Today in History

Today in History: October 21

The Kennedy-Nixon Debates: Final Round

President John F. Kennedy
[President John F. Kennedy, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front],
1961.

President Richard M. Nixon
[Richard M. Nixon, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front],
[between 1969 and 1974].
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present

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.

a poster advertising the Lincoln Douglas debate
Lincoln Douglas Debate: Du Page County Centennial, August 27th, West Chicago / Kreger,
Illinois Federal Art Project, WPA,
[between 1936 and 1939].
By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943

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.

The Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum, New York City. Under construction
Guggenheim Museum, Under Construction,
88th St. & 5th Ave., New York City, Under Construction I,
Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., photographer,
November 12, 1957.
Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955

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.