In 1976, Jimmy Carter angered thousands in Seattle after suggesting pardon for draft evaders
Amid his presidential run in 1976, Jimmy Carter came to Seattle to speak at the national American Legion convention. It was not a popular speech.
On Aug. 24, 1976, the temperature in Seattle was in the upper 60s as the Democratic candidate spoke from the floor of the Seattle Center Coliseum.
About 25,000 Legionnaires were in attendance when Carter proposed pardons for Vietnam-era draft dodgers.
Carter said that the hatred and divisiveness caused by the Vietnam war has eroded the confidence and support of the nation’s armed forces and it “must be put behind us.”
Thousands of U.S. war veterans chanted, “No! No! No!,” after his remarks. Several booed loudly for several minutes.
“I realized before I made any statement to you that everyone would not agree,” Carter said after the crowd subsided.
Carter added that he did not want blanket amnesty for draft evaders, because that would mean “what you did is right.”
“A pardon means that what you did - right or wrong - is forgiven,” Carter said.
After the veterans settled back into their chairs, they continued to politely applaud Carter three more times during his speech.
Carter rushed through the remainder of his speech, apparently frazzled by the reaction. He would leave out whole sentences from the prepared speech, stumbling over lines and running sentences together.
When the speech was over, several delegates refused to stand.
Delegates told The News Tribune they had changed their mind about voting for Carter in November, after his comments in Seattle.
“I was going to vote for him,” J.J. Wicks, Jr., a World War I veteran from Virginia, said. “I wish to God he hadn’t said it. That was terrible. Those draft evaders let the country down when it needed them.”
“I turned my hearing aid off for the whole speech,” Tony Tarfey of Arizona said. “I don’t know and I don’t care what he said. I hate his guts.”
However, there were a few who still supported Carter afterward: “If President Ford can pardon Nixon, Carter should be able to pardon draft-dodgers whose actions weren’t half as damaging to our country as Watergate,” a delegate from California said.
Another delegate said, “I liked some things about Carter and I didn’t like others. I don’t like him being a Democrat - other than that, there wasn’t anything wrong with his speech.”
Carter would go on to win the nomination with his running mate, Walter Mondale, and eventually win the presidential race against Gerald Ford and his running mate Bob Dole.
Additionally, while doing research for this story, on the day after this speech, on Aug. 25, 1976, the Seattle No-Names were given their new name, the Seattle Mariners, during an announcement made by Dick Vertlieb, executive director of the club.