Myth Trivia: Some facts about elections and John F. Kennedy

Do you wonder why our Presidential election is held on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Its not as random as you might think.

Second of the four Kennedy and Nixon debates, which took place at WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. on October 7, 1960 (Image courtesy Wikipedia CCO)

CHARLOTTE, NC, November 8, 2016 – So you thought all the stories today would be about the election. Well not on trivia day. That’s our day to have a little fun, but we can always look at election trivia, especially when it pertains to John F. Kennedy.

1 – By a whisker: On November 8th some 56 years ago, John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic president in history when he defeated Richard M. Nixon by roughly 113,000 votes in the popular count.

The electoral total was considerably larger as Nixon carried 26 states for 219 electoral votes while Kennedy captured only 22 states, but the larger populations made his electoral count come to 303.

In so doing, Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States and the drawbridge to “Camelot” was lowered in Washington, D.C.

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2 – Youth movement: When John Kennedy took the oath of office he was just 43-years old making him the youngest man ever to be elected president.

JFK was not the youngest president, however. That honor belongs to Teddy Roosevelt who was 42 when he became the chief executive following the assassination of William McKinnley in 1901.

As mentioned above, Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic to hold the office of president, but Al Smith, also a Catholic, was unsuccessful in 1928 when he was soundly defeated by Herbert Hoover.

3 – A moot point: Televised debates have become so commonplace in the modern electoral process that they are almost as annoying as political ads. In 1960 however, Richard Nixon and John Kennedy faced each other in the first ever televised debate on September 26th.

An estimated 70-million people tuned in to watch the youthful challenger square off against the sitting vice president. Nixon was recovering from a bout with the flu on the night of the debate, and though it was televised in black and white, he looked pastie with a dark five o’clock shadow and sweat pouring down his face from the lights and a fever.

Kennedy, on the other hand, looked cool and comfortable.

Amazingly enough, viewers who watched the event on television claimed Kennedy won, while those who heard it on the radio said that Nixon was the clear winner.

That debate set the tone for all future debates and, today, the make-up people are well paid for their efforts.

4 – Ahoy Matey: The election of 1960 also brought with it the process of agonizing over a vice presidential choice. Kennedy was a wealthy New Englander who was associated with the liberal northeast.

To add greater leverage to his ticket, JFK chose Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas as his running mate because of Johnson’s popularity with southern Democrats and his experience as Senate majority leader.

Nixon had served two terms as vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower, who made a name for himself during World War II. Due to several stints in the hospital during Eisenhower’s administration, Nixon had filled in as acting president at times and was regarded as having more experience than Kennedy.
To counter Kennedy’s strength in the northeast, Nixon chose former U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. Lodge had already served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations which gave him strong credentials in the area of foreign policy.

The international strength of Lodge combined with Nixon’s domestic experience appeared to be a powerful and unbeatable combination, but that first televised debate proved to be the difference.

Lyndon B. Johnson went on to become president when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

America finally goes to the polls 

5 – Why Tuesday?: Since 1845 the U.S. presidential elections have been held on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. But why?

Back in the day, when common sense prevailed over political correctness, the powers that be had a good reason for choosing Tuedays for the election.

Until that time, between 1788 and 1845, individual states selected their own voting dates, which led to a somewhat chaotic way of counting the ballots. With no electronic voting machines, exit polls, satellite communications, television or radio, news traveled much slower in those days.

Eventually it was determined that white, male property owners would choose the electors on the first Wednesday of December. To ease the process, in 1792 a law was passed mandating that all state elections must be held within a 34-day time frame before the first Wednesday.

In so doing, all the state elections were being conducted in November, which was just after the harvest and before winter.

With the arrival of the railroad and the telegraph, communications became considerably faster, and, as a result, Congress decided it was time to standardize a date for elections.

Mondays were quickly eliminated because of the need to travel by horse and carriage to the polling places and spend the night. Leaving on the Sunday Sabbath was unacceptable which took Monday out of the equation.

By similar reasoning, Wednesday was not an option because that was market day in many communities which would be a conflict for the farmers.

That left Tuesday, which became election day in 1845 when Congress decided to make presidential elections take place on the Tuesday following the first Monday of the month of November.

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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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