The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994)

Richard M. Nixon, thirty-seventh president of the United States, was born in Whittier, California, the son of a grocer. He attended Whittier College and won a scholarship to Duke Law School, graduating in 1937. During World War II, Nixon served as a lieutenant commander in the navy and when the war ended, he began his political career. He successfully ran for Congress on the Republican ticket in 1946 against liberal Democrat Jerry Voorhis; in 1950, Nixon ran for the California Senate seat and, in a controversial election, beat Helen Gahagan Douglas who nicknamed her opponent "Tricky Dick." In these races, Nixon earned a reputation as a shrewd and often vindictive campaigner who used the postwar red scare to further his political career. In 1948, Nixon proposed the Nixon-Mundt bill, which would require communists to register with the federal government. He sat on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and gained national prominence by prosecuting accused communist Alger Hiss, a state department official in the Roosevelt Administration.
In 1952, Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower tapped Nixon as his running mate in his successful presidential campaign. Although charged with financial improprieties, Nixon was able to keep his place on the ticket by appealing to the pubic in his famous "Checkers Speech." As vice-president, Nixon attracted the animosity of Democrats because of his attacks on Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, who ran against Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. Nixon was kept outside of the president's inner circle, yet he developed considerable skill in foreign policy, which was demonstrated in his 1959 confrontation in Moscow with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, known as the "kitchen debate."
In 1960, Nixon ran for the presidency against Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy, and lost in a very close election (112,000 votes). During the campaign, the two candidates engaged in four televised debates, which many claim worked to the benefit of the charismatic and telegenic Kennedy. After the election, Nixon returned to private law practice and built up his political base. In 1962, he lost a bid for California governor, after which he moved to New York where, as a member of a top law firm, he re-entered party politics as a moderate Republican. In the midst of national divisiveness within the Democratic party over the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, Nixon won his party's nomination in the presidential election of 1968 and narrowly defeated Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey.
During his administrations, Nixon introduced some progressive legislation that protected the environment, furthered the process of school integration, and established wage and price controls. Although he had campaigned as a cold warrior, Nixon demonstrated a willingness to use diplomatic means to avoid dangerous confrontations with the two communist super-powers, the Soviet Union and China. However, his foreign policy successes and his efforts at détente were obscured by the Watergate scandal, which began with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, located in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C., during the 1972 presidential campaign. The cover-up of the crime, which was eventually traced back to the Oval Office, resulted in Nixon's resignation in 1974 in the face of almost certain impeachment. Although eventually twenty men were convicted of crimes associated with the Watergate scandal, Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, granted him an unconditional pardon later that same year. Richard Nixon retired from politics and died from a stroke in 1994.
Sources: American National Biography Online Internet on-line. Available From; Paul Boyer, ed., The Oxford Companion to United States History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 555-556; Eric Foner and John A Garraty, eds., Reader's Companion to American History (Boston: Houghton Miffflin, 1991), p. 794.