Nixon (January 9, 1913 – April 22, 1994) was the thirty-seventh
President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. He was also
Dwight D. Eisenhower's Vice President (1953–1961). He is the only
man to have been elected twice to the Vice Presidency and twice to the
Presidency, and he was the fifth Republican President to be elected
to two terms. Nixon is noted for his diplomatic foreign policy and moderate
domestic policy, but he is also remembered as the first and only U.S.
President to have ever resigned from office. His resignation came after
a loss of political support in Congress amidst the Watergate scandal.
Nixon was born
in Yorba Linda, California on January 9, 1913, to Francis Nixon and
Hannah Milhous, who was descended from a German family originally called
Milhausen. He was raised as an evangelical Quaker by his mother, who
hoped he would become a Quaker missionary. His upbringing is said to
have been marked by such conservative evangelical Quaker observances
as refraining from drinking, dancing and swearing. His father, known
as Frank, was an Irish Catholic who had sincerely converted to Quakerism
but never fully absorbed its spirit, retaining instead a voluble temper.
His father focused
on the family business, a store that sold groceries and ARCO (then Atlantic
Richfield) gasoline. Nixon always spoke highly of his parents. He often
spoke lovingly of his mother as a "Quaker saint," and began
his memoirs with the words "I was born in a house my father built."
Today, the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace has been erected next
to the original house in Yorba Linda, which is open to the public; however,
Nixon actually grew up some miles away, in Whittier, California. Today,
this area is completely built up, but in Nixon's time, it was almost
entirely farmland. Nixon's early life was marked by tragedy in the deaths
of two of his brothers, Arthur and Harold, from tuberculosis.
Fullerton High School, and won an award from the Harvard Club of California
as the state's outstanding high school senior. Among other achievements,
he had a penchant for Shakespeare and Latin, and could recite long passages
by heart. The award from Harvard provided him with a full scholarship,
but since it did not cover living expenses, Nixon's family was unable
to afford to send him away to college. Some historians and commentators
have speculated that Nixon's lifelong antipathy towards the "Eastern
Establishment" had its genesis in this initial letdown. In lieu
of Harvard, Nixon attended Whittier College, a local Quaker school where
he founded the Orthogonian Society, a fraternity that competed with
the already established Franklin Society. Nixon then went on to become
the student body president of Whittier College. A lifelong football
buff, Nixon practiced with the team assiduously but spent most of his
time on the bench. His front teeth were knocked out and replaced by
the rather prominent bridgework that later afforded caricaturists a
field day. Nixon's chief accomplishment as student body president was
organizing Whittier College's first school dance, a practice forbidden
by the Quakers.
In 1934 he graduated
second in his class from Whittier and went on to Duke University law
school, where he received a full scholarship. In order to retain his
scholarship, Nixon had to maintain a high grade-point average. At one
point, he was so overwrought about his grade results that he persuaded
a cohort to help him through the transom door of the Dean's office,
so that he could check the files. He was not punished. Years later,
this incident came to light, and the press trumpeted it as "Nixon's
in his class, Nixon hoped to secure a job with one of the prestigious
"white-shoe" law firms in New York City. For a variety of
reasons, he had no luck. Some writers have agreed with Nixon's own explanation--that
he lacked the requisite Ivy League pedigree and family connections--but
it is also possible that he interviewed poorly. Around the time of Watergate,
one of the senior partners at White & Case found notes from the
original interview. The partner who had met Nixon opined that the future
president came across as "shifty."
As a result, Nixon
returned to California, passed the bar exam, and began working in the
small-town law office of a family friend in nearby La Mirada. The work
was mostly routine, and Nixon generally found it to be dull, although
he was entirely competent. He later wrote that family law cases caused
him particular discomfiture, since his reticent Quaker upbringing was
severely at odds with the idea of discussing intimate marital details
It was during this
period that he met his wife Pat. She had accepted a position as a high-school
teacher in Whittier. They became acquainted at a community Little Theater
group when they were cast in the same play. At first, Pat displayed
little interest in Nixon, who nonetheless pursued her so doggedly that
he even drove her around on dates she had with other men. They were
married at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California on June 21, 1940.
During World War
II, Nixon served in the United States Navy. He could have been exempt
from military service because of his status as a birthright Quaker,
but volunteered anyway. Reportedly, his mother burst into tears when
she first saw him in uniform. He later stated he hated Hitler and was
horrified by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nixon served as a Cargo Officer
in the South Pacific theater and put his shopkeeper's skills to work
operating "Nick's Snack Shack," where military personnel could
pick up hamburgers and fruit juice. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant
Commander and his superiors praised him as an excellent officer and
leader. One interesting footnote about Nixon's naval career is that
he learned to play poker (another taboo under Quakerism) and quickly
became known as the best poker player in the Navy, having apparently
won almost $10,000 by war's end. It was in the Navy he met his future
friend and Secretary of State William P. Rogers.
Nixon was elected to the United States House of Representatives from
California in 1946 by beating Jerry Voorhis, in a campaign which some
charge was a result of underhanded political skullduggery. The campaign
he ran against Voorhis highlighted the aggressive campaigning style
of whom Nixon was one of the pioneers. During a debate with Voorhis
he held up a list of members of a Political Action Committee (PAC) from
which Voorhis received substantial campaign donations. Then he held
up a list of members from a Left-Wing PAC with Communist affiliations,
and said that there were a few people who were in both Committees. Nixon
said "they're basically the same, if their members are the same..."
Although Nixon's allegations were untrue, they succeeded and Voorhis
was booed by the crowd. Many voters allegedly received phone calls in
the middle of the night telling them that Voorhis was a Communist.
Richard Nixon with
his wife Pat.
The 80th Congress was the first with a Republican majority since the
Hoover administration and its freshman class was filled with fellow
war veterans, including Nixon's future rival John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
In the House, Nixon
served on a committee that helped to implement the Marshall Plan which
aided war-torn Europe. He also helped in the passage of the Taft-Hartley
Act which set up controls over labor unions. He proposed a bill to facilitate
servicemen's voting that was passed by both houses and signed into law.
Nixon climbed the political ladder swiftly, making his name as an anti-Communist
and a rough, no-holds-barred campaigner. He became a member of the House
Un-American Activities Committee and was instrumental in the trial of
State Department Undersecretary and General Secretary of the United
Nations Charter meeting Alger Hiss for perjury after the exposure of
his alleged activities as an Soviet spy. Whether Hiss was guilty or
not is still in dispute. In 1948, Nixon won both the Republican and
Democratic nomination for re-election to the House.
Nixon was elected
to the United States Senate in 1950, defeating actress turned congresswoman
Helen Gahagan Douglas, whom Nixon accused during the campaign of having
communist sympathies, calling her the "Pink Lady." In the
campaign the Independent Review newspaper tagged Nixon with the name
he would never shake: "Tricky Dick". As with Voorhis, Nixon
used the tactic of "guilt by association," printing an attack
against Douglas on pink paper, listing a number of votes in Congress
in which she voted the same as a left-wing Congressman from New York,
Vito Marcantonio. He was succeeded in his Senate seat by George Murphy,
actor in such Hollywood films as "Battleground".
Nixon and Eisenhower
at a 1952 Campaign stop
In 1952 he was elected Vice President on Dwight D. Eisenhower's ticket,
although he was only 39 years old.
One notable event
of the campaign was Nixon's innovative use of television. Nixon was
accurately accused by nameless sources of having 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 rather
"a respectable 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. He also charged
that the Democratic Presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, also had
a slush fund (see Memoirs of Richard Nixon, page 99). The "Checkers
speech", as it was called, resulted in a flood of support, and
Eisenhower decided to keep Nixon on the ticket.
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 he and Soviet leader
Nikita Khrushchev had an impromptu "kitchen debate" about
the merits of capitalism versus communism.
as one of the most intellectual U.S. presidents, Nixon displayed a somewhat
anti-intellectual streak during the 1952 campaign, criticizing the extremely
intelligent Democratic presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson, as an
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). Many observers believe
that a crucial factor in his loss was the first televised presidential
debate. Despite his five o'clock shadow, Nixon refused television makeup
(instead using simple "Lazy Shave" coverup makeup) and was
feeling sick, having recently injured his knee while campaigning. Nixon
likewise was instructed by CBS television producers to wear a grey suit
that blended into the backdrop, whereas Kennedy was told by the same
producer to wear a black suit which would stand out when black and white
television was the standard. 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 comfortable in his position. It has since been widely
suggested, with some support from research, that those who had listened
to the debate on radio thought Nixon was more impressive , but that
the television audience gave the edge to Kennedy. Also, Eisenhower did
not show much support for Nixon, and only reluctantly endorsed him as
the Republican candidate at the 1960 Presidential election. Nixon campaigned
against Kennedy on the great experience he had acquired in eight years
as Vice President, but when Eisenhower was asked to name a decision
Nixon had been responsible for in that time, he replied: "Give
me a week and I might think of something." Although Eisenhower
later said he intended that remark to mean he would discuss Nixon's
achievements the following week, this was a severe blow to Nixon, and
he blamed Eisenhower for his narrow loss to Kennedy.
On November 7,
1962, he lost a race for Governor of California. In his concession speech,
Nixon accused the media of favoring his opponent Pat Brown, and stated
that it was his "last press conference" and that "You
won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more." Many mocked Nixon
for being a "sore loser" for saying this to the reporters.
However, many others praised Nixon for telling the press off. He often
said that he never regretted his comments at this famous press conference.
Coincidentally, Nixon was in Dallas earlier on November 22, 1963, the
day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Nixon spoke to
a meeting of Pepsi-Cola bottlers.
defeatist mood did not last. He and his family moved into a 12-room
luxury apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Nixon worked as a
prominent lawyer, using these so-called "wilderness" years
in the private sector to earn more money ($250,000 per year, by some
accounts--equivalent to over $1 million today) and to solidify his political
base. During the 1966 Congressional elections, he traveled the country
speaking in support of Republican candidates and preparing for another
campaign of his own. In the election of 1968, he completed a remarkable
political comeback by defeating Hubert H. Humphrey to become the 37th
President of the United States, in a campaign where he promised to end
the Vietnam War. He was the first Vice-President to be elected President
who did not succeed the President under whom he had served.
greets Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao (left) in China visit 1972
Nixon appealed to what he claimed was the "silent majority"
of socially conservative Americans who disliked the "hippie"
counterculture and anti-war demonstrators. Nixon also promised "peace
with honor," and without claiming to be able to win the war, Nixon
claimed that "new leadership will end the war and win the peace
in the Pacific". When a reporter pressed Nixon for specifics, he
did not reveal any details. Because of this, Nixon's opponents criticized
him for not revealing his secret plan to end the Vietnam War, although
Nixon had not used this famous phrase. Still, many voters supported
Nixon because they believed he would end the war.
He proposed the
Nixon Doctrine to establish a strategy of turning 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 U.S. military commanders. American involvement in
the war declined while Nixon was in office. But there would be four
more years of strategic bombing, with more bombs dropped than in World
War II. After the withdrawal of U.S. troops, fighting was left to the
ineffective South Vietnamese army.
secretly began a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia in March, 1969
(code-named Menu) to destroy what were believed to be the headquarters
and large numbers of soldiers of the National Front for the Liberation
of Vietnam. The bombing campaign was kept secret from the American public
and the U.S. Congress. Militarily ineffective, the bombing campaigns
killed approximately one hundred thousand Cambodian peasants. However,
NVA communist forces did use Cambodian soil as a supply line to the
Vietcong in the south.
greets released POW (and future Republican Senator) Navy officer John
McCain (on crutches) after years of imprisonment in North Vietnam, 1973.
In ordering the bombings, Nixon realized he would be extending an unpopular
war as well as breaching Cambodia's "official" neutrality.
He also understood that the war was politically un-winnable due to massive
demonstrations. Details of the bombing were kept secret even from high
ranking officials such as Secretary of State William P. Rogers and the
Joint Chiefs of Staff. During deliberations over Nixon's impeachment,
his unorthodox use of executive powers over the ordering of these bombings
were considered as an article of impeachment, but the charge was dropped.
This bombing (and an incursion by U.S. forces into Cambodian territory
in April 1970) added to the administration's tacit support for the overthrow
of the neutralist royal government of Norodom Sihanouk by the rightist
military dictator Lon Nol, created chaos, and drove much of the peasant
population of that country into the arms of the Khmer Rouge, a Maoist
revolutionary movement that would eventually kill 1.7 million Cambodians
after taking power.
Nixon was also very vocal in supporting General Yahya Khan of Pakistan
despite Genocide against Bengalis in East Pakistan. Recently declassified
documents reveal the extent of support offered by Nixon to the dictator
despite widespread human rights violations. 
On the morning of July 20, 1969, Nixon addressed Neil Armstrong and
Buzz Aldrin during their historic moonwalk, live via telephone. Along
with those of the astronauts, Nixon's name and signature were inscribed
on the plaques left behind by Apollo 11 in 1969 and Apollo 17 in 1972.
Ironically it was the Democrat controlled Congress and President Nixon
who had wound down the NASA budget and curtailed the Apollo program
due to budget pressures caused principally by the vast expense of U.S.
involvement in Vietnam. On January 5, 1972 Nixon approved the development
of the Space Shuttle program, a decision that profoundly influenced
U.S. efforts to explore and develop space for several decades thereafter.
Nixon meets Elvis
Presley in December 1970
Nixon halted circulation of high-denomination U.S. currency in 1969
by executive order. At the time, he stated that he was taking this action
to "make life harder for the Mafia." His comment drew irate
criticism from many Americans of Italian ancestry, who regarded it as
an ethnic slur.
In 1972 Nixon was re-elected in one of the biggest landslide election
victories in U.S. political history, defeating George McGovern and garnering
over 60% of the popular vote. He carried 49 of the 50 states, trailing
only in Massachusetts. The strongest candidate against Nixon, Edmund
Muskie, had been sabotaged by underhanded tactics, probably on Nixon's
On January 2, 1974 Nixon signed a bill that lowered the maximum U.S.
speed limit to 55 MPH in order to conserve gasoline during the 1973
energy crisis. He established the EPA on December 2, 1970.
On April 3, Nixon announced he would pay $432,787.13 in back taxes plus
interest after a Congressional committee reported that he had inadvertently
underpaid his 1969 and 1972 taxes.
the White House on August 9, 1974
Nixon was eventually investigated in relation to the June 17, 1972 burglary
of the Democratic Party offices at the Watergate office complex, one
of a series of scandals involving the Committee to Re-Elect the President
(known as CRP but referred to by outsiders as CREEP), the White House
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 was named by the grand jury investigating
Watergate as "an unindicted co-conspirator" in the Watergate
Scandal. He lost support from some in his own party as well as much
popular support after what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre
of October 20, 1973 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 Judiciary Committee opened formal
and public impeachment hearings against Nixon on May 9, 1974. Despite
his efforts, one of the secret recordings, known as the "smoking
gun" tape, was released on August 5, 1974 and revealed that Nixon
authorized hush money to Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, and also
revealed that Nixon arranged for the blackmailing of the CIA into telling
the FBI to stop investigating certain topics because of "the Bay
of Pigs thing." Several of the Watergate burglars were involved
in the Bay of Pigs operation. Haldeman would later claim that when Nixon
used the phrase "the Bay of Pigs thing," he was actually referring
to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In light of his loss
of political support and the near certainty of both his impeachment
by the House of Representatives and his conviction by the Senate, he
resigned, effective August 9, 1974. listen? During the Watergate Scandal,
Nixon's approval rating fell to 25%.
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 often portrayed by these critics
and commentators as a sullen loner, with unshaven jowls, slumped shoulders,
and a furrowed, sweaty brow. He was also characterized as 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 cameo appearances on popular TV shows such
as Laugh-In and Hee Haw. He also frequently brandished the two-finger
V sign (alternately viewed as the "Victory sign" or "peace
sign") using both hands, an act which became one of his best-known
trademarks. Once the transcripts of the White House tapes were released,
people were shocked at the amount of swearing and vicious comments about
opponents that Nixon issued. This did not help the public perception,
and fed the comedians even more.
Nixon's successor Gerald R. Ford issued a pre-emptive pardon, effectively
ending any possibility of indictment.
Later years and
In his later years Nixon worked to rehabilitate his public image, and
enjoyed considerably more success than could have been anticipated at
the time of his resignation. He gained great respect as an elder statesman
in the area of foreign affairs, being 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 also the illegal campaign finances
and intrusive government surveillance that were at the heart of the
In July 2003, Jeb Stuart Magruder, a former Special Assistant to the
President, 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 his memoirs.
While generally in good health, he was on lifelong warfarin anticoagulant
therapy after multiple episodes of phlebitis or deep vein thrombosis
and pulmonary embolism starting in 1965 (these conditions would later
contribute to his fatal stroke). He received surgery in 1974 for this
problem (Barker et al 1997).
On April 18, 1994, at 5:45 PM EDT, Nixon suffered a severe hemmoragic
stroke while preparing to eat dinner in his Park Ridge, New Jersey home.
It was later determined that a blood clot that had formed in his upper
heart as a result of his heart condition broke off and traveled to his
brain. He was rushed to New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, where
his condition deteriorated over the next several days. He might have
lived longer had he been resuscitated using extraordinary measures,
such as a respirator, but he refused such treatments, as he had stated
in his earlier hospital visits.
On April 22, Nixon
passed away at 9:08 PM at age 81.
He was buried beside
his wife Pat Nixon (who died ten months earlier, on June 22, 1993) on
the grounds of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda,
California. Acting on his family's wishes, Nixon did not receive a state
funeral, as customary for former presidents. However, President Bill
Clinton, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Senate Majority
Leader Bob Dole, and California Republican Governor Pete Wilson spoke
at the April 27 funeral—the first for an American president since
that of Lyndon B. Johnson (a service Nixon himself attended when president)
on January 25, 1973. Also in attendance at Nixon's funeral were former
presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush
and their respective first ladies. Nixon was survived by his two daughters
Tricia and Julie, along with his four grandchildren.