Vice President Johnson, who had been in Texas with President Kennedy, took the presidential oath of office on the plane that subsequently carried Kennedy’s body back to Washington, D.C.
On November 27 he delivered his first presidential address before Congress, pledging his support for the established lines of foreign policy and urging speedy enactment of the civil rights and tax bills initiated by Kennedy.
The first months of Johnson’s administration
were marked by virtually unparalleled legislative activity.
In late February 1964 Congress passed a bill that substantially reduced individual income and corporate taxes over a two-year period.
In August the president secured passage of an extensive antipoverty program to provide youth-training projects, aid to farm families, community projects, and other means of easing economic distress.
A civil rights law passed on July 2 prohibited discrimination in the use of federal funds and in public accommodations and set up an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to prevent discrimination in the job market.
The 24th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified on January 23, 1964, prohibited imposition of any poll tax as a requirement for voting in federal elections, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 aided voter registration by blacks.
In 1964 the Democrats nominated Johnson as their candidate for president, with Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota as his running mate.
The Republicans nominated Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona and Representative William Miller of New York. In the campaign, Johnson amplified his vision of a "great society" for the United States.
Goldwater urged a general reduction in the role of the federal government and advocated a strongly anti-Communist foreign policy. Johnson won the election, and the Democratic majority increased in both the Senate and the House.
In January 1965 Johnson outlined a wide-ranging domestic program.
During the year Congress enacted most of his proposals, including aid to education, grants for medical research, housing and urban renewal programs, antipoverty activities, an excise tax cut, federal enforcement of voting rights, and medical care for the aged.
In 1966 however, extended debate resulted in the defeat of a major civil rights bill forbidding discrimination in housing and of a bill permitting states to enact right-to-work laws.
The Senate also voted, in effect, to annul a provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that required desegregation of hospitals.
In 1966 the Supreme Court decided that the use of the poll tax as a state voting prerequisite was unconstitutional and, in Miranda v. Arizona, declared self-incriminating statements to be inadmissible as evidence if the prisoner had not been warned of his or her rights.
The 25th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified on February 10, 1967, established procedures for succession of the vice president in cases of presidential disability and for the appointment of a vice president when that office becomes vacant.
Discontent and impatience among blacks became especially evident in the summer of 1965, when a severe riot occurred in Watts, a predominantly black section of Los Angeles.
Disturbances occurred in 1967 in more than 30 cities.
The president subsequently appointed a commission, headed by the former governor of Illinois, Otto Kerner, to investigate the causes of these civil disturbances.
The report of the commission, issued in 1968, warned of the increasing racial polarization in the United States.
In foreign affairs, the Johnson administration was confronted by a number of crises, beginning in Latin America.
A serious dispute arose between the United States and Panama over the control of the Panama Canal, and, after anti-American riots in Panama, a new treaty for the operation of the canal was negotiated.
In 1965 the threat of civil war in the Dominican Republic led Johnson to dispatch 22,000 U.S. troops to that country to protect the lives of U.S. citizens living there and to prevent the establishment of a Communist-dominated government.
The intervention aroused anti-American sentiment throughout the hemisphere and provoked much criticism within the United States. Another crisis in the Middle East, followed by a war between Israel and several Arab nations in June 1967 (see Six-Day War), set off an intensive round of diplomatic maneuvers that culminated in a meeting in June of President Johnson and Soviet Premier Aleksey N. Kosygin at Glassboro, New Jersey. In response to Soviet aid for the Arab nations and growing Soviet influence in the Mediterranean, the United States increased its military aid to Israel.
Johnson’s principal problem in foreign affairs was the Vietnam War. During 1964 he continued Kennedy’s policy of sending military "advisers" to assist the military forces of South Vietnam, but undertook no further escalation of the conflict. In the presidential election of 1964, Senator Goldwater advocated increased U.S. involvement, including the bombing of North Vietnam, and Johnson opposed further escalation of the war.
In the same year, however, Johnson reported an attack by the North Vietnamese on U.S. vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin, and sent to Congress a resolution authorizing the president to increase U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. The measure was passed by both houses.
By 1967 the United States was bombing virtually the whole of North Vietnam and had committed nearly 500,000 troops to the war. Johnson’s policy of escalation precipitated a great public debate at home, which was intensified in January 1968, during the so-called Tet Offensive, when the North Vietnamese interrupted an unofficial truce with a series of offensive strikes.
The U.S. commander, General William C. Westmoreland, thereupon called for an additional 206,000 troops. Johnson, responding to critics of the war within his own administration and throughout the United States, refused the request and subsequently relieved Westmoreland of his command.
Another Asian crisis also occurred in January, when the U.S. intelligence ship Pueblo was seized by naval forces of North Korea. After lengthy negotiations, the crew was released late in 1968.
The war would continue to exert its divisive influence on every aspect of national life until the end of U.S. involvement in 1973. Reflecting increasing dissatisfaction with Johnson’s conduct of the war, Senator Eugene J. McCarthy of Minnesota announced his intention to challenge the president for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination.
In the primary election in New Hampshire in March 1968, McCarthy received 44 percent of the vote against a candidate representing Johnson. McCarthy’s surprisingly strong showing was taken as an indication of the strength of the antiwar movement.
The primary was followed by Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s announcement that he, too, would become a presidential candidate.
In a television address on March 31, Johnson announced that he was suspending the bombing of North Vietnam as a means of furthering negotiations for the conclusion of the war.
He also declared that he would not be a candidate for the presidency in 1968. His administration was thereafter marked by a series of domestic disorders.
The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee, precipitated a new wave of riots in Washington, D.C., and several other cities. Severe disturbances by students at Columbia University and other educational institutions aroused considerable controversy over the use of police to control such disturbances.
Then on June 5 Robert Kennedy was shot
after winning the Democratic primary election in California; he died the
N5 Nixon Elected President At the Republican national convention in August, Richard Nixon was nominated for president, with Governor Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland as the vice-presidential candidate. The Democratic convention in Chicago was marked by vehement conflicts and outbursts of violence between supporters and critics of Johnson’s policies.
Vice President Humphrey received the presidential
nomination, and Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine was selected as the vice-presidential
Nixon campaigned on a platform calling for a restoration of social stability, and he won with some difficulty.
A third candidate, the former governor George C. Wallace of Alabama, running largely on regional issues, emerged as the head of the newly formed American Independent Party.
When President Nixon took office in 1969, his approach to domestic affairs was similar to that of President Eisenhower. Calling his program the "new federalism," Nixon sought to limit the power of the federal government and to aid state and local authorities in fulfilling their responsibilities.
Accordingly, one of Nixon’s first legislative proposals was a revenue-sharing program by which federal taxes would be partly redistributed to state and local governments to help them cope with their mounting financial problems. The president also recommended a drastic reorganization of welfare programs and proposed the establishment of a minimum federal standard of welfare assistance.
To counteract the inflation that had developed during the 1960s, he called for a reduction in government expenditures but for about two years rejected suggestions for wage and price controls.
Nixon’s interest in law and order was expressed in his appointments to the Supreme Court and in crime legislation.
The Court had two vacancies in his first year in office.
To replace the retiring Earl Warren, he nominated Warren E. Burger of Minnesota, a judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, who took office as chief justice of the United States in June 1969.
His first two nominations for the seat vacated by Associate Justice Abe Fortas were defeated in the Senate, but Harry A. Blackmun of Minnesota, a judge on the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court, was confirmed on May 12, 1970.
The resignations of Hugo Black and John M. Harlan in 1971 gave Nixon the unusual opportunity to select another two justices. Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a Virginia lawyer, and William H. Rehnquist of Arizona, an assistant U.S. attorney general, were approved late in the year.
The president considered his four appointees "strict constructionists" who would restrict their rulings to the judicial interpretation of the Constitution without attempting to make the Supreme Court an arbiter of the country’s social trends and economic patterns.
Government reorganization proceeded at an uneven pace. In 1970 the first postal strike in U.S. history was followed by the organization of the Postal Service to replace the 180-year-old Post Office Department.
To meet increasing problems of air and water pollution and of general atmospheric conditions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was established within the Commerce Department in October 1970, and the Environmental Protection Agency was set up in December.
The Office of Consumer Affairs was established in February 1971 to coordinate federal programs of consumer protection.
The U.S. program of space exploration was
marked by several major accomplishments during the Nixon administration,
notably the first landing on the moon, by the crew of Apollo 11, on July
20, 1969, after many years of painstaking preparations.
N8 The Continuing Vietnam War
Early in his administration, the president outlined a foreign policy based on a "low profile" and on reductions in the U.S. role abroad.
The Vietnam War, however, continued, and so did inflation, which many blamed on the war. Wages and prices spiraled, although some economists argued that the price increases exceeded the wage increases. The cost of military equipment for allies abroad, in NATO and in Asia, made money short for domestic programs.
The interaction of domestic and foreign affairs influenced the 1970 congressional elections. Despite vigorous personal campaigning, President Nixon and Vice President Agnew were unable to upset the Democratic majority in the House and Senate, and the Republicans also lost 11 gubernatorial elections.
The 92nd Congress set its own priorities. Among its attempts to limit the war-making powers of the president was a campaign against the extension of the military draft (see Selective Service).
The Kent State Killings
In the United States, rising civilian dismay with the Vietnamese conflict led to many protests frequently resulting in direct confrontations between the demonstrators, often college students, and National Guard troops.
After the U.S. incursion into Cambodia in search of Communist sanctuaries, students at Kent State University in Ohio demonstrated against the war in May 1970, and four of them were killed by National Guard troops.
Ultimately, 500 campuses experienced student strikes and were closed for a considerable time.
The police throughout the nation faced accusations of brutality; in the few cases in which local authorities instituted investigations, these allegations were seldom proved conclusively.
A number of public buildings were bombed, notably the U.S. Capitol in March 1971. Elsewhere, bomb threats and arson were not uncommon occurrences.
President Nixon announced that he intended to "wind down" the war through a policy of "Vietnamization," or replacement of U.S. troops by South Vietnamese forces trained and equipped by the United States.
Nixon withdrew more than 350,000 U.S. troops from the war zone; by the end of 1971 fewer than 175,000 remained. The peace talks that had been instituted by President Johnson at Paris were continued, but with no result, and the Communists continued in their refusal to discuss the freeing of U.S. captives.
Congress, nevertheless, attempted to make the president move faster. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution was withdrawn in November 1970, and Congress tried to limit funds for conduct of the war by various parliamentary means.
However, Nixon ordered the resumption of large-scale bombing of North Vietnamese supply trails and antiaircraft defenses late in 1971.
In the Middle East, the uneasy peace frequently was broken by Arab guerrilla adventures and Israeli counterthrusts in full force. But Egyptian-Israeli confrontations across the Suez Canal reached only minor proportions because the parties largely observed a cease-fire, beginning in August 1970, arranged at the urging of U.S. negotiators. Soviet missiles were added to Egyptian defenses, but the United States did not add substantially to Israeli equipment.
Relations with the USSR improved, at least in the opinion of some political observers.
The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), begun in 1969, continued into 1972. In May, during President Nixon’s state visit to Moscow, two agreements between the United States and the USSR were signed.
One agreement limited antiballistic missile systems, and the other put restrictions on offensive missile launchers.
An agreement for unlimited access through East Germany to West Berlin was negotiated by France, Britain, the United States, and the USSR in the summer of 1971.
Meanwhile, in November 1969 the United
States signed a treaty calling for the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.
Then on February 11, 1971, the United States signed a treaty banning nuclear weapons, and the testing of them, on the ocean floor.
President Nixon resumed the personal diplomacy of previous presidents. He traveled to Romania and other countries soon after his inauguration.
Then he visited Italy, Yugoslavia, Spain, and other countries in the fall of 1970, and he met the emperor of Japan in Alaska in September 1971.
However, he left his most ambitious efforts for later. In July 1971 Henry A. Kissinger, Nixon’s adviser on national security, went secretly to Beijing to arrange a meeting between the president and the leaders of the People’s Republic of China.
President Nixon went to Beijing in February 1972, and parts of his visit were transmitted by television throughout the world. According to the president, "there were no secret deals" but the two countries did agree to "expand cultural, educational and journalistic contacts" and "to begin and broaden trade."
The October 1971 meeting of the United Nations brought a breach in U.S. relations with Asian allies.
Until Nixon’s historic meeting, Taiwan had constituted the sole Chinese representation in the UN. Once the Nixon visit to Beijing was announced, the members of the UN no longer felt constrained to keep Communist China from occupying the Security Council seat allotted to China.
Thus, the People’s Republic of China was admitted to the UN. Despite an attempt by the United States to keep the Nationalist Chinese representatives in the UN, Taiwan was expelled from all organizations in the UN.
At the end of 1971 a brief war between
India and Pakistan over the autonomy of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)
damaged U.S. relations with India, as the United States "tilted" toward
Domestic and foreign relations were again intertwined in the summer of 1971.
In June the administration clashed with several major newspapers on its right to enforce "prior restraint," or censorship, on their publication of the so-called Pentagon Papers.
The Pentagon Papers were excerpts from a classified Defense Department history of U.S. participation in the Vietnam War.
The newspapers, primarily the New York Times and the Washington Post, claimed the protection of the First Amendment and declared it their public duty to publish the information on how decisions concerning U.S. involvement in Vietnam were reached.
Government-obtained injunctions were appealed to the Supreme Court, and the justices voted 6 to 3 that the government was unable to stop publication of any information, no matter how embarrassing diplomatically, when national security was not involved.
Criminal prosecution was started immediately against Daniel Ellsberg, a former civilian employee in the Department of Defense. One of the compilers of the history, Ellsberg was the person who supplied the documents to the newspapers and to several congressional representatives.
Ellsberg was charged with violating the Espionage Act and for theft of government property. The trial was called off during jury deliberations because of revelations of unfair practices by the prosecution.
N11 Economic Measures In July 1971, for the first year in the century, it appeared that the United States would import more merchandise than it exported.
Consequently it faced a severe deficit in its balance of payments. A federal budget deficit of about $20 billion was projected for fiscal 1971.
In August a crisis in world monetary stability was evident, and the value of the dollar was threatened for the second time in a year.
On August 15, President Nixon announced a new economic policy to bolster the country’s economic position at home and abroad.
Reversing his previous refusal to impose price and wage controls, he announced a three-month freeze on wages, prices, and rents.
He suspended redemption of dollars in gold and imposed a 10-percent surcharge on imported goods.
He established a Cost of Living Council to set up guidelines for labor and management and to establish machinery for enforcement.
Abroad, the monetary exchanges were temporarily thrown into confusion, but trading resumed, and revaluations were achieved by "floating" certain currencies, among them the Japanese yen and the West German mark.
Finally, after a meeting of the International Monetary Fund and hard bargaining within the so-called Group of Ten (ten major industrial nations), the United States, in December 1971, agreed to raise the price of gold slightly and, for the first time since the 1930s, to devalue the dollar by about 8.6 percent.
The import surcharge was rescinded at the
time. The dollar was later devalued by another 10 percent in February 1973.
The end of the 90-day freeze in November 1971 was followed by the institution of a program of controlled increases in prices, wages, and rents, called Phase II. A Pay Board and a Price Commission were set up to establish guidelines and oversee compliance to reduce inflation.
In January 1973 Phase III of the economic program was begun. Price and wage increases were allowed, but the government retained sufficient power to intercede if increases exceeded prescribed guidelines.
N12 Nixon Reelected Meanwhile, on November 7, 1972, President Nixon won reelection in an overwhelming victory over the Democratic Party candidate, Senator George S. McGovern of South Dakota.
The president received 520 electoral votes, McGovern, 17 (those of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia). The 26th Amendment to the Constitution had been passed on June 30, 1971, giving 18-year-olds the right to vote; this marked the first election in which the amendment took effect.
As President Nixon’s second term began, a cease-fire agreement was signed in Paris on January 27, 1973, making possible the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam. For all practical purposes, the longest and most controversial war in U.S. history was over.
Shortly after Nixon’s second inauguration in January 1973, revelations rapidly mounted concerning an illegal wiretap and attempted burglary that had occurred during the presidential campaign on June 17, 1972, at the national headquarters of the Democratic Party in the Watergate building complex in Washington, D.C.
Five people working for the Republican Committee for the Re-election of the President were arrested on the scene. The subsequent indictments, trials, and investigations implicated high members of the Nixon administration in the planning of the break-in.
The name Watergate became synonymous with a series of illegal, unethical, and irregular acts committed by members of the administration.
The United States was faced with a succession of political and economic crises in the next few years. Vice President Agnew resigned on October 10, 1973, after being indicted for bribery and federal income tax evasion. According to the provisions of the 25th Amendment, Nixon appointed Gerald R. Ford, a U.S. congressman from Michigan, to fill Agnew’s position. Ford was sworn in as the 40th vice president on December 6, 1973.
On the economic front, the unabated rise in the cost of living caused serious concern throughout the nation.
The government’s wage and price program was revised in June 1973, essentially to reimpose the freeze on prices and wages first established in August 1971. Phase IV, announced on August 13, 1973, relaxed price and wage controls in some industries and imposed controls in others.
It expired April 30, 1974, leaving only the petroleum industry controlled.
In foreign affairs, the policy of détente between the United States and the USSR was continued. Leonid Brezhnev and President Nixon exchanged visits in 1973 and 1974.
They signed agreements calling for joint cooperation in oceanography, transportation, agriculture, and for expanded cultural exchange programs.
Détente suffered a setback during a renewed outbreak of Arab-Israeli hostilities in October 1973, when the Kremlin supported the Arabs and the United States supported Israel (see Arab-Israeli War of 1973).
The two superpowers cooperated, however, in bringing about agreements on a cease-fire and disengagement of forces between Israel and Egypt in January 1974, and between Israel and Syria in May. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger played a key role in achieving these settlements.
From the fall of 1973 through the summer of 1974, the evidence steadily mounted that President Nixon himself was implicated in the Watergate burglary and its attempted cover-up.
Evidence of other lawless acts committed by the administration followed. As a result, by the beginning of August 1974 the president was faced with imminent impeachment.
He resigned on August 9, becoming the first president of the United States to do so. Vice President Ford, who succeeded him immediately, became the first person to serve without having been elected either to the vice presidency or the presidency.
One of the new president’s first official actions was to pardon his predecessor for any crimes that he might have committed while in office.
Against the public outcry that the pardon
provoked, Ford contended that it was a means of "putting Watergate behind
us." Ford was partly successful in restoring the badly shaken confidence
in the presidency, but several months passed before Congress confirmed
Nelson A. Rockefeller as the 41st vice president. Rockefeller was sworn
in on December 19, 1974.
The Ford Administration
Ford was confronted with a number of domestic and international problems.
The worldwide recession was deepening, and the United States was experiencing its highest unemployment and inflation rates in decades.
As a result of the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries had imposed an embargo on oil shipments to the United States and other industrial nations in the winter of 1973 and 1974. Oil prices had quadrupled in a few months, intensifying the international monetary crisis.
The impetus toward peace in the Middle East had slowed, and an outbreak of hostilities in Cyprus in 1974 threatened the existence of NATO, as two of its members, Greece and Turkey, were opponents in Cyprus and suspended cooperation with the organization.
Meanwhile, the sudden resurgence of war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the subsequent Communist victory, and the concurrent expulsion of the United States from Southeast Asia in the spring of 1975 weakened confidence in U.S. strength and in its loyalty to its allies.
Contending with an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress as a result of the 1974 midterm elections, Ford was unable to win approval for his legislative programs to fight inflation and increase energy resources.
He continued to support Secretary of State Kissinger’s "shuttle diplomacy" in the Middle East, but in June 1975 he assumed a new diplomatic initiative of his own. Traveling to Europe, he conferred personally with European heads of state, as well as with President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt.
In 1975 the United States began to emerge from the recession that had begun in 1973.
The country’s unemployment rate remained
high, however, and many automobile and construction workers were without
jobs. Some state and local governments had difficulty balancing their budgets;
New York City, for instance, needed federal assistance to remain solvent.