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Richard Milhous Nixon - 37th President of the United States

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Richard Nixon.
Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you. Those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.

Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, holding office from 1969 until 1974. His end in politics, as he resigned1 amidst the infamous Watergate scandal, remains a highly controversial subject today. His relative success in foreign affairs and in domestic affairs (in the eyes of many) cause some to remain ambivalent as to whether he was a good president. One thing is certain, though: because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal, he will never be considered to be one of the 'great' presidents.

His shameful resignation in fact overshadows some of the accomplishments he made in office. Ending some of the widely-criticised policies of Lyndon Johnson's administration, the Republican Nixon was the first president to visit China and one of the only presidents to visit the Soviet Union. He set out great domestic reforms, which he termed 'New Federalism2', and man landed on the moon during his administration.

However, it wasn't always moon-landings and China-trips...

Early Life

Born 9 January, 1913 in a village called Yorba Linda in California, Richard was a Quaker. His father was Francis Nixon and his mother was Hannah Milhous, a Quaker. Francis Nixon was a methodist, but became a Quaker later - he was not very religious anyway. His mother hoped that someday Richard would become a Quaker missionary. Besides Richard, there were four sons in the family; Harold, Arthur, Donald and Edward. Richard was the second-born of his siblings. His family ran a small lemon farm.

When the lemon farm failed, the family moved to Whittier, California in 1922. Francis ran a small grocery store, where Richard sometimes helped out. In Whittier, Richard attended high school, where he played football and became a member of the debating team. After high school he attended Whittier College, a private Quaker institute. He was a member of the debating team again, was elected president of the student body and graduated as second in his class in 1934.

I believe he will become one of America's important, if not great, leaders.
From a letter of recommendation of Nixon by Walter F Dexter (President of Whittier College)

Upon leaving Whittier College, Nixon won a full scholarship to the Duke University School of Law. He was president of the Student Law Association and graduated third in his class in 1937. He could not find any good work - it was after all, during the Great Depression - and he soon returned to Whittier. He became a partner in a law firm there and attempted to start an unsuccessful frozen orange juice company. He also became a member of the Whittier College Board of Trustees at the age of 26.

While he was in Whittier, Nixon met his future wife, Thelma Catherine Ryan (nicknamed 'Pat' because she was born on the day before St Patrick's Day) at community theatre auditions. She was a teacher at a nearby school, teaching shorthand and typing classes. They married on 21 June, 1940, and had two daughters; Patricia and Julie3, born in 1946 and 1948 respectively.

As the United States entered World War II, Nixon joined the Office of Price Administration, where he worked on tyre rationing. Later he joined the navy, where he was stationed in the Pacific. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander before he was discharged in 1945.

Political Career

In 1946, Republicans wanted someone new to oppose incumbent Jerry Voorhis in an election as a California representative to the US Congress. Nixon convinced important members of the Republican party that he should run. Voorhis had held the office for ten years and few expected Nixon to triumph, but he campaigned very aggressively (as was a trademark of many elections of the time, Nixon called Voorhis a communist) and won the seat.

As a Congressional Representative, he was active and had many accomplishments. He helped bring about the Marshall Plan and the Taft-Hartley Act (which was an important law passed in 1947 that regulated labour unions). He joined the House Committee on Un-American Activities (which in effect spread the ideas of McCarthyism and punished spies acting against Americans) on his re-election in 1948.

On this influential committee, he became famous for his involvement in the trial of Alger Hiss. Hiss, who had been an important official in the US State Department, was widely accused of spying. However, the statute of limitations had run out and the government was unable to prosecute him. In 1949, he was officially charged with perjury for denying in court that he was spying. There was no real evidence for Hiss to be convicted on, and many members of the Committee on Un-American Activities wanted to drop the case, but Nixon insisted that this issue be resolved. In 1950, partly because of the work of Nixon, Hiss was convicted by a federal court and sentenced to five years in prison, indicating that he was indeed a spy.

US Senator

In 1950, after Nixon's second term as a Representative ran out, he decided to run for the Senate, just as he was receiving a great deal of attention for the trial of Alger Hiss. He opposed Helen Gahagan Douglas, a traditional New Deal Democrat4. The campaign was a dirty one and Nixon nicknamed her the 'Pink Lady', meaning that she was a communist sympathiser, while she nicknamed him 'Tricky Dick'. He would be referred to as this for years to come. Nixon won by about 700,000 votes.

He served on the Labour and Public Welfare committees. He was a relatively influential Senator and became a major figure in the Republican party as well as being a very well-known public figure.

Vice-President

Dwight D Eisenhower was nominated for President by the Republicans in 1952, after the party began to become powerful for the first time since the 1920s. He chose Nixon to be his running mate. They campaigned well, but a scandal surfaced over an $18,000 campaign fund, which his opponents called a 'slush fund'. Many called on him to withdraw from the nomination as Vice-President, but he did not. On 23 September, he cleared the air by broadcasting around the country with an emotional speech about his personal finances. The famous 'Checkers speech5' advanced Nixon in the eyes of many, especially Republicans who called him a hero.

Eisenhower and Nixon defeated Democrats Adlai Stevenson and John J Sparkman easily, largely because they campaigned by declaring that Democrats were unaware of the threats Communists posed to the US. Nixon was only 39 years old.

As Vice-President, Nixon was unusually active. He often presided over Cabinet and National Security Council meetings when Eisenhower was ill or away. After the President's heart attack on 24 September, 1955, Nixon acted in the role of president for a brief time. He would again take over due to Eisenhower's poor health in June 1956 and in November 1957.

Nixon and Eisenhower easily won re-election in 1956 against Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver. There had been rumours that Eisenhower would replace Nixon with someone else as his running mate, but Eisenhower showed his devotion to and satisfaction with Nixon by saying:

Anyone who attempts to drive a wedge of any kind between Dick Nixon and me has just as much chance as if he tried to drive it between my brother and me.

As Vice-President, he travelled to many countries as an official representative for Eisenhower. He visited 56 countries and every continent except Antarctica. As he visited Latin America, he was attacked by crowds. His car's windows were broken while he was in it in Venezuala in 1958. However, his most important trip was to the Soviet Union in 1959, where he spoke with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. There, when passing a US model of a kitchen in a US exhibit in Moscow, the two leaders engaged in a discussion about whether communism or capitalism was a better economic system. Nixon at one point told Khrushchev 'you don't know everything', making some people a bit... nervous. This would come to be known as the 'kitchen debate'.

Election of 1960

Nixon displayed leadership and some important qualities as Vice-President, so he was a natural choice as the Republican nominee for President in 1960. He chose Henry Cabot Lodge Jr as his running mate and began to campaign. His campaign moved aggressively and relentlessly. The Democrats chose John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson as their nominees. Nixon campaigned obsessively and visited every single state in the US, instead of just campaigning in states with large populations like California or New York.

Nixon and Kennedy engaged in four famous 'great debates'. Nixon was nervous and sweaty throughout and sick through one of them, while Kennedy's charisma swayed many voters who saw a presidential debate on the television for the first time. People who listened to the debates on the radio were more likely to favour Nixon and TV viewers preferred Kennedy - showing that the use of television for a candidate's image had become important.

Nixon lost to Kennedy by 114,673 votes (or about 0.2% of the total vote), making it one of the closest popular votes in US election history. However Kennedy won almost 100 more electoral votes than Nixon (even though Nixon won four more states than Kennedy). Some voting fraud was implied, but it didn't make any difference. Nixon lost and John F Kennedy would be President.

You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore

In 1961, Nixon decided to leave politics and began to practice law in California. He ran for Governor of California in 1962, but lost by about 300,000 votes (a relatively wide margin) to Edmund Brown. After this, he held what he called his 'last press conference', where he declared:

You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore. Because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.

Nixon ended his association with politics and moved to New York City, where he joined an important law firm as a partner. However he continued to watch politics and occasionally campaign for others, even if he didn't run for anything himself. For a while, anyway.

Comeback

Following Nixon's useful campaigning for Republican congressmen, as well as the landslide victory of the Democrats in the presidential election of 1964, Nixon decided to run again for president in 1968. Nixon was essentially the only man that would be acceptable for both the liberal and conservative Republicans, so he was a natural choice for the party's nomination. He easily won the primaries he entered and regained his image, making one of the most important political comebacks in US history.

Nixon was officially nominated as the Republican candidate at the Democratic National Convention on the first ballot. He and running mate Spiro T Agnew would face Hubert H Humphrey and Edmund S Muskie for the presidency. Nixon easily won the electoral votes and became president, though the popular vote was again very close - as Nixon only received 43% of the popular vote6 and won by 511,000.

The Nixon Administration

Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th President of the US on 20 January, 1969. He projected a certain conservative image - in his social life and policy - and his White House had a quiet dignity. He was an avid sports fan and he played the piano. He enjoyed a good amount of popularity, though, despite resistance from members of the 'hippie' community that was characteristic of the 1970s.

We were obsessed with secrecy. As a matter of fact, I was paranoiac or almost a basket case with regard to secrecy.

Nixon was more secretive than any President before him. He wanted to be unpredictable and kept even close staff members from certain affairs. He did not rely on the departments of defence and state as much as other Presidents did. In fact, he once pointed to the Oval Office and declared it was the State Department. He also occasionally infringed on the powers that the Constitution deliberately kept from the President, which included running the budget, declaring war and eventually the immunity from judicial punishment.

Despite a lot of opposition in the media, Nixon won a second term in the 1972 election against George S McGovern, winning almost 18 million more votes than his Democratic opponent. McGovern won 17 electoral votes, while Nixon won 520.

Milestones of Nixon's Administration

As President, Nixon came upon several important political, scientific and governmental milestones. They include:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established as Americans became more and more aware of the environmental problems the world faced.

  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was established.

  • The Vietnam War was a very important part of the Nixon presidency. He had inherited it from the previous presidency, the Johnson Administration, as indeed had Johnson. Johnson, however, had become infamous for his escalation of the Vietnam War, though it was reduced by the end of the administration.

  • In 1968, peace talks about Vietnam had begun in Paris, but did not have much success. In 1969, Nixon announced his policy to gradually reduce the US involvement in Vietnam, which the American public generally accepted. This was nicknamed 'Vietnamisation'. Fighting continued though and Laos began to become a battleground for the conflict. In 1972, Nixon ordered a blockade of North Vietnam and bombing of Hanoi. Later in 1972, the last of the US soldiers in Vietnam left, signalling the end of the conflict. On 27 January, 1973 a peace treaty was signed.

  • Henry Kissinger, for his negotiations on the Vietnam issue, was made Secretary of State in 1973.

  • In 1970, the US secretly bombed some Northern Vietnamese bases in Cambodia, which led to widespread protest across the US. At Kent State University in Ohio, a protest ended with National Guard members killing four students and wounding nine.

  • The Military Draft was ended in 1973 and replaced with an entirely volunteer military system. This was one of Nixon's key campaign promises.

  • In 1973, a war of the Israelis and Arab nations erupted, thankfully ending relatively quickly. However, because the US supported Israel in the conflict, many Arab nations set up an oil embargo against the US, resulting in fuel rationing and various other measures designed to conserve oil.

  • Nixon's administration dealt with civil rights, as other administrations had before his. The Supreme Court ruled that all public schools should be immediately de-segregated.

  • Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon on 20 July, 19697, during the Apollo 11 Mission. This fulfilled John F Kennedy's dream of landing on the moon before the end of the 1960s. As they were on the moon, Nixon used a special telephone to tell them 'Because of what you have done, the heavens have become part of man's world.'

  • Nixon's Vice-President Spiro T Agnew resigned on 10 October, 19738 amid a bribery and tax evasion scandal involving him. After Agnew, Nixon chose House Minority leader Gerald R Ford to be his new Vice-President, who was sworn in on 6 December, 1973.

  • He worked for an antiballistic missile system, which went into effect despite a great deal of controversy over the system's price, the implications for relations with the Soviet Union and its actual effectiveness.

  • During Nixon's presidency, he improved relations with China. He tore down laws that were unfriendly to China, helped end trade restrictions and even visited China for a week in 1972.

  • Nixon travelled to the Soviet Union in May, 1972 and signed an agreement to limit the production of nuclear weapons. He also is thought to have helped open up trade relations between the two nations.

  • Nixon attacked inflation. During his second term, inflation slowed and business rose. He also cut federal spending and lowered the cost of American goods abroad.

Watergate

I'm not a crook.

On 17 June, 1972 five burglars broke into the Democratic Party national headquarters in the Watergate Complex in Washington DC to steal information. The nightwatchman called the police and they were all arrested by 2.30am. Among these five men were a few members of the Committee for the Re-election of the President (known as the CRP) and several other people connected to President Nixon. At first, the arrests barely made news and Nixon's re-election campaign in 1972 was unharmed.

No-one in the White House staff, no-one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.
Nixon denying involvement in the Watergate break-in

Relatively quickly, the media realised many of these burglars were members of the CRP. Nixon denied any involvement of the White House in this 'third-rate burglary attempt', as one spokesman called it. The media kept digging.

Behind the scenes, however, Nixon and many of his aides had began a secret cover-up of this break-in and his involvement in it.

Background of Watergate

This break-in in fact had roots in the Vietnam War and more directly Nixon's secret bombing of Cambodia, which reporters uncovered in 1970. Nixon (without court authorisation) ordered wire-taps on 17 people who Nixon saw as a threat to national security. Some of these people were reporters who had uncovered the Cambodia bombings. Some were government officials.

Nixon had also set up a group of agents to control a situation started by the publication of a number of papers from the Pentagon recording important information about the Vietnam War. They broke into a psychiatrist's office to find information to discredit the man who leaked the 'Pentagon papers' to the press.

The illegal activities Nixon approved to control his 'enemies' and critics in the war eventually translated to illegal activities helping his re-election campaign. The Watergate break-in formed part of that.

Covering and Investigating it

Nixon attempted to involve the FBI and CIA in the cover-up operation, but it did not turn out. He then attempted to end an investigation by the FBI by approving a plan to cover up the break-in. He offered bribes to the five men arrested for the break-in and promised clemency to them. These efforts would ultimately fail and the American public soon came to think that Nixon took place in multiple illegal activities from the Oval Office. However, there were only doubts and there was no 'smoking gun' to connect the President with the scandal.

In early 1973, a Senate Committee was formed to investigate Watergate. A special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, was also appointed. Nixon maintained his innocence through all of this.

Through a series of hearings in the Senate Committee, it became clear that Nixon tape-recorded some of his conversations from the White House. Reporters also uncovered a large amount of information on their own. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein cited an anonymous source nicknamed Deep Throat in their investigations and were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for their work.

Presidential Counsel John Dean linked Nixon to Watergate directly in one of the hearings. Dean became the principal witness in the impeachment process of Nixon, as he claimed the White House developed enemy lists and that it planned to punish people on these lists with its influence in several government agencies.

Meanwhile, after the Senate Committee, the Special Prosecutor realised that Nixon's secret tapes of his phone conversations could be a very important piece of evidence against him. They asked him to turn over the tapes, but he claimed that he had the executive privilege to keep the tapes secret. The committee sued Nixon for the tapes and the courts ordered Nixon to turn them over.

Nixon continued to refuse and in October, 1973 he ordered Attorney-General Elliot L Richardson to fire Archibald Cox; Richardson refused and promptly resigned. William D Ruckelshaus replaced Richardson but also refused to fire Cox and resigned. Robert Bork, who was Solicitor-General, was named Attorney-General and he carried out Nixon's order and fired Cox. Leon Jaworski took Cox's place as Special Prosecutor.

Americans became very suspicious of Nixon and were upset about his actions. Quickly, the House of Representatives started the process of impeachment. Nixon supplied Jaworski with many of the secret phone tapes to ease suspicion, but three major conversations were missing. Nixon's spokesmen claimed that technical problems caused these conversations to not be recorded or be erased.

Jaworski issued Nixon with a subpoena in April, 1974. It ordered him to give the courts information on 64 conversations and Nixon gave 1,254 pages transcripts of the tapes, but the courts were not satisfied. Americans also found through these transcripts that Nixon in action was much different from the image most Americans were aware of. The prosecutor sued Nixon to give the courts the evidence and the Supreme Court unanimously upheld this claim.

The House Judiciary Committee recommended the impeachment of Nixon in July, 1974. It charged that Nixon obstructed justice, abused presidential powers and withheld evidence from the courts. Although Nixon still had supporters at this time, when he released some of the remaining tapes, it proved he had ordered the Watergate break-in cover-up. Nixon lost all support in Congress and impeachment and removal from office was certain.

Resignation

On 9 August, 1974, Nixon held an address for Americans declaring (among other things):

I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with the problems we face at home and abroad.

To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice-President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.

With that, Nixon became the first and only president ever to resign his office, leaving the remaining two and a half years of the term to Ford. About a month after taking office, Ford issued Nixon a pardon for any crimes he may have committed as President. Many others were not as lucky - eventually 25 members of his administration were convicted for crimes they committed during his presidency.

Watergate was America's all-time greatest political scandal, and also its most unique. Nixon, no matter how successful he was in the Oval Office, will always be remembered for the way he left it.

Ford became the only person to serve as President and Vice-President without being elected into either office. This was the first time that the 25th Amendment was used to replace a president.

Later Years

Nixon left the White House in disgrace and returned to his home in San Clemente, California. He kept an interest in politics, but never played a part in them again. Nixon wrote several books, including his memoirs RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, published in 1978. He also played golf frequently.

He continued to travel and his opinion of world affairs remained important and influential, though not powerful. Before he died, Nixon published seven books and established the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in 1990 in Yorba Linda, California.

On 18 April, 1994, he suffered a stroke and was taken to a hospital in New York City. On 21 April, he went into a coma and died on 22 April, 1994. He was buried near the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace.

1And in doing so, becoming the only person ever to resign from office.2Perhaps his answer to the previous administration's famous 'Great Society' slogan?3Interestingly, Julie would later marry the grandson of former president Dwight D Eisenhower, David Eisenhower.4That is, a Democrat who supported the New Deal plan of President Franklin D Roosevelt.5So nicknamed because of a reference in it he made to his dog Checkers.6There was also a third party candidate - George C Wallace of the American Independent Party.7As the Apollo 11 Mission touched down on the moon's surface at 10.30pm EST, this meant that the landing actually took place on 21 July, 1969 if you were in the UK, Western Europe, Asia or most of the rest of the world.8Making him the first and so far only Vice-President to resign amid a criminal investigation. Nixon would take a similar place in the record books later.

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