Kennedy Charts a New Frontier
When Democrats last met in Los Angeles in 1960, they were seeking a way to reinvigorate their party and retake the White House after eight years of Republican control under the popular World War Two hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
With Vice President Richard M. Nixon looking to easily win the Republican nomination, Democrats settled on a young Massachusetts senator -- John F. Kennedy.
Listen to Kennedy's Speech.
Coming out of the primaries, Kennedy was clearly the frontrunner -- thanks to heavy support from the urban areas of Northern states, while southern states were far more cautious. Still, seven other candidates held out hope for a convention upset that would make the nomination uncertain.
Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas posed the greatest challenge. Supporters of former Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson, who had lost the previous two elections to Eisenhower, also fought to regain a place at the head of the ticket for a third bid.
But Kennedy ran a tough campaign. When his organization hit the convention floor, his tough-minded brother Robert adeptly persuaded, pushed and cajoled wavering delegates to back JFK. Kennedy bagged the nomination on the first ballot, who then chose LBJ as his running mate to shore up crucial support in the south, a region deeply divided over the growing civil rights movement.
Few could have foreseen the tumult that was made at the convention, however, when Frank Sinatra opened the proceedings at the old Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena with a swinging version of the "Star Spangled Banner." Idaho Senator Frank Church delivered the keynote address.
After Kennedy won the nomination, party organizers swung into action to make the most of their candidate's exceptional oratorical skills. They moved the acceptance speech to the mammoth Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where an audience of more than 80,000 people gathered to hear. The crowd was touted as the largest ever to hear a political speech.
Kennedy rose to the occasion, placing the United States at the edge of a "new frontier." Hear this famous call to action.
The United States, he said, is "on the edge of a new frontier - the frontier of the 1960s - a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils -- a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats…not a set of promises -- it is a set of challenges."
The fierce national campaign that followed the Democratic Convention propelled Kennedy to one of the narrowest election victories in U.S. presidential history. He was the second-youngest man elected president, and the first Roman Catholic to hold the office.
The three principle figures of the 1960 election -- Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon -- would go on to lead the nation for the next 15 years -- through the Vietnam War, the social upheaval of the 60's and ultimately Watergate.
Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 make the "unfulfilled hopes and threats" of his New Frontier speech seem hauntingly prophetic today. His death in Dallas marked the beginning of political assassinations that continued through the decade, claiming Kennedy's younger brother Robert, civil rights leader Martin Luther King and many others.