Johnson and Humphrey


In the photo taken by John Dominis for LIFE/Getty, the morning after Lyndon Johnson’s election victory in November 1964, he celebrated by outfitting the new Vice President, Senator Hubert Humphrey from Minnesota, in western duds and putting him on a horse at the Texas ranch. Hubert did not look comfortable–Johnson considered his vice president as a ‘greenhorn’ and enjoyed placing him in uncomfortable position.

At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, Johnson kept the three likely vice presidential candidates: Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd and Minnesota Senators Eugene McCarthy, and Hubert Humphrey. He kept his choice secret from three candidates as well as from the rest of the nation. Even before announcing Humphrey as his running-mate with much fanfare, he praised his choice’s qualifications for a considerable amount of time before announcing his name. The next day, Humphrey’s fiery acceptance speech overshadowed Johnson’s own acceptance address.

His vice-presidency, however, was less successful–he disagreed with many of LBJ’s policies, but he couldn’t publicly criticize Johnson. Johnson threatened Humphrey that if he publicly opposed his Administration’s Vietnam War policy, he would destroy Humphrey’s chances to become President by opposing his nomination at the next Democratic Convention. Many liberals and progressives felt let down by Humphrey, a sentiment reflected in a satirical song by Tom Lehrer entitled “Whatever Became of Hubert?” (“I wonder how many people here tonight remember Hubert Humphrey. He used to be a senator…”).

The Gulf of Tonkin


August 2, 1964. It marked the beginning of the U.S involvement in South East Asia. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident was presented as the justification for the large-scale involvement in Vietnam. On that fateful August day, the destroyer USS Maddox engaged three North Vietnamese torpedo boats; two days later the Maddox and a second destroyer, USS Turner Joy reported a second torpedo engagement from North Vietnamese vessels.

In response, the Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian government considered to be jeopardized by “communist aggression.” The resolution included the authorities to commit of US forces without a declaration of war and to use them without consulting the US Senate. The above photo [USN NH 956 11] taken on Maddox during the first attack was produced for the congressional hearings for the resolution.

In fact, the second incident was a false alarm. The sonarmen on two destroyers apparently reported some other sound (possibly ship’s own propeller beat) as a ‘torpedo attack’. Just a few days after the incident, Johnson commented privately: “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.” Nonetheless, it didn’t prevent Johnson from escalating in Vietnam. Riding high on public’s rally effect, Johnson would handily win over his Republican challenger, hardliner Barry Goldwater in November. All because of a mishandled signal beep.



In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson persuaded Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg to resign his seat to become Ambassador to the United Nations replacing the late Adlai Stevenson. In Goldberg’s place, he nominated his longtime friend Abe Fortas to the Court.

Johnson thought that some of his Great Society reforms could be ruled unconstitutional by the Court, and he felt that Fortas would let him know if that was to happen. Abe Fortas made it onto the Supreme Court where he was an influential liberal voice for Johnson; they remained close friends and Fortas co-wrote Johnson’s 1966 State of the Union speech, although these antics didn’t charm Fortas to neither the Congress nor the other Justices on the court. 

He entered into a feud with fellow Justice Hugo Black, his friend since the 1930s who had convinced Fortas’ wife to let Fortas accept his appointment to the Court. All these animosities plusa $15,000 payment for a university seminar series surfaced when Johnson nominated Fortas for the role of chief justice in 1968.

Fortas became the first Chief Justice nominee to fail to win Senate approval since John Rutledge in 1795 — and by filibuster, at that. After it was clear the Senate would not give up, Fortas asked that his name be withdrawn. A year later, Fortas resigned from the Court amid rumors of financial securities violations and a possible impeachmentca.

In above undated (1963-1969) photo, Johnson leans over Fortas to parody how he gets his way in Washington.