Lyndon Johnson and the "Johnson Treatment"

Black and white photo of Lyndon Johnson leaning his head and starring intently at Theodore Green, who is backing away
Lyndon Johnson and Theodore Green / George Tames, 1957 /
Gelatin silver print / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution,
gift of Frances O. Tames / © The New York Times/George Tames

In 1955, with only seven years of seniority, Johnson was elected Senate majority leader. Through his successful courting of the “old bulls” of the “southern caucus,” particularly Richard Russell of Georgia, Johnson controlled the agenda of the Senate as no majority leader has before or since.

Another element of his mastery was the “Johnson treatment,” as displayed here with Senator Theodore Green of Rhode Island. Newspaper columnist Mary McGrory described it as “an incredible, potent mixture of persuasion, badgering, flattery, threats, reminders of past favors and future advantages”; Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee recalled feeling that “a St. Bernard had licked your face for an hour, [and] had pawed you all over”; and Hubert Humphrey described it as a “tidal wave.” Johnson’s most notable victory as majority leader was the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the first such legislation since Reconstruction.

Rachael Penman of the National Museum of Crime and Punishment discussed this photograph by George Tames, along with other images of Lyndon Johnson, at a Face-to-Face portrait talk. The 1957 photograph is on view at the National Portrait Gallery, in the exhibition “Presidents in Waiting” on the museum’s second floor.  

Audio_icon_whitebg Listen to Rachael Penman's Face-to-Face talk on Lyndon Johnson (15:26)

Face-to-Face occurs every Thursday evening at the National Portrait Gallery. The next Face-to-Face talk is tonight (Thursday, May 28), when biographer Irwin Gellman discusses Richard Nixon. The talk runs from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Visitors meet the presenter in the museum’s F Street lobby and then walk to the appropriate gallery.