United States
Fact-checked

At UnitedStatesNow, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What Happened at the 1968 Democratic National Convention?

The 1968 Democratic National Convention was a flashpoint of political and social tension. Amidst the Vietnam War and civil rights protests, clashes between demonstrators and police in Chicago's streets escalated into violence. Inside the convention, a divided party grappled with its future direction. This pivotal moment in history raises the question: how did it shape America's political landscape? Discover the lasting impact...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The 1968 Democratic National Convention marked the nomination of Hubert Humphrey as the Democratic candidate for President, but it is remembered more for the riots and protests which surrounded it, along with the bitter contest for the nomination. The events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago marked the height of the 1960s protest movement, with demonstrators and police clashing in the streets of Chicago for over a week in the hot August weather. 40 years later, protesters attempted to “Recreate '68” at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul respectively, with little success.

As early as 1967, major players in the protest movement were planning an epic series of protests for the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The idea was to get as many protesters there as possible, and to protest largely peacefully, but forcefully. Protest organizers from groups like the Youth International Party wanted to get a lot of coverage, attracting attention to issues like civil rights and the Vietnam War, and they certainly succeeded in this goal.

Some believe the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention eventually helped the election of President Richard Nixon.
Some believe the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention eventually helped the election of President Richard Nixon.

In the months preceding the Convention, protest groups filed permits for marches and rallies, often finding their requests stymied at every turn, while the city of Chicago prepared for an influx of demonstrators. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley indicated that he would take lawbreaking during the Convention very seriously, increasing the police presence in Chicago and requesting National Guard for backup. This created an explosive situation which appeared to be on a collision course with disaster.

The Youth International Party were major players in the protest movement.
The Youth International Party were major players in the protest movement.

The protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention might have gone off reasonably peacefully with marches, concerts, and rallies, except that on 22 August, four days before the Convention officially began, an American Indian boy named Dean Johnson was shot and killed by the Chicago police. This sparked mass demonstrations and rioting in which hundreds of police officers and demonstrators were severely injured; riot control agents like mace were utilized in an attempt to calm the crowd, along with billy clubs and mass arrests.

During the days of the actual Convention, the inside of the Convention Center was relatively peaceful, but the streets of Chicago were on fire, sometimes literally. Angry demonstrators boiled over, deviating from permitted marches and rallies, and the Chicago police fought back. In the wake of the convention, eight police officers were indicted, along with eight civilians, who came to be known as the Chicago 8. During the trial for the Chicago 8, winnowed to the Chicago 7 by the time they reached court in 1969, the defendants created a media circus, mouthing off to the judge and refusing to respect the rules of the courtroom.

The turmoil of the 1968 Democratic National Convention came in an already tumultuous year in American history; Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had both been assassinated earlier in the year, and support for the Vietnam War was at a low ebb. The media seized upon the chaos with delight, and it undoubtedly contributed to Humphrey's defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon. Nixon's margin of victory was less than half a million votes, illustrating how closely split the American people were at this point in history.

Frequently Asked Questions

What were the main causes of the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention?

The protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention were primarily fueled by opposition to the Vietnam War and the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. earlier that year. Activists and protesters, including members of the Youth International Party (Yippies) and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), converged on Chicago to demonstrate against the war and the political status quo. The tension was also heightened by the recent assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a leading Democratic presidential candidate.

How did the police respond to the protesters during the convention?

The response of the Chicago police to the protesters during the convention was widely criticized for its violence and was later described by the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence as a "police riot." Law enforcement officers used tear gas, mace, and batons against demonstrators, and many instances of police brutality were reported. The confrontations between police and protesters were broadcast on national television, shocking the American public and contributing to a broader sense of social upheaval.

What was the outcome of the 1968 Democratic National Convention?

The 1968 Democratic National Convention resulted in the nomination of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey as the Democratic candidate for President, despite him not having competed in a single primary. The convention was marked by deep divisions within the party, as anti-war delegates clashed with the party establishment. The chaotic scenes both inside and outside the convention hall underscored the fracturing of the Democratic Party, which ultimately contributed to Republican nominee Richard Nixon's victory in the presidential election later that year.

How did the events of the 1968 convention affect the Democratic Party?

The events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention had a profound impact on the Democratic Party, leading to significant changes in how the party conducted its nomination process. In response to the perceived lack of democracy and the tumultuous events, the Democratic Party established the McGovern-Fraser Commission, which reformed the nomination process to make it more transparent and inclusive. This led to greater use of primary elections and caucuses, allowing for broader participation in the selection of presidential candidates.

Did the 1968 Democratic National Convention have a lasting impact on American politics?

Yes, the 1968 Democratic National Convention had a lasting impact on American politics. It exposed deep societal divisions and the growing anti-establishment sentiment among the American populace, particularly among the youth. The convention's violent imagery and the political upheaval it represented led to a reevaluation of political processes and contributed to the rise of a more conservative movement that capitalized on calls for law and order. The reforms that followed reshaped the political landscape and the way presidential candidates are chosen in the United States.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

You might also Like

Discussion Comments

anon233700

This is a very informative article. Good job.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Some believe the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention eventually helped the election of President Richard Nixon.
      Some believe the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention eventually helped the election of President Richard Nixon.
    • The Youth International Party were major players in the protest movement.
      The Youth International Party were major players in the protest movement.