Speech at Madison Square Garden

Why does Wallace focus on the need to preserve law and order in America as one of the main points in this speech?
Does the States Rights Democratic Party anticipate the candidacy of George Wallace in 1968?

No related resources


George Wallace ran as a third-party candidate in 1968 for the American Independent Party. Wallace had been elected governor of Alabama in 1962, promising in his inaugural address to maintain “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” When a federal court ordered the University of Alabama to admit black students, Wallace stood at the door to the school, vowing to bar the students’ admission. This lasted until President Kennedy federalized the National Guard and a deputy attorney general ordered Wallace to stand aside. These actions gave Wallace a national reputation as a fierce opponent of forced integration, and in 1968 he decided to test his appeal outside of the South.

Running with Curtis LeMay as his running mate, Wallace campaigned throughout the country—the last third-party candidate to actually win states in the presidential election. His campaign denounced the courts, civil rights legislation, big government, and leniency toward criminals. In the end, however, Wallace’s showing was not particularly impressive; he won only five states in the deep South while taking 13.5% of the popular vote. However, Wallace’s candidacy did demonstrate considerable national opposition to the two major political parties. Wallace attempted to exploit this discontent by regularly announcing that there was not a “dime’s worth of difference” between the Republicans and the Democrats, and he played upon national discontent with integration, rising taxes, and bureaucracy. Although he lost the election by a wide margin, Wallace showed that the parties were somewhat out of touch with the American electorate and were thus vulnerable to a strong third-party showing by the right candidate. Wallace was not that candidate, but the major parties had learned a lesson about listening to their grassroots.

—Eric C. Sands

Source: George Wallace, “Speech at Madison Square Garden, October 24, 1968,” in History of U.S. Political Parties, ed. Arthur Schlesinger, vol. 4, 1945–1972: The Politics of Change (New York: Chelsea House, 1973), 3491–3497.

… Our system is under attack: the property system, the free enterprise system, and local government. Anarchy prevails today in the streets of the large cities of our country, making it unsafe for you to even go to a political rally here in Madison Square Garden, and that is a sad commentary. Both national parties in the last number of years have kowtowed to every anarchist that has roamed the streets. I want to say before I start on this any longer, that I’m not talking about race. The overwhelming majority of all races in this country are against this breakdown of law and order as much as those who are assembled here tonight. It’s a few anarchists, a few activists, a few militants, a few revolutionaries, and a few Communists. But your day, of course is going to be over soon. The American people are not going to stand by and see the security of our nation imperiled, and they’re not going to stand by and see this nation destroyed, I can assure you that.

The liberals and the left-wingers in both national parties have brought us to the domestic mess we are in now. And also this foreign mess we are in.

You need to read the book “How to Behave in a Crowd.” You really don’t know how to behave in a crowd, do you?

Yes, the liberals and left-wingers in both parties have brought us to the domestic mess we are in also to the foreign policy mess we find our nation involved in at the present time, personified by the no-win war in Southeast Asia.

Now what are some of the things we are going to do when we become president? We are going to turn back to you, the people of the states, the right to control our domestic institutions. Today you cannot even go to the school systems of the large cities of our country without fear. This is a sad day when in the greatest city in the world, there is fear not only in Madison Square Garden, but in every school building in the state of New York, and especially in the City of New York. Why has the leadership of both national parties kowtowed to this group of anarchists that makes it unsafe for your child and for your family? I don’t understand it. But I can assure you of this—that there’s not ten cents worth of difference with what the national parties say other than our party. Recently they say most of the same things we say. I remember six years ago when this anarchy movement started, Mr. Nixon said: “It’s a great movement,” and Mr. Humphrey said: “It’s a great movement.” Now when they try to speak and are heckled down, they stand up and say: “We’ve got to have some law and order in this country.” They ought to give you law and order back for nothing, because they have helped to take it away from you, along with the Supreme Court of our country that’s made up of Republicans and Democrats.

It’s costing the taxpayers of New York and the other states in the union almost a half billion dollars to supervise the schools, hospitals, seniority and apprenticeship lists of labor unions, and businesses. Every year on the federal level we have passed a law that would jail you without a trial by jury about the sale of your own property. Mr. Nixon and Mr. Humphrey, both three or four weeks ago, called for the passage of a bill on the federal level that would require you to sell or lease your own property to whomsoever they thought you ought to lease it to. I say that when Mr. Nixon and Mr. Humphrey succumb to the blackmail of a few anarchists in the streets who said we’re going to destroy this country if you do not destroy that adage that a man’s home is his castle, they are not fit to lead the American people during the next four years in our country. When I become your president, I am going to ask that Congress repeal this so-called open occupancy law and we’re going to, within the law, turn back to the people of every state their public school system. Not one dime of your federal money is going to be used to bus anybody any place that you don’t want them to be bussed in New York or any other state.

Yes, the theoreticians and the pseudo-intellectuals have just about destroyed not only local government but the school systems of our country. That’s all right. Let the police handle it. So let us talk about law and order. We don’t have to talk about it much up here. You understand what I’m talking about in, of course, the City of New York, but let’s talk about it.

… You had better be thankful for the police and the firemen of this country. If it were not for them, you couldn’t even ride in the streets, much less walk in the streets, of our large cities. Yes, the Kerner Commission Report,[1] recently written by Republicans and Democrats, said that you are to blame for the breakdown of law and order, and that the police are to blame. Well, you know, of course, you aren’t to blame. They said we have a sick society. Well, we don’t have any sick society. We have a sick Supreme Court and some sick politicians in Washington, – that’s who’s sick in our country. The Supreme Court of our country has ruled that you cannot even say a simple prayer in a public school, but you can send obscene literature though the mail, and recently they ruled that a Communist can work in a defense plant. But when I become your president, we’re going to take every Communist out of every defense plant in the United States, I can assure you.

… We are in Vietnam whether you like it or not. I sincerely hope and pray that the conflict is soon over, but we should have learned one thing about our involvement in Southeast Asia—the same thing that Mr. Humphrey now says in his speeches: we should not march alone. I said last year in California that we should never have gone to Vietnam—by ourselves. We should have looked our allies in the face in Western Europe and our non-Communist Asian Allies and said to them: it is as much your interest as it is ours and you are going to go with manpower, munitions, and money, and if you don’t go and help us in Southeast Asia, and if you don’t stop trading with the North Vietnamese who are killing American servicemen, we are not only going to cut off every dime of foreign aid you’re getting, but we’re going to ask you to pay back all you owe us from World War I right on this very day.

… I sincerely hope and pray that we have a successful negotiated peace. Well, I’ll drown them out, come on. I sincerely hope and pray that we have an honorably negotiated peace to arise out of the Paris peace talks. I know that you pray that, and that the American servicemen can come home. But if we fail diplomatically and politically in Southeast Asia, we’re not going to stay there forever, we’re not going to see hundreds of American servicemen killed every week for years and months to come. If we do not win diplomatically and politically in Paris, that is, by honorable conclusion of the war, then in my judgment, we ought to end it militarily with conventional weapons and bring the American servicemen home. If we cannot settle it diplomatically and politically, and could not win it militarily with conventional weapons, then I wonder why we’re there in the first place? We’re going to conclude this way one way or the other either through honorable negotiations or conventional military power.

… My friends, let me say this. We can win this election because it only takes a plurality to win when there are three or more running. If we get thirty-four percent of the vote in this state, and the other two get thirty-three percent apiece, then we win the entire electoral vote of the State of New York. That’s all it takes. You know this, and that’s one reason Mr. Nixon doesn’t want to debate. Well, I want to tell Mr. Nixon it’s a good thing he doesn’t debate because if he ever does, we’re going to point out that he’s made so many inconsistent statements about so many matters, I would be happy to debate. But he cannot get a debate started.

… Well, don’t worry what the newspapers say about us. Everything I’ve said tonight is logical and reasonable and constitutional. Not a single thing have I said tonight that anybody can argue logically with, and that’s the reason they call us extremists and want to say we’re Fascists. They cannot argue with the logic of the position we take here in Madison Square Garden tonight. They want to say, well, they’re evil folks. I want to tell these newspapers something. These large newspapers that think they know more than the average citizen on the street of New York haven’t always been right. I remember the time the New York Times said that Mao tse-Tung was a good man, and he turned out to be a Communist. I remember when they said that Ben Bella[2] was a good man, and he turned out to be a Communist. When old Castro was in the hills of Cuba, the New York Times said he was the Robin Hood of the Caribbean, and they introduced him on national television as the George Washington of Cuba. They were mistaken about Castro.

  1. 1. The Kerner Commission produced the “Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders” that looked into the causes of recent rioting in major cities. The Commission blamed the violence on white racism and lack of economic opportunities for black people. The report also called for diversifying police forces and making them more sensitive to the plight of black Americans, along with major investment efforts into housing and creating jobs.
  2. 2. Algerian revolutionary who became President of Algeria in 1963 and brought about a number of socialist-style reforms.
Teacher Programs

Conversation-based seminars for collegial PD, one-day and multi-day seminars, graduate credit seminars (MA degree), online and in-person.

Our Core Document Collection allows students to read history in the words of those who made it. Available in hard copy and for download.