Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, in central Texas, not far from Johnson City, which his family had helped settle. The first child of Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., and Rebekah Baines Johnson was born in a small farmhouse on the Pedernales River. Three sisters and a brother followed: Rebekah, Josefa, Sam Houston, and Lucia.
In 1924 Lyndon Johnson graduated from Johnson City High School at the age of 15.. He decided to forego higher education and instead made his way to California with a few friends. There he performed odd jobs, including one as an elevator operator. A year later he returned home where he worked on a road construction gang.
Borrowing $75, Lyndon Johnson enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers College at San Marcos, Texas. He felt the pinch of rural poverty as he worked his way through college. Johnson dropped out of school for a year to serve as principal and teach fifth, sixth, and seventh grades at Welhausen School, a Mexican-American school in the south Texas town of Cotulla. There he learned compassion for the poverty of others. He also earned money as a janitor and as an office helper.
When he returned to San Marcos in 1965, after having signed the Higher Education Act of 1965, Johnson looked back:
Lyndon B. Johnson briefly taught public speaking and debate in a Houston high school, then entered politics. Johnson's father had served five terms in the Texas legislature and was a close friend of one of Texas's rising political figures, Congressman Sam Rayburn. In 1930, Johnson campaigned for Texas State Senator Welly Hopkins in his run for Congress. Hopkins recommended him to Congressman Richard M. Kleberg, who appointed Johnson as Kleberg's legislative secretary.
Johnson was elected speaker of the "Little Congress," a group of Congressional aides, where he cultivated Congressmen, newspapermen and lobbyists. Johnson's friends soon included aides to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as fellow Texans such as Vice President John Nance Garner. He became a surrogate son to Sam Rayburn. President Roosevelt, Governor James Allred of Texas, and Johnson. In later campaigns, Johnson edited Governor Allred out of the picture to assist his campaign.
Johnson married Claudia Alta Taylor (already nicknamed "Lady Bird") of Karnack, Texas on November 17, 1934, after having attended Georgetown University Law Center for several months. They had two daughters, Lynda Bird, born in 1944, and Luci Baines, born in 1947. Johnson enjoyed giving people and animals his own initials; his daughters' given names are examples, as was his dog, Little Beagle Johnson.
In 1935, Lyndon Johnson was appointed head of the Texas National Youth Administration, which enabled him to use the government to create education and job opportunities for young people. He resigned two years later to run for Congress. Johnson, a notoriously tough boss throughout his career, often demanded long workdays and work on weekends.
In the 1960 campaign, Johnson, as John F. Kennedy's running mate, was elected Vice President. On November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson was sworn in as President.
As President of the United States, Johnson obtained enactment of the measures President Kennedy had been urging at the time of his death, a new civil rights bill and a tax cut. Next he urged the Nation "to build a great society, a place where the meaning of man's life matches the marvels of man's labor." In 1964, Johnson won the Presidency with 61 percent of the vote and had the widest popular margin in American history--more than 15,000,000 votes. The Great Society program became Johnson's agenda for Congress in January 1965: aid to education, attack on disease, Medicare, urban renewal, beautification, conservation, development of depressed regions, a wide-scale fight against poverty, control and prevention of crime and delinquency, removal of obstacles to the right to vote. Congress, at times augmenting or amending, rapidly enacted Johnson's recommendations. Millions of elderly people found succor through the 1965 Medicare amendment to the Social Security Act.
Under Johnson, the country made spectacular explorations of space in a program he had championed since its start. When three astronauts successfully orbited the moon in December 1968, Johnson congratulated them: "You've taken ... all of us, all over the world, into a new era. . . . "
Nevertheless, two overriding crises had been gaining momentum since 1965. Despite the beginning of new antipoverty and anti-discrimination programs, unrest and rioting in black ghettos troubled the Nation. President Johnson steadily exerted his influence against segregation and on behalf of law and order, but there was no early solution.
The other crisis arose from Viet Nam. Despite Johnson's efforts to end Communist aggression and achieve a settlement, fighting continued. Controversy over the war had become acute by the end of March 1968, when he limited the bombing of North Viet Nam in order to initiate negotiations. At the same time, he startled the world by withdrawing as a candidate for re-election so that he might devote his full efforts, unimpeded by politics, to the quest for peace.