Richard Milhous Nixon
Further Readings, Cross-references
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th president of the United States. Though he made several major breakthroughs in his presidency, his involvement with the WATERGATE affair proved his undoing. In 1974 he became the only president ever to resign from office. Late in life Nixon's advice as a political analyst and foreign affairs expert was sought by both parties.
Nixon was born January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California, the second of five sons of Francis A. Nixon and Hannah Milhous Nixon. His father had grown up on a farm in Ohio and arrived in California in 1907. He worked as a trolley car motorman in Whittier, where he met Hannah Milhous. They were married in 1908. In 1922 they bought the grocery store and gas station where Nixon grew up. Nixon was a disciplined student who worked hard and received superior grades. He enjoyed playing football and participating in music, acting, and debating. A devout Quaker during his youth, he attended church four times a week.
When Nixon was 12, his younger brother Arthur died of tubercular encephalitis. His older brother, Harold, died when Nixon was 20, after a ten-year battle with tuberculosis. Harold's death was particularly traumatic for the family, as it had poured much of its limited resources into his treatment.
After graduating from high school, Nixon wanted to attend an Ivy League college but instead entered Whittier College, a small Quaker school close to home and within his family's financial means. He graduated second in his class and won a scholarship to Duke University Law School. At Duke, he was elected president of the Duke Bar Association and graduated third in his class.
In 1937, Nixon was admitted to the California bar and joined the firm of Wingert and Bewley in Whittier. He participated in civic groups; taught Sunday school; and acted in a community theater troupe, where he met Thelma Catherine Ryan, who was known as Patricia or Pat. They were married June 21, 1940, and had two children, Patricia ("Tricia") Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. The Nixons would celebrate 53 years of marriage before Pat's death in 1993.
In 1941, Nixon took a job as an attorney with the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C. Seven months later, he applied for and received a Navy commission. He served as an operations officer with the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command during WORLD WAR II.
Shortly after his return from the service, Nixon ran for Congress against incumbent California Democratic representative Jerry Voorhis. Nixon's campaign literature portrayed him as a returning veteran who had defended his country in the mud and jungles of the Solomon Islands while his opponent never left Washington, D.C. It also implied that Voorhis was endorsed by a Communist-supported POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE. At a time when fear of Communist subversion was widespread, Nixon's strategy worked. He came from behind in a race no one expected him to win to defeat Voorhis with 57 percent of the votes.
Nixon quickly made his mark in Washington, D.C. He became a vocal member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which investigated U.S. citizens suspected of having ties with or sympathies for the Communist party. One such case brought Nixon into the national spotlight. In 1948, ALGER HISS, a former STATE DEPARTMENT official, was investigated for allegedly passing secret information to the Communist government in the former Soviet Union. Nixon's determined pursuit of the case led to Hiss's indictment and eventual conviction for perjury.
In 1950 Nixon ran for the U.S. Senate against Democratic Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas. In an effort to discredit Douglas, he circulated a campaign flyer indicating that she had voted 354 times with Representative Vito Marcantonio of New York, a member of the Communist Workers party. The flyer, printed on pink paper, was known as the pink sheet, and Nixon often referred to Douglas as the pink lady, a link to the color red associated with COMMUNISM. Nixon defeated Douglas by a secure margin of 680,000 votes, raising speculation that his strident campaign may have been unnecessary.
In 1952 Republicans chose World War II hero General DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER as their nominee for president. Eisenhower chose Nixon as his running mate. The campaign encountered a crisis almost immediately. In September 1952, several newspapers disclosed that Nixon had received financial support from a secret fund raised by wealthy California business owners. This offense was viewed as shocking, and many people called for Nixon to withdraw from
the ticket. Instead, he took the offensive and pleaded his case on national television, delivering what came to be known as the "Checkers Speech." Nixon maintained his innocence, disclosed his financial situation to show he was in debt, and pointed out that his wife did not have a mink coat but rather wore "a respectable Republican cloth coat." He went on to say that a supporter in Texas had given the family a gift, a dog named Checkers, and that "the kids love the dog, and … we're going to keep it." The public's response was overwhelmingly positive and Nixon remained on the Republican ticket. Nixon had discovered the enormous power of television and had utilized it to his advantage, reaching a large audience without the need to endure press scrutiny.
Eisenhower and Nixon received 55.1 percent of the popular vote in the 1952 election. Nixon served two terms as an unusually active vice president, honing his foreign policy skills during trips to 56 countries. Among the most famous of these journeys was a 1959 visit to Moscow, where he engaged in the celebrated Kitchen Debate with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The two men informally debated the merits of capitalism versus Communism while they toured the kitchen of a model home at a U.S. fair. Nixon's willingness to confront critics and his ability to turn adversity to his advantage earned him praise and acclaim.
In 1960, delegates at the Republican convention in Chicago nominated Nixon for president on the first ballot. He faced another young, energetic, popular contender, Democratic senator JOHN F. KENNEDY of Massachusetts. In the first of four televised debates with Kennedy, Nixon, who had been ill and was exhausted from campaigning, appeared haggard, strained, and tense. His appearance cost him many votes even though he had a keen command of the facts and debated well—indeed, those who listened to the debates on radio rather than watching them on television felt that Nixon had outdone Kennedy. Nixon lost the election, suffering his first political defeat, by a mere 119,000 votes. In spite of allegations of voting irregularities, particularly in Chicago, Nixon decided not to demand a recount and instead gracefully conceded to Kennedy.
After losing the 1960 election, Nixon ran for governor of California against Edmund "Pat" Brown in 1962 but was unable to unseat the incumbent. He moved to New York to practice law and almost immediately began preparing his comeback. In January 1968, he announced his candidacy for the presidency and was nominated on the Republicans' first ballot, defeating Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York, and Governor RONALD REAGAN of California.
The DEMOCRATIC PARTY was in a shambles in 1968. President LYNDON B. JOHNSON withdrew as a candidate because of growing domestic unrest and opposition to the VIETNAM WAR. Senator ROBERT F. KENNEDY was assassinated in June 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic nomination. The Democrats nominated HUBERT H. HUMPHREY, Johnson's vice president. Nixon defeated Humphrey by a narrow margin. During his first term, Nixon appointed a broad-based cabinet that included both conservatives and liberals. In his inaugural speech, he said that he hoped to "bridge the generation gap" and bring the country back together after years of unrest over Vietnam and RACIAL DISCRIMINATION. While he continued to pursue foreign policy goals, he also achieved much on the domestic front. He responded to strong public demand for expanded government services, and proposed a family assistance program that, had it not been voted down by Congress, would have been the most far-reaching WELFARE reform in modern history. He supported health and safety protection on the job and housing allowances for disadvantaged people. Nixon's administration built more subsidized housing units than any administration before or since. He expanded the Food Stamp Program and began the federal revenue-sharing program for local governments. Another lasting legacy was the creation of the ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY.
Nixon also reshaped the Supreme Court. Under Chief Justice EARL WARREN, who had been appointed by President Eisenhower, the Court had taken what many felt was an ideologically liberal turn. During his presidency, Nixon appointed four members to the court: WARREN E. BURGER, as chief justice; and HARRY A. BLACK-MUN, LEWIS F. POWELL JR., and WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST, as associate justices. The Burger Court began a retreat from liberalism and judicial activism that continued through the 1980s and 1990s.
Perhaps Nixon's most noteworthy triumphs were in foreign policy. In 1972 Nixon and his chief foreign affairs adviser, HENRY KISSINGER, traveled to Communist China to begin the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations with the Beijing government. The visit marked a major shift in U.S. policy toward China. The two governments shared a history of animosity, and the United States had long recognized the Nationalist Chinese government of Chiang Kaishek, based on the island of Taiwan, as the official government of China. After Nixon's visit, the door was opened to diplomatic and trade dealings. Formal diplomatic relations with Communist China were established in 1978.
Nixon also opened negotiations with the Communist government in the former Soviet Union. He initiated the process known as détente by holding three summit meetings with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. His efforts culminated in a breakthrough agreement in 1972 limiting the use of antiballistic missiles.
One major goal that eluded Nixon in foreign policy was a quick end to the Vietnam War. After promising "peace with honor" during his campaign in 1968, he saw the war continue through his first term.
Though the war would end in January 1973, an event in June of 1972 marked the beginning of Nixon's downfall. At that time, during Nixon's campaign for reelection, a group of men working for the Committee to Reelect the President broke into the Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. It was a crime that would be traced back to the president.
In November, Nixon won a sweeping victory over his Democratic challenger, Senator George S. McGovern, of South Dakota, receiving 60.7 percent of the vote and carrying every state except Massachusetts. The following March, testimony before the Senate select committee investigating the incident implicated the White House. In televised hearings John W. Dean III, Nixon's White House counsel, told the Senate committee that Nixon had been involved from the start.
Further testimony revealed that Nixon had secretly recorded all conversations that took place in the Oval Office of the White House. Congress and prosecutors began efforts to obtain the tapes. In October 1973, his reputation in jeopardy, Nixon carried out what came to be called the Saturday Night Massacre. Angered by Watergate special prosecutor ARCHIBALD COX, Nixon ordered Attorney General ELLIOT L. RICHARDSON to dismiss Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus also refused to carry out the task and was dismissed. Finally, Solicitor General ROBERT H. BORK, appointed acting attorney general, dismissed Cox.
Calls for Nixon's resignation mounted, and IMPEACHMENT resolutions were referred to the House Judiciary Committee. On March 1, 1974, a federal GRAND JURY indicted seven former Nixon aides in the continuing cover-up of Watergate. Nixon was named as an unindicted coconspirator.
Nixon responded to pressure from both those who wanted him to prove himself innocent and those who believed him guilty, by announcing in April 1974 that he would release to the House Judiciary Committee edited transcripts of conversations regarding Watergate culled from his library of tape recordings. Though the committee responded that it would need the tapes themselves, Nixon refused to supply them. The edited transcripts alone were tremendously damaging. The transcripts implicated the Nixon White House not only in burglaries and cover-ups, but also illegal wiretaps, corruption of government agencies, domestic ESPIONAGE, unfair campaign tactics, and abuse of campaign funds. Eventually, 19 Nixon aides and associates served prison terms for their roles in these illegal activities.
By late July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee, in televised hearings, was deliberating ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT against Nixon. The articles charged him with OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, abuse of power, and defiance of congressional subpoenas. It became clear that the full House would impeach him, and he would probably face conviction by the Senate. In early August, in response to a Supreme Court ruling (UNITED STATES V. NIXON, 418 U.S. 683, 94 S. Ct. 3090, 41 L. Ed. 2d 1039 ), Nixon released the contested tape recordings that showed conclusively that he had been involved in the effort to halt the Federal Bureau of Investigation's probe of Watergate.
On August 7, 1974, facing certain impeachment, Nixon met with his family and aides and informed Secretary of State Kissinger of his decision to resign. He made this announcement to the nation in a television broadcast the evening of August 8. The following day, with his family around him, he bade an emotional farewell to his staff, boarded Air Force One with his wife, and flew home to San Clemente, California. Vice President GERALD R. FORD was sworn in to serve the remainder of Nixon's term. On September 8, President Ford granted Nixon an unconditional pardon for all federal crimes he "committed or may have committed or taken part in" while in office, thus ending the crisis that had gripped the nation for more than two years.
After his resignation Nixon published eight books and numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He traveled again to China, where he was warmly received, and in 1994, shortly before his death, he returned to Russia. Nixon came to be considered an elder statesman and political analyst. As an expert in foreign policy his advice and counsel were sought by Senator and presidential candidate BOB DOLE and President BILL CLINTON.
Nixon died April 22, 1994. All five living presidents at the time—Clinton, GEORGE H.W. BUSH, Reagan, JIMMY CARTER, and Ford—and their wives attended Nixon's funeral. Clinton delivered a eulogy in which he said:
He suffered defeats that would have ended most political careers, yet he won stunning victories that many of the world's most popular leaders have failed to attain.
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