The Conservative Backlash Primary Source eText

Primary Source

At a December 7, 1969, At a December 7, 1969, "tell it to Hanoi" rally in Boston, roughly 2,000 self-proclaimed members of the "silent majority" demonstrate their support for action against the Viet Cong in Vietnam. President Nixon called on the "silent majority" of Americans to support his Vietnam policies and counter the antiwar protestors he believed to be a "vocal minority." © BETTMANN/CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage © BETTMANN/CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.
President Richard Nixon, in a 1969 address to the nation about the war in Vietnam, suggested that a President Richard Nixon, in a 1969 address to the nation about the war in Vietnam, suggested that a "silent majority" of the public was in support of the war effort. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

"Nixon's Address to the Nation on the War in Vietnam"


By: Richard M. Nixon

Date: November 3, 1969

Source: "Nixon's Address to the Nation on the War in Vietnam." Available online at ; website home page: (accessed June 2, 2003).

About the Author: Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994) was defeated in his presidential run in 1960 and a California gubernatorial run in 1962, but he staged a political comeback in 1968 and was elected to the White House. He was reelected in 1972, but resigned on August 8, 1974, after his role was revealed in covering up a break in of the Democratic Party Committee's headquarters in the Watergate building.

The Power of the Positive Woman

Nonfiction work

By: Phyllis Schlafly

Date: 1977

Source: Schlafly, Phyllis. The Power of the Positive Woman. New York: Jove Publications, 1977, 213–215; 218–219.

About the Author: Phyllis McAlpin (Stewart) Schlafly (1924–) rose to prominence as a vocal and highly conservative political commentator in the 1950s. She has written and spoken extensively on topics such as the threat of the Soviet

Union, the effects of feminism on the family, and the need for less government regulation. Schlafly is most famous for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution, a proposal to outlaw gender discrimination. Her efforts were critical in preventing the ERA from being adopted by its 1982 ratification deadline.


The 1960s witnessed mass protests over civil rights, the Vietnam War, and women's liberation. Although thousands of people took part in the demonstrations on college campuses and city streets, many Americans criticized the protests as radical, dangerous, and unpatriotic. Appealing to those who were troubled by the calls for reform and change, presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon offered a "law-and-order" platform in his 1968 campaign to "the silent majority" of Americans who watched the demonstrations with apprehension. Nixon's strategy proved successful, and he narrowly won the popular vote over Democratic challenger Hubert H. Humphrey. Refining his message during his first term, Nixon won a landslide four years later over George M. McGovern with more than 60 percent of the popular vote.

Phyllis Schlafly, who maintained an image as an ordinary wife of an Illinois lawyer, was active in politics since the late 1940s when she wrote anti-New Deal articles for a banking group and did research for the anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was later censured by the Senate for his ethical misdeeds. In addition to her call for less government regulation and increased American military spending, Schlafly advocated a return to conservative morality in American society. A critic of the women's movement, Schlafly claimed that women had already achieved equality and did not need to demand further reforms. Schlafly also viewed feminism as a destructive force against family life and in the 1970s became the leading opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), an attempt to add a gender anti-discrimination amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Schlafly's argument carried the day; despite a three-year extension of the ratification period, the proposed ERA expired in 1982 without being enacted.


As the appeal of conservative figures like Richard M. Nixon and Phyllis Schlafly demonstrated, not all Americans were sympathetic to the protests that swept the nation in the 1960s. Although they were often criticized for their habit of labeling their opponents unpatriotic and radical, both Nixon and Schlafly gained large followings and used that support to implement a conservative political agenda. Caught up in the habitual corruption that took him out of office in 1974, Nixon was unable to transform his landslide 1972 election victory into a lasting return of conservatism in national politics, but Schlafly capitalized on her position as the country's leading antifeminist to campaign successfully against the ERA.

The careers of Nixon and Schlafly also demonstrated the chasm between reform-minded liberals and the so-called "silent majority" of average Americans, many of whom resented the elite backgrounds and condescending tone of some of the various movements' leaders. The conflicts between "Joe Six-Pack" and the "limousine liberals" were the basis for the popular situation comedy All in the Family, which debuted in January 1971. Much of the show's humor derived from the verbal battles between Archie Bunker, a working-class Republican, and his liberal, college-educated son-in-law. The comedy ran through 1979, and although Bunker eventually adopted a more liberal set of views, he remained a quintessential member of the silent majority throughout the run.

In the political arena, the conservative backlash against the civil and women's rights movements and the expanded role of the government in mediating such disputes was best characterized by the failed presidential bids of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George C. Wallace in 1968. Then-California governor Ronald Reagan would learn from their mistakes and present a milder form of conservatism in 1980 to win his first of two terms as President.

Primary Source: Nixon's Address to the Nation on the War in Vietnam [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: In these words, Nixon invokes the support of "the great silent majority" of Americans for his plans to end the country's involvement in the Vietnam War. Nixon often referred to "the silent majority" as his basis of support to draw attention away from the mass protests that often took place in the late 1960s. In this excerpt, Nixon reaffirms his vision of America as a nation with a moral destiny to fight Communism and bring democracy and prosperity to the rest of the world.

I know it may not be fashionable to speak of patriotism or national destiny these days. But I feel it is appropriate to do so on this occasion.

Two hundred years ago this Nation was weak and poor. But even then, America was the hope of millions in the world. Today we have become the strongest and richest nation in the world. And the wheel of destiny has turned so that any hope the world has for the survival of peace and freedom will be determined by whether the American people have the moral stamina and the courage to meet the challenge of free world leadership.

Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism.

And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.

I pledged in my campaign for the Presidency to end the war in a way that we could win the peace. I have initiated a plan of action which will enable me to keep that pledge.

The more support I can have from the American people, the sooner that pledge can be redeemed; for the more divided we are at home, the less likely, the enemy is to negotiate at Paris.

Let us be united for peace. Let us also be united against defeat. Because let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.

Fifty years ago, in this room and at this very desk, President Woodrow Wilson spoke words which caught the imagination of a war-weary world. He said: "This is the war to end war." His dream for peace after World War I was shattered on the hard realities of great power politics and Woodrow Wilson died a broken man.

Tonight I do not tell you that the war in Vietnam is the war to end wars. But I do say this: I have initiated a plan which will end this war in a way that will bring us closer to that great goal to which Woodrow Wilson and every American President in our history has been dedicated—the goal of a just and lasting peace.

As President I hold the responsibility for choosing the best path to that goal and then leading the Nation along it.

I pledge to you tonight that I shall meet this responsibility with all of the strength and wisdom I can command in accordance with your hopes, mindful of your concerns, sustained by your prayers.

Thank you and goodnight.

Primary Source: The Power of the Positive Woman [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: Like Nixon, Schlafly sees America as "the greatest country in the world," but one that is challenged to live up to its ideals while defending itself from aggression. Like Nixon, Schlafly is particularly

critical of the changes that took place in American society in the 1960s, which in her view have weakened the average American's patriotic commitment to "the values of God, family, and country."

The Bible tells us, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." The Positive Woman must have a vision for America that gives perspective to her goals, her hopes for the future, and her commitment to her country. The Positive Woman starts with the knowledge that America is the greatest country in the world and that it is her task to do her part to keep it that way.

By common consent over nearly two centuries, the day Americans celebrate as our most important national patriotic anniversary is the Fourth of July. The bicentennial of our nation, July 4, 1976, was not the anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, or the ratification of the Bill of Rights, or the start or finish of the Revolutionary War—important as all these events were. The Fourth of July is the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

This basic document of our national existence is the most perfect orientation of man to God and government outside of Holy Scripture. It is the most important document in American history and the most inspired writing in world history that ever flowed from the hand of man alone. Here is why:

  1. The Declaration of Independence is the official and unequivocal recognition by the American people of their belief and faith in God. It is a religious document from its first sentence to its last. It affirms God's existence as a "self-evident" truth that requires no further discussion or debate. The nation it creates is God's country. The rights it defends are God given. The actions of its signers are God inspired. There are four references to God—God as Creator of all men, God as the Supreme Judge, God as the source of all rights, God as our patron and protector.
  2. The Declaration of Independence declares that each of us is created equal. This means equal before God. It does not mean that all men are born with equal abilities, and so on, as some try to claim. Nor does it mean that all men can be made equal, as Communist dogma alleges. Obviously and realistically, and as your own individuating fingerprints prove, each of God's creatures is unequal and different from every other person who have ever lived or ever will live on this earth.
  3. The Declaration of Independence proclaims that life and liberty are unalienable gifts of God—natural rights—which no person or government can rightfully take away.
  4. The Declaration of Independence proclaims that the purpose of government is to secure these unalienable individual rights and that government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. For the first time in history, government was reduced from master to servant.

The Declaration of Independence comes to us after 200 years in all its pristine purity. Whereas the United States Constitution has had to suffer the slings and arrows of some outrageous federal court interpretations and judicial distortions, neither the meddling judges nor the bungling bureaucrats have confused or distorted the Declaration of Independence. As the Declaration was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be because it proclaims truth and facts that are not subject to change or amendment.

The Supreme Court that banned God from the public schools has not been able to censor Him out of the Declaration of Independence. The Supreme Court has forbidden public school children to declare their dependence upon God, but the Declaration of Independence pledges the firm reliance of the American people forever on the continued protection of God's Divine Providence.…

The paramount question confronting America is: What is our national response to this challenge? Are we building the nuclear weapons we need to enable us to live in freedom and independence in the face of the Soviet threat? Make no mistake about it, our freedom of religion, speech, and press, our independence as a nation, and our entire Judeo-Christian civilization are possible only in a world defended by America's armed forces with their nuclear weapons. Without the superiority of American defenses over every potential aggressor, there can be no freedom, independence, or civilization as we know it.

If we want to hang on to the precious vitality that built our great nation, we must teach our young people that the pass-word of freedom is Patrick Henry's eloquent "Give me liberty or give me death"—not the plea of the handout hunter, "Gimme, gimme, gimme." If we want our independence to endure, we must teach our young people to reject the lure of the Soviet appeasers who cry, "Better Red than dead"—and instead to kindle the patriotic fervor of Nathan Hale, the young teacher who said, "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country."

Further Resources


Blum, John Morton. Years of Discord: American Politics and Society, 1961-1974. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

Carroll, Peter N. "Phyllis Stewart Schlafly." In Famous in America: The Passion to Succeed. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.

Carter, Dan T. George Wallace, Richard Nixon, and the Transformation of American Politics. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 1992.

Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York: BasicBooks, 1992.

Faludi, Susan. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. New York: Anchor Books, 1991.

Felsenthal, Carol. The Sweetheart of the Silent Majority. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1981.

Matusow, Allen J. The Unraveling of America: A History of Liberalism in the 1960s. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.

Schudson, Michael. Watergate in American Memory: How We Remember, Forget, and Reconstruct the Past. New York: BasicBooks, 1992.


"The Eagle Forum." Available online at (accessed April 6, 2003).

"Richard M. Nixon." Available online at; website home page: (accessed April 6, 2003).