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The 1968 Democratic National Convention of the U.S.marker Democratic Party was held at the International Amphitheatremarker in Chicago, Illinoismarker, from August 26 to August 29, 1968. Because Democratic President Lyndon Johnson had announced he would not seek a second term, the purpose of the Democratic National Convention was to select a new nominee to run as the Democratic Party’s choice for the office.

With events in the United States crashing against the American population faster and faster, 1968 quickly developed into a year of rage. All across America emotions ran high. Tensions peaked when two leaders, ones who had brought the promise of hope to a generation, were assassinated. A harsh blow came to the Civil Rights movement when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on April 4, 1968, followed by the assassination of one of the anti-war movement's hopefuls, Robert F. Kennedy on June 5/6 (shot early morning of June 5, died 26 hours later), 1968.

Chicago's mayor, Richard J. Daley, intended to showcase his and the city's achievements to national Democrats and the news media. Instead, the proceedings garnered its media attention and notoriety because of the large number of demonstrators and the use of force by the Chicago police during what was supposed to be, as named by YIPpie activist organizers, “A Festival of Life.” The rioting, which then took place between demonstrators and the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois National Guard, was well publicized by the mass media, some of whose members experienced firsthand what the protestors at Chicago also suffered. Respected newsmen of the day, Mike Wallace and Dan Rather, were both roughed up by the Chicago police while inside the halls of the Democratic Convention.

The keynote speaker was Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

Lyndon B. Johnson

Despite being eligible for reelection, President Lyndon B. Johnson did not attend the convention. The unpopularity of the Vietnam War had reached new heights by January 1968 when the Vietnamese Communists began the Tet Offensive. The military campaign became detrimental to home front morale in regards to the war, as it demonstrated to the American people that the Johnson administration had either greatly underestimated the strength of the Vietnamese Communists or made a false promise that that American forces would easily win the war. The military brass was continually confused as to how an enemy force, whose strength was estimated at 250,000, was capable of establishing a successful offensive against half a million American soldiers with 700,000 Vietnamese allies. When venerated news anchor Walter Cronkite visited Vietnam and declared the war "a stalemate that could only be ended by negotiation, not victory," Johnson was severely shaken and depressed, as he believed Cronkite’s comments would steer public opinion away from the war efforts.

By mid-March 1968, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York had both entered Democratic primaries against Johnson and polled impressively. The president, who had already suffered two heart attacks and was psychologically exhausted from the pressures of Vietnam, had lost enthusiasm for the presidency and realized that he no longer had control of his party. On March 31, the President announced that he would neither seek nor accept the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Despite personally and professionally touting his vice-president, Hubert Humphrey, President Johnson did make efforts to rally convention leaders behind him.


The task of selecting a suitable nominee was difficult for the Democratic Party in 1968. On March 31, 1968 at 9:35 P.M., President Lyndon B. Johnson announced “I shall not seek and will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”In 1968 the Democratic Party was divided. Senator Robert F. Kennedy was toying with the notion of seeking the nomination of his party. As a result of this, many of his supporters felt abandoned, and went to support Senator Eugene McCarthy for the nomination. When Kennedy finally decided to run on March 13, 1968, many students affirmed their loyalty to McCarthy feeling betrayed that Kennedy had not been there when they felt that they had needed him most. With Kennedy’s assassination on June 6, the Democratic Party’s divisions would grow.When it came to choosing a candidate, on one side stood supporters of Senator Eugene McCarthy who ran a decidedly anti-war campaign and who was seen as the peace candidate.. On the other side was Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who was seen as the candidate who represented the Johnson point of view.In the end, the Democratic Party nominated Humphrey. Even though 80 percent of the primary voters had been for anti-war candidates, the delegates had defeated the peace plank by 1,567¾ to 1,041¼. The perceived cause of this loss was the result of Mayor of Chicago Richard Daley, and President Johnson pulling strings behind the scenes. Humphrey, even though he had not entered a single primary, had won the Democratic nomination, and went on to lose the election to the Republican Richard Nixon.
The Final Ballot
Presidential tally Vice Presidential tally:
Hubert Humphrey 1759.25 Edmund S. Muskie 1942.5
Eugene McCarthy 601 Not Voting 604.25
George S. McGovern 146.5 Julian Bond 48.5
Channing Phillips 67.5 David Hoeh 4
Daniel K. Moore 17.5 Edward M. Kennedy 3.5
Edward M. Kennedy 12.75 Eugene McCarthy 3.0
Paul W. "Bear" Bryant 1.5 Others 16.25
James H. Gray 0.5
George Wallace 0.5
Source: Keating Holland, "All the Votes... Really," CNN

Richard J. Daley and the Convention

The Democratic Presidential Nominating Convention had not been held in Chicago since 1956. Chicago Mayor, Richard J. Daley had played an integral role in the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 by being the man who was able to turn out enough voters to win Illinois for Kennedy, the first Catholic U.S. president. In 1968, however, it did not seem that Daley had maintained the clout which would enable him to bring out the voters again to produce a Democratic victory as he had in 1960.On October 7, 1967, at a one thousand dollar a plate fundraiser for President Johnson’s reelection campaign, Daley and Johnson met together for a private meeting. During the meeting, Daley explained to the president that in the 1966 congressional races, there had been a disappointing showing of Democrats, and that if the convention were not held in Illinois, that the president might lose the swing state with its twenty-seven electoral votes. Johnson’s war policies had already created a great division within the party, and with the selection of Chicago for the convention, Johnson hoped that there would not be a need for him to confront any more opposition.The Committee head for selecting the site, New Jersey Democrat David Wilentz, gave the official reason for choosing Chicago as, “It is centrally located geographically which will reduce transportation costs and because it has been the site of national conventions for both Parties in the past and is therefore attuned to holding them.” In the end, however, the conversation between Johnson and Daley had been leaked to the press and published in the Chicago Tribune and several other papers.

Protests and police response

In 1967, the Yippie movement had already begun planning a youth festival in Chicago to coincide with the Democratic National Convention. They were not alone; other groups, such as Students For a Democratic Society and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, also made their presence known. When asked about anti-war demonstrators, Daley kept repeating to reporters that “No thousands will come to our city and take over our streets, or city, our convention.” In the end, 10,000 demonstrators came to Chicago for the convention where they were met by 23,000 police and National Guardsmen. Daley also thought that one way to prevent demonstrators from coming to Chicago was to refuse to grant permits which would allow for people to protest legally.

After the violence which took place at the Chicago convention, Daley claimed as his main reason for calling in so many Guardsmen and police was that he had received intelligence that there were going to be plots to assassinate many of the leaders, including himself. He played on the fears of the American people after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas as a means of legitimizing his calling of the Guard and the use of force in Chicago.

While several protests took place before serious violence occurred, the events headed by the Yippies were not without comedy. Surrounded by reporters on August 23, 1968, Jerry Rubin, a Yippie leader, folk singer Phil Ochs, and other activists held their own presidential nominating convention with their candidate Pigasus, an actual pig. When the Yippies paraded Pigasus at the Civic Center, ten policemen arrested Rubin, Pigasus, and six others. This resulted in Pigasus becoming a media hit.

August 28, 1968 came to be known as the day a “police riot” took place. The title of “police riot” came out of the Walker Report, which amassed a great deal of information and eyewitness accounts to determine what actually happened in Chicago. At approximately 3:30 p.m., a young boy lowered the American flag at a legal rally taking place at Grant Park. The rally was made up of 10,000 protestors. The police broke through the crowd and began beating the boy, while the crowd pelted the police with food, rocks, bags of urine, and chunks of concrete. The biggest clash in Chicago took place that day. Police fought with the protestors and vice versa. The chants of the protestors shifted from “Hell no, we won’t go” to “Pigs are whores.” Tom Hayden, one of the leaders of Students for a Democratic Society, encouraged protestors to move out of the park to ensure that if they were to be tear gassed, the whole city would be tear gassed, and made sure that if blood were spilled in Chicago it would happen throughout the city. The amount of tear gas used to suppress the protestors was so great that it eventually made its way to the Hilton Hotel where it disturbed Hubert Humphrey while in his shower. The police were taunted by the protestors with chants of “Kill, kill, kill.” They sprayed demonstrators and bystanders indiscriminately with Mace. What was to become the most famous picture of the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 was the police assault in front of the Hilton Hotel. The entire event took place under the T.V. lights for seventeen minutes, live, with the crowd shouting, “The whole world is watching.”

Meanwhile, in the convention hall, Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff used his nominating speech for George McGovern to tell of the violence going on outside the convention hall, saying that “with George McGovern we wouldn’t have Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago.” Mayor Daley responded to his remark with something that the T.V. sound was not able to pick up, but was later revealed by lip-readers that Daley had cursed “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch! You lousy motherfucker! Go home!” That night, NBC News had been switching back and forth between the demonstrators being beaten by the police to the festivities over Humphrey’s victory in the convention hall. It was under the cameras of the convention center, for all of America to see; it was abundantly clear that the Democratic party was sorely divided.After the Chicago protests, the demonstrators were certain that the majority of Americans would side with them over what had happened in Chicago, especially when looking at how the police had acted. In the end, however, they were shocked to see that as unpopular as the war in Vietnam had become, the anti-war movement was hated even more. Daley claimed to have received 135,000 letters supporting his actions and only 5000 condemning them. Public opinion polls demonstrated that the majority of Americans supported the Mayor’s tactics.

The Chicago Seven

After Chicago, the Justice Department meted out conspiracy and incitement to riot charges in connection with the violence at Chicago and gave birth to the Chicago Eight, which consisted of Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Jerry Rubin, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale. In February 1970, five of the Chicago Conspiracy defendants were convicted on the charge of incitement to riot, but none were found guilty of conspiracy. Judge Julius Hoffman sentenced all of the defendants and their attorneys to unprecedented prison terms ranging from two-and-a-half months to four years for contempt of court. The convictions were eventually reversed on appeal and the government decline to bring the case to trial again.

See also


Further reading

  • David Farber. Chicago '68 Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
  • Todd Gitlin. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1987.
  • Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster. The Century. New York: Doubleday, 1998
  • Frank Kusch. Battleground Chicago: The Police and the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
  • Norman Mailer. Miami and the Siege of Chicago. New York: New American Library, 1968.
  • John Schultz. No One Was Killed: The Democratic National Convention, August 1968. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

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