Richard Milhous Nixon, (1913-1994), nik’ssch n, 37th PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Nixon is remembered for his achievements in foreign policy and for the WATERGATE affair and related scandals, in which he became so involved that he was forced to resign his office.
Nixon was a skilled negotiator with a broad understanding of world affairs. He and his adviser Henry Kissinger ended direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. They improved relations with China and the Soviet Union. They helped end a war between Israel and its Arab neighbors and worked toward a lasting peace in the Middle East. But the restrictive oil policies of Middle Eastern countries further weakened an American economy that slipped into a recession during Nixon’s last year in office.
The president’s career was shattered when evidence established that he had joined members of his staff in trying to cover up the Watergate break-in. Nixon’s decline and fall spanned two years as the truth slowly unfolded before an incredulous nation. Dozens of government officials, campaign aides, and financial contributors were implicated in the scandal. In his later years Nixon sought to rehabilitate his image, lecturing frequently, traveling abroad, advising presidents, and publishing several books on U.S. foreign policy.
Before becoming president, Nixon served in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate and as vice president. An articulate spokesman for the REPUBLICAN PARTY, he was named to the GOP national ticket a record five times. In 1960 he lost a close race for president to the DEMOCRATIC nominee, Sen. John F. KENNEDY.
Early Life Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, Orange county, Calif., on Jan. 9, 1913, the second of five sons of Francis A. and Hannah Milhous Nixon. When he was nine, the family moved to Whittier, Calif., where his father operated a gasoline station and country store. There he attended the Friends Meeting with his mother, a devout member whose family had been Quakers for over 200 years. He attended the local public schools and at 17 entered Whittier College, a small Quaker institution. Success in student politics and victory in intercollegiate debates distinguished Nixon’s college years.
Upon graduation in 1934, he won a scholarship to the Duke University Law School in Durham, N.C. Short of spending money, he worked part-time in a National Youth Administration job while concentrating on his studies. He ranked third in his graduating class (1937) of 25, was elected president of the Duke Bar Association, and earned admission to the Order of the Coif, the honorary legal fraternity.
At Duke, Nixon engaged in none of the political activities that had distinguished him at Whittier. He anticipated a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C. Instead, he returned to Whittier to join the town’s oldest law firm. When the firm opened a branch office in La Habra, an adjacent community of 4,000, Nixon’s partners acted as the La Habra town government’s legal advisers, and Nixon gained experience as a small-town police prosecutor. Concurrently, he litigated corporation and tax cases.
Community activities, especially the Whittier College alumni association and an amateur theatrical group, complemented his legal practice during these years. At a play tryout, Nixon met Thelma Patricia Ryan, a schoolteacher, whom he married on June 21, 1940. Though he expected to move into a large city firm, the onset of World War II drew him to Washington in January 1942, where he worked in the tire-rationing section of the Office of Price Administration. In August 1942 he joined the Navy as a lieutenant, junior grade. He served in New Caledonia with Naval Air Transport for most of the remainder of the war.
Early Political Career Before Nixon’s release from active duty, a Republican group seeking a candidate for California’s 12th congressional district interviewed and endorsed him for the party’s nomination. Upon his discharge in January 1946, Nixon undertook the campaign in earnest. He won the Republican PRIMARY and defeated incumbent Jerry Voorhis, a nationally known NEW DEAL Democrat, in the general ELECTION.
Nixon’s first campaign foreshadowed his characteristics as a career politician. Tactically efficient, he revealed his capacity for precise timing, offensive maneuver, political propaganda, and effective rhetoric. The first postwar elections were held in 1946, and Republicans capitalized on pent-up grievances accumulated from wartime rationing and price controls and from postwar demobilization and labor-management disputes.
The campaign resembled national patterns. Nixon, a vehement anticommunist, portrayed Voorhis as a tool of the Political Action Committee (PAC) of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The two candidates debated five times, and in the first engagement Nixon, alleging that the PAC was Communist-dominated, made an issue of PAC’s endorsement of his opponent. When Voorhis denied that he had either sought or received PAC support, Nixon drew from his pocket a newspaper report that the Los Angeles chapter of the PAC had declared for Voorhis. Though Voorhis later asked the PAC to withdraw its endorsement, Nixon’s sharp attack had drawn blood. The challenger won more than 56% of the vote.
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