Silent majority — it’s a term that’s been used more oft in the past 5 years than it has in the final few decades. Dozens of groups and accounts on social media now comprise “silent majority” into their names and bios. Many of them have massive followings and active users, while others accept their privacy settings adapted to continue people out. This can make them appear silent in a sense, even though online anonymity tin can be a sparse veil. Still, being a role of a silent majority has get an identity for some folks.
When people invoke a term like “silent majority,” it’south oft related to politics and a large group of voters who don’t express their political stances openly. Much like an October Surprise, a silent bulk can affect the results of elections at local and national levels. The most notable recent invocation of a silent bulk involved Donald Trump, who first used the term in 2015 and continued to practise so during campaigns for the 2016 and 2020 elections.
“Silent majority” doesn’t begin and end with Trump or social media, though. Looking beyond Trump, “silent bulk” has become a popular campaign slogan among a slew of candidates. Simply seeing information technology get-go to announced so oftentimes in news cycles tin can enhance even more questions than it answers virtually candidates, constituents and the real meaning of the term. As it turns out, “silent majority” has a surprisingly non-political origin yous won’t find in history textbooks — and information technology hasn’t always meant the same thing.
Editor’southward Notation: This article is a part of our ongoing American Myths series in which nosotros explore the truths behind misrepresented people and events throughout history.
Tracing the SIlent Majority Back to Roman Roots
The first known reference to a grouping of people every bit a silent majority had nothing to practise with elections at all. The Roman author Petronius, writer of texts like the
Satyricon, was the start to use the phrase. When he used the term that would translate to “silent bulk,” Petronius was referring to the expressionless. Petronius lived during the time of Emperor Nero, making the phrase well-nigh 2,000 years one-time.
It makes sense to recollect of the dead as silent — they’re no longer around to communicate — just the blazon of silence Petronius referred to had more to do with leaving a legacy. In his time, the ability to read and write were skills that not many people had access to. If someone passed away, they became silent forever because they were unable to exit whatever records similar diaries behind. Since the dead outnumber the living, Petronius saw them every bit a bulk population, only one unable to voice their views.
For centuries “silent majority” was used to reference the expressionless, even at high levels of the U.S. government. John Marshall Harlan, a Supreme Courtroom justice in the late 1800s, used the term when referring to those who died during the Civil War. Was this the way “silent majority” made its way into the American headspace? Not quite.
Earlier Justice Harlan, “silent majority” was already in use in the political landscape. A Representative of New York named Churchill C. Cambreleng used the term when speaking to a political group in 1831. During his voice communication, Cambreleng referred to majorities stepping on the rights of minorities.
That doesn’t seem far off from a speech you’d hear today, but Cambreleng’s apply of the phrase needs some context. Non-landowners didn’t vote in any presidential elections until 1828. Black Americans didn’t gain the right to vote until 1870 (and ultimately 1965). Women couldn’t vote until 1920. Groups of voters weren’t sorted into boxes based on voting issues or on their identities equally much as they are today. Describing groups of voters was a newer practice during Cambreleng’south time. He was nigh likely weaving words together for his speech, not looking to create a political move or galvanize one grouping against another.
When Calvin Coolidge ran for President in 1919, the advertizing executive behind his entrada, Bruce Barton, employed “silent majority” to characterize this would-be president. Coolidge didn’t assure the nomination for the Republican Party, merely he did serve as Vice President under Warren K. Harding until Harding’s passing in 1923. Future Republicans would somewhen have a cue from Coolidge, but “silent bulk” isn’t exclusive to any item party.
The next and perhaps most significant invocation of “silent majority” starts with John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam State of war. Kennedy had written in his volume,
Profiles in Courage — a compilation of politician biographies — “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.” Kennedy personally signed and sent a copy to Richard Nixon.
Nixon’south use of the term may be 1 of the most famous in history, and it also had little to do with voting. Nixon’s famous “Silent Majority” speech referred to the Vietnam War, specifically to his plan to cease the war. The U.South. had been involved in this conflict for a decade, and many voters were prepare for the war to end by the fourth dimension Nixon took role. Nixon’south plan was to pull out gradually as opposed to sending all the troops home at once.
In his speech, he alluded to a protest sign that read “Lose in Vietnam, send our boys dwelling” with disgust. Nixon claimed that people expressing this sentiment were a song minority, and the silent bulk supported the U.S., its troops and all of their actions: “If a vocal minority, however fervent its cause, prevails over reason and the will of the bulk, this Nation has no future every bit a gratis society.”
After this, politicians, journalists and civilians all over the world began using “silent majority” much more oftentimes. In the U.S., the phrase was associated with the Nixonian connotation: People who are protesting against the (usually bourgeois) government are “them,” and “everyone else” is in the silent bulk. Merely because Nixon didn’t have any proof backing his claim, this idea about the silent bulk is a mythologized ane that may or may non have been truthful.
Despite this, the phrase and the mentality associated with it gave numerous conservative politicians, like Ronald Reagan, talking points and helped constituents shape their voting identity around the phrase. Eventually, Donald Trump “brought the thought of the silent majority to the forefront” once more while campaigning, and NPR reported that attendees of Trump’s rallies believed “the silent majority is defined by fiscal conservatism, or disapproval of things like Planned Parenthood, or anger with authorities gridlock.”
Lesser Line: There’s No Single Silent Majority
So, did Nixon create the silent majority? Is the silent majority a Republican talking point, or is it a serious group of voters? Maybe if the silent majority was exclusively American this would be easier to ascertain, but “silent majority” has been used all over the globe, and information technology’s mainly a rhetorical tool. There is no single — or real — silent bulk.
In 2019, Scott Morrison used the term to thank his “quiet” voters afterward becoming the Prime number Minister of Australia. Morrison is a member of Commonwealth of australia’s Liberal Party, and then the idea that the silent majority are serenity and conservative tin be limiting. “Silent majority” has also been used by political figures from Italia, Portugal, Hong Kong, the U.K. and other nations. The term is less of an official motion or identity and more than a synthetic mass that helps describe a group of people that may or may not be real.
These days, information technology’s more difficult to find a grouping of people who are actually silent. People accept the unprecedented ability to vocalisation their opinions and fight for progress. Literacy rates are much higher than they accept been in by centuries, so diaries and other writings tin can assist preserve individual stories. Preservation efforts take been helping traditionally underrepresented groups throughout history. But ultimately, the original meaning of the phrase makes an important point: The dead can’t speak. In line with Petronius, a truthful silent majority lacks a phonation.
If a group chooses to speak out, it’s not to cause trouble or be “unAmerican” like Nixon may have implied. Typically, if a group needs to be louder than anyone else, it’due south because they don’t have the same rights equally those who are remaining silent. Or, their rights might be in danger. There’s zippo incorrect with speaking out peacefully to protect your own rights or to be an ally for another group. For some, silence equals violence.
Nixon’southward usage of “silent bulk” implies that most Americans don’t like discussing politics — or that the ones who practice are somehow acting out of plow or without reason. Politics tin can exist a subject area that’s taboo, but non talking about certain issues tin impede their solutions. The Constitution supports political discourse whether yous’re in the Capitol Building or at a dinner tabular array. Information technology’south okay to be a part of a majority or a minority, only there’s often no need to be completely silent about your beliefs.