On this day (Aug. 27) in 1908, Lyndon Baines Johnson was born into the family of local politician Samuel Ealy Johnson and Rebekah Baines Johnson on the family farm on the Pedernales River between Hye and Stonewall, Texas.
As the oldest of five children and the elder son, Lyndon became almost a surrogate father to his three sisters, Rebekah, Josefa and Lucia, and brother, Sam Houston. Lyndon attended the public schools in Blanco County, Texas, first at the Johnson City Elementary School and later at the Johnson City High School, from which he was graduated in 1924 second in a graduating class of six.
In high school, Lyndon was a big fish in a small pond. He was elected senior class president, was a leader of the school debate team, and gave the student oration at graduation.
During the next three years, Lyndon traveled to California in a Model T Ford to “seek his fortune.” After a year on the West Coast, the restless Lyndon returned to Johnson City and secured a job working on a road gang. He soon tired of what was even for the muscular Lyndon back-breaking work.
In February 1927, Johnson entered Southwest Texas State College to prepare for a teaching career. After graduation in 1930, he accepted a teaching position at the Sam Houston High School in Houston where, for the sum of $1,600, taught courses in public speaking, geography and arithmetic.
During his year in Houston, Lyndon became involved in his first political campaign, making speeches for an Austin attorney who was running for the state Senate from Johnson’s home district. In November 1931, Johnson accepted appointment as congressional secretary to the newly elected congressman, Richard Kleberg.
Soon, the hardworking Texan had all but taken over the congressman’s Washington office. During his four years as a congressional secretary (1931-1935), Lyndon not only learned, but also mastered the intricacies of political Washington.
Despite a heavy work schedule, the ambitious Lyndon always allowed time for socializing. As a result of a blind date, he met and courted Claudia Alta Taylor (already called Lady Bird). The young couple was married in a simple Episcopal ceremony on Nov. 17, 1934, in San Antonio, Texas.
Besides being an exceedingly understanding, loving and devoted wife and mother, Lady Bird became a valuable political adviser and a steadying influence to her often brash, convivial and combative husband.
In the years 1935-1961, Johnson held a wide variety of political positions that included Texas state director of the National Youth Administration (1935-1937), Democratic congressman (1937-1949), Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy (1941-1942), and Democratic senator (1949-1961).
In 1960, Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kennedy chose “the master of the Senate” as his vice presidential running mate. In the hotly contested 1960 election, the Kennedy-Johnson ticket narrowly won over the Richard M. Nixon-Henry Cabot Lodge ticket.
With the tragic death of Kennedy in November 1963, Vice President Lyndon Johnson became the 36th U.S. president. As president, Johnson was both a “hero” and a “villain.”
As a “hero,” he carried forward many of the domestic reforms of the martyred President Kennedy. As a “villain,” he expanded U.S. involvement in the unpopular, frustrating Vietnam War – a contest Lyndon Johnson did not start, could not win, and did not end.
The legacy of this extremely talented politician is one of notable domestic achievements and the tragedy of the Vietnam War.
• Crystal Lake resident Joseph C. Morton is professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University and author of “The American Revolution” and “Shapers of the Great Debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.” He is available for tutoring, talks and workshops on American history. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.