Skip to main content

1964 Twenty-five Years Ago

March 2023
1min read

President Lyndon Johnson took advantage of his incumbency and the negative public image of his Republican opponent, Sen. Barry Goldwater, to win an overwhelming victory in the November 3 presidential election. Johnson accumulated 61.4 percent of the popular vote while carrying forty-four states.

“I lost whatever small chance I ever had to be President in San Francisco at the Republican National Convention,” Goldwater wrote years after the 1964 election. Mutual distrust between the moderate wing of New York’s governor Nelson A. Rockefeller and Goldwater’s conservative wing of the Republican party had broken out in open warfare when Goldwater’s nomination became likely that summer. The Pennsylvania governor William Scranton’s description of Goldwater’s candidacy as “a whole crazy-quilt collection of absurd and dangerous positions that would be soundly repudiated by the American people” was typical of the attacks the Arizona senator faced in Republican primaries. “By the time the convention opened I had been branded as a fascist, a racist, a trigger-happy warmonger, a nuclear madman, and the candidate who couldn’t win,” Goldwater remembered.

The truth was probably that no candidate could have beaten Lyndon Johnson that November. As successor to a martyred President, Johnson represented the continuation of the Kennedy administration’s policies; as the man who engineered passage of the Civil Rights Act, Johnson would gain the support of 95 percent of the nation’s black voters. Moreover, Democratic candidates dominated the 1964 election, sending large majorities to both houses of Congress. But Goldwater’s losing campaign marked the end of the five decades of struggle for ideological control of the Republican party that had begun with Theodore Roosevelt’s third-party candidacy in 1912.

On November 4 a New York criminal court convicted the comedian Lenny Bruce of giving an obscene performance at a Greenwich Village nightclub. The court sentenced Bruce to four months in prison and fined the nightclub owner who had employed him. The principal witness for the prosecution was a police inspector named Herbert S. Ruhe, who had drawn the distasteful job of attending Bruce’s performance and writing down the offensive words he heard. Bruce insisted that the prosecution was misrepresenting his comedy by removing individual words from the context in which he had used them, but the court ruled that his expletive-filled monologue was “patently offensive to the average person in the community, as judged by present day standards.”

Bruce’s attorneys produced an array of scholarly authorities who described Bruce as “one of our sharpest, most cogent, articulate satirists writing or speaking today,” but the court disagreed. Though Bruce remained free pending an appeal, club owners were afraid to hire a comedian who was hounded by police officers poised to arrest him if he uttered an obscenity.

Bruce died in Hollywood of a drug overdose in 1966. “Although he seemed to be doing his utmost at times to antagonize his audiences,” recalled The New York Times , “he also displayed an air of morality beneath his brashness that some felt made his lapses in taste often forgivable and sometimes necessary.” Two years after his death the New York Appellate Court reversed his conviction, ruling that while Bruce’s comedy was “coarse, vulgar and profane . . . it was error to hold that the performances were without social importance.”

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "November 1989"

Authored by: Ken Heyman

Occupational tintypes are about as cheap today as when they were made, but they offer a valuable look at working-class America during and just after the Civil War

Authored by: Roger J. Spiller

Walt Whitman said, “The real war will never get in the books.” The critic and writer Paul Fussell feels that the same sanitizing of history that went on after the 1860s has erased the national memory of what World War II was really like.

Authored by: Alexander O. Boulton

The medieval look that swept America a hundred and fifty years ago wasn’t just a matter of nostalgia for pointed archways and crenellated towers; it was also the very model of a modern architectural style

Authored by: The Editors

A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service

Authored by: The Editors

A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright

Authored by: The Editors

The History of Animation

Authored by: The Editors

Recollections by Men and Women of World War II Aviation

Authored by: The Editors

Brick Wall Signs in America

Authored by: Bruce Curtis

A year ago we were in the midst of a presidential campaign most memorable for charges by both sides that the opponent was not hard enough, tough enough, masculine enough. That he was, in fact, a sissy. Both sides also admitted this sort of rhetoric was deplorable. But it’s been going on since the beginning of the Republic.

Authored by: Richard M. Ketchum

The bombs that fell that Sunday didn’t just knock out some battleships; they roused America into a new age. Here is how the long, unforgettable day unfolded.

Featured Articles

Often thought to have been a weak president, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or the political fallout.

Rarely has the full story been told how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.