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Richard M. Nixon

 

Nixon, Richard M.

Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th president of the United States (1969-1974). During his administration the United States withdrew its military forces from Vietnam and informally recognized the government of the People's Republic of China. The Watergate scandal that occurred at the beginning of his second term brought Nixon to the verge of impeachment by the House of Representatives and led to his resignation, the first ever by a U.S. president.

Early Career

Born in Yorba Linda, Calif., on Jan. 9, 1913, Nixon was the second of Hannah and Francis Nixon's five children, all of whom were boys. Despite the economic difficulties and emotional tensions of the Nixon household, young Richard excelled in school, graduating second in his class from Whittier College (1934) and third in his class from Duke University law school (1937). From 1937 to 1942 he practiced law in Whittier, Calif. When the United States entered World War II, he worked briefly for the tire-rationing section of the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C., and then served in the navy as a supply officer in the South Pacific.

Upon his return to Whittier after the war he entered politics, becoming the Republican candidate for Congress in California's 12th district. His first political campaign, in 1946, set the tone for many that would follow. Running against the liberal Democratic incumbent, Jerry Voorhis, Nixon suggested that Voorhis had dangerous left-wing tendencies. Nixon won easily and thereafter made anti-Communism one of his main political themes. As a new congressman he was assigned to the then relatively unimportant House Committee on Un-American Activities. He quickly attained national prominence by playing a central role in the committee's investigation of Alger Hiss, a former high State Department official accused of carrying on espionage for the USSR during the 1930s. Nixon was reelected to the House in 1948. In 1950 he ran for the Senate, defeating the Democratic candidate, Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, against whom he leveled charges not unlike those he had used to unseat Voorhis 4 years earlier. When he entered the Senate, he was regarded as one of the brightest young stars of the Republican party. His youth, his oratorical skills, and his indefatigable speechmaking at Republican fund-raising dinners around the country won him favor among local party organizers. In 1952, at the age of 39, he was nominated by the party to be Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice-presidential running mate.

Vice-Presidency

During the 1952 presidential campaign, Eisenhower adopted a statesmanlike pose, whereas Nixon once again employed the blistering anti-Communist language that had helped him gain national prominence. Midway in the campaign, however, he was nearly dropped from the ticket. Stories appeared in the press of an $18,000 fund that had been raised for Nixon by California businessmen. On September 23, Nixon defended himself in a nationwide radio and television speech, denying that there was anything improper in his use of the money. His wife did not wear mink, he pointed out, but only "a respectable Republican cloth coat." The only gift that he had kept for himself was a cocker spaniel named Checkers. The "Checkers speech" brought an overwhelmingly favorable response from Republicans across the nation. Eisenhower kept him on the ticket, and the two were swept into office by a margin of more than 6 million votes over the Democratic ticket headed by Gov. Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois.

As vice-president, Nixon was never personally very close to Eisenhower, although he frequently represented the president at home and abroad. In 1955, when Eisenhower suffered a heart attack, Nixon filled in effectively for him until the president could resume his duties. The Eisenhower-Nixon ticket was reelected by another landslide in 1956. In the next few years Nixon traveled widely; in one trip to the USSR in 1959 he opened the American National Exhibition. There, in a model kitchen, he engaged in a debate with Nikita Khrushchev. This widely publicized "kitchen debate" enhanced Nixon's political stature.

His yeoman service to the party made Nixon the logical Republican choice to run for president in 1960. Campaigning against the Democratic nominee, John F. Kennedy, Nixon seemed to come off second best in a series of television debates with his lesser-known opponent. He lost the election by a little more than 100,000 votes. Two years later, when he was defeated for the governorship of California by the Democratic incumbent, Pat Brown, many observers thought Nixon's political career had ended. He himself told reporters the next day, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."

In the next few years he worked as a partner in a New York law firm and traveled the country and the world. The nomination and overwhelming defeat of Sen. Barry Goldwater as the Republican presidential candidate in 1964 encouraged Nixon to try again for the presidency in 1968. He obtained the nomination on the first ballot after winning a series of presidential primaries. This time, partly because the Democratic party was bitterly divided over the Vietnam War, Nixon won the election, despite an 11th-hour surge by the Democratic nominee, Hubert H. Humphrey, that narrowed Nixon's final margin to less than 1% of the popular vote.

Presidency

In the White House, the contradictions in Nixon were most obvious. He could be bold yet also cautious, effective yet often inept. Working closely with his national security advisor (later secretary of state), Henry Kissinger, he forsook the anti-Communist policies that he had supported throughout most of his career in favor of détente with the USSR and rapprochement with the Communist government of China. In 1969 he began the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) with the Soviet Union. In February 1972 he made a historic trip to Beijing (Peking) - where he was received by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) - thus reversing the U.S. policy of not recognizing the Communist government. In 1973, after four years of waging war in Vietnam - including heavy bombing raids on North Vietnam (1972) and the invasion (1970) of Cambodia - the administration managed to arrange a cease-fire that would last long enough to permit U.S. withdrawal from the Indochinese war zone. After the Arab-Israeli War in 1973, the efforts of Kissinger led to a cease-fire. Domestically, under the banner of "a New Federalism," Nixon attempted to shift important elements of governmental power and responsibility back to state and local governments. He cut back and opposed federal welfare services, proposed antibusing legislation, and used wage-and-price controls to fight inflation. A combination of domestic and international developments, notably the quintupling of oil prices by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973, led to the economic recession of 1974 - 1975.

In 1972, Nixon swept to an overwhelming victory in the presidential election against his Democratic challenger Sen. George S. McGovern - but, ironically, the seeds of political collapse had already been sown. During the campaign a group of burglars working for the Committee to Re-elect the President broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office-apartment complex in Washington, D.C., apparently in search of political intelligence. Attempts by the White House to stop or frustrate the ensuing investigations ultimately failed when Nixon's own White House tape recordings revealed that the president and his assistants had engaged in an obstruction of justice. In the meantime he had been forced to drop Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew, who resigned in October 1973 after he was charged with corruption that began during his tenure as county executive of Baltimore, Md. As the revelations of wrongdoing piled up, Nixon became preoccupied with preserving his presidency. He jettisoned top assistants in the White House and fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. After the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, required that he supply Cox's successor, Leon Jaworski, with tape recordings of conversations with his advisors, the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend (July 27 - 30, 1974) approval by the full House of three articles of impeachment against the president. On Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon resigned his office and was succeeded by Vice-President Gerald R. Ford, whom he had selected to replace Agnew. A month after Nixon's resignation, Ford pardoned him for any crimes he might have committed as president. Nixon accepted the pardon, but sought thereafter, with some success, to portray himself as an elder statesman. He died in New York City on Apr. 22, 1994, and was buried at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif.

Nixon's writings include three autobiographical works, Six Crises (1962), RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (1978), and In the Arena (1990), and books on U.S. foreign policy - The Real War (1980), Real Peace (1983), No More Vietnams (1985), 1999: Victory without War (1988), Seize the Moment (1992), and Beyond Peace (1994).

Biography from The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia