U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson Career Before Presidency Part 4

About the U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, early life and career before the presidency, history and biography, physical description.

36th President

LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON

On the Way to the White House: As a U.S. Senator, Johnson quickly impressed his colleagues with his boundless energy and his ability to overcome the divisions in his party; the onetime Texas New Dealer maintained friendly relations with both southern conservatives and northern liberals. In 1951 he was elected Democratic whip in the Senate--characteristically, the youngest ever to assume that post--and two years later he was named Democratic leader. Johnson was only 44 and still in his freshman term as a senator! He went on to establish himself as one of the most powerful floor leaders in Senate history and a "master architect of political accommodation." Johnson was particularly praised for his statesmanlike support of key measures of the Eisenhower administration. As LBJ himself put it: "When you're in an airplane flying somewhere, you don't run up to the cockpit and attack the pilot. Mr. Eisenhower is the only president we've got." In 1955 Johnson's triumphant career was temporarily interrupted when he suffered a near-fatal heart attack, but the 47-year-old senator recovered quickly and soon returned to his exhausting duties on Capitol Hill. In 1960, despite his constant disclaimers, Johnson was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and he was deeply disappointed when John Kennedy beat him at the convention. In a bid to soothe Lyndon's wounded ego and cement party unity, the Kennedys decided to offer the vice-presidential nomination to Johnson. They were sure that he would turn it down, and they would then be free to pick a running mate more to their liking. The Kennedys thought that a man of Johnson's temperament would never give up his position as the most powerful man in Congress for the empty honor of the vice-presidency. To everyone's surprise, Lyndon agreed to accept the nomination shortly after it was offered, and Kennedy was forced to follow through. Several explanations have been offered for Johnson's unexpected decision. Perhaps he saw the vice-presidency as a stepping-stone to higher things and as the only way to emerge as a truly national leader and to escape his classification as a "southern regionalist." It is also possible that Johnson realized that under a strong new president, the post of Senate majority leader would not carry the same importance that it had under Eisenhower. Whatever his reasoning, Johnson's presence on the ticket was a key element in Kennedy's success in the November elections. It was only through LBJ's tireless campaigning that six crucial southern states, suspicious of Kennedy's Catholicism, were kept in the Democratic column.

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