Although the phrase “Silent Majority” came into use as early as in the late 19th century to depict “dead”, it was not popularized until the speech of U.S. President Richard Nixon to address the war in Vietnam to American people on November 3, 1969.
The “Silent Majority” Speech
Following the renewed anti-war movement around the States, President Richard Nixon went on television and radio to call for national solidarity on his war effort in Vietnam and to gather support for his policies.
During his speech, President Nixon illustrated an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces would be a disaster for both South Vietnam, the U.S. as well as the world peace. Nixon went on to explain how he had taken the initiative in pursuing peace for Vietnam on many fronts but still little progress was made due to the obstinacy of North Vietnamese leadership .
Nixon maintained American commitment in Vietnam, however, emphasised that America would not fight the war for them. Instead, South Vietnamese people had to assume the primary responsibility for fighting the war so that they could defend their freedom themselves when Americans left. The president then reported the progress of his “Vietnamization” effort in South Vietnam.
Having provided this point of view on the situation of Vietnam, Nixon then appealed to American people asking the “great silent majority” for their united support to work towards his “peace with honor” plan in Vietnam.
This famous speech also put out Nixon Doctrine which stated that each ally nation had to take main responsibility for its own defense of freedom even though America would provide military and economic support when called upon.
After giving the speech, Nixon’s approval ratings rocketed from 51 percent to 81 percent in the States and 86 percent in South while 77 percent supported his policy in Vietnam in another survey conducted by Gallup.
Who was the “Silent Majority”?
By using “great silent majority”, President Nixon referred to the vast majority of Americans who did not take part in the mass demonstrations against the Vietnam War nor participate in the counterculture and public discourse in the country. Those were not only the older generation – the World War II veterans but also the young in the West, Midwest and the South, many of whom would eventually serve in Vietnam. In other words, the president claimed that although the anti-war protests were vocal and widespread, it only reflected a small minority of American people’s opinions.
In general, the term Silent Majority refers to an unstipulated huge majority of individuals in a country who do not actively participate in politics nor express their own opinions publicly.
Apart from Nixon, the phrase has also been used widely by famous politicians such as Ronald Reagan during his political campaigns in 1970s and 1980s and Premier Quebec Jean Charest during the 2012 student strike.