Advising His Grandson to “appreciate the roots from which you sprang...”.
Johnson was born in a small farmhouse on the Pedernales River in Texas. Few families there had cars or electricity and many lived in great poverty. The scenes he witnessed growing up caused him to develop a life-long interest in helping the poor and persecuted. As president, he exerted crucial leadership in...
Johnson was born in a small farmhouse on the Pedernales River in Texas. Few families there had cars or electricity and many lived in great poverty. The scenes he witnessed growing up caused him to develop a life-long interest in helping the poor and persecuted. As president, he exerted crucial leadership in making Civil Rights a reality and created the Great Society to aid the needy. He also promoted the space program and proved instrumental in its development and successes.
However, the War in Vietnam eventually overwhelmed his plans and proved his political undoing. Controversy over it had become so acute by the end of March 1968 that he startled the world by withdrawing as a candidate for re-election that year. Fascinatingly, having wanted the presidency all his life, after five years in office, he was content (perhaps even eager) to walk away.
LBJ’s younger daughter, Luci Baines Johnson, married Patrick Nugent at the White House amidst much publicity in 1966. Their son, Patrick Lyndon Nugent, was born a year later. LBJ was very proud of the boy, the only grandson he would have. His final State of the Union address, scheduled for January 14, 1969, took on significant personal meaning for the departing president. Johnson "invited" his eighteen-month-old grandson to the speech, telling Lady Bird that she and their daughters could attend but that "it’s my State of the Union speech and it’s my last one and the only person I’m inviting is Patrick Lyndon." Seated in the gallery with his mother, the toddler behaved impeccably throughout the presentation. Six days later, after his successor’s inauguration, a reflective Johnson returned to Texas and his ranch. Already a victim of two heart attacks, he was not in good health.
On July 13, 1970, LBJ’s birthplace became a national historical site and he and his family attended the ceremonies. It was the kind of occasion that would make any person think of his past, his parents, relatives and early friends, reflect on what life was like, and ponder the changes he had seen over the span of his lifetime. Young Patrick was three years old when he rode with his grandfather on that day. The next day, Johnson’s emotions led him to write a thoughtful letter that his grandson would only appreciate later, full of advice, reminiscence and hope.
Typed Letter Signed, Austin, Texas, July 14, 1970, to his grandson. “When I was the age you are in this picture, my father drove a car like this one. In those days it was one of man’s latest inventions. Now in 1970 man’s flight to the moon is the most recent transportation wonder. Still astonished as I am, I cannot imagine what voyages may be in store for you between now and the time you reach my age. This letter and these pictures, taken on July 13, 1970, at the time you went with us to attend the dedication of my birthplace as a Historical Site by the Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Walter J. Hickel, are sent to remind you when you are grown that no matter how and where you travel in miles and accomplishments, it is good to remember your heritage, to appreciate the roots from which you sprang, to maintain contact with family and return from time to time to the place of your origin. Little man that you are now, you are a great joy to me, and I think you will go far. With a heart full of love from your grandfather.” The photograph he mentions is included, and shows the two of them in an antique car, the kind LBJ remembered riding in as a child.
Johnson’s programs and policies as president reflected the fact that he remembered his roots, so the advice he gave was consistant with his own life. This letter, providing an extraordinary glimpse of the private LBJ, is the first intra-family letter of a president we have ever had.
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