Richard Milhous Nixon (January 9 , 1913 - April 22 , 1994) was the thirty-sixth
(1953 - 1961) Vice President, and the thirty-seventh (1969 - 1974) President
of the United States. He is the only President to have resigned from office.
His resignation came in response to the complex of scandals called the
Nixon was raised as an evangelical Quaker by his mother, Hannah, who hoped
he would become a Quaker missionary. His upbringing is said to have been
marked by such conservative Quaker observances as refraining from drinking,
dancing, and swearing. However, this is doubtful, as the evangelical sect
of Quakerism known as Friends Churches, having been largely organized by
itinerant Methodists, bore little resemblance to the traditional 'unprogrammed'
Quaker religion, with its silent worship, avoidance of paid clergy, and
strict adherence to pacifism. In any case, his father was less religious,
focusing on the family business, a store that sold groceries and gasoline.
There is much debate as to whether Nixon went through the expected Quaker
soul-searching attendant on whether to become a conscientious objector
in World War II. During the period of his political career, however, he
was not a practicing Quaker.
He attended Whittier College (a Quaker school), graduating second in
his class, and Duke University Law School, where he received a full scholarship.
He served as a noncombatant officer in the US Navy in World War II , and
was a lawyer for PepsiCo .
Early political career
Nixon was elected to Congress in 1946 , in a class of freshman war veterans
that included his future rival John F. Kennedy , of Massachusetts .
Nixon climbed the ladder swiftly, making his name as an anti-Communist
and a rough, no-holds-barred campaigner. He was elected to the United States
House of Representatives from California in 1948 where he became a member
of the House Un-American Activities Committee and was instrumental in the
trial of the ex-government official Alger Hiss for perjury as a part of
the accusation that he was a Soviet spy.
Nixon was elected to the Senate in 1950 , defeating actress/congresswoman
Helen Gahagan , who Nixon accused during the campaign of having communist
In 1952 was elected Vice President on Dwight Eisenhower 's ticket when
he was only 39 years old.
One notable event of the campaign was Nixon's innovative use of television
. Nixon was found to have been financed by a slush fund provided by business
supporters. He went on TV and defended himself in an emotional speech in
which he stated that his wife Pat did not wear mink, but "a good Republican
cloth coat" and stated that although he had been given a cocker spaniel
named "Checkers", he was not going to give it back because his daughters
loved it. This broadcast resulted in a flood of support that required Eisenhower
to keep Nixon on the ticket.
As Vice President, Nixon journeyed to South America and was praised
for his courage in facing angry mobs protesting US foreign policy .
Nixon was notable among Vice Presidents in having actually stepped up
to run the government three times when Eisenhower was ill: on the occasions
of Eisenhower's heart attack on September 24 , 1955 ; his ileitis in June
1956 ; and his stroke in November 1957 . He also proved to be able to quickly
think on his feet which was demonstrated on July 24 , 1959 at the opening
of the American National Exhibition in Moscow where Soviet leader Nikita
Khrushchev had an impromptu "kitchen debate" about the merits of capitalism
vs communism .
1960 election and post-Vice Presidency
In 1960 , he ran for President on his own but lost to John F. Kennedy ,
ironically a friend of Nixon's (Kennedy, in fact, was one of the first
to congratulate Nixon when he was chosen as Eisenhower's running mate).
A crucial factor in his loss was the first televised presidential debate
. Despite his five o'clock shadow , Nixon refused television makeup and
was feeling sick, having injured his knee on the way to the studio. He
expected to win voters with his foreign-policy expertise, but people only
saw a sickly man sweating profusely and wearing a gray suit that blended
into the scenery while his rival, Kennedy, looked great. Later research
showed that those who had listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon
had won, but that the television audience gave the win to Kennedy.
On November 7 , 1962 , he lost a race for Governor of California . In
his concession speech, Nixon stated that it was his "last press conference"
and that "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more".
The defeated mood did not last. He moved to New York City and worked as
a high-powered lawyer and in the election of 1968 completed a remarkable
political comeback by defeating Hubert H. Humphrey to become the 37th U.S.
Major initiatives during his presidency:
Normalizing of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China
and partially abandoning the Republic of China on Taiwan as part of Realpolitik
, a foreign policy eschewing moral considerations. In the short term Nixon
was successful in playing the "China card" against the Soviet Union and
its client state North Vietnam .
Establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency .
Establishment of the Drug Enforcement Administration .
"Vietnamization": the slow withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam while dramatically
increasing the scale of bombing.
Space Shuttle program started.
Nixon appealed to what he claimed was the "silent majority" of moderate
Americans who disliked the " hippie " counterculture and civil rights and
peace demonstrators. Nixon also promised "peace with honor" by his "secret
plan" to end the Vietnam War . He proposed the Nixon Doctrine to establish
the strategy to turn over the fighting of the war to the Vietnamese. During
the war, on July 30 , 1969 , Nixon made an unscheduled visit to South Vietnam
and met with President Nguyen Van Thieu and with US military commanders.
The war ended during Nixon's term, but only after four more years of strategic
bombing and defeat on the ground, and the withdrawal of US troops, leaving
the battle to the South Vietnamese army.
The Nixon administration's massive bombing campaigns of Cambodia and
its support for the overthrow of the neutralist royal government of Sihanouk
by the rightist military dictator Lon Nol drove much of the peasant population
of that country into the arms of the Khmer Rouge , a Maoist revolutionary
movement that would kill 1.7 million Cambodians after taking power.
On January 5 , 1972 Nixon ordered the development of a space shuttle
program. Nixon's name appears alongside former UN Secretary General U Thant
's on a special plaque that was placed on the moon's surface.
On January 2 , 1974 Nixon signed a bill that lowered the maximum US
speed limit to 55 MPH in order to conserve gasoline during the first OPEC
Nixon was eventually investigated for the instigation and cover-up of
the burglary of the Democratic Party offices at the Watergate office complex,
one of a series of scandals involving CREEP (the Committee to Re-Elect
the President), which also included the enemies list and assorted "dirty
tricks." His secret recordings of White House conversations were subpoenaed,
and revealed details of his complicity in the cover-up. Nixon, however,
was named by the grand jury investigating Watergate as "an unindicted co-conspirator"
in the Watergate Scandal . He lost support from his own party as well as
the country in the Saturday Night Massacre in which he ordered Archibald
Cox , the special prosecutor in the Watergate case fired, as well as firing
several of his own subordinates who objected to this move. The House of
Representatives Judiciary Committee opened formal and public impeachment
hearings against Nixon on May 9 , 1974 . Rather than face impeachment by
the House of Representatives and a conviction by the Senate , he resigned
effective August 9 , 1974 .
His successor, Gerald R. Ford , issued a pre-emptive pardon, ending
Nixon's presidency was frequently dogged by Nixon's personality, and
the public perception of it. Editorial cartoonists and comedians had fun
exaggerating Nixon's appearance and mannerisms, to the point where the
line between the human president and the caricature version of him became
increasingly blurred. He was usually portrayed as a sullen loner, with
unshaven jowels, slumped shoulders, and a furrowed, sweaty brow. He was,
to some, especially the younger generation, the very epitome of a "square,"
and the personification of unpleasant adult authority. Nixon tried to shed
these perceptions by staging photo-ops with young people, and even appearing
on popular TV shows such as Laugh-In and Hee Haw . He also frequently brandished
the two-finger "peace sign" with his hands, an act which became one of
his best-known trademarks.
Last Years and Death
In his last years, Nixon managed to rehabiliate himself somewhat and gained
respect as an elder statesman in the area of foreign affairs and was consulted
by both Democratic and Republican successors to the Presidency. Further
tape releases, however, removed all doubt as to Nixon's involvement, both
in the Watergate cover-up and the illegal campaign finance and intrusive
government surveillance that were at the heart of the scandal.
In July 2003 , Jeb Stuart Magruder alleged that Nixon had personally
ordered the Watergate break-in by phone. Previously the only guilt that
was alleged was his role in the cover up of the break in.
Nixon wrote many books after his departure from politics, including
a history of the Vietnam war and his own personal memoirs .
Nixon died on April 22 , 1994 , at the age of 81 from complications
related to a stroke and was buried beside his wife Pat Nixon in the grounds
of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda,
The Nixon Library contains only Nixon's pre and post-Presidential papers
as his Presidential papers have been retained as criminal evidence. Nixon's
attempts to protect his papers and gain tax advantages from them had been
one of the important themes of the Watergate affair. The library is unique
in that it is privately funded; other presidential libraries receive support
from the National Archives .
Spiro Agnew - Vice President (to 1973)
Henry Kissinger - National Security Advisor , then Secretary of State (from
James Schlesinger - Secretary of Defense (1973-1974)
George Shultz - Secretary of the Treasury (1972-1974)
John Mitchell - Attorney General (1969-1972)
Caspar Weinberger - Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (1973-1974)
Richard Helms - CIA director (to 1973)
J. Edgar Hoover - FBI director (to 1972)
Supreme Court appointments
Warren E. Burger - Chief Justice - 1969
Harry Andrew Blackmun - 1970
Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. - 1972
William Rehnquist - 1972
"You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore. Because, gentlemen, this
is my last press conference." 1962 after losing race for Governor of California
"This is the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation,
because as a result of what happened in this week, the world is bigger,
infinitely." (concerning the Apollo Moon landing)
" I welcome this kind of examination because people have got to know whether
or not their President is a crook. Well I'm not a crook." November 17 ,
1973 Televised press conference at Walt Disney World , Florida .
"I don't give a shit what happens. I want you all to stonewall it, let
them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up or anything else, if it'll save
it, save this plan. That's the whole point. We're going to protect our
people if we can." (to Haldemann, tapes ordered released for the trial
of Haldeman , Ehrlichman and Mitchell )
"I recognize that this additional material I am now furnishing may further
damage my case," (after the ordered release of the White House tapes August
5 , 1974 )
"When the President does it, that means that it's not illegal." (explaining
his interpretation of Executive Privilege)
"I was under medication when I made the decision not to burn the tapes."
"Well, I screwed it up real good, didn't I?"
"Any nation that decides the only way to achieve peace is through peaceful
means is a nation that will soon be a piece of another nation." (from his
book No More Vietnams )
"The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker." (From
his 1969 innagural; later used as Nixon's epitaph )
"Sock it to me ?" (said by Nixon on the television comedy series Laugh-In
"I don't know a lot about politics, but I do know a lot about baseball."
"Solutions are not the answer."
"I would have made a good Pope ."
"Let me say this about that."
Nixon in the media
Richard Nixon has appeared as a character, both major and minor, in a variety
of movies and productions: