on to remark that all this, the burdens and terrors that are embodied in the politician can be exemplified by one specific politician, Lyndon Baines Johnson. First a Senator from the great State of Texas, and then, later, vice president under President John F. Kennedy, only to assume Kennedy's presidency according to Constitutional law following Kennedy's assassination in Johnson's own home state; Johnson would also inherit Kennedy's Viet Nam, and would be viewed with some degree of suspicion by many Americans because of the events surrounding Kennedy's assassination. It is then easy to understand how Johnson exemplifies Dugger's comments as to the burdens and terrors embodied in the politician.

The burdens and terrors - especially the terrors - was probably not the way that Johnson had himself envisioned his political career, which began when Texas Senator James Buchanan died, and Johnson's Uncle George offered him all the money he had in his bank account to declare his intention for the Congressional seat (Dugger, 190). Johnson aligned himself with the Texas popular vote through Roosevelt, and he did favors, and whatever it took to gain favorable publicity to win the vacant seat (190).Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Research Proposal on LBJ Early Years and Rise to Presidency Assignment

It's important to point out that before Johnson became a U.S. Senator, the empty seat he won in a special 1937 election was for Buchanan's House seat (Green, George, 2003:982). There were tough choices that Johnson had to make in his early career as a Texas Senator (in 1948), and aligning himself with Roosevelt meant alienating himself from powerful Texas lawyers who opposed Roosevelt New Deal Laws, which the Supreme Court worked to invalidate as unconstitutional as quickly as Roosevelt signed them (Dugger, 190). Johnson was closely allied with a long-term friend and mentor, Travis Wirtz, a Texas lawyer (190-191). Together, they pulled power plays, planning their moves and coordinating them between their respective posts in Texas and in Washington, D.C. (191).

Right away the picture of Johnson as tough hitting politician emerges, and it is not necessarily a favorable picture, and it is also one that belies his own humble beginnings.

Johnson was not born to a wealthy family, and by the time he thought about attending college, three years had passed since he had graduated high school (Dallek, Robert, 1991:62). Johnson's mother arranged for him to get a job at Texas State Teachers College at San Marcos, and it paid $8 a month towards the $40 per month tuition (62). The rest, Johnson managed to borrow (62). His work at the college for the $8 per month involved picking up trash, pulling weeds, and keeping rocks picked up off the grounds (62). It was Johnson's mother, Rebekah, who had the greatest confidence in Johnson's abilities (62). His father, Sam, seemed less confident (62), although this lack of early confidence did not seem to hinder or play on Johnson's mind as he achieved political success. Perhaps it is this early experience that drove home for Johnson the notion that he had had to be tough and hard hitting in order to make the difficult decisions faced by politicians throughout their careers.

Johnson was a man of the south, and of an era when blacks were putting forth an effort to defeat racism, and to achieve racial equality for their selves (Tyler, Pamela, 2006:491). Looking at Johnson's history as a Senator, then, later, as president and we see that he always had a deep desire to bring about changes that would afford greater opportunity for African-Americans. In the era during which Johnson was growing up in the south, being poor was not altogether different from being black, except that Johnson, unlike poor blacks, had the opportunity to rise above his poverty through education. Yet Johnson remained true to his southern heritage, and throughout his senate career he worked to gain pension benefits for Confederate Civil War soldiers, or their surviving spouses. In 1958, Johnson and other senators from the south had successfully accomplished this, there were three remaining Civil War survivors were still alive (Vogel, Jeffery, 2005:67). This was something that Johnson felt was necessary to reconcile the separation that still hung between the north and the south (67). Even though it was a largely symbolic act, Johnson felt it was a step towards bringing to an end north and south animosities (67).

Johnson's own poverty must have greatly affected him, because once he assumed the role of completing Kennedy's unfinished term in 1963, he made this statement to Joseph Califano, then a White House Aide:

The people I want to help," President Johnson told White House aide Joseph Califano, "are the ones who've never held real jobs and aren't equipped to handle them. They have no motivation to reach for something better because the sum total of their life is losing" (Califano 1991, 75) (Flanagan, Richard M, 2001:585)."

This was the focus of Johnson's early years in the White House, helping those who were impoverished and disenfranchised. To do this, he is known to have pushed each Congressional session to the limit to achieve his administration's goals (Firestone, Bernard, and Vogt, Robert C, 1998:7). Johnson's own brand of political persuasion is credited with having made much progress on behalf of those programs that he championed (7). However, it cannot go without mentioning that Johnson had the support of a heavily democratic south, and for that reason did not have trouble finding congressmen who would work with him, and who would also go the extra mile on behalf of Johnson's initiatives. We probably have not seen that kind of support between the Congress and the White House since those days of the Johnson administration, when much was accomplished on behalf of bringing about Civil Rights initiatives and other social programs in America.

He was described by Paul F. Healy, in 1951, writing for the Saturday Evening Post this way:

Lyndon B. Johnson, the junior Senator from Texas, maintains the most rigidly one-track mind in Washington. He is entirely preoccupied with the science of politics.... He refuses to be trapped into thinking about or discussing sports, literature, the stage, the movies or anything else in the world of recreation (Evans, Rowland and Novak, Robert, 1966:26)."

Unfortunately, no amount of work Johnson did to usher in the advent of civil rights and other social reforms ever illuminated his dedication to Americans enough to eliminate the shadow of doubt that lingered in the minds of many Americans who believed that because Kennedy was assassinated in Johnson's home state of Texas, that there was a complicity in conspiracy that perhaps Johnson was part of. Even though Johnson had already proven his self to be a man concerned with poverty in America, there are many people, amongst historians, who perceive Johnson's work during the early years of his presidency as an attempt to finish what Kennedy had begun.

When Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, in November of 1963, he knew that in order to accrue political capital he would initially need to champion goals and policies that Kennedy had already been pursuing. Not long before his death Kennedy had scrawled the word "poverty" on a piece of paper and circled it multiple times; this note fell into the hands of his brother Robert and became a symbolic justification for Johnson's declaration of the War on Poverty, early in 1964. Similarly, many of the things that Johnson pushed through Congress in his first two years as President -- such as an $11 billion tax cut, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the 1965 laws that brought Medicare and Medicaid into existence and that poured billions of federal dollars into primary and secondary education -- can readily be seen as extensions of the avowed policies of the Kennedy Administration. The details might have been different -- and Kennedy might well have had more trouble than Johnson passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- but historians generally agree that if Kennedy had lived out his first term and won a second, America would have witnessed something similar to the early years of Johnson's Great Society (Dallek, Robert, 2003:58)."

Since Kennedy's assassination, there have been, and continue to be, new books published each year revolving around the idea of a complex conspiracy (Giglio, James, 2006:523). The assassination of President Kennedy has become as much an imbedded part of southern history as it has Johnson's history. There have been some, including filmmaker Oliver Stone, whose work around the assassination suggest that Johnson had a key role in the conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy (Stone, Oliver, 1991, motion picture film). This is in part due to the fact that the location was Dallas, and that so much concerning the assassination of Kennedy went wrong, especially in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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