Richard M. Nixon: Thirty-Seventh President of the United States
Nickname: Red Hunter
Terms in Office: 1969-1973; 1973-1974
- Born January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California
- Parents: Francis Antony and Hannah Milhous Nixon
- Died April 22, 1994, in New York, New York; age 81
- Age upon Start of First Term: 56; Age upon Conclusion of First Term: 60
- Age upon Start of Second Term: 60; Age upon Conclusion of Second Term: 61
- Religious Affiliation: Quaker
- Political Party: Republican
- Height: 5 feet 11.5 inches
- Vice President: Spiro T. Agnew (1969-1973) and Gerald R. Ford (1973-1974)
Most of Nixon’s successes came from international policy: his treaty with the Soviet Union, his negotiation to open trade with the People’s Republic of China, and his attempts to conclude the Vietnam War. In 174, a year into his second term, Nixon resigned to avoid the humiliation of impeachment after the infamous Watergate Scandal.
What Was He Thinking?
Richard Nixon was anticommunist his entire life, but as president he learned to negotiate with communist countries to benefit the U.S. In the realm of economics, Nixon signed the Tax Reform Act during his time as president, which helped reduce tax loopholes and deductions. Nixon was also opposed to labor unions and frequent labor strikes, as evident through his support and contribution to the Taft-Hartley Act during his time in Congress.
Why Should I Care?
During his five years in office, Nixon either ended or eased two wars. Although the Vietnam War escalated after he was first elected, Nixon eventually oversaw its end by negotiating and signing the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. Nixon also eased tension in the Cold War by signing the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty, which decreased the number of nuclear weapons produced by both the United States and Russia.
A nation cannot remain great if it lets down its friends. – Richard Nixon
Tax loophole: At tax loophole is a technicality in the tax code that allows an individual or a business to avoid paying certain taxes without breaking the law.
Tax deductions: A legitimate claim for an individual to reduce the amount of taxes they owe.
Breakin’ It Down
Richard Milhous Nixon was the second of five sons born to Francis and Hannah Nixon. He enjoyed a religious and intellectual upbringing. His father ran a gas station and a general store, where Richard worked in his free time. In high school, he excelled in debate.
Richard earned a scholarship to Harvard University, but his family did not have the funds to send him across the country, so he attended Whittier College instead, graduating in 1934 with a BA in history. After Whittier, Richard won another scholarship, this time to Duke University Law School. He graduated in 1937 with a law degree. In 1941, he took a job at the Office of Price Administration and the Office of Emergency Management, but a year later, at the age of twenty-nine, Nixon joined the navy to fight in World War II. Upon his return from the war, Nixon decided to run for political office.
In June, 1940, Richard Nixon married Thelma “Pat” Ryan. Together the couple had two daughters. During World War II, while Nixon worked at the Office of Emergency Management, Pat worked as a clerk for the Red Cross. Before Nixon entered politics, Pat had not affiliated with any political party, even voting for Democratic and Independent candidates. However, when Nixon entered politics as a Republican, Pat immediately registered as a Republican as well. Pat wasn’t afraid to express her own views on issues, and openly disclosed her pro-choice views on abortion, her support of the Equal Rights Amendment, and her strong support of women’s equality – even pushing for her husband to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court.
Richard Nixon graduated first in his high school class, second in his college class of eighty-five students, and third in his class at Duke University Law School.
Previous Political Career
1946: Elected to U.S. House of Representatives. He was a member of the special committee that formed the Marshall Plan under President Harry Truman, a member of the Un-American Activities Committee, and a member of the House Education and Labor Committee.
1950: Elected to U.S. Senate, He Served on the Government Operations Committee.
1953: Elected as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower.
1960: Ran for president against John F. Kennedy and lost.
1962: Ran for California governor and lost.
Throughout Nixon’s political career, Nixon focused his campaigns on the one issue he knew was close to the people’s hearts: anti-communism. Nixon somehow always found some way to peg his opponent as a communist sympathizer.
Nixon easily won the Republican nomination in 1968, campaigning for Americans who supported the war in Vietnam (the “forgotten Americans”) to stand up despite the antiwar protests. Nixon took the lead by just over five hundred thousand votes.
Despite the shaky economy and the lack of change in Vietnam, Nixon won reelection by a landslide, taking over 60 percent of the popular vote and all but seventeen electoral votes.
Nixon ran on a presidential ticket five times in his life: twice successfully as vice president, once unsuccessfully for president against Kennedy, and twice successfully for president in 1968 and 1972.
Election of 1968
- Richard M. Nixon: 301 Electoral Votes
- Hubert H. Humphrey: 191 Electoral Votes
- George C. Wallace: 46 Electoral Votes
Election of 1972
- Richard M. Nixon: 520 Electoral Votes
- George S. McGovern: 17 Electoral Votes
When Nixon assumed the presidency in 1969, he had his work cut out for him. Domestic unrest regarding the Vietnam War was escalating, and all civil rights legislation was stalled due to violent race riots across the country. In addition, inflation from war spending was weakening the U.S. economy. To help remedy the economic crisis, Nixon established wage and price controls as a means to control spiraling costs for American households. Nixon lowered the number of goods imported to the United States to decrease spending and promote American businesses, and he increased the number of exported American products. By 1972, inflation began to slow down, but it reversed again in 1973 and continued to climb throughout the remainder of his term.
Shortly after Nixon assumed the presidency in 1969, he had a single-lane bowling alley built below the driveway leading to the White House North Portico. Nixon was crazy about bowling.
Richard Nixon was a confusing personality. The private Nixon was considered hypersensitive, soft, suspicious, and lonely. However, in public, Nixon was charismatic, outgoing, and confident.
Vietnam and Foreign Policy
Events in Vietnam escalated as the U.S. Air Force dropped literally “tons” of bombs on Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. While Nixon was in office, the civilian death toll in Southeast Asia reached nearly one million and the U.S. death toll reached 20,533. However, Nixon did obtain foreign policy achievements in other areas. In February1972, he became the first president to travel to and negotiate with a communist country (ironic because of his communism-bashing history). For the first time in twenty years, the People’s Republic of China opened its doors to the U.S. and signed its first trade agreement since becoming a communist country. In May1972, Nixon also visited the Soviet Union and negotiated a treaty that eased tension between the two countries by increasing diplomatic, commercial, and cultural contact. Additionally, the two countries signed SALT, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, which reduced each country’s missile development program.
Despite his great international victories in 1972, the year proved fateful. On June 17, five men were caught breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, located in a complex of buildings called Watergate. The apparently inconsequential event turned into a nightmare for Nixon when reporters from the Washington Post discovered ties between the burglars and his administration. After nearly a month of questionings and arguments, impeachment seemed inevitable. Instead of facing a humiliating trial, Nixon resigned, becoming the first and only president to do so.
The Clean Air Act: This act was signed in 1970 and developed state and federal regulations for industrial businesses to follow.
National Environmental Policy Act: This act was passed in 1970 and established the Environmental Protection Agency, which was designed to implement the Clean Air Act.
Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971: This act helped increase disclosure of federal campaign contributions and created the Federal Election Commission.
Equal Employment Opportunity Act: Signed in 1972, the act worked to prevent workplace discrimination based on race or gender.
War Powers Act of 1973: The act allowed the president to send U.S. armed forces into foreign countries only after a declaration of war by Congress. The president can, however, send troops without congressional approval in the case of an attack on the U.S.
Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act: This act, passed in 1974, worked to limit the president’s control over federal spending.
Elvis Presley visited President Nixon at the White House in 1970 to ask to become an undercover agent. Nixon awarded him a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge and the position of “Special Assistant.”
Thoughts on the Constitution
The Constitution supposes what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the legislature. [If a president is successful in bypassing the Congress] it is evident that the people are cheated out of the best ingredients in the government, the safeguards of peace, which is the greatest of their blessings.
After resigning from the presidency, Nixon moved to New York City and retired. During his retirement, Nixon wrote four books. The Memoirs of Richard Nixon in 1978, The Real War in 1980, Real Peace: Strategy for the West in 1985, and Victory without War in 1988. In April 1994, at the age of 81, Nixon died of a stroke at a Manhattan hospital.
Investigation into Kent State University Shootings Continues
May 4, 1970 – Three days ago, a group of student antiwar protesters at Ohio’s Kent State University gathered to protest the war in Vietnam. After some of the students began throwing beer bottles at policemen, the local mayor declared a state of emergency. The next day, the Ohio National Guard arrived on the campus, using tear gas to control the protesters who had recently set fire to the abandoned ROTC building on campus. A member of the National Guard fixed on the crowd of antiwar protesters and further gunfire ensued, leaving four students dead and nine others wounded. The reason for the shooting is still being investigated.
Nixon Visits the People’s Republic of China
February 21, 1972 – Richard Nixon landed today in the People’s Republic of China, where he hopes to negotiate the first high-level engagement treaty between the two countries in twenty years.
Plans for the trip were long kept secret from the public, for fear of backlash from anticommunist Americans and international attention. Nixon kept his quest for negotiations top secret, even hiding the developments from his State Department. He only confided in his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger.
The meeting was negotiated through a mediator, Pakistani dictator Yahya Khan, who acted as the go-between for Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai and Henry Kissinger. When the negotiations seemed positive, Kissinger traveled to Pakistan, where he “fell ill” and secretly traveled to China. In China, Kissinger met with officials and secured the formal invitation for Nixon to travel to the communist country. Only with the invitation in hand did Nixon release the news.
Vietnam War Ends!
March 29, 1973 – The U.S. officially ended its involvement in the Vietnam region today, and the Nixon administration has proposed a plan that will have all American army personnel out of the region by next year. This comes as a great relief to the American public, which is weary of a war that seemed to have no end.
Since 1970, the war in Vietnam has been escalating, despite Nixon’s promises to end it. Nixon ordered more ground troops into the region in 1970 and bombings of Laos in 1971. In addition to having American troops in North and South Vietnam, Nixon ordered the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and Laos. In 1972, Nixon ordered bombings of North Vietnam, despite the protests of many U.S. citizens.
The number of bombs dropped on the region during the war is double the number dropped during World War II. However, a peace treaty has now been signed between the warring nations following peace talks that occurred between the two nations earlier this month.
Vice President Spiro Agnew Resigns
October 10, 1973 – Agnew has been charged with having accepted bribes totaling more than $100,000 while holding office as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland, and Vice President of the United States.
Over the past few months, he has been charged with extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy. He was allowed to plead no contest to a single charge that he had failed to report $29,500 of income received in 1967 on the condition that he resign from the vice presidency.
New Vice President Sworn In
December 6, 1973 – House Minority Leader Gerald Ford has taken the oath of office as Vice President of the United States, replacing Spiro Agnew, who resigned in October.
Ford was nominated to take Agnew’s position on October 12. The U.S. Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm him on November 27, and earlier today the House confirmed Ford by a vote of 387 to 35.
August 9, 1974 – Richard Nixon is the first U.S. president to resign, and will hand over the presidency to Vice President Gerald Ford today at noon.
In yesterday’s speech, Nixon acknowledged his faltering political support in Congress and his sadness over the decisions that were made concerning Watergate.
“I have never been a quitter,” Nixon said. “To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put the interest of America first…. Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency…. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as president at that hour in this office.”
His resignation comes after a scandal that shook the White House. It was found earlier this year that Nixon was potentially connected to a group of politicians who set up secret surveillance of the Democrat Party and Nixon’s future political rivals.
At first, Nixon denied he had any involvement in the Watergate break-in, but it was revealed that audio recorders installed in the Oval Office and other rooms in the White House by Nixon held conversations of Watergate and the intent behind it.
Nixon initially refused to release the audiotapes, saying it would endanger American national security, but the Supreme Court ruled that they must be released.
After listening to the tapes, the Judiciary Committee issued articles of impeachment. But hoping to save face, Nixon is choosing to resign.
State of the Union
(1) States: 50
(2) U.S. Population: (1969) 203,675,000
(3) U.S. Debt (1969) $362,319,480,396
(4) Value of the Dollar: $1 in 1969 would be worth $6.37 today. $1 in 1974 would be worth $4.74.
- 1969 – The Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty is signed between the United Sates and the Soviet Union
- 1970 – The Kent State University shootings occur
- 1971 – Columbus Day becomes a federal holiday
- 1972 – The twenty-one year U.S. trade embargo with China ends
- 1972 – Five men are caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters leading to the Watergate Scandal
- 1973 – The Paris Peace Accords end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War
- 1973 – Richard Nixon resigns from the presidency
We have faced other crises in our history and have become stronger by rejecting the easy way out and taking the right way in meeting our challenges. Our greatness as a nation has been our capacity to do what had to be done when we knew our course was right. – Richard Nixon
In his “Silent Majority” speech, Nixon was asking Americans for support of the Vietnam War and an end to the antiwar protests. He urged Americans to remember that America was great because she had chosen to do the right thing and meet her challenges, not shrink from them.
What Has He Done for Me Lately?
Nixon was responsible for ending the twenty-one year stalemate between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Because of his gutsy attempt to reach out to the communist country, Nixon succeeded in opening trade between the two countries, which slowly opened China to the rest of the world. Nixon also supported the 26th amendment which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
Juliette Turner is the National Youth Director of Constituting America, and the author of three books: Our Constitution Rocks, Our Presidents Rock and the novel, based on life at her ranch with her mom, actress Janine Turner, That’s Not Hay In My Hair (all published by HarpersCollins/Zondervan).
Our Presidents Rock, HarpersCollins/Zondervan, 2014. Reprinted with permission.