Today in History: October 21
The Kennedy-Nixon Debates: Final Round
On October 21, 1960, American viewers were riveted to their television sets for the broadcast of the fourth and final debate between Vice President Richard M. Nixon, the Republican presidential candidate, and Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate.
The first-ever televised debate between presidential candidates was held on September 26, 1960. An estimated sixty to seventy million viewers watched the first, and successive, debate(s)—known as "the Great Debates."
The first debate, broadcast by CBS, focused on domestic issues and provided for eight-minute opening statements from each candidate followed by thirty minutes of questions and answers and a combined total of ten minutes for closing statements. The first and last debates allowed two and one-half minutes for answers and one and one-half minutes for comments on questions directed to the opponent. The fourth debate, broadcast by ABC, focused on foreign policy issues, particularly U.S. relations with Cuba.
The second and third one-hour debates, televised from New York by NBC and ABC, respectively, followed a looser format with a news panel questioning the candidates on a variety of subjects. The second debate had neither opening nor closing statements by the candidates. The third debate was the first genuine "electronic debate;" the two candidates faced off from opposite coasts — Kennedy speaking from a television studio in New York and Nixon from Los Angeles.
The 1960 debates have been compared to the famous 1858 debates in the senatorial campaign between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. However, the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates were held outdoors in the towns of several voting districts. Their debates—each lasting three hours—first one candidate spoke for one hour, then the second candidate spoke for an hour and one-half, and then the first candidate again for another half an hour, were attended by crowds ranging from 1,500 to possibly as high as 20,000 people.
In the twentieth century, radio became the new political medium. In the presidential campaign of 1924, radio broadcast the political speeches of incumbent President Calvin Coolidge, the Republican candidate, and John W. Davis, the Democratic candidate. During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt held the attention of the American public through his use of this medium in his radio-broadcast "fireside chats."
The increase in the use of radio by politicians sparked arguments about the issue of relative freedom and responsibility of the broadcasting industry in providing coverage of political events. Criticism by political parties, Congress, and the Federal Communications Commission led to legislation in the areas of equal airtime and freedom of speech.
In 1952, the national political conventions and the presidential campaign were televised nationwide for the first time. The public avidly followed television coverage of the campaign and rated television as the most informative of the media available to them. The televised broadcasts of the debates in the 1960 presidential campaign were a response to the public's enthusiasm for this type of coverage.
Pollsters of the Great Debates have estimated that approximately 3.4 million voters determined their choice of party solely on the basis of the debates. That milestone event thrust broadcast media into a central role in American political life. The trend continues in spite of critics' blaming the media for the "merchandising" of candidates, the rising costs of political campaigns, and using advertising agencies in the "image manipulation" of candidates.
- Hear examples of political speeches just prior to the rise of the broadcast media. Listen to recordings from the presidential campaign of 1920 contained in the American Memory collection American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election.
- Search the Today in History Archive on the term president for features on presidents Nixon, Kennedy, Lincoln, and others.
- Search the Congressional Record Index of Thomas on debate to view bills and resolutions such as the Presidential Debate Reform Act which would reduce the amount of federal funds provided for party nominating conventions for any party whose nominee for president or vice-president did not participate in any debate scheduled by a proposed Presidential Debate Commission.
- See The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution in the collection A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. These debates, compiled by Jonathan Elliot in the mid-nineteenth century, document the period between the closing of the Constitutional Convention and the opening of the First Federal Congress. Delegates from each state debated the contents of the Constitution that would take effect when ratified by the conventions of nine of the thirteen states.
- Visit the National Park Service's page on the Lincoln-Douglas Debates as well as the link to Lincoln's writings on slavery including excerpts from his Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh debates with Stephen Douglas.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (external link) of modern and contemporary art opened in New York City on October 21, 1959. Designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the modern structure marked a bold departure from traditional museum design. Its exhibition space features a spiraling six-story ramp that encircles an open center space lit by a glass dome.
Solomon R. Guggenheim (1861-1949), son of Swiss immigrant and mining tycoon Meyer Guggenheim, began to compile a significant collection of modern art in the late 1920s, with the assistance of his art advisor Hilla Rebay, herself an artist , and an enthusiastic proponent of abstract painting.
In 1937, Guggenheim established the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to promote art and art education, and began to explore the idea of creating a museum. He commissioned Wright to design a building, but Wright died before construction was completed in 1959.
The Guggenheim Museum’s collection of modern and contemporary art includes works by artists such as Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Paul Klee (external link) (1879-1940), and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).
Use the resources of the Library of Congress to learn more about art, artists, and museums.
- The Gottscho-Schleisner Collection is the work of two architectural photographers, Samuel L. Gottscho (1875-1971) and William H Schleisner (1912-62). It includes detailed photographs of public and private buildings throughout the nation with an emphasis on New York and the Northeast. The collection includes several images of the Guggenheim under construction. Search the collection on Guggenheim, galleries and museums, art exhibition, or art gallery, or browse the subject index, to find more photographs of the interiors and exteriors of particular museums and galleries.
- To find images of artists at work, do a cross-collection search of American Memory on artists studios, sculptor, or artist. Browse collections containing Photos, Prints using the search term art exhibition.
- Search the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog on terms such as: Frank Lloyd Wright and Guggenheim, galleries and museums, art exhibitions, and then on terms for various artistic media such as drawing, printmaking, and sculpture.
- To learn more about museums and artists in the nineteenth century, search either the bibliographic records or full text of the American Memory collection Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals, on terms such as museum, artist, and art museum.
- Learn more about the architect of the Guggenheim Museum. Visit the Library of Congress online exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: Designs for an American Landscape, 1922-1932. Consult the Prints and Photographs Division’s guide to Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings Recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey.
- Visit the Guggenheim Foundation Web site (external link) to find out about current exhibits (external link) at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the museum’s satellite locations throughout the world.