Lyndon B. Johnson


What was Johnson’s position toward Vietnam?

Johnson’s presidency was defined by two things: increasing federal government funding of social programs (“The Great Society”) and increased military engagement in Vietnam. Johnson’s administration was popular for its social programs, but there was growing protest over U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Most historians assess Johnson as a great social reformer who became overwhelmed by the Vietnam War.

The United States entered the conflict in a major way after the U.S. destroyer Maddox was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Johnson asked for the authority from Congress to defend American lives in Vietnam in the so-called Tonkin Gulf Resolution. After this resolution, Johnson authorized air strikes on North Vietnam. More than 460,000 American troops were in Vietnam by May 1967.

Johnson nominated two men as associate justices to the U.S. Supreme Court: Abe Fortas and Thurgood Marshall. Fortas, a leading Washington, D.C., lawyer who had argued successfully before the Court in the famous case Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)—among others—served on the Court from 1965 to 1969. Johnson viewed Fortas as a possible successor to Chief Justice Earl Warren. He nominated Fortas for chief justice, but opposition arose and there were reports that Fortas received money from financier Louis Wolfson, who was under investigation for wrongdoing by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Fortas denied wrongdoing, but resigned from the Court.

Marshall had won great recognition as an attorney in several civil rights cases. In 1961 John F. Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Johnson made history when he chose Marshall to be the first African American solicitor general in 1965, and then appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967, where he served until 1991. Marshall was known for his opposition to the death penalty and opinions protective of freedom of speech.


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