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Slide Notes

1964 was a full year in United States History. Having already seen the John Glenn become the first American to orbit the earth and the monumental signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1964 would end with one of the more interesting (though not competitive) Presidential Elections on record.
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1964 Presidential Election

Published on Nov 18, 2015

A review of the 1964 Presidential Election by Mr. Woodson


1964 Presidential Election

Presented by Mr. Woodson
1964 was a full year in United States History. Having already seen the John Glenn become the first American to orbit the earth and the monumental signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1964 would end with one of the more interesting (though not competitive) Presidential Elections on record.

Johnson is sworn into office

November 22, 1963
The 1964 Presidential Election proved pivotal though its impact was difficult to see at the time.

Lyndon Johnson had taken over as President after the assassination of John F. Kennedy making him an obvious choice for the Democratic Party.

The Republicans battled internally and produced a scarred candidate who lacked the full backing of the party.

With things heating up in Vietnam and civil rights on the forefront at home much more than control of the White House was at stake.

The Treatment

Senate Majority Leader Johnson persuades a colleague to see things his way.
A native Texan, Lyndon Johnson first entered national politics in 1937 as a US Representative. He served as an adviser to President Roosevelt during WWII and was first elected to the US Senate in 1948.

Before long he was the legislative leader of the Democratic Party and was well known for his skill convincing other party members to tow the line on legislation.

Central to Johnson's control was "The Treatment" described here by an anonymous colleague:

"The Treatment could last ten minutes or four hours. It came, enveloping its target, at the Johnson Ranch swimming pool, in one of Johnson's offices, in the Senate cloakroom, on the floor of the Senate itself — wherever Johnson might find a fellow Senator within his reach.

Its tone could be supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint and the hint of threat. It was all of these together. It ran the gamut of human emotions. Its velocity was breathtaking, and it was all in one direction. Interjections from the target were rare. Johnson anticipated them before they could be spoken. He moved in close, his face a scant millimeter from his target, his eyes widening and narrowing, his eyebrows rising and falling. From his pockets poured clippings, memos, statistics. Mimicry, humor, and the genius of analogy made The Treatment an almost hypnotic experience and rendered the target stunned and helpless."

1964 Democratic National Convention

How do you seat 51 state delegations?
After becoming President, Johnson was responsible for escalating the conflict in Vietnam and saw a more aggressive stance taken by Washington on civil rights.

Johnson forced the 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress in the summer of 1964 and signed it into law prior to the Democratic Convention.

His administration also continued the trend of more aggressively enforcing civil rights laws.

The Credentials Committee

The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
Johnson faced no serious challenge for the nomination though Segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace had surprising support.

Coinciding with a violent summer in the South, a big push to register black citizens to vote was undertaken as part of a movement known as Freedom Summer.

In Mississippi, black voters formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and sought to be seated as the delegates from Mississippi as the traditional party excluded black voters. Their effort received televised attention and could have embarrassed Johnson. Their struggle received some TV coverage but was preempted by a speech from the White House.


In the end, the Mississippi delegation walked out after the party refused the MFDP request but decreed that no future delegation would be admitted if it excluded black voters.

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Barry Goldwater was a native of Arizona and a pilot in the Army Air Corps during WWII.

After entering politics, he worked to build a conservative Republican Party in Arizona, at the time a Democratic stronghold.

After helping the party claim the governor's mansion with Howard Pyle in 1950, Goldwater upset the popular Senate Majority Leader Earnest McFarland in 1952 (ironically allowing Lyndon Johnson to take over that role).

1964 Republican National Convention

A time for choosing... eventually.
Goldwater was drafted to run by a grass-roots conservative wing of the Republican party after his 1964 book "The Conscience of a Conservative" was published.

He ran against the moderate Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller.

Initially, Goldwater was excited for a campaign of ideas against his friend, John F. Kennedy. After the assassination Goldwater doubted he could win but his supporters wanted control of the party and pressed him to stay in.

Goldwater never seriously challenged Johnson in any poll but the 1964 Convention cemented the conservative wing and launched the national career of a recent convert from the Democratic Party who delivered the keynote speech:


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Goldwater's views were dramatically different from what Nixon had said in 1960 and he didn't have the baggage that Johnson brought into 1964 but his blunt attitude made him hard for America to warm up to. His hard line stance on some issues would be his weakness and his most famous quote led many Republican moderates to abandon him.

"I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

His ads hinted at an aggressive nature and scared as many people as they persuaded.


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Johnson easily turned back every attack Goldwater made by emphasizing Goldwater's bluntness and lack of political savvy.

Shortly after Goldwater's slogan, "In your heart, you know he's right," appeared Johnson supporters began sporting new campaign buttons......

In your Guts you Know He's Nuts

Johnson's campaign painted Goldwater as a racist due to his vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a tactic Johnson later admitted had more politics than truth behind it.

Goldwater lacked support from many moderate Republicans as well with former President Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney, and even Nixon offering no endorsement.

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Johnson had support from nearly every major Democrat (except for Robert Kennedy initially) and his championing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act placed him on the front lines of the most significant domestic issue of the day.


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Johnson made up with Robert Kennedy (who many hoped would run for VP--Kennedy chose to run for the US Senate instead) and campaigned with him in New York.

Internally, the biggest fear for Johnson's campaign was that voters would be complacent and not show up on election day.

This would not likely have helped Goldwater pull off an upset (Goldwater felt the best he could hope for was to at least win in Arizona), but it could harm Democratic majorities in the Senate and House that Johnson would need for his proposed Great Society program.

Johnson's campaign capitalized on the fear people had of Goldwater's foreign policy and created one of the most iconic ads in election history.


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Johnson's landslide was not a surprise in 1964. He achieved 61% of the popular vote and 90% of the electoral college.

Goldwater won in Arizona and picked up five Southern states that had not voted for the Republican Party (ever) hinting at an electoral shift in coming decades. More importantly, the conservative Republicans gained a solid foothold in the party.

Goldwater would return to the US Senate two years later where he would serve Arizona until he retired in the 1980's.

Goldwater's weak campaign contributed to considerable majorities in the House and Senate for the Democrats.

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Johnson's term would yield mixed results. His Great Society Program was a mixed bag of successes and failures but many of the programs survive today.

The landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act cemented the political gains of minorities during the decade since the Brown decision made segregation unconstitutional. Johnson considered it the most important accomplishment of his Presidency.

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The expanding conflict in Vietnam began to weigh heavily on Johnson and the stress of serving in the White House impacted his health.

Johnson initially planned to run for re-election in 1968 but after a luke-warm start he bowed out. It was said that he feared he wouldn't live through another term. Johnson died of a heart attack in 1973.

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Historians are generally favorable in their assessment of the Johnson Presidency despite the struggles of his final years in office and his reputation as a bully towards other politicians. "Being right and playing nice wasn't going to get a damn thing done!" commented Johnson rival Richard Nixon.