When It was Hip to Be Conservative

GabeAmerican History(ML), Mini Lessons

From Common Sense American History eBook:

On Sept. 11, 1960, a group of clean cut, conservative young people met at the Sharon, Connecticut, home of conservative publisher William F. Buckley Jr., editor of “National Review,” a conservative publication founded in 1955. The 90 assembled students, who had been involved on campus in the late 1950s fighting for anticommunist policies, had coalesced after supporting the nomination of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater as the GOP vice presidential nominee. Presidential nominee Richard Nixon did not choose the Arizonan, and after boos and catcalls at the convention, Goldwater told the assembled conservatives: “Let’s grow up conservatives. If you want to take the party back, then let’s get to work!”

Many of the young people gathered had been inspired by their reading and discussion of conservative intellectuals and ideas. “National Review” and Buckley had been their inspiration for becoming conservative and they embraced their newfound cause with “the thrill of treason.” They had no idea then that the formation of their organization, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), would inaugurate an era of student protests in the decade.

Approving of a concise statement of principles known as the Sharon Statement—emphasizing limited government, belief in God and victory over communism—YAF would fight against liberalism and support the war in Vietnam. YAF would also use its campus activism to broaden the conservative movement to a more activist, political orientation, which would culminate two decades later in the election of Ronald Reagan as president.

The early 1960s was an era of concern about conservative anti-communist radicalism, not the radicalism of the hippies and anti-war movement. Anti-communists were angry at Eisenhower for his embrace of peaceful coexistence and thought he had sold out to the Russians.

One group, founded by candy manufacturer Robert Welch Jr., organized to fight against communist inroads in America. It was named the John Birch Society after a Baptist soldier who was killed by Chinese communists during the Chinese civil war. Welch labeled Eisenhower “a conscious agent of the communist conspiracy” in a privately circulated book called “The Politician.”

John Birch Society membership grew in places like southern California, where women fought against liberal policies such as sex education in schools, linking the new liberalism of the 1960s to the communist conspiracy. Never a large organization, the Birchers drew tremendous negative press attention from liberals and conservatives alike.

  1. What do you make of Barry Goldwater’s famous lines in the video? Do you agree? If so, what does it mean. If not, then why not? If you didn’t or don’t know anything of his history, to what political movement would you attribute someone with his views?
  2. Go and read the Sharon Statement. Which of these principles do you agree with? Which ones do you disagree with?
  3. Why do you think the general population was more concerned about conservative radicalism in the early sixties, than liberal radicalism?

This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense American History eBook.  Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for students and teachers.  Click Here to download the Common Sense American History materials.

Image Citation:

National Review.  26, Mar. 2018, The Young Americans for Freedom [Digital photograph].  Retrieved from <google.com>.