Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Election Day - 1960

I was 6 years old and this was the first Presidential election I would recall. I do remember brief bits about Eisenhower, mostly connected with my father being out of work during Ike's second term, during a recession. My father was never out of work, and so I suppose that is why I remember it at all.

The 1960 election was a big deal in our house, my father was Irish-Catholic; as was the Senator from Massachusetts, John Kennedy, who was the Democratic candidate for President. When Kennedy came to New York City, he visited various parts of Brooklyn, including a ride down Ralph Avenue in the Carnasie section, where we lived for a bit less than a year. I still remember seeing him riding past, waving to the crowd.

On Election Night 1960, my parents, along with millions of other Americans, sat glued to their televisions, waiting for the results. It would be a long wait. I remember making it until about 11 PM, or so, and then being carried to my bed. When I woke in the morning it was still not settled as to who had won the election!

While I slept, Richard Nixon had made a speech at about 3 AM, hinting toward a concession. He intimated that Kennedy may have won the election. This was puzzling, as it was not an out and out concession speech. Data from several states, notably Illinois and Ohio, were being examined closely for evidence of Voter fraud.

It was not until the afternoon of Wednesday, November 9th, that Nixon finally conceded the election to Kennedy. This map from Wikipedia illustrates just how close the election was. As a matter of fact, history has proven that Kennedy stole the 1960 election by buying votes in the states questioned. Included in this scenario were the actions of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley in carrying Illinois for the Democrats.

With the United States and the Soviet Union locked in a Cold War, which was about to heat up dramatically, Vice President Nixon made the decision not to concede the election, rather than challenge it, which would have thrown the country into a Constitutional crisis. With the Soviets poised on the border of West Berlin, along with the new Communist regime in Cuba, clearly this was not the time to "rock the boat" here at home. Swallowing what must have been a bitter pill, the Vice President finally conceded the election at about 3 PM on Wednesday, November 9th.

The election of 1960 still stands as a landmark one. It was the first election in the 20th Century in which both candidates had been born in the 20th Century, marking a milestone for younger voters, like my parents. It was the first time in decades that both candidates had children at home, like so many Americans in the electorate. This was also the last time a Presidential candidate would win election without carrying the state of Ohio.

Although he did not win the popular vote, Kennedy beat Nixon by one tenth of one percentage point(0.1%) which is the closest margin of the 20th century.

Nixon's staff wanted him to pursue a recount and challenge Kennedy's victory in several states, especially in Illinois, Missouri and New Jersey. Those 3 states had large majorities in Catholic districts, which just about handed Kennedy the election.

Three days after the election was over, Nixon gave a speech in which he said that he would not contest the results of the election. He is to be credited for this action, as the Russians were watching very closely to see how we handled the affair. Nixon's decision to forgo a challenge sent a clear and united signal to the Soviets that we were a strong, and unified nation, in spite of our many differences.

However, the Republican National Chairman, Senator Morton of Kentucky, did challenge the results in 11 states. Those challenges would not be thrown out of the courts until the following summer of 1961; fully 6 months after Kennedy had taken office, and just 4 months after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The only loss to Kennedy by recount was the state of Hawaii.

Though this year's elections are largely local affairs, they are the ramp up to next year's National election. So, get out there, vote, and make your voice heard. For what it's worth, the votes you cast today just may influence next year's choices.

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