“Shocking irregularities and fraud” … “We wuz robbed!” ... "The election must be viewed as a failure of American government to operate a well-functioning democracy …”
Sound familiar? The remarks came after the presidential election of 1960 — with results far closer than the 2020 election — and a contest that offered a compelling argument for an investigation and recount of the votes.
In "Campaign of the Century," the third volume in historian Irwin Gellman’s life of Richard Nixon, the author makes the most documented case yet that, had the 27 electoral votes of Illinois and those of Texas (24) been investigated and given thorough recounts, the election would have swung from Democrat John F. Kennedy to Republican Nixon.
Put another way, had the suspicious vote-counting by the Chicago Board of Elections controlled by Mayor Richard Daley’s Democratic machine been shown to be responsible for JFK’s wafer thin (8,858 votes out of 4.6 million) lead in Illinois, and had Democrat vice-presidential nominee Lyndon Johnson’s Texas permitted a recount of the “iffy” Democratic lead (46,266 out of 2.3 million), Nixon would have been the 35th rather than the 37th president.
Kennedy, a cold warrior never fully trusted by the Democrats’ growing liberal wing, might have stayed in the Senate and faded into obscurity.
Ah, the might-have-beens.
The obvious question herein is why one has had to wait 62 years for a powerful case — which Gellman clearly produces — of a fraudulent election for president.
“The history was written by the winners,” is the author’s explanation. He notes that Theodore H. White’s "The Making of the President 1960" served as a template for generations of books to follow. As Gellman puts it, “his narrative of the race, of a heroic senator defeating an unscrupulous partisan, has gone largely unchallenged.”
Indeed, from James MacGregor Burns’ election year hagiography "John Kennedy: A Political Profile" through the scores of memoirs of Ted Sorensen, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Ken O’Donnell and others in the Kennedy inner circle to more modern works such as Robert Dallek’s "John F. Kennedy: An Unfinished Life" — all offer a virtually unchanged portrait of good vs. evil in Kennedy vs. Nixon.
Until the evidence was so overwhelming it could not be ignored, Kennedy biographers up until recently followed the lead of admiring reporters who covered him and never once mentioned that he suffered from serious (and painful) Addison’s disease or that he was a serial adulterer before, during, and after his election. (In contrast, as Gellman points out, Nixon was healthy in 1960 and had a stable family life — insisting until the campaign’s final days that he spend weekends at home with wife Pat and their two daughters.)
"Campaign of the Century" pulls no punches and tells the story behind an unforgettable contest between two very ambitious Navy veterans of World War II with the youngest-ever median age of major party nominees (Kennedy was 43 and Nixon 47).
Two key legends lingering from the race are laid to rest by Gellman. It has long been taken for granted by many that Kennedy overcame bigotry and prejudice to become the first Roman Catholic president. But Nixon and the Republicans denounced bigotry and distanced themselves from Protestant clergymen who raised questions about a Catholic president (notably Norman Vincent Peale).
“Kennedy’s Catholicism worked in his favor,” concludes the author, adding that it was the Democrat’s campaign that “kept the issue alive.” This included a highly inflammatory mass mailing of a pamphlet entitled "Liberty or Bigotry" by the United Auto Workers and featuring pictures of the Statue of Liberty and a Ku Klux Klansman representing anti-Catholicism. President Dwight Eisenhower deemed the mailing “evil” and denounced UAW President Walter Reuther.
“The most dramatic shift in voting,” notes Gellman, came from Catholics, “who provided Kennedy with over half of his total vote.” Citing Republican National Committee statistics that 6 million more Catholics voted for Kennedy and not Stevenson in 1956, the author concludes “this was the biggest shift, by far, between the two elections.”
The other myth arising from 1960 lore is how Kennedy’s call to comfort Coretta Scott King when husband Martin Luther King, Jr. was imprisoned in Georgia swung the Black vote to him and was decisive in his win. Again, this is moonshine. With some 10 million Blacks eligible to vote in 1960, barely half turned out—undoubtedly a result of Jim Crow laws in Southern states designed to keep Blacks from voting.
Although Kennedy had a lukewarm record on civil rights, the Democrat platform had a strong civil rights plank and he won Blacks by roughly 2-to-1.
Nixon, who was the Eisenhower administration’s chief civil rights proponent and had the backing of baseball great Jackie Robinson, got just slightly less than Ike’s performance (37%) in ’56.
Martin Luther King, Sr.’s endorsement of Kennedy meant little, as Nixon carried the seven predominantly Black precincts in Atlanta. King Jr., freed from jail, declared his neutrality in the race because he headed the non-partisan Southern Christian Leadership Conference and infuriated Kennedy.
Republican National Chairman Thruston Morton, speaking for tens of thousands of GOP volunteers and officials nationwide, urged an investigation and recount in the closest election since 1880. So did President Eisenhower and Pat Nixon.
Illinois’s Republican Gov. William Stratton suggested that Illinois’s Election Board (with four Republicans and one Democrat) would not certify the electoral votes for Kennedy and, in fact, it delayed the certification “until Nixon asked him to validate Kennedy’s victory.”
“The United States couldn’t afford to have a vacuum of leadership for that period of time [during a recount] without knowing who was president,” Nixon later explained, “The cost in world opinion and the effect on democracy in the broadest sense would be detrimental.” Thus, he conceded graciously and moved on.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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