Today in Texas History – January 22

From the Annals of the Presidency –  In 1973, former President Lyndon Baines Johnson passed away in Johnson City at the age of 64.  After deciding to not stand for re-election, LBJ went back his ranch in Central Texas.  According to many, LBJ worked as hard at ranching as he had as a politician.  The presidential biographer, Doris Kearns, observed Johnson working on the ranch with the same level of intensity he had tackled work in the Oval Office. Each morning, Johnson would instruct his ranch hands to make a “solemn pledge that you will not go to bed tonight until you are sure that every steer has everything he needs. We’ve got a chance of producing some of the finest beef in this country if we work at it.  And if we treat those hens with loving care we should be able to produce the finest eggs in the country.” He ordered daily reports on the production of eggs. To Kearns, Johnson’s frustration with his hens’ egg production echoed the frustration he experienced in failing to conclude an un-winnable war in Vietnam.

The ranch work could not conceal the fact that LBJ was, in his own words, miserable.  His legacy of accomplishment as the creator of a “Great Society” and in passing the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was being overshadowed by the floundering war in Vietnam and the anti-war movement.

On the day of Richard M. Nixon’s inauguration, Johnson watched sullenly as Nixon announced the dismantling of many of Johnson’s Great Society social programs.  The next day, Nixon announced that he had achieved the ceasefire in Vietnam that had eluded Johnson. Johnson had reportedly predicted that he would die if his vision of the Great Society died. The following day, while Lady Bird and their daughters were in Austin, Johnson suffered a fatal heart attack.  He is buried in a family cemetery at the ranch.  One can only imagine what he would think about the likes of Trump and Cruz.

Photo from the LBJ Library

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