Tight races make notable concession speeches

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, November 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: concession speeches.

Perhaps one of the most difficult moments for a politician is having to admit defeat. It’s hard enough when it’s a political debate or a legislative loss. Getting up before a group of supporters to concede an election? That’s another level of difficulty.

CLINTON: Last night I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans…

BROWN: We’re not likely to hear a concession speech in this year’s election for a while—thanks to some close races. 

But in close races, concession speeches can take on greater significance. They can call for shared commitment and the good will to work together.

REICHARD: WORLD’s Paul Butler combed through the archives and found a few examples of concession speeches that ended other close presidential races.

PAUL BUTLER, CORRESPONDENT: We can only guess, but it seems likely in the early days of our republic, most losing presidential candidates probably offered private congratulatory messages to the winning politician—though we don’t know for sure. 

Reading some of the contentious debates and campaign materials from our political history does raise doubts that transitions of power were usually civil. Regardless, beginning in the late 19th century, the once private acknowledgment of defeat became a very public part of the political drama. 

According to Scott Farris, author of Almost President, the first public concession occurred in 1896 when William Jennings Bryan sent William McKinley a congratulatory telegram. Eight elections later, Al Smith gave the first broadcast concession speech in 1928. Adlai Stevenson was the first to do so on television in 1952.

ADALI STEVENSON: My fellow citizens have made their choice and have selected General Eishenhower and the Republican party as the instruments of their will…

The 1960 presidential contest between Senator John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was the closest election in 40 years. Republicans alleged voter fraud in Illinois and Texas—two states that would have elected Nixon instead of Kennedy if they had gone the other way. 

But at 3:15 a.m. Eastern time on November 9th, Nixon stood before a room of supporters and conceded defeat. He began by thanking those who voted for him, then spoke to those who voted for Kennedy. 

RICHARD NIXON: The other thing I wish to do is that I am sure that many are listening here who are supporting Senator Kennedy. I know too, that he is probably listening to this program. And as I look at the board here, while there are still some results still to come in, if the present trend continues, Mr. Kennedy, Senator Kennedy will be the next president of the United States. (GROANS)

I do want to say that having been to all of the 50 states of this nation, since the nominating convention in Chicago, having seen the American people, seeing them by the hundreds of thousands and perhaps the millions in the towns and cities of America, that I have great faith about the future of this country. I have great faith that our people, Republicans and Democrats alike, that they will unite behind our next president and seeing that America does meet the challenge, which destiny is placed upon us. 

And so with that…so with that…so with that may I say again, my thanks to you, having had only two hours sleep last night and two hours sleep the night before, I’m now going to bed and I hope you do too. Thank you. (APPLAUSE) 

Eight years later, Nixon was back, this time soundly beating Hubert Humphrey in the electoral college—and narrowly carrying the popular vote. The next morning Hubert Humphrey graciously conceded. 

HERBERT HUMPHREY: I’m sure you know that I have already called Mr Nixon, expressed our congratulations. And I’ve sent the following telegram just a few moments ago to Mr Nixon. It reads as follows: “According to unofficial returns, you are the winner in this election. My congratulations. Please know that you will have my support and unifying and leading the nation. This has been a difficult year for the American people. I’m confident that if constructive leaders, of both our parties, joined together now, we shall be able to go on with the business of building the better America we all seek in a spirit of peace and harmony. Signed Hubert H. Humphrey.”

I have done my best. I have lost. Mr Nixon has won. The democratic process has worked its will. So now let’s get on with the urgent task of uniting our country. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)

In 1976, Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter. Less than 20,000 votes separated them in two crucial battleground states. Gerald Ford conceded the morning after the election.  

GERALD FORD: It’s perfectly obvious, that my voice isn’t up to par and I shouldn’t be making very many comments and I won’t. Now, the real spokesman for the family…Betty.

BETTY FORD: I’d like to read you the telegram the president sent to president elect Carter this morning:

“Dear Jimmy. Although there will continue to be disagreement over the best means to use in pursuing our goals, I want to assure you that you have my complete and wholehearted support as you take the oath of office this January. I also pledge to you that I, and all members of my administration will do all that we can to assure that you begin your term as smoothly, and as effectively as possible. May God bless you and your family, as you undertake your new responsibilities. Signed, Jerry Ford.”

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/CSPAN) Gerald Ford concession speech, 1976

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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