Skip to main content
Select Source:

Nixon, Richard M.

Richard M. Nixon

Richard Matthew Pious

ON 9 August 1974, Richard Nixon arose in the White House and, after meeting briefly with the household staff and his cabinet, took a helicopter from the lawn to Andrews Air Force Base, where he boarded a presidential plane for a trip with his family to the West Coast. But this trip was different from all others, for at exactly noon, while Nixon was flying over Jefferson City, Missouri, his chief of staff, Alexander Haig, delivered a letter to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that read, "Dear Mr. Secretary: I hereby resign the Office of the President of the United States. Sincerely, Richard Nixon." The thirty-seventh president of the United States had become the first in American history to resign the office in disgrace. The tragedy of the Nixon presidency lies not in its politics or policies, or even in its confrontation with Congress and the courts over the extension of presidential prerogatives, but rather in its use of unconstitutional, illegal, and illegitimate means to achieve its ends.

Politics as War

Nixon had always played politics not merely as a game against worthy opponents but as a war against enemies. His first campaign for a congressional seat, in 1946, in California was conducted against Jerry Voorhis, a five-term Democratic liberal. Nixon linked Voorhis with a left-wing representative from New York City, Vito Marcantonio, and falsely claimed that Voorhis had been endorsed by a political action committee of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). He won the election and two years later, taking advantge of the California primary law, entered and won both the Democratic and Republican primaries, thus avoiding potential defeat in an election year that favored Democrats. In 1950, Nixon defeated Helen Gahagan Douglas for a California seat in the United States Senate with the same techniques: he linked Douglas to Marcantonio by distributing the infamous "pink sheet," which tied their voting records together.

Nixon propelled himself into national politics through his skills as a tactician. A member of the California delegation to the 1952 Republican National Convention, he convinced the delegates to vote in favor of the "fair play" resolution that settled a dispute over credentials of rival Taft and Eisenhower delegates in favor of Eisenhower, thus ensuring the general the nomination. As a result, Nixon's name appeared on the shortlist of acceptable vice presidential candidates that Eisenhower submitted to a group of Republican leaders at the convention. The group recommended Nixon, because his anti-Communist credentials and tough campaign tactics would complement Eisenhower's political assets and because Nixon would help Republicans in the West.

Nixon took the low road in the presidential campaign, referring to Adlai Stevenson as an appeaser whose election would be welcomed by the Kremlin. In the midst of the campaign it became known that a group of seventy-six southern California businessmen had contributed to a secret fund that paid Nixon $900 per month (a total of $18,168.87 up to that point). Nixon defended himself by misrepresenting the uses to which the money had been put, claiming it was for office expenses only. In a nationwide television address on 23 September 1952, he claimed that he and his wife did not live well and that Pat Nixon did not even own a fur coat like corrupt Democrats but only "a respectable Republican cloth coat." Revealing that someone had given his children another gift, a dog that they had named Checkers, he said defiantly, "Regardless of what they say about it, we're going to keep it." When the so-called Checkers Speech met with overwhelming public approval, Eisenhower realized that he would be better off keeping Nixon on the ticket. At a meeting a few days later, he announced, "You're my boy." The two were swept into office in November.

The Vice Presidency

Nixon was given no substantial responsibilities as vice president. He presided occasionally over the Senate and chaired the President's Commission on Government Contracts, which dealt with racial discrimination by government contractors, and the Cabinet Committee on Price Stability for Economic Growth, a group with a long title but short reach in the councils of the administration. The extent of Nixon's influence on administration policy can be judged by Eisenhower's answer at a press conference when asked for an example of Nixon's contributions: "If you give me a week, I might think of one."

During Eisenhower's convalescence from a heart attack in 1955, an ileitis attack in 1956, and a stroke in 1957, Nixon handled himself with restraint. The vice president chaired nineteen cabinet sessions and twenty-six meetings of the National Security Council (NSC), but the reins of government were held by the principal White House aides. The Eisenhower-Nixon agreement on succession in the event of presidential disability served as a model for later administrations, as did Nixon's conduct in these situations.

Nixon was an integral part of the White House political operation. He campaigned for Republican members of Congress in 1954 and 1958. He criticized the Democratic-controlled Congresses. He was part of the White House operation that successfully contained Senator Joseph McCarthy attacks on the administration for being soft on Communism and helped devise the strategy that gave McCarthy enough rope to hang himself with his Senate colleagues. Nixon also participated in the negotiations with Senator John Bricker over changes in the Bricker Amendment, a proposal to place limits on the powers of the president to frame treaties and to ensure that treaties are consistent with domestic law. Eventually the amendment failed to pass Congress.

Nixon positioned himself as a moderate "Eisenhower Republican" on most issues, as well as a unifier within his party. A 1958 trip to Latin America during which he braved the wrath of street demonstrators and, a year later, his famous "Kitchen Debate" in Moscow with Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union also boosted his public standing. By late 1959 half the electorate believed he would make as good a president as Eisenhower or better, and most thought he would be better than Truman. Nineteen Gallup polls of Republican rank-and-file voters all ranked him first among contenders for the 1960 Republican presidential nomination.

Nixon won the nomination easily but ran a poor election campaign, allowing his opponent, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, to take the offensive on issues, catch up in the polls, and win the first of four televised debates, which subsequent surveys indicated helped contribute to Nixon's subsequent defeat. The recession and Eisenhower's failure to take strong measures to stimulate the economy also contributed to the results. Nixon believed that voting irregularities in Cook County caused him to lose Illinois, but he was statesmanlike enough not to contest the results. Kennedy's popular-vote total was only 118,574 more than Nixon's. In the electoral college, the results were 303219.

Nixon returned to California and ran for governor in 1962 in a fierce and somewhat underhanded campaign that included a fraudulent "poll," supposedly conducted by a group of Democrats but actually prepared as a form of campaign literature by the Nixon camp. A court injunction put a stop to this "dirty trick," and Nixon lost the election. In a postelection news conference, Nixon concluded a series of self-pitying remarks by observing that the press would not "have Richard Nixon to kick around any more." After his defeat, Nixon moved to New York City, where he joined a large law firm and continued his activity on behalf of Republican candidates in the 1966 congressional campaign. He continued to travel extensively, sharpening his knowledge of world affairs with wide-ranging discussions among leaders of other nations. By 1967, his financial backers, organized as Richard M. Nixon Associates, were raising funds to bankroll another drive for the White House.

The 1968 Presidential Contest

Nixon was one of several viable contenders for the nomination. Moderates supported George Romney and later Nelson Rockefeller, while Ronald Reagan bid for conservative support. Nixon, situated as a centrist, had to dispel notions that he was a loser and then build a coalition consisting of professional party politicians, personal loyalists, and groups from both the moderate and conservative wings of the party. Nixon's tactical skills again brought success. He made a deal with Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, promising the South that he would appoint "strict constructionists" to the federal judiciary, name a southerner to the Supreme Court, oppose court-ordered busing, and pick someone acceptable to the South for the vice presidency. With this deal set, Nixon was able to win much southern conservative support and head off Reagan. A series of successes in primaries dispelled the loser image, and his standing in the preconvention polls indicated he could win the election, thus undercutting Rockefeller's premise that to back Nixon was to concede the election.

The election results put Nixon in the White House, but under inauspicious circumstances. The third-party candidacy of George Wallace left Nixon with only 43 percent of the vote, hardly a popular mandate. Nixon received 31.7 million popular votes (301 electoral votes); Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic candidate, won 30.8 million votes (191 electoral votes); and Wallace's American Independent party drew 9.4 million votes (46 electoral votes). Nixon won what political scientists call a deviating electionthat is, one in which the advantage in party identification remains with the party that lost the election. In Congress, Democrats enjoyed a 57-43 advantage in the Senate and a 243-192 advantage in the House, with Republicans picking up just five House seats to go along with their gain of six in the Senate. Nixon would face a Congress controlled by the opposition and could not rely on a party-based legislative strategy. Instead, he would have to put together shifting coalitions: sometimes center-right, linking most Republicans with the southern Democrats to pay off his debts to the South or to support his foreign policies, and sometimes center-left, with moderate Republicans joining liberal Democrats to pass his own version of modern and progressive Republican social welfare, economic, and environmental legislation. At least in domestic affairs, the Nixon presidency promised to be eclectic and unorthodox.

Nixon never improved on this weak political position. His 1972 victory over George McGovern, with 59.7 percent of the vote, provided him with the support of the "Silent Majority" or "Middle America," as he called it, but he did not lead his party to victory. There were no appreciable changes in Democratic advantages in party identification and voter registration. In 1970 midterm elections the Republicans picked up two Senate seats but lost twelve in the House, and Nixon's strident campaign speeches contributed to this disaster, although the president claimed that he had won an "ideological majority" in the Senate. In 1972 the party lost the two Senate seats but regained the twelve in the House. By 1974 the Watergate investigations (see below) left the party in shambles: Republicans lost four Senate seats and forty-nine House seats, and held less than one-third of governorships and state legislative seats. Republicans did not make a comeback until 1978 and 1980.

Domestic Policies

Nixon refused to follow the Eisenhower pattern of consolidating Democratic programs and attempting to run them more efficiently. He was prepared to make major departures, in part to conciliate the South on race; in part to build a new coalition with policies on aid to parochial schools, opposition to abortion, and support for school prayer, all of which would appeal to Roman Catholics; and in part to appeal to his traditional Republican constituencies with attacks on President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society welfare policies.

Race was the most important domestic issue. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) stalled on implementing desegregation of southern school districts until prodded by federal court orders. By 1970 the administration had bowed to the inevitable, with Nixon setting the tone by declaring that legal segregation was inadmissible; almost all of the all-black southern schools were merged into unitary school districts by 1970, and less than 10 percent of black school-children attended all-black schools by that time, a major advance from the preceding administration.

The president remained strongly opposed to court-ordered busing and came out for the concept of the neighborhood school. He proposed that Congress ban court-ordered busing, ordered the Justice Department to oppose busing orders in pending lawsuits, and called for a $1.5 billion program of new federal aid for school districts in the process of dismantling their segregated facilities. These proposals bogged down in Congress, which did pass several measures, sponsored by southern Democrats, to end the use of federal funds for busing.

Nixon's proposed amendments to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, up for renewal in 1970, were tilted toward the South. The president proposed that its provisions be extended to all states so as not to "discriminate" against one region and that voting-rights lawsuits be tried first in state courts, a change that would have diminished the prospects of effective enforcement of the law. A group of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee scuttled the Nixon draft, and a bipartisan coalition substituted its own extension of the bill, which also included provisions for granting the vote to eighteen-year-olds.

An unusual departure for the Nixon administration was the plan developed by Secretary of Labor George Shultz to provide training and employment openings for minorities on federally funded construction projects. The government, especially Labor Department and HEW officials, began using racial classifications and numerical goals in implementing their desegregation programsthe first example of "affirmative action."

Law and order was another administration priority. Antiwar and civil rights demonstrations and civil disturbances on the campuses and streets created a backlash among the constituencies Nixon was courting. With children of the post-World War II baby boom coming of age, the crime rates soared. The administration responded with the vigorous use of four measures: the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act (1968), the Organized Crime Control Act, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (1970), and the District of Columbia Criminal Procedures Act. Provisions emphasized wiretapping, preventive detention, and other measures that aroused the opposition of civil libertarians. No appreciable dent was made in the crime rate, which was the province of local law enforcement, and a war on illegal drugs also had little success.

Other Nixon initiatives involved attacks on several of the most visible Great Society programs, which Republicans had strongly opposed. In January 1975, Nixon eliminated the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the coordinating agency for the so-called War on Poverty, begun in 1964. The controversial Community Action Program was reorganized, other OEO programs were moved to other departments, and funding for some activities was cut.

The Nixon administration had its own proposals to fight poverty. It rejected two approaches that were being considered at the end of the Johnson administrationnationalizing the existing welfare program or instituting a guaranteed minimum income through a negative income taxand instead proposed a program of family allowances developed by the Urban Affairs Council under the direction of Daniel Moynihan. The program was eventually defeated in the Senate in 1970 by an unlikely coalition of conservatives and liberals. The administration did succeed in passing a welfare reform measure that gave the national government complete control over welfare programs for the aged, blind, and disabled, and that provided more than $2 billion in additional payments in the welfare programs annually.

Because Nixon was pragmatic in domestic matters, he could be persuaded or pressured into new initiatives. Bar associations, acting in concert to salvage the Legal Services Program from the wreckage of the Great Society, managed in 1972 to get Nixon to lift his veto threat against legislation converting the Legal Services Program into the Legal Services Corporation with a larger budget and an autonomous board of directors, in spite of Nixon's initial decision to curtail the program severely to please his conservative supporters. The Food Stamp Act of 1964 was greatly expanded to provide billions of dollars of purchasing power to the nation's needy, through the efforts of Senator Robert Dole, Republican of Kansas, and a coalition of farm-state senators and urban liberals. Nixon proposed the New Federalism program in response to the pleas of governors and mayors, hard hit by demands for new services and revenue shortfalls caused by recession. Various narrow categorical grants were consolidated into "block grants" to give states more flexibility in programming funds, although by the time Congress finished with the Nixon proposals, the new grants looked suspiciously like the older narrow grants. Congress also passed a Nixon initiative to provide the states and cities with $30 billion in federal revenues over a five-year period. Responding to the demands of environmentalists, Nixon proposed legislation that led to the creation of the Council on Environmental Quality (1969), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (1970), and the Environmental Protection Agency (1970). New laws provided tougher standards for water and air quality.

Nixon's domestic record was neither liberal nor conservative, but politically pragmatic. His civil rights policies, judicial appointments, and unsuccessful attempts to appoint southerners to the Supreme Court all represented political payoffs to the South. Nominees Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell were blocked by a coalition of legislators sensitive to charges by civil rights organizations that these men, while on the federal bench, had either demonstrated opposition to Supreme Court case law protecting the rights of blacks or demonstrated incompetence in applying the law. In spite of well-publicized attacks on some Great Society programs, transfer payments to the poor, the sick, and the elderly increased greatly. Federal expenditures for intergovernmental grants soared. Early in the Nixon presidency, Attorney General John Mitchell, meeting with a group of civil rights leaders, suggested that they "watch what we do, not what we say" in judging the performance of the administration. By that standard, the Nixon presidency must be adjudged innovative and responsive in practice, although it seemed conservative and uncaring in its rhetoric.


Like most presidents, Nixon had little grasp of complex economic issues but a clear understanding of his political stakes in them. At all costs a recession and high unemployment were to be avoided going into the reelection year of 1972.

The president inherited a mess. Johnson had not followed the advice of his economists, and the result was soaring inflation (up to 5 percent in the last quarter of 1968, double the average rate since 1956). Unemployment was low, at 3.3 percent. Given a tradeoff between unemployment and inflation, Nixon would accept higher unemployment rates in order to cool down the inflation, provided it would lead to prosperity by 1972.

Early economic policies, set by Treasury Secretary David Kennedy, Under Secretary Paul Volcker, and Labor Secretary George Shultz, called for a relatively tight budget and a moderately restrictive monetary policy by the Federal Reserve Board. A tax bill passed in 1969 incorporated several Nixon initiatives, including a repeal of the investment tax credit and removal of 2 million of the nation's poor from the tax rolls. But by 1970 it was clear that the program was not working. In June of that year the Council of Economic Advisers began issuing "inflation alerts." By July a shortfall in revenues led Nixon to embrace the concept of the "full employment balanced budget," which provided for large deficits if the amount of expenditures did not exceed the revenues that would have been obtained under conditions of full employment. When Nixon submitted his budget to Congress in January 1971, he used this concept to justify a proposed $11.6 billion deficit and even publicly embraced Keynesian economic principles to argue that government expenditures would pull the nation out of recession. For a Republican president, all this was quite unorthodox, as Democrats gleefully pointed out.

With inflation and unemployment both on the rise, Nixon's appointee to chair the Federal Reserve, Arthur Burns, shifted from a tight-money policy. Early in 1971 the president began to criticize unions and management for agreeing to excessive wage increases in the steel industry. Nixon established the Tripartite Committee to monitor union settlements in the construction industry. By late spring, recently appointed Treasury Secretary John Connally was convinced that bold new measures were needed. By early summer the balance of trade had deteriorated so much that a full-scale flight from the dollar ensued. Unemployment was over 6 percent and climbing.

Meetings held at Camp David in mid-August produced agreement on a new economic program. As outlined by Nixon to the nation on 15 August in a nationwide television address, it included the closing of the gold window and the ending of the convertibility of the dollar into gold; actions that amounted to an 8 percent devaluation of the dollar against other major currencies, thus stimulating American exports; a 10 percent surcharge on foreign imports to discourage their consumption; and measures to stimulate the domestic economy, including an end to the excise tax on automobiles, a 10 percent tax credit for business investment, and a speedup in the personal income tax exemption, to be reflected in reduced withholding taxes in workers' paychecks. To counter the inflationary psychology, Nixon announced a ninety-day freeze on wages and prices (under authority granted to him the year before by the Democratic Congress) and the establishment of the Cost-of-Living Council. These measures, dubbed the "Nixon shocks," were taken without any prior consultation with America's allies, which caused severe strains in relations with them. Inflation was halted temporarily and then slowed as a second phase was implemented on 14 November 1971, with creation of the Pay Board and the Price Commission, which could monitor compliance with guidelines for increases in wages and prices.

By the beginning of 1972, with 2 million more people out of work than in 1969, the administration began to stimulate the economy. The budget sent to Congress in January provided for a $25.2 billion deficit. Government agencies accelerated their purchases from businesses. The Federal Reserve Board expanded the money supply by 9 percent in the election year, leading to charges (which Burns vehemently denied) that Nixon and Burns had made a deal to ensure Nixon's reelection and Burns's reap-pointment. By the autumn the economy seemed to be turning around. Inflation remained under control, unemployment was dropping, and the recession had ended. Later the American public would pay the price for these election-year arrangements. Inflationary forces could not long be suppressed by wage and price controls, and when they were lifted, the effects of increased deficits, an expanded money supply, and the rise in oil prices made themselves felt: inflation increased to 8.8 percent in 1973 and 12.2 percent in 1974, beginning a decade of exceptional price instability marked by increasing inflation rates through the end of the Carter presidency.

The Vietnam War

The priorities of the Nixon presidency lay not in domestic social or economic policieswhich were simply the means to the endbut in reelection through creation of a majority coalition. What really interested Nixon was statecraft, the application of American power and diplomatic influence to regional and global problems.

The key problem for his presidency clearly would be the Vietnam War. It had driven his predecessor from office, and if it were not resolved in a way that could be turned to political advantage, it would drive him from office as well. Two months after Nixon assumed the presidency, American combat deaths exceeded thirty-six hundred, and there seemed no end in sight. Nixon was in a dilemma, for during the campaign he had said that he had a "secret plan" to end the war but could not divulge it because it might upset the Paris peace negotiations. If his plan involved escalation, Democrats could charge that he was abandoning attempts to reach a peaceful solution and could point to mounting American casualties and prisoners of war. If he negotiated a solution that led to the fall of the government in Saigon, Democrats could charge that he had abandoned an ally. Nixon had to find a way to cut American commitments while preserving the non-Communist government in South Vietnamat least for a "decent interval" so that the overthrow of the regime could not be blamed on the United States.

Nixon, his national security adviser Henry Kissinger, and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird settled on an approach with several elements. First, the Laird policy for "Vietnamization" was adopted. Responsibility for fighting would be turned over to the Vietnamese, in order to reduce American casualties. Gradually American forces would be withdrawn. This would buy time on the home front. Second, a variant of the "madman" approach in international relations would be adopted. The administration would warn the North Vietnamese that unless they settled soon they would be subjected to carpet bombing of cities, mining of harbors, and even the spread of radioactive debris to halt infiltration of the South. Irrigation dikes would be destroyed and forests defoliated. Third, Nixon and Kissinger would apply the principle of "linkage" in dealing with the Soviet Union: the arms and trade agreements to be proposed to the Soviets (see below) would require a quid pro quoMoscow would have to pressure Hanoi to agree to a settlement.

The Vietnam policy failed. Nixon announced the withdrawal of a half million troops, and by May 1972 no American forces were on combat missions. By January 1973, only twenty-five thousand American troops remained in Vietnam. The level of fatalities and injuries dropped. But the combat effectiveness of the South Vietnamese did not improve. The invasion of Laos by South Vietnamese forces not only was ineffective but turned into a rout, leaving little doubt that they would be no match for the North Vietnamese.

The escalation of the air war also failed. In mid-March 1969 a secret bombing campaign against Cambodia began; it was kept secret from Congress and the American people for two years. The Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, which supplied the Communists in the south (Vietcong), was also bombed, and the number of targets in South Vietnam was increased. In the spring of 1970 bombing was renewed over North Vietnam (reversing a halt ordered by President Johnson in 1968) in the industrial complex between Hanoi and Haiphong.

Ground actions were also stepped up. Incursions into Laos doubled in 1969. South Vietnamese and American troops made incursions into Cambodia in April and May 1970 to clear out enemy units and headquarters in the "Parrot's Beak" salient, which was dangerously close to Saigon. The main effect of the intervention was to drive Cambodian Communist units to the west, into the heart of Cambodia, where together with their North Vietnamese allies they prepared for the overthrow of the existing pro-American regime. Not only was this policy unsuccessful militarily, but it triggered renewed antiwar protests at home. At a demonstration on 4 May at Kent State University, National Guardsmen killed four protesters. A huge antiwar demonstration was then held in Washington, D.C., between 6 and 9 May, at which Richard Nixon, in the middle of the night, visited the Lincoln Memorial to talk with some of the protesters about college football, campus life, and other trivialities, not reaching their concerns about the war and the direction of American foreign policy.

North Vietnam meanwhile had its own plans. It prepared for a general offensive in 1972, timed to put pressure on the Nixon administration to settle the war on Hanoi's terms prior to the presidential elections. In view of the failure of Vietnamization, neither the Soviet Union nor North Vietnam had any intention of giving to American negotiators in Paris what the South Vietnamese could not win on the battle-field. The linkage tactic would not work.

Nixon fared better in the home-front battle for public opinion. Although there were large antiwar demonstrations, including the November 1969 "March on Washington," the May 1970 Cambodia protests, and the April 1971 "Mobilization Against the War," there was rising support for Nixon's policies. Escalation of the bombing and the withdrawal of American combat forces resulted in a significant increase in presidential-approval ratings.

Peace negotiations dragged on throughout Nixon's first term. Even before entering office, Nixon had passed word to the South Vietnamese that he could probably get better peace terms for them than the Johnson administration. But in 1969 and 1970, each side rejected the other's eight-point peace plan. In November 1971 peace talks were suspended by Washington, and in 1972 each side in turn temporarily suspended its participation in the talks.

Talks resumed on 19 July 1972, and by the end of the summer two things had become clear to the negotiators: American escalation of the bombing could not induce the North Vietnamese to settle for terms that would require their withdrawal from the South, and no pressure from either the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China could induce the North Vietnamese to settle. But although the North Vietnamese had made major gains with their spring offensive, they had not achieved all their objectives, and they had been dislodged from several of the cities they had taken. Both sides, having played their hands, were now ready for a settlement.

Henry Kissinger and his North Vietnamese counterpart, Foreign Minister Le Duc Tho, reached an agreement on terms on 12 October 1972, and two weeks later Kissinger announced, "Peace is at hand." But when the South Vietnamese objected to the terms (chief of which involved a cease-fire in place, recognition of the territory controlled by each side, and preparation for a political settlement involving sharing of power), Nixon held up the agreement. Instead, he ordered massive bombing of North Vietnam after his reelection. The purpose seems to have been twofold: to convince the North Vietnamese that the United States would not allow the regime in Saigon to be overthrown and to convince the South Vietnamese that secret commitments (made in an exchange of letters between Nixon and President Nguyen Van Thieu) would be honored after American forces withdrew under terms of the proposed agreement. After more negotiations, an agreement was concluded on 27 January 1973, paving the way for an end to American participation in the war and an exchange of prisoners.

Nixon's commitments to Thieu could not be kept. Congress had imposed restrictions on presidential war-making powers in Southeast Asia, beginning in 1970 with the Cooper Amendment, which provided that no combat troops could be sent to Laos or Thailand, followed by the Cooper-Church Amendment (1970), which prohibited the reintroduction of ground forces into Cambodia, and culminating with passage of the Eagleton Amendment, which called for a halt in all American land, sea, and air military operations in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam after 15 August 1973. Any attempt by Nixon or his successors to use American armed forces to guarantee the survival of the Saigon regime would be illegal. Moreover, the War Powers Resolution, passed by Congress over Nixon's veto in 1973, required any American president to obtain congressional approval within sixty days for any military action; this presented yet another problem in shoring up the South Vietnamese government. The Nixon commitments to Thieu were therefore not honored by the Ford administration in 1975, which resulted in the reunification of North and South Vietnam under Communist rule.

The China Card

Vietnam was the great failure, and China the great success, of Nixon's diplomacy. He recognized the advantages that could accrue to the United States by exploiting the Sino-Soviet rift. Peking might put pressure on Hanoi to settle the Vietnam War, while American-Soviet relations might also be affected if Americans and Chinese achieved a détente. During his bid for the presidency Nixon argued, in an article published in the journal Foreign Affairs (October 1967), that "we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates, and threaten its neighbors. There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation." These comments were surprising, coming from a politician who had made a career of attacking as "soft on Communism" any American political leader who dared to suggest similar ideas.

Hostilities broke out in March 1969 between Soviet and Chinese troops along the Ussuri River, giving Nixon his chance to pursue a diplomatic opening. The first step, recommended by the National Security Council (NSC) and the State Department, was to lift travel and trade restrictions. Then, on visits to President Yahya Khan of Pakistan and General Secretary Nicolae Ceauşescu of Romania, Nixon hinted that he would like better relations with China. By 1970, Walter Stoessel, the American ambassador to Poland, was meeting with Chinese diplomats in Warsaw. In April 1971, signs of a thaw between the two powers became public knowledge, as an American table-tennis team was invited to play in China and was received by Premier Chou En-lai. Later a Chinese team was sent to the United States as part of this "Ping-Pong diplomacy." By the end of April the Chinese indicated privately they would receive a high-ranking emissary from Washington, and Nixon decided to send Henry Kissinger in secret to make arrangements for a summit meeting. On 2 August, Secretary of State Rogers said that the United States would withdraw its opposition to the seating of Communist China in the United Nations, which occurred in October 1971; but the United States resisted the expulsion of Taiwan unsuccessfully. During the summer Nixon announced that he would visit China early in 1972, and Kissinger was then sent to Beijing for another trip. Kissinger and Chou negotiated the outline of a statement dealing with the outstanding issues dividing the two nations.

Nixon's visit to China, which began 21 February 1972, was a field day for the news media. The Chinese permitted American television crews to set up modern studio and transmitting facilities. For ten days the world press followed Nixon as he spoke with Chinese leaders and toured the country. Meanwhile, Kissinger and Deputy Foreign Minister Chiao Kuan-hua continued work on the statement that was to be issued by the two sides at the conclusion of the visit.

The final document, known as the Shanghai Communiqué, summarized points on which the two nations could agree. One point was that there was only one China and that Taiwan was part of China. Another was that the Taiwan issue must be settled peacefully by the Chinese. A third was that the United States was committed to "the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan" in the context of a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue.

Each of these points contained some ambiguity. The communiqué did not mention which government, the Communist one on the mainland or the Nationalist one on Taiwan, was the legitimate government of "one China." Neither did it mention American treaty commitments to the government on Taiwan. It did not specify a timetable for withdrawal of American forces from Taiwan but only committed the United States to the objective of withdrawal and linked it to a peaceful settlement. Nevertheless, the agreement was the beginning of a new era in Sino-American relations. Trade, tourism and cultural contacts increased.

The new relationship did little to help American diplomacy in other matters. The Chinese were unwilling or unable to bring pressure to bear on Hanoi. The China opening may have convinced the Soviets to negotiate an arms agreement, but it is more likely that it convinced them that a plot to encircle them could be countered only by a massive military buildup. Soviet shifting of forces to the East did bring about an advantage to the allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for a brief time until the effects of the Soviet buildup in conventional arms were felt.

Détente with the Soviet Union

Extrication from Vietnam and the opening to China were two strategies of Nixon's statecraft designed to produce a more favorable balance of power in the East. In the West, a policy of political and military détente with the Soviet Union, coupled with expanded East-West trade, formed the cornerstone of Nixon's diplomacy.

Prior to entering the White House, Nixon had been identified with the hard-line anti-Communist politics of the Republican right because of his confrontations with Soviet leaders while vice president and his role in the Alger Hiss case. (Nixon, as a first-term member of Congress, had pursued an investigation of a former State Department employee, Alger Hiss, which had resulted in Hiss's conviction on a perjury charge.) But Nixon had been part of an administration in the 1950s that had negotiated an end to the war in Korea, participated in the accord that led to the withdrawal of Soviet occupation forces from Austria, held summits with Soviet leaders, and proposed major arms-limitation initiatives. Nixon had seen firsthand the political advantages of summit conferences in the Eisenhower administration, as well as observing the worldwide acclaim given to President Kennedy for negotiating the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. From the first days of his administration, the major goat of his diplomacy was to conclude an arms-limitation agreement with the Soviet Union, to be capped by a successful summit conference. The enticement was to be the prospect of increased trade; pressure was to come from the Soviet fear of a successful American opening to China.

The first moves toward détente were made by Chancellor Willy Brandt of West Germany. His Ostpolitik led to the Moscow Treaty of 1970, in which Bonn recognized the territorial adjustments of World War II and renounced German territorial claims in the East. By April 1971, Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, in a speech to the Communist Party Congress, signaled Soviet interest in an arms control agreement. Further negotiations by the West Germans culminated in a treaty between East and West Germany, signed in December 1972.

American arms negotiations with the Soviets were formally conducted in Helsinki, Finland, where Ambassador Gerard Smith, head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), led the American delegation. But the real negotiations were conducted between Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and chairman of the NSC's Verification Panel, and Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin. Kissinger, rather than the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was responsible for intelligence estimates and the reports reaching the president about Soviet capabilities and intentions in the arms race. These reports painted a grim picture of rapid Soviet escalation, which was not always shared by other agencies, particularly the State Department, the CIA, and the ACDA.

In May 1971, Kissinger and Dobrynin reached preliminary agreement. In the summer they agreed that a summit conference could take place in the spring of 1972. At the Moscow summit, Nixon and Kissinger conducted the crucial negotiations. No representatives from other agencies were allowed in the negotiating rooms, and even the translators were supplied by the Soviets, thus freezing out Secretary of State William P. Rogers, ACDA director Smith, and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird.

The first set of strategic arms limitation talks (SALT I) agreements, concluded in Moscow in 1972, limited the deployment of antiballistic missile (ABM) defenses to two sites, one of which would be the capital of each nation. This was advantageous for the United States, since the Soviets were considerably ahead in the development and deployment of ABM systems. An interim agreement, to last five years, placed a limit on the number of missiles (referred to as launchers) that each side could deploy. The United States was limited to 1,710 missile launchers, which at the time consisted of 1,054 land-based and 656 sea-based missiles. The Soviets were limited to 2,328 missile launchers; at the time the agreement went into effect, these included 1,607 land-based and 740 sea-based missiles.

The numerical disparity favoring the Soviets had several factors. American rockets were considered more accurate, and more of them were equipped (or soon would be equipped) with "multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles" (MIRVs), or war-heads that could be targeted with great accuracy on several different sites. The Soviets had bigger war-heads and more powerful rockets but were behind in accuracy and had not yet deployed the MIRV missiles they had been developing. The agreement left the United States with 3,500 war-heads and the Soviets with 2,350 warheads.

In several respects the agreement was not very advantageous to the United States. For one thing, it dealt with the quantity but not the quality of launchers or warheads. Each side could equip its missiles with MIRVs and improve their accuracy, a situation that would have a destabilizing effect as each side moved closer to a first-strike capability in the late 1970s. The agreement did provide that neither side would substitute heavy for light launchers (which would increase the payloads) but did not define terms. The Soviets deployed the SS-19, a heavy launcher, in silos designed for the SS-11, an action that led some commentators in America to charge that they were violating the agreement. These charges, in turn, would make it impossible for the Carter administration to secure Senate approval of the SALT II agreement.

The American side made several other concessions to obtain the agreement. Although the Soviets had 42 operational submarines for sea-launched missiles, of which a number were obsolete, the agreement set the number on the Soviet side at 48, which would allow them to finish construction of 6 additional vessels without violating the accord. Moreover, under one of the terms, the Soviets could build additional launchers, up to a maximum of 950 launchers for 62 submarines, provided they dismantled as many as 210 of their land launchers. The United States would be permitted to substitute sea launchers for its 54 obsolete Titan missiles. Kissinger, defending these terms, argued that unless an agreement had been reached, the Soviets would have constructed more than 80 submarines with as many as 600 additional missiles. Critics argued that this overstated Soviet capabilities and that the Soviets could not have built more submarines or sea-launched missiles than the agreement permitted, so in effect there was no real arms limitation for the Soviets in the accord.

Finally, the American side gave up its option to convert the obsolete Titans into 3 new submarines, in return for a Soviet agreement to count 30 missiles on their H-class submarines that had not until then been included in their ceilings. The Soviets also agreed to dismantle some of their obsolete ICBMs at the beginning of the agreement and wait until the end before taking advantage of their option to increase their total number of launchers to the ceilings permitted. During the life of the agreement, the Soviets modernized their forces, gained a much more effective sea-launching capability, and improved the accuracy of their MIRVs, but so did the United States. By the end of the first five years, the United States would have 9,000 warheads, and the Soviets, 4,000.

Along with the SALT I accords, Nixon and Kissinger negotiated a major grain deal (with financial credits) at the summit. The secrecy surrounding the negotiations enabled grain dealers to buy large amounts of grain early in the spring from American farmers at depressed prices and then reap windfall profits from their inventories when the Soviet Union entered the grain markets late in 1972. These purchases were followed by a rise in food prices, which in turn contributed to an increase in the cost of living. In the years following, however, American farmers benefited from rising grain prices and exports.

The Moscow summit also produced a memorandum on "Basic Principles of U.S.-Soviet Relations." The two governments agreed to work for the peaceful resolution of disputes and the reduction of tensions in various areas. There is little evidence that either side paid much attention to them when formulating its approach to regional conflicts. The Soviet resupply of Egypt and Syria during the Mideast war of 1973, the American nuclear alert and resupply of Israel, and successful attempts to freeze out the Soviets from Mideast peace negotiations indicate the limited utility of détente in dealing with regional crises.

The final product of détente was the agreement to hold a conference on European security the following year at Helsinki. Two years of talks there eventually resulted in various agreements between the Warsaw Pact and NATO groupings, most of which would ratify the status quo in Europe. But it also produced the accords on human rights, which the Soviets may have intended as a sop to the West but which became a standard by which public opinion judged repressive regimes all over the world.

The Nixon statecraft had a profound effect on the American military establishment. Withdrawal from the Vietnam quagmire would provide the opportunity to modernize the forces, upgrade the caliber of the men and women serving, and reorient the military toward new missions. The administration went ahead with a new generation of strategic submarines (the Trident program) and increased funding for strategic forces by 15 percent the year after SALT I was concluded. But it also reduced the size of the armed forces from 3.5 million to 2.3 million, withdrew units from several Asian nations, cut the army from nineteen to thirteen divisions and the marines from four to three divisions, ended the draft, and reduced the number of ships in the navy and wings in the air force. The military was ordered to prepare for one major war and one minor war, rather than for two major wars and one minor war, as in the Kennedy and Johnson years.

Prerogatives and Power

Having won a deviating election without the support of an electoral majority and confronted with a Congress controlled by the opposition party, Nixon could not rely on either party leadership or public consensus and support to control domestic and foreign policymaking. He was fairly popular, by historical standards, during his first term and had a surge of popularity in the last year, based on the improved performance of the economy, the reduced role of American forces in Vietnam, the China summit, and the Moscow summit. Even so, his reelection produced a dramatic personal victory in the context of a failure to make gains against the Democratic party in Congress and the states. Nixon's personal political successes, therefore, would not, and probably could not, be translated into domination of Congress. He would have to control the reins of government almost solely by using his constitutional prerogatives and his own often peculiar interpretation of his responsibilities under the laws of the land.

At times Nixon simply ignored laws. The Federal Comparability Act, for example, required the president to submit a plan for a pay increase for government employees. Nixon refused to submit a plan to Congress during his wage freeze, an act ruled illegal by a federal court of appeals in National Treasury Employees Union v. Nixon (1974). A law passed in 1972 required the administration to submit the texts of executive agreements negotiated with foreign governments to Congress within sixty days. The law was sometimes circumvented by negotiating at a lower diplomatic level and calling the results "arrangements." Sometimes agreements would be submitted well after the sixty-day deadline. By law, domestic wiretapping requires a judicial warrant, a procedure explicitly upheld by the Supreme Court in United States v. United States District Court in 1972. The Nixon administration violated the law, which led to federal court decisions that Nixon and other officials were liable for damages in the illegal wiretapping of a National Security Council staff member, in Halperin v. Kissinger (1976).

Nixon tried to control the bureaucracy with several unconstitutional or illegal ploys. He appointed Howard Phillips as acting director of the OEO, bypassing Senate confirmation, later ruled illegal in Williams v. Phillips (1973). Phillips issued orders to dismantle the entire agency, based on Nixon's budget requests for the next fiscal year, which provided no funds for OEO. The orders disregarded legislation providing for the continuation of OEO and assumed that a presidential budget request to Congress should take precedence over laws and appropriations. A federal district court ruled these orders illegal in Local 2677, American Federation of Government Employees v. Phillips (1973).

The Nixon administration impounded funds appropriated for various agencies by Congress, either by delaying outlays or else by rescinding an agency's authority entirely. This power was used as a form of "item veto" to eliminate programs. By 1973, impoundments totaled $18 billion and were justified by Nixon as part of his program of economic stabilization. The problem for the administration was that it did not have any legal authority to make such drastic impoundments. Eventually most of them were ruled illegal by federal district courts and by the Supreme Court in Train v. New York (1974).

Nixon also refused to fill some offices provided for by law. He sent no nominations to the Senate for the National Advisory Council on Indian Education or for deputy commissioner of Indian education, in an attempt to destroy a program legislated by Congress. Eventually a federal court ordered him to fill the positions and implement the program.

Like other presidents facing hostile congressional majorities, Nixon made free use of the veto threat to force compromises on pending bills. As a result, he was only a little less successful in dealing with Congress, as measured by legislative support for his own initiatives or passage of measures favored by the White House, than were his immediate predecessors. Nixon submitted fewer measures than Kennedy or Johnson, and his successes are best measured not by passage of what he proposed but rather by his ability to block or modify initiatives he opposed. Nixon vetoed twenty-four measures and was overridden only five times, employing these powers more often, but with less success, than his Democratic predecessors.

Nixon also made greater use of the pocket veto. This allows a president to kill a bill sent to him by Congress within ten days of its adjournment, by refusing to sign it or return it. Unlike a regular veto, a pocket veto is final; the bill is not returned to Congress and cannot be passed into law by a two-thirds vote of each chamber. Nixon used the pocket veto sixteen times. He used it during routine short adjournments of Congress when it went on vacation, rather than at the end of a session, as originally intended by the Constitution. His veto of the family practice of medicine bill during a short Christmas break led to a district court decision that overturned the misuse of the pocket veto in Kennedy v. Sampson (1973). Subsequent presidents have agreed that the pocket veto will be used only at the end of the second session of Congress, though President George Bush briefly revived Nixon's expansive approach.

The Backlash Against Nixon's Prerogatives

Nixon's actions inevitably provoked a strong response. First the federal courts forced Nixon to comply with the Constitution and the laws. Then Congress had its turn. The Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974 set new terms for presidential impoundments. The president would have to propose deferrals, which would go into effect unless either house, by simple resolution, disapproved of his plan, in which case the funds would be spent. Rescissions would be submitted by the president in the form of a legislative measure, which would have to be approved by both houses and signed into law before going into effect.

Congress expanded its use of the legislative veto, a mechanism that permits Congress, by simple resolution of one house or concurrent resolution of both houses, to block an action taken, or proposed to be taken, by the president or some other administration official. Laws may even provide that a committee majority, committee chair, or designated employee of Congress can exercise such a veto over the actions of an official of the executive branch. Legislative vetoes were rarely inserted into laws prior to the Nixon administration. Most involved minor matters; housekeeping items; or matters that Congress did not wish to control, such as reorganization of the bureaucracy, pay for federal employees, or certain tariff decisions.

During the Nixon years Congress more than doubled the number of legislative vetoes. It applied them to important issues: arms sales, transfers of nuclear technology, deferrals of appropriated funds. The most significant provision involved the War Powers Act of 1973. Passed over Nixon's veto, it provided that the president could use the armed forces only pursuant to a declaration of war or other congressional authorization, to repel an attack on the United States, its possessions, or its armed forces. If the president sent troops into hostilities or into a situation in which hostilities were imminent, he was obliged to report this fact to Congress within forty-eight hours.

The key provision of the act was legislative veto over the presidential direction of the armed forces. Once the president issued his first report, he would have sixty days in which to use the military. At the end of that time, unless Congress had authorized continued use of the armed forces, the president would have thirty days to complete their withdrawal. (If continuation were authorized, he would subsequently report on the use of the armed forces every six months while they were engaged in hostilities.) At any time after the first report was issued, Congress could, by concurrent resolution (not subject to presidential veto), direct that the forces be withdrawn in thirty days.

The legislative veto provision could force the president to withdraw at any time. Unless Congress affirmatively gave its approval, the sixty-day provision would automatically require the president to effect a withdrawal. A president sending troops into hostilities would not only have to avoid the legislative veto at the outset; he also would have to win congressional support within sixty days to pursue his goals.

Nixon denounced the law as an unconstitutional infringement on his powers as commander in chief, a position reaffirmed by all of his successors. Subsequently Ford and Carter acted in ways that minimized the effect of the act. In 1983 the Supreme Court, in Chadha v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, declared the legislative veto to be a violation of the principle of the separation of powers. Thus, a decade after Nixon left the White House, a Supreme Court dominated by his appointees managed to eliminate many of the checks that had been placed on presidential prerogatives.

Dirty Tricks

Reasonable people might agree or disagree with Nixon's domestic and foreign policies, and in most respects these policies were pragmatic and reasoned responses to the problems facing the nation. The expansive interpretation of constitutional prerogatives was not without precedent either; great presidentsWashington, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Trumanhad also expanded their powers and minimized legislative authority. Such constitutional trench warfare was part of the political game and could be refereed by the courts and the voters.

But the Nixon presidency had a darker side, a cancer eating away at its legitimacy and the bonds of trust and faith between rulers and ruled. Nixon did not play politics; he practiced war.

What President Ford later referred to as "our long national nightmare" was not a few isolated incidents relating to the 1972 reelection campaign. Rather it was an integral part of the White House political operation from the very first days of Nixon's presidency. The White House in 1969 compiled an "enemies list" containing the names of two hundred people it viewed as political opponents, including politicians, actors, university presidents, and other well-known figures. There was a "shortlist" targeted for immediate political retribution. Background investigations were conducted by White House operatives to find "dirt" that could be leaked to newspapers. Targets of these investigations included Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Democratic Speaker of the House Carl Albert. At a meeting of White House staffers on 7 September 1972, Nixon went so far as to order one or two "spies" to be included in the Secret Service detail assigned to Edward Kennedy, believing that if they got lucky and could catch him with a woman companion, it would "ruin him for '76." (There is no evidence that the order was ever carried out.)

The White House used government agencies to harass its opponents. The special services staff of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was ordered to conduct audits of organizations opposed to Nixon's policies, and did so until the practice was discontinued by Treasury Secretary George Shultz. The CIA's Special Operations Group conducted "Operation Chaos," which involved spying on New Left and black militant organizations. The Secret Service files on persons who are threats to the president ordinarily include deranged people who threaten the president's life, but during the Nixon administration the files ballooned to forty-seven thousand names, including political opponents. On 28 May 1971, Nixon ordered chief of staff H. R. Haldeman to use wiretaps against leading Democrats, including Kennedy, Edmund S. Muskie, and Hubert Humphrey. "Keep after 'em," he told Haldeman. "Maybe we can get a scandal on any, any of the leading Democrats."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), acting on presidential orders, wiretapped people without obtaining judicial warrants, including people in sensitive government positions. Kissinger himself ordered taps placed on staffers he thought were leaking classified information to the press. Then other officials ordered taps on each other, as factions within the White House attempted to discredit others. Attorney General John Mitchell had the FBI tap John Sears, his competitor as campaign adviser to the president. Alexander Haig ordered a tap on speechwriter William Safire. The Joint Chiefs of Staff used a navy ensign assigned to the NSC's communications section to spy on Henry Kissinger, who had his own tap on a defense department official close to Secretary of Defense Laird. Taps placed on Morton Halperin and Anthony Lake were used to gather information on the Muskie candidacy, since these former NSC officials were advisers to his campaign. Altogether seventeen FBI taps on government officials or newsmen were uncovered: seven on NSC staffers, three on White House aides, one on a Defense Department official, two on State Department officials, and four on newsmen.

The White House Special Investigations Unit, directed by Egil Krogh and David Young, hired a group of "Plumbers" to conduct special assignments. Howard Hunt, one of their operatives, conducted an investigation of Edward Kennedy, hoping to obtain damaging information about the accident at Chap-paquiddick in which Kennedy drove his car off a bridge and a young female passenger drowned. Hunt also forged State Department cables to make it appear that President Kennedy had been directly involved in the assassination of President Diem of South Vietnam in 1963, and attempted to peddle them to Life magazine.

Hunt also organized an operation, ordered by John Ehrlichman, a presidential aide, to obtain damaging information on Daniel Ellsberg, a critic of the Vietnam War. In June 1971, Ellsberg had given the New York Times copies of a history of the Vietnam War that had been commissioned by the Pentagon. The "Pentagon Papers" related to the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson years, but Kissinger persuaded Nixon that the credibility of American statecraft was at stake; other nations would not trust the United States to keep its secrets or protect its allies. He argued that publication of the papers must be stopped. The government won a temporary injunction in federal district court against the Times, barring further publicationthe first time such an order had been issued in American historybut other papers then printed their copies. The ban was lifted and in the Pentagon Papers case the Supreme Court rejected the use of a preliminary injunction as a violation of the First Amendment.

Ellsberg was targeted for retribution. The Plumb-ers believed, on the basis of a wiretap of his conversations with Morton Halperin, that Ellsberg used drugs and had an unorthodox sex life. They then burglarized the offices of his psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, to obtain confidential transcripts or notes of their conversations. Ehrlichman decided that no more of these operations would be conducted, and shortly thereafter the Plumbers unit was disbanded, although other operations continued.

The Resignation of Vice President Agnew

A scandal was brewing in the summer of 1973, involving Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. The United States Attorney's Office in Baltimore, Maryland, was investigating allegations that Agnew, while Baltimore County executive in 1966, had solicited payoffs from contractors doing county business and that as governor of Maryland and later as vice president he had accepted kickbacks from engineers whose firms had received state contracts, even accepting several $2,000 payments in the Executive Office Building next to the White House.

On 31 July, Agnew's lawyers were handed a letter written by George Beall, United States attorney for Baltimore, informing him that he was under investigation for conspiracy, extortion, and bribery. At a meeting with Attorney General Elliot Richardson, Agnew denied all the charges, and on 6 August, as the story broke in the newspapers, he released a statement saying, "I am innocent of any wrongdoing."

Although Nixon called Agnew into the Oval Office and assured him of his support, the White House chief of staff, Alexander Haig, immediately dropped over to Agnew's office after that conference and suggested to the vice president that if he were indicted he should consider how it would affect his performance as vice presidenta not so subtle hint to consider resignation. The White House defended Agnew's conduct as vice president but made no mention of what he might have done in Maryland, a significant omission. Meanwhile, Richardson and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen pressed the case, while the Baltimore prosecutors found a key witnessthe person who had taken the bribes and stored them for Agnewwilling to talk. Nixon backed Richardson and Petersen and kept his distance from Agnew. He refused to allow Agnew's lawyers to work with his own to plan a joint strategy involving presidential claims of executive privilege. His statements of support for Agnew were unenthusiastic.

In September, Agnew began to plea-bargain with the prosecutors, but negotiations dragged on for more than a month as he sought a deal that would not involve any admission on his part of wrongdoing. He tried desperately to get out of the corner: he made an issue of leaks to the press by the prosecutors; he had a 20 September meeting with Nixon, trying to get the president to put pressure on Richardson to agree to a compromise; he asked the House to impeach him so that Congress could conduct an investigation, believing that the courts would have to stand aside while an impeachment inquiry was taking place. But all these maneuvers failed. White House aides refused to pressure Richardson, and the Democratic majority in the House refused to impeach Agnew until judicial proceedings had run their course.

The delay was not to Agnew's advantage. He antagonized Nixon by attacking the Justice Department. His standing in the polls was dropping, a sure sign that he was a political liability. An exhaustive investigation of his finances was completed by the Internal Revenue Service, and the prosecutors now had details about his personal life that conceivably could prove embarrassing if they were revealed. Between 5 and 9 October, Agnew's lawyers and justice department lawyers cut a deal, which on 8 October was agreed to by a federal judge.

Part of the bargain involved Agnew's resignation from office. On 9 October he composed a letter to President Nixon and a formal letter of resignation and took both to the president personally. The resignation was effective the following day at 2:00 p.m., just as the former vice president entered the federal courtroom to plead nolo contendere to the charges, which the judge immediately explained was the technical equivalent of a guilty plea. Then Attorney General Richardson read a lengthy statement into the record outlining the government's evidence against Agnew, which concluded with a plea for leniency (part of the bargain worked out the day before). The judge thereupon decided not to sentence Agnew to jail, pending good behavior for the next three years. He did fine Agnew $10,000 for income tax evasion.

With Agnew out of the way, the president nominated the House minority leader, Gerald Ford, to be vice president, a decision received by Congress with great enthusiasm and strong bipartisan support. With the resignation and succession crises resolved, attention once again turned to the long-simmering Watergate crisis.


On 17 June 1972 five burglars were arrested in the Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate apartment and office complex in Washington.

The burglary was the culmination of a series of political dirty tricks that had commenced in the fall of 1971. The White House arranged for operatives to disrupt the primary campaigns of presidential hopefuls Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine and Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. They stole documents, planted false news stories, sent out forged letters on campaign stationery, and spied on campaign headquarters. These activities were approved by Attorney General John Mitchell, chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, and presidential counsel John Dean.

Mitchell and Dean also approved a plan drafted by one of the Plumbers, G. Gordon Liddy, for an operation to break into, and wiretap, the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Liddy was given $83,000 in cash from the Committee for the ReElection of the President (CREEP) for the operation. On Memorial Day weekend, a group broke into the Watergate to search for information and plant the wiretaps. A second break-in, on 17 June, to replace a faulty tap, ended with the arrest of the five burglars who had been hired for the job.

By 20 June, Nixon had been informed of the ties between the arrested burglars and the White House and discussed the matter with Mitchell and Haldeman. On 23 June, Mitchell and Dean recommended to Haldeman, who then recommended to Nixon, that the CIA be used to obstruct the investigation of the burglary by the FBI. Nixon agreed that the CIA should let the FBI know that the investigation involved a national security matter. The president had become implicated in a cover-up and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The CIA refused to carry out the presidential directive, and the FBI investigation moved forward.

The White House then used campaign donations to buy the silence of the arrested burglars, as well as the organizers of the operation, Liddy and Hunt, both of whom had been arrested by the FBI. White House aides perjured themselves in the initial phases of the investigation by arguing that Hunt and Liddy had been hired by CREEP only to provide physical security for the Nixon campaign. Mitchell and his deputy, Jeb Stuart Magruder, lied to a federal grand jury, which then limited its indictments to the burglars Liddy and Hunt without making any further connection to the White House. The incident was

contained through the election, which Nixon won in a landslide, gaining 60.7 percent of the popular vote and 520 of 538 electoral votes.

Early in 1973 the dam broke. In January the seven Watergate defendants went on trial. Federal Judge John Sirica postponed sentencing after they were found guilty. Prosecutors urged them to tell the truth before sentencing. During the next two months, stories of illegal campaign contributions surfaced, as well as indications of dirty tricks by various government agencies. On 23 March, Nixon met with Dean to discuss continued payoffs to the burglars. Soon thereafter Dean decided to disclose White House involvement to Justice Department prosecutors.

Nixon then fired Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Dean, and Mitchell (formally accepting their resignations) and claimed that he had known nothing of the initial crimes or their cover-up, although he would take "full responsibility" for Watergate. His new attorney general, Elliot Richardson, was given authority to appoint a special prosecutor. In March he selected Archibald Cox, a Harvard law professor, to head the investigation, and issued guidelines promising the prosecutor full autonomy in pursuing the case.

In May the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (known as the Ervin Committee after its chair, Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina) began its nationally televised hearings. Between 25 and 29 June, John Dean testified, claiming that the president had been involved in the Watergate cover-up. But his testimony could not be corroborated, and it was conceivable that he was merely trying to save himself. Then, in July, Alexander Butterfield, a former White House assistant, revealed that the president had used a taping system to record all conversations in the Oval Office. Dean's charges could thus be proved or disproved.

From that point on, the key issue was access to the tapes. President Nixon refused to release them to the Ervin Committee, the special prosecutor, or the press, claiming "executive privilege," the right to maintain the confidentiality of presidential conversations. The Ervin Committee lost a federal court case seeking access to the tapes. The special prosecutor, acting on behalf of the federal grand jury investigating Watergate crimes, also sought access to the tapes and rejected a compromise whereby Nixon would provide only a summary transcript. When Cox rejected this compromise, Nixon ordered Attorney General Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. The same order was issued to Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who was fired when he refused to obey it. Finally, Solicitor General Robert Bork was named acting attorney general, and on 20 October he carried out Nixon's order and fired Cox. The firing was subsequently ruled an illegal violation of Justice Department procedures by a federal district court in Nader v. Bork (1973). These resignations and firings, known in the press as the Saturday Night Massacre, led to the first calls, in the media and in Congress, for the impeachment inquiry.

Attempting to salvage his position, Nixon was forced to agree to the appointment of another special prosecutor and to an agreement concluded with congressional leaders that he would not fire the prosecutor without their concurrence. Leon Jaworski, a distinguished Texas attorney and former president of the American Bar Association, was chosen. By March 1974, former Attorney General John Mitchell and seven former White House aides, including Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean, had been indicted on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The president was also named an unindicted coconspirator, although this was kept secret in the hope that he would agree to give up the tapes.

In April the special prosecutor and the House Judiciary Committee, which was beginning an impeachment inquiry, issued subpoenas for the White House tapes. Nixon, on national television, announced that he would release transcripts of most, but not all, of the tapes requested. The transcripts provided damning evidence of the cover-up activities in the White House, but there was still no direct evidence that Nixon himself either ordered the Watergate crimes or attempted to obstruct the investigationthe "smoking gun" that Republican defenders of the president on the Judiciary Committee demanded to see. In district court Judge Sirica upheld Jaworski's subpoena. The president refused to comply, and the special prosecutor then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The final act in the Watergate drama had two scenes, one played before the Supreme Court and the other played on the nation's television screens as the members of the House Judiciary Committee considered the issue of impeachment. A Democratic-controlled committee would be "trying" a Republican president at the bar of public opinion. Its actions must not be, or seem to be, partisan or vindictive. Yet it had no conclusive evidence that Nixon had committed or conspired in criminal activities. The fact that his aides had done so would provide shaky grounds for impeachment.

The Constitution provides that a president is to be impeached for committing "high crimes and misdemeanors" but does not define these offenses. During the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868, Democrats argued that the offense must be an indictable crime; Republicans broadened the definition to include abuse of power and failure to execute the laws and the Constitution. But in 1974, Republicans, including the president, opted for the narrow definition, while Democrats argued that the broader definition would be correct.

The Judiciary Committee, denied access to the tapes by Nixon, could not prove that he had committed an indictable crime, although it did have tapes in which Nixon and Dean had discussed the possibility of bribing the burglars to ensure their silence. Beginning 9 May 1974, the committee heard testimony behind closed doors for eleven weeks, during which Chairman Peter Rodino of New Jersey and staff director John Doar presented the members of the committee with a pattern of misuse of presidential power. Most members were prepared to recommend the impeachment of Nixon for abuse of power, but a group of diehard Republicans still demanded evidence of indictable crimes. In late July the committee held televised hearings so that its members could explain their reasoning to the public.

On 27 July 1974, the Judiciary Committee voted to approve the first article of impeachment, which centered on the burglary and cover-up. On 29 July it approved a second article condemning the abuse of power that involved sensitive government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, and CIA. The next day a final article, condemning Nixon for failure to comply with a subpoena to give evidence to the committee, was also approved. The next step would be for the committee to report its findings to the full House.

Meanwhile, at the Supreme Court, Special Prosecutor Jaworski had pleaded for access to the sixty-four tapes withheld by Nixon on the grounds of executive privilege. On 24 July, in a unanimous decision, the Court held, in United States v. Nixon, that executive privilege was something to be defined by the courts, not the president. In the absence of a valid claim of national security, executive privilege could not be used to withhold evidence from a grand jury about possible criminal actions. Nixon would be forced to turn over the tapes. On 5 August (after the House Committee had voted to recommend three articles of impeachment), he released the tapes to Jaworski. These contained the conversation of 23 June 1972, in which Nixon had discussed the plan to use the CIA to head off the FBI's investigation of the burglary.

It was now clear to the nation that Nixon had known about the burglary's connection to the White House and had attempted to use federal agencies to obstruct justice in a criminal matter. Nixon had violated the law and committed an indictable offense. The smoking gun had finally been found. Nixon now had only two options: he could fight a losing battle against an impeachment vote in the House and drag the nation through a trial in the Senate, or he could resign. After consulting with his closest aides and Senate Republican leaders, he chose to resign. On 8 September his successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned Nixon for all crimes he may have committed during his term of office, blocking any subsequent inquiry into his conduct in the Watergate affair, but Nixon did have to pay back taxes of $467,000 for taking improper deductions on his income tax returns.

The Nixon Legacy

On the morning of his resignation, as Nixon spoke to White House staffers and cabinet secretaries in the East Room of the White House, he cautioned those assembled about giving in to a hatred for those opponents who had brought him down. "Always remember," he admonished, "others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself." Nixon learned that lesson only after he had destroyed his own presidency. But his observation about hatred is important to remember when attempting an objective and fair assessment of the Nixon years.

His immediate place in history, of course, reflected the feelings of the Watergate era. He resigned office with the lowest public approval rates of any president since polls had begun to be taken. In all the surveys of historians, presidential scholars, and the public since, his administration has ranked at or near the bottom, down with Harding, Grant, Andrew Johnson, and Buchanan.

Nixon pursued innovative policies. Yet an opening to China and détente with the Soviets would certainly have been proposed by other presidentspossibly earlier than the 1970sif Nixon and the political forces he represented had not fought these initiatives so strongly in prior decades. His constitutional confrontations with Congress were counterproductive and unnecessary, and his assertions of power were checked by the courts. Congress later placed new restrictions on many presidential prerogatives, and the little gain Nixon made in controlling policy was more than offset by new restrictions on authority delegated to the executive branch by Congress. In the aftermath of Nixon's administration, President Ford referred to the "imperial presidency" of the Nixon years as having been transformed into the "imperiled presidency" of the post-Watergate era. Reports both of the swollen powers of the presidency and of its sudden shrinkage were greatly exaggerated. Viewed from the present perspective, it is difficult to conclude that the disruptions of the Nixon years caused permanent damage to the presidency.

The real legacy of the Nixon administration was the introduction of a paranoid style of politics that viewed the struggle for power as a form of warfare against enemies. It countenanced the use of dirty tactics on a scale and magnitude not previously accepted (if one excludes the excesses of local party organizations), especially since these operations were run directly out of the White House and involved the domestic and national security agencies.

The public revelations about Watergate contributed to the steep decline of public confidence in political institutions. Subsequent presidents entered office with lower rates of public approval, suffered steeper declines, and bottomed out at levels approaching Nixon's lows.

The Nixon administration opened the "gates": Lancegate, involving President Carter's OMB director; Koreagate, involving the bribery of members of Congress; Debategate, dealing with the transfer of Carter White House documents to the Reagan camp prior to the national debates between the two presidential contenders in 1980; and Contragate, dealing with an illegal diversion of funds from an arms sale to Iran, in order to aid the Nicaraguan Contras in 1986. In each case the Washington press corps treated the scandal as another Watergate; in each case a beleaguered administration handled matters ineptly, attempting to minimize the issue and contain it. In each incident new revelations and leaks whetted the appetite of the press for more, until eventually heads rolled and reputations were ruined. With each event, confidence in presidents and their aides diminished, and the impression grew that "they all do it." The presentation of scandal and corruptionwhether serious or frivoloushad become a major media industry.

A jaded Washington community might even be prepared for a resurrection of the Nixon presidency. A revisionist interpretation would focus on Nixon's policies and applaud his constitutional struggles with Congress, seeing them as a prescient understanding of how obsolete the American system of separated institutions checking and balancing each other had become. It would minimize the dirty tricks, placing them in the context of abuses committed by other presidents. It would see Nixon as a tragic figure, too preoccupied by matters of state to pay attention to the well-meaning transgressions of his aides and too loyal to them to protect his own presidency. His would be the sin of loyalty to his men. In short, it would follow the general lines of Nixon's own subsequent defense of his conduct. But it would be wrong.

After his resignation Nixon attempted to restore his reputation as a statesman. From his home in Park Ridge, New Jersey, he wrote his memoirs and six more books, most of them best-sellers, including several volumes on foreign affairs. Of these, the most influential were Real Peace (1983), which focused on relations with the Soviet Union and defended his own approach to détente, and In the Arena (1991), which summed up the meaning of his life in politics and lauded those who entered the arena to struggle for their beliefs rather than those who stayed on the sidelines or shied from conflict. He was treated respectfully and even admiringly as an elder statesman on his visits to the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and more than a score of other nations.

Nixon's friends raised $21 million to build the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace at Yorba Linda, California, with Nixon himself contributing $2 million. The library, built entirely with private funds, contains exhibits about the Nixon presidency, but the Nixon papers themselves are kept by the National Archives in its own warehouse. The former president sued to keep 150,000 pages of papers away from presidential scholars.

Nixon suffered a massive stroke in April 1994 and was taken to New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. According to his living will, he asked for no extraordinary life support measures. He died at 9:08 p.m., 22 April 1994. In a televised ceremony attended by dignitaries and notables from all over the world, President Bill Clinton expressed the sentiments of much of the nation, particularly editorialists and columnists from the media that Nixon had always despised, when he chose to dwell on Nixon's great positive accomplishments rather than focusing on his unprecedented constitutional crimes.


Useful general biographies include Stephen E. Ambrose, Nixon, 3 vols. (New York, 19871991); Roger Morris, Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician (New York, 1990); and Herbert S. Parmet, Richard Nixon and His America (Boston, 1990). Irwin F. Gellman, The Contender: Richard Nixon, the Congress Years, 19461952 (New York, 1999), offers an exhaustive account of Nixon's years in the legislature and his controversial election campaigns. Richard M. Nixon, R. N.: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, 2 vols. (New York, 1978), is a sketchy, ambiguous, and incomplete defense of the Nixon presidency; and Leaders (New York, 1982), Nixon's reflections on conversations with world leaders such as Churchill and de Gaulle, gives some indication of his own style of leadership.

William Safire, Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House (Garden City, N.Y., 1975), discusses Nixon's foreign and domestic policies from the vantage point of a key speechwriter. John Ehrlichman, Witness to Power: The Nixon Years (New York, 1982), a gossipy account of the personalities in the Nixon White House, gives a good sense of the level of intellect of Nixon's key aides, as does H. R. Haldeman, with Joseph DiMona, The Ends of Power (New York, 1978). The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House, (New York, 1994), also available on CD-ROM, provides a day-by-day account of White House operations. Allen J. Matusow, Nixon's Economy: Booms, Busts, Dollars, and Votes (Lawrence, Kans., 1998), discusses the economic policies of the administration and links them to the 1972 election cycle.

Henry Kissinger, The White House Years (Boston, 1979) and Years of Upheaval (Boston, 1982), give by far the best analysis of Nixon's statecraft, although they also constitute a defense of Kissinger's performance as a presidential assistant. Seymour M. Hersh, The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House (New York, 1983), is an almost point-by-point refutation of Nixon's and Kissinger's memoirs based on interviews with hundreds of Nixon administration officials, designed to show the political and personal considerations that went into their foreign policy decisions. Larry Berman, No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam (New York, 2001), describes the ultimate consequences of Nixon's policies in Vietnam. William P. Bundy, a former Johnson administration official, offers his assessment of Nixon's foreign policy legacy in A Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Administration (New York, 1998).

J. Anthony Lukas, Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years (New York, 1976), exposes the dirty tricks of the Nixon presidency. Elizabeth Drew, Washington Journal: The Events of 19731974 (New York, 1975), is the most perceptive and readable of the Watergate narratives. The Presidential Transcripts (New York, 1974), transcripts of edited tapes released by the Nixon White House on 30 April 1974, provide conversations between Nixon and his key White House aides, as well as commentary putting them in perspective by the staff of the Washington Post. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Imperial Presidency (Boston, 1973), attempts to place the Nixon and Johnson presidencies in the context of an emerging imperial presidency. Stanley Kutler, ed., Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes (New York, 1997) provides transcripts of Nixon's White House tapes.

James L. Sundquist, The Decline and Resurgence of Congress (Washington, D.C., 1981), is a study of presidential-congressional conflict during the Nixon administration and how many of these conflicts were resolved in succeeding administrations. Eleanora W. Schoenebaum, ed., Profiles of an Era: The Nixon-Ford Years (New York, 1979), is a reference work containing 450 biographies of key figures in the Nixon administration. See also Gerald S. Strober and Deborah H. Strober, Nixon: An Oral History of His Presidency (New York, 1994). Another useful effort to put Nixon in the context of political science theories of presidential power is contained in Michael A. Genovese, The Nixon Presidency: Power and Politics in Turbulent Times (New York, 1990).

Recent works include Richard Reeves, President Nixon: Alone in the White House (New York, 2001), which draws on extensive archival research and interviews to produce a complex portrait of the complex president. Monica Crowley, Nixon Off the Record (New York, 1996) and Nixon in Winter (New York, 1998), provide a unique trove of Nixon's thoughts on a wide variety of political and personal subjects, written by a foreign policy research assistant of his during his final years. See also Anthony Summers, with Robbyn Swan, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon (New York, 2000).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nixon, Richard M.." Presidents: A Reference History. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Nixon, Richard M.." Presidents: A Reference History. . (December 10, 2017).

"Nixon, Richard M.." Presidents: A Reference History. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Richard Milhous Nixon

Richard Milhous Nixon

Although Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994) successfully served as a member of the House of Representatives and of the Senate and was vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, the thirty-seventh president of the United States will probably best be remembered as being the first president who resigned from office.

Richard Nixon was born on his father's lemon farm in Yorba Linda, California, on January 9, 1913. Of the four other sons in the family, two died in childhood. Nixon's ancestors had emigrated from Ireland in the 18th century and settled principally in Pennsylvania and Indiana. His mother's family were Quakers; his Methodist father adopted the Quaker religion after his marriage. As a youth, Nixon regularly attended Quaker services in Whittier, California, where the family moved in 1922 after the farm failed. Nixon's father ran a grocery store in Whittier. Some biographers have noted that Nixon's father was known to kick his sons and that his mother was manipulative. Nixon had a troubled childhood and adopted elements of both his parents' personalities. Some historians have believed that as a result of his childhood, Nixon had a drive to succeed and felt he had to pretend to be "good" while using any tactics necessary to acheive his goals.

At Whittier College, a Quaker institution, Nixon excelled as a student and debater. He was president of his freshman class and, as a senior, president of the student body. Less successful on the football team, he persevered and played doggedly in occasional games. Graduating second in his class in 1934, he won a scholarship to Duke University Law School on the recommendation of Whittier's president, who wrote, "I believe Nixon will become one of America's important, if not great leaders." Nixon maintained his scholarship throughout law school. Though he was a member of the national scholastic law fraternity, he failed to land a job in one of the big New York law firms. This failure, along with the views of his father, left him with a stong dislike of the "eastern establishment."

In Whittier, Nixon joined the law firm of Kroop and Bewley, which within a year became Kroop, Bewley, and Nixon. Active in a variety of business and civic ventures, at the age of 26 he was elected a member of the Whittier College Board of Trustees. Soon after returning to Whittier, Nixon met Thelma Catherine Patricia (Pat) Ryan, a high school teacher. The two were married in 1940; they had two daughters, Patricia and Julie.

Early Public Service

Shortly before the United States entered World War II, Nixon began working for the Federal government in the Office of Emergency Management, the forerunner of the Office of Price Administration (OPA). His legal work there as a price regulator strongly influenced his political philosophy. "I came out of college more liberal than I am today, more liberal in the sense that I thought it was possible for government to do more than I later found it was practical to do," Nixon later told Earl Mazo, his biographer. "I also saw the mediocrity of so many civil servants. And for the first time when I was in OPA I also saw that there were people in government who were not satisfied merely with interpreting regulations, enforcing the law that Congress passed, but who actually had a passion to get business and used their government jobs to that end. These were of course some of the remnants of the old, violent New Deal crowd. They set me to thinking a lot at that point."

Nixon entered the Navy as a lieutenant junior-grade in August 1942. He was sent to a naval air base in Iowa. After 6 months there (which he valued because it helped him know the Midwest, the base of his later political support), he was sent to the Pacific as an operations officer with the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command. Fourteen months later he returned to the United States to work as a lawyer in uniform. He was a lieutenant commander in Baltimore when, in September 1945, a group of Whittier Republicans asked him to run for Congress. He jumped at the opportunity, was mustered out of the Navy in January 1946, and began his victorious campaign.

Nixon's friends described him as a mild and tolerant human being, basically shy and much influenced by his Quaker upbringing. Yet in all his early campaigns he conducted what he himself has described as "a fighting, rocking, socking campaign." He early infuriated the opposition. Though he called himself a liberal Republican and a progressive Republican, he had strong right-wing support. In his congressional campaign he had attacked his liberal New Deal Democrat and onetime Socialist opponent as a tool of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and an enemy of free enterprise.

Congressional Activities and National Fame

As congressman, Nixon was assigned to the House Labor Committee and to the Select Committee on Foreign Aid. In 1947 he and other committee members toured Europe. "We cannot afford to follow a policy of isolation and let the people of Europe down at this point, and therefore allow Russia full sway in Europe," he said shortly after his return. "The sure way to war is for the United States to turn isolationist." Supporting the Marshall Plan, Nixon established himself as an internationalist in foreign policy.

As a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Nixon became a leading anti-Communist crusader. He collaborated on the bill requiring Communist-front organizations to register with the attorney general. It was on HUAC that he first attracted national attention when he led the suit that resulted in the conviction of Alger Hiss, a former State Department official charged with Communist connections; Hiss was finally convicted for perjury. As Nixon wrote in Six Crises (1962), "The Hiss case brought me national fame. But it also left a residue of hatred and hostility toward me—not only among Communists but also among substantial segments of the press and the intellectual community—a hostility which remains even today, ten years after Hiss's conviction was upheld by the United States Supreme Court." Nixon said he also incurred opposition from many apostles of anticommunism because "I would not go along with their extremes." These anti-Communists assailed him for supporting international programs like foreign aid, reciprocal trade, and collective security pacts.

Nixon again aroused the enmity of liberals and intellectuals in his 1950 victorious senatorial campaign. He charged his Democratic opponent with displaying a "soft attitude toward communism" and said that she was part of a small clique that voted "time after time against measures that are for the security of this country."

It was thus as a fiery crusader against communism and a staunch Republican partisan that Nixon was known to the country when Gen. Dwight Eisenhower chose him as his running mate in the presidential election of 1952. Nixon's personality and character became permanent issues in all his political campaigns. He seemed to overuse political hyperbole and oversimplify complex issues. Some critics believed his fascination with political techniques showed lack of principle regarding substantive issues.

Nixon said that he was guided by his Quaker heritage: "The three passions of Quakers are peace, civil rights, and tolerance. That's why, as a Quaker, I can't be an extremist, a racist, or an uncompromising hawk. While all this may seem to be the opposite of what I've stood for, I'm actually consistent." An objective observer who got to know the private Nixon said that he had an able if not overly subtle mind. He listened well, asked probing questions, and nearly always impressed persons with whom he spoke privately.

Two months after becoming Republican vice-presidential candidate, Nixon was charged with being the beneficiary of a fund, totaling $18,235, collected from private citizens. Nixon said the sensational controversy resulted in "the most scarring personal crisis of my life." Nixon fought back. In a television speech that accounted for the money, he convinced his foes that he was artful and tricky, but he rallied Republicans to his banner. While his defense saved his candidacy and made him even better known, this controversy also left a bitter residue.

The Vice Presidency

As vice president, Nixon continued to please his supporters and anger his critics. He was the chief political spokesman in Eisenhower's administration, traveled widely in support of Republican candidates, and was influential in the workings of the administration.

Eisenhower believed that a vice president should have an active role and should be fully informed about all foreign and domestic policies. Chief among Nixon's assignments was foreign travel. In office less than a year, Nixon made an extended trip through Asia, visiting, among other places, Hanoi, North Vietnam, then under French control. He made many useful friends on these trips and impressed critics at home with his seriousness of purpose and knowledge of foreign affairs. On a trip to Latin America in 1958, he was assailed by mobs but handled himself coolly. In 1959 he visited the Soviet Union and Poland. While in Moscow, his meeting with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev prepared the way for Khrushchev's later visit to the United States to confer with Eisenhower.

Running for President

In 1960 Nixon won the Republican presidential nomination and chose Henry Cabot Lodge, ambassador to the United Nations, as his running mate. The campaign against the Democratic team of senators John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson was close from the beginning, although Nixon initially ran ahead in the polls. In the first of four televised debates with Kennedy, Nixon, concerned with projecting an image of reasonableness and nonpartisanship, did not sharply challenge his opponent. He also looked pale and unwell, possibly because of poor lighting. He lost the election by some 100,000 votes out of the 68 million cast.

Nixon returned to Los Angeles to practice law and to write Six Crises. In 1962, losing the race for governor of California, he blamed his defeat on the press. "You won't have Nixon to kick around any more," he told newsmen, "because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."

A few months later, Nixon joined the New York law firm of Mudge, Stern, Baldwin & Todd, which later became Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander & Mitchell. However, in 1964, after the Republican defeat by President Lyndon Johnson, it became clear that Nixon again considered himself a serious presidential contender. In 1968, winning his party's presidential nomination, he picked Governor Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland as his running mate.

Nixon and Agnew ran against the Democratic team of Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie. Third party candidate George Wallace of Alabama, a threat to both tickets, hurt Humphrey more. In the end, though the Republicans had the presidential victory, the Democrats retained control of Congress.

The Presidency

Nixon took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 1969. In his inaugural address he appealed for reconciliation among the elements of American society divided over the issues of the Vietnam War and domestic racial discord. He promised to bring the nation together again.

Nixon's first foreign objective—to negotiate an end of the Vietnam War—was unsuccessful. Despite repeated attempts, negotiations with North Vietnam at the Paris peace talks were unproductive. Meanwhile, in June he began replacing American troops by South Vietnamese troops. After a conference with South Vietnam's president Nguyen Van Thieu, Nixon ordered 25,000 American combat troops brought home. By the end of 1969, having ordered 110,000 troops home, he expressed hope, not realized, that all American combat troops would be out of Vietnam by the end of 1970. Not until the end of 1972, when most American ground troops had been withdrawn from Vietnam, did negotiations suggest that peace might be at hand.

In his second month in office, the President embarked on a tour of Western Europe. In the summer he visited Asia, including a stop in Saigon. His official visit to Romania made him the first American president to visit a Communist country. While on the Asian tour, the President enunciated what became known as the "Nixon Doctrine." The United States will honor its treaty commitments, he said, but it will not bear the brunt of the fighting in another country. He called for cooperative endeavors and promised American material aid but said that Asian countries must defend their freedoms with their own troops. In his first year the President signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, negotiated during the previous administration. In addition, negotiations were begun with the Soviet Union toward placing limits on the production of nuclear armaments.

On the domestic front, Nixon waged a major battle against inflation. With Congress pressing for more government spending, the administration fought to curb expenditures and balance the budget. The economy continued to decline while the administration waged its battle against inflation. Finally, to reverse a dangerous trend, the President, in August 1971, completely reversed himself, instituted wage and price controls, imposed a tax on imports, and asked for tax cuts. Early in 1972, after he agreed to devaluation of the dollar, the economy began to improve.

In 1971 Nixon made the dramatic announcements that he would visit Peking and Moscow in the first half of 1972. He also announced progress in the negotiations with the Soviet Union on an arms limitation treaty. The visit to Peking took place in February and he was invited to meet Chairman Mao Zedong, a mark of high respect. In May, he visited Moscow and signed the agreement limiting the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union.

In the presidential election of 1972 Nixon and Agnew ran against Democrats George McGovern and Sargent Shriver. The election was a landslide for Nixon, as the polls had predicted it would be: he won 61 percent of the popular vote and received 521 electoral votes, losing only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. However, as in the election of 1968, the Democrats retained control of Congress.

The Fall from Grace

During his last election campaign, what first appeared as a minor burglary was to become the beginning of the end of Nixon's political career. A break-in at Democratic national headquarters in Washington, D.C.'s Watergate apartment complex was linked to Republicans.

During the trial of six men charged in the crime, the existence of the cover-up began to emerge, taking government officials down like dominos in its path. Nixon elicited the resignation of two top aides in April, 1973 in an effort to stem the tide. But in October, as the Watergate investigation continued, he lost his vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, who resigned before pleading "nolo contendere" (no contest) in federal charges of income tax evasion related to accusations of accepting bribes.

Nixon's efforts to avoid the taint of those scandals were fruitless when subpoenaed tapes he was ordered to give up by the U.S. Supreme Court showed he obstructed justice in stopping an FBI probe of the Watergate burglary. On August 9, 1974, in national disgrace, he became the first President of the United States to resign. He boarded a plane with his wife and returned to his his California home, ending his public career. A month later, in a controversial move, President Gerald Ford issued an unconditional pardon for any offenses Nixon might have committed while president.

Private Citizen

After a period of relative anonymity and when some criticism had softened, Nixon emerged in a role of elder statesman, visiting countries in Asia, as well as returning to the Soviet Union and China. He also consulted with the Bush and Clinton Administrations, and wrote his memoirs and other books on international affairs and politics.

The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace opened in the early 1990s in Yorba Linda, California. On January 20, 1994, in what would be his last public appearance, cermonies honoring him on the 25th anniversary of his first inauguration, were held. He also announced the creation of The Center for Peace and Freedom, a policy center at the Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace.

He died of a stroke on April 22, 1994. A State funeral was held five days later in Yorba Linda, California. In 1995, film director Oliver Stone released the contorversial movie "Nixon," staring Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins in the title role.

Further Reading

The Challenges We Face (1960) is a collection of Nixon's speeches. The most important work is Nixon's Six Crises (1962), which records the major events of his life to the early 1960s. The most factually complete biography is Earl Mazo and Stephen Hess, Nixon: A Political Portrait (1968). James Keogh, This Is Nixon (1956), written as a campaign biography, contains valuable quotations from Nixon's speeches. A perceptive analysis of Nixon's character and politics is Gary Wills, Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-made Man (1970). A good sketch of Nixon's personality is in Stephen Hess and David S. Broder, The Republican Establishment (1968). An excellent portrait is in Stewart Alsop, Nixon and Rockefeller (1960). Information on the The Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace and a biography of the former President can be accessed on the internet at (August 5, 1997). A brief biography can be also accessed on the internet at the A & E Biography website at (August 5, 1997).

Other books deal with aspects of Nixon's career. Mark Harris, Mark the Glove Boy: Or the Last Days of Richard Nixon (1964), deals with the gubernatorial race between Pat Brown and Nixon. Nixon figures prominently in works dealing with presidential campaigns: Theodore H. White, The Making of the President, 1960 (1961) and The Making of the President, 1968 (1969), and Joe McGinnes, The Selling of the President, 1968 (1969). Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., History of American Presidential Elections (4 vols., 1971), covers the 1968 election, won by Nixon. Also useful are Ralph De Toledano, Man Alone: Richard Nixon (1969), and John Osborne, The Nixon Watch (1970). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Richard Milhous Nixon." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Richard Milhous Nixon." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (December 10, 2017).

"Richard Milhous Nixon." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Nixon, Richard Milhous


Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th president of the United States. Though he made several major breakthroughs in his presidency, his involvement with the watergate affair proved his undoing. In 1974 he became the only president ever to resign from office. Late in life Nixon's advice as a political analyst and foreign affairs expert was sought by both parties.

Nixon was born January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California, the second of five sons of Francis A. Nixon and Hannah Milhous Nixon. His father had grown up on a farm in Ohio and arrived in California in 1907. He worked as a trolley car motorman in Whittier, where he met Hannah Milhous. They were married in 1908. In 1922 they bought the grocery store and gas station where Nixon grew up. Nixon was a disciplined student who worked hard and received superior grades. He enjoyed playing football and participating in music, acting, and debating. A devout Quaker during his youth, he attended church four times a week.

When Nixon was 12, his younger brother Arthur died of tubercular encephalitis. His older brother, Harold, died when Nixon was 20, after a ten-year battle with tuberculosis. Harold's death was particularly traumatic for the family, as it had poured much of its limited resources into his treatment.

After graduating from high school, Nixon wanted to attend an Ivy League college but instead entered Whittier College, a small Quaker school close to home and within his family's financial means. He graduated second in his class and won a scholarship to Duke University Law School. At Duke, he was elected president of the Duke Bar Association and graduated third in his class.

In 1937, Nixon was admitted to the California bar and joined the firm of Wingert and Bewley in Whittier. He participated in civic groups; taught Sunday school; and acted in a community theater troupe, where he met Thelma Catherine Ryan, who was known as Patricia or Pat. They were married June 21, 1940, and had two children, Patricia ("Tricia") Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. The Nixons would celebrate 53 years of marriage before Pat's death in 1993.

In 1941, Nixon took a job as an attorney with the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C. Seven months later, he applied for and received a Navy commission. He served as an operations officer with the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command during world war ii.

Shortly after his return from the service, Nixon ran for Congress against incumbent California Democratic representative Jerry Voorhis. Nixon's campaign literature portrayed him as a returning veteran who had defended his country in the mud and jungles of the Solomon Islands while his opponent never left Washington, D.C. It also implied that Voorhis was endorsed by a Communist-supported political action committee. At a time when fear of Communist subversion was widespread, Nixon's strategy worked. He came from behind in a race no one expected him to win to defeat Voorhis with 57 percent of the votes.

Nixon quickly made his mark in Washington, D.C. He became a vocal member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which investigated U.S. citizens suspected of having ties with or sympathies for the Communist party. One such case brought Nixon into the national spotlight. In 1948, alger hiss, a former state department official, was investigated for allegedly passing secret information to the Communist government in the former Soviet Union. Nixon's determined pursuit of the case led to Hiss's indictment and eventual conviction for perjury.

In 1950 Nixon ran for the U.S. Senate against Democratic Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas. In an effort to discredit Douglas, he circulated a campaign flyer indicating that she had voted 354 times with Representative Vito Marcantonio of New York, a member of the Communist Workers party. The flyer, printed on pink paper, was known as the pink sheet, and Nixon often referred to Douglas as the pink lady, a link to the color red associated with communism. Nixon defeated Douglas by a secure margin of 680,000 votes, raising speculation that his strident campaign may have been unnecessary.

In 1952 Republicans chose World War II hero General dwight d. eisenhower as their nominee for president. Eisenhower chose Nixon as his running mate. The campaign encountered a crisis almost immediately. In September 1952, several newspapers disclosed that Nixon had received financial support from a secret fund raised by wealthy California business owners. This offense was viewed as shocking, and many people called for Nixon to withdraw from

the ticket. Instead, he took the offensive and pleaded his case on national television, delivering what came to be known as the "Checkers Speech." Nixon maintained his innocence, disclosed his financial situation to show he was in debt, and pointed out that his wife did not have a mink coat but rather wore "a respectable Republican cloth coat." He went on to say that a supporter in Texas had given the family a gift, a dog named Checkers, and that "the kids love the dog, and … we're going to keep it." The public's response was overwhelmingly positive and Nixon remained on the Republican ticket. Nixon had discovered the enormous power of television and had utilized it to his advantage, reaching a large audience without the need to endure press scrutiny.

Eisenhower and Nixon received 55.1 percent of the popular vote in the 1952 election. Nixon served two terms as an unusually active vice president, honing his foreign policy skills during trips to 56 countries. Among the most famous of these journeys was a 1959 visit to Moscow, where he engaged in the celebrated Kitchen Debate with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The two men informally debated the merits of capitalism versus Communism while they toured the kitchen of a model home at a U.S. fair. Nixon's willingness to confront critics and his ability to turn adversity to his advantage earned him praise and acclaim.

In 1960, delegates at the Republican convention in Chicago nominated Nixon for president on the first ballot. He faced another young, energetic, popular contender, Democratic senator john f. kennedy of Massachusetts. In the first of four televised debates with Kennedy, Nixon, who had been ill and was exhausted from campaigning, appeared haggard, strained, and tense. His appearance cost him many votes even though he had a keen command of the facts and debated well—indeed, those who listened to the debates on radio rather than watching them on television felt that Nixon had outdone Kennedy. Nixon lost the election, suffering his first political defeat, by a mere 119,000 votes. In spite of allegations of voting irregularities, particularly in Chicago, Nixon decided not to demand a recount and instead gracefully conceded to Kennedy.

After losing the 1960 election, Nixon ran for governor of California against Edmund "Pat" Brown in 1962 but was unable to unseat the incumbent. He moved to New York to practice law and almost immediately began preparing his comeback. In January 1968, he announced his candidacy for the presidency and was nominated on the Republicans' first ballot, defeating Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York, and Governor ronald reagan of California.

The democratic party was in a shambles in 1968. President lyndon b. johnson withdrew as a candidate because of growing domestic unrest and opposition to the vietnam war. Senator robert f. kennedy was assassinated in June 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic nomination. The Democrats nominated hubert h. humphrey, Johnson's vice president. Nixon defeated Humphrey by a narrow margin. During his first term, Nixon appointed a broad-based cabinet that included both conservatives and liberals. In his inaugural speech, he said that he hoped to "bridge the generation gap" and bring the country back together after years of unrest over Vietnam and racial discrimination. While he continued to pursue foreign policy goals, he also achieved much on the domestic front. He responded to strong public demand for expanded government services, and proposed a family assistance program that, had it not been voted down by Congress, would have been the most far-reaching welfare reform in modern history. He supported health and safety protection on the job and housing allowances for disadvantaged people. Nixon's administration built more subsidized housing units than any administration before or since. He expanded the Food Stamp Program and began the federal revenue-sharing program for local governments. Another lasting legacy was the creation of the environmental protection agency.

Nixon also reshaped the Supreme Court. Under Chief Justice earl warren, who had been appointed by President Eisenhower, the Court had taken what many felt was an ideologically liberal turn. During his presidency, Nixon appointed four members to the court: warren e. burger, as chief justice; and harry a. black-mun, lewis f. powell jr., and william h. rehnquist, as associate justices. The Burger Court began a retreat from liberalism and judicial activism that continued through the 1980s and 1990s.

Perhaps Nixon's most noteworthy triumphs were in foreign policy. In 1972 Nixon and his chief foreign affairs adviser, henry kissinger, traveled to Communist China to begin the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations with the Beijing government. The visit marked a major shift in U.S. policy toward China. The two governments shared a history of animosity, and the United States had long recognized the Nationalist Chinese government of Chiang Kaishek, based on the island of Taiwan, as the official government of China. After Nixon's visit, the door was opened to diplomatic and trade dealings. Formal diplomatic relations with Communist China were established in 1978.

"There is one thing solid and fundamental in politics—the law of change. What'suptoday is down tomorrow."

Nixon also opened negotiations with the Communist government in the former Soviet Union. He initiated the process known as détente by holding three summit meetings with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. His efforts culminated in a breakthrough agreement in 1972 limiting the use of antiballistic missiles.

One major goal that eluded Nixon in foreign policy was a quick end to the Vietnam War. After promising "peace with honor" during his campaign in 1968, he saw the war continue through his first term.

Though the war would end in January 1973, an event in June of 1972 marked the beginning of Nixon's downfall. At that time, during Nixon's campaign for reelection, a group of men working for the Committee to Reelect the President broke into the Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. It was a crime that would be traced back to the president.

In November, Nixon won a sweeping victory over his Democratic challenger, Senator George S. McGovern, of South Dakota, receiving 60.7 percent of the vote and carrying every state except Massachusetts. The following March, testimony before the Senate select committee investigating the incident implicated the White House. In televised hearings John W. Dean III, Nixon's White House counsel, told the Senate committee that Nixon had been involved from the start.

Further testimony revealed that Nixon had secretly recorded all conversations that took place in the Oval Office of the White House. Congress and prosecutors began efforts to obtain the tapes. In October 1973, his reputation in jeopardy, Nixon carried out what came to be called the Saturday Night Massacre. Angered by Watergate special prosecutor archibald cox, Nixon ordered Attorney General elliot l. richardson to dismiss Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus also refused to carry out the task and was dismissed. Finally, Solicitor General robert h. bork, appointed acting attorney general, dismissed Cox.

Calls for Nixon's resignation mounted, and impeachment resolutions were referred to the House Judiciary Committee. On March 1, 1974, a federal grand jury indicted seven former Nixon aides in the continuing cover-up of Watergate. Nixon was named as an unindicted coconspirator.

Nixon responded to pressure from both those who wanted him to prove himself innocent and those who believed him guilty, by announcing in April 1974 that he would release to the House Judiciary Committee edited transcripts of conversations regarding Watergate culled from his library of tape recordings. Though the committee responded that it would need the tapes themselves, Nixon refused to supply them. The edited transcripts alone were tremendously damaging. The transcripts implicated the Nixon White House not only in burglaries and cover-ups, but also illegal wiretaps, corruption of government agencies, domestic espionage, unfair campaign tactics, and abuse of campaign funds. Eventually, 19 Nixon aides and associates served prison terms for their roles in these illegal activities.

By late July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee, in televised hearings, was deliberating articles of impeachment against Nixon. The articles charged him with obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and defiance of congressional subpoenas. It became clear that the full House would impeach him, and he would probably face conviction by the Senate. In early August, in response to a Supreme Court ruling (united states v. nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 94 S. Ct. 3090, 41 L. Ed. 2d 1039 [1974]), Nixon released the contested tape recordings that showed conclusively that he had been involved in the effort to halt the Federal Bureau of Investigation's probe of Watergate.

On August 7, 1974, facing certain impeachment, Nixon met with his family and aides and informed Secretary of State Kissinger of his decision to resign. He made this announcement to the nation in a television broadcast the evening of August 8. The following day, with his family around him, he bade an emotional farewell to his staff, boarded Air Force One with his wife, and flew home to San Clemente, California. Vice President gerald r. ford was sworn in to serve the remainder of Nixon's term. On September 8, President Ford granted Nixon an unconditional pardon for all federal crimes he "committed or may have committed or taken part in" while in office, thus ending the crisis that had gripped the nation for more than two years.

After his resignation Nixon published eight books and numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He traveled again to China, where he was warmly received, and in 1994, shortly before his death, he returned to Russia. Nixon came to be considered an elder statesman and political analyst. As an expert in foreign policy his advice and counsel were sought by Senator and presidential candidate bob dole and President bill clinton.

Nixon died April 22, 1994. All five living presidents at the time—Clinton, george h.w. bush, Reagan, jimmy carter, and Ford—and their wives attended Nixon's funeral. Clinton delivered a eulogy in which he said:

He suffered defeats that would have ended most political careers, yet he won stunning victories that many of the world's most popular leaders have failed to attain.

further readings

Ambrose, Stephen E. 1989. Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962–1972. New York: Simon & Schuster.

——. 1987. Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913– 1962. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Brodie, Fawn M. 1981. Richard M. Nixon: The Shaping of His Character. New York: Norton.

Kutler, Stanley I., ed. 1998. Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Mankiewicz, Frank. 1973. Perfectly Clear: Nixon from Whittier to Watergate. New York: Quadrangle Books.

Morgan, Iwan. 2002. Nixon. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Nixon, Richard M. 1990. In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat and Renewal. New York: Simon & Schuster.

——. 1978. R.N.: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.

"Twenty-Five Years After Watergate" (special edition). 2000. Hastings Law Journal 51 (April).

White, Theodore H. 1975. Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon. Atheneum Publications.

Wicker, Tom. 1991. One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream. New York: Random House.

Wills, Garry. 1969. Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Cold War; Communism; Ervin, Samuel James, Jr.; Executive Privilege; Independent Counsel; Jaworski, Leon; Mitchell, John Newton; New York Times Co. v. United States; Watergate.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . (December 10, 2017).

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Nixon, Richard

Richard Nixon

Born: January 9, 1913
Yorba Linda, California

Died: April 22, 1994
Yorba Linda, California

American president and vice president

Richard Nixon was the thirty-seventh president of the United States. He successfully served as a member of the House of Representatives and of the Senate and was vice president under Dwight Eisenhower (18901969). Despite all his political triumphs, Nixon will probably best be remembered as the first president to resign from office.

Young Nixon in California

Richard Milhous Nixon was born on his father's lemon farm in Yorba Linda, California, on January 9, 1913. Of the four other sons in the family, two died in childhood. After the farm failed, the family moved to Whittier, California, where Nixon's father ran a grocery store. Nixon had a troubled childhood. Raised by a sometimes abusive father and a controlling mother, Nixon adopted parts of both his parents' personalities. Some historians have believed that, as a result of his childhood, Nixon had a drive to succeed and felt he had to pretend to be "good" while using any tactics necessary to achieve his goals.

At Whittier College, Nixon excelled as a student and a debater. He was president of his freshman class and, as a senior, president of the student body. Graduating second in his class in 1934, he won a scholarship to Duke University Law School. Although he was a member of the national scholastic law fraternity, he failed to find a job in one of the big New York law firms. This failure, along with the views of his father, left him with a strong dislike of the "eastern establishment."

Reluctantly, Nixon returned to Whittier and began practicing law. Soon afterward, Nixon met Thelma Catherine Patricia (Pat) Ryan (19121993), a high school teacher. The two were married in 1940 and would have two daughters, Patricia and Julie.

Public service, then soldier

Shortly before the United States entered World War II (193945), where Americanled forces faced-off against Germany, Japan, and Italy, Nixon began working for the federal government in the Office of Emergency Management. Nixon soon left this post and entered the navy as a lieutenant junior-grade in August 1942. He was sent to the Pacific as an operations officer with the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command. Fourteen months later he returned to the United States to work as a lawyer in uniform.

In September 1945 a group of Republicans in Whittier asked him to run for Congress. He jumped at the opportunity. Nixon left the navy in January 1946 and began his victorious campaign, in which he defeated a five-term congressman.

Congressional activities and national fame

As congressman, Nixon was assigned to the House Labor Committee and to the Select Committee on Foreign Aid. In 1947 he and other committee members toured Europe. Nixon quickly established a reputation as an internationalist in foreign policy, proving that he worked well with foreign nations.

As a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Nixon became a leading anti-Communist crusader. (Communism is a political system where goods and services are owned and controlled by the government.) He first attracted national attention as a member of HUAC when he led the suit that resulted in the conviction of Alger Hiss (19041996), a former State Department official charged with Communist connections. While Nixon gained national attention fighting the threat of Communism, he also caught the attention of General Dwight Eisenhower (18901969), who chose him as his running mate in his successful presidential campaign of 1952. Eisenhower in part recruited Nixon in hopes of drawing valuable support in the West.

The vice presidency

As vice president, Nixon continued to please his supporters and anger his critics. He acted as the chief political spokesman in Eisenhower's administration. Among Nixon's assignments was foreign travel. In office less than a year, Nixon made an extended trip through Asia, visiting, among other places, Hanoi, North Vietnam, then under French control. He established many useful relationships on these trips and impressed critics at home with his knowledge of foreign affairs.

On a trip to Latin America in 1958, he was set upon by mobs but handled himself coolly. In 1959 he visited Poland and the Soviet Union, a former Communist nation made up of Russia and other states. While in Moscow, his meeting with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (18941971) prepared the way for Khrushchev's later visit to the United States to meet with Eisenhower.

Running for president

In 1960 Nixon won the Republican presidential nomination and chose Henry Cabot Lodge (19021985) as his running mate. The campaign against the Democratic team of Senators John F. Kennedy (19171963) and Lyndon Johnson (19081973) was close from the beginning. In the first of four televised debates with Kennedy, Nixon did not sharply challenge his opponent and appeared cold and distant, a far cry from the charming Kennedy. But the election was still close, and he lost by some one hundred thousand votes out of the sixty-eight million cast.

After the defeat, Nixon returned to Los Angeles to practice law. In 1964, after the Republican defeat by President Lyndon Johnson, it became clear that Nixon again considered himself a serious presidential contender. In 1968, winning his party's presidential nomination, he picked Governor Spiro T. Agnew (19181996) of Maryland as his running mate. Nixon and Agnew ran against the Democratic team of Hubert Humphrey (19111978) and Edmund Muskie (1914). Third-party candidate George Wallace (19191998) of Alabama, a threat to both sides, eventually drew support away from Humphrey and cleared a path for Nixon's successful election to the White House.

The presidency

Nixon took the oath of office on January 20, 1969. In his inaugural address, or first speech as president, he appealed for harmony among American society. At that time American society was divided over the issues of domestic racial unrest and the Vietnam War (195575; a war in which American forces were aiding South Vietnam's fight against Communist North Vietnam). He promised to bring the nation together again.

Nixon's first foreign objectiveto negotiate, or bargain for, an end to the Vietnam Warwas unsuccessful. Despite repeated attempts, negotiations with North Vietnam at the Paris peace talks were unproductive. Meanwhile, in June he began replacing American troops with South Vietnamese troops. After a conference with South Vietnam president Nguyen Van Thieu (19232001), Nixon ordered 25,000 American combat troops brought home. By the end of 1969, having ordered 110,000 troops home, he expressed hope that all American combat troops would be out of Vietnam by the end of 1970. It would take two more years until most American ground troops had been withdrawn from Vietnam.

International relations

In his second month in office, Nixon embarked on a tour of Western Europe. His official visit to Romania made him the first American president to visit a Communist country. While on an Asian tour, the president called for cooperative efforts and promised American material aid but said that Asian countries must defend their freedoms with their own troops. In his first year, the president signed a treaty with the Soviet Union that worked toward placing limits on the production of nuclear arms.

In 1971 Nixon made the dramatic announcements that he would visit Peking, China, and Moscow, Soviet Union, in the first half of 1972. He also announced progress in the negotiations with the Soviet Union on an arms limitation treaty. The visit to Peking took place in February and he was invited to meet Chairman Mao Zedong (18931976), a mark of high respect.

The fall from grace

In the presidential election of 1972, Nixon and Agnew ran against Democrats George McGovern (1922) and Sargent Shriver (1915). The election was a landslide for Nixon, but no one was expecting what would happen next. During his last election campaign, what first appeared as a minor burglary was to become the beginning of the end of Nixon's political career. A break-in at Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D.C., was linked to Republicans.

During the trial of six men charged in the crime, the existence of the cover-up began to emerge and government officials fell like dominos in its path. By October 1973, as the Watergate investigation continued, Nixon lost several top aides as well as his vice president. Agnew resigned before pleading no contest to federal charges of receiving bribes, failing to pay his taxes properly, and other crimes while serving as governor of Maryland.

Soon the U.S. Supreme Court forced Nixon to turn over tape recordings he made during the election. The tapes showed he obstructed, or blocked, justice in stopping a Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) probe of the Watergate burglary. On August 9, 1974, in national disgrace, he became the first president of the United States to choose to leave office before the end of his term. He boarded a plane with his wife and returned to his California home, ending his public career. A month later, in a controversial move, President Gerald Ford (1913) issued an unconditional pardon for any offenses Nixon might have committed while president.

Private citizen

Nixon led a quiet life until the criticism from the Watergate scandal had softened. Nixon then emerged in a role of elder statesman, visiting countries in Asia as well as returning to the Soviet Union and China. He also consulted with the administrations of George Bush (1924) and Bill Clinton (1946) and wrote his memoirs, or a book of his memories, and other books on international affairs and politics.

The Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace opened in the early 1990s in Yorba Linda. On January 20, 1994, in what would be his last public appearance, ceremonies honoring him on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his first inauguration were held. He also announced the creation of the Center for Peace and Freedom, a policy center at the Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace.

Richard Nixon died of a stroke on April 22, 1994. A state funeral was held five days later in Yorba Linda, where President Clinton and others praised Nixon and his achievements. However Nixon is remembered, he will most likely never escape the shadow of Watergate.

For More Information

Ambrose, Stephen E. Nixon. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Bernstein, Carl, and Bob Woodward. All the President's Men. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974. Reprint, 1999.

Nixon, Richard. RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. New York: Grosset, 1978. Reprint, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Reeves, Richard. President Nixon: Alone in the White House. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Ripley, C. Peter. Richard Nixon. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Wicker, Tom. One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream. New York: Random House, 1991.

Woodward, Bob, and Carl Bernstein. The Final Days. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nixon, Richard." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Nixon, Richard." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (December 10, 2017).

"Nixon, Richard." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Nixon, Richard Milhous

Richard Milhous Nixon, 1913–94, 37th President of the United States (1969–74), b. Yorba Linda, Calif.

Political Career to 1968

A graduate of Whittier College and Duke law school, he practiced law in Whittier, Calif., from 1937 to 1942, was briefly with the Office of Emergency Management, and served during World War II with the navy in the South Pacific. In 1946 he was elected to Congress as a Republican. In the House of Representatives he became nationally known for his work on the House Committee on Un-American Activities, where he was credited with forcing the famous confrontation between Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers, thus precipitating the perjury case against Hiss. In 1950 he was elected to the U.S. Senate after a particularly bitter electoral campaign. In the Senate, Nixon denounced President Truman's policy in Asia, supported Gen. Douglas MacArthur's proposal to expand the Korean War, and attacked the Democratic administration as favorable to socialism.

He was elected to the vice presidency on the Republican ticket with Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. He made frequent official trips abroad, notably in 1958 to South America, where he faced a hostile demonstration in Venezuela, and in 1959 to the USSR, where he engaged in a much-publicized informal debate with Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Nixon received the Republican presidential nomination in 1960 with only a minimum of opposition and campaigned in support of the Eisenhower administration policies. He was defeated but gained almost as much of the popular vote as the successful John F. Kennedy. Nixon returned to politics in 1962, winning the Republican nomination for governor of California. After losing the election he returned to the practice of law.

First Term

In 1968 Nixon again won the Republican nomination for president; Spiro T. Agnew was his running mate. In a low-key campaign, Nixon promised to bring peace with honor in Vietnam and to unite a nation deeply divided by the Vietnam War and the racial crisis. He defeated his two opponents, Hubert H. Humphrey and George C. Wallace, but won only a plurality of the popular vote.

As President, Nixon began the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam. He achieved (1973) a cease-fire accord with North Vietnam, but only after he had ordered invasions of Cambodia (1970) and Laos (1971) and the saturation bombing of North Vietnam. In other areas of foreign policy, Nixon eased cold war tensions. He initiated strategic arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union in 1969 and visited (1972) the People's Republic of China.

At home, Nixon reversed many of the social and economic welfare policies of President Lyndon B. Johnson. He vetoed much new health, education, and welfare legislation and impounded congressionally approved funds for domestic programs that he opposed. Nixon's Southern strategy, through which he hoped to woo the South into the Republican party, led him to weaken the federal government's commitment to racial equality and to sponsor antibusing legislation in Congress. Nixon's first term in office was also beset by economic troubles. A severe recession and serious inflation brought about the imposition (1971) of a wide-reaching system of wage and price controls.

Despite these problems, Nixon and Agnew easily won reelection in 1972. Widespread popular distrust of his Democratic opponent, Senator George S. McGovern, brought Nixon a landslide victory. (Agnew was forced to resign in 1973, however, on charges of corruption that dated to when he was Baltimore co. executive, and Gerald R. Ford was nominated by Nixon and confirmed by Congress to succeed Agnew.)

Second Term: The Watergate Affair

Soon after his reelection Nixon's popularity plummeted as the growing revelations of the Watergate affair indicated pervasive corruption in his administration, and there was widespread criticism of the amount of government money spent on his private residences. Further problems ensued when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) found that Nixon's donation of papers to the federal government, which had been taken as a deduction on his federal income tax returns, had been made after a law went into effect disallowing such deductions. The IRS assessed (1974) Nixon for the back taxes plus interest.

Many public officials and private citizens questioned Nixon's fitness to remain in office, and in 1974 the House of Representatives initiated impeachment proceedings. The House Committee on the Judiciary, which conducted the impeachment inquiry, subpoenaed Nixon's tape-recorded conversations relating to the Watergate affair and finally received (Apr. 30) transcripts of most, but not all, of the tapes. Nixon also released transcripts of these conversations to the public, continuing to profess noninvolvement in the Watergate coverup despite growing evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile, Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski subpoenaed tapes that had been previously requested but that were not among those included in the transcripts. Nixon refused to relinquish these, basing his refusal on claims of "executive privilege," i.e., the confidentiality of executive communications whose release might endanger national security. On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that President Nixon must surrender these tapes to Jaworski.

The House Judiciary Committee had already completed its investigations and subsequently recommended (July 27–30) three articles of impeachment against the President. These charged him with obstruction of justice in the investigation of the break-in at the Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex; abuse of power through misuse of the Internal Revenue Service for political purposes, illegal wiretapping, establishment of a private investigative unit that engaged in unlawful activities, and interference with the lawful activities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency, the Dept. of Justice, and other government bodies; and failure to comply with subpoenas issued by the House Judiciary Committee.

On Aug. 5, Nixon made public the transcripts of three conversations covered by the Supreme Court ruling, and the tapes indicated that he had, six days after the Watergate break-in, ordered the FBI to halt its investigation of the burglary. Nixon's revelation provoked widespread calls for his resignation; finally, responding to pressure from his closest advisers, he resigned on Aug. 9, the first U.S. President ever to do so. He left the White House immediately and returned to his estate in San Clemente, Calif. His successor, Gerald Ford, granted him a full pardon for any illegal acts that he might have committed while President, thus quashing the possibility of criminal proceedings against the former President. Subsequently, four of his close associates, including John Mitchell, H. R. Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman, were convicted (Jan. 1, 1975) on charges arising from the affair. In retirement Nixon continued to comment, often influentially, on foreign affairs, writing several books on the topic, as well as his memoirs.


See his Six Crises (1962) and memoirs (1978); biographies by F. Mankiewicz (1973), S. Ambrose (3 vol., 1987–91), C. L. Sulzberger (1987), and R. Morris (1990); W. Safire, Before the Fall (1975, repr. 1988); F. Schurmann, The Foreign Politics of Richard Nixon (1987); B. Woodward and C. Bernstein, The Final Days (1987); J. McGinnis, The Selling of the President (1988); T. Wicker, One of Us (1991); I. Gellman, The Contender (1999); A. Summers, The Arrogance of Power (with R. Swan, 2000); R. Reeves, President Nixon (2001); D. Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow (2003); R. Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger (2007); R. Perlstein, Nixonland (2008) and The Invisible Bridge (2014); J. Frank, Ike and Dick (2013); J. W. Dean, The Nixon Defense (2014); D. Brinkley and L. A. Nichter, ed., The Nixon Tapes 1971–1972 (2014).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 10, 2017).

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Nixon, Richard M.

Nixon, Richard M. 1913-1994


Richard Milhous Nixon, U.S. representative and senator, vice president, and thirty-seventh president of the United States, was an influential, but flawed political figure in American politics. Born in poverty in Yorba Linda, California, Nixon was a diligent student who graduated from Whittier College, then Duke Law School. He was ambitious and felt, at an early age, a strong desire to prove himself, a personality trait that some scholars think contributed to his downfall.

Nixons political career began in 1947 when he defeated five-term incumbent Democrat Jerry Voorhis to become U.S. representative. After winning reelection, Nixon achieved national prominence as chair of the Un-American Activities Committee by relentlessly questioning Alger Hiss for purportedly being a communist spy while working for the U.S. State Department. In winning election to the U.S. Senate in 1950, Nixon successfully branded his opponent Helen Gahagan Douglas a communist (calling her the Pink Lady) and cemented his national reputation as a staunch anticommunist. His reputation as an anticommunist crusader early in his career undoubtedly helped Nixon achieve political and international prominence. It secured him a place on the Republican Party presidential ticket in 1952 and gave him the credibility to support Chinas admission to the United Nations in October 1971 and open relations with China when he visited itthe first president to do soin early 1972.

As the sitting vice president of popular president Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1961, Nixon was the early favorite to become the thirty-fifth president of the United States in a campaign against the Democratic but little known junior senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. Nixon was clearly the more experienced, especially in foreign affairs. But presidential politics was becoming less about experience at the beginning of the television age, and more about perception and style. Although Nixon won the first televised presidential debate among radio listeners, he did not look as presidential as his opponent, who won the debate among television viewers. Nixon narrowly lost the 1960 presidential election to Kennedy by less than 120,000 popular votes.

Eight years later, Nixon was elected president in another close contest against sitting Democratic vice president Hubert Humphrey, on a campaign of ending the war in Vietnam and courting moderate Republicans on civil rights and law and order. Nixon achieved numerous domestic policy successes with the Clean Air Act of 1970 and omnibus crime legislation. But his major successes related to his expertise and his life-long interest in foreign policy.

Despite being raised as a Quaker, Nixon rejected the Quaker principle of pacifism and was decidedly hawkish in his foreign policy positions. He criticized the Truman administration for being too passive in its handling of the Korean War, disagreed publicly with Trumans decision to fire General Douglas MacArthur, and, as president, expanded the war in Vietnam by sending Marines into Laos and bombing Cambodia.

In a blow to the presidencys unilateral foreign policy authority, Congress overrode Nixons veto of the War Powers Act, which attempted to limit presidential war power in the face of mounting public and congressional opposition to the war in Vietnam by insuring that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities. Nixon and subsequent presidents argued that the War Powers Act is an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers, in part because it requires presidents to consult with Congress before U.S. armed forces engage in military hostilities and remove forces from conflict if Congress has not declared war or issued a resolution authorizing the use of force within sixty days.

Nixon was the consummate politician, a fighter for office and for his own political survival. This aggressive style assisted Nixon, at times, but did not endear him to his political opponents. He fought for his political career earlyto remain Eisenhowers running mate in 1952when he responded to charges that he had a campaign slush fund to defray personal expenses in the so-called Checkers Speech. He admitted to having the fund, but only to pay political, not personal, expenses save one: a cocker spaniel he accepted as a gift for his daughter, Tricia. Eisenhower praised Nixon afterward and kept him on the ticket. This shrewd political maneuvering could not save him when he failed to win the presidency in 1960, to become governor of California in 1962, or to overcome the largest scandal of his political career: Watergate.

Rejected by the White House as a third-rate burglary attempt, the arrest of five members of the Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP) at the Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., Watergate evolved into a president-led cover up, which resulted in the first and only resignation of a sitting president in U.S. history. The extent of Nixons involvement became evident after revelation in House judiciary committee hearings of a secret taping system in the White House. Nixon claimed executive privilege and refused to submit the tapes to Congress. But the U.S. Supreme Court, in US v. Nixon (1974), rejected this claim, precipitating Nixons resignation less than three weeks later.

On August 9, 1974, Nixon was succeeded by Gerald Ford, who had replaced Nixons elected vice president, Spiro Agnew, who had resigned in October 1973 and pleaded no contest to tax evasion in a plea-bargained deal for charges of accepting bribes while governor of Maryland and vice president of the United States. Ford was the first unelected vice president in U.S. history, in compliance with the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In September 1974 he pardoned Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he has committed or may have committed or taken part in while president.

Although Watergate damaged the president, Nixon overcame its physical and mental tolls and became a respected leader abroad after his presidency. During and after his political career, Nixon was also a prolific writer and author. Beginning with his account of his early political career, including the Checkers Speech and Alger Hiss affair, Nixon wrote Six Crises (1962). Along with his presidential memoirs (1978), after his resignation he wrote several other books, including No More Vietnams (1985) and 1999: Victory without War (1988), that confirm his personal interest in foreign affairs and attempts to shape and frame popular discourse on American involvement in international conflicts.

SEE ALSO Eisenhower, Dwight D.; Kennedy, John F.; Khrushchev, Nikita; Vietnam War; Watergate



Nixon, Richard M. 1962. Six Crises. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Nixon, Richard M. 1978. RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. New York: Grosset and Dunlap.

Nixon, Richard M. 1985. No More Vietnams. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Nixon, Richard M. 1988. 1999: Victory without War. New York: Simon & Schuster.


Barber, James D. 1972. The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nixon, Richard M.." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Nixon, Richard M.." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . (December 10, 2017).

"Nixon, Richard M.." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Nixon, United States v.


In United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 94 S. Ct. 3090, 41 L. Ed. 2d 1039 (1974), the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the doctrine of executive privilege but held that it could not prevent the disclosure of materials needed for a criminal prosecution. The case arose during the watergate political scandal, which involved President richard m. nixon and numerous members of his administration. The Court had to consider whether Nixon was required to turn over secret White House tape recordings to government prosecutors. Nixon claimed that the doctrine of executive privilege allowed him to refuse to release the tapes, while prosecutors argued that they had a right to obtain evidence of possible crimes, even if that evidence was held by the president of the United States.

The Watergate scandal began during the presidential campaign of 1972, in which Nixon defeated his Democratic opponent, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, by a wide margin. Several months before the election, on June 17, a group of burglars broke into the democratic party campaign headquarters in the Watergate building complex in Washington, D.C. Aggressive investigative reporting by the Washington Post uncovered connections to officials in the Nixon administration. Though the administration denied any wrongdoing, it soon became clear that members of the administration had tried to cover up the burglary and connections to it that might include the president.

Under congressional and public pressure, Nixon appointed a special prosecutor. When it was revealed that the president had secretly taped conversations in the Oval Office in the White House, the prosecutor, archibald cox, filed a subpoena to secure tapes that he believed were relevant to the criminal investigation. When Cox refused to withdraw his request, Nixon had him fired. The resulting public outrage forced Nixon to appoint leon jaworski as a new special prosecutor.

In March 1974 a federal grand jury indicted seven Nixon associates for conspiracy to obstruct justice and for other offenses related to the Watergate burglary. Nixon himself was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. Upon Jaworski's motion the U.S. district court issued a new subpoena to the president, requiring him to produce certain tapes and documents pertaining to precisely identified meetings between the president and others. Although Nixon released edited transcripts of some of the subpoenaed conversations, his attorney moved to quash, or void, the subpoena on the grounds of executive privilege. When the district court denied the motion, the president appealed, and the case was quickly brought to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nixon refused to release the tapes, contending that the doctrine of executive privilege gave him the right to withhold documents from Congress and the courts. Executive privilege, though not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, was first asserted by george washington. Presidents have argued that the privilege is inherent in executive power and is necessary to maintain the secrecy of information related to national security and to protect the confidentiality of their deliberations. Executive privilege did not become a major point of contention until the Nixon presidency, however. Nixon routinely used it during his first term to thwart congressional inquiries.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision (Justice william h. rehnquist recused himself because he had served in the Nixon administration), recognized for the first time the general legitimacy of executive privilege. Nevertheless, Chief Justice warren e. burger, writing for the Court, rejected Nixon's claim of "an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances." Burger found that [a]bsent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets," the need for protecting the confidentiality of presidential communications must give way to a legitimate request by the courts for information vital to a criminal prosecution. Burger noted that the judge would review the subpoenaed tapes in private to determine what portions should be released to the prosecutors. This confidential review would prevent sensitive but irrelevant information from being disclosed.

Nixon obeyed the order and turned the tapes over to the district court. When relevant portions were released, they revealed that the president had been intimately involved with the attempt to cover up White House involvement in the Watergate burglary. Less than three weeks after the Court announced its decision, Nixon resigned the presidency, thereby avoiding impeachment by Congress.

further readings

Jaworski, Leon. 1976. The Right and the Power: The Prosecution of Watergate. New York: Reader's Digest.

Johnsen, Dawn. 1999. "Executive Privilege Since United States v. Nixon: Issues of Motivation and Accommodation." Minnesota Law Review 83 (May).

Rozell, Mark J. 1999. "Executive Privilege and the Modern Presidents: In Nixon's Shadow." Minnesota Law Review 83 (May).

Woodward, Bob. 1999. Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate. New York: Simon & Schuster.


Nixon, Richard Milhous; Watergate.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nixon, United States v.." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Nixon, United States v.." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . (December 10, 2017).

"Nixon, United States v.." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Nixon, Richard M.

Nixon, Richard M. (1913–1994), congressman, vice president, thirty‐seventh president of the United States.Richard Nixon became president in January 1969, when the era of American strategic superiority was waning and rising domestic discontent with the pace of reform and the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was fueling a political backlash. Nixon, working closely with his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, appreciated that the United States did not have unlimited resources or unlimited interests, and sought to redefine America's role in the world through a retrenchment of its global commitments. Nixon's accomplishments and reputation as a strategist are overshadowed by his resignation in 1974 over the Watergate scandal.

The centerpiece of Nixon's international strategy was to manage the Soviet threat by inducing Moscow to moderate its behavior in the world arena. To achieve this, he endeavored to engage the Soviet Union in a web of relations that would furnish Moscow with incentives to seek accommodation with the United States. Vital to this were the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), which in 1972 resulted in an agreement to limit the deployment of strategic offensive missiles and antiballistic missile systems. Although the interim agreement on ballistic missiles arguably was flawed, the SALT Treaties paved the way for subsequent superpower nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements.

Another cornerstone of Nixon's policy was his historic opening to Communist China. Nixon correctly perceived, where others did not, that for strategic reasons China would welcome an approach from the United States, and Nixon, the staunch anti‐Communist, was comparatively invulnerable to partisan attacks of being “soft on communism.” The president recognized that a rapprochement with the People's Republic of China would help to isolate North Vietnam—which the United States was attempting to force into a settlement of the Vietnam War—and would confront the Soviet Union with the prospect of cooperation between its two greatest enemies, the United States and China.

Nixon's triumphant summit meeting in Beijing in 1972 and his visit to Moscow to sign the SALT Treaties a few weeks later marked the beginning of a period of detente (“easing of tensions”), in which Washington and Moscow sought to achieve accommodation and reduce the danger of nuclear war. Detente did not last, in part, critics have argued, because Nixon's policy lacked forceful disincentives to discipline Soviet misbehavior.

Nixon's principal electoral mandate was to end the war in Vietnam. He authorized the gradual withdrawal of the 500,000 American troops from South Vietnam and sought to negotiate a settlement that would not harm U.S. interests or credibility. U.S. draft calls and casualties declined, but the war continued. To increase U.S. leverage, Nixon ordered the incursion into Cambodia in 1970, the massive bombing of Hanoi, and the mining of Haiphong Harbor to cut off Soviet aid. These actions were domestically unpopular and are extremely contentious, even though Nixon claimed that they were instrumental to reaching the settlement by which all American combat forces were withdrawn and all known prisoners of war freed by March 1973. Fulfilling a campaign promise, Nixon ended conscription in 1973, transforming the U.S. military into an All‐Volunteer Force.

Nixon's Vietnam policy was and remains controversial. Some assert that he sold out the South Vietnamese government. Others argue that his attempt to negotiate conditions advantageous to U.S. objectives needlessly prolonged the war, for these were never attained, and the settlement eventually negotiated had been obtainable much earlier.
[See also Cold War: External Course; Cold War: Domestic Course; Nixon Doctrine.]


Stephen E. Ambrose , Nixon, 3 vols., 1987–91.
Herbert S. Parmet , Richard Nixon and His America, 1996.

Terry Terriff

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nixon, Richard M.." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Nixon, Richard M.." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . (December 10, 2017).

"Nixon, Richard M.." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Nixon, Richard Milhous

Nixon, Richard Milhous (1913–94) 37th US President (1969–74). He was elected as a Republican to the House of Representatives in 1946, and the Senate in 1950. Nixon came to prominence as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–61), but lost the presidential elections of 1960 to John F. Kennedy. In 1968, Nixon received the Republican nomination for a second time and narrowly defeated his Democrat challenger, Hubert Humphrey. As president, he adopted a policy of détente with the Soviet Union and opened US relations with communist China. Overwhelmingly re-elected in 1972, he withdrew US troops from the Vietnam War (1973). The Watergate affair revealed that he was personally implicated in the obstruction of justice, and he resigned to avoid impeachment.;

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." World Encyclopedia. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." World Encyclopedia. . (December 10, 2017).

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Nixon, Richard Milhous


Richard M. Nixon (19131994) took office as the thirty-seventh President of the United States on January 20, 1969. He campaigned on promises to end the Vietnam War (19591975), reduce racial divisions in the United States, and decrease the nation's high inflation rate. Despite his ambitious plans, Nixon's accomplishments are often overshadowed by the scandal for which his presidency is best known. Nixon's personal anger and suspicions manifested themselves in the Watergate criminal and political scandal, first revealed to the public through the news of an interrupted burglary at the offices of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C. As evidence of his wrongdoings mounted, Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment by Congress.

Nixon was born in 1913 on a modest farm in California and was raised in the Quaker faith. He was an aggressive and successful student from an early age, graduating in 1934 from Duke University Law School on a full scholarship. After graduation he worked for the federal government and later as a military attorney during World War II (19391945). Nixon's humble but aggressive style caught the attention of others, who encouraged him to enter political life.

His active political career resembled a roller coaster ride. He served as President Dwight Eisenhower's (19531961) vice president, and was unusually active in the role. But Nixon lost his campaign to succeed Eisenhower in 1961 when he was defeated by John F. Kennedy (19611963). In 1962, Nixon again lost a bid for public office, failing to gain the governor's seat of his native state, California. This series of defeats ended his political career for a time and Nixon returned to practicing law. But when the political climate in the United States shifted in the late 1960s, Nixon saw new opportunities and prepared a presidential campaign.

During his campaign, Nixon promised a quick end to the Vietnam War, which was the source of much social unrest at home, but once in office he actually expanded the war before decreasing American involvement in the region. Though Nixon did not follow through on his Vietnam promises, he did achieve an arms treaty with the Soviet Union in 1972. Relations with that country were quite strained at the time, and the arms treaty, limiting strategic nuclear weapons, was a timely foreign policy success.

War was not the only item on Nixon's foreign policy agenda. It also included economics. Nixon reopened trade and economic relations with China, which were severed in the early 1950s due to China's involvement with North Korea during the Korean War (19501953). Renewed relations between the two countries opened up a wealth of new business opportunities. The vast Chinese market appealed to many U.S. businesses and trade was quickly established. He also proposed a steep tax on imported goods and a freeze on all wage and price increases for ninety days. Nixon's efforts to stabilize the inflation-ridden U.S. economy helped reduce the national debt and the rate of inflation. It also asserted the primacy of business vitality over the artificial economic ties to the value of gold.

Tying the U.S. dollar to the value of gold was seen by Nixon as an economic restriction. By ending the U.S. dollar's attachment to the gold standard, Nixon asserted he had done something long overdue, claiming, "The strength of a nation's currency is based on the strength of that nation's economy." With his action the Gold Standard Act of 1900 ended. The nation's currency became subject to the floating exchange rates of the marketplace and endured well.

Nixon's accomplishments as president are often overshadowed by the events that consumed his second term in office, beginning in 1972. Known collectively as the Watergate scandal, these events include criminal acts against Nixon's perceived enemies. Watergate first came to national attention when a break-in of the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building was interrupted. The culprits eventually revealed ties to the White House and Congress ordered an investigation. Nixon was very uncooperative and denied personal involvement in the affair. However, Congress' determination to get to the bottom of the scandal revealed that Nixon was indeed involved. Rather than face almost certain impeachment and removal from office, Nixon resigned on August 4, 1974, leaving the presidency in disgrace.

Nixon went into seclusion for a time and later regained a kind of elder statesman status. He wrote several books on foreign policy and politics, including a personal memoir of his life. Nixon died of a stroke in 1994, at the age of eighty-one.

See also: Gold Standard, Gold Standard Act, Vietnam War


Commire, Anne, ed. North and South America M-Z, vol. 5 of Historic World Leaders. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994, s.v. "Nixon, Richard."

Mazo, Earl, and Stephen Hess. Nixon: A Political Portrait. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

Miller, Roger LeRoy, and Raburn M. Williams. The New Economics of Richard Nixon: Freezes, Floats, and Fiscal Policy. New York: Harper's Magazine Press, 1972.

Nixon, Richard. The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1978.

Nixon, Richard M. A New Road For America: Major Policy Statements March 1970 to October 1971. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . (December 10, 2017).

"Nixon, Richard Milhous." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from