The Presidents of the USA



Richard Nixon
Although he ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and won diplomatic agreements with the Soviet Union and China, he is remembered for Watergate and as being the only president who resigned from office.

Born Jan. 9, 1913, Yorba Linda, CA
Political party Republican
Education Whittier College, B.A., 1934
Duke Univ. Law School, LL.B., 1937
Military service: U.S. Navy, 1942-46
Previous public office ♦ House of Representatives, 1947-51
♦ U.S. Senate, 1951-53
♦ Vice President, 1953-61
Died Apr. 22, 1994, New York, N.Y.
picture of Richard Nixon

Early Life

Nixon's parents ran a lemon grove and a grocery store, and Richard worked for them before and after school. He graduated second in his class from Whittier College and third in his class from Duke University Law School, then practiced law in Whittier. He met Thelma (“Pat”) Ryan at a dramatic society and married her in 1940.

At the start of World War II Nixon worked for the Office of Price Administration, implementing rationing of automobile tires. He joined the navy and served as an operations officer for an air transport squadron flying in the South Pacific, then as a lawyer negotiating contracts, until his discharge in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant commander.

Political Career

Just as Nixon was leaving the navy, a group of prominent Republicans in Whittier began looking for a prospective candidate, preferably a young veteran, to run for Congress against the liberal Democratic incumbent Jerry Voorhis, Nixon was offered the nomination, and he defeated Voorhis in a series of debates, charging his opponent with accepting the support of pro-communist labor unions.

While in Congress, Nixon served on the House Un-American Activities Committee and was instrumental in the investigation of State Department official Alger Hiss, who had been charged by Whittaker Chambers, a senior editor of Time magazine, with being a member of a communist spy ring during World War II. Hiss vigorously denied the charges and many high-ranking officials who had worked with him doubted these charges, but Nixon's support of Chambers was considered vindicated when a jury found Hiss guilty of perjury (lying under oath). He was sentenced to five years in prison for denying to the committee that he had ever met Chambers.

Nixon's work on the committee gained him a national reputation as a hard-line anticommunist. He strongly supported Harry Truman's proposal for the Marshall Plan for European reconstruction after World War II. Nixon ran for the Senate in 1950, defeating liberal Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas by insinuating that her voting record was “pink” (pro-communist) and referring to her as the “pink lady.” He became the youngest Republican in the U.S. Senate.

In 1952 Nixon convinced members of the California delegation to the Republican convention to support Dwight Eisenhower's candidacy. Eisenhower then chose Nixon to run with him. Newspapers charged that while Nixon was a senator, he had accepted $18,000 from supporters to defray his personal expenses. Eisenhower insisted that Nixon make a full and public explanation. Nixon made a nationwide television broadcast on September 23, 1952, in which he defended his actions and won over the public when he insisted that whatever else might happen, he would never return one gift—a dog that his children had named Checkers. The overwhelmingly positive response to his “Checkers speech” convinced Eisenhower to keep Nixon on the ticket, and they were elected by a large margin. Nixon was the youngest person ever to be elected Vice President.

When Eisenhower was ill, Nixon presided with great discretion over 19 meetings of the cabinet and 26 meetings of the National Security Council. He made numerous trips abroad and was the target of violent anti-U.S. demonstrations in several Latin American nations in 1958.

In July 1959, President Eisenhower sent Nixon 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 known as the "Kitchen Debate"

In the 1960 election, he was the obvious choice for the Republican ticket. Nixon engaged in four Presidential debates with Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy, and he lost the first one badly.

With the economy in a recession, Nixon lost several key states, and vote fraud may have played a part in his losses in Illinois and Texas. Nixon lost the election but refused to contest the results.

In 1962 Nixon ran for governor of California but was defeated by incumbent governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. He held a press conference after the election in which he attacked the media for bias and insisted, “You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Then he moved to New York City and practiced law. He did not retire from politics though. He campaigned effectively for Republican congressional candidates in the 1966 midterm elections.

In 1968 Nixon again won the Republican nomination, defeating George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, and Ronald Reagan. With the Democratic party split between hawks who supported Hubert Humphrey and antiwar activists who favored Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy (assassinated in June after winning the California primary), Nixon entered the general election well ahead of Humphrey. But the race tightened up after his opponent endorsed a halt to the bombing of Vietnam. In a three-person race (the other candidate was Southerner George Wallace, running on a segregationist platform of the American Independent party), Nixon won only 43.4 percent of the popular vote, defeating Humphrey by less than 1 percent.


Nixon announced a policy to “Vietnamize” the war in Vietnam and remove most of the 500,000 U.S. ground combat forces. Soon U.S. combat casualties were sharply reduced. In 1970 he invaded neighboring Cambodia in pursuit of Vietnamese communist forces, an action that led to widespread protests and demonstrations in the United States. By 1972 almost all U.S. forces had been removed from South Vietnam, and on January 27, 1973, after a Christmas bombing campaign against North Vietnam, the United States came to an agreement with the North Vietnamese: a cease-fire was proclaimed, U.S. prisoners of war were returned, and U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War ended. Air force bombing continued against the communists in Cambodia, however, until Congress overrode a Nixon veto and ordered a halt to the bombing by August 15, 1973.

Although Nixon had made his career as a staunch anticommunist, in 1971 he reversed his long-standing opposition to seating communist China in the United Nations. Then, in February 1972, he became the first President to visit the People's Republic of China. He established low-level diplomatic relations with that nation, naming George Bush to head a “mission” to Beijing, though without formal recognition of its government.

In May 1972 Nixon made a trip to the Soviet Union and completed a significant arms control agreement involving limitations on intercontinental ballistic missiles. On May 28 he made a televised speech to the people of the Soviet Union, reassuring them that the United States did not have aggressive intentions against them. This summit conference ushered in a period of detente, or relaxation of tensions, between the two superpowers. Numerous other agreements in science, space, technology, and trade were also signed over the next two years.

Although Nixon positioned himself as a conservative, spending for many social welfare programs, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, increased greatly during his tenure. A national system of food stamps costing billions of dollars was developed as part of the welfare system. Nixon proposed, and Congress accepted, a reallocation of government funds to state and local governments. This plan replaced many grants for specific programs with broader “bloc” grants, giving states more flexibility.

Although Nixon was a free-market Republican, opposed to much government regulation of the economy, for the first time in U.S. history he presided over the use of wage and price controls in peacetime (from 1971 to 1973) in order to check inflation. He also proposed large increases in spending for the environment and created the Council on Environmental Quality. An Arab oil embargo against the United States, imposed during the Yom Kippur War involving Israel and Syria and Egypt in 1973, led Nixon to impose new regulations on energy producers and users. Nixon proposed Project Independence, a plan to make the United States economy energy-independent of Arab oil producers within a decade.

Nixon won a landslide reelection victory in 1972 over his Democratic opponent, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota.

Early in Nixon's second term, it was revealed that operatives working for the Committee to Re-Elect the President had burglarized the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex in 1972. The scandal gradually enveloped many senior White House aides and three cabinet secretaries, and as it came closer to the President his popularity dropped.

On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned as part of a plea bargain in a court case involving bribes paid to him by Maryland construction contractors before and during his tenure as Vice President. Congress approved Nixon's nomination of House minority leader Gerald Ford to fill the vacancy.

In 1974 the House Judiciary Committee began an inquiry into the Watergate scandal to determine if Nixon should be impeached. Late in July the Supreme Court issued a ruling requiring Nixon to turn over evidence in criminal trials of his aides, in spite of his claim that it was his executive privilege to keep information about Presidential decisions from the courts. The tape recordings Nixon made of conversations in the Oval Office indicated that he had participated in a cover-up of the Watergate burglary.

Nixon resigned his office on August 9, 1974, shortly after the House committee voted to recommend three articles of impeachment to the full House. He was succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford, who on September 8, 1974, issued Nixon a “full, free and absolute pardon” for all crimes committed during his Presidency. Nixon accepted the pardon, admitting “mistakes” in the way he had handled Watergate, but made no admission that he was guilty of any crimes.


In retirement Nixon moved to an affluent community in New Jersey, completed his memoirs, RN, and wrote many books on foreign policy. He gradually assumed a role as a senior foreign policy adviser to Republican Presidents.

Richard Nixon died of a stroke at the age of 81. (1973)


Biographers summarized Nixon as a "smart, talented man, but most peculiar and haunted of presidents". Also as "a strange man of uncomfortable shyness, who functioned best alone with his thoughts". Nixon's presidency was doomed by his personality, He assumed the worst in people and he brought out the worst in them.

Maybe Nixon, both as a man and as a statesman, "has been excessively maligned for his faults and inadequately recognized for his virtues. "

Nixon is given credit for his stance on domestic affairs, which resulted in the passage and enforcement of environmental and regulatory legislation. Also for his bold and effective initiatives in foreign policy.

Overall, his legacy remains negative. Despite his remarkable policies regarding Vietnam, China, and the Soviets, he will be remembered for the nightmare he put the country through in his second term and for his resignation

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