- John F. Kennedy as president
- Bay of Pigs Invasion
- Cuban Missile Crisis
- The Cuban Missile Crisis
- Lyndon Johnson as president
- Vietnam War
- The Vietnam War
- The student movement and the antiwar movement
- Second-wave feminism
- The election of 1968
- 1960s America
Read about the pivotal election of 1968, which pitted Richard Nixon against Hubert Humphrey in a race shaped by backlash against the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.
- Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, a tumultuous year that witnessed the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, as well as the splintering of the Democratic Party.
- Nixon’s presidential campaign sought to appeal to what it deemed the “silent majority,” those middle-class white Americans who defended the status quo against radical social change.
- Nixon’s campaign successfully employed the “Southern strategy,” an attempt to appeal to Southern racists resentful of civil rights activism and federal antipoverty programs.
1968: A momentous year
1968 was in many ways a watershed year. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray, an ex-convict and avowed white supremacist. The news of King’s assassination sparked a conflagration of urban riots and protests.
A mere two months later, Robert F. Kennedy, the younger brother of President John F. Kennedy who was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in California, was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian incensed by Kennedy’s pro-Israel stance.
The assassinations contributed to the perception among many Americans that the social fabric of the nation was ripping apart.
The Democratic Party in disarray
The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago was a stark demonstration of just how divided the Democratic party had become. Students and members of the counterculture, known collectively as the “New Left” made up one faction, while the older generation of New Deal Democrats, which became known as the “Old Left,” constituted another. The convention descended into utter chaos as thousands of antiwar activists converged on the streets of Chicago, where law enforcement officers clubbed them with nightsticks and doused them in tear gas.
Dismayed with the lack of progress in the Vietnam War and disturbed by the factionalism rupturing the Democratic Party, Lyndon Johnson chose not to run for reelection. The Democratic National Convention nominated Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey. He ran in a three-way race against Republican Richard Nixon and Alabama Governor George Wallace, a Southern segregationist who ran as an independent and sought to capitalize on white backlash against the gains of the Civil Rights Movement.
Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign
Into the chaos of 1968 stepped Richard Nixon with a pledge to restore law and order, end the war in Vietnam, and restore traditional American values. Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign was notable for a number of reasons. He emphasized the theme of “law and order,” which he understood would appeal to the “silent majority,” those white middle-class Americans anxious and fearful of radical social change. Nixon used “law and order” rhetoric to signal his intention to crack down on student protesters, activists, and virtually anyone who sought to challenge the status quo of American society.
Nixon also embraced the “Southern strategy,” which sought to appeal to Southern racists resentful of civil rights gains and President Johnson’s federal antipoverty programs.
Nixon won the presidency in a close race, garnering 43.4 percent of the popular vote compared to Humphrey’s 42.7 percent. For an independent candidate, George Wallace made a strong showing, securing 13.5 percent of the popular vote.
What do you think?
Why do you think Richard Nixon’s campaign appealed to voters?
To what do you attribute Nixon’s victory in the 1968 election?
What were the long-term consequences of the 1968 election?
Want to join the conversation?
- What exactly is the Watergate scandal?(6 votes)
- Hi Tauren, check out our article on the scandal here: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/postwarera/1970s-america/a/watergate(9 votes)
- Did he make USA better or worse?(4 votes)
- He did do a lot of good things for the U.S., he signed into law the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency , the Endangered Species Act and provided federal and medical aid for the poor and disabled. However after Watergate he really made the people lose a lot of trust and legitimacy towards the government.(2 votes)
- 1) Richard Nixon's campaign appealed to voters because it was stable.
2) The instability of the Democratic party and how Nixon appealed to voters.
3) The first president ever to be impeached was elected in this election and the distinction of the "Old Left" and "New Left".(4 votes)
- Why would the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy lead to social/political turmoil?(3 votes)
- Many people admired him. He was young, handsome and exciting (in comparison to the other guys running for nomination for president). Kennedy had served as an anti-communist crusader in the 50s, and as an able politician from New York in the 60s. That even he could fall to a man with a gun upset a LOT of people.(2 votes)
- What led to his resignation?(2 votes)
- Watergate. It's talked about in the next tutorial, over here:
- How did Richard Nixon position himself as the champion of the ”silent majority” of white, middle-class Americans?(3 votes)
- How is the assasination of Robert F Kennedy and the emergence of the conservative movement related to Republican Richard Nixon being elected as president in the 1968 election?(2 votes)
- Kennedy was the most charismatic of the Democrats running for the presidential nomination in 1968. Without him around, Nixon (who got only 43% of the votes for president) would likely not have made it to the White House.(2 votes)