Tag Archives: Kennedy

The 1960 Presidential Election & the Lingering Effects of the Civil War

1960 presidential electoral map (JFK Library)

1960 presidential electoral map (JFK Library)

In my previous article, I explained how the Democrats’ implosion at the 1860 Democratic National Convention in Charleston, SC, opened the door to Lincoln’s election. This week, we will move ahead 100 years to see how the Civil War affected party politics well into the twentieth century. Some say it still continues to affect national elections. I would not contest the point.

It may be difficult to believe today, but in 1960, John Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, could not have won the White House without winning most of the South. Nixon took Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida, but Kennedy took North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. A third party candidate, Harry Byrd, took Mississippi. Kennedy and Byrd split the electoral votes in Alabama.

First-ever televised presidential debate in Chicago, Ill. (Source: NBC News)

First-ever televised presidential debate in Chicago, Ill. between Nixon and Kennedy (Source: NBC News)

Yes, having Texas United States Senator Lyndon Johnson contributed to Kennedy’s success, but Southerners’ antipathy to the Republican Party (the party of Lincoln), played the larger role.

One only has to look at Eisenhower’s landslide victories in 1952 and 1956. Although Ike was very popular as the World War II commander of the Allies’ European forces, Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson won his few electoral victories in the South, winning North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas in both elections (also winning West Virginia, Kentucky, and Louisiana in 1952, but not in 1956, and picking up Missouri in 1956).

So, what turned the tide? When Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, outlawing discrimination in voting registration, schools, and employment, he knew he did so at the peril of the Democratic Party. Although Johnson won a landslide victory in 1964, Republican candidate Barry Goldwater took South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and his home state of Arizona. It seems white Southerners were more intimidated by the immediate prospect of African Americans with equal rights than by the more remote possibility of a nuclear war that might extinguish human life from the planet. (See Johnson campaign “Daisy Girl” commercial below)

Once the Republicans made inroads into the South, they employed a “Southern strategy,” successfully convincing many Southern Democrats that the Democratic Party had become hostile to Dixiecrats’ segregationist policies. The trickle of Southerners into the Republican Party became a flood. But in 1960, most white Southern voters viewed Republicans as the party of Lincoln, the party of “Northern aggression.” They had not yet abandoned the party of their ancestors.

To see electoral maps from Presidential elections, go to the President Elect website at http://presidentelect.us.


Filed under 1960s, Civil Rights, Civil War, Elections, Presidential elections, Presidents

JFK’s Assassination: A Personal Look Back

This week the media will look back fifty years to remind its audience of the assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Kennedy was 46 years old. My parents were in their mid-forties at the time, only a few years younger than the President.

Life Magazine cover (Source: JFKlibrary.org)

Life magazine cover (Source: JFKlibrary.org)

I was eleven years old, a seventh grader in a Newport News, Virginia public elementary school. I learned the news at the end of the school day. Two miles away, my future wife attended a Catholic school, where her school principal wept openly over the public address system as she told students and teachers about the President’s shooting in Dallas.

In hindsight, one can review the accomplishments and failures of the Kennedy administration with 20/20 clarity. What that type of analysis fails to convey, however, is the mood of the country during the Kennedy years.

My father was an automobile mechanic struggling to build a business several years after suffering broken legs, broken ribs, a pierced lung, and back injuries in a coal mining accident. Our neighbors were army and navy engineers and military officers, many of them in their thirties and early forties. All of them were optimistic about the country’s future, even as the country struggled with civil rights and a Cold War that sometimes became uncomfortably warm.

JFK Jr.'s (also know as John John) famous salute as his father's casket passed by (UPI.com)

JFK Jr.’s (also know as John-John) famous salute as his father’s casket passed by (UPI.com)

The Kennedys generated a sense of optimism. This was a relatively youthful administration when compared to those preceding it (Eisenhower, Truman, FDR). Americans could flip through Life and Look magazines and witness the Kennedy children at play in the White House. They could turn to one of the three networks on black-and-white televisions sets and watch astronauts soar into space in the early stages of America’s race to put a man on the moon.

Sometimes the country just needs a cheerleader, someone who inspires us to accomplish more than we think is possible, someone who inspires us to look beyond ourselves for the greater good of our community (“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”). For Democrats, it may be Kennedy. For Republicans, it may be Reagan. In both cases, the men made Americans feel better about themselves, more hopeful for their country. Perhaps we look at some leaders with rose-colored glasses, but occasionally we need their inspiration to give us the determination to face the challenges of another day.

Caroline and John-John playing in the Oval Office (Source: The Tuscon Citizen)

In brighter times, Caroline and John-John play in the Oval Office (Source: The Tuscon Citizen)

John-John hiding under his father's desk in the Oval Office (Source: USA Today)

John-John hiding under his father’s desk in the Oval Office (Source: USA Today)

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Filed under 1900s, American history, history, John F. Kennedy