Richard Nixon (Richard Milhous Nixon)

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon

37th US President. A member of the Republican party, he served in that capacity from 1969 until August 1974, and is remembered as the only US President to resign in office to date, which occurred during the middle of his second term, amid the infamous Watergate scandal. Born into a Methodist family, his father tried farming which failed, and the family moved to Whittier, California where he operated a grocery store and gas station. After graduating from Whittier High School in 1930, he was offered a tuition grant to attend Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but declined it on account of family illness that required him to help out at the family store. Instead, he enrolled in Whittier College and after graduating in 1934, he received a full scholarship to attend the Duke University School of Law in Durham, North Carolina. He graduated with his law degree in June 1937 and returned to California where he was soon admitted to the bar and signed on with the law firm of Wingert and Bewley in Whittier. The following year, he opened his own branch of the law firm in La Habra, California. In January 1938 he first met his future wife Thelma “Pat” Ryan, a schoolteacher, when they were cast in the Whittier Community Players production of “The Dark Tower.” They dated for two years and were married on June 21, 1940. In January 1942 they moved to Washington, DC, where he took a job at the Office of Price Administration, where he was assigned to the tire rationing division. Dissatisfied with his job, he applied to join the United States Navy and was inducted in August 1942. After completing Officers Candidate School he was commissioned as an ensign in October 1942. His first post was as aide to the commander of the Naval Air Station Ottumwa in Iowa. Seeking more excitement, he requested sea duty and was reassigned as the naval passenger control officer for the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command, supporting the logistics of operations in the South West Pacific theater. He was Officer in Charge of the Combat Air Transport Command at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and later at Green Island (Nissan island) just north of Bougainville. In October 1943 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Although he did not see any combat action, he earned two service stars and a citation of commendation. Upon his return to the US, he was appointed the administrative officer of the Alameda Naval Air Station in California. In January 1945 he was transferred to the Bureau of Aeronautics office in Philadelphia to help negotiate the termination of war contracts, and he received another letter of commendation for his work there. In October 1945 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander and resigned his commission on New Year’s Day 1946. Returning to California, he threw his hat in the ring as the Republican nominee for California’s 12th congressional district and defeated the 4-term incumbent, Jerry Voorhis. He first gained national attention in 1948 when his investigation, as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee, broke the Alger Hiss spy case. While many doubted Communist Party member and Soviet Spy Whittaker Chambers’ allegations that Hiss, a former State Department official, had been a Soviet spy, Nixon believed them to be true and pressed for the committee to continue its investigation. Under suit for defamation filed by Hiss, Chambers produced documents corroborating his allegations, which included paper and microfilm copies that Chambers turned over to House investigators after having hidden them overnight in a field, known as the “Pumpkin Papers”. Hiss was convicted of perjury in 1950 for denying under oath he had passed documents to Chambers. After Nixon’s re-election to Congress in 1948, he set his sights on the US Senate, against the Democratic incumbent Sheridan Downey. After Downey declined to run for reelection in 1950, Nixon faced off against Helen Gahagan Douglas, the Democratic Congressional representative from California’s 14th district and won a decisive victory. As a senator, he took a prominent position in opposing global communism, maintaining friendly relations with his fellow anti-communist, the controversial Wisconsin senator, Joseph McCarthy, but was careful to keep some distance between himself and McCarthy’s allegations. He was critical of President Harry S. Truman’s handling of the Korean War, supported statehood for Alaska and Hawaii, voted in favor of civil rights for minorities, and supported federal disaster relief for India and Yugoslavia. He voted against price controls and other monetary restrictions, benefits for illegal immigrants, and public power. When General Dwight D. Eisenhower was nominated for president by the Republicans in 1952, Nixon’s name was recommended as his running mate. His age (39), stance against communism, and his political base in California (one of the largest states) were all seen as vote-winners by the Republican leaders. In mid-September, he faced a major crisis when the media reported that he had a political fund, maintained by his backers, which reimbursed him for political expenses. While such a fund was not illegal, it exposed him to allegations of possible conflict of interest. With pressure building for Eisenhower to demand Nixon’s resignation from the ticket, the senator went on television to deliver an address to the nation on September 23, 1952. The address, later termed the “Checkers” speech, was heard by about 60 million Americans, including the largest television audience up to that point. He emotionally defended himself, stating that the fund was not secret, nor had any of the donors received special favors. He painted himself as a man of modest means and a patriot. The speech would be remembered for the gift which he had received, but which he would not give back, a cocker spaniel dog that his oldest daughter Tricia named Checkers. The speech was a masterpiece of rhetoric and prompted a huge public outpouring of support for Nixon and Eisenhower decided to retain him on the ticket, which proved victorious in the following November election. In the 1954 elections, the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress, despite his intense campaigning. These losses caused him to contemplate leaving politics once he had served out his term. However, on September 24, 1955, President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack and he was unable to perform his duties for six weeks. The 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution had not yet been proposed, and the Vice President had no formal power to act. Nonetheless, he acted in Eisenhower’s stead during this period, presiding over Cabinet meetings and ensuring that aides and Cabinet officers did not seek power. He sought a second term, but some of Eisenhower’s aides wanted to remove him. Eisenhower proposed that he not run for reelection in order to give him administrative experience before a 1960 presidential run and instead become a Cabinet officer in a second Eisenhower administration. He believed such an action would destroy his political career. When Eisenhower announced his reelection bid in February 1956, he hedged on the choice of his running mate, stating that it was improper to address that question until he had been re-nominated. Although no Republican was opposing Eisenhower, Nixon received a substantial number of write-in votes against the President in the 1956 New Hampshire primary election. In late April, Eisenhower announced that Nixon would again be his running mate and they were reelected by a comfortable margin in the November 1956 election. In 1957 he helped to shepherd the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through Congress and Eisenhower’s signature. In July 1959 Eisenhower sent him to the Soviet Union for the opening of the American National Exhibition in Moscow. On July 24, while touring the exhibits with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the two stopped at a model of an American kitchen and engaged in an impromptu exchange about the merits of capitalism versus communism that became famously known as the “Kitchen Debate.” In 1960 he launched his first campaign for President of the United States. He faced little opposition in the Republican primaries and selected former Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. as his running mate. His Democratic opponent was Massachusetts US Senator John F. Kennedy, and the race remained close for the duration. Nixon campaigned on his experience, but Kennedy called for new blood and claimed the Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed the Soviet Union to overtake the U.S. in ballistic missiles (the “missile gap”). A new political medium was introduced in the campaign, the televised presidential debates. In the first of four such debates, he appeared pale in contrast to the photogenic Kennedy. His performance in the debate was perceived to be mediocre in the visual medium of television, though many people listening on the radio thought that he had won. He narrowly lost the election, with Kennedy ahead by only 120,000 votes (0.2 percent) in the popular vote. In January 1961 he and his family returned to California where he resumed practicing law and write a bestselling book, “Six Crises,” which included coverage of the Hiss case, Eisenhower’s heart attack, and the Fund Crisis, which had been resolved by the Checkers speech. In 1962 he decided to run for the Governor of California against the Democratic incumbent, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown and he lost by more than five percentage points. The defeat was widely believed to be the end of his political career. In 1963 the family moved to New York City, New York where he became a senior partner in the leading law firm Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander. In 1968 he entered the race for the Presidency again, this time against the Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey and independent candidate Alabama Governor George Wallace. He defeated Humphrey by almost 500,000 votes and won a majority of the electoral votes. During his first term as President, his visit to the People’s Republic of China (the first by a US President) in 1972 opened diplomatic relations between the two nations, and he initiated d├ętente and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union the same year. Domestically, his administration generally embraced policies that transferred power from Washington to the states. Among other things, he launched initiatives to fight cancer and illegal drugs, imposed wage and price controls, enforced desegregation of Southern schools, implemented environmental reforms, and introduced legislation to reform healthcare and welfare. Though he presided over the lunar landings beginning with Apollo 11, he replaced manned space exploration with shuttle missions. In 1971 excerpts from the “Pentagon Papers,” a history of the US involvement in Vietnam which had been leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, were published by The New York Times and The Washington Post. He attempted to prevent their publication but was overruled by the US Supreme Court. In 1972 he was re-nominated as the Republican candidate for the Presidential election and ran against Democratic candidate Senator George McGovern. Nixon was ahead in most polls for the entire election cycle, and was reelected on November 7, 1972 in one of the largest landslide election victories in American history. He defeated McGovern with over 60 percent of the popular vote, losing only in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. His second term saw a crisis in the Middle East, resulting in an oil embargo and the restart of the Middle East peace process, the winding down of the Vietnam War and signing of the Paris Peace Accords to end the war, as well as a continuing series of revelations about the Watergate scandal. During the 1972 Presidential campaign, members of his administration became involved in clandestine activities like bugging the offices of political opponents and people of whom he or his officials were suspicious. He and his close aides ordered harassment of activist groups and political figures, using the FBI, CIA, and the Internal Revenue Service. The activities became known after five men were caught breaking into Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, DC on June 17, 1972. The Washington Post picked up on the story; reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward relied on an informant known as “Deep Throat,” later revealed to be Mark Felt, associate director at the FBI, to link the men to his administration. He downplayed the scandal as mere politics, calling news articles biased and misleading. A series of revelations made it clear that his aides had committed crimes in attempts to sabotage the Democrats and others, and lied about it. Senior aides such as White House Counsel John Dean and Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman faced prosecution and when it was over, 46 others had been convicted. In July 1973, White House aide Alexander Butterfield testified that Nixon had a secret taping system that recorded his conversations and phone calls in the Oval Office. These tapes were subpoenaed by Watergate Special Counsel Archibald Cox. He refused to release them, citing executive privilege. With the White House and Cox at odds, he had Cox fired in October 1973 and replaced by Leon Jaworski. The following month, his lawyers revealed that an audio tape of conversations, held in the White House on June 20, 1972, featured an 18 and one-half minute gap. Rose Mary Woods, the President’s personal secretary, claimed responsibility for the gap, alleging that she had accidentally wiped the section while transcribing the tape, though her story was widely disputed. The gap, while not conclusive proof of wrongdoing, cast doubt on Nixon’s statement that he had been unaware of the cover-up operation. The legal battle over the tapes continued through early 1974, and in April 1974 he announced the release of 1,200 pages of transcripts of White House conversations between him and his aides. The House Judiciary Committee opened impeachment hearings against him on May 9, 1974, which were televised on the major TV networks. These hearings culminated in votes for impeachment, the first being 27-11 on July 27, 1974 for obstruction of justice. In July, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the full tapes, not just selected transcripts, must be released. Even with support diminished by the continuing series of revelations, he hoped to win. However, one of the new tapes, recorded soon after the break-in, demonstrated that he had been told of the White House connection to the Watergate burglaries soon after they took place, and had approved plans to thwart the investigation. In a statement accompanying the release of the “Smoking Gun Tape” on August 5, 1974, he accepted blame for misleading the country about when he had been told of the truth behind the Watergate break-in, stating that he had a lapse of memory. He met with Republican congressional leaders soon after, and was told he faced certain impeachment in the House and had, at most, only 15 votes in the Senate to vote for his acquittal, far fewer than the 34 he needed to avoid removal from office. In light of his loss of political support and the near-certainty of impeachment, he resigned as President on August 9, 1974, after addressing the nation on television the previous evening. After his resignation, Vice President Gerald Ford assumed the Presidency and he returned to his home in La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, California. On September 8, 1974 President Ford granted him a full, free, and absolute pardon, which ended any possibility of an indictment, an unpopular decision. In August 1975 he met with British talk-show host and producer David Frost, with whom he conducted a series of sit-down interviews, filmed and aired in 1977. The interviews garnered 45 to 50 million viewers, becoming the most-watched program of its kind in television history. In 1978 he published his memoirs “RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon,” which became a bestseller and was the first of a series of books he would author in his retirement. Throughout the 1980s, he maintained an ambitious schedule of speaking engagements and writing, traveled, and met with many foreign leaders, especially those of Third World countries. He attended the funeral of the former Shah of Iran in Egypt and joined former Presidents Ford and Carter as representatives of the US at the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. On a trip to the Middle East, he made his views known regarding Saudi Arabia and Libya, which attracted significant US media attention. He journeyed to the Soviet Union in 1986 and on his return sent President Reagan a lengthy memorandum containing foreign policy suggestions and his personal impressions of Mikhail Gorbachev. Following this trip, he was ranked in a Gallup poll as one of the ten most admired men in the world. On July 19, 1990, the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California opened as a private institution. In January 1991 he founded the Nixon Center (today the Center for the National Interest), a Washington policy think tank and conference center. On June 22, 1993 his wife died of emphysema and lung cancer. The following April he suffered a severe stroke at his home in Park Ridge, New Jersey, slipped into a deep coma, and died at the age of 81. His other books include “The Real War” (1980), “Leaders” (1982), “Real Peace” (1984), “No More Vietnams” (1985), “1999: Victory Without War” (1988), “In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal” (1990), “Seize the Moment: America’s Challenge In A One-Superpower World” (1992), and “Beyond Peace” (1994). He is the father of Tricia (Nixon) Cox and Julie (Nixon) Eisenhower.

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  • January, 09, 1913
  • Yorba Linda, California


  • April, 22, 1994
  • New York City, New York

Cause of Death

  • cerebral edema


  • Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace
  • Yorba Linda, California

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