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Richard Nixon’s Religious Right

Catholics, Evangelicals, and the Creation of an Antisecular Alliance
Chapter

Abstract

Evangelical Protestants began and ended the decade of the 1960s by campaigning for Richard Nixon. Sixty percent of evangelicals voted for Nixon in 1960, 69 percent did so in 1968, and 84 percent did in 1972. They considered him a “man of destiny to lead the nation” and a man who was “in God’s place,” as Billy Graham told Nixon on more than one occasion.1 But though evangelicals’ faith in Nixon never wavered, their reasons for supporting him changed. In 1960 they viewed Nixon as a champion of Protestantism who would save the country from the dangers posed by a Catholic candidate. By the end of the decade, they began to view him not as a sectarian symbol, but as the champion of an antisecular, ecumenical coalition that was broad enough to include Catholics. Nixon’s success in positioning himself as a transdenominational moral leader who could reach out to evangelicals without losing the Catholic vote laid the groundwork for the rise of a politically influential Religious Right and transformed the Republican Party. Though Nixon was never fully conscious of the degree of his success in creating an interdenominational religious coalition, it became one of his most enduring political legacies.

Keywords

Republican Party Spiritual Struggle Religious Matter Cultural Liberalism Bible Reading 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Lyman Kellstedt et al., “Faith Transformed: Religion and American Politics from FDR to George W. Bush,” in Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present, ed. Mark A. Noll and Luke E. Harlow, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 272–73; Billy Graham to Richard Nixon, September 1, 1960, microfilm reel 1, collection 74, Billy Graham Center Archives (BGCA), Wheaton, IL (originals in Nixon Presidential Library [NPL], Yorba Linda, CA); Tape recording of telephone conversation between Richard Nixon and Billy Graham, December 19, 1971, WHT 16–124, NPL.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    No historian has yet provided a detailed study of the way in which Richard Nixon helped to create an alliance between conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants, although a few historians have examined his relationship with social conservatives, with a focus on his use of racial and cultural appeals. For these studies, see Robert Mason, Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004);Google Scholar
  3. Steven P. Miller, Billy Graham and the Rise of the Sunbelt South (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009);Google Scholar
  4. Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (New York: Scribner, 2008);Google Scholar
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  7. 3.
    Kellstedt et al., “Faith Transformed,” 272; Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 88; Billy Graham to Dwight Eisenhower, December 3, 1951, February 8, 1954, and December 2, 1957, folder 1–12, collection 74, BGCA (originals in Eisenhower Presidential Library). 4. Billy James Hargis, Communist America-Must it Be? (Tulsa, OK: Christian Crusade, 1960), 31.Google Scholar
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    Barry Hankins, Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002), 150–51;Google Scholar
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    Kenneth J. Heineman, A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999);Google Scholar
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    Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House (New York: Center Street, 2007), 159–70; Religious News Service, “Graham to Candidates: Americans Wants Change in U.S. Moral Direction,” Western Voice, November 7, 1968, 3.Google Scholar
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    Richard Nixon, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1969, www.bartleby.com/124/pres58.html; John D. Skrentny, The Minority Rights Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 241;Google Scholar
  16. Charles P. Henderson, The Nixon Theology (New York: Harper and Row, 1972); Charles P. Henderson, “Mr. Nixon’s Theology,” The New York Times, July 3, 1972.Google Scholar
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    Marlin, American Catholic Voter, 276; Kevin Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1969); White House memo from Charles Colson to Peter Flanigan, February 18, 1972, “February 1972” folder, box 131, Colson Files, WHSF, NPL; White House memo from Charles Colson to H. R. Haldeman, June 15, 1972, “H. R. Haldeman, January 1972 [2]” folder, box 3, Colson Files, WHSF, NPL; Smith Hempstone, “Nixon, the Catholic Vote and the Megastates,” Washington Star, June 14, 1972.Google Scholar

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© Laura Jane Gifford and Daniel K. Williams 2012

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