The Election of 1960

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The History of the Presidential Election

The presidential election of 1960 was one of the most interesting in U.S. history. The current Vice-president, Richard M. Nixon, was the Republican Party candidate. His opponent, the Democratic Party nominee, was Senator John F. Kennedy.

The contrast was sharp: the experienced Nixon against the newcomer Kennedy. The two offered differing views of the country's future and varying approaches on how to get there.

America at this time was deep into the Cold War, what turned out to be a decades-long (for the most part) nonviolent struggle between Western powers and the Communist countries of Eastern Europe, most prominently the Soviet Union. American troops under Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower had fought in the Korean War. American officials were still on the ground in Southeast Asia. Both sides in this new kind of war were pursuing a strong buildup of missiles and other new weapons.

Nixon promised more of the peace and prosperity that the country had enjoyed for his and Eisenhower's second term in office. Nixon also promised an experienced chief executive, one who had already been on the national stage for many years and was familiar with the international problems at hand.

Kennedy charged that the country needed an even firmer response to continued Soviet aggression in Europe and elsewhere and that, closer to home, Americans needed a new way forward, led by someone who had new ideas.

This election was known for many things, among them the first series of televised debates between the candidates. It was this first debate that introduced the young Kennedy to television audiences nationwide. (Click here for more on that story.)

The election also featured one of the closest vote total differences in history, with Kennedy squeaking out a lead in enough key states to give him the necessary Electoral College votes to win the presidency.

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Social Studies for Kids
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David White