Exam preparation materials

Chapter 29: The Kennedy and Johnson Years



Kennedy elected president


23rd Amendment ratified  •  Peace Corps established


Baker v. Carr decided


Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signed  •  Kennedy assassinated  •  Johnson assumes presidency


Johnson elected president  •  24th Amendment ratified  •  “War on Poverty” declared


Immigration Act ends quotas  •  Medicaid and Medicare programs established  •  Elementary and Secondary Education Act enacted


Miranda v. Arizona decided


25th Amendment ratified  •  Six-Day War occurs in the Middle East


Johnson declines to run for re-election


23rd, 24th, and 25th Amendments

Elementary and Secondary Education Act

John F. Kennedy

Office of Economic Opportunity

Earl Warren

Alliance for Progress

Barry Goldwater

Lyndon B. Johnson

Lee Harvey Oswald

Baker v. Carr


Miranda v. Arizona

Peace Corps

Berlin Wall

Immigration Act of 1965

Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Six-Day War

“We stand today at the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of the 1960s—a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils—a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.”

—John F. Kennedy, 1960

“And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

—John F. Kennedy, 1961

“This nation, this generation, in this hour has man’s first chance to build a Great Society, a place where the meaning of man’s life matches the marvels of man’s labors.”

—Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964


John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson came from different parts of America and had different temperaments, lifestyles, and upbringings. Each sought to put his own imprint on the nation; both faced unexpected events that greatly impacted their respective presidencies.


The Election of 1960

At its convention in 1960, the Democratic Party chose John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts and Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas for its ticket. Both had been in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Their campaign, run against the Republican ticket of Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, was marked by the first televised presidential candidate debates in history. The Democrats prevailed with a victory margin of less than 1 percent of the popular vote, although the electoral vote was 303–219. At 43 years old, Kennedy became the youngest president elected in U.S. history, and he was the first Roman Catholic in that office.

Domestic Issues

The Civil Rights Movement—focusing on the removal of barriers to equality and respect for black Americans—was the main domestic concern of the Kennedy administration. (Further discussion of the Civil Rights Movement can be found in the next chapter.)

Kennedy’s attempts to introduce social reforms affecting health care, housing, and education were turned down by Congress. His main problem, even though there were Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, rested with opposition from Republicans and Southern Democrats. However, many of these proposals were passed later in the Johnson administration.

Following are other noteworthy domestic developments of the Kennedy years:

•  The 23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961, permitted voters in Washington, D.C., to participate in presidential elections. Washington, D.C., was granted three electoral votes.

•  In Baker v. Carr (1962), a historic split decision affecting reapportionment of legislative districts, the Supreme Court held that federal courts would now have jurisdiction over (power to decide on) cases in which state apportionment formulas were being challenged. Such challenges sought to ensure that legislative district representation would be based fairly—on population, rather than on political concerns.

Foreign Affairs

The Cold War’s continuance was the backdrop for major challenges. The most significant were those that involved Russia and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Other Cold War–related events included the following:

•  Through the Alliance for Progress program (1961), Kennedy hoped to stem communist expansion in Latin America by providing funds for economic development. The funds would come from public and private sources in the United States, Japan, Western Europe, and some Latin American nations for improvements in schools, transportation, housing, and public health. The program had mixed results. Some money went for useful purposes, while other funds went to authoritarian governments and their armed forces.

•  The Peace Corps (1961), as approved by Congress, was designed to send American civilian volunteers to developing nations. The volunteers would aid citizens in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in such fields as education, health, technology, and agriculture. The Peace Corps still exists and has been judged successful.

•  On a symbolic trip to the Berlin Wall (1963), Kennedy made an inspiring speech. He spoke of the American willingness to defend the city, asserting that he too was “a Berliner.”

•  With the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963), the United States and the USSR agreed to stop nuclear testing in the atmosphere, in space, and underwater. Over 100 other nations also signed the treaty; the only nuclear powers at the time who did not were France and communist China.

•  President Kennedy involved the nation in a space program that was aimed at placing a person on the moon. This commitment was spurred by the launch of a man into space by the Soviets in 1961. By 1969, American astronauts had landed on the moon.

•  In the case of Vietnam, Kennedy believed, as did Eisenhower, in the domino theory. He sent military advisers to South Vietnam to help keep the nation free from communism. His role in affecting Vietnam policy was minimal, as he was assassinated in 1963.

Assassination of Kennedy

While in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was hit by two rifle bullets. He died within an hour, whereupon Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president. Lee Harvey Oswald, who had allegedly fired at the president from a book depository, was arrested for his murder. While being led to a jail, Oswald himself was shot and killed by Jack Ruby.

President Johnson appointed a commission, headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, to investigate the assassination. Its conclusions, presented in September 1964, were that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone and there was no conspiracy. Although the findings have generally been accepted, they remain controversial, with various alternative theories purported about the events surrounding the assassination. No hard evidence exists, however, to prove any of them conclusively.


The Election of 1964

Upon a smooth transition to the presidency, Johnson saw fit to press Kennedy’s goals for social welfare legislation and civil rights. Riding a tide of sentiment and popular support, he ran for chief executive in his own right in 1964 against Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. He crushed Goldwater, winning 61 percent of the popular vote and gaining the electoral vote 486–52.

Domestic Issues

As an effective politician who promised to make America a “Great Society,” Johnson was able to achieve many legislative successes. Some of these were in areas in which his predecessor had initiated proposals but been unable to get them passed. TheElementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) provided federal aid of over $1 billion to school districts so that “every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and enlarge his talents.” The bill also required that schools accepting the money make good faith attempts at integration. The Health Insurance Act for the Aged (1965), an amendment to the Social Security Act, established Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare made provision for certain types of health care to people over 65; Medicaid would give funds to states in order to help the needy of any age who were not covered by Medicare. VISTA (1965), Volunteers in Service to America, would serve as a domestic Peace Corps. The volunteers would be trained to assist groups such as the mentally ill, the elderly, and migrant workers.

“The War on Poverty” was the slogan grouping together the major social welfare goals of the Johnson administration. The key measure was the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. It created the OEO (Office of Economic Opportunity), which did such things as establish job- and work-training classes and provide loans to small businesses that hired the unemployed. One OEO agency was VISTA. Other OEO programs included Operation Head Start (aid to preschoolers from poor families) and the Job Corps (vocational training for school dropouts). A new cabinet post, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was created in 1966. HUD was designed to coordinate federal involvement with housing improvements and urban development projects.

On the heels of the Baker v. Carr decision (1962), the Supreme Court went further in trying to make for equality in legislative representation. In Wesberry v. Sanders (1964), the Court held that congressional districts in a state must contain “as nearly as practicable” the same number of voters. The case established the principle of “one person, one vote.”

During the 1960s, the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, took a broad (liberal) approach in deciding cases concerning the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments). Labeled as “activist,” the Supreme Court made major pronouncements in the following cases:

•  The Mapp v. Ohio (1961) decision held that any evidence unreasonably acquired by the police cannot be admitted as evidence in a trial. This became known as “the exclusionary rule.”

•  In Engel v. Vitale (1962), the Court ruled that the reading of a nonsectarian prayer in a public school violates the 1st Amendment.

•  In Gideon v. Wainright (1963), it was decided that a person who cannot afford a lawyer has the right to have the state furnish him or her with one in a criminal case.

•  Escobedo v. Illinois (1964) resulted in the ruling that a person charged with a crime has the right to be told he or she can have a lawyer prior to being questioned.

•  The Miranda v. Arizona (1966) decision set the precedent that the police must inform a person accused of a crime of his or her right to remain silent, as well as any other rights, prior to any questioning.

Foreign Affairs

The single most crucial foreign policy challenge to the Johnson administration rested with the escalating violence in Vietnam. The failed attempts to meet this challenge are what finally influenced Johnson not to seek re-election in 1968. (For in-depth details, seechapter 31 devoted to the Vietnam War.)

The Immigration Act of 1965 ended quotas based on national origin. The applicant’s occupation and skills would now be the main criteria for admission to the United States. Preference was now given to those applicants who already had relatives in the United States.

In the June (Six-Day) War in 1967, Israel achieved an astounding victory over several Arab nations bent on its destruction. It was during the fighting that President Johnson spoke with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin in the first use of the “hotline.” This link was created between Washington, D.C., and Moscow for use in emergency situations. Both leaders agreed not to send military aid into the region and to work for a cease-fire.


Both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had visions for America that involved fighting communism abroad and, at home, making Americans healthier, safer, better educated, and more secure economically.


•  Great Society: The name used by the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson to describe its domestic programs

•  Medicaid: A program providing health care for the needy (people who lived below the poverty level) who were not covered by Medicare

•  Medicare: A program providing health insurance and health care for people over the age of 65

•  New Frontier: The name used by the administration of John F. Kennedy to describe its proposed programs for the nation

•  War on Poverty: A slogan used by President Lyndon B. Johnson to describe his goal of ending poverty in the United States


1.   Which of the following is associated with the Kennedy administration?

(A)    Medicare

(B)    Medicaid

(C)    Alliance for Progress

(D)    The 24th Amendment

(E)    The ESEA

2.   Baker v. Carr was concerned with

(A)    the Bill of Rights.

(B)    presidential succession.

(C)    criminal rights.

(D)    the poll tax.

(E)    legislative reapportionment.

3.   Who of the following proposed that the nation declare a “war on poverty”?

(A)    John F. Kennedy

(B)    Richard Nixon

(C)    Barry Goldwater

(D)    Lyndon B. Johnson

(E)    Earl Warren

4.   According to the Immigration Act of 1965, the main criteria for admission to the United States would be an applicant’s

(A)    gender.

(B)    race.

(C)    country of origin.

(D)    occupation.

(E)    education.


1.    C

The Alliance For Progress was an idea of John Kennedy’s. All of the other choices refer to programs initiated during Johnson’s administration.

2.    E

This Supreme Court case was initiated as a challenge to malapportioned legislative districts. Presidential succession and the poll tax were never issues in a Supreme Court case. The Bill of Rights and criminal rights deal with protection of basic rights and were not issues in this case.

3.    D

This phrase was used by the Johnson administration to emphasize its attempt to end poverty in the United States. Presidents Kennedy and Nixon and presidential candidate Goldwater used other slogans in their political careers. As a judge, Earl Warren never made any proposals for the nation.

4.    D

Occupation became the chief criteria under this act, discontinuing discriminatory criteria that had been used in other immigration legislation, such as race and country of origin. To use gender would have also been discriminatory and would not have been acceptable given the mood of the nation in the 1960s. Education was not as important as was experience in particular occupations that were in short supply in the nation.

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