From a modest family, he studied at Duke University and then became a lawyer. During the Second World War, he served in the Navy.
He was elected U.S. Representative for California’s 12th District in 1946, then Senator in 1950. His involvement in the Alger Hiss spy case established his reputation as an anti-communist and brought him to national attention. Elected in 1952 as Vice President of the United States on the Republican ticket led by Dwight D. Eisenhower, he served as Vice President from 1953 to 1961. He ran to succeed Eisenhower in 1960, but was defeated by Democrat John F. Kennedy in a very close election. He also failed to become governor of California in 1962. He was elected to the White House six years later, making him one of the few people to win the presidency after losing a previous presidential election.
During his presidency, while he initially increased American involvement in Vietnam, he negotiated an end to the conflict and ended the intervention in 1973. His visit to the People’s Republic of China in 1972 led to the opening of diplomatic relations between the two countries; in the same year, he established Détente and the ABM Treaty with the Soviet Union. In domestic policy, his administration supported policies of devolution of power from the federal government to the states. He strengthened the fight against cancer and drugs, imposed price and wage controls, enforced desegregation in Southern schools, and created the Environmental Protection Agency. Although he was president during the Apollo 11 mission, he reduced support for the American space program.
He was re-elected in 1972, winning 49 of the 50 states, one of the largest majorities ever obtained in the United States. His second term was marked by the first oil crisis and its economic consequences, by the resignation of his vice-president Spiro Agnew and by the successive revelations about his involvement in the Watergate scandal. The affair cost Nixon most of his political support and led him to resign on August 9, 1974, when he was threatened with impeachment. After his departure from power, he received a pardon from his successor, Gerald Ford.
During his retirement, he wrote several books and became involved in the international scene, which helped rehabilitate his public image. He died at the age of 81, a few days after suffering a severe stroke. Richard Nixon’s legacy and personality continue to be the subject of much debate.
Richard Milhous Nixon
Nixon’s youth was marked by hardship, and he later quoted Eisenhower as describing his childhood: “We were poor, but the beauty of it is that we didn’t know it. The family farm failed in 1922 and the family moved to Whittier, California, an area inhabited by many Quakers, where Frank Nixon opened a grocery store and gas station. Richard’s younger brother, Arthur, died suddenly in 1925. At the age of 12, a shadow was found on one of Richard’s lungs, and because of the family’s history of tuberculosis, he was banned from sports. Eventually, the shadow turned out to be scar tissue formed after a bout of pneumonia. Young Richard attended East Whittier Elementary School where he was class president.
Frank and Hannah Nixon felt that the education at Whitthier College had caused Richard’s older brother, Harold, to live a dissolute life before he died of tuberculosis in 1933. So they sent Richard to the largest college in Fullerton. He was a brilliant student, although it took him an hour by bus to get to college, and he lived with one of his aunts in Fullerton during the week. He played soccer and attended almost every practice, although he was rarely selected for competition. He was more successful as a public speaker, winning several speech contests and being beaten in a public debate only by the college president, H. Lynn Sheller. Nixon later recalled Sheller’s words, “Remember, a speech is a conversation…Don’t inveigle people. Talk to them. Talk to them. Nixon said he tried to use a conversational tone as often as possible.
Nixon’s parents enrolled him in Whittier High School in September 1928. Richard failed, however, to win the presidency of the student union. He usually got up at 4:00 a.m. to drive the family truck to Los Angeles to buy vegetables at the market. He would then return to the grocery store to wash and put them on the shelf before heading to school. Doctors had diagnosed his brother Harold with tuberculosis the year before, so when Hannah Nixon took him to Arizona in hopes of improving his health, his parents became more demanding of Richard and he had to give up soccer. Nixon nevertheless finished third in his class of 207 students.
He received a scholarship to Harvard University, but Harold’s illness took up their mother’s time and Richard had to help run the grocery store. He stayed in California and attended Whittier University, his expenses covered by a bequest from his maternal grandfather. There were no student fraternities at the university but literary associations. Nixon was rejected by the only one that existed for young men, the Franklins, most of whose members came from influential families, unlike himself. He responded by helping to found a new society, the Orthogonian Society. In addition to the society, his studies, and grocery store activities, Nixon found time for many extracurricular activities; he won numerous debate contests and earned a reputation as a hard worker. In 1933, he became engaged to Ola Florence Welch, the daughter of the Whittier commissioner; but they separated in 1935.
After graduating from Whittier University in 1934, Nixon received a scholarship to Duke University Law School. The institution was new and sought to attract the best students with scholarships. However, the number of scholarships was greatly reduced for second and third year students and this led to intense competition. Not only did Nixon retain his scholarship, but he was elected president of the university’s bar association and graduated third in his class in June 1937. He later wrote of his university, “Duke University is responsible in one way or another for everything I have done in the past or may do in the future.”
Career, marriage and military service
After graduating from Duke University, Nixon hoped to join the FBI. He received no response to his letter of application and years later learned that he had been hired but that his employment had been cancelled at the last minute due to budgetary restrictions. He returned to California and was admitted to the bar in 1937. He joined the firm of Wingert and Bewley in Whittier, which handled litigation for local oil companies and other commercial matters as well as wills. Nixon was reluctant to work on divorce cases because he did not like to discuss sex with women. In 1938, he opened his own branch of the firm of Wingert and Bewley in La Habra, California and became an official partner of the firm the following year.
In January 1938, Nixon was cast in the Whittier Dramatic Association’s play The Dark Tower and played opposite a high school teacher named Thelma “Pat” Ryan. Nixon described the encounter in his memoirs as “a typical love at first sight”; however, this was only Nixon’s concern as Pat Ryan rebuffed the young lawyer several times before agreeing to a date. Ryan was reluctant to marry Nixon for a long time and their relationship dragged on for two years before she accepted his proposal. They were married in a very simple ceremony on June 21, 1940. After a honeymoon in Mexico, the couple settled in Whittier. They had two children, Tricia (born 1946) and Julie (born 1948).
In January 1942, the couple moved to Washington, D.C., and Nixon found a job in the Office of Price Administration. In his later political campaigns, Nixon claimed that this was a response to the attack on Pearl Harbor, but he had applied for the job in the second half of 1941, before the attack on December 7. The couple considered his prospects at Whittier to be limited. He was assigned to the tire rationing division where he had to answer the mail. He did not like this work and four months later he applied to join the U.S. Navy. Since he was a Quaker by birth, he could have applied for an exemption from the draft, but he joined the Navy in August 1942.
Nixon attended cadet school and became a midshipman in October 1942. His first position was as assistant to the commander of Ottumwa Air Training Base in Iowa. Seeking a more challenging role, he asked to go to the front and was reassigned as a control officer in charge of military logistics in the Southwest Pacific Theater. He was deployed to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and then to Nissan Island, conquered after the Battle of the Green Islands, where his unit prepared flight plans and supervised the loading and unloading of C-47 transport aircraft. He was commended by his superiors, received two star services, and was promoted to lieutenant on October 1, 1943, even though he had not participated in any combat. Upon his return to the United States, Nixon was appointed as an officer at Alameda Naval Air Station in California. In January 1945, he was transferred to the Bureau of Aeronautics in Philadelphia to help negotiate the termination of wartime contracts and was again commended for his work. In October 1945, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander and left the Navy on New Year’s Eve 1946.
United States Representative
In 1945, Republicans in California’s 12th Congressional District, frustrated by their inability to defeat Democratic Representative Jerry Voorhis, sought a consensus candidate to campaign against him. They formed a committee to select a candidate and try to avoid the infighting that had enabled Voorhis’ victories. After the committee failed to attract the best candidates, Herman Perry, the head of the Whittier branch of Bank of America, suggested Nixon, a familiar name to those who had been members of the Whittier University Board of Trustees before the war. Perry wrote to Nixon, who was then in Baltimore. After a night of agitated discussion among the couple, Nixon responded enthusiastically to Perry. He flew to California and was selected by the committee. When he left the Navy in early 1946, Nixon and his wife returned to Whittier where a year of intense campaigning began. Nixon won the election with 65,586 votes to his opponent’s 49,994.
In Congress, Nixon supported the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 restricting the prerogatives of labor unions and served on the Committee on Education and Labor. He was also a member of the Herter Committee, which traveled to Europe to study the need for American financial aid. Nixon was the youngest member of the committee and the only one from the western United States. The committee’s report led to the passage of the Marshall Plan in 1948.
Nixon came to national prominence in 1948 when his investigation as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee uncovered the Alger Hiss spy case. Many doubted Whittaker Chambers’ allegations that Hiss, a former State Department official, had been a Soviet spy, but Nixon was convinced of their veracity and urged the committee to continue its investigation. Chambers was sued for libel by Hiss and provided documents to corroborate his claims. Hiss was convicted of perjury in 1950 because he had denied under oath that he had given the documents to Chambers. In 1948, Nixon became the candidate of a coalition in his district and was easily re-elected.
United States Senator
In 1949, Nixon began to consider running for the Senate against Democratic incumbent Sheridan Downey (en) and began campaigning in November of that year. Downey, facing a tough primary campaign against Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas, announced his withdrawal in March 1950. Nixon and Douglas won the primary and engaged in an intense campaign with the Korean War as a central issue. Nixon tried to draw attention to Douglas’ liberal votes in Congress. For example, a “pink poster” distributed by Nixon’s campaign team suggested that Douglas’s liberal votes were similar to those of Representative Vito Marcantonio of New York (considered by some to be a communist) and that their policy positions were therefore identical. Nixon won the election by nearly 20 points. His many political strategies earned him the nickname Tricky Dick (“Tricky Richard” or “The Trickster”).
In the Senate, Nixon was virulently opposed to communism. He maintained friendly relations with his anti-communist colleague, the controversial Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, but he distanced himself from some of McCarthy’s allegations. Nixon was also critical of President Harry S. Truman’s handling of the Korean War. He supported the entry of Alaska and Hawaii into the United States, voted for civil rights for minorities and for federal aid to India and Yugoslavia following natural disasters. He opposed price controls, currency restrictions and aid to illegal immigrants.
Vice President of the United States
General Dwight D. Eisenhower was chosen by the Republicans in 1952 to run for president. He had no particular preference for a vice-presidential candidate, and the Republican Party leadership met and recommended Nixon to Eisenhower, who accepted the nomination. Nixon’s youth (he was only 39 years old), his stance against communism and his political base in California, one of the largest states, were seen as very strong arguments in the campaign. Other candidates being considered included Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, Governor Alfred Driscoll of New Jersey and Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois. During the campaign, Eisenhower spoke about his ambitions for the country and left the smear campaign to his running mate.
In mid-September, the media reported that Nixon had a slush fund financed by his backers to reimburse his political expenses. Such a slush fund was not illegal, but it exposed Nixon to accusations of possible conflicts of interest. When Eisenhower began pressuring Nixon to withdraw from the presidential ticket, Nixon went on television to address the nation on September 23, 1952. The speech, later dubbed the Checkers Speech, was watched by an estimated 60 million Americans, the largest audience at the time. Nixon passionately defended himself, arguing that the fund was not secret and that the backers had received no compensation. He presented himself as a modest and patriotic man. The speech was famous for his admission that he had accepted only one donation: “a little cocker spaniel… sent from Texas. And our little girl named him Checkers. The speech was a masterpiece of rhetoric and he was inundated with messages of support that led Eisenhower to keep him on the Republican ticket that won the November election by a wide margin.
Eisenhower had pledged to give Nixon responsibilities that would allow him to be his successor. Nixon attended Cabinet meetings and the National Security Council, which he chaired when Eisenhower was absent. A tour of the Far East in 1953 increased U.S. popularity in the region and allowed Nixon to appreciate the industrial potential of the area. He visited Saigon and Hanoi in French Indochina. Upon his return to the United States in late 1953, he increased the amount of time spent on international issues.
Biographer Irwin Gellman said of his vice presidency:
“Eisenhower radically changed the role of his running mate by assigning him crucial duties in both domestic and international affairs after he took office. The vice president welcomed the president’s initiatives and worked energetically to accomplish the White House’s goals. Because of the collaboration between the two leaders, Nixon deserves the title of “the first modern vice president.””
Despite Nixon’s intense campaigning and virulent attacks on the Democrats, the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress in the 1954 election. This defeat prompted Nixon to consider leaving politics at the end of his term. On September 24, 1955, President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack and his condition was initially deemed critical. He was unable to fulfill his duties for six weeks. The 25th Amendment to the Constitution did not yet exist and the vice president had no formal powers. During this period, Nixon took over from Eisenhower by presiding over Cabinet meetings and making sure that Cabinet members did not take advantage of the situation. According to his biographer Stephen Ambrose, he “deserved the praise he received for his conduct during the crisis…he did nothing to take power.”
Nixon considered serving a second term, but some of Eisenhower’s supporters sought to oust him. In a speech in December 1955, Eisenhower proposed that Nixon not run for vice president but be appointed to the Cabinet to gain experience before the 1960 election. Nixon, however, felt that this would destroy his political career. When Eisenhower announced his re-election bid in February 1956, he refused to name a running mate until he himself had been nominated as the party’s candidate. No Republican ran against him, and the president announced in late April that Nixon would again be his running mate. Both men were re-elected with a comfortable majority, though not as large as four years earlier.
In the spring of 1957, Nixon undertook a major foreign tour, this time to Africa. Upon his return, he helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through Congress. The bill was amended by the Senate and civil rights groups were divided over whether Eisenhower should sign it. Nixon advised the president to sign it, which he did. Eisenhower suffered another, albeit less severe, heart attack in November 1957, and Nixon gave a press conference to assure the Cabinet that he was in control.
On April 27, 1958, Richard and Pat Nixon began a tour of South America. In Montevideo, Uruguay, he made an impromptu visit to the university campus where he answered students’ questions about American foreign policy. The trip was uneventful until he arrived in Lima, Peru, where he was greeted by student demonstrations. He went to the campus and got out of his car to confront the students and stayed there until he was forced to return to his car by a hail of projectiles. At his hotel, another protest was waiting for him and a protester spat at him. In Caracas, Venezuela, Nixon and his wife were met by anti-American protesters and their limousine was attacked by the crowd. According to Ambrose, his courageous conduct led “even his most virulent enemies to greet him.
In April 1959, when Eisenhower refused an audience with Castro, Nixon agreed to meet him before his trip to Quebec.
In July 1959, President Eisenhower sent Nixon to the Soviet Union for the opening of the American Exhibition in Moscow. On July 24, while visiting the exhibition with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the two men stopped in front of an American kitchen model and engaged in an impromptu exchange on the virtues of capitalism and communism that became known as the Kitchen Debate.
Crossing the desert
In 1960, Nixon embarked on his first presidential campaign. He faced little opposition in the Republican primary and chose former Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. as his running mate. His Democratic opponent was John F. Kennedy, and neither appeared to have an advantage in the polls. Nixon campaigned on his experience, but Kennedy argued that the Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed the Soviet Union to gain an advantage over the United States in the field of ballistic missiles. Television emerged as a new medium, and in the first of four televised debates, Nixon appeared pale, with an incipient beard, in contrast to the photogenic Kennedy. Nixon’s performance in the debate was judged poorly by television viewers, while most listeners who watched the debate on the radio considered Nixon to have won. Kennedy won the election by only 120,000 votes (0.2 percent of the vote), although his Electoral College victory was clear.
There were accusations of voter fraud in Texas and Illinois – two states won by Kennedy – but Nixon refused to contest the results, believing that a prolonged dispute would weaken American prestige and interests around the world. At the end of his term as vice president in January 1961, Nixon and his family returned to California, where he resumed his law practice and wrote a best-selling book, Six Crises, in which he revisited the Hiss affair, Eisenhower’s heart attack, and the slush fund incident that had been resolved by his “Checkers Speech.
Local and national Republican leaders encouraged Nixon to run against Pat Brown for governor of California in the 1962 election. Despite his initial reluctance, Nixon entered the race. His campaign was weakened, however, by popular sentiment accusing Nixon of seeing the job only as a stepping stone to another presidential campaign, by opposition from the right wing of his party and by his own lack of interest in the office. Nixon hoped that a successful campaign would confirm his status as the leader of the Republican Party and guarantee him a major role in national politics. Pat Brown won the election by a 5 percent margin, and the defeat was widely seen as the end of Nixon’s political career. In an impromptu speech the morning after the election, he accused the media of favoring his opponent and declared, “You won’t have any more Nixons to hang around, gentlemen, because this is my last press conference. The defeat in California was highlighted by the November 11, 1962 broadcast of ABC’s Howard K. Smith: News and Comment entitled The Political Obituary of Richard M. Nixon. Alger Hiss appeared on the program, and many audience members complained that it was improper to allow an overreaching criminal to attack the former vice president. Anger led to the cancellation of the program a few months later and public opinion took Nixon’s side.
The Nixon family traveled to Europe in 1963 where Nixon gave press conferences and met with the leaders of the countries they visited. The family moved to New York and Nixon became a senior partner in the law firm of Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander. Nixon had promised, when announcing his campaign in California, that he would not be a candidate for the 1964 presidential election; even if he had not, he considered it would be difficult to beat Kennedy, or after his assassination, his successor Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1964 he supported the nomination of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater for the presidency; when Goldwater was chosen, Nixon introduced the candidate at the convention. Although Goldwater had little chance of winning, Nixon loyally campaigned for him. The 1964 election was a disaster for the Republicans; Goldwater’s big loss for president was accompanied by equally big losses in Congress and in the individual states.
Nixon was one of the few Republicans who was not held accountable for the disastrous results of these elections and he sought to exploit this situation in the 1966 general election. He campaigned for many Republicans seeking to regain office after the Democratic landslide and was credited with several victories in those midterm elections.
Presidential election of 1968
In late 1967, Nixon told his family that he was considering running for president again. Although Pat did not always enjoy public life (for example, she had been embarrassed by the publication of their modest household income during the Checkers Speech), she supported her husband’s ambitions. Nixon felt that because the Democrats were divided on the issue of the Vietnam War, a Republican could win the election even if he expected it to be as close as in 1960.
The 1968 primary season was one of the most tumultuous in American history, beginning with the Tet Offensive in January, followed by President Johnson’s withdrawal after his poor showing in the New Hampshire primary in March, and ending with the assassination of one of the Democratic candidates, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, just after his victory in the California primary. On the Republican side, Nixon’s main opponent was Michigan Governor George W. Romney, but New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and California Governor Ronald Reagan were both strong candidates. Nevertheless, Nixon was nominated on the first ballot. He chose Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew as his running mate because he believed that this choice would unite the party by satisfying moderate Republicans and Southerners disappointed with the Democrats.
Nixon’s Democratic opponent was Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had been nominated at a convention marked by violent anti-war protests. Throughout the campaign, Nixon presented himself as a model of stability in a time of national unrest and protest. He appealed to what he later referred to as a “silent majority” of social-conservative Americans who rejected the hippie counterculture and opposition to the Vietnam War. Agnew became an influential critic of these groups and enabled Nixon to strengthen his position on the right of his party.
Nixon conducted a major television advertising campaign in which he met with his supporters on camera. He focused on the high crime rate and attacked the Democrats for their supposed lack of interest in American nuclear superiority. Nixon promised an “honorable peace” in Vietnam and proclaimed that “a new leadership would end the war and win peace in the Pacific. He did not explain precisely how he hoped to end the war, leading the media to assume that he had a “secret plan.
Johnson’s emissaries hoped to have a truce signed before the election. Nixon received detailed accounts of the negotiations from Henry Kissinger, then an advisor to U.S. negotiator William A. Harriman, and his campaign team had regular contact with Anna Chennault in Saigon. The latter, at Nixon’s request, advised South Vietnam’s president, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, not to go to the talks held in Paris, arguing that Nixon would offer him more favorable terms. Johnson knew what was going on because Chennault and the South Vietnamese ambassador in Washington were bugged, and he was ulcerated by what he saw as Nixon’s attempt to undermine American foreign policy. He could not, however, make the illegally obtained information public, but informed Humphrey, who chose not to use it.
In the three-way race between Nixon, Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace, running as an independent, Nixon won 511,944 votes (0.7 per cent of the vote) or 43.6 per cent of the vote and won 301 electoral votes to Humphrey’s 191 and Wallace’s 46. In his victory speech, Nixon promised that his administration would try to “bring the divided nation together. He said, “I received a gracious message from the Vice President congratulating me on my election. I thanked him for this elegant and courageous gesture. I also told him I knew exactly how he felt. I know what it feels like to lose by the skin of my teeth.
President of the United States
Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States on January 20, 1969 and was sworn in with his former political rival, Chief Justice Earl Warren. Pat Nixon opened the family’s Bibles to Isaiah 2:4 which stated “They shall beat their swords into plowshares; and their spears into pruning hooks. In his widely acclaimed inaugural address, Nixon remarked that “the greatest honor that history can bestow is the title of peacemaker,” a phrase that was later engraved on his tombstone. He called for transforming partisan politics into a new era of unity:
“In these difficult times, America has suffered from a fever of words; pretentious rhetoric that promises more than is possible; inflamed rhetoric that turns discontent into hatred; elegant but empty pompous rhetoric. We can only learn from each other when we stop inveighing against each other, when we speak quietly enough so that our words are heard as well as our voices.”
Aware of the limits of a foreign policy that had become rigid, militaristic and very costly, Nixon developed a more pragmatic approach aimed at normalizing it, even if it meant giving up a certain number of positions that were now considered secondary: this was the basis of the “Nixon doctrine”, defined in July 1969 with his special advisor (and future Secretary of State) Henry Kissinger. This pragmatism – not devoid of cynicism on occasion – made it possible to move towards a notable détente on an international scale, but did not always prevent the development of a frankly bellicose rhetoric when the firmness of American positions had to be felt.
Nixon laid the groundwork for his opening with China even before he became president by writing in Foreign Affairs a year before his election: “There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its most capable potential inhabitants to be left in enforced isolation. Kissinger, with whom the president worked closely bypassing the Cabinet, also played a role in this opening. With relations between the Soviet Union and China at a low point due to a border dispute in 1969, Nixon secretly indicated to the Chinese that he wanted a more peaceful relationship. An opportunity came in early 1971 when Mao Zedong invited a team of American table tennis players to visit China and play against the best Chinese players. Nixon took the opportunity to send Kissinger to China to meet secretly with Chinese officials. On July 15, 1971, it was simultaneously announced by Beijing and Washington (on television and radio) that the president would visit China in February 1972. The announcement surprised the whole world because of the anti-communism of the American president. The secrecy allowed both sides to prepare the political climate in their respective countries.
In February 1972, Nixon and his wife traveled to China. Kissinger briefed Nixon for nearly 40 hours in preparation for the meeting. Upon landing, the president and first lady stepped off Air Force One and were greeted by Premier Zhou Enlai. Nixon made a point of shaking Zhou’s hand, something Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had refused to do in 1954 when the two men met in Geneva. More than 100 television journalists accompanied the president. Nixon wanted television to be favored over newspapers because he felt that this medium would provide a better record of his visit. This also gave him the opportunity to belittle the print journalists that he despised.
Nixon and Kissinger met with Mao and Zhou for an hour in Mao’s official private residence and discussed many topics. Mao later told his doctor that he was impressed by Nixon, whom he considered to be frank and direct, unlike the leftists and the Soviets. He said he was wary of Kissinger, though the national security adviser called the meeting his “encounter with history. A formal dinner was held that evening in the People’s Assembly Palace in the president’s honor. The next day, Nixon again exchanged views with Zhou, and the joint communiqué recognized Taiwan as an integral part of China and envisaged a peaceful solution to the reunification problem. The U.S. president also took advantage of his visit to visit historic sites such as the Forbidden City, the Ming Tombs, and the Great Wall. Americans got their first glimpse of life in China through the cameras accompanying Pat Nixon as he visited schools, factories and hospitals in the Beijing area.
The visit ushered in a new era in Sino-American relations. Fearing the possibility of a China-U.S. alliance, the Soviet Union eased the pressure and this helped to strengthen the Détente.
When Nixon took office, about 300 U.S. soldiers were dying every week in Vietnam and the war was very unpopular in the United States, where violent demonstrations demanded an end to the conflict. The Johnson administration had agreed to stop bombing in exchange for opening negotiations without preconditions, but this agreement never went into effect. Nixon sought a way to withdraw U.S. forces while protecting South Vietnam from attack by the North. According to historian Walter Isaacson, shortly after becoming president, Nixon concluded that the war could not be won and was determined to end it as quickly as possible. This did not prevent the president from further increasing the U.S. expeditionary force deployed to Vietnam, which reached 550,000 troops by April 1969. Conversely, his biographer Conrad Black argues that Nixon sincerely believed that he could force North Vietnam to yield via the “madman theory. He believed that he could reach an agreement that would allow the withdrawal of U.S. forces while protecting the independence of South Vietnam.
Nixon approved a covert campaign in March 1969 to bomb North Vietnamese positions in Cambodia (Operation Menu) in order to destroy what were considered Vietcong headquarters. This tactic was already being used during the Johnson administration, and it is estimated that the Americans dropped more bombs on Cambodia during the Vietnam War than the Allies did during World War II. In mid-1969, Nixon began peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese and talks began in Paris. These preliminary discussions did not result in an agreement, however. In July 1969, Nixon visited South Vietnam where he met with U.S. commanders and President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu. In the face of protests demanding an immediate withdrawal, he implemented a strategy to replace American soldiers with Vietnamese troops, a strategy that came to be known as the “Vietnamization” of the conflict. He quickly organized a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops but authorized incursions into Laos in part to close the Ho Chi Minh Trail that supplied the Vietcong through Laos and Cambodia. In March 1970 the overthrow of King Norodom Sihanouk by General Lon Nol gave Nixon the opportunity to intervene directly in Cambodia. As demonstrations were organized in Washington against this intervention, Nixon met with the protesters in an impromptu manner on the morning of May 9 in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Nixon’s campaign promises to end the war contrasted with the increased bombing campaign, and this led to a decline in his credibility.
In 1971, excerpts from the Pentagon Papers provided by Daniel Ellsberg were published by the New York Times and the Washington Post. When the first leaks began, Nixon thought he could do nothing because the documents were mainly about the previous administration’s lies about U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Kissinger convinced him that the documents were more dangerous than they appeared, and the president tried to prevent their publication. The Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of the papers.
The year 1972 proved to be the year of all dangers. On March 30, Hanoi and the NLF, armed with heavy conventional weapons supplied by the USSR, launched a vast offensive against Saigon in order to upset the policy of Vietnamization. On April 8, Washington announced the resumption of the bombardments on the DRV stopped on October 31, 1968 by President Johnson; on May 8, two weeks before the Moscow summit, Nixon went further than his predecessor in the escalation: the mining of the port of Haïphong with the aim of interrupting the arrival of Soviet material. In accordance with its forecasts, the Kremlin neither cancelled nor postponed the meeting, contrary to what many observers had predicted. As the withdrawal of U.S. troops continued, conscription was reduced and ended in 1973. After years of fighting, the Paris Peace Accord was signed in January 1973. The agreement provided for a cease-fire and allowed for the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. troops; it did not, however, require the withdrawal of the 160,000 Vietnamese People’s Army troops in the south. The truce lasted only two years, and North Vietnamese forces resumed the offensive in March 1975. Deprived of American support, South Vietnam collapsed and the capital Saigon fell on April 30.
Nixon had strongly supported Kennedy during the Bay of Pigs landing in 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis in 1962; when he took office he intensified covert operations against Cuba and its president Fidel Castro. He maintained close relations with the Cuban community in exile through his friend, Bebe Rebozo. These activities worried the Soviets and Cubans who feared that Nixon would attack Cuba in violation of the tacit agreement between Kennedy and Khrushchev that had ended the missile crisis. In August 1970, the Soviets asked Nixon to reaffirm the agreement. Despite his hard line against Castro, he agreed. Talks were slowed when the Americans discovered that the Soviets were expanding their base in the Cuban port of Cienfuegos in October 1970. A limited confrontation ensued, ending with a Soviet promise not to use Cienfuegos to house nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The last diplomatic notes reaffirming the 1962 agreement were exchanged in November.
Nixon did not accept the election of socialist Salvador Allende as president of Chile in September 1970. He launched a vigorous but secret campaign of opposition to Allende and sought to convince the Chilean Congress to nominate the conservative Jorge Alessandri as the winner of the election. When this failed, false-banner operations were conducted with Chilean military officers to inform them that the “United States wanted…a coup d’état. After Allende took office, U.S. covert operations continued with the publication of black propaganda articles in the conservative newspaper El Mercurio, the organization of strikes, and financial support for opponents of the new president. When El Mercurio asked for more funds in September 1971, Nixon authorized “in a rare example of micromanaging a clandestine operation” $700,000 for the newspaper. After a long period of social, political and economic instability, General Augusto Pinochet took power in a coup d’état in September 1973 in which Allende was killed. In Paraguay, he supported financially and diplomatically the regime of General Alfredo Stroessner, which he described as a “viable model of democracy for Latin America,” despite the three thousand political executions attributed to it.
Nixon had already visited the Eastern bloc in 1969, a year after the crushing of the Prague Spring. He had visited Nicolae Ceaușescu, the only Communist leader who at the time had sided with socialism with a human face, and president of a country that since 1963, under President Lyndon B. Johnson, had the status of a privileged partner of the United States thanks to Gheorghe Gaston Marin (en), vice-president of the Romanian government. After the announcement of Nixon’s visit to China, his administration negotiated an equivalent visit to the Soviet Union. The president and first lady arrived in Moscow on May 22, 1972, and met with General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev, Chairman of the Council of Ministers Alexis Kosygin and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Nikolai Podgorny, as well as other Soviet officials.
Nixon engaged in intense negotiations with Brezhnev, and the summit resulted in agreements to increase trade and the signing of two nuclear arms control treaties: SALT I, the first comprehensive agreement signed by the two superpowers, and the ABM Treaty, which prohibited the development of intercontinental missile interception systems. Nixon and Brezhnev proclaimed a new era of “peaceful coexistence” and a banquet was held that evening in the Kremlin.
Seeking to develop better relations with the United States, China and the Soviet Union withdrew their diplomatic support for North Vietnam and advised Hanoi to compose itself. Nixon later described this strategy:
“I have long believed that an indispensable element of any successful peace initiative in Vietnam was to secure, if possible, Soviet and Chinese assistance. Although rapprochement with China and Détente with the Soviet Union were ends in themselves, I also saw them as means to hasten the end of the war. At worst, Hanoi would feel less confident if Washington negotiated with Moscow and Beijing. At best, if the two major communist powers decided they had other fish to fry, Hanoi would be forced to negotiate an agreement that we could accept.”
Having made considerable progress in diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union over the previous two years, and after a visit by Brezhnev to the United States in 1973, Nixon arranged a second trip to the Soviet Union. He arrived in Moscow on June 27, 1974, and attended an evening reception at the Great Kremlin Palace. Nixon and Brezhnev met at Yalta where they discussed a mutual defense pact, Détente and MIRVs. While considering a comprehensive nuclear test ban agreement, Nixon felt that he would not have time to implement it during his presidency. There were no major breakthroughs in these negotiations. Meanwhile, in January 1974, upon his arrival in Cuba for an official trip, he received a message of friendship from Leonid Brezhnev.
Under the Nixon Doctrine, the United States avoided direct military support for its allies, but offered financial and diplomatic assistance to help them defend themselves. It greatly increased its arms sales to the Middle East, particularly to Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Nixon administration supported Israel, an American ally in the Middle East, but the support was not unconditional. Nixon believed that Israel should make peace with its Arab neighbors and that the United States should encourage this process. The president felt that, with the exception of the Suez Canal crisis, the United States had not intervened with Israel. Nixon believed, however, that he should use the substantial U.S. military aid to Israel to bring the two sides to negotiate. However, the Arab-Israeli conflict was not Nixon’s main focus during his first term because he felt that, no matter what he did, American Jews would not support his re-election.
When an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria attacked in October 1973, triggering the Yom Kippur War, Israel was initially overwhelmed. The United States took no initiative for several days, until Nixon authorized logistical support to Israel via an airlift. By the time the U.S. and the USSR reached a cease-fire, Israeli forces had advanced deep into enemy territory. The war led to the first oil shock, as Arab countries refused to sell oil to the United States in retaliation for its support for Israel. The embargo led to gasoline shortages and rationing in the U.S. in late 1973 and was eventually lifted by the oil-producing countries when calm returned. Kissinger played an important role in the agreement and was able to restore diplomatic relations with Egypt for the first time since 1967; Nixon made one of his last presidential trips to the country in June 1974.
When Nixon became president in 1969, inflation was at 4.7 per cent, the highest rate since the Korean War, while Johnson’s Great Society and the Vietnam War were running large deficits. Unemployment was low but interest rates were the highest they had been in a century. Nixon’s main economic goal was to reduce inflation; the most effective way to achieve this was to end the war. This could not be done immediately, however, and the U.S. economy continued to stagnate through 1970, contributing to poor Republican performance in the midterm elections (Democrats controlled both houses of Congress throughout Nixon’s presidency). In his 2011 study of Nixon’s economic policies, political economist Nigel Bowles argued that Nixon did little to change the direction of Johnson’s policies during his first year in office.
Nixon was much more interested in foreign affairs than in domestic politics, but he saw voters as being more focused on their own personal financial situation and therefore economic conditions could pose a threat to his re-election. In his vision of a “New Federalism,” Nixon proposed giving more rights to the states, but these proposals were mostly lost in the legislative process in Congress. Nevertheless, Nixon was praised for championing them. In 1970, Congress had granted the president the right to impose a price and wage freeze, but the Democratic majorities, knowing that Nixon had opposed such controls during his career, did not expect him to use this power. In August 1971, with the inflation problem unresolved and the election year approaching, Nixon called a meeting of his economic advisers at Camp David. He announced temporary price and wage controls and allowed the U.S. dollar to float against other currencies, ending the dollar’s convertibility to gold. Bowles noted that “by identifying himself with a policy whose goal was to lower inflation, Nixon made it difficult for Democrats to criticize him. His opponents could offer no credible alternatives because the ones they favored were ones they had devised but which the president had appropriated.” Nixon’s policies reduced inflation in 1972, but their side effects contributed to inflation during his second term and during the Ford administration.
When inflation returned after his re-election, Nixon re-imposed price controls in June 1973. This policy became unpopular with the public and businessmen, who preferred the powerful unions to the price control bureaucracy. The controls led to food shortages as meat disappeared from some stores and some farmers preferred to drown their chickens rather than sell them at a loss. Although they did not curb inflation, the controls were only slowly reduced and ended on April 30, 1974.
Nixon promoted the idea of a “New Federalism” that would allow for a devolution of power from the federal government to state and local governments, but Congress was hostile to these ideas and few of them were implemented. In 1971, Nixon replaced the Cabinet-level Post Office Department with the United States Postal Service, an independent government agency.
Nixon was a late convert to the concept of nature conservation. The environment had not been a major issue in the 1968 election and candidates were rarely asked about it. He saw that the first Earth Day in April 1970 presaged a wave of voter interest and sought to capitalize on this; in June he announced the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nixon led the way by talking about his environmental policies in his State of the Union address; other initiatives supported by Nixon included the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (the National Environmental Policy Act required environmental impact assessments for many federal projects. Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act of 1972 based not on the objectives of the legislation but on its cost, which he considered excessive. Congress overrode his veto, but Nixon blocked the funds needed to implement it.
In 1971, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts proposed legislation providing universal government-run health coverage in response to the sharp rise in both public and private health care spending. In response, Nixon introduced a plan to provide private health insurance for the poorest families and to require employers to offer coverage to all their employees. Since this would have left an estimated 40 million people unprotected, Kennedy and other Democrats refused to support Nixon, and his plan failed, although his proposal to help people gain access to health coverage passed in 1973.
Concerned about the increase in drug use and the addiction of many Vietnam veterans, Nixon ordered the launch of a War on Drugs, and one of the first measures was Operation Intercept in September 1969 to stop the trafficking of cannabis from Mexico; the administration also provided more funds for prevention and assistance to drug addicts. Nixon also increased support for the fight against cancer by signing the National Cancer Act of 1971, which increased funding for the National Cancer Institute. Some have criticized the president, however, for increasing spending on complex diseases such as cancer and sickle cell anemia while trying to reduce overall spending on the National Institutes of Health as part of his conservative approach to the role of government.
After nearly a decade of major national effort, the United States won the space race by sending astronauts to the Moon on July 20, 1969, during the Apollo 11 mission. Nixon spoke with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their time on the moon and called the conversation “the most important phone call ever made from the White House. Nixon, however, did not want to maintain the very high funding that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had received during the 1960s when it was preparing to send men to the moon. NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine presented plans for a permanent base on the Moon by the end of the 1970s and a manned mission to Mars by the early 1980s. Nixon rejected these proposals and NASA refocused on the space shuttle program. On May 24, 1972, Nixon approved a five-year program of cooperation between NASA and its Soviet counterpart that culminated in the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission.
The Nixon presidency oversaw the end of racial segregation in Southern public schools. Nixon sought a way to reconcile the ideas of segregationists and liberal Democrats, as his support for black integration was repugnant to some white Southerners. Hoping to do well in the South in 1972, he sought to settle the issue before the election. Shortly after his inauguration in 1969, he asked his vice-president Spiro Agnew to lead a team, which worked with white and black Southern representatives, to determine how to achieve integration in local schools. Agnew had little interest in the mission and most of the work was done by Secretary of Labor George P. Shultz. Federal funds were available, and a meeting with the president could be a reward for the local players. By September 1970, less than 10 percent of black children were in segregated schools. In 1971, tensions over desegregation erupted in northern cities, and violent protests opposed the enrolment of black children outside their own neighbourhoods in order to achieve greater racial mixing. Nixon was personally opposed to these measures but enforced court decisions calling for their implementation.
In addition to desegregating public schools, Nixon implemented the “Philadelphia Plan” in 1970, which was the first true federal affirmative action program. He also supported a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have protected gender equality from legislative challenge. This Equal Rights Amendment passed both houses of Congress in 1972 but was not ratified by enough states and therefore never went into effect. Nixon had campaigned for the amendment in 1968 but was criticized by feminists for his lack of support for their cause after his election; Nixon nevertheless appointed more women to government positions than his predecessor had.
Nixon appointed four justices to the Supreme Court. In May 1968, Chief Justice Earl Warren announced his retirement. President Johnson proposed that he be replaced by Associate Justice Abe Fortas, but this choice was controversial because of his extra-judicial activities and his nomination was rejected. Warren remained in his position until Nixon appointed Warren Earl Burger in June 1969. A month earlier, Fortas had to resign after accepting a $20,000 annual pension from a former client. Nixon asked Lewis F. Powell, Jr. to replace him, but he refused because his legal career was more lucrative. The president then nominated two conservative Southern judges, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell, but their nominations were rejected by the Senate. Nixon’s choice was Harry Blackmun, who was accepted unanimously. Blackmun became known for writing the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the United States.
In September 1971, Associate Justice Hugo Black died and his colleague John Marshall Harlan II resigned for health reasons. Nixon presented a list of six names to replace them, but Time magazine said the names proposed “demonstrated his inability or unwillingness to appoint distinguished jurists to the highest court in the land. None of the nominees made it to the Senate, and Nixon convinced Lewis F. Powell, Jr. to accept the nomination, which went through without opposition. The nomination of William Rehnquist was more complicated, but both justices were sworn in in January 1972. Rehnquist remained on the Supreme Court until his death in 2005 after becoming Chief Justice in 1986.
Overall, despite some rebuffs from Congress and by dint of perseverance, Nixon succeeded in imposing with his four appointments a very conservative core on the Supreme Court (especially on issues related to the civil rights of African Americans), which was decisive in his political strategy to conquer the South.
He also appointed 46 judges to courts of appeal and 181 to district courts.
Nixon saw his rise to power as a time of significant political realignment. Since the end of Reconstruction in 1876, the American South had been a Democratic stronghold known as the Solid South. Goldwater had won several Southern states by opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended Jim Crow laws and segregation, but he had alienated the support of moderate Southerners. Nixon’s efforts to win Southern support in 1968 had run up against Wallace’s candidacy. In his first term, he had promoted policies, such as desegregation plans, that were acceptable to the majority of white Southerners and encouraged them to move toward the Republican Party in the wake of the civil rights movement. He appointed two Southern conservatives, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell, to the Supreme Court, but both nominations were rejected by the Senate.
Nixon entered the presidential race in the New Hampshire primary on January 5, 1972. Virtually assured of his party’s nomination, the president expected to face Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts (the former president’s brother), but the Chappaquiddick accident ruined Kennedy’s chances of running for president. Maine Senator George McGovern and South Dakota Senator Edmund Muskie were both well positioned to secure the Democratic nomination.
On June 10, McGovern won the California primary and secured his party’s nomination. The following month, Nixon was easily chosen at the Republican convention. He criticized the Democratic platform as cowardly and divisive. McGovern strongly wanted to cut military spending, advocated amnesty for those who refused the draft and supported voluntary abortion. Because some of his supporters thought he supported the legalization of drugs, the Democratic candidate was portrayed as advocating “amnesty, abortion and acid. McGovern’s candidacy was also hampered by revelations that his running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, had made several trips to a mental hospital for depression; he was replaced by Sargent Shriver. During the campaign, Nixon laundered prohibited monetary donations to finance his re-election. Nixon remained ahead in most polls throughout the campaign, and the election of November 7, 1972, was a landslide for Nixon, who had a lead of over 23 points over his Democratic opponent. The result in the Electoral College was even more impressive as McGovern won only Massachusetts and Washington DC.
The term Watergate came to encompass many of the clandestine and often illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration. These activities included dirty tricks such as bugging the offices of political opponents and people deemed suspicious by Nixon and his advisors. They also ordered the harassment of activist groups and political figures using the FBI, the CIA or the Internal Revenue Service. These activities were revealed by the arrest of five men who broke into the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. on June 17, 1972. The Washington Post picked up the story, and reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward used information from “Deep Throat,” later revealed to be FBI Deputy Director W. Mark Felt, to link the burglars to the Nixon administration. The president downplayed the case and called the articles biased and misleading. After the release of more incriminating documents, it became clear that Nixon aides had outlawed themselves by attempting to sabotage Democratic efforts, and several administration officials, including White House Counsel John Dean and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, were indicted by a Senate committee for obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
In July 1973, presidential aide Alexander Butterfield told the Senate Select Committee that Nixon had a secret listening device that recorded his conversations and phone calls without the knowledge of anyone else. The tapes were demanded by Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, but Nixon refused to give them up, citing “executive privilege” to ensure the separation of powers. The opposition between Nixon and Cox became so great that Cox was fired in October in what commentators called the “Saturday Night Massacre”; he was replaced by Leon Jaworski, but public opinion was outraged at the “dictatorial” move and Nixon was forced to produce some of the tapes. In November, the prosecutor revealed that an audio recording of conversations held in the White House on June 20, 1972, showed an 18-minute gap. Rose Mary Woods, the president’s personal secretary, claimed that she accidentally deleted the passage when she transcribed the exchanges, but this version was widely criticized. The interruption, while not proof of the president’s guilt, cast doubt on Nixon’s claim that he was unaware of his advisers’ actions.
Although Nixon had lost most of his support, even within his own party, he rejected the charges and vowed to remain in office. He acknowledged that he had made mistakes, but insisted that he knew nothing about the burglary, that he had not broken the law, and that he had only learned about the obstruction of justice in early 1973. On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned on charges (unrelated to Watergate) of bribery, tax evasion and money laundering committed during his tenure as governor of Maryland. Nixon chose Gerald Ford, the Republican minority leader in the House of Representatives, to replace Agnew.
On November 17, 1973, Nixon answered reporters’ questions at a televised press conference and said:
“The people need to know if their president is a crook or not. Well I’m not a crook. I have earned everything I have.”
The legal battle over the tapes continued into early 1974, and in April Nixon announced the release of 1,200 transcripts of conversations between himself and his aides. Despite the many missing or redacted passages, the documents were damning and the House Judiciary Committee launched impeachment proceedings against the president on May 9, 1974. The impeachment proceedings were broadcast on most major television stations, and the hearings culminated in votes on the impeachment charges; the first vote, on the obstruction of justice charge, was held on July 27, 1974, with 27 votes for and 11 against. On July 24, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that all the audio recordings should be shown, not just the parts chosen by the presidency.
Despite the damage caused by the new revelations, Nixon hoped to get through it. However, one of the new tapes, made shortly after the break-in, showed that he had been informed of the White House connection to the burglars shortly after the break-in and had approved plans to obstruct the investigation. In the statement accompanying the release of the Smoking Gun Tape on August 5, 1974, Nixon took responsibility for lying to the country about when he was told the truth about the Watergate break-in and said he had suffered a lapse in memory. He met soon after with Republican congressional leaders and learned that at best 15 senators were willing to vote for his acquittal, far fewer than the 34 he needed to avoid impeachment, so impeachment was inevitable.
Faced with the loss of his political support and the near certainty of impeachment, Nixon resigned the presidency on August 9, 1974, after addressing the nation the day before. The speech was delivered from the Oval Office and was broadcast live on television and radio. Nixon claimed that he was resigning for the good of the country and asked the nation to support the new president, Gerald Ford. He recalled the successes of his presidency, especially in foreign policy. He defended his record as president and said, quoting a 1910 speech by Theodore Roosevelt:
“Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but I have always taken to heart what Theodore Roosevelt said about the man in the arena “whose face is covered with sweat, dust and blood, who fights valiantly, who makes mistakes, who fails over and over again, for there is no effort without mistake and failure, but who does his utmost to progress, who knows great enthusiasm and devotion, who devotes himself to a noble cause, who knows that at best he will know the triumph of a great achievement and who, if he fails, will fail having attempted great things. “
However, Nixon did not admit to any of the facts for which he was accused, which made his speech a “masterpiece” according to Conrad Black, one of his biographers. Black considered that “what should have been an unprecedented humiliation for a U.S. president, Nixon converted into a quasi-institutional acknowledgement of the lack of parliamentary support to continue. He left while spending half his speech recalling the successes of his presidency. The reaction of commentators was generally favourable, with only CBS’s Roger Mudd arguing that Nixon had avoided the subject and failed to acknowledge his role in the scandal.
Retirement and death
After his resignation, Nixon and his wife went to their residence at La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, California. According to his biographer, Jonathan Aitken, “Nixon was a grieving soul. Congress had funded Nixon’s transition expenses, including some salary expenses, but reduced the endowment to the former president from $850,000 to $200,000 (from $4 million to about $930,000 in 2012). With some members of his staff still with him, Nixon was in his office by 7 a.m. but had little to do. His former advisor, Ron Ziegler, was alone with him for hours each day.
Nixon’s resignation did not end the many calls for his conviction. The new President Ford considered pardoning him even though it was unpopular. Nixon, contacted by Ford’s representatives, was initially reluctant but eventually agreed. The new president asked for a statement of contrition, but Nixon felt that he had committed no crime and should not write such a document. Ford finally agreed to give him a “full, complete and absolute pardon” on September 8, 1974. This ended any possibility of prosecution and Nixon issued a statement:
“I was wrong not to have acted more decisively and forthrightly on Watergate, especially when it reached the stage of legal charges and grew to the size of a political scandal and a national tragedy. No words can describe the extent of my grief and sorrow over the suffering that my mistakes on Watergate have caused the nation and the presidency, a nation that I love deeply and an institution that I respect enormously.”
In October 1974, Nixon suffered a thrombosis. His doctors gave him a choice between death and surgery, and he reluctantly chose the latter. President Ford visited him while he was hospitalized. He was summoned to the trial of three of his former aides, Dean, Haldeman and Ehrlichman; the Washington Post, skeptical of his illness, printed a cartoon showing Nixon with a cast on the “wrong foot. Judge John Sirica overruled Nixon’s request for attendance over the defense’s objections. Congress asked Ford to preserve documents from Nixon’s presidency, setting off a long, three-decade court battle that was eventually won by the former president. While he was hospitalized, the 1974 congressional elections were marked by the Watergate scandal and the presidential pardon: the Republicans lost 43 seats in the House and three in the Senate.
In December 1974, Nixon began planning his return despite the country’s considerable resentment against him. He wrote in his diary, referring to Pat and himself:
“So be it. We will go all the way. We’ve had hard times before and we can handle the harder trials we’ll have to face now. Maybe this is what we were made for, to be able to take the punishment beyond what anyone in this office has had to face, especially after leaving office. This is a test of character and we must not fail that test.”
In early 1975, Nixon’s health improved. He had an office in a Coast Guard station 300 yards from his home, where he traveled daily, first by golf cart and then on foot, and worked primarily on his memoirs. He had hoped to wait to write them, but the fact that his assets were depleted by expenses and legal fees forced him to start writing quickly. He was handicapped in this work by the end of his transitional salary in February, and he had to let go of most of his staff, including Ziegler. In August 1975, he met British presenter and producer David Frost, who paid him $600,000 (about $2.5 million in 2012 dollars) for a series of interviews filmed and broadcast in 1977. They began on the topic of foreign policy and the former president recounted his meetings with foreign leaders, but the most famous passages are those devoted to Watergate. Nixon admitted that he had “abandoned the country” and said, “I fell apart. I gave them a sword and they hit me. And they wagged the blade with pleasure. And, I suppose, if I had been in their place, I would have done the same thing. The interviews drew between 45 and 50 million viewers, making it the most watched program of its kind in American history.
The interviews and the sale of his Key Biscayne, Florida home to a foundation set up by wealthy friends like Bebe Rebozo improved Nixon’s financial situation at a time when, at the beginning of 1975, he had only $500 (about $2,100 in 2012) left. In February 1976, Nixon visited China at Mao’s personal invitation. He wanted to return earlier but chose not to go until after Ford’s presidential visit to the country in 1975. Nixon did not take a position in the fight between Ford and Reagan in the 1976 Republican primary. The Kansas City convention chose Ford but he narrowly lost to Georgia’s Democratic governor, Jimmy Carter; some argued that Ford would have been elected had he not pardoned Nixon. Nixon’s biographer, Conrad Black, argued, however, that if no pardon had been offered, Nixon would certainly have been on trial in November 1976, and that would have caused more damage to the Republican Party, which would have lost by a larger margin. The Carter administration did not know what to do with Nixon and blocked his planned trip to Australia, prompting the government of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to decline an official invitation to the United States.
In early 1978, Nixon visited the United Kingdom. He was shunned by American diplomats and by most of the ministers in James Callaghan’s Labour government. He was nevertheless received by the leader of the opposition, Margaret Thatcher, and by former prime ministers Alec Douglas-Home and Harold Wilson, although two other former prime ministers, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath, refused to meet him. Nixon addressed the Oxford University Debating Society on Watergate:
“Some people say I didn’t handle the situation well and they’re right. I screwed up. Mea Culpa. But let’s get back to my successes. You’ll be here in the year 2000 and then we’ll see how I’ll be regarded.”
In 1978, Nixon published his memoirs, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, the first of ten books he wrote in retirement. The book was a bestseller and received critical acclaim. Nixon went to the White House in 1979, at Carter’s invitation, for an official dinner with Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping. Carter did not want to invite the former president, but Deng warned that he would visit Nixon in California if he was not invited. Nixon had private talks with Deng and visited Beijing again in the summer of 1979.
In early 1980, the Nixons bought a house in New York after being turned down for two Manhattan housing co-ops. When the former Shah of Iran died in Egypt in July 1980, Nixon defied the State Department’s desire to send no representative by attending the funeral. Although Nixon had no official title, as a former president he was considered the U.S. representative at the funeral of his former ally. Nixon supported Ronald Reagan’s candidacy in the 1980 presidential election by making television appearances in which he presented himself as, in the words of his biographer Stephen Ambrose, “the veteran politician above the fray. He wrote articles for numerous publications during the campaign and after Reagan’s victory over Carter. After 18 months in his New York home, Nixon and his wife moved to Saddle River, New Jersey in 1981.
Throughout the 1980s, Nixon maintained an ambitious schedule with numerous conferences; he traveled and met with many foreign leaders, primarily in Third World countries. He joined former Presidents Ford and Carter in representing the United States at the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. On a trip to the Middle East, Nixon outlined his views on Saudi Arabia and Libya and attracted the attention of the U.S. media; the Washington Post published articles on his “rehabilitation. Nixon visited the Soviet Union in 1986, and on his return he gave President Reagan a long memorandum containing foreign policy suggestions and his personal impressions of Mikhail Gorbachev. As a result of this trip, Nixon was ranked by a Gallup poll as one of the ten most admired men in the world.
In 1986, Nixon addressed a group of journalists and impressed his audience with his “tour d’horizon” of the world. At the time, political reporter Elizabeth Drew wrote: “Even when he was wrong, Nixon always showed that he had great knowledge and a vast memory, as well as the ability to speak with apparent authority, enough to impress people who had previously thought little of him. Newsweek published an article on the “return of Nixon” with the headline “He’s Back.
On July 19, 1990, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library was dedicated in his hometown of Yorba Linda as a private institution in the presence of the Nixon couple. The Nixons were joined by a large crowd of people, including Presidents Ford, Reagan and George H. W. Bush, as well as their respective wives, Betty, Nancy and Barbara. In January 1991, the former president founded the Nixon Center (now the Center for the National Interest), a Washington think tank and conference center.
Pat Nixon died of emphysema and lung cancer on June 22, 1993. His funeral was held at the presidential library. Richard Nixon appeared distraught and gave a moving speech in his honor.
A month after a trip to Russia, Nixon suffered a stroke on April 18, 1994, while preparing dinner at his home in Park Ridge, New Jersey. A blood clot that had developed as a result of his heart problems broke off and moved to his brain. He was taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital still conscious, although he could not speak or move his right arm or leg. The brain damage caused cerebral edema and Nixon fell into a deep coma. He died with his two daughters by his side on April 22, 1994 at 9:08 p.m., at the age of 81.
Nixon’s funeral on April 27, 1994, was the first by an American president since Lyndon B. Johnson’s funeral in 1973, over which Nixon presided. Johnson in 1973, which Nixon had presided over. The eulogies at the presidential library were read by sitting President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Senate Republican Minority Leader Bob Dole, California Governor Pete Wilson and Reverend Billy Graham. Former Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and their wives also attended the ceremony.
Richard Nixon was buried beside his wife Pat on the grounds of the library named after him in California. He left two daughters, Tricia and Julie, and four grandchildren. In accordance with his wishes, his funeral was not a state funeral and unlike many of his predecessors, his body was not laid to rest in the Washington Capitol. His remains were displayed in the library lobby on April 26 until the next morning. Thousands of people waited eight hours in cold, wet weather to pay their last respects to the former president. At its peak, the line was three miles long and about 42,000 people waited to see his remains. Although some journalists considered the tribute to be less than fervent (unlike Truman and later Reagan) because he was described, like his predecessor Johnson, as “cynical and unimpressive”.
John F. Stacks of Time magazine said of Nixon shortly after his death: “Tremendous energy and determination helped him recover and rebuild after every self-inflicted disaster he faced. To regain a respected status with the American public after his resignation, he continued to travel and interact with world leaders, and by the time Bill Clinton entered the White House, Nixon had virtually cemented his role as a political veteran. Clinton, whose wife had been a staffer on the committee that voted to remove Nixon from office, met openly with him and regularly sought his advice.
Tom Wicker of the New York Times noted that Nixon had been matched only by Franklin Roosevelt in being named five times on the ticket of one of the major parties and four times winner, and wrote: “Richard Nixon’s flabby-cheeked, bearded face, ski jumping nose, forehead-spiked hair, and V-shaped outstretched arms have been so often portrayed and caricatured as to make their presence familiar. Nixon was so often at the center of controversy that it is hard to imagine that the nation would no longer have a “Nixon to hang around.” That last phrase was Nixon’s own words in what he said in 1962 was his “last press conference” after losing the California governor’s race: they were tinged with acidity because he had often struggled with the press. Of the reaction to Nixon’s death, Ambrose said, “To everyone’s amazement but his own, he has become our beloved veteran politician.
When Nixon died, almost every news story mentioned Watergate, but most of them were favorable to the former president. The Dallas Morning News wrote: “History will ultimately show that, despite his flaws, he was one of our most far-sighted chief executives. This upset some, and columnist Russell Baker complained of a “group conspiracy to absolve him.
Political historian James MacGregor Burns said of Nixon, “How can one evaluate such a peculiar, brilliant, and morally corrupt president?” Nixon’s biographers disagree on how he will be viewed by history. According to Ambrose, “Nixon wanted to be judged on what he accomplished. What will be remembered is the nightmare he plunged the country into during his second term and his resignation.” Irwin Gellman, who chronicled Nixon’s congressional career, suggested that “he was remarkable among his colleagues, a great success in a troubled time, a man who waged a measured anti-communist struggle against the excesses of McCarthy. Aitken considers that “Nixon, both as a man and as a statesman, has been excessively vilified for his faults and insufficiently recognized for his virtues. Yet even in the spirit of historical revisionism, no simple verdict is possible.
Nixon’s “Southern strategy” has been credited by some with turning the South into a Republican stronghold, although others have argued that economic factors played a larger role in this development. Throughout his career, he helped lead the party out of the control of the isolationists, and as a congressman he was a persuasive advocate for the containment of Soviet communism. According to his biographer, Herbert Parmet, “Nixon’s role was to guide the Republican Party between the conflicting currents of the Rockefellers, the Goldwaters and the Reagans.
Nixon is credited for his attitude in domestic affairs, which allowed for the passage and enforcement of environmental laws. Historian Paul Charles Milazzo recalled in a 2011 article Nixon’s creation of the EPA and his implementation of legislation such as the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and argued that “although unsought and unacknowledged, Richard Nixon’s environmental record is strong.”
Nixon viewed his actions regarding Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union as key to his place in history. George McGovern, Nixon’s opponent in 1972 commented in 1983 that “President Nixon had a more pragmatic approach to the two superpowers, China and the Soviet Union, than any president since World War II…With the exception of his inexcusable pursuit of the war in Vietnam, Nixon will be highly rated by history.” Political scholar Jussi M. Hanhimäki disagrees and argues that Nixon’s diplomacy was nothing more than a simple continuation of the Cold War doctrine of containment using diplomatic rather than military means. The presidential pardon of William Calley, convicted of war crimes in Vietnam, was also poorly perceived by the public.
Historian Keith W. Olson has written that Nixon left a negative legacy: a deep distrust of government because of Vietnam and Watergate. During Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings in 1998, both sides tried to use Nixon and Watergate to their advantage: Republicans suggested that Clinton’s misconduct was comparable to Nixon’s, while Democrats countered that Nixon’s actions were far more serious. Another element of his political record is the loss of presidential power after Congress passed more restrictive legislation in the wake of Watergate. Olson suggests, however, that the powers granted to George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks restored the president’s authority.
Nixon’s career was frequently affected by his personality and the public perception of it. Cartoonists and comedians often exaggerated his appearance and mannerisms to the point that the line between man and caricature became increasingly blurred. He was often depicted with unshaven cheeks, slumped shoulders and furrowed brows.
Nixon was strongly racist, as shown by the publications of conversations that he had recorded thanks to the microphones that he hid in his office. Pointing to the mismanagement of some countries, he said, “Blacks can’t do it. Nowhere. And they won’t be able to do it for a hundred years, maybe even a thousand,” and did not hesitate to compare “the Negroes” to “dogs. An anti-Semite, the Jews would have according to him “a very aggressive, biting and execrable personality”. To one of his advisors who questioned him about future appointments in the field of justice, he replied: “No Jews, is that clear?”, or to Kissinger about a forthcoming summit with the USSR, which he accused the Jews of sabotaging: “This is going to be the worst thing to happen to the Jews in American history. A study of these conversations also reveals the president’s homophobic views.
Biographer Elizabeth Drew summed up Nixon as “an intelligent and talented man but the strangest and most troubled of presidents. In his study of Nixon’s presidency, Richard Reeves described Nixon as a “strange man of uncomfortable shyness who functioned best alone with his thoughts. Reeves went on to argue that his presidency was doomed by his personality: “He took the worst out of people and brought the worst out of them…He clung to the idea of being ‘tough. He thought that was what brought him to the brink of greatness. But he was betrayed by himself. He couldn’t open up to other men and he couldn’t open up to greatness. Nixon had a complex personality, both mysterious and awkward but remarkably revealing about himself. He tended to keep his distance from people and was formal in all circumstances; he wore a jacket and tie even when he was home alone. Nixon’s biographer, Conrad Black, described him as “driven” but “in some ways uncomfortable with himself. According to Black, Nixon “believed that he was doomed to be maligned, betrayed, unfairly harassed, misunderstood, underestimated, and subjected to the trials of Job, but that through the application of his powerful will, tenacity, and zeal, he would eventually prevail.” Nixon considered putting distance between himself and others to be necessary for him as he advanced in his political career and became president. Even Bebe Rebozo, according to some, his closest friend, did not call him by his first name. Nixon said, “Even with close friends. I don’t think you should open up, confide this or that… I think you should keep your problems to yourself. That’s how I am. Some people are different. Some people think it’s good therapy to sit down with a close friend and, you know, vent…reveal your deep thoughts or the fact that you were bottle-fed or breast-fed. Not me. No way. When told that even at the end of his career, most Americans did not think they knew him well, Nixon replied, “Yes, they did. And they don’t need to know.
The role of Richard Nixon was played on screen by :
Archival footage of his presidency was also used in the films The President’s Men (1976), Forrest Gump (1994) and The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004). He plays an important role in the plot of the comic book Watchmen, and his 1972 visit to China was the subject of an opera entitled Nixon in China composed by John Coolidge Adams in 1987.
He is also a recurring character in the television series Futurama and The Simpsons.
A poster of him bowling can be seen in the dude’s house in The Big Lebowski released in (1998).
- Richard Nixon
- Richard Nixon
- a et b Prononciation en anglais américain retranscrite selon la norme API.
- (en) Gary W. Ferris, Presidential Places : A Guide to the Historic Sites of the U.S. Presidents, Winston Salem, Caroline du Nord, John F. Blair, 1999, 284 p. (ISBN 978-0-89587-176-3), p. 209.
- Aitken 1996, p. 11.
- ^ NAM – cronaca della guerra in Vietnam 1965-1975, Novara, De Agostini, 1988, p. 420 ; 470-475.
- «Nixon». Archivado desde el original el 21 de octubre de 2013. Consultado el 24 de enero de 2010.
- «Commander Richard M. Nixon, USNR». Naval Historical Center. United States Department of the Navy. 7 de agosto de 2006. Archivado desde el original el 26 de enero de 2009. Consultado el 14 de diciembre de 2008.
- Black, Conrad (2007), pp. 58-60.
- Black, Conrad (2007), p. 60.
- Jeff Kisseloff: Hiss, Alger. In: Peter Knight (Hrsg.): Conspiracy Theories in American History. An Encyclopedia. ABC Clio, Santa Barbara, Denver und London 2003, Bd. 1, S. 314 f.