On this day in 1973, former President Lyndon Baines Johnson dies in Johnson City, Texas, at the age of 64.
After leaving the White House in 1968, L.B.J. returned to his beloved home state, Texas, with his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, and immersed himself in the activity dearest to him: ranching. Although ostensibly retired, L.B.J. kept up a busy daily schedule reminiscent of his days in the White House.
His biographer, Doris Kearns, observed Johnson going about ranching duties with the same intensity he had once displayed at work in the Oval Office. At morning meetings on the ranch, Johnson instructed each hand to “make a solemn pledge that you will not go to bed tonight until you are sure that every steer has everything he needs.”
Additionally, Johnson insisted that “We’ve got a chance of producing some of the finest beef in this country if we work at it.” Regarding his chickens, Johnson said, “if we treat those hens with loving care we should be able to produce the finest eggs in the country.”
Each night he found not presidential briefings on his bedside table, but reports he had ordered on the ranch’s daily production of eggs. To Kearns, Johnson’s obsession with his hens’ inability to produce as many eggs as he expected contained a hint of the frustration he had once experienced in trying to win an apparently un-winnable war in Vietnam.
Beneath the bustle, Johnson remained, in his own words, miserable. For a man who had wanted to carve out a legacy as the creator of a Great Society in America, his disappointment that his part in escalating the Vietnam War overshadowed his other accomplishments was immense.
Johnson’s impressive record included successful social and economic reforms such as the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, improvements in housing and urban development and strong support for America’s space program, but these seemed to be forgotten as public criticism of the war dogged L.B.J. into retirement and even beyond the grave.
On the day of Nixon’s second inaugural celebration, Johnson watched sullenly as Nixon announced the dismantling of many of Johnson’s Great Society social programs and, the next day, that he had achieved the ceasefire in Vietnam that had eluded Johnson. Johnson had reportedly predicted that [when the Great Society] dies, I, too, will die.
The following day, while Lady Bird and their daughters were in Austin, Johnson suffered a fatal heart attack at his ranch in Johnson City.