The presidential election of 1972 was a race between incumbent President Richard Nixon and Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. Nixon was reelected by the widest margin in U.S. history, later to become the only President of the United States ever to resign from office in August 1974.
The Democratic nomination was a competition between McGovern and several other party leaders, including former Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace, a segregationist leader. Edmund Muskie, who previously ran as a candidate for vice president, took an early lead during election season. Shirley Chisholm of New York became the first African American to run for president, and Patty Mink of Hawaii became the first Asian American to run, and both were women. George Wallace’s supporters came primarily from the South and he won several primaries. An assassination attempt by Arthur Bremer during the campaign left Wallace paralyzed and forced him to end his campaign.
McGovern was an anti-war, liberal candidate like Eugene McCarthy had been in the previous election. Humphrey defeated McGovern in the primary elections by a small margin, but at the Democratic National Convention, delegates chose McGovern as the presidential nominee. This was a controversial move that came just after the new McGovern-Fraser Commission which changed and regulated the way delegates were chosen.
At the convention, a few candidates were considered for the vice presidential nomination, including Frances Farenthold, the first serious female vice presidential candidate. Thomas Eagleton was given the position, initially accepting the role until his personal medical records were released. The records showed that at one point, Eagleton had undergone shock therapy to treat depression. Fears that his depression could return and affect his leadership abilities caused concern, and Eagleton soon resigned from the nomination.
To remain a viable candidate against the incumbent, Democratic leaders knew they needed to choose the right replacement for Eagleton. Because they were unable to convince Ted Kennedy to be McGovern’s running mate, the party chose Sargent Shriver, who was a member of the Kennedy family. Though Shriver had never served in an elected position, the Democratic Party believed his connection to the Kennedys would boost their support.
During the campaign, reports were released claiming McGovern supported very progressive stances regarding amnesty, abortion, and the legalization of marijuana, which caused controversy and lost McGovern the support of many moderates and conservatives.
The many controversies within the Democratic Party, as well as the late finalization of the Democratic ticket caused McGovern to lose support and hurt his popularity in the polls.
The election of 1972 was the first election since the Twenty-sixth Amendment was passed in 1971, lowering the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen. The election resulted in an enormous victory for Nixon, losing just two small states to McGovern. Nixon won by the widest margin in history in terms of the popular vote, receiving more than 18 million votes more than McGovern. One faithless elector from Virginia, which was supposed to be cast for Nixon and Agnew, was given instead to John Hospers and Theodora Nathan.
Nixon’s second term as President of the United States was marred by scandal, leading to the resignation of Vice President Agnew on October 10, 1973. Agnew was succeeded by Gerald R. Ford. On August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned as President of the United States. Ford became president, and Nelson A. Rockefeller became vice president. Nixon became the first and only president to resign from office.