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1969 Milestones in Law, Government and Politics

Political and government milestones in 1969 helped define a generation


1969 was a very interesting year for US politics and legal issues. was an interesting year for government and politics. Learn which law, government and political events made the list as 1969 milestones.

Nixon's First Inauguration

Richard Nixon; photo: National Archives/Getty
On January 20, 1969, Richard Milhous Nixon was sworn in as 37th president of the United States. A former U.S. congressman, senator and vice president, Nixon lost his first presidential bid to John F. Kennedy in 1960 by a narrow margin. In 1968, he made a political comeback, defeating both Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Independent candidate George Wallace to win the White House. Nixon was re-elected in 1972, but victory was short-lived. Following the Watergate scandal, Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment—the first U.S. president ever to resign the office. A month later, his successor and former vice president, U.S. President Gerald Ford, granted Nixon a "full, free, and absolute pardon" so he wouldn't have to face criminal charges.

Give Peace a Chance

Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho; photo: Hulton Archive/Getty
The Paris Peace talks began in 1968 in an effort to find a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Vietnam. The talks quickly broke down, but resumed in 1969, along with secret negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, chief negotiator for North Vietnam. The Paris Peace Talks eventually ended direct U.S. involvement in Vietnam (beginning in 1973). Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were jointly awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts, although Le Duc Tho declined the honor.

The First Vietnam-Era Draft Lottery

Vietnam Draft Lottery; photo: Agence France Presse/Getty
On December 1, 1969, the U.S. Selective Service held the first since 1942 to determine which young American men would be drafted to fight in Vietnam. The lottery applied to all eligible U.S. men born between January 1, 1944, and December 31, 1950. Every date on the calendar was written on a slip of paper, placed in a blue plastic capsule, dumped into a deep glass cylinder, and drawn out one at a time. Men were assigned a number and drafted based on the order in which their birth dates were chosen. Those born on the first 195 dates drawn in the 1969 lottery were called to serve. The 1970 lottery applied to men born in 1951; 1971 applied to men born in 1952. The numbers in four other lotteries weren't used because the draft ended in 1973.

The Birth of the Gay Rights Movement

Gay Flag; photo: David Paul Morris/Getty
The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York's Greenwich Village was a rundown gay bar owned by the Mafia. At 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969, New York City Police raided the bar—homosexuals were still heavily persecuted and treated as criminals in 1969—but gay patrons resisted and fought back. That initial conflict sparked a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations over the next few days that gave rise to the Gay Rights Movement. A year later, on June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride Parades were held in New York and Los Angeles to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.


Ted Kennedy at the Kopechne inquest; photo: Steve Hansen/Getty
Some of the events surrounding the death of Mary Jo Kopechne on the night of July 18, 1969 remain as murky as the tidal pond where she died after the car driven by U.S. Sen. Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy plunged through a guard rail and into the water. Kennedy pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury and received a suspended sentence of two months—the statutory minimum. The controversy surrounding Kopechne's death probably ended any presidential ambitions Kennedy had, but he continued to serve as a respected member of the U.S. Senate until his death in 2009.

The Chicago Seven

The Chicago Seven at a press conference; photo: David Fenton/Getty
The Chicago Seven were originally The Chicago Eight—eight defendants who were indicted for conspiracy, inciting to riot and other charges arising from protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois—but the judge later ordered a separate trial for Black Panther Co-Founder Bobby Seale. The trial of the Chicago Seven became a bigger news event than the protests that led to the arrests of activists such as Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden, as the defendants insulted the judge, challenged the authority of the court, and generally used the trial to continue to their protest of government repression and the war in Vietnam.

British Abolish Death Penalty

In December 1969, the British Parliament voted to permanently abolish the death penalty for the crime of murder, substituting a sentence of mandatory life imprisonment. Although it was never applied, the death penalty remained on the books for some other crimes until it was finally removed in 1998. The last executions in the United Kingdom—the simultaneous hangings of two men convicted of murdering a 53-year-old man named John Alan West—took place on August 13, 1964.

Attack on People's Park

In May 1969, California Governor Ronald Reagan tried to suppress a grassroots effort to turn a 2.8-acre university-owned site in Berkeley, California, into a People's Park. The conflict became an iconic symbol of the 1960s conflict between the Establishment and the People. Police occupied and barricaded the park and attacked protesters, killing one man, permanently blinding another, and sending 128 people to the hospital. Following that protest, Reagan sent 2,700 National Guard troops to occupy the city over the protests of many local residents. Conflict over the park continued for many years.

Calley Charged in My Lai Massacre

Lt. William Calley was charged with leading his platoon in the premeditated murders of 109 Vietnamese civilians at the village of My Lai in March 1968. The My Lai Massacre, as it was soon called, was initially covered up, but eventually discovered and investigated by the Army. Fourteen people were charged, but everyone except Calley was either acquitted or had their charges dismissed by courts martial. Calley was found guilty of personally murdering 22 civilians and sentenced to life in prison. His sentence was later reduced to 20 years by the Court of Military Appeals and further reduced to 10 years by the Secretary of the Army. President Richard Nixon paroled Calley in 1974.

Qadaffi Seizes Power in Libya

On September 1, 1969, a group of young military officers staged a bloodless coup in Libya, toppling the monarchy and declaring the country a republic. Speaking from Turkey, King Idris initially called the coup "unimportant," but many Libyan citizens supported the coup and even Crown Prince Hassan, heir to the throne, declared his support for the new government. Within a few months, it was clear that a charismatic young colonel, 27-year-old Moammar Qadaffi, would be the leader of the new republic.

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