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1968 Democratic National Convention Police Riots

Updated: Aug 22, 2020

Fifty-Two years ago, August 26-29, the 1968 Democratic National Convention was held at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, Illinois. As President Lyndon B. Johnson had announced he would not seek reelection, the purpose of the convention was to select a new presidential nominee for the Democratic Party.

The convention was held during a year of violence, political turbulence, and civil unrest, particularly riots in more than 100 cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4. The convention also followed the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 5. Both Kennedy and Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota had been running for the Democratic nomination at the time:

The convention was regarded as one of the most tense and confrontational political conventions ever in American history. The convention's host, Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago had refused permission for "anti-patriotic" groups to demonstrate at the convention, and had the International Amphitheatre, where the convention was being held ringed with barbed wire while putting the 11,000 men of the Chicago police department on 12 hour shifts. In addition, there were 6,000 armed men from the Illinois National Guard called up to guard the International Amphitheatre, giving the feeling that Chicago was a city under siege:

The security measures imposed by Mayor Daley had been so intense that it was not possible to walk across the convention floor without jostling other delegates, which added to the tensions as dovish and hawkish Democrats fiercely argued on the convention about whatever to accept Johnson's war plank to the platform, all of which was captured live on national television. Here is a clip that includes Hubert Humphrey speaking to the delegates at the Democratic Convention:

Here is a report from 1984 about the 1968 Convention with Linda Ellerbee and John Hart featured in the piece. This does a good job at summarizing the madness of the Convention, but does make a major mistake at talking about the VP nomination:

The Democratic convention was noteworthy for leading to a significant change in the rules governing delegate selection that was largely overshadowed at the time by the rioting in Chicago. The McGovern Commission, chaired by Senator McGovern, officially known as the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, was appointed to examine how delegate were selected. The McGovern commission documented that in many places in America the Democratic Party was "an autocratic, authoritarian organization" that engaged in the "shameful exploitation of the voter". Here is a clip of George McGovern looking back at the Convention events:

In the end, the Democratic Party nominated Humphrey. The loss was perceived to be the result of President Johnson and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley influencing behind the scenes. Humphrey, who had not entered any of 13 state primary elections, won the Democratic nomination shortly after midnight and many delegates shouted "No! No!" when his victory was announced. The nomination was watched by 89 million Americans. Humphrey went on to lose the election to the Republican Richard Nixon.

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