ADVANCED PLACEMENT UNITED STATES HISTORY
Passing the Torch to a New Generation


*In 1960, Eisenhower would neither wish to nor be allowed to run again.  Vice-President Nixon would run against the young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy.  JFK’s VP would be Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas, who nearly won the presidential nomination outright, and still wanted the office.

*Although both were in their forties (it was the first time both major candidates had been born in the 20th Century), both were WWII veterans, and both had been Congressmen and Senators, of the two, Kennedy seemed to represent youth and change. 

*JFK would be feared because he was a Catholic.  One North Carolina Baptist preacher said ‘I fear Catholicism more than I fear communism.’  Kennedy accused Ike and Nixon of letting the communists get too far ahead, and with the launch of Sputnik, the fall of Cuba, ever-escalating nuclear arsenals, and the missile gap, it was hard for Nixon to defend his old administration.

*In the first televised presidential debates, JFK looked young, fit, and handsome, while Nixon looked sweaty, shifty, and unappealing.  Most people who heard the debate on the radio thought Nixon had come off better--he had the experience and he could be a great speaker--but most people who saw it on television were swept away by the handsome young Kennedy.  He got many votes in the North and in big cities, he still carried much of the Deep South, and workers, Blacks, and Catholics in all parts of the country tended to vote for him.  In Chicago some of them voted several times.  JFK won with 303 electoral votes (Nixon had 219 and Harry F. Byrd, Senator from Virginia, with Strom Thurmond as a running mate, got fifteen). 

*John F. Kennedy thus became the youngest man to be elected president (although TR was younger when he succeeded McKinley).  In his inaugural address, Kennedy declared that the torch had been passed to a new generation, but said that it also faced new challenges in the long twilight struggle of the Cold War. 

*Kennedy wanted to build up the military, both to close a ‘missile gap’ between the US and USSR and to allow flexible responses to crises by recruiting more men for the Army and Navy (especially the Special Forces), relying less on the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction.

*Closing the missile gap was necessary, because the Soviets had tested their first ICBM in 1957--the rocket that launched Sputnik.  The US did not successfully test an ICBM until 1959.  However, for several years both countries still relied on short, medium, and intermediate range ballistic missiles.

*In 1961, American spy planes discovered that the USSR did not have as many nuclear weapons as had been thought, and Kennedy began discussing Krushchev's old idea of a nuclear test ban treaty, which was signed in 1963 by the USA, USSR, and UK.  France said it would still test nuclear weapons if it wished.

*In response to Sputnik, Eisenhower had created NASA, and Kennedy planned to expand on it.

*Laika the Space Dog became the first living creature launched into orbit on 3 November, 1957.  America would take over three years to send an animal into space, launching Ham the Chimp into space on 31 January, 1961, 11 days after Kennedy's inauguration.

*On 12 April, 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth

*The United States had been training men to go into space since 1959, and the first of them to go into space was Alan Shepherd, launched on 5 May, 1961.  He did not go high enough to enter orbit, or stay up very long (he was only off the ground 15 minutes and 28 seconds), but he proved that an American could pilot a space craft.

*On 25 May, 1961 John F Kennedy pledged that the United States would place a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s.

*On 20 February, 1962, John Glenn, the third American in space, became the first American to orbit the Earth, staying up over four hours and circling the Earth three times.  His space capsule was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean by USS Noa, commanded by John Exum of Johnson City.

*On 20 July, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon, and the next day, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on it.  The USSR never landed a man on the moon, despite plans to do so.  Twelve Americans on six missions eventually did walk on the Lunar surface; the last Apollo mission left the moon on 14 December, 1972.

*Back on Earth, the world was increasingly seen not just as divided between America and her allies and the Soviet Union and its satellites, but, as Europe's colonies gained their independence, they, and other countries, mostly poor countries in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia came to be seen as a Third World between the two.

*To gain support in the Third World, Kennedy offered more American aid and created the Peace Corps to send young Americans on missions of freedom to foreign countries to offer technical, medical, and education assistance.

*Kennedy was concerned about Third World countries turning communist because Cuba had already done so after Fidel Castro led the 1959 revolution there against the American-backed dictator Batista, began nationalising industries and seizing plantations, and soon afterwards sought Soviet support.  Many Cubans fled to Florida after losing their businesses, and they demanded the US government help them win Cuban freedom again.

*On 17 April, 1961, Cuban exiles trained by the CIA invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.  Kennedy had promised them air support and other assistance, but at the last minute, he changed his mind.  Most of the invaders were killed or captured.

*The next year (1962), Nikita Khrushchev placed nuclear missiles in Cuba, partly to protect Cuba and partly because America had recently placed intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Turkey and Italy, where they could strike the Soviet Union.

*This began the Cuban Missile Crisis when they were discovered by American U-2 spy planes.  Kennedy blamed Khrushchev for bringing the world to the brink of war (a strategy later known as brinksmanship), although he also pushed the world towards war by blockading Cuba to keep out any more Soviet supplies (although he called it a quarantine, because a blockade is an act of war).  For thirteen days in October, 1962, it seemed the world might be destroyed in a nuclear war, but in the end, the USSR backed down and removed the missiles (in exchange for the US removing missiles from Turkey).  In the end, it did not matter much, as both sides produced ever more ICBMs that could hit any part of the globe.

*After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US and USSR created a hot line--a direct telephone connection between Washington and Moscow--so that the leaders of the two countries could discuss crises instantly. 

*Back in the USSR, Khrushchev was seen as weak for standing down.  Perhaps even worse, he had presided over the USSR while Red China began to drift out of the Soviet Sphere, until in 1961, the Sino-Soviet Split became official.  In 1964 Khrushchev was forced out of power and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.

*Cuba was not the only problem. In Communist East Germany, the government claimed that too many people (and spies) were coming to East Germany to escape the cruel, cold, capitalist West.  In fact, too many people were leaving East Germany to escape communism.  To stop this, the East German government decided to build an anti-fascist protection wall.  At midnight 12/13 August 1961, the East German army began to close the border with guards and barbed wire.  On 15 August, pre-fabricated concrete barriers were put in place along portions of the border, and eventually all of West Berlin was surrounded by a 12-foot wall with barbed wire, machine gun towers, land mines, and other security around it.  Border guards were given orders to shoot anyone who tried to escape, and about 200 people were killed trying to do so (and many also succeeded).  On the western side of the wall there was no security, and West Berliners covered it with graffiti.

*The West feared that East Germany and the USSR would soon try to take over all of Berlin, and sent more troops to defend it.  In 1963 President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin and said that it stood for all the peoples divided by the Iron Curtain:  "Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner'... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!'"

*The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years as a physical manifestation of the Iron Curtain.  Fences, guard posts, and land mines also ran the entire length of the Inner German Border and along the Czechoslovakian borders with West Germany and Austria.

*Kennedy also increased the support that America gave the South Vietnam, where a pro-American government was threatened by Communism, by sending more aid and military advisors to the RVN.

*At home, Kennedy promised a New Frontier, a term inspired by Frederick Jackson Turner.  This plan would improve the economy, health care, education, and civil rights.

*In this he was supported by a cabinet mostly made up of young, brilliant men, mostly educated in the Ivy League.  His brother Robert was made Attorney-General, while Robert McNamara left the presidency of Ford Motor Company to become Secretary of Defence.

*In 1961, Social Security benefits were increased and people could begin to receive it at 62 rather than 65, although they got a lower monthly payment to make up for it.

*In 1961, Kennedy began making adjustments to the Fair Labor Standards Act that raised the minimum wage to $1.25 an hour.  Over the next few years it would continue to rise.

*The Equal Pay Act of 1963 required equal pay for equal work, primarily to get companies to pay women the same wages they paid men.  Although there were loopholes in this Act, it helped begin the process of getting equality for women in the workplace.

*In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, describing the effect of chemical fertilisers and pesticides on wildlife, particularly birds and insects.  This is often seen as the beginning of the environmentalist movement.

*In 1963 the Clean Air act began to regulate air pollution, and many more environmental laws would be passed as the decade progressed.

*When it came to Civil Rights for African-Americans, Kennedy at first moved cautiously, unwilling to anger Southern Democrats.  Over time, though, he did offer increasing support for voter registration movements and for black students who tried to enrol in white colleges, and he did ultimately support what later became the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but did not live to see it enacted.

*Kennedy might have done much more as president, as he hoped to pass middle-class and corporate tax cuts, and he was becoming more supportive of Civil Rights, but on 22 November, 1963 he visited Dallas.  While riding in an open car through the city, he was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald and Lyndon Johnson became president.  A few days later, Oswald was murdered while in police custody.  Although there have always been conspiracy theories about Kennedy’s murder, the Warren Commission determined that Oswald had acted alone.

*When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson became president.  He had been a Congressman and Senator from Texas for over twenty years, and was chosen as vice-president partly to get Southern Democrats to vote for a Northern Catholic.

*Johnson was not a traditional Southern Democrat, however.  He had played a major role in getting Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

*In fact, Johnson was very effective at working with Congress.  He had been a Congressman for years and had many connections.  He knew exactly how to reach each person there, whether with persuasion, bribery, or bullying, and won the passage of many laws with 'the Johnson treatment.'

*As president Johnson used his connections in Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to outlaw discrimination.  Not only did it help African-Americans and other ethnic minorities, but Title VII prohibited discrimination based on sex.

*Johnson did not just want to fight discrimination, he also declared a War on Poverty, a phrase Kennedy had used, but not done much to turn into policy.  Not only did he get Kennedy’s proposed middle-class tax cuts through Congress, he created programmes to improve education and provide job training for many Americans.  The Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) trained volunteers similar to the Peace Corps to work in poor urban and rural areas (particularly Appalachia) to provide educational and medical assistance.

*Johnson’s War on Poverty also focused attention (and federal funding) on Appalachia, including through the Appalachian Regional Commission, a group originally created by the governors of a number of Appalachian states but which now began to receive significant federal funding.

*Johnson also created Head Start, to help prepare young children for school.

*The Food Stamp Act of 1964 expanded on a pilot program begun by Kennedy and appropriated $75 million, with increasing appropriations for future years.

*While Johnson was president, minimum wage reached its highest purchasing power:  in 1968, the minimum wage of $1.60 an hour was equivalent to earning $11.63 per hour in 2018.

*In 1964, Johnson ran for election as president in his own right against Barry Goldwater.  Goldwater opposed Johnson’s big spending.  He thought the Federal government should do as little as possible while people should take responsibility for themselves.  He would have lowered taxes and cut welfare and other programmes.  Despite wanting a fairly inactive government, he did favour a very strong stand against the Soviet Union and Communism in general (which had the most intrusive government possible).  Republicans said, 'In your heart, you know he's right.'  Democrats said, 'In your guts, you know he's nuts.'

*Johnson’s campaign played up some of Goldwater’s extreme views, suggesting he would end Civil Rights legislation and perhaps even provoke a nuclear war.  Goldwater lost the Election of 1964 in a landslide, but he carried five Southern states, the first Republican to win Deep Southern states on his own.  Furthermore, his campaign was seen as the birth of the modern conservative movement (although Goldwater eventually turned against religious conservatives because he felt that legislating morality was too intrusive, too).

*Among Johnson's 486 electoral votes were the 3 votes of Washington, D.C., which had been given the right to vote in presidential elections by the XXIII Amendment, passed in 1960 and ratified in March, 1961.

*With Johnson elected as president and Democrats in control of the House and Senate, they planned to expand the War on Poverty in order to create a Great Society, in which poverty and discrimination would end, and everyone would be taken care of.

*Johnson believed that better education and health care were necessary to end poverty, so he created Medicare (government-sponsored health care for the elderly) and Medicaid (health care for the poor and disabled).  He also increased funding for education with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

*To promote government construction of highways and to support public transportation he created the Department of Transportation, and to help house the urban poor, he created the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with the first African-American cabinet secretary, Robert Weaver leading it.

*The Great Society would protect the environment.  Modern environmentalism began after the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, describing the effect of chemical fertilisers and pesticides on wildlife, particularly birds and insects.  This encouraged the creation of the Water Quality Act of 1965 and the Clean Water Restoration Act of 1966.

*The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 allowed far more immigrants (particularly from Eastern Europe and Latin America) to come to the US.  Since the 1920s, only Western Europeans had been encouraged to move to the US.

*In many ways, Johnson’s War on Poverty and Great Society were successful:  between 1960 and 1970, the percentage of Americans living in poverty dropped from 22.2% to 12.6%.

*Johnson and the Congress were not the only reformers of the 1960s.  The Supreme Court, under Earl Warren (known as the Warren Court), also changed society.  Cases such as Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964) required states to make sure that electoral districts were equal, reducing the voting power of rural areas, which had gotten more voting than their population should have—Charles Baker, a Shelby County Tennessee Republican, for example, complained that electoral districts in Tennessee had not been redrawn since 1901, and did not reflect the urbanisation that had taken place in the intervening six decades.

*Accused criminals were given more rights, too.  Clarence Gideon was accused of breaking into a pool hall and looting a cigarette machine, juke box, and cash register in 1961 based on the testimony of one witness.  Unable to afford an attorney, he represented himself but was found guilty and sent to prison, but appealed, doing his own research in the prison library and writing to the Supreme Court on prison stationery.  Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) and later cases said that the accused had a right to a lawyer (even if the public had to provide one).

*In 1960, Danny Escobedo was accused of shooting his brother-in-law, and during 14½ hours of interrogation during which he repeatedly asked for a lawyer, he admitted to knowledge of the crime, which was interpreted as an admission of guilt.  1964, Escobedo v. Illinois determined that people held by the police had a right to an attorney during police questioning, too, as well as during their trial. 

*In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was accused of the kidnapping and rape of an 18-year-old girl.  After two hours alone in police custody, he signed a written confession of his guilt and was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison.  However, in 1966, Miranda v. Arizona overturned the conviction because he had not known he had the right to remain silent or the right to have an attorney present.  Furthermore, the case decided that accused criminals had to be informed of their rights under the V and VI Amendments. 

*Earl Warren’s court also supported separation of church and state.  They decided in Engel v. Vitale (1962) that requiring students to pray in public schools violated the First Amendment.  In 1963, Abington v. Schempp decided that reading the Bible in public schools violated the First Amendment as well. 

*Both these decisions made many Americans fear that the government (or at least some politicians) were opposed to religion and were trying to destroy its role in public life.  This was also part of the inspiration of the modern conservative movement, which hoped to reverse this trend and preserve the Christian elements of American culture.

*Although the new conservative movement tended to favour Republicans, in some ways, Johnson was still a very conservative Democrat, at least when it came to communism.

*Johnson escalated American involvement in Vietnam throughout his presidency to contain Communism in Southeast Asia.

*As the war in Vietnam dragged on, and America seemed more aggressive in Latin America, other nations of the world grew increasingly critical of America’s actions.  Peace Corps volunteers were expelled from other countries.  Charles De Gaulle, President of France, removed France from NATO’s military alliance and ordered NATO troops out of France in 1966, while simultaneously developing France’s nuclear weapons programme (which had tested its first three A-bombs in the Algerian Sahara in 1960).

*With the US busy in Viet-Nam, the Soviets took advantage of the situation to gain increased influence in the Arab world, especially in Egypt.  This was not enough to let Egypt beat Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967, however.  In June, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan attacked Israel after a series of border incidents.  Although the Arabs were armed with new Soviet planes and other weapons, they were unable to take over Israel (who had American weapons of their own).  Instead, the Israelis seized the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank of the Jordan, which they soon began to settle with Jewish farmers. 

*In January 1968, USS Pueblo was operating off the coast of North Korea, in international waters, spying on the North Koreans.  On 23 January, Pueblo was attacked and captured by the North Korean navy.  The sailors were interned, and later released after being starved and tortured.  Pueblo is still held by the North Koreans, and is only the second US warship captured since the Barbary Wars (USS Wake was captured by the Japanese in WWII).  This was a major embarrassment to the United States, and in the vast propaganda war for the hearts and minds of the world, every embarrassment was serious.

*As time passed, American involvement in Vietnam would become increasingly embarrassing, and would lead to Lyndon Johnson's decision not to seek a second term of his own in 1968.

This page last updated 20 November, 2020.
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