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Lyndon Johnson's Path to the Presidency

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  • 0:55 World War II Service
  • 1:50 Time in the Senate
  • 2:50 Relationship with Kennedy
  • 4:15 Rise to Presidency
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Few politicians went from unknown to nation-wide players as quickly as Lyndon Johnson did. This lesson explains his rise from congressional staffer to Vice President, and how he didn't always see eye to eye with those around him.

Time in the House

Few politicians can claim to have made the jump from a relatively obscure childhood to being a Congressman as quickly as Lyndon Johnson did. Almost immediately after working for only a few months as a teacher following his college graduation, Lyndon Johnson dived into politics, helping a local state senator run for Congress in 1930.

Within only a few short months, Johnson found himself at the middle of a group of influential aides in Congress, stretching all the way to President Franklin Roosevelt himself. By 1937, he was himself employing those aides as a Congressman from Texas. Here, his time in the classroom, having taught disadvantaged Mexican-American children, meant that he had plenty of sympathy for the New Deal ideas of Roosevelt, allowing the two to form a strong bond quickly. He excelled as a member of the Naval Affairs committee, and would soon put that expertise to good use.

World War II Service

That close relationship with Roosevelt would pay off in a very interesting way for Johnson. LBJ immediately gained a commission as a naval officer, but in the meantime forgot to resign his seat as a Congressman. The President wanted a clear avenue for communications about the readiness of forces throughout the Pacific Theatre. Johnson reported back that the area was in severe need of reinforcements, as the Japanese would easily overrun the entire theatre if not checked. However, Johnson's oversight in forgetting to resign his seat meant that soon he was back in Washington, albeit with significantly more gravitas than before.

In retrospect, some historians have viewed this tour of force readiness as an attempt by Johnson to be able to say that he had served during the war, but that the demands of his seat in Congress prevented him from doing more. However, it was clear by the time of his next election that missteps towards dockyard workers would cost him.

Time in the Senate

Johnson had angered the unions by suggesting that draft exemptions should not apply to shipyard workers who miss too much work, and these men soon had their chance to get back at Johnson. In 1948, LBJ ran for Senate, and while he ultimately would win the Democratic nomination and the seat, he did end up having to take the primary to a run-off. Only Johnson's never-ending energy saved him from defeat, as he campaigned more and more.

While in the Senate, Johnson soon got a reputation as being one of the most effective men to ever work in the chamber. Within a few years, he was the minority and then the majority leader, working alongside his old mentor Sam Rayburn, in the House, and President Eisenhower to make sure that legislation was passed. Through it all, Johnson's star was rising in both the Democratic Party and in the nation as a whole, with many starting to pass his name around for another job.

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