1968: Year of Unraveling

The turbulent 1960s reached a boiling point in 1968.

When the year began, President Johnson hoped to win the war in Vietnam and to win a second presidential term to finish building his Great Society. But events turned out differently.

In February, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam shifted American public opinion against the war. Candidate Eugene McCarthy challenged Johnson for his own party's nomination. President Johnson knew that he would have to fight to win party support for the nomination.

Then Robert Kennedy also entered the race for the Democratic nomination.

On March 31, 1968, Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election. His Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey, entered the election to carry out Johnson's programs.

Humphrey was popular among party elites, but Kennedy was popular among the people. Both Kennedy and McCarthy criticized Humphrey's hawkish position on Vietnam.

On April 4, Martin Luther King's assassination led to rioting across America. Two months later, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The nation was numb.

With Kennedy out of the race, the nomination of Hubert Humphrey was all but certain. Antiwar protesters came to Chicago to pressure the party into softening its stance on Vietnam.

Mayor Richard Daley ordered the Chicago police to be tough against the demonstrators. The police met them with violence. The party nominated Humphrey, but the nation began to sense that the Democrats were a party of disorder.

The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon as their candidate. Nixon spoke for the "Silent Majority" of Americans who supported the effort in Vietnam and demanded law and order. Alabama governor George Wallace ran on the American Independent Party ticket. Campaigning for "segregation now, segregation forever," Wallace appealed to many southern white voters.

Nixon won the electoral vote in a landslide, while winning only 43.4 percent of the popular vote.

Source: 1968: Year of Unraveling
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