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Conventions Past:
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Conventions Past
1968: Antiwar Riots Engulf Democrats

The 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago is remembered more for the violent riots on the streets that took place than it is for political events inside the hall.

Protesters who opposed the Vietnam War clashed with Mayor Richard Daley's police in numbers that rivaled some of the smaller battles of the conflict in Southeast Asia. Daley put nearly 12,000 cops on the street. They attacked demonstrators with tear gas and billy clubs, assisted by 7,500 Army troops, 7,500 National Guardsmen and 1,000 agents of the U.S. Secret Service.

The sometimes bloody confrontations were captured on TV and prompted Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut to denounce the police crackdown, using the phrase "Gestapo tactics." An outraged Daley shook his fist at Ribicoff and shouted at him from the convention floor. Ribicoff was speaking to place the name of South Dakota Senator George McGovern into the running for president.

audio button Hear NPR's Scott Simon tell the story of that contentious time and Ribcoff's statement to the 1968 Democratic convention.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey arrived in Chicago with plenty of delegates to win the nomination, but he feared last-minute maneuvers by party members dedicated to pulling out of Vietnam. Delegations from 15 different states tried to unseat Humphrey's delegates, and Daley favored Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts for the nomination.

In the end, Humphrey won the interior battles and emerged as the party's nominee, choosing Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine as his running mate. Humphrey went on to lose a close race to the resurgent Richard Nixon in the 1968 general election.

The Chicago riots led to nearly 600 arrests, and a handful of those made U.S. courtroom history. The "Chicago 8" -- including YIPPIE leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and Black Panther founder Bobby Seale -- were charged under the 1968 Civil Rights act, which made it a federal crime to cross state lines to incite a riot. After a trial filled with outbursts from the defendants, five of the eight were sentenced to prison and served four- and five-year terms.


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