Lyndon Baines Johnson, born August 27, 1908

Portrait of Lyndon Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson / Peter Hurd, 1967 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the artist / Frame conserved with funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee

August 27, 2008, marks the one-hundredth birthday of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the thirty-sixth president of the United States. Johnson took the oath of office aboard Air Force One after the November 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, and served as chief executive during one of the more trying times of the republic.  This presidential portrait of Johnson was painted by artist Peter Hurd in 1967; it is on view at the National Portrait Gallery, in the "America's Presidents" exhibition. 

Known for his up-close and abrasive tactics of persuasion and administration, Lyndon Johnson’s management style was not dissimilar to his lifestyle. At his ranch in Texas, LBJ enjoyed strong-arming guests into going deer hunting; among those guests were John F. Kennedy and Washington Post publisher Philip Graham, neither of whom enjoyed his outdoor excursion with the big Texan.

Late in his administration, the nation seemed to be coming apart in front of him, and Johnson decided to forego running for a second term, telling America his decision in his famous “I shall not seek, and I will not accept” speech of March 31, 1967. Johnson died at his home near Stonewall, Texas, on January 22, 1973.   

"Johnson’s legacy will continue to be a matter of historical debate. But whatever future biographers may say about him, I am confident that his impact on the country beginning in the 1930’s and lasting until the end of the 1960’s, when he left the national scene, will be remembered as considerable."

Robert Dallek, Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President

"May 18 [1961]—Kitty and I arrived in Bangkok about 4 P.M. in moist and incredible heat. . . . At six, I had a meeting with the State Department officials accompanying the Vice-President. The situation is full of despair. The Department people are at their wits’ end with Johnson. Johnson’s people are similarly furious with the Department. Johnson, in the Department’s view, won’t adhere to schedule; he identifies diplomacy with a campaign tour; and he is oblivious to the necessities and niceties expected of any visitor from abroad. In the opposite view, he has been loaded with an excessive schedule by people who are more concerned with protocol than performance, are not very efficient and do not appreciate a forthright approach to people. Evidently, I have some work cut out for me."

John Kenneth Galbraith, Ambassador’s Journal: A Personal Account of the Kennedy Years

"When we arrived in Cleveland [during the presidential campaign of autumn 1964], I went up to LBJ’s room. The president was lying on one of the beds in his suite, and Jack Valenti was there as well. They were talking about how Lady Bird’s train-trip campaign swing through the Southern states was going. Something displeased the president while I was in the room, and I became an awkward witness to a scene I wouldn’t soon forget. He suddenly turned on Jack and laid him out savagely , the unpleasantness exacerbated by being delivered in front of a relative stranger. It was quite callous and inhuman, something I have never witnessed before or since. I had heard about LBJ’s temper but had never seen it in action; Jack, however, was used to these tantrums and remained unflustered while I squirmed. I escaped as quickly as possible."

Katharine Graham, Personal History

"In his address to the joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965, President Johnson made one of the most eloquent, unequivocal, and passionate pleas for human rights ever made by a President of the United States. He revealed an amazing understanding of the depth and dimension of the problem of racial justice. His tone and delivery were sincere. He rightly praised the courage of the Negro for awakening the conscience of the nation. He declared that the national government must by law insure every Negro his full rights as a citizen."

Martin Luther King Jr., The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. Clayborne Carson

"Because of Vietnam, we cannot do all that we should, or all that we would like to do. We will ruthlessly attack waste and inefficiency. We will make sure that every dollar is spent with the thrift and with the commonsense which recognizes how hard the taxpayer worked to earn it. We will continue to meet the needs of our people by continuing to develop the Great Society. . . . Tonight the cup of peril is full in Vietnam."

Lyndon B. Johnson, State of the Union Address, January 12, 1966

"The liberal distrust of LBJ’s domestic policies was not fatal. The Waterloo came over Vietnam. LBJ got the full blame for this war, although what he did was to carry out and implement the policies of his predecessor. And he got no credit for the liberal domestic programs."

Walter Trohan, Political Animals

Lyndon Jonson portrait in "Amerca's Presidents" exhibition
View of "America's Presidents" exhibition