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Nixon Essay, Research Paper
RICHARD M. NIXON. The first president of the United States to resign from office was Richard M. Nixon. Before his mid-term retirement in 1974, he had been only the second president to face impeachment.
In 1968, in a political comeback unprecedented in American history, Nixon was elected the 37th president of the United States. This victory followed two major political defeats. In his first bid for the presidency in 1960, the Democratic candidate, John F. Kennedy, defeated him. Two years later he suffered a crushing loss in his campaign for the governorship of his home state of California. He then temporarily retired from politics to practice law.
Before the election of 1960, Nixon’s political career had been a series of unbroken successes. He was elected to the United States Congress in 1946, entered the United States Senate as its youngest member in 1951, and two years later, at 39, became the nation’s second youngest vice-president. (The youngest was John C. Breckinridge.) Nixon served two terms under Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1969 Nixon was the first president since the start of the two-party system to assume office handicapped by an opposition Congress. His slim margin of the 73 million votes cast made him the 15th minority president. Nixon, with 301 electoral votes, defeated Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey.
Renominated in 1972, Nixon polled a record 46 million popular votes and won 49 states. Although George McGovern, the Democratic candidate, received only 17 electoral votes, the Democrats held control of Congress. It was a landslide victory for Nixon. Yet by 1974 his impeachment seemed inevitable as a result of political scandals involving his staff. (See also Political Parties; Impeachment.)
Richard Milhous Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, a farming village in Orange County, Calif., on Jan. 9, 1913. He was the second of five sons of Francis (Frank) Anthony Nixon and Hannah Milhous Nixon. Frank Nixon came from a Scotch-Irish farming family. He was a descendant of James Nixon, who emigrated from Ireland to settle in Delaware in 1753. One member of the Nixon family served in the American Revolution. Another was killed in the battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War.
Richard’s father, who was born near McArthur, Ohio, had to go to work after having had only about six years of school. His last job in Ohio was as a streetcar motorman. One winter day his feet were frostbitten in the car, and he decided to move to a warmer climate. In Whittier, Calif., he took a job running a trolley.
Whittier was founded in 1887 as a Quaker settlement and named for the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Here Frank Nixon met Hannah Milhous, his future wife. Hannah was one of nine children of Franklin Milhous, whose ancestors had emigrated from Germany to England and then to Ireland. Quakers in search of religious freedom, they came to Pennsylvania in 1729. When Hannah Milhous was born, her parents lived near Butlerville, Ind. They moved to California in 1897. Frank and Hannah met at a Quaker meetinghouse party in February 1908. Four months later they were married. Frank, who had been reared as a Methodist, became a Quaker. Their first son, Harold, was born in 1909.
Childhood in Yorba Linda and Whittier
The year before Richard was born, his father bought land in Yorba Linda. Here he built a house and started a lemon grove. Richard’s brothers Francis Donald and Arthur were also born in Yorba Linda. The citrus-fruit venture proved unsuccessful, and after ten years’ struggle the family returned to Whittier. There the last of the Nixon children, Edward, was born in 1930.
In Whittier, Frank Nixon set up a gas station, where he also began to sell a few groceries. Later he bought an old Quaker meetinghouse, which he moved next to the station to serve as a combination market and home. The business was a family enterprise. As soon as the boys were old enough, they helped in the store and in the station. Here young Richard learned his first lessons in dealing with the public. “I sold gas and delivered groceries and met a lot of people. I think this was invaluable as a start on a public career,” Nixon said later.
Richard’s mother, a devout Quaker, was patient, kind, and conscientious. His father was a rather severe man whose chief interest was politics. Frank Nixon’s love of debate turned the market into a neighborhood club. At an age when most children are reading fairy tales, young Richard took an interest in politics and began reading the newspapers. He also absorbed his father’s fondness for debate. While the boy was still in grammar school, his father helped him prepare his first public debate: “Resolved: It is more economical to rent a house than to own one.”
Much of the Nixons’ life centered upon religious activities. They went to the Quaker meetinghouse three times on Sunday and also attended Wednesday services. The boy, who had begun piano lessons at age 7, also played the church organ. One of the highlights of the year for the Nixon children was the Christmas reunion at Grandmother Milhous’ home in Whittier. Richard was her favorite grandchild.
The Nixon family had its share of tragedy. Arthur, the second youngest boy, died when he was 7. When Richard was in high school, his older brother, Harold, contracted tuberculosis. In an effort to better Harold’s health, his mother took him to Arizona for two years; however, he died in 1933.
While Hannah Nixon was away, Richard and his brother Francis Donald helped their father keep the household in order and run the business. Richard was in charge of fruits and vegetables. Every morning he got up at 4:00 AM, drove 12 miles to the produce market, and arranged the counter before school.
College Student and Leader
At 17 Richard entered Whittier College, a Quaker institution that his mother had attended. In his first year he was elected president of his class and of a new fraternity, the Orthogonians. As a sophomore he represented Whittier in more than 50 debates, winning most of them. He became president of the student body during his senior year. He was also active in dramatics. In small groups he was reserved, but he lost his shyness when he faced a crowd. His major subject, history, was easy for him, but he had to work hard at science and mathematics. Nevertheless, he was second in his class when he graduated in 1934.
Richard’s ambition was to become a lawyer, but his brother’s long illness had exhausted the family’s savings. However, his good college record and the recommendations of his teachers enabled him to win a scholarship to Duke University, in Durham, N.C.
Nixon the Lawyer
In Durham Nixon shared a $25-a-semester apartment with three other students. To help pay his living expenses, he worked in the college library. His classmates called him “Nix” or “Gloomy Gus” because of his tendency to brood. At Duke his leadership was soon recognized. He was elected president of the student body and in his final year became president of the Duke Bar Association. In June 1937 he was graduated third in his class.
Five months later Nixon was admitted to the California bar. He joined the firm of Wingert and Bewley in Whittier. A short time after that it became Bewley, Knoop, and Nixon.
Marriage and Military Life
In the Whittier little theater group Nixon met “Pat” Ryan, a new teacher in the town high school. Pat was intelligent and attractive, with red hair and brown eyes. On June 21, 1940, two years after their first meeting, they were married.
Thelma Catherine Patricia Ryan was born March 16, 1912, in Ely, Nev. Her father, a silver miner, nicknamed her Pat. When she was a year old, the family moved to a ten-acre truck farm in California, where she grew up. She was 13 at the time of her mother’s death and 17 when her father died.
After a year at Fullerton Junior College, Pat drove an elderly couple to New York City, intending to stay only briefly. Instead, in 1931-32 she worked in a New York hospital, first as a secretary, then as an X-ray technician. She used her savings to enter the University of Southern California. While in college she played bit parts in movies. She was graduated in 1937 and began her teaching career. After the Nixons were married, Pat continued to teach.
A few weeks after the United States entered World War II Nixon went to Washington, D.C. In January 1942 he took a job with the Office of Price Administration. Two months later he applied for a Navy commission, and in September 1942 he was commissioned a lieutenant, junior grade. During much of the war he served as an operations officer with the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander.
The Militant Anti-Communist
After the war Nixon returned to the United States, where he was assigned to work on Navy contracts while awaiting discharge. He was working in Baltimore, Md., when he received a telephone call that changed his life. A Republican citizen’s committee in Whittier was considering Nixon as a candidate for Congress in the 12th Congressional District. In December 1945 Nixon accepted the candidacy with the promise that he would “wage a fighting, rocking, socking campaign.”
Jerry Voorhis, a Democrat who had represented the 12th District since 1936, was running for reelection. Earlier in his career Voorhis had been an active Socialist. He had become more conservative over the years and was now an outspoken anti-Communist. Despite Voorhis’ anti-Communist stand the Los Angeles chapter of the left-wing Political Action Committee (PAC) endorsed him, apparently without his knowledge or approval.
The theme of Nixon’s campaign was “a vote for Nixon is a vote against the Communist-dominated PAC.” The approach was successful. On Nov. 5, 1946, Richard Nixon won his first political election.
The Nixons’ daughter Patricia (called Tricia) was born during the campaign, on Feb. 21, 1946. Their second daughter, Julie, was born July 5, 1948.
The Hiss Case
As a freshman congressman, Nixon was assigned to the Un-American Activities Committee. It was in this capacity that in August 1948 he heard the testimony of Whittaker Chambers, a self-confessed former Communist espionage agent. Chambers named Alger Hiss, a foreign policy advisor during the Roosevelt years, as an accomplice while in government service.
Hiss, a former State Department aide, asked for and obtained a hearing before the committee. He made a favorable impression, and the case would then have been dropped had not Nixon urged investigation into Hiss’s testimony on his relationship with Chambers.
The committee let Nixon pursue the case behind closed doors. He brought Chambers and Hiss face to face. Chambers produced evidence proving that Hiss had passed State Department secrets to him. Among the exhibits were rolls of microfilm which Chambers had hidden in a pumpkin on his farm near Westminster, Md., as a precaution against theft. On Dec. 15, 1948, a New York federal grand jury indicted Hiss for perjury. After two trials he was convicted, on Jan. 21, 1950, and sentenced to five years in prison. The Hiss case made Nixon nationally famous.
While the case was still in the courts, Nixon decided to run for the Senate. In his senatorial campaign he attacked the Harry S. Truman Administration and his opponent, Helen Gahagan Douglas, for being “soft” toward the Communists.
Nixon won the election, held on Nov. 7, 1950, by 680,000 votes, and at 38 he became the youngest member of the Senate. His Senate career was uneventful, and he was able to concentrate all his efforts on the upcoming 1952 presidential election.
The “Secret Fund”
Nixon did his work well. He hammered hard at three main issues the war in Korea, Communism in government, and the high cost of the Democratic party’s programs. At their 1952 national convention the Republicans chose him as Eisenhower’s running mate, to balance the ticket with a West coast conservative.
Only a few days after the young senator’s triumph his political career seemed doomed. The New York Post printed a story headed “Secret Rich Men’s Trust Fund Keeps Nixon in Style Far Beyond His Salary.” The public was shocked. The Republicans were panic-stricken. Prominent members of the party urged Eisenhower to dump Nixon before it was too late.
There was really nothing secret about the fund. Nixon was a man of limited means, and when he won his Senate seat a group of businessmen had publicly solicited funds to enable him to keep in touch with the voters in his home state while he served in the Senate. Nixon took his case directly to the people in a nationwide television hookup. He invited investigation of his finances and explained that no donor had asked for or received any favors.
The best-remembered part of his speech was his admission that an admirer had once sent the Nixons a small cocker spaniel named Checkers. “The kids love that dog, and I want to say right now that regardless of what they say, we’re going to keep it,” he declared.
The speech was a political triumph. Eisenhower asked Nixon to come to Wheeling, W. Va., where he was campaigning. The president-to-be met his running mate at the airport with the words “Dick, you’re my boy.” The Republicans won by a landslide.
An Active Vice-President
The only duties listed for the vice-president in the Constitution are to preside over the Senate and to vote if there is a tie. Eisenhower, however, groomed his vice-president for active duty. Nixon regularly attended Cabinet meetings and meetings of the National Security Council. In the absence of the president he presided over these sessions. Thus Nixon was able to assume the president’s duties when Eisenhower was incapacitated by illness after a major heart attack in 1955, abdominal surgery in 1956, and a mild stroke in 1957.
During his eight years as vice-president Nixon made a series of goodwill tours that took him to every continent. In 1958 he faced rioting, rock-throwing mobs in Peru and Venezuela. In 1959 he engaged the Soviet Union’s premier, Nikita Khrushchev, in an impromptu debate in Moscow.
A “Political Obituary”
In 1960 the Republican party chose its seasoned vice-president to run for the nation’s highest office. His running mate was Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a veteran of eight years as ambassador to the United Nations. Voters turned out in record numbers. When the 68 million votes were counted John F. Kennedy had become the nation’s first Roman Catholic president, and Richard Nixon had lost the presidential race by the narrow margin of about 100,000 votes. Nixon got 49.55 percent of the vote; Kennedy, 49.71 percent. Nixon carried 26 states for a total of 219 electoral votes. Kennedy carried 22 states and received 303 electoral votes.
Nixon’s supporters blamed his defeat on irregularities in both the Texas and Illinois votes. Other reasons given were his poor appearance in a series of television debates with Kennedy; his unwillingness, because of the president’s ill health, to let Eisenhower conduct a full-fledged campaign for him; and his refusal to permit any discussion of religion in the campaign. Actually, the Democrats had won the last three Congressional elections and held 34 governorships. The Republicans lacked the support of organized labor, and their social-welfare program was no match for that of the Democrats. Whatever the reasons, Nixon had lost an election for the first time, and he seemed to be out of the political picture.
Two years later Nixon was the Republican candidate for governor in his native California. The incumbent, Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, defeated him. In his “last press conference” Nixon delivered a scathing denunciation of the news media and intimated that he was through with politics forever.
Nixon left California for New York, where he entered a substantial law practice. His image as a “loser” in politics seemed complete. A television network even ran a documentary entitled ‘The Political Obituary of Richard M. Nixon’.
Victory in 1968
In 1964 Nixon made no move toward the presidency. He supported Barry M. Goldwater, the conservative Republican candidate. During the campaign Nixon traveled some 50,000 miles and visited 36 states in Goldwater’s behalf. Goldwater’s overwhelming defeat was portrayed as a disaster for the Republican party, which was already torn by dissension between its conservative and its liberal members. The setback, however, was only temporary.
Nixon, stepping in as a unifying force, began to campaign for Republican candidates around the country. In 1966 he traveled 30,000 miles and visited 35 states in behalf of 87 Congressional candidates. That year the Republicans gained 47 House seats, 8 governorships, and 3 additional seats in the Senate. Between 1964 and 1967 he helped raise 5 to 6 million dollars for Republican campaign expenses. By the time the 1968 presidential campaign got under way Republicans all over the country owed Nixon support.
In the 1968 primary elections Nixon began to cast off the “loser” image. He scored successive victories in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Indiana, Nebraska, Oregon, and South Dakota. In Pennsylvania and in New Jersey he won on write-in votes.
By the time the Republican convention met at Miami Beach, Fla., Nixon’s only serious opponent for the presidential nomination was Nelson A. Rockefeller, the governor of New York. The governor’s liberal views were unacceptable to large groups of conservative Republicans. Furthermore, Rockefeller had been late in entering the race. Nixon won a sweeping first-ballot victory. At 1:30 A.M., August 8, Wisconsin’s 30 votes gave the former vice-president 680 votes, 13 more than he needed for the nomination. Wyoming’s 12 brought his total to 692. Rockefeller polled only 277 votes.
For his running mate Nixon chose Spiro T. Agnew, the governor of Maryland, a man little known outside his own state. The choice was a surprise to political forecasters and a disappointment to some Republicans. Nixon realized, however, that a conservative Southern candidate would have lost him badly needed big-city and liberal votes in the North and that a liberal Northern Republican would have alienated the South, which backed him solidly at the convention. Agnew was a compromise choice acceptable to both the North and the South.
Throughout the election campaign Nixon directed his attacks against the failures of the Democratic Administration. He deplored the growing rate of crime in the streets, called attention to the high cost and the limitations of the Democrats’ welfare programs, and denounced their inaction against inflation.
Early in the campaign the Republican candidates announced that they would refrain from comments on the settlement of the Vietnamese conflict. The policy was adopted to prevent interference with peace negotiations begun in May between government representatives from the United States and from North Vietnam in Paris, France.
Nixon emphasized his determination to curb violence in the cities. At the same time he proposed a program of increased “black capitalism” and of tax incentives for private investors locating in the cities. On Nov. 5, 1968, Nixon’s long and loyal support of his party was repaid, and he was elected the 37th president of the United States. About a month before his inauguration on Jan. 20, 1969, his younger daughter, Julie, was married to David Eisenhower, the grandson of former President Eisenhower.
In his inaugural address President Nixon emphasized his determination to seek peace abroad, especially in Vietnam, and to bring about a reconciliation of the differences that divided the United States.
All the men nominated by the president for Cabinet posts were approved by the Senate. William P. Rogers was Nixon’s choice as secretary of state. David M. Kennedy became secretary of the treasury; Melvin R. Laird, the secretary of defense. Clifford M. Hardin was named the new secretary of agriculture; Walter J. Hickel, secretary of the interior; Maurice H. Stans, secretary of commerce; George P. Shultz, secretary of labor; John A. Volpe, secretary of transportation. Robert H. Finch was designated to head the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; George Romney, Housing and Urban Development. John N. Mitchell was appointed attorney general; Winton M. Blount, postmaster general.
The first changes in the original Cabinet were made in mid-1970. Elliot L. Richardson replaced Finch. James D. Hodgson succeeded Shultz, who became head of the Office of Management and Budget, a new agency created to replace the Bureau of the Budget. Later in 1970 Nixon dismissed Hickel, with whom he had differences, and appointed former Republican national chairman Rogers C.B. Morton in his stead. Early in 1971 John B. Connally, Jr., a former governor of Texas, replaced Kennedy as secretary of the treasury.
When the Post Office Department was reorganized in 1971, Blount lost his Cabinet status. Also in 1971, Earl L. Butz succeeded Hardin. Early in 1972 Mitchell resigned to head Nixon’s reelection campaign; Deputy Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst replaced him. Mitchell left the campaign in early July. Peter G. Peterson replaced Stans, who also resigned to work for the campaign. Shultz succeeded Connally.
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