Richard Milhous Nixon
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 303–219.
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 election—that 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.
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 programs—the 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 administration—nationalizing the existing welfare program or instituting a guaranteed minimum income through a negative income tax—and 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 policies—which were simply the means to the end—but 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 Vietnam—at 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 quo—Moscow 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.
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 presidents—Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Truman—had 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 publication—the first time such an order had been issued in American history—but 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 president—a 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 witness—the person who had taken the bribes and stored them for Agnew—willing 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 investigation—the "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 presidents—possibly earlier than the 1970s—if 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 corruption—whether serious or frivolous—had 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, 1987–1991); 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, 1946–1952 (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 1973–1974 (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).
Nixon, Richard Milhous
NIXON, Richard Milhous
(b. 9 January 1913 in Yorba Linda, California; d. 22 April 1994 in New York City), thirty-seventh president of the United States, who enjoyed success during his first term, particularly in foreign affairs, but was forced to resign in 1974 because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
Nixon was born in the small town of Yorba Linda in Orange County, California, in 1913, the second of the five sons of Francis Anthony (Frank) Nixon, a farmer and grocery store owner, and Hannah Milhous Nixon, a homemaker whose Quaker religion the family adopted.
Nixon grew up in a small, Sears kit house without electricity or running water. His father experienced failure in several businesses until he settled down in nearby East Whittier as proprietor of a service station and grocery store. Nixon began working at an early age both inside and outside the home to help support the family. Nonetheless, he was able to find time for his studies, earning valedictorian status in eighth grade and finishing third in his high school class, second at Whittier College (1930–1934), and third at Duke University Law School (1934–1937), which he attended on scholarship. He was also a successful school politician, widely admired for his leadership abilities, prize winning debate skills, and photographic memory. Paradoxically, he was a shy and bookish fellow who had difficulty forging intimate relationships.
After failing to secure a position in New York City with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1937, Nixon returned to Whittier to work in the law firm Wingert and Bewley, where he was made a partner within a year, and began to dabble in Republican politics. In 1938, while acting in a community theater production, he met Patricia Ryan, a schoolteacher; for him it was love at first sight. Born Thelma Catherine Ryan in a miner's shack in Ely, Nevada, in 1912, Pat was a graduate of the University of Southern California who had worked in New York City and as an extra in Hollywood films. After being pursued by a dogged Nixon for two years, she married him in 1940. They had two children—Tricia, who was born in 1946, and Julie, born in 1948. Although Pat worked loyally and quite effectively in campaigns and later as first lady, she was never happy with the rough-and-tumble of politics and the glare of publicity that fell on her private life. On several occasions her husband promised her he would take up a new profession.
After serving in the Office of Price Administration for several months in 1942, where he developed a strong distaste for government bureaucracy, Nixon enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he was commissioned as a lieutenant and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant commander. During World War II he served in the Pacific theater in Bougainville and Green Island. Even though he did not see combat, he took on the sobriquet the "Fighting Quaker" when he ran for Congress in 1946. He answered the call from Republicans in his old Twelfth Congressional District in Orange County for a candidate to challenge the veteran Democratic representative, Horace Jeremiah ("Jerry") Voorhis. Nixon ran in support of "practical liberalism" as an "antidote to … New Deal idealism." In a very controversial campaign full of dirty tricks and mudslinging that blemished Nixon's reputation forever, he defeated Voorhis by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin. His defenders contended that Voorhis gave as good as he got and that, in any event, Nixon's tactics were not that unusual in the blood sport of California politics.
As a first-term congressman Nixon served on the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), where he was a voice of relative moderation, and the House Education and Labor Committee, where he was one of the architects of the Taft-Hartley Act. More important was his fact-finding mission to war-torn Europe in 1947, during which he developed a lifelong interest in foreign affairs and a belief in internationalism that stood in sharp contrast to the isolationism and unilateralism of many of his Republican colleagues. The energetic young congressman became famous in 1948 through his sensational work on HUAC investigating Alger Hiss, a former State Department official who was charged with espionage for the Soviet Union. Hiss was ultimately found guilty of perjury and sentenced to a five-year prison term. For many years the case was a cause célèbre among liberals and radicals who, it now appears erroneously, accused Nixon and the FBI of railroading an innocent Hiss.
Unopposed for reelection to the House in 1948, Nixon ran against Helen Gahagan Douglas for the U.S. Senate in 1950 in another famously scurrilous campaign during which opponents began calling him "Tricky Dick," a nickname that dogged him throughout his career. As in 1946, both sides played rough, but many Americans later remembered Nixon's celebrated attack on the liberal Douglas as a "Pink Lady" who was implicitly close to being a full-blown "Red" or Communist. Nixon won by almost 700,000 votes, the largest plurality of any senatorial candidate in 1950. The second youngest senator at the time, he generally supported President Harry Truman's foreign policy of containment, especially in Europe, while opposing Fair Deal domestic politics and assailing corruption in the executive branch. In 1952, because of his popularity among Republicans, his perceived conservatism and fervent anticommunism, his youth, and his western background, Nixon emerged as the ideal vice-presidential candidate to serve as a counterpoint to the older, more moderate, and eastern-oriented party standard-bearer, General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In the 1952 campaign Nixon took the partisan low road while Eisenhower stayed above the fray. Nixon labeled the Democratic candidate, Adlai Stevenson, "Adlai the appeaser … who got a Ph.D. degree from [Secretary of State Dean] Acheson's College of Cowardly Containment." During the campaign he became involved in a potentially career-ending scandal when journalists discovered that he had a private "slush fund" from wealthy backers to help support his campaigning. With many Republican leaders calling for his resignation from the ticket and with Eisenhower wavering, Nixon took the unusual tack of going on live television to defend himself in what came to be called the "Checkers Speech" because of his reference to the little dog his daughters received as a gift that he refused to return to his benefactors. Although highbrow critics lambasted the performance as maudlin and mawkish, most of the public loved it, especially the Republicans, who convinced Eisenhower to retain Nixon on the ticket. They took 55 percent of the popular vote in 1952 and swept the electoral college by a 442 to 89 margin.
Nixon was an unusually active vice president, especially helpful to Eisenhower as a liaison between the White House and the Republicans in Congress. During Eisenhower's three major illnesses, a heart attack in 1955, ileitis in 1956, and a stroke in 1957, Nixon handled his potentially awkward position diplomatically. In 1958 he and the president worked out formal procedures for future presidential disabilities that looked to some degree like the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1967.
Yet despite Nixon's generally exemplary performance, Eisenhower contemplated dropping him from the ticket in 1956 because his fierce partisanship and rough political style made him a lightning rod for attacks by Democrats, and also because the president believed that he needed a running mate with more experience in government. Nor was Eisenhower especially impressed with his vice president's leadership abilities or his personal maturity. But Nixon remained on the ticket in 1956, and he and Eisenhower beat Stevenson again with an impressive 57 percent of the vote and swept the electoral college by a 457 to 73 margin. During the second term Nixon made headlines with his activities in the international arena, bravely confronting violent demonstrators in Latin America in May 1958, standing in for the president in April 1959 in a meeting with the new Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, and trading rhetorical jabs in a much-publicized "kitchen debate" with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow in July 1959.
Although the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1960, Nixon faced stiff competition from the moderate branch of the party led by New York governor Nelson Rockefeller and from the fast-growing conservative branch led by Arizona senator Barry Goldwater. He won the nomination on the first ballot at the Chicago convention in July after earlier making a deal with Rockefeller called "the Compact of Fifth Avenue," in which he moved toward the moderates' positions on many issues. His selection of a running mate, former Massachusetts senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., was ill-advised, as Lodge turned out to be a weak and indifferent campaigner. Eisenhower was not entirely happy with Nixon's campaign, in which the vice president suggested that he would do things differently from his mentor when he reached the White House. For his part Nixon confronted a recession that he thought might have been eased had Eisenhower adopted different economic strategies. In addition, he was not helped when the president, who was asked in August to name one policy that his vice president initiated, responded flippantly, "If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don't remember."
Nixon's opponent, Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy, was a charismatic candidate burdened by his Catholic faith and his relatively undistinguished résumé based upon his role as a backbencher in the House, which he entered the same year as Nixon, and the Senate, to which he was elected in 1952. Nixon unwittingly helped Kennedy establish his gravitas by agreeing to an unprecedented series of four televised debates during which the intelligent and media-savvy Democrat demonstrated that he could hold his own with the more experienced, though far less photogenic, vice president. On the eve of the election Kennedy picked up the support of many Republican African Americans after he intervened publicly to try to protect Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been arrested during a civil rights demonstration. He needed all the votes he could get, since he won the popular vote by the slimmest of margins, 49.7 to 49.5 percent, and the electoral vote by 303 to 219. The Republicans cried foul, contending that there had been widespread ballot-box stuffing in two close states, Texas and, especially, Illinois, which had been expected to go for Nixon. For a while Nixon considered demanding a recount, but he feared that such an action would "tear the country apart."
Accepting defeat, Nixon returned to California to work in a Los Angeles law firm and to write his memoirs, Six Crises (the Hiss investigation, the "Checkers" speech, Eisenhower's heart attack, the Latin American trip, the Khrushchev debate, and the presidential election), which became a best-seller in 1962. California Republicans drafted him to run for governor that year against incumbent Democrat Edmund "Pat" Brown. After he lost the election by almost 300,000 votes, his political career appeared to be over. On the morning after his defeat, a bleary-eyed Nixon offered bitter comments to the press, most famously, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."
Soon after, he left California for New York City to work in the law firm Mudge, Stern, Baldwin, and Todd. Although he had been hired primarily as a "rainmaker" to bring in influential clients, he did a highly professional job in a losing cause arguing an important case, Time, Inc. v. Hill, before the Supreme Court in 1966. By 1964 Nixon returned to national politics as a Republican leader, waiting in the wings for the presidential nomination in case the candidacy of Barry Goldwater faltered. But Goldwater received the nomination, much to the dismay of the eastern Republican establishment. Unlike many Republicans who were appalled by what they perceived to be Goldwater's extremism, Nixon worked loyally in a losing cause and thus secured his support among leaders of the conservative wing of his party. Given President Lyndon B. Johnson's landslide victory over the Arizona senator, Nixon, a centrist, found himself in a strong position for the next round of presidential politics.
Preparing for the contest for the 1968 nomination, Nixon began building a political staff, hiring the journalist Pat Buchanan in 1965 and touring the country on the rubber-chicken circuit, speaking to some six hundred groups of the party faithful in forty states over a two-year period. In addition, he made several well-publicized international trips and wrote articles about foreign affairs that burnished his image as a statesman. Although few recognized it at the time, Nixon was something of a closet intellectual who read widely and thought deeply about history and diplomacy. After the front-running Republican candidate for president, Michigan governor George Romney, self-destructed in 1967, Nixon assumed his position, opposed by supporters of Rockefeller and the new conservative leader, California governor Ronald Reagan. He beat back their challenge on the first ballot at the Miami Beach convention in August, owing in good measure to his promise to southern conservatives to slow the pace of desegregation in their region.
He also appealed to southerners with his vice-presidential candidate, Governor Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland, a one time Rockefeller Republican who moved to the right after a celebrated conflict with African-American leaders in his state. He was Nixon's Nixon in the campaign, offering tough partisan speeches dominated by a call for "law and order." The Republicans (and third-party candidate George Wallace, the former governor of Alabama) were responding to the unprecedented wave of urban rebellions in U.S. cities since 1965, the increasingly obstreperous antiwar protestors, the countercultural movement that advocated sexual liberation and the legalization of marijuana, and the general assault against middle-class values promoted by hippies, the New Left, and liberal intellectuals. For many Americans these forces represented all that was wrong with their country during the turbulent 1960s.
That turbulence was underscored by the infamous Democratic convention in Chicago in August, where the police and Mayor Richard J. Daley confronted ten thousand protestors in the streets and hundreds of delegates inside the convention hall who opposed the nomination of Johnson's handpicked candidate, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. All of the primaries had been won by antiwar senators Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota and Robert F. Kennedy from Massachusetts, but most states did not have primaries in 1968, and, in any event, the stronger of the two candidates, Kennedy, had been assassinated in Los Angeles in June. The violence in Chicago, which a government panel later labeled a "police riot," weakened the Democratic Party considerably.
Eschewing debates with Humphrey as well as press conferences, Nixon's campaign manager, John Mitchell, ran one of the most carefully managed campaigns in history, relying especially on tightly controlled, televised town meetings that looked more spontaneous than they really were. Both Humphrey and Nixon promised to end the war in Vietnam, but both were vague about their policies. Although he never said it directly, Nixon implied that he had a secret plan to end the war. Such a plan did not exist. Moreover, Nixon claimed that it would be unseemly for him to discuss the specifics of the phantom plan while Johnson was trying to arrange peace talks with the Vietnamese Communists. Nixon led during the entire campaign with Humphrey closing the gap as the election neared, in part because many blue-collar northerners returned to the Democrats after flirting with the idea of voting for the populism and racism of George Wallace, who promised to be even tougher on protestors and rioters than Nixon had been.
Fearing the election of their old foe, Nixon, the Russians pushed the North Vietnamese to accept Johnson's terms for opening peace talks. One week before the election an agreement was reached, the announcement of which led many voters to make a last-minute move toward Humphrey. However, the trend was reversed on the weekend before the election when the South Vietnamese government publicly quashed the deal. In activities that came close to treason, a Republican operative had urged the South Vietnamese, who did not need much urging, to reject the deal, promising a better arrangement when Nixon became president. The Johnson administration knew about this violation of the Logan Act since it had been wiretapping the operative, Anna Chennault, as well as South Vietnam's embassy in Washington and government offices in Saigon itself. Because the president did not want to reveal the wiretapping, and also because he lacked a specific smoking gun linking Chennault to the Nixon campaign, he and Humphrey chose not to reveal the illegal Republican meddling in official U.S. diplomacy. Nixon won the popular vote with 43.4 percent to Humphrey's 42.7 percent and Wallace's 13.5 percent, and the electoral vote of 301 to 191 to 46. Several weeks after being elected, Nixon quietly urged Saigon to accept the deal that Johnson had crafted in his "October Surprise."
Nixon promised in his campaign to "Bring Us Together," no mean feat for any president in 1969, let alone the intensely partisan Nixon. He had won in good measure through the politics of polarization, an approach that continued throughout his administration. Nixon's cabinet was made up of white males, at least seven of whom were millionaires, albeit self-made men. But in this administration the cabinet was far less important than at any other time in American history, with Nixon operating his foreign and domestic policy through his White House staff. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, and domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman, along with their aides, played key policy-making roles in all aspects of the administration, and in Kissinger's case, executed policy as well. Nixon chose this course because in the foreign-policy field he felt that he could not trust the State Department to keep a secret. As for the domestic arena, he correctly concluded that the permanent bureaucracies in the departments were dominated by Democrats and liberals who would oppose his attempts to dismantle parts of the welfare state, and especially the Great Society reforms of Johnson. Among the most suspicious, secretive, and even paranoid of all presidents, Nixon, the quintessential micromanager, tried to centralize all government activities in the White House, where he could control access to information about his strategies and initiatives.
Nixon was far less interested in domestic politics than he was in foreign policy, where he knew he had more freedom from Congress to operate. He was able to control access to his foreign policies through Kissinger's National Security Council (NSC) so thoroughly that an agent for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the White House had to steal thousands of documents to keep the admirals and generals informed about what the president was up to in the international arena. Nixon wanted to demonstrate to his "enemies" that he could operate a secret diplomacy just as they did and that he would not be pushed around by antiwar mobs in the streets, Congress, and his special enemy, the media.
His first order of business was to end the Vietnam War. To accomplish "peace with honor," he adopted Vietnamization, the slow but steady withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, to relieve the antiwar and antidraft pressure at home. At the same time, under loopholes in the agreement Johnson made with the Communists, he increased the bombing of North Vietnam and secretly began bombing areas in neutral Cambodia used by Hanoi to send supplies and cadres south. When a journalist ran a story about the covert bombing, Nixon ordered illegal wiretapping to find the person responsible for leaking the information, the first of many such surveillance operations that became part of the bill of particulars of impeachment against the president five years later.
Despite a 1 November 1969 ultimatum to Hanoi and the increased bombing, the Communists clung to their bargaining position. They forced the United States to make concessions because of the timetable for the inevitable withdrawal of all U.S. troops and because of the power of the antiwar movement. The movement's clout was demonstrated on 15 October 1969, when more than two million people turned out for the Moratorium in two hundred U.S. cities to express their opposition to the slow pace of withdrawal from Vietnam. During the Moratorium, the movement's most successful demonstration, the participants—most of whom were middle-class adults—took time off from work or college to attend rallies and prayer sessions and to picket and distribute leaflets.
Nixon's attempt to weaken the Communists with incursions into Cambodia in May 1970 and Laos in February 1971 were failures. The Cambodian invasion created the greatest violence and instability in history on American campuses, including the killing of four students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in May 1970 and strong opposition in the Democratic-controlled Congress. Ultimately, Nixon had to agree to permit North Vietnamese troops to remain in South Vietnam after American troops left to move negotiations along before the 1972 election. When in October 1972 the Communists backed off on their demand that South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu had to resign before they would agree to a ceasefire, a provisional agreement was signed. But that came undone when the South Vietnamese rejected the deal, an action that Nixon attributed to North Vietnamese obstructionism—obstructionism that led to the B-52 "Christmas bombing" of Hanoi and Haiphong to bring the Communists back to the peace table. The Americans and the Vietnamese Communists finally signed a treaty on 27 January 1973, which closely resembled the treaty originally initialed the previous October and which so favored Hanoi that it easily conquered all of Vietnam in April 1975. Nixon thought he had made the best deal that he could and counted upon his promise to return with military force if the Communists refused to abide by the terms of the treaty, particularly those that related to the political process in South Vietnam. He never expected that his presidency would soon be emasculated by the trials and tribulations of the Watergate scandal, which did not become a crisis for him until April 1973.
Nixon was far more successful with his brilliant triangular diplomacy that led to detente with the Soviet Union and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) in May 1972 and his celebrated, mediagenic, ten-day visit to China in February 1972. Pressured by anticommunists like Nixon, successive American governments since the Communist takeover of China in 1949 had refused to recognize Beijing. By cleverly playing off China and the Soviet Union's mutual fears that the United States would ally with their enemy against them, the now apparently amoral Nixon was able to establish relatively friendly relations with Moscow and Beijing, thus providing a salutary reduction in his country's cold war tensions and insecurities.
In many ways, despite later ups and downs, the normalization of relations with the two Communist giants led to the ending of the cold war. One of those ups and downs had to do with the Yom Kippur War of 1973, begun when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel to regain the territories Israel had conquered in 1967. During that war the United States went on full nuclear alert when it appeared that the Soviet Union was going to intervene to aid Egypt. Despite that scare, Nixon's policies of relative evenhandedness toward the Arabs, particularly Anwar Sadat's Egypt, paved the way for the Camp David accords of 1978.
The Nixon administration's destabilization of the democratically elected government of Chile's Marxist president Salvador Allende contributed to conditions that resulted in Allende's overthrow in 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet, who established a brutal, authoritarian regime. In other areas of the Third World, his administration was not as sympathetic to or interested in liberation movements as had been the Democrats.
Although elected to rein in big government and the welfare state that had grown under Democratic leadership, Nixon's domestic record includes either active or passive support for so many liberal programs that he could be considered the last liberal president of the twentieth century. His attorney general, John Mitchell, explained, "watch what we do, rather than what we say." Nowhere could this be seen as clearly as in the contentious area of school desegregation. Despite his promises to the South to slow the pace of desegregation, Nixon deftly moved the issue out of the executive branch to the judicial branch of government so that he would not be blamed for what happened in the region. The courts then moved swiftly to desegregate more southern school districts during Nixon's tenure than during the previous eight years of Democratic rule. The president did appeal to the South, which with the election of 1968 finalized its transition from a Democratic to a Republican stronghold. He spoke out against busing, one of the remedies for segregation recommended by the courts, and failed in an attempt to emasculate the Voting Rights Act and to appoint two conservative southerners to the Supreme Court, Clement F. Haynsworth, Jr., and G. Harrold Carswell, both of whom the Senate rejected.
Nixon did leave a conservative imprint on the court with the appointment of Chief Justice Warren Burger in 1969, Harry Blackmun in 1970, and Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist, both in 1971. However, Blackmun and Powell did not turn out to be as conservative as the president expected, with the former writing the majority opinion in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion. Serving as president during the heyday of the women's liberation movement, Nixon supported passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. More importantly, he strengthened the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to deal with issues of gender discrimination and, under Title IX, broadened the power of the Civil Rights Commission to prohibit gender discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funds, an initiative that led to a revolution in university programs for female athletes.
Nixon was also the greatest environmental president since Theodore Roosevelt, even though he considered the burgeoning movement "crap." Because of the popularity of that movement (the first Earth Day was in 1970) and the environmental credentials of his likely chief opponent in the 1972 presidential campaign, Maine senator Edmund Muskie, Nixon signed legislation establishing the Environmental Protection Agency and approved Clean Air Act amendments, the Endangered Species Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, among many other measures.
He did not succeed in reforming the welfare program. Nixon's revolutionary Family Assistance Plan, a centerpiece of his first administration, was attacked by liberals who thought it too harsh and by conservatives who thought it too weak. It had been paired with a more successful project, the New Federalism, which returned billions of tax dollars from the federal government to the states in a massive decentralization program.
Among other examples of progressive legislation that Nixon did get approved were the ending of the Selective Service System and the adoption, in 1973, of an all-volunteer army; lowering the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen; removing the Post Office from the cabinet to become the independent U.S. Postal Service; establishing AMTRAK, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Act; increasing federal expenditures for the arts; and establishing wars against cancer and drugs. Although he was not happy signing off on all of those bills, he had little choice considering their popularity among the public and the Democratic Congress. If he hoped to be reelected in 1972, Nixon had to meet the liberals halfway.
That reelection was also endangered by the shaky economy he inherited from the Johnson administration, with spiraling inflation figures and growing unemployment ("stagflation") causing a good deal of pain among Americans. In August 1971, going against every economic principle in which he had once believed, Nixon approved wage and price controls that temporarily stabilized the economy. But it was a quick fix that fell apart in 1973, with the situation made even worse when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) both embargoed oil to the United States in the wake of the Yom Kippur War and raised the price per barrel as much as fourfold. The wage-and-price decision in 1971 was coupled with an even more dramatic announcement: the U.S. all but abandoned the gold standard by permitting the dollar to float against other currencies.
Nixon began his campaign for reelection in 1969 with a private slush fund of $2 million that could be used by his Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) for legal and extralegal political espionage and under-the-table payoffs to people like the Democratic Alabama politician who challenged George Wallace for governor in 1970. Using such funds Nixon also set up a secret, investigatory agency in the White House, called the Plumbers (to find leaks). Among other crimes, the group was involved in the 1971 break-in of the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Ellsberg was the man who leaked the Defense Department's history of the Vietnam War, the "Pentagon Papers," to the press. Some of those same operatives were involved in the 17 June 1972 break-in at Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington. Nixon and his aides successfully covered up the White House's ties to the burglars until after the election.
Owing to reforms in the Democratic Party nomination procedures and CREEP's extralegal and illegal political machinations, Nixon wound up running against his "favorite" opponent in the 1972 election, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, the most liberal of his potential rivals. Republicans labeled McGovern the AAA candidate for his support of amnesty for draft dodgers, abortion on demand, and appeasement toward the Vietnamese Communists. McGovern's campaign almost self-destructed at the start when he first supported and then removed from the ticket his vice-presidential candidate, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, after news reports about Eagleton's earlier psychological illness. When on 26 October 1972 Henry Kissinger announced in his October Surprise that "Peace is at hand," McGovern lost his only winning issue. A week later he lost the election in a landslide, 61 percent to 38 percent in the popular vote, while capturing the electoral votes of only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. Armed with that strong mandate from the voters and uncomfortable about being a "liberal" president, Nixon and his aides began planning a rightward shift during his second administration.
But in January 1973 everything began coming undone as the judge in the Watergate trial, the conservative Republican John J. Sirica, pressured the burglars with long jail terms until one of them, James McCord, began to talk about his links to the White House. Congress soon got into the act with a Senate investigation, during which White House counsel John Dean presented damning details about the president's involvement in the cover-up of the break-in. Even more important, during those same hearings another White House aide revealed that from 1971 through 1973 the president had secretly taped all of his conversations. A battle soon ensued between the president and Congress, mediated by the courts, about access to those soon-to-be incriminating tapes. During the same period investigative journalists, particularly Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, began discovering other evidence of illegal and unconstitutional acts in which the president had a direct hand. And as if he did not have enough troubles, the president had to demand the resignation of Vice President Agnew in the fall because of Watergate-unrelated crimes connected to accepting kickbacks from contractors. Nixon selected and Congress approved Agnew's replacement, Michigan representative Gerald R. Ford, whom Nixon privately thought so unpresidential as to represent an insurance policy for him against impeachment.
But that did not stop the House, whose judiciary committee had begun hearings on Watergate that led to investigations and even more revelations about illegal operations in the White House. During the same period independent prosecutors, first Archibald Cox and then Leon Jaworski, ran parallel investigations.
After the courts made Nixon release transcripts and then the tapes themselves, few in Congress, or in the nation in general, doubted that he had committed crimes worthy of impeachment. And it was not just the obvious criminal activity surrounding the cover-up of the break-in that concerned them. In many ways the White House appeared to be undermining American democracy. Nixon himself claimed that he was just playing the same hardball politics practiced by his predecessors, but although some of his shady activities had precedent, many did not, and those that had been practiced before were unprecedented in their scope. As if this was not bad enough, many Americans were astonished by the discovery that the proper, almost Victorian, public Nixon was caught on tape as profane and vulgar, anti-Semitic, racist, and mean-spirited.
Even before it received the famous "smoking gun" tape in early August 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted late in July, twenty-seven to eleven, to impeach Nixon for obstruction of justice, twenty-eight to ten for abuse of power, and twenty-one to seventeen for contempt of Congress. Among the abuses uncovered, aside from the original cover-up, were Nixon's political uses of the Internal Revenue Service, illegal wiretaps of political enemies, illegal campaign contributions, threats to the media, cheating on his personal taxes, selling ambassadorships, and a host of other acts that John Mitchell labeled the "White House Horrors." The accumulation of evidence led the president to resign on 9 August 1974, just before he certainly would have been impeached by the House of Representatives and then removed from office by the Senate. Those crimes also led to the conviction and imprisonment of Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Dean, and several other members of the administration and CREEP. Nixon himself escaped prosecution and potential imprisonment when President Ford pardoned him on 8 September 1974, an act that may have cost Ford the presidential election in 1976. Worried about Nixon's precarious health and concerned about putting the nation through another year of trauma as the former president prepared for several trials, Ford thought it best to end the "long national nightmare."
After recovering from a life-threatening attack of phlebitis and serious depression, Nixon began to campaign one more time, this time for "ex-president." And in a political comeback even more unlikely than the one he made after losing the California gubernatorial election in 1962, Nixon did achieve that status by the middle 1980s. He attained it through carefully planned public appearances and, especially, through writing first his memoirs in 1978, and then, in an incredible flurry, eight more best-selling books between 1980 and 1994 that outlined his views on diplomacy and evaluations of foreign leaders he had met. He had become a wise, elder statesman whose experience and allegedly brilliant record in foreign affairs made him a national asset. People had not forgotten Watergate, but they began to compartmentalize Nixon's career into unsavory domestic doings and distasteful personality traits caught on tape and his successful foreign-policy exploits. President Bill Clinton echoed this theme at Nixon's funeral in Yorba Linda, following his death from a stroke in 1994 in New York City, when he generously proclaimed, "May the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close." Nixon is buried in Yorba Linda.
Nixon's presidential papers and the infamous Watergate tapes can be found in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Most of his pre-presidential papers are located at the National Archive's regional facility in Laguna Niguel, California, while the privately operated Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda contains fragmentary pre-and post-presidential papers. Nixon's memoir RN (1978), though self-serving, is useful, but it needs to be read with three balanced studies, Stephen Ambrose's Nixon (three volumes, 1987, 1989, and 1991), Herbert S. Parmet's Richard Nixon and His America (1990), and Tom Wicker's One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream (1995). Most favorable to Nixon are Jonathan Aitken, Nixon: A Life (1993), and Irwin Gellman, The Contender (1999), a revisionist approach to the period up to 1952. For the presidency itself the main monographs are Michael A. Genovese, The Nixon Presidency (1990); Joan Hoff, Nixon Reconsidered ( 1994); Melvin Small, The Presidency of Richard Nixon (1999); and Richard Reeves, President Nixon: Alone in the White House (2001). For Watergate, Stanley I. Kutler, The Wars of Watergate (1992), is encyclopedic, and for Nixon's run for the ex-presidency, see Robert Sam Anson, Exile (1984). Obituaries are in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and Washington Post (all 24 Apr. 1994).
Nixon, Richard Milhous
Nixon, Richard Milhous
(b. 9 January 1913 in Yorba Linda, California; d. 22 April 1994 in New York City), thirty-seventh president of the United States (20 January 1969 to 9 August 1974) and one of the dominant figures of the post-World War II era. Because of the Watergate scandal, Nixon became the only president ever forced to resign his office.
Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, a tiny town in southern California, and grew up in nearby Whittier. The region’s deep conservative temper would inform his political views, but the more important influences in his boyhood were psychological. From his early boyhood, he exhibited a combustible mix of intelligence and suspiciousness, ambition and rage—qualities that would become hallmarks of his political persona.
Nixon’s father, Francis Anthony, known as Frank, was an Ohio-born Methodist who struggled in various jobs before eventually opening a successful grocery and gas station. Hot-tempered and prone to violence, Frank strictly enforced his will. In 1908 Frank married Hannah Milhous, a devout Quaker. Hannah was equally strong-willed in her own way, quietly preaching a stern ethical code. Nixon remembered his father as “a common man” or a “little man” and idealized his mother as a “saint.”
The Nixons had five sons: Harold in 1909, Richard, Francis Donald (called Donald) in 1914, Arthur in 1918, and Edward in 1930. Two of them died young: Arthur from encephalitis in 1925, Harold from tuberculosis in 1933. Apart from these traumas, the family also faced financial hardship, though not dire poverty. Richard worked odd jobs until he finished law school and always bore a deep resentment toward the privileged and fortunate.
Diligent and precociously serious, Nixon excelled academically. After two years at Fullerton High School, he transferred to Whittier High School in 1928, from which he graduated third in his class in 1930. Though not a natural athlete, he played football, serving dutifully as a benchwarmer; he fared better in drama and debating. In 1930 he enrolled at Whittier College where he continued these pursuits. He also founded a club there, called the “Orthogonians,” to rival the established “Franklins,” whose well-to-do members dominated campus life. In 1934 Nixon graduated second in his class, winning a scholarship to Duke Law School in North Carolina.
At Duke, Nixon maintained his reputation for assiduous work habits (he had an “iron butt,” one friend remarked) and a saturnine demeanor (he was nicknamed “Gloomy Gus”). He lived abstemiously, residing at one point in an abandoned toolshed. Although he graduated third in his class in 1937, he failed to get a job at a New York firm or the FBI, to his lasting disappointment.
After law school, Nixon returned to Whittier to begin private practice. While acting in community theater there in 1938, he met Thelma Catherine (“Pat”) Ryan, a schoolteacher, whom he courted doggedly, even chauffeuring her to dates with other men. His perseverance triumphed: they were married on 21 June 1940 in a Quaker ceremony.
In January 1942 the Nixons moved to Washington, D.C., where Richard joined the wartime Office of Price Administration. But federal bureaucracy frustrated him. That same year he entered the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant, serving first at an air station in Iowa, and then, in 1944, as a transport-control officer in the Pacific. He was not assigned to combat, though his base suffered Japanese attacks. He finished his service in January 1946 in Maryland, terminating navy contracts.
In September 1945 Nixon received a call from Herman Perry, a Whittier banker. Perry belonged to a group of southern California businessmen seeking a Republican candidate to challenge the incumbent Democrat Jerry Voorhis for the Twelfth District Congressional seat. Nixon leapt at Perry’s offer to audition before the “Committee of One Hundred.” He flew to California in November, where he impressed the local solons with his articulateness, feistiness and support for their anti—New Deal ideology. Portraying himself as a clean-cut veteran, a young father (Pat gave birth to a daughter, Tricia, on 21 February 1946), and spokesman of “the forgotten man,” he won the Republican nomination in June 1946.
An underdog against Voorhis, Nixon campaigned aggressively. He secured endorsements from the mostly Republican local newspapers, including the powerful Los Angeles Times. Amid unemployment, labor unrest, and food shortages, he articulated the kind of anti—big government agenda that would become popular a generation later. Distorting his opponent’s record, he attacked Voorhis—in speeches, advertisements, and a series of public debates—as a communist sympathizer or dupe. Nixon won the election with 57 percent of the vote, helping his party capture control of Congress.
Nixon distinguished himself among congressional freshmen. He helped draft the Taft-Hartley Act, which prevented unions from keeping closed shops. His experiences touring Europe with a congressional committee persuaded him that his party should abandon its isolationism for an active role in world affairs. As a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee, he cosponsored the Mundt-Nixon Bill restricting the freedoms of domestic Communist party members.
The summer of 1948 raised Nixon’s profile. After the birth of a second daughter, Julie, on 5 July 1948, Nixon became embroiled in the case of Alger Hiss, a Democratic ex—State Department official who Time magazine editor Whittaker Chambers had charged was a communist spy. Hiss sued Chambers for slander, inaugurating a national drama. Nixon led the charge against Hiss, and when Chambers produced incriminating microfilm that he had stored in a pumpkin on his farm, Nixon was vindicated. Hiss eventually served time for perjury.
Nixon won reelection handily in 1948. In 1950 he ran for the Senate against Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, a stylish former actress and New Deal Democrat. With the help of Murray Chotiner, a pioneer in campaign strategy, Nixon again spotlighted communism (and made Douglas’s gender a tacit issue) as he called his opponent “pink right down to her underwear.” His campaign circulated a “pink sheet” comparing her voting record to that of a well-known communist congressman. Some anti-Semitic Nixon supporters also played up Douglas’s marriage to the Jewish actor Melvyn Douglas. Douglas ran a poor campaign and lost badly. Her main contribution was to saddle Nixon with a lasting epithet: “Tricky Dick.”
Now a rising star, Nixon became a favorite Republican speaker. In July 1952 General Dwight Eisenhower, the party’s presidential nominee, chose Nixon as his running mate. In September, newspapers revealed that Nixon’s California supporters maintained a fund to cover his professional expenses—possibly an illegal practice. Editorials demanded his withdrawal from the ticket. On 23 September, he delivered a televised speech defending himself, citing at one point a gift he had been given: a cocker spaniel for his daughters named Checkers. The “Checkers” speech galled liberals as maudlin and manipulative, but viewers overwhelmingly praised Nixon’s sincerity. Eisenhower kept him on board, and the Republican ticket triumphed in November.
As vice president, Nixon maintained a higher profile than previous understudies. Letting Eisenhower abstain from direct political combat, Nixon barnstormed the country in 1954 and 1956 on his party’s behalf (he remained Eisenhower’s running mate in 1956 despite an abortive “Dump Nixon” boomlet). Liberals grew to loathe him for his red-baiting, his combativeness, his rhetorical deviousness, and what they considered his phoniness. Nixon’s face became a household image. Caricatures mocked his pendulous jowls, his ski-jump nose, and his perennial five-o’clock shadow. Magazine profiles noted, often with criticism or condescension, his painstakingly rigid and clear speaking style, his social awkwardness, and his skill at attacking liberal elites.
Detested as he was in some circles, Nixon also commanded deep support. When crowds harassed him on his visit to South America in 1958, Americans back home cheered him as a patriot. In Moscow in 1959, he won praise for out-debating Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in a model U.S. kitchen, proclaiming the superiority of freedom and capitalism to Soviet communism. In the 1960 presidential race, he sewed up his party’s nomination after placating his main rival, New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, by adopting many of the governor’s liberal positions.
For the general election, the Democrats nominated the forty-three-year-old Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy. The election thus matched up two young up-and-comers, a moderate Republican and a cold war liberal. More than ideology, style separated the candidates. Kennedy possessed the charm, grace, and wit that detractors felt Nixon lacked. In four televised debates—the first ever—Nixon’s forensic skills flagged. Kennedy appeared cool and polished, while the ill-at-ease Nixon faltered, sweat streaking his pancake makeup in the first debate. Kennedy also outflanked Nixon on cold war politics, promising to aid anticommunist forces in Cuba, which Nixon refused to do (though he knew Eisenhower had begun such efforts). Kennedy won the election by a whisker, 49.7 to 49.5 percent. Nixon claimed that Kennedy “stole” the election, although no one ever substantiated the charge.
Nixon returned to California, where he wrote a well-received memoir, Six Crises. Still attracted to politics, he ran for governor against Edmund G. (”Pat”) Brown in 1962. He again tried to label his opponent “soft on communism,” but the Red Scare was over and his gambit failed. After Brown won, Nixon berated reporters and told them, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” His career seemed finished. ABC News ran a special called “The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon.”
In 1963 Nixon moved to New York City, joined a Wall Street law firm, and rebuilt his reputation within his party. By 1968 he had emerged as a presidential nominee acceptable to conservatives, who otherwise preferred California governor Ronald Reagan, and moderates, whose first choice was Michigan governor George Romney or Rockefeller. On 8 August 1968 Nixon accepted the nomination at the Republican convention in Miami. He returned to his theme of extolling the common man. Offering himself as an exemplar of the American Dream, he recalled, as a boy, “hear[ing] a train go by at night and… dream [ing] of faraway places”—suggesting that with his election he and the American people alike might reach their long-sought goals.
As a candidate, Nixon pledged to end the Vietnam War “with honor,” without ever revealing his precise plan for doing so. He championed “law and order,” a concise phrase promising toughness against rising crime, urban riots, and antiwar agitation. With a “Southern strategy” of conservative racial rhetoric, he sought to neutralize the third-party campaign of segregationist governor George Wallace of Alabama.
Aided by new media experts, Nixon in 1968 pioneered a television-era strategy of image making. He tightly controlled his television appearances and his contact with the press. Although analysts had been hailing a “new Nixon”—more mellow, less pugilistic—since the mid-1950s, the 1968 strategy convinced many that he had arrived. With the Democratic party a shambles after a riottorn convention in Chicago, Nixon won a slim victory on 5 November 1968 over Vice President Hubert Humphrey (43.4 to 42.7 percent, with Wallace running third). The concern with image and public relations that Nixon exhibited in the campaign would dominate his presidency and usher in an era in national politics where such matters received enormous attention by politicians, journalists, and the public.
Nixon took the oath of office on 20 January 1969. He promised to end the war and heal domestic divisions. “The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker,” he said. From the start, however, his presidency witnessed not unity but increased discord.
The first president since Zachary Taylor to face a Congress controlled by the opposition party, Nixon could not dismantle Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society as he had promised. Rather, with the public broadly endorsing government activism, Nixon pragmatically mixed concessions to the Democrats with high-profile efforts to thwart them. Staffing his administration with a mix of conservative ideologues and liberal policy wonks, he produced an inconsistent domestic record.
Prodded by his liberal adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nixon proposed as his first major domestic initiative a “Family Assistance Plan” on 8 August 1969. FAP would replace the existing welfare system with direct payments to poor families, eliminating the bureaucratic web of more complex social-service programs. Ultimately FAP was defeated by Republicans who rejected it as “big government” and Democrats who thought its provisions too stingy. Still, the Nixon administration and Congress expanded social services in other ways, from indexing Social Security benefits (to rise with inflation), to establishing Supplemental Security Income (a system for aiding disabled workers), to enlarging the food stamps program.
Nixon confronted an economy straining under the twin perils of inflation and unemployment (conditions that worsened after the 1973 oil crisis). Though a believer in laissez-faire economics, Nixon tried different remedies. In 1971 he declared, “Now I am a Keynesian” and on 15 August imposed a freeze on wages and prices; he lifted them when the recession began to threaten his reelection. Nixon also suspended the convertibility of dollars into gold to make American goods more competitive overseas, a historic change to the global economic system known as Bretton Woods. On business regulation, Nixon sometimes acceded to Democratic wishes, establishing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; at other times, he pleased the business world, vetoing regulations and impounding funds (illegally, as the Supreme Court later ruled) that were earmarked for environmental and other programs.
Nixon likewise produced a mixed record on racial issues. Cultivating southerners and working-class ethnic whites, he denounced school busing and quotas in job hiring, and he eliminated Johnson’s Office of Economic Opportunity. Yet he also enforced (albeit less vigorously than liberals wanted) Supreme Court mandates for southern school desegregation, and his Labor Department revived Johnson’s plan to require affirmative action among government contractors. He battled Congress, unsuccessfully, in seeking to name to the Supreme Court two southern conservatives—part of a larger effort to undo the cultural revolution of the 1960s.
Conflict over social issues—civil liberties, student activism, minorities’ and women’s rights, drug use, and others—proved the most divisive of Nixon’s presidency. Along with Vice President Spiro Agnew (dubbed “Nixon’s Nixon”), the president defended those he called “Middle Americans” or the “Silent Majority.” These working-class Americans resented students, intellectuals, professionals, the news media, and others who they felt were undermining traditional values. From his efforts to reshape the courts to his battles with the press (which also stemmed from longstanding personal hatreds), Nixon’s denunciations of liberal elites provided a thread of continuity through a record of eclectic policies and positions.
Nixon’s foreign policy also proved controversial. Ending the Vietnam War proved harder than he and Henry Kissinger, his top adviser, imagined. They first aimed to calm domestic dissent with a program of “Vietnamization,” or training South Vietnamese soldiers to replace Americans. The policy, announced in 1969, along with changes in the draft a few months later, eased fears about American boys dying in an unpopular war. Yet dissent persisted. October and November 1969 saw massive antiwar demonstrations, the biggest in history.
Nixon countered on several fronts. His “Silent Majority” speech of 3 November 1969 successfully rallied support for his policies while stigmatizing antiwar protesters. He deftly manipulated the news media into portraying dissenters as dangerous radicals. His administration undertook covert actions, some of them illegal, such as surveillance, wiretaps, and infiltration to undermine the movement.
Meanwhile, owing partly to South Vietnamese intransigence, Kissinger faltered in the peace negotiations. Hoping to force concessions, Nixon escalated the war. In March 1969 he bombed enemy sanctuaries in Cambodia, a neutral country. On 30 April 1970 he announced an “incursion” into Cambodia, renewing antiwar protests (resulting in the National Guard’s slaying of four students at Ohio’s Kent State University). In February 1971 Nixon expanded the war into Laos. Periodic raids—notably the “Christmas bombing” of December 1972—devastated North Vietnam. Finally, on 27 January 1973 in Paris the combatants reached an armistice, on terms, critics noted, similar to those obtainable in 1969.
Nixon and Kissinger also sought to attain peace—and to shore up America’s power in the world—through diplomacy with China and the Soviet Union. In July 1971 Nixon sent Kissinger on a secret mission to Beijing, and on 17 February 1972 he himself traveled to China. He began to reverse America’s position on the legitimacy of the communist government, agreeing to admit “Red China” to the United Nations and to expel the Taiwanese delegation. Diplomatic relations commenced. Meanwhile, Nixon pursued a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with the Soviet Union, resulting in a freeze on certain nuclear missiles. On 12 May 1972 he and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed a twelve-point agreement establishing what was called “détente”: a thaw in diplomatic as well as commercial relations between the superpowers. Other arms-control treaties ensued, including, most importantly, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972.
Elsewhere, Nixon’s foreign-policy record consisted of troubleshooting. After an Arab attack on Israel on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur on 6 October 1973, Nixon delayed before responding with aid, endangering an American ally. In Chile, the administration supported a ruthless coup against a popularly elected socialist leader, installing a pro-Western dictator. Elsewhere, Nixon had to cope with conflicts between Greece and Turkey, India and Pakistan, and warring factions in Angola.
Above all, Nixon’s presidency was known for the collection of crimes and scandals known as Watergate, the greatest constitutional crisis of the twentieth century. Watergate had its origins in the social conflicts of the 1960s; in Nixon’s ambition, suspiciousness, and unscrupulous-ness; and in the growth after World War II of what historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., called the “imperial presidency.”
Possessed of a Manichean worldview, Nixon viewed political opponents as personal enemies. Fiercely secretive, and convinced that the press was determined to harm him, he became incensed when information was leaked to reporters. Kissinger shared Nixon’s penchant for secrecy. Starting in May 1969 and continuing through February 1971, they had the FBI tap the phones of various aides and newsmen—the first actions in what would be a long line of illegal and clandestine activities.
Nixon was able to undertake such action because of the growing power of the presidency. During the cold war, Nixon’s predecessors had arrogated power to the office. They had countenanced illegal FBI and CIA surveillance and break-ins against potential subversives, justifying their actions under the increasingly broad rubric of “national security.” During the cultural tumult of the 1960s, such practices, rooted in defending the nation against espionage by the Soviet Union, were applied to homegrown radical movements, such as antiwar and black activists.
Nixon accelerated such practices. He had an aide, Tom Charles Huston, devise a plan for coordinating domestic intelligence activities, and on 23 July 1970 he approved the “Huston Plan” to bring such intelligence, including a variety of illegal activities, under White House control. Nixon soon abandoned it, however, when FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover balked.
On 13 June 1971 the New York Times began publishing a secret Defense Department history of American involvement in Vietnam known as the Pentagon Papers. Nixon sued to stop their publication but lost. The incident prompted Nixon to organize a White House security team, informally called the “Plumbers’ Unit,” to crack down on leaks. Daniel Ellsberg, the official who had leaked the Pentagon Papers, was its first target. Nixon had the Plumbers burglarize Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office on 3 September 1971 to find incriminating information about him. (When this news became public in 1973, the judge overseeing Ellsberg’s prosecution threw out the case.)
Other such practices, varying in severity from violations of the constitution to political chicanery (“dirty tricks”), proliferated as the 1972 election approached. Nixon considered firebombing the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank. One administration official sought to assassinate the muckraking columnist Jack Anderson. Another aide forged cables to implicate President Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnam’s premier, Ngo Dinh Diem. A third counterfeited a letter to a newspaper attributing bigoted comments to Senator Edmund Muskie, the Democratic front-runner in the 1972 presidential race, leading Muskie to withdraw.
On 17 June 1972 five burglars, hired by the White House, were caught breaking into Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Five days later Nixon publicly denied any role in the break-in.
However, the day after that, 23 June, he ordered his Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman to have the CIA obstruct the FBI’s investigation of Watergate. And on 29 June aides began paying “hush money” to the burglars.
The press, led by two young Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, found evidence linking the burglars to the White House and to Nixon’s reelection committee. Yet for a while the revelations did not dent Nixon’s popularity. Nor did other scandals—such as a possibly illegal effort by International Telephone & Telegraph to settle an antitrust suit or shady campaign contributions from the dairy industry—endanger Nixon’s reelection.
In the 1972 campaign, Nixon enjoyed great popularity after his diplomatic effort to Moscow and Beijing. He easily repulsed primary challenges for the Republican nomination from both the left and right wings of his party. He got a boost when an assassin shot and crippled George Wallace, eliminating him as potential competition. Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee, South Dakota senator George Mc-Govern, ran on an unpopular left-wing platform. What was more, McGovern lost his best issue, ending the Vietnam War, when shortly before the election Kissinger announced (prematurely, it turned out) that “peace is at hand.” On 7 November 1972 Nixon and Agnew won reelection, capturing every state but Massachusetts.
After the election, however, Nixon’s fortunes nosedived. In January 1973, the Senate established a committee to investigate Watergate under the leadership of North Carolina Democrat Sam Ervin. Concurrently, the Watergate burglars went to trial. These hearings loosed a string of revelations about what Attorney General John Mitchell called the “White House horrors.” Nixon’s popularity plummeted.
Nixon tried to protect himself. On 15 April 1973 he met with his lawyer, John W. Dean III, to discuss how to keep the illegal White House activities under wraps. On 30 April, hoping to stem the tide, Nixon announced the resignations of Dean, Haldeman, and aide John Ehrlichman. He continued to deny any involvement in Watergate. Nonetheless, on 18 May, Attorney General Elliot Richardson appointed a special prosecutor, Archibald Cox of Harvard Law School, to investigate.
More revelations ensued. In June, Dean told the Ervin Committee that Nixon maintained an “Enemies List” of political foes, reporters, and even celebrities such as Bill Cosby and Joe Namath, on some of whom the Internal Revenue Service had conducted tax audits. Dean also revealed Nixon’s role in the cover-up. In July, White House aide Alexander Butterfield disclosed that Nixon secretly taped his White House conversations. Both the Ervin Committee and Cox sought these important tapes, which Nixon refused to surrender. The protracted struggle consumed the summer.
On 20 October 1973 Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Cox. Instead, Richardson resigned, as did his deputy. The so-called Saturday Night Massacre prompted fears that Nixon might eventually try to hold onto power illegally. Cries arose for his impeachment.
Other scandals emerged that fall, worsening Nixon’s position. Vice President Agnew, under investigation for tax evasion and taking bribes while governor of Maryland, resigned on 10 October 1973, and was replaced by House Minority Leader Gerald Ford. Nixon was also found to have underpaid, and possibly cheated, on his income taxes and to have used government funds to improve his homes. Investigators also found that someone had erased eighteen-and-a-half minutes of a key Watergate tape. His credibility suffering, Nixon told reporters on 17 November, “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.”
On 6 February 1974 the House voted to have its Judiciary Committee begin an impeachment investigation. Leon Jaworski, the new special prosecutor, and the House committee both continued to subpoena White House tapes. On 29 April 1974 Nixon announced he would provide only edited transcripts. When released, they shocked the nation. Even with “expletives deleted,” the conversations were full of foul-mouthed, bigoted, and vengeful talk.
Still seeking the tapes, Jaworski and the House took their case to the Supreme Court. On 24 July, the Court ruled 8–0 against Nixon. One tape, of the 23 June 1972 conversation—called the “smoking gun”—proved Nixon had obstructed justice. Nixon’s support, even among Republicans, crumbled. On 27 July the House approved the first of three articles of impeachment. On 9 August 1974 Nixon resigned.
Historians would debate the significance of Watergate for decades. The standard view held that Nixon’s crimes outstripped other presidents’ misdeeds and that Watergate defined his presidency. Defenders of Nixon argued that the crisis should not have overshadowed his diplomatic or domestic achievements. Most agreed, however, that Nixon’s historic resignation, and the acts that led to it, shook the nation. Americans came to view their president as a liar, a criminal, and in some cases a would-be dictator. Public faith in government and political leaders, weakened by Vietnam, further eroded.
Nixon retired to San Clemente, California. He was psychologically devastated by Watergate, and severely depressed. He also suffered from other medical problems, including a serious case of phlebitis that required surgery and hospitalization. He escaped prosecution because President Ford, on 8 September 1974, pardoned him completely.
During his physical and psychological recovery from Watergate, Nixon kept a low profile. In 1977 he conducted a series of televised interviews with the British talk-show host David Frost. He defended his behavior during Watergate, famously stating, “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
After his resignation, Nixon worked tirelessly to rehabilitate himself. He brought endless lawsuits against the federal government, trying to recover control of, or hinder the release of, papers and tapes from his administration. He wrote nine books defending his behavior and trying to burnish his image as a foreign policy sage. The most important was his memoir RN (1978). Other books offered his views on foreign policy or recounted anecdotes about various world leaders he had met. In 1980 he and Pat moved back to New York City and later to Saddle River, New Jersey. He entertained journalists at his home, and many began to write that Nixon had made a comeback. A cover story in Newsweek in 1986 declared “He’s Back.”
Nixon died on 22 April 1994, ten months after Pat had passed away. He had suffered a stroke days earlier. President Bill Clinton declared a national day of mourning. Nixon was buried beside Pat on the grounds of the Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, on the site where his first boyhood home had been. His funeral, on 27 April, was a media event. Clinton, Kissinger, and other national figures delivered eulogies; and commentators extolled his achievements in foreign policy. Yet Watergate, as analysts had predicted years earlier, dominated the obituaries and discussions of his life and shaped his legacy.
In the years after his death, Nixon remained nothing if not controversial. Some historians began to revise their estimations of him, especially in the area of domestic policy, where he was reassessed as more of a liberal than contemporaries had realized. Yet the overriding image of Nixon in most people’s minds was still that of “Tricky Dick.” The image was reinforced by numerous references to Nixon in films, sitcoms, and the culture more generally, in which Nixon was invariably portrayed as sinister. The word “Nixonian” entered the language as a synonym for Machiavellian.
Nixon’s legacy was manifold. His opening of relations with China changed global politics, and détente began an easing of the hostilities with the Soviet Union that, although temporarily reversed under President Ronald Reagan, ultimately helped clear the way toward normal relations. Nixon’s domestic stewardship paradoxically both continued the Great Society in some respects while hastening its downfall in others.
More than policy, Nixon shaped American politics. He was one of the first and most successful practitioners of a strategy that mobilized a “Silent Majority” against out-of-touch liberal elites. Nixon used this approach, starting with his first congressional campaign, long before others did. After him, almost all successful Republican politicians, from Reagan to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, would similarly play on resentments toward federal spending and bureaucrats, permissive courts, and elites who seemed to favor racial minorities.
In the end, there is no escaping the fact that Nixon’s greatest legacy was Watergate, which became the benchmark of political corruption. Afterward, whenever politicians became enmeshed in scandal, their misdeeds would be measured against Nixon’s—allowing some of them, such as Reagan and Clinton, to emerge relatively unscathed, since their transgressions seemed to pale next to Watergate.
The American experience with Nixon also helped breed a profound cynicism toward politics and political leaders. Faith in public leadership began to decline with the Vietnam War. Nixon’s continuation of the war fed the decline, and Watergate accelerated it. Nixon convinced many people that presidents were not heroes to be admired but criminals, liars, or at the very least opportunists who would say or do anything to get elected.
Nixon also fostered cynicism toward politics with his relentless focus on image making. This focus helped to create a political culture dominated by polling, advertising, and efforts to manipulate of the news media. As the public became hyper-aware of the extent to which politics had become a contest of political imagery, many people came to conclude all politics was devoid of real meaning.
During the first quarter century after World War II, Nixon was one of the central figures in American politics. During the next quarter century, virtually every aspect of the political culture bore his imprint. For this reason many analysts have called the postwar era the “Age of Nixon.”
Some of Nixon’s early papers and all of his post-presidential papers are at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California. Other pre-presidential papers are at the Pacific regional branch of the National Archives in Laguna Niguel, California. His presidential papers and tapes are at the Nixon Presidential Materials Project in College Park, Maryland. Published sources of primary documents include Bruce Oudes, From the President: Richard Nixon’s Secret Files (1989), H. R. Haldeman, The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House (1994), and Stanley I. Kutler, Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes (1997).
The published literature about Nixon is voluminous. Yet biographies covering his whole life, or most of it, are few. Stephen E. Ambrose’s three-volume Nixon (1987, 1989, and 1991) remains a standard, basic work. Herbert Parmet, Richard Nixon and His America (1990), tracks Nixon’s politics of resentment. Tom Wicker, One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream (1991), is a thoughtful synthesis. Jonathan Aitken’s Nixon: A Life (1993) is a flattering account written by a friend. Covering Nixon’s early years are Roger Morris’s massive, critical and beautifully written Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician (1990) and Irwin F. Gellman’s pro-Nixon The Contender: Richard Nixon, the Congress Years (1999). Fawn Brodie’s Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character (1981), controversial for its psychoanalytic approach, remains provocative.
Studies of Nixon’s presidency include the comprehensive, even-handed The Presidency of Richard Nixon by Melvin Small (1999) and the brashly revisionist Nixon Reconsidered by Joan Hoff (1994). On Watergate, the most reliable is Stanley I. Kutler, The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon (1990). Important accounts from the Nixon era include Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, All the President’s Men (1974) and The Final Days (1976); J. Anthony Lukas, Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years (1975); and Theodore H. White, Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon (1975).
Important studies of one aspect or another of Nixon’s life and career are Joe McGinniss, The Selling of the President, 1968 (1969), Garry Wills, Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man (1969), Daniel Patrick Moynihan, The Politics of a Guaranteed Income: The Nixon Administration and the Family Assistance Plan (1973), Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Imperial Presidency (1973), Joseph Spear, Presidents and the Press: The Nixon Legacy (1984), Michael Schudson, Watergate in American Memory: How We Remember, Forget, and Reconstruct the Past (1992), William Bundy, Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency (1998), and David Greenberg, Nixon’s Shadow (2001). Nixon tells his side of the story in Six Crises (1962) and RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (1978). Other valuable memoirs include William Safire, Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House (1975), John Dean, Blind Ambition: The White House Years (1976), and Henry Kissinger, White House Years (1979) and Years of’ Upheaval (1982).
Nixon, Richard M.
Richard M. Nixon
Excerpt from the "Silent Majority" speech
Delivered on national television, November 24, 1969
"And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support."
By the time Richard M. Nixon was elected president of the United States in November 1968, the majority of the American people had grown tired and frustrated with the war in Vietnam. Polls showed that 60 percent of Americans thought that becoming involved in the war had been a mistake, while 20 percent favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. Many people began to question whether Vietnam was important enough to U.S. interests to justify the loss of more American lives. In addition, some people began to worry about the effects the war was having on American society. "Controversy over the war in Vietnam brought vast changes to the United States in the 1960s," Robert D. Schulzinger wrote in A Time for War. "The war affected every institution in American life: universities, Congress, the presidency, the Democratic Party, the armed forces, labor unions, religious organizations, and the mass media."
Historians have noted that the Vietnam War divided the American people more than any other event since the Civil War (1861–65) a century earlier. Some people believed that the war was immoral and opposed it strongly. They wanted the United States to reduce its role and negotiate a peace agreement with North Vietnam. They resented war supporters, whom they considered ignorant or heartless. Meanwhile, other people felt just as strongly that they had a responsibility to support the U.S. government and American military forces. While they might agree that the war was dragging on too long, they believed that only intensifying American military action would bring a quick end to the conflict. They resented antiwar activists, and many viewed them as cowards or traitors.
The strong feelings on both sides of the issue made it almost impossible for Americans to engage in a constructive debate over Vietnam. Over time, the controversy ripped apart families, friends, and communities. "It is important to understand the terribly difficult nature of the choice being forced upon many citizens by this war. Americans traded harsh charges amongst themselves during these troubled years, and they frequently did so in very strident [loud] tones," David W. Levy wrote in The Debate over Vietnam. "When we remember that inflated rhetoric [language] and extreme gestures of animosity [hostility] are often signs of serious social strain, we can begin to gauge the extent to which Vietnam tore at the nation as a whole."
The deep and dangerous divisions among the American people became clear at the Democratic Presidential Convention in Chicago during the summer of 1968. Inside the convention hall, the Democrats struggled to agree on the Vietnam policy they would present in their campaign. Meanwhile, the streets of Chicago outside the convention hall became the site of a raucous antiwar protest. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley sent his police force to control the protesters, and the situation quickly turned into a riot. Scenes of fights between antiwar activists and police officers dominated television newscasts and overshadowed the convention. More than one thousand protesters and two hundred police officers were injured in the fighting.
The violence and controversy surrounding the Democratic convention disgusted many Americans and made them worry that the whole country was falling apart. It also convinced some voters that the Democrats could not lead the country out of the situation in Vietnam. Such doubts helped Republican candidate Richard Nixon defeat Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 election to become president of the United States. During his campaign, Nixon promised that he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War.
After taking office in January 1969, Nixon began outlining his plan to achieve "peace with honor" in Vietnam. "The administration was committed to getting out of Vietnam as quickly as was practicable, but to doing it with dignity, without seeming to flee, and without appearing to abandon . . . the dream of a stable and independent South Vietnam," Levy explained. Nixon promised to withdraw American combat forces gradually over time, while also taking steps to strengthen the South Vietnamese government and military. He noted that this plan—which became known as "Vietnamization"—would enable the United States to end its involvement without allowing South Vietnam to fall to communism. He began implementing this plan in June 1969, when he withdrew the first 25,000 American troops from Vietnam. Nixon also opened peace talks in Paris with North Vietnamese officials.
For the first six months that Nixon was in office, the antiwar movement remained relatively quiet. For one thing, many people had turned away from antiwar protests after the trauma of the Chicago convention. The scenes of violence on TV convinced many Americans that "antiwar activity was largely the work of ill-kempt troublemakers who burned American flags and abused policemen," Levy noted. In addition, some people were encouraged by the steps Nixon had taken to begin peace negotiations and troop withdrawals.
But the antiwar movement began gaining strength again by the middle of 1969. As the number of American soldiers killed in combat continued to increase, some people argued that Nixon was moving too slowly toward peace. One example of the resurgence of the antiwar movement was the Moratorium Day demonstrations, held on October 15. In this nationwide peaceful protest, hundreds of thousands of people gave speeches, took part in marches, and held candlelight vigils in cities and towns across the country. These demonstrations worried and angered Nixon, even though they were less violent and confrontational than the protests of earlier years.
Realizing that opposition to the war remained strong, in November Nixon decided to outline his plans to the American public in a nationally televised speech. In the following excerpt from his "Silent Majority" speech, Nixon defends his decision to keep American troops in Vietnam. He argues that an immediate withdrawal would hurt the South Vietnamese people, America's reputation as a world power, and the chances of achieving world peace. He claims that his Vietnamization plan will allow the United States to "win the peace."
Nixon also uses this speech to make a direct appeal to the American people to support his plans. He expresses his resolve not to let the antiwar movement—which he calls a "vocal minority"—dictate his actions. He also criticizes antiwar protesters, saying that they humiliate the United States and increase the North Vietnamese will to fight. Finally, he asks the patriotic "silent majority" of Americans to come forward and support him.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from Nixon's "Silent Majority" speech:
- In his speech Nixon says that he wants to tell the American people the truth about the situation in Vietnam. But Nixon was not always truthful about his actions during the war. For example, in the spring of 1969 he approved a series of bombing raids over Cambodia, a neutral country located on Vietnam's western border. Fearing a new round of protests, he kept the bombing of Cambodia secret. He did not inform the American people or even members of Congress.
- Nixon did not consult with South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu before announcing his Vietnamization program. Some South Vietnamese government and military leaders resented the plan. For one thing, it made it seem as if South Vietnamese forces had not been involved in the fighting up to that point. In addition, it made people in both North and South Vietnam question the American commitment to winning the war. To some, Vietnamization clearly indicated that the main priority of U.S. strategy was to reduce American involvement in Vietnam rather than to achieve peace there.
- Nixon mentions the violence that took place when Communist forces took control of North Vietnam in the mid-1950s. After the Geneva Accords of 1954 divided the country, Ho Chi Minh and other Communist leaders concentrated on building a socialist society in the North (socialism is a political doctrine that calls for state ownership and control of industry, agriculture, and distribution of wealth). For example, they instituted a land reform campaign to distribute privately owned land to poor and landless people. But the land reform campaign soon turned vicious. Thousands of people who had previously owned land or were thought to be unfriendly to communism were put in prison or executed. Estimates of Vietnamese killed during this period range from 30,000 to as many as 100,000. Throughout the Vietnam War, American officials pointed to this violence as evidence that the Communists would treat the people of South Vietnam harshly if they won the war.
- Even Americans who opposed the Vietnam War did not always agree on what steps the U.S. government should take to end it. Some people favored immediate withdrawal of American troops, some wanted a gradual withdrawal like the one Nixon proposed, and others wanted to increase American troop commitments in hopes of achieving a quick military victory. Such differences of opinion made it more difficult for the Nixon administration to develop popular policies.
- Nixon struggled with the antiwar movement throughout his time in office. He viewed antiwar protesters with hostility and suspicion. After all, they made it more difficult for him to conduct the war. He also believed that the vocal antiwar demonstrations in the United States encouraged the North Vietnamese and kept them from negotiating a settlement. Nixon used a variety of means to keep an eye on the antiwar groups and make them look bad. For example, he used government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to investigate or harass their leaders. He also sent spies into various organizations. "No one at an antiwar meeting could ever be sure that the person in the next chair was not an FBI spy, sent either to report on the meeting or, in some well-documented cases, even to propose outrageous and illegal actions leading to embarrassment of the participants or to their arrest," Levy noted.
Excerpt from Richard M. Nixon's "Silent Majority" speech:
Good evening, my fellow Americans. Tonight I want to talk to you on a subject of deep concern to all Americans and to many people in all parts of the world—the war in Vietnam.
I believe that one of the reasons for the deep division about Vietnam is that many Americans have lost confidence in what their Government has told them about our policy. The American people cannot and should not be asked to support a policy which involves the overriding issues of war and peace unless they know the truth about that policy.
Tonight, therefore, I would like to answer some of the questions that I know are on the minds of many of you listening to me: How and why did America get involved in Vietnam in the first place? How has this administration changed the policy of the previous administration? What has really happened in the negotiations in Paris and on the battlefront in Vietnam? What choices do we have to end the war? What are the prospects for peace?
Let me begin by describing the situation I found when I was inaugurated on January 20. The war had been going on for four years. 31,000 Americans had been killed in action. The training program for the South Vietnamese was behind schedule. 540,000 Americans were in Vietnam, with no plans to reduce that number. No progress had been made at the negotiations in Paris and the United States had not put forth a comprehensive peace proposal. The war was causing deep division at home and criticism from many of our friends, as well as our enemies, abroad.
In view of these circumstances there were some who urged that I end the war at once by ordering the immediate withdrawal of allAmerican forces. From a political standpoint this would have been a popular and easy course to follow. After all, we became involved in the war while my predecessor was in office. I could blame the defeat which would be the result of my action on him and come out as the peacemaker. Some put it to me quite bluntly: this was the only way to avoid allowing Johnson's war to become Nixon's war.
But I had a greater obligation than to think only of the years of my administration and the next election. I had to think of the effect of my decision on the next generation and on the future of peace and freedom in America and in the world.
Let us all understand that the question before us is not whether some Americans are for peace and some Americans are against peace. The question at issue is not whether Johnson's war becomes Nixon's war. The great question is: How can we win America's peace?
Let us turn now to the fundamental issue. Why and how did the United States become involved in Vietnam in the first place? Fifteen years ago North Vietnam, with the logistical support of Communist China and the Soviet Union, launched a campaign to impose a Communist government on South Vietnam by instigating and supporting a revolution.
In response to the request of the Government of South Vietnam, President Eisenhower sent economic aid and military equipment to assist the people of South Vietnam in their efforts to prevent a Communist takeover. Seven years ago President Kennedy sent 16,000 military personnel to Vietnam as combat advisers. Four years ago President Johnson sent American combat forces to South Vietnam.
Now, many believe that President Johnson's decision to send American combat forces to South Vietnam was wrong. And many others, I among them, have been strongly critical of the way the war has been conducted. But the question facing us today is: Now that we are in the war, what is the best way to end it?
In January I could only conclude that the precipitate withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam would be a disaster not only for South Vietnam but for the United States and for the cause of peace.
For the South Vietnamese, our precipitate withdrawal would inevitably allow the Communists to repeat massacres which followed their takeover in the North fifteen years before. They murdered more than 50,000 people, and hundreds of thousands more died in slave labor camps. We saw a preview of what would happen in South Vietnam when the Communists entered the city of Hue last year. Duringtheir brief rule there, there was a bloody reign of terror in which 3,000 civilians were clubbed, shot to death, and buried in mass graves. With the sudden collapse of our support, these atrocities of Hue would become the nightmare of the entire nation—and particularly for the million and a half Catholic refugees who fled to South Vietnam when the Communists took over in the North.
For the United States, this first defeat in our nation's history would result in a collapse of confidence in American leadership not only in Asia but throughout the world. . . .
For the future of peace, precipitate withdrawal would thus be a disaster of immense magnitude. A nation cannot remain great if it betrays its allies and lets down its friends. Our defeat and humiliation in South Vietnam without question would promote recklessness in the councils of those great powers who have not yet abandoned their goals of world conquest. This would spark violence wherever our commitments help maintain the peace—in the Middle East, in Berlin, eventually even in the Western Hemisphere. Ultimately, this would cost more lives. It would not bring peace; it would bring more war.
For these reasons I rejected the recommendation that I should end the war by immediately withdrawing all our forces. I chose instead to change American policy on both the negotiating front and the battlefront. . . .
At the time we launched our search for peace, I recognized we might not succeed in bringing an end to the war through negotiation. I therefore put into effect another plan to bring peace—a plan which will bring the war to an end regardless of what happens on the negotiating front. It is in line with a major shift in U.S. foreign policy which I described in my press conference at Guam on July 25.
Let me briefly explain what has been described as the Nixon doctrine—a policy which not only will help end the war in Vietnam but which is an essential element of our program to prevent future Vietnams.
We Americans are a do-it-yourself people. We are an impatient people. Instead of teaching someone else to do a job, we like to do it ourselves. And this trait has been carried over into our foreign policy. In Korea and again in Vietnam, the United States furnished most of the money, most of the arms, and most of the men to help the people of those countries defend their freedom against Communist aggression.
Before any American troops were committed to Vietnam, a leader of another Asian country expressed this opinion to me when I was traveling in Asia as a private citizen. He said: "When you are trying to assist another nation defend its freedom, U.S. policy should be to help them fight the war, but not to fight the war for them."
Well, in accordance with this wise counsel, I laid down in Guam three principles as guidelines for future American policy toward Asia: First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments. Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to our security. Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense. . . .
The defense of freedom is everybody's business—not just America's business. And it is particularly the responsibility of the people whose freedom is threatened. In the previous administration we Americanized the war in Vietnam. In this administration we are Vietnamizing the search for peace.
The policy of the previous administration not only resulted in our assuming the primary responsibility for fighting the war, but even moresignificantly did not adequately stress the goal of strengthening the South Vietnamese so that they could defend themselves when we left.
The Vietnamization plan was launched following Secretary Laird 's visit to Vietnam in March. Under the plan, I ordered first a substantial increase in the training and equipment of South Vietnamese forces. In July, on my visit to Vietnam, I changed General Abrams' orders so that they were consistent with the objectives of our new policies. Under the new orders, the primary mission of our troops is to enable the South Vietnamese forces to assume the full responsibility for the security of South Vietnam. . . .
We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with the South Vietnamese for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat ground forces and their replacement by South Vietnamese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable. This withdrawal will be made from strength and not from weakness. As South Vietnamese forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater. . . .
My fellow Americans, I am sure you can recognize from what I have said that we really only have two choices open to us if we want to end this war: I can order an immediate, precipitate withdrawal of all Americans from Vietnam without regard to the effects of that action. Or we can persist in our search for a just peace, through a negotiated settlement if possible or through continued implementation of our plan for Vietnamization if necessary—a plan in which we will withdraw all of our forces from Vietnam on a schedule in accordance with our program, as the South Vietnamese become strong enough to defend their own freedom.
I have chosen this second course. It is not the easy way. It is the right way. It is a plan which will end the war and serve the cause of peace, not just in Vietnam but in the Pacific and in the world.
In speaking of the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal, I mentioned that our allies would lose confidence in America. Far more dangerous, we would lose confidence in ourselves. Oh, the immediate reaction would be a sense of relief that our men were coming home. But as we saw the consequences of what we had done, inevitable remorse and divisive recrimination would scar our spirit as a people.
We have faced other crises in our history and have become stronger by rejecting the easy way out and taking the right way in meeting our challenges. Our greatness as a nation has been our capacity to do what had to be done when we knew our course wasright. I recognize that some of my fellow citizens disagree with the plan for peace I have chosen. Honest and patriotic Americans have reached different conclusions as to how peace should be achieved.
In San Francisco a few weeks ago, I saw demonstrators carrying signs reading: "Lose in Vietnam, bring the boys home." Well, one of the strengths of our free society is that any American has a right to reach that conclusion and to advocate that point of view. But as president of the United States, I would be untrue to my oath of office if I allowed the policy of this nation to be dictated by the minority who hold that point of view and who try to impose it on the nation by mounting demonstrations in the street.
For almost 200 years, the policy of this nation has been made under our Constitution by those leaders in the Congress and the White House elected by all of the people. If a vocal minority, however fervent its cause, prevails over reason and the will of the majority, this nation has no future as a free society.
And now I would like to address a word, if I may, to the young people of this nation who are particularly concerned, and I understand why they are concerned, about this war. I respect your idealism. I share your concern for peace. I want peace as much as you do. There are powerful personal reasons I want to end this war. This week I will have to sign 83 letters to mothers, fathers, wives and loved ones of men who have given their lives for America in Vietnam. It is very little satisfaction to me that this is only one-third as many letters as I signed the first week in office. There is nothing I want more than to see the day come when I do not have to write any of those letters.
I want to end the war to save the lives of those brave young men in Vietnam. But I want to end it in a way which will increase the chance that their younger brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future Vietnam someplace in the world.
And I want to end the war for another reason. I want to end it so that the energy and dedication of you, our young people, now too often directed into bitter hatred against those responsible for the war, can be turned to the great challenges of peace, a better life for all Americans, a better life for all people on this Earth.
I have chosen a plan for peace. I believe it will succeed. If it does succeed, what the critics say now won't matter. If it does not succeed, anything I say then won't matter.
I know it may not be fashionable to speak of patriotism or national destiny these days. But I feel it is appropriate to do so on this occasion. Two hundred years ago this nation was weak and poor. But even then, America was the hope of millions in the world. Today we have become the strongest and richest nation in the world. And the wheel of destiny has turned so that any hope the world has for the survival of peace and freedom will be determined by whether the American people have the moral stamina and the courage to meet the challenge of free world leadership.
Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism.
And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.
I pledged in my campaign for the presidency to end the war in a way that we could win the peace. I have initiated a plan of action which will enable me to keep that pledge. The more support I can have from the American people, the sooner that pledge can be redeemed ; for the more divided we are at home, the less likely the enemy is to negotiate at Paris.
Let us be united for peace. Let us also be united against defeat. Because let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.
What happened next . . .
Just as Nixon had hoped, the "Silent Majority" speech increased public support for his policies and quieted the antiwar movement—at least temporarily. Shortly afterward, polls showed that 48 percent of Americans approved of his handling of Vietnam, while 41 percent disapproved. In addition, his remarks seemed to shift people's attention away from the war and increase public criticism of antiwar activists.
But this situation changed dramatically a few months later. In the spring of 1970 Nixon sent U.S. ground troops into Cambodia. He explained that this "incursion" would destroy enemy supply lines, force the North Vietnamese into serious negotiations, and reduce the pressure on South Vietnam so that the Vietnamization program would have time to work. But many Americans viewed the invasion of neutral Cambodia as an escalation of the war. They felt that Nixon had broken his promise to bring American troops home and end the war.
The antiwar movement reacted to the invasion of Cambodia by launching protests across the country. Many of these antiwar demonstrations took place on college campuses, including the campus of Kent State University in Ohio. Beginning on May 1, hundreds of Kent State students gathered to protest the invasion of Cambodia. Some of the demonstrations turned violent. On May 2 the protesters burned down a campus building that had been used for military training of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). In response, Ohio Governor James Rhodes called out the National Guard to restore order. But the demonstrations continued, resulting in several angry confrontations between students and guardsmen. During one of these confrontations on May 4, members of the National Guard fired their guns into a crowd of demonstrators, killing four students and injuring nine others.
Many Americans were shocked and outraged at the tragedy that had taken place on the Kent State campus. Angry demonstrations against the killing of the students broke out on many other college campuses. In fact, many colleges decided to close for the year and send students home early in order to prevent violent protests.
But some people had grown so tired of the unrest in American society—and felt so much resentment toward the antiwar movement—that they claimed the Kent State protesters had gotten what they deserved. In fact, a Newsweek poll showed that six out of seven Americans blamed the students rather than the national guard for the Kent State tragedy. "Millions of Americans had no regrets about Kent State; some actually welcomed it," Albert Marrin wrote in America and Vietnam. "For five years they had watched student protests, seen students carrying Viet Cong flags, heard students insulting the nation. Those privileged youngsters were attacking their most cherished values: steady work, patriotism, the flag." Once again, the nation seemed to be on the verge of falling apart over the war in Vietnam.
Did you know . . .
- Nixon had retired from politics before he became the Republican presidential nominee in 1968. After serving as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, he had run for president in 1960 but was defeated by John F. Kennedy. He then ran for governor of California in 1962, but he lost again. At that point he retired from politics, telling the media that "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." But he made a remarkable political comeback from these defeats, ran for president again in 1968, and finally won.
- Nixon gave his "Silent Majority" speech exactly one year after he was elected president.
Ambrose, Stephen E. Nixon. 3 vols. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987–1991.
Kimball, Jeffrey. Nixon's Vietnam War. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Levy, David. The Debate over Vietnam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
Marrin, Albert. America and Vietnam: The Elephant and the Tiger. New York: Viking Penguin, 1992.
Nixon, Richard. No More Vietnams. New York: Arbor House, 1985.
Schulzinger, Robert D. A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941–1975. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Small, Melvin, and William D. Hoover, eds. Give Peace a Chance: Exploring the Vietnam Antiwar Movement. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1992.
Wells, Tom. The War Within: America's Battle over Vietnam. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Wicker, Tom. One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream. New York: Random House, 1991.
Pro-War "Hard Hats" Clash Violently with Antiwar Protesters
Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, disputes over the Vietnam War threatened to tear the United States apart. Some of the most intense antiwar demonstrations took place in May 1970, in response to Nixon's invasion of Cambodia and the killing of four student activists on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio. By this time, however, many Americans had grown angry and disgusted with the radical antiwar movement. They resented college students and other activists who taunted police officers, caused riots, destroyed property, expressed support for the enemy, and displayed the North Vietnamese flag. "The public had not only lost patience with the war, but with those who protested against it," Albert Marrin noted in America and Vietnam.
These feelings erupted into violence in New York City. A week after the Kent State tragedy, a funeral was held for one of the students in Manhattan. The flag on top of city hall was lowered to half-mast as a symbol of mourning for the dead students, and antiwar demonstrators gathered outside the building. Meanwhile, members of labor unions who supported the war organized counter-protests. At one point, 200 angry construction workers, or "hard hats," marched on city hall and attacked the antiwar protesters. They used their fists, crowbars, hammers, and metal wrenches to beat the antiwar demonstrators. When police arrived, they were unable to stop the violence. Some observers claimed that police officers even cheered on the construction workers. Seventy antiwar protesters were injured, some seriously. At the end of their rampage, the hard hats forced the mayor's office to raise the flag to its normal position.
Some people claimed that the Nixon administration had secretly arranged the attack on antiwar demonstrators during meetings with union leaders. Although there is no evidence that he was involved in planning the New York City incident, Nixon did tell union leaders afterward that he found their expressions of support "very meaningful." Three weeks later the leader of a construction workers' union presented Nixon with a hard hat as a gift.
Nixon, Richard M.
Richard M. Nixon
U.S. president, vice president,
senator, and congressman
R ichard Nixon was the thirty-seventh president of the United States. He also served as vice president for both terms of U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953–61; see entry) through the 1950s and before that was a member of the U.S. Congress from 1947 to 1953. As a result, his public career spanned over half of the forty-six years of the Cold War (1945–91). Politically benefiting from a strong public anticommunist position in the 1940s and 1950s, Nixon would open the door to formal relations with communist China and pursue détente, or the easing of tensions, with the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. He would also become the first U.S. president to resign from office after facing almost certain impeachment over a domestic scandal.
From debate team to the navy
Richard Milhous Nixon was born on January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California, near Los Angeles. He was the second of five sons. His father, Frank, ran a service station and grocery store in nearby Whittier. His mother, Hannah Milhous, was from a Quaker background. Nixon's father was combative and volatile, but his mother was much more restrained. Nixon would show traits of both in his later life, though his mother was his main lasting influence.
Nixon was also a hard worker, which led him to be an excellent student. At Whittier High School, Nixon was particularly good in debate, wining many debate contests. Graduating as an honors student, Nixon received a scholarship to Harvard University, but his family could not afford to send him there. He attended Whittier College instead. Graduating second in his class at Whittier, Nixon earned a scholarship to Duke University Law School in Durham, North Carolina, in 1934. He graduated third in his class in 1937. Moving back home to Whittier, Nixon practiced law from 1937 to 1942. As a young successful lawyer, he met Thelma "Pat" Ryan, a schoolteacher, in 1937, while they both were participating in an amateur play. They would marry in 1940 and have two daughters.
Washington, D.C., where he worked for several months in the Office of Price Administration. Unhappy with the administrative process, he joined the Navy in August 1942 and served in the South Pacific from 1942 to 1946. He attained the rank of lieutenant commander.
Young politician in Congress
Upon returning to California after the war, Nixon entered politics at the encouragement of a group of influential Whittier businessmen. In 1946, he surprisingly defeated popular five-term Democrat Jerry Voorhis (1901–1984) for a seat in the U.S. Congress. During the campaign, Nixon suggested that his opponent had communist leanings. He would use this strategy again in 1950, when he defeated another popular Democrat, Helen Gahagan Douglas (1900–1980), for a U.S. Senate seat. Nixon found he could use Cold War issues to his benefit and gained both a reputation for his campaign methods and the nickname "Tricky Dick."
While in Congress, Nixon continued to pursue anticommunist issues to gain notoriety. He introduced a bill in 1948 that would require individual Communist Party members and organizations with connections to the Communist Party to register with the government. The Senate killed the bill. He also served from 1948 to 1950 on the House Un American Activities Committee (HUAC), a congressional group established to investigate and root out any communist influences within the United States. He gained much public attention in his pursuit of former State Department employee Alger Hiss (1904–1996), who had also been a foreign policy advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45). Nixon charged that Hiss was a spy for the Soviet Union in the late 1930s. Though Hiss forever denied the charges and no hard evidence was found, Nixon did obtain an indictment for perjury that led to a later conviction.
In 1952, World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower won the Republican presidential nomination. He selected Nixon as his running mate. Eisenhower believed Nixon would satisfy the more conservative elements of the Republican Party plus attract votes from the western United States. While Eisenhower took a more positive approach to the campaign, Nixon tended to raise more personal issues concerning the Democrats and their candidates. He even delved into personal issues about himself and his family to help his campaign. During the campaign, for example, Nixon was accused of accepting money from wealthy businessmen for his personal use. To save his place on the Republican ticket, Nixon provided a detailed explanation to a national television audience in what became known as the "Checkers Speech," for his reference to the family dog named Checkers. The speech worked: the public came to strongly support him. He remained Eisenhower's running mate and the two won the election handily.
Nixon was Eisenhower's vice president for eight years. During that time, he was never fully accepted into the administration's inner circle of advisors. However, he did campaign vigorously for Republican candidates, and many believe he redefined the vice president's position into a more active role. Known more for his hard-hitting campaign tactics, Nixon did
make gains in working educational reform and a civil rights bill through Congress.
Through his years as vice president, Nixon also began redefining his personal political position to more of a moderate in politics to attract broader support for a possible presidential nomination in 1960. Through a series of illnesses suffered by Eisenhower from 1955 to 1957, Nixon gained much experience and public visibility while presiding over numerous Cabinet (a president's closest set of advisors) and National Security Council meetings in Eisenhower's temporary absences. He also made several foreign trips. One trip to Moscow led to a famous impromptu confrontation with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971; see entry) at an international trade fair. Known as the "kitchen debate," because the dialogue took place in front of an exhibit that highlighted an American kitchen, they had a spirited discussion of the merits of communism and capitalism. This episode further increased Nixon's popularity in the United States.
A successful return to politics
Nixon won the Republican nomination for president in 1960 but lost a very close race to his Democratic opponent, U.S. senator John F. Kennedy (1919–1963; served 1961–63; see entry) of Massachusetts. A major factor in the race was a series of four televised debates between the two candidates. Though Nixon appeared to do well on the debate issues, Kennedy portrayed an image of youthful energy and poise. Many, including Eisenhower, urged Nixon to challenge the election results, but he chose not to and gained much public respect for not doing so.
Returning to private life, Nixon wrote a best-selling book, Six Crises, in 1961 (published a year later). In 1962, he reluctantly agreed to run for governor of California and lost his second straight election. Discouraged with politics, Nixon moved to New York to join a prestigious law firm. For the next five years, Nixon worked to build a strong political base for future campaigns. Following the Republicans' landslide loss in the 1964 presidential election behind U.S. senator Barry Goldwater (1909–1998) of Arizona, interest in Nixon rose again as a party moderate. Politics even entered other parts of Nixon's family life as his daughter Julie married Eisenhower's grandson, David Eisenhower, in 1967. Nixon gained the Republican nomination once again in 1968, reflecting a remarkable political comeback.
This time, the Democrats were greatly divided over the Vietnam War (1954–75). President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69; see entry), beleaguered by antiwar protests, had announced he would not seek reelection. The leading Democratic candidate, U.S. senator Robert F. Kennedy (1925–1968) of New York, was assassinated while campaigning in Los Angeles. Nixon ended up winning in another very close race over Democrat Hubert Humphrey (1911–1978), who had served as vice president in Johnson's administration.
White House years
As president, Nixon proved to be aggressive on both domestic and foreign issues. He introduced environmental legislation as well as welfare and health care reform. He also addressed civil rights needs by introducing the nation's first affirmative action programs to require government contractors to hire minorities. It was the most active domestic legislative agenda since Roosevelt's of the 1930s.
Nixon's Cold War accomplishments included obtaining a cease-fire in the Vietnam War, normalizing relations with communist China, and easing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, including the signing of arms control treaties. To assist in foreign matters, Nixon appointed Harvard professor Henry Kissinger (1926–; see entry) first as national security advisor and later as secretary of state.
During his 1968 presidential campaign, Nixon claimed to be the "peace candidate." He promised to bring an honorable end to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He did begin withdrawing ground troops from the region, but in turn escalated bombing campaigns. He adopted the policy that South Vietnam would assume greater responsibility for the ground war with support from the United States in the form of supplies and air support. The policy was called Vietnamization of the war. Meanwhile, negotiations with North Vietnam proved very slow. At first, Kissinger conducted them in secret, but in 1972 they became more public. Nixon expanded the ground war into the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia with U.S. and South Vietnamese troops to destroy enemy staging areas.
During the three years of negotiation under Kissinger, over twenty thousand more U.S. soldiers died. Throughout his time in office Nixon, like President Johnson before him, was the target of major antiwar protests. Nixon countered that he was supported by what he called the "silent majority," which Nixon believed were most Americans who simply were not politically vocal. On May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guard troops fired on a crowd of two thousand war protesters on the campus of Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine. The incident became a further rallying point for protesters. With negotiations continuing to falter, Nixon ordered intense bombing of North Vietnam cities in late December 1972, known as the "Christmas bombings." Finally, a cease-fire agreement was reached in January 1973.
The agreement succeeded in getting the United States out of Vietnam, but it did not save South Vietnam. In April 1975, the last few Americans were evacuated from the U.S. embassy, as South Vietnam fell to the North. The collapse of South Vietnam led to the fall of noncommunist governments in Laos and Cambodia, and massive numbers of deaths.
Improving relations with China and the Soviet Union
The United States had refused to recognize the Chinese government, known as the People's Republic of China (PRC), since it was established in October 1949. This had occurred for two reasons: An influential group of Chinese Americans known as the China Lobby and other Americans who were pro-Chinese had strongly lobbied to recognize only the Taiwanese government of the Republic of China (ROC) and keep the PRC out of the United Nations (UN); also, there was a strong anticommunist mood in the United States as well as a fear that a unified global communist movement led by China and the Soviets was underway.
Upon taking office, Nixon sought to establish discussions with the PRC through low-level contacts. After Nixon lifted travel and trade restrictions on the PRC in 1971, China officials responded that they were interested in increased talks. Nixon sent Kissinger to the PRC that year to lay plans for Nixon to visit. Nixon journeyed to China the following year for ten days in February 1972. Since the communist takeover, he was the first U.S. president to visit China while in office. The talks progressed well, resulting in the Shanghai Communiqué, a statement in which Nixon accepted only one China. Nixon agreed that the Taiwanese government of the Republic of China (ROC) was part of the PRC, not a separate nation. Later in 1979 (after Nixon's presidency), the United States would establish formal relations with the PRC.
Nixon next also sought improved relations with the Soviets. Fearing the new U.S. relations with the PRC and struggling with their own growing economic problems, the Soviets were ready to talk as well. In May 1972, Nixon traveled to Moscow to meet with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982; see entry). There, they signed two arms control treaties, including the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), and several other agreements focusing on such topics as cultural exchanges, space exploration, and health research. The treaties strictly limited
defensive antiballistic missile systems (ABMs) and froze offensive intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at certain levels. Later in 1972, Nixon established a trade agreement providing the Soviets with grain and some new Western technologies. This period of détente, or the easing of tensions, however, would be short-lived and end not long after Nixon left office.
In Latin America, Nixon continued past U.S. policies of seeking to overthrow governments suspected of being
procommunist. After President Salvador Allende (1908–1973; see entry) nationalized, or took control and ownership of, U.S. mining interests in Chile as part of economic reform measures, Nixon imposed economic restrictions on Chile from 1971 to 1973. These included restrictions on foreign financial assistance and private investments from the United States. In addition, millions of dollars were secretly given to opposition groups in Chile, leading to Allende's eventual overthrow and death in September 1973. Chilean army commander-in-chief Augusto Pinochet (1915–1999) took over leadership of the country.
A controversial second term
In 1972, Nixon ran for reelection. He won in one of the largest landslides in U.S. history over the still badly divided Democrats and their candidate, U.S. senator George McGovern (1922–) of South Dakota. After securing the Vietnam cease-fire agreement in January 1973, Nixon's main foreign policy involvement following reelection was an attempt to settle the Middle East dispute between the Arab nations and Israel. The October War of 1973 proved a major hurdle, as Israel, with limited support from the United States, badly defeated Arab forces. Following the brief war, in what became known as "shuttle diplomacy," Kissinger journeyed back and forth between the two sides, trying to create a breakthrough in resolving longstanding problems. However, in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel during the war, the oil-producing Arab nations through the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) limited oil exports to the United States. The fuel shortages led to higher gas prices and long lines at U.S. service stations as well as much less support for U.S. negotiation with the Arab nations.
Much of Nixon's second term of office was consumed with a scandal that eventually led to his resignation. What became known as Watergate involved employees of the Republican Party's Committee to Re-elect the President. They were caught burglarizing and wiretapping the national headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in June 1972 at the Watergate hotel and office complex in Washington, D.C. The burglars included former CIA and FBI agents hired by the Republicans with party campaign funds to conduct political espionage. Many Republican Party officials—as well as some of Nixon's closest advisors—received criminal convictions.
Eventually, astonishing connections to the White House were uncovered, including attempts at a cover-up and bribery of indicted defendants. Much evidence came from recorded White House conversations: it was revealed, for instance, that Nixon participated in the cover-up by directing the CIA to interfere with the FBI investigation and by giving "silence" money to the defendants. Spectacular televised Senate hearings extended into the summer of 1974. During Nixon's last eighteen months in office, he was consumed by the Watergate scandal, leaving Kissinger to run foreign affairs.
Facing certain impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate, Nixon announced his resignation from the presidency on national television the evening of August 8, 1974. As Nixon and his family departed the White House grounds by helicopter the following day, millions watched ontelevision. One month later, on September 8, his successor in the White House, Gerald R. Ford (1913–; served 1974–77), pardoned Nixon of all charges.
Life after resignation
Nixon led an active private life after leaving office, despite the controversies leading to his downfall. Nixon retired first to his secluded estate in San Clemente, California, for six years and then moved to New York City, then New Jersey. Through a series of widely read books he authored, Nixon salvaged his career and enjoyed the status of an elder statesman in his last years. He remained active in various issues. For example, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Nixon campaigned for political support and economic aid for Russia and the other former Soviet republics. In 1994, Nixon announced the creation of the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom, which focused on foreign policy issues. Later that year, he died of a massive stroke. He was buried next to his wife, who had died in 1993, on the grounds of the Nixon presidential library in Yorba Linda.
For More Information
Aitken, Jonathan. Nixon: A Life. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993.
Ambrose, Stephen E. Nixon. 3 vols. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987–91.
Emery, Fred. Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon. New York: Times Books, 1994.
Hoff, Joan. Nixon Reconsidered. New York: Basic Books, 1994.
Nixon, Richard M. The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978.
Nixon, Richard M. Six Crises. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962. Reprint, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.
Reeves, Richard. President Nixon: Alone in the White House. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.
Thornton, Richard C. The Nixon-Kissinger Years: Reshaping America's Foreign Policy. New York: Paragon House, 1989.
The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace.http://www.nixonfoundation.org (accessed on September 12, 2003).
The Final Comeback
Richard Nixon resigned as U.S. president on August 8, 1974, and left the following day in disgrace. Many would have disappeared from public view the remainder of their lives after what he experienced. His actions relating to the Watergate burglary had been subjected to lengthy public hearings televised to the nation. Evidence mounted concerning his alleged cover-up of domestic political espionage activities. However, Nixon had been a fighter all his life, and he did not simply fade away once having left office.
Instead, in an effort to set his place in history, he wrote a series of books, including his memoirs, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (1978). These books set his place in history, and he regained recognition as an expert in foreign relations by 1985. Several of the books were best-sellers. Nixon would serve as advisor at times to presidents Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89; see entry), George Bush (1924–; served 1989–93; see entry), and Bill Clinton (1946–; served 1993–2001).
Richard Nixon wrote the following books after 1978:
Leaders. New York: Warner Books, 1982.
Real Peace. Boston: Little, Brown, 1984.
No More Vietnams. New York: Arbor House, 1985.
1999: Victory without War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.
In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.
Beyond Peace. New York: Random House, 1994.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.chapman.edu/nixon/library/overview.html (August 5, 1997). A brief biography can be also accessed on the internet at the A & E Biography website at http://www.biography.com (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). □
Nixon, Richard Milhous
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."
—RICHARD M. NIXON
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 ), 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.
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.
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.
Nixon’s 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 China’s admission to the United Nations in October 1971 and open relations with China when he visited it—the first president to do so—in 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 Truman’s 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 presidency’s unilateral foreign policy authority, Congress overrode Nixon’s 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 early—to remain Eisenhower’s running mate in 1952—when he responded to charges that he had a campaign slush fund to defray personal expenses in the so-called “Checker’s 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 Nixon’s 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 Nixon’s resignation less than three weeks later.
On August 9, 1974, Nixon was succeeded by Gerald Ford, who had replaced Nixon’s 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 Checker’s 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.
Nixon, Richard M.
Richard M. Nixon
Thirty-seventh president of the United States, 1969–1974
Richard M. Nixon became president of the United States at the peak of American involvement in the Vietnam War. During his election campaign, he promised to achieve "peace with honor" in Vietnam, meaning that he planned to end U.S. involvement without allowing South Vietnam to fall to Communist forces. Nixon's main strategy to end the war was "Vietnamization," which involved withdrawing American combat troops gradually over time while also taking steps to strengthen the South Vietnamese government and military for its own defense. While the Vietnamization program did result in the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam in early 1973, it failed to prevent the fall of South Vietnam. North Vietnamese forces captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon to win the war two years later. By this time, Nixon had resigned from office in disgrace over the Watergate scandal.
A rapid rise in politics
Richard Milhous Nixon was born January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California. His parents, Francis Anthony and Hannah Milhous Nixon, were working-class people who struggled to support their family by running a lemon farm and grocery store. In 1922 the Nixons moved to Whittier, California. Richard was a good student at Whittier High School and Whittier College. He played football and worked hard to make the starting team, but he soon learned that his real talent was in debate. He earned a scholarship to Duke University Law School in North Carolina in 1934 and graduated three years later near the top of his class.
After earning his law degree, Nixon returned to Whittier and worked for a law firm there, becoming a partner in 1939. During this time he met Thelma Catherine Ryan, known by the nickname Pat. The couple were married in 1940 and eventually had two daughters, Patricia and Julie. During World War II, Nixon joined the U.S. Navy. He served in the South Pacific between 1942 and 1946 and resigned with the rank of lieutenant commander.
Upon completing his military service, Nixon began a rapid rise to prominence in politics. In 1946, at the age of thirty-three, he was elected to serve California in the U.S. House of Representatives. Running as a Republican, Nixon used aggressive campaign tactics to defeat his opponent, Jerry Voorhis, a liberal Democrat who had served five terms in office.
Once in Congress, Nixon became a member of the influential House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). At this time, the United States and the Soviet Union were involved in an intense rivalry, as both nations competed to spread their political philosophies and influence around the world. This period, which was known as the Cold War, created an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust in the United States. The HUAC was formed in order to uncover and expose Communists within the U.S. government.
As a member of this committee, Nixon led an investigation into the activities of an American diplomat named Alger Hiss, who was suspected of passing secret U.S. documents to the Soviet Union. Hiss was eventually convicted of perjury (lying while under oath to tell the truth) in a controversial case. The Hiss investigation first brought Nixon to national attention. He used it and the strong anticommunist sentiments of the period to promote his own career.
Becomes vice president of the United States
After serving two terms in the House of Representatives, Nixon was elected to represent California in the U.S. Senate. Once again, he defeated a liberal Democrat by running an aggressive, negative campaign. His opponent, Helen Gahagan Douglas, protested against Nixon's "dirty tricks" and gave him the nickname "Tricky Dick." In 1952 Republican presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower asked the young senator to be his vice-presidential running mate. Eisenhower chose Nixon because he was young, enjoyed strong support in California, and was well-known for his anticommunist activities. Eisenhower easily defeated Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson in the general election, and Nixon became vice president of the United States just six years after he started his political career.
During his two terms as vice president, Nixon mainly concentrated on foreign policy. He made frequent official visits to other countries on behalf of the U.S. government. In 1956 Nixon traveled to South Vietnam. Two years earlier, Communist-led Viet Minh forces had won the Indochina War to gain Vietnam's independence from France. The Geneva Peace Accords, which formally ended the war, had divided the country in two parts: North Vietnam, with a Communist government under Ho Chi Minh (see entry), and South Vietnam, with a U.S.-supported government under Ngo Dinh Diem (see entry).
The peace agreement had also provided for nationwide free elections to be held in 1956 to reunite the two parts of Vietnam under one government. But President Eisenhower and other U.S. leaders worried that national elections would bring power to the Communists. They felt that a Communist government in Vietnam would increase the strength of China and the Soviet Union and threaten the security of the United States. As a result, Diem and his American advisors refused to hold the elections as scheduled. Nixon's official visit to South Vietnam showed that Diem had the support of the U.S. government.
Eisenhower and Nixon were reelected in 1956. Toward the end of the decade, the president suffered a series of health problems. Nixon exercised greater power during this time and increased his public approval ratings. As the 1960 elections approached, Nixon received the Republican nomination for the presidency. His Democratic opponent was John F. Kennedy (see entry), a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Kennedy ran a tough campaign that put Nixon on the defensive. Kennedy surged ahead in the polls after the first nationally televised presidential debate between the two candidates. Nixon appeared nervous and irritable compared to the calm and handsome Kennedy. Nixon ended up losing by only 113,000 popular votes in one of the closest presidential elections ever.
After being defeated in his bid for the presidency, Nixon returned to California. He ran for governor of the state in 1962 but lost again. Afterward, he announced his retirement from politics, telling reporters that "you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." For the next few years, Nixon worked in a law firm in New York City. But he also kept his hand in politics, supporting various Republican candidates and making occasional visits to foreign leaders. Before long, he launched a remarkable political comeback.
Leads the United States out of Vietnam as president
During the time that Nixon was out of politics, the United States had become more and more deeply involved in Vietnam. The Communist leaders of North Vietnam grew angry when South Vietnamese President Diem refused to hold national elections to reunite the two parts of the country. Before long, tensions between the two sides erupted into war. President Kennedy sent U.S. military planes and advisors to help South Vietnam defend itself. His successor, Lyndon Johnson (see entry), sent American combat troops to fight on the side of South Vietnam in 1965. But increasing U.S. involvement failed to defeat the Communists. Instead, the war turned into a bloody stalemate, and the American public became bitterly divided over the government's policies toward Vietnam.
The debate over Vietnam had a strong effect on the 1968 presidential election. Tired of being criticized for leading the United States into the war, Johnson decided not to run for reelection. As the Democratic Party tried to select a new candidate for the presidency, their nominating convention in Chicago was interrupted by violent antiwar protests. Nixon claimed the Republican nomination by promising to bring the American people "peace with honor" in Vietnam. He ended up winning the election over Democrat Hubert Humphrey and independent candidate George Wallace to become the thirty-seventh president of the United States.
During his election campaign, Nixon had indicated that he had a "secret plan" for ending U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. After taking office in January 1969, he began outlining his plan to the American people. Nixon promised to withdraw American combat forces gradually over time, while also taking steps to strengthen the South Vietnamese government and military. He noted that this plan—which became known as "Vietnamization"—would enable the United States to end its involvement in the war without allowing South Vietnam to fall to communism. He began implementing this plan in June 1969, when he withdrew the first 25,000 American troops from Vietnam. Nixon also opened peace talks in Paris with North Vietnamese officials.
At the same time, however, Nixon expanded the war into the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos. In 1969 he authorized U.S. bombing raids to wipe out Communist base camps in the border regions. Then in the spring of 1970 Nixon sent U.S. ground troops into Cambodia. He explained that this "incursion" would destroy enemy supply lines, force the North Vietnamese into serious negotiations, and reduce the pressure on South Vietnam so that the Vietnamization program would have time to work. But many Americans viewed the invasion of neutral Cambodia as an escalation of the war. They felt that Nixon had broken his promise to bring American troops home and reach a peaceful settlement. The antiwar movement reacted to the invasion of Cambodia by launching protests across the country. During one of these protests, on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio, four students were shot to death during a confrontation with National Guard troops.
Over the next two years, Nixon managed to quiet the antiwar movement by continuing to move forward with his Vietnamization program. The last American combat troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1972, and the United States reached a peace agreement with North Vietnam in January 1973. When the Paris Peace Accords were signed, many Americans praised Nixon and his administration for their direction of the war effort. The president's supporters argued that his strong leadership enabled the United States to negotiate a cease-fire that allowed it to leave South Vietnam "with honor." Opponents of the war, however, were more critical of Nixon's record in Vietnam. They charged that Nixon's heavy use of bombing resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, and that U.S. air strikes virtually destroyed large sections of the country. Finally, Nixon's critics argued that he spent four years smashing Vietnam and neighboring countries, only to settle for a peace agreement that was similar in most respects to ones that he had turned down in the late 1960s.
In the months following the signing of the treaty, both South Vietnam and North Vietnam kept fighting in violation of the cease-fire agreement. But the continuing hostilities did not prevent American lawmakers from taking a series of steps designed to ensure that the United States would never again become entangled in Vietnam. For example, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Case-Church Amendment, which explicitly prohibited future U.S. military involvement in Indochina. In November 1973 Congress passed the so-called War Powers Act. This legislation put new limits on the president's powers to commit U.S. troops to military operations without congressional approval. Nixon resented these limits on his military authority, but by this time he lacked the political power to fight Congress.
Resigns in disgrace over the Watergate scandal
During the presidential election of 1972, Nixon was reelected by a huge margin of almost 18 million popular votes over Democratic candidate George McGovern (see entry). But a short time later, his political career was threatened by the Watergate scandal. In the spring of 1972 a group of people associated with Nixon's reelection campaign had broken into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate hotel in Washington, D.C., and stolen secret campaign information. As the investigation into the burglary unfolded in early 1973, it became clear that members of the Nixon administration—and possibly the president himself—had tried to cover up the burglary. The investigation also showed that Republican agents had engaged in a wide range of illegal activities against Democrats and other political opponents over the past few years.
Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew (see entry), resigned from office in October 1973 over charges that he had accepted bribes while he was governor of Maryland. Gerald R. Ford, a Republican senator from Michigan, became Nixon's new vice president a short time later. By 1974 Congress had gathered enough evidence to begin impeachment hearings against Nixon. (The U.S. Constitution says that elected officials can be impeached, or brought up on legal charges, and removed from office if they are convicted of crimes.) Rather than face impeachment, Nixon became the first president in American history to resign from office in disgrace on August 9, 1974. Ford took over as president and granted Nixon an official pardon, meaning that he would never stand trial for any crimes he had committed while in office. By the time the Watergate investigation ended, thirty members of the Nixon administration had been sent to prison.
Nixon's legacy as president was forever tarnished by his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Historians have since claimed that Nixon's behavior in office permanently reduced the level of trust that the American people placed in their leaders. Among the most promising developments during Nixon's presidency was the improvement of relations between the United States and China. Nixon made a historic visit to the Communist-led nation in 1972 to formally open diplomatic relations and trade between the two countries. He also held summit meetings with Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union, that began to ease Cold War tensions. Many people found it interesting that Nixon helped improve relations between the United States and these Communist countries, given his earlier reputation as a tough opponent of communism.
After leaving office, Nixon lived quietly in New Jersey for many years. He eventually reemerged on the political scene as an elder statesman. He often traveled overseas to visit foreign leaders, and he acted as an advisor to Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Nixon also published his memoirs and several other best-selling books over the years. He died of a stroke on April 22, 1994, in New York City. All four living former presidents attended his funeral.
Ambrose, Stephen E. Nixon. 3 vols. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987, 1989, 1991.
Kimball, Jeffrey. Nixon's Vietnam War. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Morris, Roger. Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician. New York: Holt, 1990.
Nixon, Richard M. The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978.
Nixon, Richard M. No More Vietnams. New York: Arbor House, 1985.
Randolph, Sallie G. Richard M. Nixon, President. New York: Walker, 1989.
Ripley, Peter C. Richard Nixon. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.
Wicker, Tom. One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream. New York: Random House, 1991.
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 (1890–1969). 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 (1912–1993), 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 (1939–45), 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 (1904–1996), 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 (1890–1969), 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 (1894–1971) 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 (1902–1985) as his running mate. The campaign against the Democratic team of Senators John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) and Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973) 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 (1918–1996) of Maryland as his running mate. Nixon and Agnew ran against the Democratic team of Hubert Humphrey (1911–1978) and Edmund Muskie (1914–). Third-party candidate George Wallace (1919–1998) 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.
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 (1955–75; 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 objective—to negotiate, or bargain for, an end to 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 with South Vietnamese troops. After a conference with South Vietnam president Nguyen Van Thieu (1923–2001), 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.
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 (1893–1976), 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.
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.