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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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,
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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