So, the demonstrators never made it to the convention site. Inside, Hubert Humphrey got the nomination over Eugene McCarthy, who had vowed to end the Vietnam War. And I got one of the most significant lessons of my political education.
Forty-four years ago today, Feb. 18, 1970, the five-month trial for the Chicago Seven, the activists charged with conspiring to incite that violence, ended with the jury handing up its verdicts.
All seven defendants, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner, were acquitted of the conspiracy charges. The latter two were acquitted of all charges, while the other five were convicted of inciting a riot. The convictions were thrown out later because of judicial bias with jury selection and during the trial.
Even before the 1968 convention, the tide of American sentiment that year had turned against the war. The Tet offensive in February, President Johnson’s decision not to seek another term, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy left many people feeling something was wrong, and that included the war in Vietnam.
As anti-war demonstrations grew in numbers and size in 1969, the Chicago Seven defendants used their trial as a way to put the war itself on trial. Even without a CNN or other network around to broadcast the trial live into living rooms, news coverage of the witnesses for the defense and the antics of some of the defendants was enough to focus attention on the cultural and political divide in America.
Should the trial, according to University of Missouri at Kansas City law professor Douglas Linder, be viewed as “an important battle for the hearts and minds of the American people? Or is it best seen as a symbol of the conflicts of values that characterized the late sixties? These are some of the questions that surround one of the most unusual courtroom spectacles in American history.”