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Lowering the Voting Age: Nixon and the 26th Amendment

Focusing on Details: Discussion Topic

All documents and text associated with this activity are printed below, followed by a worksheet for student responses.

Introduction

The effort to lower the voting age had begun during World War II. During the Vietnam War, the slogan “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” was heard again from student activists, who increased pressure on Congress to change the voting age.

In April 1970, Congress controversially lowered the voting age to 18 as part of legislation to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many people, including President Nixon, believed that it was the right of the states, not the Federal Government, to set the voting age. Nixon, nevertheless, signed the Act which was to go into effect January 1, 1971.

On December 21, 1970 the Supreme Court ruled that the government had indeed overstepped its legislative bounds in lowering the voting age. Fearing mass confusion over who could vote in the 1972 election, Congress quickly passed legislation proposing the 26th Amendment. It was ratified by the states in 100 days, faster than any other Amendment.


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Worksheet

Lowering the Voting Age: Nixon and the 26th Amendment

Focusing on Details: Discussion Topic

Examine the documents included in this activity and write your response in the space provided.


President Richard Nixon jotted these notes for his remarks at the 26th Amendment Ceremony. Even though the handwriting can be difficult to read, examining this very personal document gives special insight into President Nixon's thoughts on the amendment and the youth vote.

As you read, look for answer to the following questions:
  • Why did President Nixon think the desk used in the ceremony was appropriate?
  • What American values did he think the new voters represented?
  • What did he mean when he wrote about the "spirit of 76"?

After you've read the President's remarks, try to put yourself in his position. What might you say on this historic occasion?

Your Response




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Activity Element

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Conclusion

Lowering the Voting Age: Nixon and the 26th Amendment

Focusing on Details: Discussion Topic

It has been decades since the voting age was lowered. In your opinion, how have young voters made a difference in American politics?

Your Response




Document

Richard M. Nixon's Notes for 26th Amendment Ceremony

7/5/1971

These notes were written by President Nixon expressing his thoughts on the 26th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The speech was given by the President on July 5, 1971, in the East Room of the White House during the Young Americans in Concert program.

During the White House ceremony, President Nixon signed the 26th Amendment as a witness. His signature was unnecessary to ratify the 26th Amendment because the Constitution does not give the President a role in passing amendments. But Nixon ceremoniously signed it anyway, and he took the unprecedented step of inviting three 18-year-olds to also sign the new amendment.

Transcript

July 5

We are gathered to witness the certification of 26th Amendment which gives 11 million between 18 + 21 right to vote -

1. It is appropriate in the White House before 500 young Americans - leaving for Europe.

2. It is appropriate at this desk -
Jefferson - designed it - used it at Continental Congress - in Philadelphia -
 1[inside circle] arthritis - stood up.

[crossed out]
You represent the strongest, richest nation:

1. Our strength is for peace - freedom - our goal a generation of peace.

2. Our wealth enables us to help abroad- flood in Rumania - Earthquake in Peru
 1 - Education - Health - Hunger - 
 2 - We can do good things. 
 3- We look to quality of life.

3. You represent a spirit of '76 -
1. America was young, idealistic confident - hope of world -

2. America is still young -
 1 We need your idealism
   your faith in God
     faith in America
   you believe in Peace
   you believe in brotherhood
   [illegible]

[inside box on left]
Add to our wealth & our strength but most of all to our spirit

reinvigorated
renewed

3. You [illegible] America - Youth -

4. Now enjoy the refreshments - [illegible] food - but home cooking - well this is your home - enjoy it.

We are proud - We



July 5, 1971

We are gathered to witness certification of 26th Amendment to Constitution extending vote to 11 million voters ages of 18 + 21

It is appropriate in presence of 500 young Americans - 28 day tour of Europe :

It will be certified on Thomas Jefferson Desk at Constitutional Convention

1. He was 33 - arthritis
2.
2. Jefferson had high hopes - but would not have dreamed we would [illegible] so [illegible]

When you - go -
1. Represent a nation rich & strong -

2. Let them see the spirit of Young Amer-
- Revolution still going -

1. We believe in American Dream - We shall realize the American Dream - only when every American has a chance to realize it in his own life.

[in bracket on left]
Enjoy the food - It will be good - Refreshments -

3. Proud that America will use its strength to defend freedom - to keep the peace.

4. We want all people to enjoy -
 1[inside circle] We are nation which can provide for poor. education - having - quality of life
 set our goals higher -

[in bracket on left]
You can add to our strength wealth

5. Strength for Peace - for your generation -

[crossed out]6. We have youth 
[crossed out] vital 

6. We need your spirit.
 1 Idealism - 
 2 Moral purpose - 
 3 Courage - 
 4 The Spirit of '76 - that [illegible] a [illegible] poor nation - the [illegible] of world -
This primary source comes from the Collection RN-SMOF: White House Staff Member and Office Files (Nixon Administration).
National Archives Identifier: 1634228
Full Citation: Richard M. Nixon's Notes for 26th Amendment Ceremony; 7/5/1971; President's Personal Files, 1/20/1969 - 8/9/1974; Collection RN-SMOF: White House Staff Member and Office Files (Nixon Administration), ; Richard Nixon Library, Yorba Linda, CA. [Online Version, https://docsteach.org/documents/document/nixon-notes-26th-amendment-ceremony, February 26, 2024]


Richard M. Nixon's Notes for 26th Amendment Ceremony

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Richard M. Nixon's Notes for 26th Amendment Ceremony

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