Nixon and the 1960 Presidential Election

Last month, we received a donation of two objects from the 1960 Presidential Election. The first is a campaign ribbon with Richard Nixon’s likeness. The second object is sheet music for the Nixon campaign song, Click with Dick. Since the 2016 election is in full swing we thought it was an apt topic to share.

The election of 1960 was between two political figures from US history you might recognize, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Besides the famous (and notorious) presidential nominees, the election was groundbreaking for a number of other reasons. The election was one of the closest elections in the popular vote, it resulted in the first, and only, Catholic President, the first president born in the twentieth century, and reached more audiences with the first televised debates.

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Since the ribbon was made for Montgomery County, I started to look in newspapers we have at the historical society to learn about how the 1960 campaigns affected the county. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of information on the overall election and on Nixon’s visit to Norristown. On October 22nd, the day after the last debate in New York City, Nixon held five rallies throughout Pennsylvania. The third rally was held in Norristown’s Public Square at 2 pm. According to Police Chief Robert Baxter the Nixon’s visit brought over 20,000 people. The rally was the largest crowd in Norristown since the celebrations for Victory over Japan Day on August 14 and 15, 1945.

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Richard M. Nixon and his wife Pat at the Norristown rally. Times Herald, photograph published October 24, 1960.

As the ribbon reads, it was made for the Montgomery County Republican Committee. Throughout the twentieth century, Montgomery County was a stronghold for the Republican political party. The County Registration Commission released that there were 189,550 Republicans, 61,654 Democrats, and 6,349 Non-Partisans registered to vote in Montgomery County for the election.

Both nominees spent time in Montgomery County due to it’s potential to impact the election. The Montgomery County Republican Chairman, James E. Staudinger, predicted that “the size of the Republican turnout here may decide the Election at national and state levels… But Pennsylvania will not be [Nixon’s] without a record vote in Montgomery County to wipe out anticipated Democratic majorities in places like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh” (Times Herald 10/20/1960, 2).

As part of the plan to get Montgomery County for the Republicans, the committee made signs, buttons, ribbons, and songs. Through the dispersal of ribbons, like our new acquisition, the Montgomery County Republican Committee aimed to promote Nixon everywhere at the rally and the days up to the election.

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The other object donated is the Nixon sheet music. One of the by-gone aspects of political campaigns are individualized songs for candidates.  Unlike today’s campaigns that use contemporary pop or rock songs at rallies, from the mid nineteenth to late twentieth century parties would adapt and create songs for their candidates. Due to the historic nature of the election in 1960, it didn’t take much searching to find other examples of campaign songs.  For your enjoyment please watch the performance of another Nixon rally song, Buckle Dow with Nixon, performed by Brian Dewan on accordion.

“Come on and CLICK WITH DICK,
The one that none can lick. He’s the man to lead the U.S.A.
In Dick we have the one, who truly gets things done, Ev’rytime he has the say.
He’s a man of peace and reason, On the job in ev’ry season;
But he knows how to fight when he is sure he’s right.
So let’s all CLICK WITH DICK. Come on and DICK.”

words by Olivia Hoffman, music by George Stark and Clarence Fuhrman
copyright 1960 by Elkan-Vogel Co., Philadelpha, PA

Although there was no specific mention of Click with Dick in the newspapers’ accounts of the Norristown rally, bands were recorded as in attendance. The Click with Dick song captures his campaign’s themes of safety from his experience and the importance of peace during the escalating Cold War. Nixon’s speech in Norristown highlighted how prepared he and his VP, Henry Cabot Lodge, were with international relations, dealing with Khrushchev, and disarmament.

Despite Republicans efforts, Nixon did not end up winning Pennsylvania or the 1960 election. Although, he later became our 37th President and the only U.S. president to resign. Our new acquisitions provide insight into the landmark election of 1960 in Montgomery County.

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If you would like to learn more about John F. Kennedy’s campaign and advertising, check out this video by Smithsonian curators of American History.