When researching the events leading up to, and following the 1968 presidential election, it is obvious that this election had a lasting effect on American politics. Many historical representations of the sixties support the idea that the Vietnam War was the biggest issue not only the 1968 presidential election, but in the lives of American’s during that time. Supporting this idea misrepresents what American’s really felt, and what a majority of public perception was towards politics during this decade.
The Issue that truly dominated the public interest was race relations. Historian Lewis L. Gould takes a different perspective in his book 1968: The Election That Changed America. Gould defends the idea that race relations, and not the Vietnam War, was a bigger issue in the minds of the American people. Highlighted especially by the events during the 1968 presidential election.
There are three main reasons that explain why race overshadowed the Vietnam War as a main issue during the sixties. The first being voter demographic changes. The 1968 election marks an end the south voting democratic. A trend that had being building since the early part of the decade.
The 1968 Chicago Riots is the next event that underscores the racial tension that effected the day to day lives of Americans. Catalyzed by the assignation of Martin Luther King Jr., the Chicago riots captivated national audiences. Later that year the events that started in Chicago would resurface around the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and the city would experience again, political protest and racially fueled rifts between African Americans and police.
Lastly the Civil Rights Act of 1968, provides a landmark example of how race relations was the biggest issue in the perception of Americans during the 1960s. Also sparked by King’s assassination, the Civil Rights Act marks the federal government’s official policy in regards to race during the late sixties.
Although the Vietnam War did have a huge effect on American society and politics, to mark its importance over race relations would not be an accurate portrayal of the most important issue for American’s during the sixties.