Hello, and welcome back to another edition of the presidential election series I’ll be going over the election of 1960 as Richard Nixon is looking to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps but his first gotta get through a fresh-faced Senator from Massachusetts who’s got money and charisma on his side… Enter JFK.
Nixon For President
After eight solid years of Dwight D. Eisenhower as President of the United States, Ike officially became the first commander and chief who was unable to run for re-election following the passing of the 22nd amendment to the Constitution.
With Eisenhower’s time in office dwinding down, Vice President and former California Senator, Richard Nixon decided to go after his party’s nomination for president, his only real challenger in the early stages was the Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller who became the new leader of the ‘Eastern Establishment’ wing of the Republican Party but he soon dropped out of the race upon realizing that he couldn’t overcome the popularity of the then vice president.
Following this, Richard Nixon was able to get the nomination becoming the first sitting vice president to be nominated for president by one of the major parties since John C. Breckinridge back in 1860; Nixon’s running mate in this election was Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. who was the former Senator from Massachusetts and the then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Several candidates ran for the Democratic Party’s nomination which included:
- Pat Brown- Governor of California
- Wayne Morse- Senator of Oregan
- Hubert Humphrey- Senator of Minnesota
- Adlai Stevenson II- Former Governor of Illinois who lost to Eisenhower in the two previous elections
- Lyndon Baines Johnson- Senate Minority Leader from Texas
- Stuart Symington-Senator from Missouri
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy- Senator from Massachusetts
Through a combination of his family’s wealth and connections as well as his own charm and energy helped JFK looked like a possible candidate to defeat his rivals in the primaries although some would not go down without a fight.
One of these rivals was Lyndon Johnson who decided to make JFK’s health a major issue in the primaries as Kennedy had suffered from Addison’s Disease which was a condition that affected the adrenal glands among numerous other health related problems Kennedy suffered. JFK and his aides were able to convince the American people that these allegations were false and even had doctors admit that Kennedy was healthy and he had fresh bill of health…which was a bold face lie but in 1960 many voters believed it.
By the time Kennedy won the nomination, he decided to announce his running mate was going to be none other then Lyndon B. Johnson with many historians calling this a great decision made by the Kennedy campaign as LBJ could help swing many southern states including Texas in the favor of JFK.
Despite winning the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, Kennedy had a major problem to deal with on the campaign trail and it all revolves around the fact that he was a Roman Catholic.
The Catholic Issue
While the idea of a person’s religion being a handicap for why they shouldn’t be president sounds farfecthed today, back then it was a big deal and the fact that John F. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic led to a resurgence of anti-Catholic sentiment in America.
JFK’s predicament with his Catholic upbringing was a similar issue faced by former New York Governor and former Democratic nominee for president, Alfred ‘Al’ Smith who lost the election of 1928 to Hebert Hoover in a landslide due in no small part to Smith’s Catholism as many religous leaders feared that he would listening to the Pope rather than the American people…And this was the situation Kennedy found himself in.
As a way to deal with this issue once and for all, JFK decides to head to Houston Texas in September of 1960 in front of a televised group of Protestants ministers in order to address the matter of religion and politics going forward as well as to quell the fears many religous people may have about a Catholic president.
In his speech responding to all of the Protestant ministers in attendance, Kennedy attempts to turn the conservation around by mentioning that his politics are not dictated by his religous views but simply by his views for a better America; These thoughts are best expressed by Kennedy with quotes like: “I am not the Catholic candidate for president, I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic.”
“I do not speak for my church on public matters and the church doesn’t speak for me; I believe in an America where seperation of Church and State is absolute.”
“But If this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were bapitized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser-in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.”
Kennedy also touches on the idea that while he (a Catholic) is the person many religous people are targeting for his faith on the campaign trail, the same could happen to any other person with a religous upbringing looking to ascend to political high office and that his decisions if elected president will not be determined by his faith or any other Americans religous belief and once his finished speaking, the ministers stand and give him a large applause with the hope at least in Kennedy’s mind that the religous issue has been put to rest.
The Campaigns & Election Ads
Due to the economy under Eisenhower being good for many Americans, the major focus on the campaigns tended to be on foreign policy with a few domestic ideas being peppered in for good measure.
Many of Kennedy’s ads see him talking with everyday people and even celebrities who are wondering what direction the senator will take the country if elected with Kennedy promising to get America moving once more as he believed the previous adminsration has been stagant when comes to dealing with the Soviet Union especially when comes the Space Race and promises a better living for thoses concerned about having to pay more just stay afloat while also promoting his youth as a benefit rather than a hinderence.
Nixon’s campaign mainly focused on the promise of continuing the same level of propersity and security in the country under President Eisenhower and even Ike himself is going out and campaigning for his vice president in the final weeks of the election.
During his election ads, Nixon touches on topics like equal rights for all Americans and that his experience in domestic and foreign policies was more than enough reason to elected him as the new commander and chief.
Nixon’s Many Blunders
Considering his the VP to a largely popular outgoing president and the fact his got more name recongition and experience on the world stage compared to his rival, all signs tended to lean to Nixon having all of the momentum unfortunately it will be Nixon himself who will be underminding his own advantages.
Perhaps the biggest example of this is Nixon’s idea to travel to each individual state to promote his future for the country with many experts back then and now claiming that this was the absolute dumbest idea ever as the former California Senator was using his time and energy campaigning in states that were either going to vote for the Republicans no matter what or in states that he had no chance of winning like the South. This strategy as you can imagine made ‘Trick Dick’ exhausted from all the traveling thus leaving him wore out and providing the Kennedy team enough time to focus on the states that could swing the election in favor of the Democrats.
In addition to tiring himself out campaigning in every states, Nixon also hurt his knee when getting out of a car and the knee got infected leading to him halting any campaign efforts for several weeks to get the treatment needed at the hospital, however he still kept his promise to campaign upon leaving the hospital which didn’t do any wonders for his health with many claiming he looked exhausted around this time.
On top of all of that, when it comes time for the very first presidential election debate to take place (more on that in a second), Nixon made the decision that on the day of the the first debate he would do some campaigning rather than save his energy and his knee would still cause him tremdous pain as he entered the building in which the first debate was set to take place…So to recap: Richard Nixon is about to take part in the first ever televised presidential debate where millions of Americans will be watching and his walking in tired, sickly looking, and in pain…What could possibly go wrong?
The 1960 election is perhaps best remembered for having the very first presidential debates where the two major candidates were allowed to debate the major issues and respond to comments with the four debates being seen somewhere around 70-66 million watching at home.
Going into the first debate, JFK came off looking calm, collected and confident which was a far cry from Nixon who was uncomfortable, sweaty, and still in pain from his knee injury plus he didn’t wear make up that covered his beard stubble with Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. reportedly furious over Nixon’s appearance on TV and Nixon himself would later admit his disappointment in the first debate.
Despite this though, the first debate was disputed due to the fact that many who watched the debate claimed that Kennedy won while those who listened to the debate on radio claimed that Nixon was the winner, but this uncertainty in who emerged the winner wasn’t in doubt in the final three debates with many pundits at the time believing that Nixon (who looked better than in the first debate) winning the second and third ones while the fourth and final one was a tie however fewer people watched the last three debates compared to the first.
Overall the race continues to get tighter between Kennedy and Nixon with the polls constantly going back and forth in favor of either candidate however as election day draws closer, a major event taking place around the same time in Alabama could be the deciding factor in who emerges as the next president.
The October Surprise
A few days before the fourth and final presidential debate civil rights activist and pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is arrested on October 19th for entering and refusing to leave an all white establishment with other civil rights activists and was later in the night transferred to a state penitentiary in Georgia.
This news led many including his wife, Coretta to fear for MLK’s life as the police especially in the South were no strangers to using police brutality on African Americans and getting little to no repercussion for it.
The campaign teams for both Nixon and Kennedy see this as an opening to help their respective candidate get the advantage as calling for Dr. King’s release from prison would not only be good PR but it could also get many African Americans behind that candidate heading into election day.
Nixon attempts to use his connections in the White House in order to ask for Dr. King’s release but his unsuccessful; Meanwhile JFK calls Coretta King to offer his support for her husband which was a good gesture, but it also gets a number of Kennedy advisors including Robert F. Kennedy furious as the Democratic Party’s core voting base were in the South and if a candidate from their party is supporting an African American then it’s highly possible that many of those voters will instead vote for someone else or they’ll just stay home.
In a last ditch effort to salvage the situation, Robert Kennedy calls the for the release for Dr. King and unlike Richard Nixon the Kennedy’s are successful and on October 28th Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walks out a free man and gives John F. Kennedy the PR he needs to win over a good portion of the African American community…Now let’s take a look at the results.
Since the last election, the states of Alaska and Hawaii were now able to participate making the electoral votes needed to win being 269 or more and on November 8th the results came in and it was announced that John F. Kennedy won, becoming the 35th President of the United States in one of the closest elections since 1916.
In addition to becoming the youngest man ever elected president at just the age 43 years old Kennedy recieved 303 electoral votes to Richard Nixon’s 219, however the popular vote was much closer with JFK getting 49.7% to Nixon’s 49.6% with 112,827 votes seperating both men.
You may also notice something usual about the electoral map as a few states in the South are colored orange there’s a reason for that as 14 electors in the states of Mississippi, Alabama and one in Oklahoma had voted for Harry Byrd, who was the segregationist Senator from Virginia after Kennedy had publicly declared his support for the Civil Right Movement but none of this made a difference as these votes didn’t play a major role in changing the outcome of this election.
Due to the race being so close members of the Republican Party accused the Kennedy campaign and the Democrats in general of voter fraud in places like Texas, Illinois, New Jersey and Missouri even going so far as to claim that dead people were coming out of their graves to go out a vote for Kennedy…less you think charges of electoral fraud and dead folks voting for the Democrats is a recent phenomenon.
Despite some in the GOP and Nixon’s aides telling him to challenge the legitimacy of these votes, Nixon would make a speech just a few days later where he wouldn’t challenge the votes and concede gracefully to JFK… While Nixon would disappear from the public eye following his defeat to Kennedy and a failed attempt at becoming governor of his home state a few years later, I have a sneaking feeling that ‘Tricky Dick’ will be back for another round at becoming the president
And with that we’ve come to the end of the election of 1960, JFK is now President of the United States during a very interesting time in the country’s history but things will only get crazier by the time of the next election.