Skip to Main Content

Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan: Two Views of Federal Power


While questions were raised in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries over the proper distribution of power between state and federal governments, debate over the power of the federal government to regulate the every day affairs of the people intensified in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Lyndon Johnson, interpreting Congress’s role to promote the “general welfare” broadly, assembled a team of experts to discover ways to improve society, and sent dozens of bills to Congress which became Great Society programs intended to benefit the poor and the elderly.

Ronald Reagan, by contrast, called the War on Poverty a failure, and proposed budgets which reduced spending on social programs while increasing the size and capabilities of the military. Additionally, Reagan called for lower taxes to spur economic growth, reward perseverance and encourage personal responsibility.

The two Presidents had markedly different views on the purposes and constitutional powers of the federal government and carried out the duties of their offices accordingly.


Students will:

  • Understand Lyndon Johnson’s stated goals for the Great Society.
  • Understand Ronald Reagan’s stated goals for his administration.
  • Contrast and evaluate the two Presidents’ views on the scope of constitutional federal power.