From the archive - 26.01.1973

19th October 2012 at 01:00

The achievements of President Johnson

Apart from the purely personal tragedy of Lyndon Johnson's 1968 retirement from politics over the Vietnam issue, American obsessions with the war obscured - and still tend to obscure - his immense achievements in the field of domestic legislation.

Mr Johnson announced his Great Society programme in January 1965, and within two years of taking office in November 1963 he persuaded Congress to pass a mass of welfare legislation covering education, civil rights, healthcare, housing and urban development, conservation and immigration. The session of Congress that ended in October 1965 was the most productive in 30 years, with 86 major legislative measures to its credit. But the real credit was the president's: Congress merely accommodated the president - moved, perhaps, by the feeling that he was completing vital parts of the programme put forward earlier by John F. Kennedy.

In the education field alone, Mr Johnson's achievements exceeded those carried through in the New Deal era of the 1930s. By 1968, Mr Johnson had raised the education budget to a record $4.5 billion - an increase of 12 per cent on 1967 and 65 per cent on 1966. Most of the outlay was for the two major Acts of 1965, which stand as a monument to the president's concern to improve education in the US.

Taken together, the two 1965 Acts were a great leap forward, but in another message to Congress in 1966, Johnson showed his awareness of the international dimensions of education, and for the need elsewhere.

Johnson's concern for improving education can also be seen in his civil rights legislation, particularly the comprehensive 1968 Act relating to Negro opportunities in housing, voting and job opportunity. His earlier Voting Rights Act of 1965 got rid of the spurious literacy tests commonly found in the American South and authorised voter registration by federal officers in states where less than 50 per cent of the voting population was registered.

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