Lyndon B. Johnson‘s tenure as the 36th president of the United States began on November 22, 1963 following the assassination of President Kennedy and ended on January 20, 1969. He had been vice president for 1,036 days when he succeeded to the presidency. A Democrat from Texas, he ran for and won a full four-year term in the 1964 election, winning in a landslide over Republican opponent Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Johnson did not run for a second full term in the 1968 presidential election. He was succeeded by Republican Richard Nixon. His presidency marked the high tide of modern liberalism in the United States.
Johnson expanded upon the New Deal with the Great Society, a series of domestic legislative programs to help the poor and downtrodden. After taking office, he won passage of a major tax cut, the Clean Air Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After the 1964 election, Johnson passed even more sweeping reforms. The Social Security Amendments of 1965 created two government-run healthcare programs, Medicare and Medicaid. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits racial discrimination in voting, and its passage enfranchised millions of Southern African-Americans. Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” and established several programs designed to aid the impoverished. He also presided over major increases in federal funding to education and the end of a period of restrictive immigration laws.
In foreign affairs, Johnson’s presidency was dominated by the Cold War and the Vietnam War. He pursued conciliatory policies with the Soviet Union, setting the stage for the détente of the 1970s. He was nonetheless committed to a policy of containment, and he escalated the U.S. presence in Vietnam in order to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia during the Cold War. The number of American military personnel in Vietnam increased dramatically, from 16,000 soldiers in 1963 to over 500,000 in 1968. Growing anger with the war stimulated a large antiwar movement based especially on university campuses in the U.S. and abroad. Johnson faced further troubles when summer riots broke out in most major cities after 1965. While he began his presidency with widespread approval, public support for Johnson declined as the war dragged on and domestic unrest across the nation increased. At the same time, the New Deal coalition that had unified the Democratic Party dissolved, and Johnson’s support base eroded with it.
Though eligible for another term, Johnson announced in March 1968 that he would not seek renomination. His preferred successor, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, won the Democratic nomination but was defeated by Nixon in the general election. Though he left office with low approval ratings, polls of historians and political scientists tend to have Johnson ranked as an above-average president. His domestic programs transformed the United States and the role of the federal government, and many of his programs remain in effect today. Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam War remains broadly unpopular, but his civil rights initiatives are nearly-universally praised for their role in removing barriers to racial equality.