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The Silent Majority: Definition & Concept

Instructor: Ashley Kannan

Ashley has taught history, literature, and political science and has a Master's Degree in Education

The ~'Silent Majority~' refers to the large number of voters who felt disrespected and silenced by the American political process in the late 1960s. Read on to learn how ~'the Silent Majority~' actually spoke quite loudly and how it helped shape how politicians view the public in modern elections.

Definition

'The Silent Majority' was a term widely used by Richard Nixon in the late 1960s. Nixon perceived that a large contingent of Americans did not feel represented amidst the voices of dissent that largely defined the time period. Through Nixon's successful attempts at defining and maximizing the support of a segment of the electorate, the term became an enshrined part of American politics.

Nixon was familiar with the political use of the term throughout his career. However, in 1967, a group calling itself the Citizens Committee for Peace with Freedom in Viet Nam submitted a statement to President Nixon about their beliefs on the Vietnam War. The group believed that it spoke for a 'silent center' of Americans by suggesting that a 'premature American withdrawal from the war would have disastrous consequences for world peace and domestic tranquility.' The group claimed to 'represent the opinion not only of the 'silent center' but of the great majority of Americans.'

This concept heavily influenced Nixon's presidential campaign in 1968. Nixon often spoke of the 'forgotten American.' This type of American was seen as a contrast to the disgruntled protestors who seemed to dominate public affairs, most notably at the Democratic National Convention that summer. On the campaign trail, Nixon often spoke about how he pledged to serve those who 'obey the law, pay their taxes, go to church, send their children to school, love their country, and demand new leadership.' He claimed that the 'forgotten American' defined the electorate. Nixon was able to define 'them' as the liberal contingent who were against the war and were criticizing America itself. Nixon painted the 'us' as the patriotic, conservative members who 'loved' America. This division mobilized middle and working class Americans who were frustrated with their voices being underrepresented. As this group voted for Nixon, it was a division that served him in the polls with a political victory.

Richard Nixon Campaigning, 1968
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One year later, Nixon was able to clearly define his vision of 'The Silent Majority.' In a televised address to the nation, Nixon outlined the basics of his plan to win the war. He closed his address with a personal plea to the 'silent majority.' Nixon believed that 'peace with honor' was the only path America could take in Vietnam. He directly conveyed this idea 'to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans.' The Nixon Administration defined 'the silent majority' as a 'large and normally undemonstrative cross section of the country that… refrained form articulating its opinions on the war.'

The categorization of the public into a 'loud minority' of protestors and a 'silent majority' of 'hardworking Americans' helped to further divide America. Nixon framed his policies as representative of the Silent Majority and any opposition to those policies as an attempt to block the wishes of this group. This was a division from which Nixon was able to reap political benefits.

Concept

The concept of the Silent Majority represented how Nixon viewed the electorate. He understood that being able to position himself as the candidate and President of 'the middle' would hold political benefits. This was evident when he first introduced the concept during the 1969 Presidential Address. Nearly 80,000 telegrams and letters arrived at the White House. Many of them were in support of Nixon's concept of the Silent Majority and his approval ratings rose significantly. The 'Silent Majority' television address was Nixon's most effective speech.

A good portion of the public felt that they were represented by Nixon's Silent Majority concept. It gave voice to their marginalization in political discourse. The timbre of American politics in the late 1960s focused on disenfranchisement and vocal displays of activism. This was seen with the wide level of protests and demonstrations. Americans who were not embracing this form of political expression felt that their interests were not being represented.

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