President John F. Kennedy: Getting the Democratic Nomination

About the Democratic Convention in 1960 and the nomination of John F. Kennedy for President of the United States.

Nomination: The main obstacle standing between Kennedy and the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960 was the belief that no Catholic could possibly be elected. Kennedy sought to overcome this religious prejudice by entering-and winning-a string of State party primaries. With his generously financed, brilliantly organized campaigns, and his fresh and youthful appeal, Kennedy easily outdistanced all his rivals. The decisive blow came in West Virginia-a State that was 95% Protestant-where Kennedy beat Sen. Hubert Humphrey so badly that Humphrey was forced to withdraw from the race.

July 11, 1960...

As the Democratic convention convened in Los Angeles, Kennedy had emerged as the clear choice of the Northern, liberal wing of his party and appeared close to a 1st ballot victory. His chief convention rival was Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson, who had the support of the South and the party's more conservative elements. At the last minute, an unexpected development jeopardized Kennedy's almost certain nomination: A strong drive to "draft" Adlai Stevenson for a 3rd try as Democratic standard-bearer began to drain liberal strength from Kennedy. Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota gave an impassioned nominating speech for Stevenson, and in the convention's longest and most emotional floor demonstration, delegates and the public showed their support for the Illinois leader. In the face of all this, Stevenson's repeated assurances that he was not a candidate began to lose credibility. Nevertheless, Kennedy's support remained surprisingly firm, and when the 1st roll call reached Wyoming, everyone at the convention knew that those 15 votes would put JFK over the top. As the convention paused in silence for a moment, the candidate's brother Teddy, in the middle of the Wyoming delegation, urged its members to use their votes to name a President. When the chairman of the delegation announced that all 15 votes went to the Kennedy column, the convention went wild as JFK was nominated on the 1st ballot. The next day, in a bid for party unity and Southern support, Kennedy asked that Lyndon Johnson be named as his running mate. Despite complaints from organized labor and Stevensonian liberals, this choice was finally accepted by the convention.

On Friday afternoon of convention week, in the shadows of the setting sun, Kennedy appeared before 80,000 people in the Los Angeles Coliseum to deliver his acceptance speech. There he sounded the keynote for his campaign and his Presidency:

I stand tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch 3,000 mi. behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West...

Today some would say that those struggles are all over, that all the horizons have been explored, that all the battles have been won, that there is no longer an American frontier. But the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won, and we stand today on the edge of a new frontier-the frontier of the 1960s....Beyond that frontier are unchartered areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.

It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past....But I believe the times demand invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be new pioneers on that new frontier.

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