The silent majority is an unspecified large majority of people in a country or group who do not express their opinions publicly. The term was popularized (though not first used) by U.S. President Richard Nixon in a November 3, 1969, speech in which he said, "And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support." In this usage it referred to those Americans who did not join in the large demonstrations against the Vietnam War at the time, who did not join in the counterculture, and who did not participate in public discourse. Nixon along with many others saw this group as being overshadowed in the media by the more vocal minority.
The phrase had been in use for much of the 19th century to refer to the dead—the number of living people is less than the number who have died. Phrases such as "gone to a better world", "gone before", and "joined the silent majority" served as euphemisms for "he died". In 1902, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan employed this sense of the phrase, saying in a speech that "great captains on both sides of our Civil War have long ago passed over to the silent majority, leaving the memory of their splendid courage."
Prior to Nixon using the phrase in reference to voters, it was used in this manner by Churchill C. Cambreleng, representative of New York state, in May 1831 before 400 members of the Tammany Society. Cambreleng complained to his audience about a U.S federal bill that had been rejected without full examination by the United States House of Representatives. Cambreleng's "silent majority" referred to other representatives who voted as a bloc:
In 1883, an anonymous author calling himself "A German" wrote a memorial to Léon Gambetta, published in The Contemporary Review. Describing French Conservatives of the 1870s, the writer opined that "their mistake was, not in appealing to the country, but in appealing to it in behalf of a Monarchy which had yet to be defined, instead of a Republic which existed; for in the latter case they would have had the whole of that silent majority with them."
Referring to Charles I of England, historian Veronica Wedgwood wrote this sentence in her 1955 book The King's Peace, 1637–1641: "The King in his natural optimism still believed that a silent majority in Scotland were in his favour." The same year, while Nixon was serving as vice-president to Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and his research assistants wrote in his book Profiles in Courage, "Some of them may have been representing the actual sentiments of the silent majority of their constituents in opposition to the screams of a vocal minority..."
Full article ▸