The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960

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The 1960 presidential election, won ultimately by John F. Kennedy, was one of the closest and most contentious in American history. The country had never elected a Roman Catholic president, and the last time a Catholic had been nominated—New York Governor Al Smith in 1928—he was routed in the general election. From the outset, Kennedy saw the religion issue as the single most important obstacle on his road to the White House. He was acutely aware of, and deeply frustrated by, the possibility that his personal religious beliefs could keep him out of the White House.
In The Making of a Catholic President, Shaun Casey tells the fascinating story of how the Kennedy campaign transformed the "religion question" from a liability into an asset, making him the first (and still only) Catholic president. Drawing on extensive archival research, including many never-before-seen documents, Casey takes us inside the campaign to show Kennedy's chief advisors—Ted Sorensen, John Kenneth Galbraith, Archibald Cox—grappling with the staunch opposition to the candidate's Catholicism. Casey also reveals, for the first time, many of the Nixon campaign's efforts to tap in to anti-Catholic sentiment, with the aid of Billy Graham and the National Association of Evangelicals, among others. The alliance between conservative Protestants and the Nixon campaign, he shows, laid the groundwork for the rise of the Religious Right. This book will shed light on one of the most talked-about elections in American history, as well as on the vexed relationship between religion and politics more generally.
With clear relevance to our own political situation—where politicians' religious beliefs seem more important and more volatile than ever—The Making of a Catholic President offers rare insights into one of the most extraordinary presidential campaigns in American history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Here's a retelling of the 1960 presidential campaign that every political junkie will find pure narcotic. Shaun Casey does a masterful job shedding new light on the religious dimensions of JFK's victory in a way that speaks to all the same debates we now have about the role of faith in politics and vice versa: themes from nearly 50 years ago that vibrate with relevance today."—Mike McCurry, former Press Secretary to President Bill Clinton

"Shaun Caseys colorful storytelling and groundbreaking new research shed light on an election that changed forever the link between our secular creed, American democracy, and the faith of our political leaders. This is a fascinating book that will be talked about for years to come." —Senator John Kerry

"Casey, who advised the Obama campaign on matters of religion, here reveals the behind-the-scenes anti-Catholic campaign strategies of Kennedy's opponent in 1960."—Washington Post Book World

"Shaun Casey has made a rich contribution to understanding the critical role religion—and religious intolerance—played in the 1960 presidential election. With extensive research, admirable organization, and a clear style, he describes an extensive and well-organized web of anti-Kennedy activity that was barely mentioned in Theodore White's classic,The Making of a President, 1960. Readers will be surprised by what Casey has uncovered. This is a valuable book for anyone interested in presidential history and the interplay of religion and politics." —William Martin, author of With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America

"In a nation where politics are literally saturated with religious overtones, Shaun Casey's The Making of a Catholic President serves as a poignant reminder of how the 'religion question' can be better served when politicans seek understanding rather than public support from the ecclesiastical community."—Religion in American History

"The Making of a Catholic President contains much new research and presents a gripping narrative, even though we remember how the story turned out in the end."—The Christian Century

"A thorough examination."—The Library Journal

"Casey draws conclusions that are helpful for politicians."—Christian Century

"The story is briskly told in eight chapters and an epilogue, which attempts to draw a few modest conclusions for contemporary students of politics and religion. In the closing pages, Casey also briefly and admirably tackles the question of the nature of Kennedy's Catholicism, making some intriguing observations about American Catholicism in the 1950s."—Catholic Historical Review

"This is an exceptional book which can be appreciated by both historians and casual readers. It is long overdue."—Journal of American History

"Shaun Casey has managed to open up a window on a forgotten aspect of the era, and, astonishingly, to uncover some very significant new revelations.... A model of historical research."—Journal of American Studies

"Casey has written the best work on religion and politics in the 1960 campaign."—Presidential Studies Quarterly

"Historians and political scientists alike will find this book useful given its sound research and good writing. For liberals, it is an interesting look back at a time when prominent Democrats opposed a Catholic nominee with vigor, not because of policy differences, but simply because of the nominee's Roman Catholicism."— ournal of Interdisciplinary Studies

Library Journal

Casey (Christian ethics, Wesley Theological Seminary) examines John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign in terms of America's evolution from a politically Protestant nation to a pluralistic one. His extensive research includes speeches, editorials, and other supporting archival documents in which Kennedy denied fanning sectarian flames in order to drum up Catholic support. Kennedy declared his independence from religious pressure in his 1960 address before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, stating he would vote with his conscience in regards to the national interest and not according to church doctrine. But Nixon, with the support of Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, and Harold Ockenga, lit the fuse on anti-Catholic sentiment and was defeated. Nixon did say that he would support federal funding for parochial schools, which turned groups like some Texas Baptists against him and may have cost him the election. Nixon's alliance with religious communities foreshadowed the rise of the Religious Right. This thorough examination of religious dimensions of the 1960 political campaign is recommended for academic collections.
—L. Kriz

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195374483
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/23/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Shaun A. Casey is senior adviser for Religious Affairs and Evangelical Coordinator for the Barack Obama presidential campaign. Casey is also Visiting Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the National Capital Semester for Seminarians at Wesley Theological Seminary. He lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

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Table of Contents

1 The Ghost of Al Smith 3

2 The Lay of the Land 30

3 First Skirmishes 52

4 Preparing for Battle 81

5 Mobilizing the Troops 101

6 Guerrilla Warfare 123

7 A Lion in a Den of Daniels 151

8 The Endgame 177

Epilogue 200

Notes 207

Index 235

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 2, 2009

    The religion side of a famous presidential election

    Shaun Casey is a friend of mine. Early in 2009, I heard that Shaun had a book published. I found a copy online. This is the type of book that I would never buy off the shelf in a bookstore. This, however, was a different situation. A friend had written the book - now the title and subject matter intrigued me. I ordered a copy and anxiously awaited for it to arrive.

    I was two years old when Nixon and Kennedy faced one another in the general election of 1960. What I know I heard from movies (unreliable) and snippets of news coverage (only slightly more reliable). There was intrigue with the mafia, labor unions, and voter fraud in that election. Still, it was one of the most narrow victories in a Presidential election in our history.

    Shaun didn't write about any of those matters. Instead, he wrote about the letters, meeting, "tracts" (some of us old south conservative Christians know what a tract is), small Bible colleges, and so on. These played roles in that close election. Shaun brings those stories and those people to life in his book. There is some serious research in here. When did Shaun have the time to do that. He was working inside the Obama campaign through 2008.

    I liked this book. I am glad Shaun wrote it or I would have never read it. The stories are interesting. I recognize the names of some of the places, people, and publications. They all influenced the outcome of that election.

    Nixon and Kennedy had religious backgrounds. That seems strange to write. Kennedy cheated on his wife, invaded Cuba unsuccessfully, and succeeded at involving the United States in Southeast Asia. Nixon pulled the U.S. out of Southeast Asia, cursed blue streaks in the Oval Office, and ordered illegal break-ins during a landslide campaign. Still, these two men had religions and understood how religion could influence the outcome of their race. Shaun Casey helps bring these two Presidents to life in a manner that I understood them.

    Thanks, Shaun.

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