The 1960s Government, Politics, and Law: Topics in the News

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The 1960s Government, Politics, and Law: Topics in the News



The civil rights protests and boycotts of the 1950s exploded in number during the 1960s as more and more people joined efforts to end racial discrimination. Such well-established organizations as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and newly established ones such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), worked to tear down racism. These groups employed legal means and nonviolent resistance. Efforts to integrate public schools flooded school districts with lawsuits. African Americans seated themselves at "whites-only" lunch counters and refused to leave until served. By the end of 1960, some 70,000 had participated in such demonstrations in 150 cities and towns. Over 3,600 had been arrested. Joining them were the Freedom Riders: groups of black and white Americans who traveled by bus across the South and tested Supreme Court desegregation rulings and similar federal legislation.

Democrat John F. Kennedy (1917–1963), who was elected president in 1960, campaigned on a promise to push through additional civil rights initiatives. While the Democrats controlled Congress, those in power were conservative Southerners who wanted no part of such legislation. However, the mounting, often violent resistance to civil rights laws spurred Kennedy into action. In February 1963, he sent a message to Congress asking for more legislation.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), became the era's high-profile civil rights leader. In 1963, he led a protest in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most segregated cities in America. From 1957 through 1963, Birmingham was the site of eighteen racially motivated bombing incidents and fifty cross burnings; the city's police force had a reputation for harassment of the black community. During the protest, King was arrested and jailed and police dogs were unleashed on demonstrators. In the following weeks, hundreds of civil rights demonstrations were mounted across the South. All culminated in August with a massive national "March on Washington," the purpose of which was to lobby Congress to support President Kennedy's civil rights initiatives.

Five days after the Kennedy assassination, his successor, Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973), asked Congress for the earliest possible passage of the slain president's civil rights package. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed the House and was sent on to the Senate, where conservative Southerners conducted a forty-seven-day-long filibuster (delaying of legislative action by means of excessively long speechmaking), the longest in Senate history. In June, the Senate voted to cut off debate. The bill passed, and was signed into law. Among its provisions, it outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations and gave the U.S. Justice Department increased powers to push for school desegregation.

Voting rights was another key issue. Throughout the South, many blacks had never registered to vote because they were intimidated by literacy tests or fearful of job loss and threats of violence. In 1961, civil rights organizations initiated voting rights campaigns. Volunteers poured into Southern communities to conduct adult-literacy classes and walk blacks through the voter registration process.

Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory in the 1964 presidential race carried enough liberal Democrats into Congress to break the conservative stranglehold over civil rights legislation. The result was passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed literacy requirements for voters and empowered federal authorities to take control of the voter-registration process where discrimination existed.

"I Have a Dream"

During the August 1963 "March on Washington," Martin Luther King Jr. gave his celebrated "I Have a Dream" speech. In it, he proclaimed his vision of equality, a time when his four children would "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." He yearned for a world in which "all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"


The cold war was an ideological conflict pitting the United States and its Western allies against the Soviet Union and other communist-governed nations. During the previous decade, both sides increased production of nuclear bombs and the hardware necessary to launch them. Continuing into the 1960s, each side kept developing and building these instruments of war. Although the cold war continued with the same high intensity and antagonism that existed in the 1950s, a number of meetings between the two superpowers did occur throughout the 1960s. Among the major subjects under discussion were banning nuclear testing and controlling the race to build new weapons, also called the "arms race."

The decade's first cold war-related crisis came in May 1960, when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down in Soviet airspace. President Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969) initially denied that the United States conducted aerial spying missions over the Soviet Union. However, he had to admit the truth when the Russians put on display the captured pilot, Francis Gary Powers (1929–1977). Nevertheless, Eisenhower refused to apologize to the Soviets and defended the missions. A planned summit meeting between the two nations was canceled.


As relations between the United States and the Soviet Union remained tense, an additional threat to U.S. security emerged. This peril appeared just ninety miles from the southern tip of the state of Florida.

In January 1959, a revolutionary group led by Fidel Castro (1926–) overthrew the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista (1901–1973) in Cuba. Castro proved to be no U.S. ally. In February 1960, he signed diplomatic and trade agreements with the Soviet Union. Then in June, he seized American-operated oil refineries in Cuba. Three months later, Castro attended a United Nations session in New York, at which time he publicly embraced Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), the Soviet premier. Eventually, Castro dictated that the Cuban Communist Party was the island's lone legitimate political party.

In 1960, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began secretly training a force of Cuban exiles. The agency also concocted a plan to have them invade Cuba, at the Bay of Pigs. After becoming president the following year, John F. Kennedy ordered the invasion to proceed. The action was a major catastrophe. CIA intelligence reports were in error, and after three days all the invaders were killed or captured.

Then in August 1962, intelligence reports confirmed that Russian ships were transporting military personnel and weapons to Cuba. At the beginning of September, the Soviets declared that they planned to supply more military resources in order to counteract an alleged American threat to Cuba. U.S. spy planes observed antiaircraft missile sites under construction on the island. From these sites, a nuclear attack could have been launched against Washington, D.C. It was determined that the sites would be operational by the end of October.

Kennedy and his advisors considered several strategies, including secret talks and public negotiations with the Soviets, private talks with Fidel Castro, and an air strike, invasion, or naval blockade (preventing passage in and out) of Cuba. After speaking to congressional leaders on October 22, Kennedy informed the nation of the situation in a dramatic televised speech. He warned that a missile attack would be met with an appropriate military response. He demanded that the Soviets remove the missiles, and then imposed a blockade of Cuba. The Soviets first responded by condemning Kennedy's action and accusing him of pushing civilization to the brink of nuclear war. Then they agreed to remove the missiles under United Nations supervision. Yet just as quickly, they amended this promise, claiming they only would do so if the United States removed its nuclear missiles from Turkey. U.S. intelligence also reported that Soviet embassy officials in New York had begun destroying sensitive documents, a step usually undertaken at the start of a war.

At the suggestion of Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925–1968), the United States ignored the last message, and responded in a positive manner only to the one before it. The strategy worked. President Kennedy announced that the blockade would end only when the missile removal and launch site dismantling could be verified. Subsequent photo reconnaissance revealed that the Soviets acted as they had promised. On November 21, the blockade was lifted.

The realization of the events that had transpired had a sobering effect on the leaders of both nations, and a positive impact on how they interacted in the future. During the spring of 1963, the United States, Soviet Union, and Great Britain resumed talks about banning above-ground nuclear tests, negotiations that previously had been abandoned. In August, the three countries signed a treaty outlawing testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, and underwater. Another factor adding to a decrease in U.S.-Soviet Union tensions was the heightened hostility between the Soviets and communist China.


In the early 1960s, increased communist rebellions in Southeast Asia were a source of concern for the United States. Since 1954, Vietnam—a narrow, S-shaped, 1,000-mile-long country—had been divided into communist North Vietnam and noncommunist South Vietnam. American foreign policy with relation to Vietnam may be explained by the "domino theory," which argued that if South Vietnam were to fall to the communists, then all of Southeast Asia would follow, just like a row of dominoes.

In the 1950s, American military advisors traveled to South Vietnam to train its military. At the time of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, 12,000 advisors were deployed in Vietnam; this number increased to 23,000 by the end of the year. The U.S. effort was costing $400 million per year, and by the end of 1963, seventy Americans had lost their lives in Vietnam.

However, the South Vietnamese government was becoming increasingly unstable. Three weeks before Kennedy's death, the South Vietnamese military overthrew and murdered the country's president, Ngo Dinh Diem (1901–1963). In the wake of attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964, Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy's successor, put before the U.S. Congress the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The resolution gave Johnson the power to take measures to repel further aggression without congressional approval. History has cited the resolution's passage as the beginning of full-scale U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

The U.S. role in Vietnam soon shifted from providing assistance and military advisers to active combat. With this policy change came massive increases in troops. In July 1965, President Johnson announced that American troop levels were to be increased from 75,000 to 125,000. Almost two years later to the day, the military announced that, by the end of 1968, the American troop numbers were to climb to 525,000. By the end of 1967, approximately 15,000 GIs had been killed in Vietnam. One month into 1968, North Vietnam launched a surprise attack on the South, which came to be known as the Tet Offensive because it was launched during Tet, the Vietnamese holiday celebrating the lunar new year. The fighting that took place during the Tet Offensive was a signal that the war would not be won as easily as U.S. officials had led the public to believe.

As the number of American soldiers sent to Vietnam increased, so did concern by many American citizens about the American presence in Vietnam. The United States became a nation emotionally and politically divided. On one side were those who believed that the United States should not be engaged in Vietnam's internal conflict. On the other were those who firmly defended Johnson's policy, believing that the United States had an obligation to prevent the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. Anti-war activists were not content to quietly voice their protests. On April 17, 1965, between 15,000 and 25,000 demonstrated in Washington against the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. Two years later, a crowd estimated to be between 100,000 and 400,000 heard Martin Luther King Jr. denounce the war at a New York rally. On October 21, 1967, 100,000 anti-Vietnam demonstrators marched on Washington, D.C. Other large-scale protests followed. As time passed, increasing numbers of Americans came to view the war as a folly.

In 1968, America's Vietnam strategy changed from the pursuit of total military victory to an attempt to fashion a diplomatic solution that would allow the United States to remove itself from the war. Preliminary peace talks between the United States and North Vietnamese began in Paris. Antiwar protests continued at home.

My Lai Massacre

In March 1968, three platoons—Company C, First Battalion, and 11th Brigade, American Division—entered the South Vietnamese village of My Lai (pronounced mee-LIE). They were on a search-and-destroy mission, in which they were to seek out and kill the enemy: the Viet Cong, communist guerilla fighters for North Vietnam. (Viet Cong, sometimes spelled Viet-cong, was shortened from Viet Nam Cong San, which meant People's Liberation Armed Forces in South Vietnam.)

The American soldiers found no Viet Cong in My Lai. However, before they left, hundreds of unarmed civilians, including women, children, and elderly men, were murdered. There was one U.S. casualty: a GI who had shot himself in the foot to avoid partaking in the slaughter.

Eventually, the U.S. Army launched an inquiry into what had happened at My Lai. Lieutenant William L. Calley Jr. (1943–), an inexperienced young officer, was charged with 102 counts of murder. He was court-martialed and convicted; his sentence of life in prison was eventually reduced to ten years, and he was paroled in 1974.

In 1969, Republican Richard M. Nixon, the newly elected president, began limited troop withdrawals. By then, U.S. casualties had topped 33,000. At the same time, Nixon began escalating the war by ordering a secret bombing campaign in neighboring Cambodia, which the North Vietnamese had been using as a sanctuary. The war in Vietnam continued into the 1970s. Eventually, more than 55,000 Americans lost their lives in combat.


A range of crime stories grabbed the headlines during the 1960s. In 1959, two petty criminals, Richard Hickock (1931–1965) and Perry Smith (1928–1965), murdered four members of the Clutter family in their home outside Holcomb, Kansas. The killers were apprehended, tried and found guilty, and executed. What earned the crime and its aftermath lasting notoriety was a celebrated, best-selling book: In Cold Blood (1965), a nonfiction account written in crime novel-style by Truman Capote (1924–1984).

In 1966, Charles Whitman (1941–1966), an architectural engineering student at the University of Texas at Austin, climbed to the top of a tower that soared 307 feet above the campus. Then he used an array of firearms to shoot at pedestrians and police. Before he was himself killed, fifteen people lay dead and thirty-one were injured.

Between 1962 and 1964, thirteen women were murdered in Boston. The manner in which they died resulted in their killer being nicknamed "The Boston Strangler." Albert DeSalvo (1931–1973) eventually was arrested and incarcerated; he admitted his guilt to a fellow prisoner. DeSalvo was sentenced to life in prison. In 1973, he was murdered in his cell, and his killer never was identified. However, in 2001, newly discovered DNA evidence indicated that DeSalvo may not have been the Strangler!

New Journalism

The 1960s saw the rise in what came to be known as New Journalism, which blended true-life stories and events with more subjective writing techniques. Novels such as In Cold Blood (1966), by Truman Capote (1924–1984), which combined real events—in this case, grisly murders and a subsequent trial—were marketed as nonfiction. On newspaper and magazine pages, writers such as Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Gay Talese, and Jimmy Breslin abandoned objective, just-the-facts journalism. They wedded fictional writing styles with reporting and often included themselves in their pieces.

Perhaps the most shocking of the decade's crime stories involved the gruesome 1969 mass murders of several people in Los Angeles, among them Sharon Tate (1943–1969), the actress wife of film director Roman Polanski (1933–). The perpetrators were a band of young followers of Charles Manson (1934–), a small-time criminal. The grisly crimes were replayed in the next decade in Helter Skelter, a crime novel-like account written by Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted the case against Manson, as well as a television movie by the same name.

The 1960s saw the rise of a new type of criminal: the skyjacker. Skyjackers are individuals who commandeer an airliner and demand to be flown to a specific destination. During the 1960s, that location was often Cuba. The first skyjacking to Cuba took place in May 1961. Almost fifty others were successfully completed throughout the decade.

Also during the 1960s, several U.S. Supreme Court decisions altered the manner in which police and the courts dealt with criminal defendants. In the 1961 case of Mapp v. Ohio, the Court ruled that the states could not consider trial evidence that had been seized without a search warrant and in violation of the Constitution. Subsequent decisions further defined what constituted an illegal search. In 1963's Gideon v. Wainright, the Court determined that states must appoint legal counsel, or public defense attorneys, for all defendants who could not afford to hire their own, not just those facing the death penalty. The following year, in Escobedo v. Illinois, the Court ruled that persons who become prime suspects during criminal investigations have the right to an attorney; if they are denied this right, any confession subsequently obtained is inadmissible in court. Also in 1964, in New York Times v. Sullivan, the Court placed heavy burdens-of-proof on public official who instigated libel (defamation of character) lawsuits. In 1966's Miranda v. Arizona, the Court ruled that a crime suspect must be informed of his rights, including the "right to remain silent," before any police interrogation can take place.


On May 22, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973) gave a commencement speech at the University of Michigan. At the time, the nation was enjoying economic prosperity. Yet in the speech, the president told the graduates, "For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the 'Great Society.' The 'Great Society' rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time."

The president concluded,

So, will you join in the battle to give every citizen the full equality which God enjoins and the law requires, whatever his belief, or race, or the color of his skin? Will you join in the battle to give every citizen an escape from the crushing weight of poverty? Will you join in the battle to make it possible for all nations to live in enduring peace—as neighbors and not as mortal enemies? Will you join in the battle to build the 'Great Society,' to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?

Following the speech, Johnson began what became popularly known as the "War on Poverty." Under his predecessor, a range of antipoverty measures had already become law. Economic development grants were available to communities in depressed regions. Low-cost loans benefited businesses that agreed to relocate to these communities. Federal funds had been set aside for home building and slum clearance. Workers whose jobs had become obsolete were to be provided with retraining. Johnson's domestic agenda included Medicare and Medicaid, which established a compulsory hospital-care program for the elderly. It increased federal aid to elementary and secondary schools, and provided scholarships and low-interest loans to college students. It funded rent supplements and construction costs for low-income housing. It protected consumer interest by mandating "truth-in-labeling" for consumer products and safety standards for automobiles, toys, and household items.

By the end of 1966, Johnson was forced to cut back on his "Great Society" and "War on Poverty" programs, because additional funding was needed to fight an altogether different war: the then-escalating one in Vietnam. Furthermore, critics of Kennedy's and Johnson's programs maintained that many of them created additional federal bureaucracies while doing little to improve the quality of life of their intended beneficiaries.


As the 1960 presidential campaign neared, one thing was certain: Republican President Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969), a two-term incumbent, would not be running for reelection. Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994), Eisenhower's vice president, became the party's nominee. His opponent was Senator John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) of Massachusetts.

While Republican Party regulars and high-powered campaign funders favored Nixon, he faced a preprimary challenge from New York's Governor Nelson Rockefeller (1908–1979). Rockefeller eventually withdrew from the race, which then appeared to be an easy win for the vice president. Despite a "Draft Rockefeller" campaign that emerged after the U-2 spy plane incident, Nixon won the nomination after he and Rockefeller reached a compromise over the Republican Party platform.

In addition to Kennedy, three other major presidential hopefuls had emerged in the Democratic Party: Missouri Senator Stuart Symington (1901–1988), Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973), and Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey (1911–1978). There even was a "Draft Stevenson" movement, with supporters urging that the nomination be handed to Adlai Stevenson (1900–1965). Though he was highly respected, Stevenson had lost the presidential election to Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. Kennedy won the Democratic nomination, and chose Johnson as his running mate. In his acceptance speech, he declared that "the world is changing. The old era is ending.… (Americans are) standing on the edge of a New Frontier."

Key campaign issues included a strong defense against communism, which both candidates favored, as well as the economy and civil rights. Kennedy stressed the importance of public service and individual sacrifice, which he believed would lead the United States to new heights of domestic prosperity and international prestige.

One of the biggest hurdles blocking Kennedy's election was his religion. He was the second Roman Catholic ever to run for president. The first, New York Democratic Governor Alfred E. Smith (1873–1944), had been trounced by Herbert Hoover (1874–1964) in 1928. Helping Kennedy were his youth, his looks, and his vitality. A majority of those who saw his first televised debate with Nixon felt that Kennedy had won the debate;

those who only heard the debate on radio judged Nixon the winner or thought the candidates had performed evenly. In November, the forty-one-year-old Kennedy won the general election. The results were extremely close, with 49.7 percent of the popular vote favoring Kennedy and 49.5 percent going to Nixon. Several days after being elected, Kennedy noted, "It was TV more than anything else that turned the tide."

In his now-legendary inauguration speech, Kennedy challenged Americans by declaring, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

Eisenhower's Farewell

In January 1961, just before leaving office, President Eisenhower issued a warning that echoed through the decade and beyond. Cold war tensions were high, and the nation was clamoring for increased defense spending. Yet Eisenhower warned of the dangers posed by what he termed the growing "Military-Industrial Complex."

He explained that America had established "an immense military establishment and a large arms industry" that was "new to the American experience." This union, the outgoing president noted, could be catastrophic. Its

"total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.… In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the Military-Industrial Complex. The potential for the disastrous rise exists and will persist."

Throughout the 1960s, these words were quoted more often than any others uttered by Eisenhower during his eight years in office. Anti-Vietnam War activists cited them when charging that the "Military-Industrial Complex" was running the country, as more of the nation's human and material resources were being employed to wage the war in Southeast Asia.


During off-year elections, the party of the incumbent president usually loses seats in Congress. In 1962, the Republicans attacked Democratic President Kennedy's record on foreign policy. As the campaigning developed, one of the major issues was the escalating Cuban missile crisis. The Republicans charged that Kennedy had insufficiently responded to the increasing Soviet presence in Cuba. Republican politicians demanded that the president order an invasion of Cuba, or at least a naval blockade of the island, and they hoped to use the issue to support the election of more Republican senators and representatives.

However, Kennedy's successful handling of the crisis resulted in a Democratic gain in the Senate and a minimal loss in the House of Representatives. It was a far better outcome than the Democrats had expected.

November 22, 1963, became one of the darkest days in twentieth-century American history when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. The nation was plunged into shock and mourning. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the new chief executive for the remainder of Kennedy's term of office. He then became the logical choice to represent his party in the 1964 presidential election. He did precisely that, despite a brief challenge from Alabama governor George Wallace (1919–1998), an outspoken and powerful opponent of racial integration, which Johnson's administration supported.

On the Republican side, Nelson Rockefeller again sought his party's nomination. He was the early frontrunner, but lost his bid to Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater (1909–1998), an archconservative. Rockefeller was a divorcée; his political undoing came in May 1963, when he married a divorced woman who had relinquished custody of her four children to her first husband. At the time, divorce in general was frowned upon in American society. For a politician seeking high office, it was disastrous.

The 1964 election was significant in Republican Party history. The party's conservative wing gained power over its more moderate Eastern establishment. During the campaign, the ultraconservative Goldwater was hurt by a number of off-the-cuff remarks he made, beginning with his declarations that Social Security payments should become voluntary and the United States should have dropped an atom bomb on North Vietnam a decade earlier. The Democrats portrayed him as a trigger-happy cowboy. They altered Goldwater's slogan, "In your heart you know he's right," to "In your heart you know he might," to suggest that his policies would be disastrous for the nation. Johnson, meanwhile, vowed to continue the political initiatives of his deceased predecessor, and attempted to place his own stamp on domestic policy with his battle cry for a "War on Poverty."

On Election Day, Johnson trounced Goldwater, winning 61.2 percent of the popular vote. The Democrats also made substantial gains in both houses of Congress. Presidential candidate Goldwater won only in Arizona and five southern states: Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Georgia.

After suffering national defeat in 1964, the Republicans came back strong two years later. While the Democrats maintained their House and Senate majorities, President Johnson lost the liberal mandate that supported and voted for his "Great Society" legislation. Much of the Republican's success in the midterm election of 1966 was due to Richard Nixon. The ex-vice president and failed presidential nominee actively campaigned cross-country for Republican candidates, and emerged as his party's leading spokesperson.

By 1968, much change had taken place in the United States. For one thing, the Vietnam War had escalated. Increasingly, Americans questioned both the American presence in Southeast Asia and the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson. Meanwhile, a revolt within the Democratic Party was brewing. By winning 42 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire presidential primary, Senator Eugene McCarthy (1916–) of Minnesota, who was staunchly against the war, was able to claim a moral victory. New York's Senator Robert Kennedy, certainly a familiar name in national politics, was also attracting Democratic voters.

On the last day of March 1968, Johnson delivered a televised address to the nation announcing that he had ordered a partial halt to the bombing of North Vietnam. He invited the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi to begin negotiating to end the war. Then, he dropped a bombshell. "I have concluded," he stated, "that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.… Accordingly, I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President."

Public attention then focused on McCarthy and Kennedy, with the latter winning the all-important California primary in early June. Just moments after delivering his victory speech, however, he became the second Kennedy brother to be murdered by an assassin's bullet. In the aftermath, Hubert Humphrey, Johnson's vice president and the choice of party regulars, won the Democratic nomination. In order not to anger Johnson, Humphrey supported his Vietnam policies.

Alongside the turmoil involved in selecting the party's presidential candidate, more political drama unfolded on the streets outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention, which was held in Chicago. All during the convention, police had been clubbing and teargassing antiwar demonstrators. During the nomination process, protesters began chanting "the whole world is watching," referring to the fact that the events were being televised. Tear gas even seeped into the twenty-fifth-floor hotel suite where Humphrey was polishing his acceptance speech.

At the Republican National Convention, the party's nominee was Richard Nixon, who had not only lost the presidency in 1960 but the California gubernatorial race two years later. Nixon claimed that the Johnson administration had failed "to use our military power effectively" or "our diplomatic power wisely" in Vietnam. He promised to "end the war and win the peace" in Southeast Asia, while curbing inflation and reestablishing law and order at home. He won the nomination by throttling the competition from his party's right wing, represented by California's Ronald Reagan (1911–), and the left wing, represented by Nelson Rockefeller.

During the election, a strong third-party candidate emerged: George Wallace, now the former Alabama governor, attracted votes from the conservative wings of both parties. Between May and September, his approval ratings rose from 9 percent to 21 percent. Yet Wallace frightened many voters. He was a staunch segregationist. At his campaign stops, he seemed to incite clashes between protesters and police. His running mate, General Curtis LeMay (1906–1990), had earned notoriety for his declaration that the United States could, and probably should, "bomb the North Vietnamese back to the Stone Age."

In the end, Nixon won the presidential election of 1968 with a narrow victory: 43.4 percent of the vote. Humphrey took 42.7 percent, with Wallace earning 13.5 percent. Nixon won in thirty-two states, and his party made gains in both houses of Congress.

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The 1960s Government, Politics, and Law: Topics in the News

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The 1960s Government, Politics, and Law: Topics in the News