Raucous 1968 convention led to changes in nomination process

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While Americans likely recall the 1968 Democratic National Convention for the violent riots between anti-war protestors and Chicago police, the convention did lead to changes in the nation's political system, notes Rowan University political science professor Bruce Caswell.

While Americans likely recall the 1968 Democratic National Convention for the violent riots between anti-war protestors and Chicago police, the convention did lead to changes in the nation's political system, notes Rowan University political science professor Bruce Caswell.

"Just from the point of view of the presidential nominating process, there was a big change after 1968," says Caswell, who was studying and working in Chicago during the convention and attended some of the protests.

Held at a time when the nation itself was reeling, just months after the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, the convention was tumultuous. The Democratic party was divided over U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Even though he did not win a single primary, Hubert Humphrey, then vice president to Lyndon B. Johnson and a supporter of the president's stance on Vietnam, was elected the Democratic nominee. Humphrey secured the delegates he needed in non-primary states to win the nod. He later lost in the general election to Richard Nixon.

The outcome of the 1968 convention, during which riots broke out between thousands of protestors and police, led to the establishment of the McGovern-Fraser Commission, which instituted open procedures and affirmative action guidelines for selecting delegates. The commission's work, says Caswell, established the nation's current presidential primary system and signaled the demise of an "old boss system" to choose a nominee.

"The nomination process was not a democratic process then. It is now," says Caswell.

Even so, the '68 convention was a black eye for the country, Caswell says.

"It turned most creative people of my generation off to politics," he says. "It skewed the public perception."

At the time, many students didn't realize the historical significance of the '68 convention, according to Caswell, who was a senior sociology student at the University of Chicago. The city was dangerous and violent, he recalls.

"I had been in many demonstrations before and I had friends who were very active who didn't go to the convention," says Caswell. "They said they were afraid to go. I was opposed to the war. I wanted to go to see what was happening.

"It was very intense time, particularly in Chicago," continues Caswell, who is active in the group Americans for Democratic Action. "This was the culmination of the Civil Rights movement and the beginning of the reform of the presidential nominating system."

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