HISTORY CHANNEL® CLASSROOM PRESENTS
IN THE MAKING: PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES
(return to Lines of Inquiry)
presidential candidates Richard M. Nixon (Republican) and John F. Kennedy
(Democrat) agreed to face each other in a series of debates. For the first
time in American history voters were able to see their presidential candidates
debate one another. Television, then in its infancy, was quickly becoming
a mainstay of American life and culture. With the 1960 debates, it proved
to be an integral part of American politics as well. Today, we cannot
imagine a political campaign without television advertisements and/or
debates. But in 1960, few realized the impact the medium would have on
the future of American politics. History in the Making: The Presidential
Debates takes you back to the historic 1960 presidential debates and provides
an analysis of the event. It would be useful for classes on American History,
American Culture, Political Science, Civics, and Communications. It is
appropriate for middles school, high school and college.
will examine the 1960 presidential debates and gain an understanding of
the impact of television on the election results. They will explore the
role of television in American politics in the second half of the twentieth
century as well as the evolution of the relationship between the camera
and the candidates.
in the Making: The Presidential Debates fulfills the following National
Standards for History for grades 5-12: Chronological thinking, historical
comprehension, historical analysis and interpretation, historical research
capabilities, historical issues-analysis and decision-making for Eras
9 and 10.
secure against hurt, loss, or damage Imply to involve or indicate
by inference, association, or necessaryconsequence rather than by
usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographicalincident
Ideology a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an
individual, group, or culture
stage for public speaking
substance: involving matters of major or practicalimportance to all
or jesting often inappropriately
accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies
personality that a person (as an actor or politician) projects in
that defends or maintains a cause or proposal
in time, order, or place
relating to, or constituting the degree of grammatical comparison
that denotes an extreme or unsurpassed level or extent
- In 1960, presidential
debates were televised for the first time. What was the role of television
in the outcome of the election? What is the role of television today
in presidential elections? How did television change presidential history?
- Prior to the advent
of television, most Americans got their political news via the radio
or newspapers. How does the medium influence the message?
- Americans who listened
to the debates on radio believed that Nixon had won, while those who
saw it on television believed that Kennedy had won. Why the different
interpretations and conclusions?
- John F. Kennedy
was a master of the new medium. How did he prepare for both the content
of the debates and the visual aspects of television?
- The 1960 debates
took place during the height of the Cold war. What was the Cold War?
How is a "cold" war different from a "hot" war? How did the Cold War
define the second half of the twentieth century?
- Discuss how Vice-president
Nixon's and Senator Kennedy's opening statements reflected the state
of world affairs in 1960.
- Why did Vice-president
Nixon come off so badly on television?
- Discuss the differences
between Nixon's and Kennedy's platforms in the 1960 presidential campaign.
- What is the role
of television in the current presidential campaign?
- Television changed
the course of American politics. Now a new medium, the Internet is available.
How do you think the Internet will change American politics? Do you
think its influence will be as dramatic as television's?
- Do you think political
advertisements are helpful or hurtful to the American voter? Do you
think political advertisements should be banned?
- Although John F.
Kennedy won the 1960 election, Richard M. Nixon also served as President
of the United States. Both men's presidencies profoundly affected American
history. Compare and contrast the presidencies of these men.
- Imagine that your
class is voting for the next president. Have two students represent
the candidates and debate one another on the issues that are important
to Americans today.
- Resumes tell an
employer about the qualifications and experience of a prospective employee.
Research the Internet for information about the political careers of
Richard M. Nixon and John K. Kennedy. Use your data to write resumes
of the two candidates.
- Create campaign
posters for Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy
F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
Vice President Johnson,
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President
Nixon, President Truman, Reverend Clergy, fellow citizens:
We observe today
not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom--symbolizing an
end as well as a beginning--signifying renewal as well as change. For
I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears
prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the
power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.
And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought
are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man
come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution.
Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike,
that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born
in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace,
proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the
slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been
committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall
pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend,
oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This
much we pledge--and more.
To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we
pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot
do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can
do--for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.
To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge
our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away
merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always
expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to
find them strongly supporting their own freedom--and to remember that,
in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of
the tiger ended up inside.
To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling
to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help
them help themselves, for whatever period is required--not because the
communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because
it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it
cannot save the few who are rich.
To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge--to
convert our good words into good deeds--in a new alliance for progress--to
assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty.
But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile
powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose
aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other
power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its
own house. To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations,
our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced
the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support--to prevent
it from becoming merely a forum for invective--to strengthen its shield
of the new and the weak--and to enlarge the area in which its writ may
Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we
offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest
for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science
engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.
We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient
beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be
employed. But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take
comfort from our present course--both sides overburdened by the cost
of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the
deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror
that stays the hand of mankind's final war. So let us begin anew--remembering
on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity
is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But
let us never fear to negotiate.
Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring
those problems which divide us. Let both sides, for the first time,
formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control
of arms--and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under
the absolute control of all nations. Let both sides seek to invoke the
wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the
stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths
and encourage the arts and commerce. Let both sides unite to heed in
all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah--to "undo the heavy burdens
. . . (and) let the oppressed go free."
And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion,
let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of
power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak
secure and the peace preserved. All this will not be finished in the
first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand
days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our
lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.
In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final
success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each
generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national
loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service
surround the globe. Now the trumpet summons us again--not as a call
to bear arms, though arms we need--not as a call to battle, though embattled
we are-- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle,
year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"--a
struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease
and war itself. Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global
alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful
life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted
the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not
shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that
any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.
The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor
will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that
fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask
what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask
not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the
freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens
of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and
sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure
reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to
lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing
that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
H. White, The Making of the President, 1960 (Buccaneer Books, 1999)
Schroeder, Presidential Debates (Columbia Univ. Press, 2000)
E. Campbell, The American Campaign: U.S. Presidential Campaigns and
the National Vote (Texas A&M University Press, 2000)
R. Just (Editor), Ann N. Crigler, Dean E. Alger, Timothy Cook, Crosstalk:
Citizens, Candidates, and the Media in a Presidential Campaign (American
Politics and Political Economy) (University of Chicago Press 1996)
Hall Jamieson, Packaging the Presidency: A History and Criticism of
Presidential Campaign Advertising (Oxford Univ. Press, 1996)
Heath, Elections in the United States (American Civics)
(Capstone Press, 1999)
Harvey, Presidential Elections (Cornerstones of Freedom Series)
(Children's Press, 1996)
R. Raber, Election Night (Politics in the United States Series) (Lerner
Publications Company, 1988)