The True Story Behind President Nixon’s Silent Majority

The True Story Behind President Nixon’s Silent Majority

Matthew Weber - August 2, 2017

The True Story Behind President Nixon’s Silent Majority
Vietnam War Protests, Late c1960s. History Channel

Seeking Support

Perhaps the most provocative statement from Nixon’s speech that night was this one:

“And so tonight-to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans-I ask for your support. I pledged in my campaign for the Presidency to end the war in a way that we could win the peace. I have initiated a plan of action which will enable me to keep that pledge. The more support I can have from the American people, the sooner that pledge can be redeemed; for the more divided we are at home, the less likely, the enemy is to negotiate at Paris. Let us be united for peace. Let us also be united against defeat. Because let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.”

On the Internet, there is a lot of debate over Nixon’s use of the term “Silent Majority.” A lot of people have expressed their doubts that those who remained silent on the war effort in Vietnam were any type of majority. Those same people also expressed doubt that those who remained silent were at all likely to support the war at all. If any logic can be applied, it is likely that if such a group exists, they would be divided much like the rest of the country was at the time.

The True Story Behind President Nixon’s Silent Majority
Richard Nixon in the Oval Office.

On the other hand, the response to Nixon’s speech was very favorable. A poll that was completed after the speech said that 77 percent of Americans were in favor of the Nixon Doctrine, which basically said that the US would put the control of the war in Vietnam back into Vietnamese hands, while the US would go back to an advisory and support role. In the speech, Nixon said, “The defense of freedom is everybody’s business-not just America’s business. And it is particularly the responsibility of the people whose freedom is threatened. In the previous administration, we Americanized the war in Vietnam. In this administration, we are Vietnamizing the search for peace.”

The term silent majority was not coined by Nixon. He wasn’t the first to use such a group as justification for political or military action. In 1919 Warren Harding used the term during the runup to the 1920 Presidential Election. Prior to that, it was used to describe a group of people who had died for a certain cause.

Since Nixon’s speech, the term “Silent Majority” has been used often when the leader of a nation is planning to take action that he or she deems unpopular.

Between 1969 and 1973, which is often termed the era of “Vietnamization”, the US started to change the way they participated in the war. In 1971, the first US troops were pulled from the region. By May 1973, the last US troops were gone from Vietnam.


Sources For Further Reading:

Foreign Policy Research Institute – Why the United State Went to War in Vietnam?

ThoughtCo – Why Did the US Enter the Vietnam War?

The New Yorker – What Went Wrong in Vietnam

History – Was 1968 America’s Bloodiest Year in Politics?

History – Domino Theory

History Extra – The War That America Could Never Win? Opposition, Dissent And The Vietnam War

History – Vietnam War Protests

History – Ho Chi Minh responds to Nixon letter

American Rhetoric – Richard M. Nixon: The Great Silent Majority Speech

University of Mississippi – Silent Majorities: The Brief History of a Curious Term, 1920-1980

The New York Times – ‘No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam’