Richard Nixon's Presidency

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Explain why 1968 was a watershed year for the United States.

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1968 was a year of great social upheaval and turmoil in the United States. The Vietnam War was becoming deeply unpopular, generating widespread protests in the streets, especially among the young.

One such protest took place in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. The mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, was hostile to the anti-war protestors and used the police force to crack down hard on demonstrations. For four days and nights police engaged in an often brutally violent running battle with anti-war protestors, who wanted the Democratic Party to commit to ending the war in Vietnam.

The bitter divisions fought out on the streets reflected similar divisions inside the convention hall, where the Democratic Party was split from top to bottom on the burning issue of the day. The older generation of Democrats, including prominent figures such as Mayor Daley, were staunch anti-Communists and wholeheartedly supported the Vietnam War. The more liberal wing of the party, on the other hand, regarded the war as morally wrong, argued that it should be ended, and that the process of withdrawing American troops from Vietnam should begin at once.

Given such deep and seemingly irreconcilable divisions, it's little wonder that many Americans turned to the Republican candidate for president, Richard Nixon, in the hope that he would provide the country with much-needed stability in the midst of such turmoil. In that sense, one could argue that 1968 was a watershed for the United States in that it heralded the revival of conservatism, which had been on the retreat ever since the election of FDR in 1932.

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1968 was a watershed year for a number of very important reasons.  They include:

  • The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
  • The Tet Offensive and President Johnson choosing not to run for reelection.
  • The chaos at the Democratic convention in Chicago.
  • The election of Richard Nixon.

These events had a tremendous impact on the United States.  The King assassination and the riots that followed harmed race relations tremendously.  So did the Nixon campaign’s “southern strategy.”  The Democratic convention and Nixon’s election helped to create the deep liberal-conservative splits that we feel today.  The Tet Offensive led to the end of US involvement in the Vietnam War. 

These events changed the American political and social landscape in ways that continue to be felt today.

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