Richard Nixon’s term as the 37th president of the United States was a roller-coaster ride of success and failure, of triumph and defeat. Born into modest circumstances in this small frame house, he won election as president in 1968 in a remarkable comeback from his defeat in the 1960 presidential election and the loss of his bid for governor of California two years later. His margin of victory in the 1972 presidential election when he ran for a second term is one of the widest on record. President Nixon ended the draft and oversaw the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam. He reached out to China, meeting personally with Mao Zedong, and reduced tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. His administration ended in scandal in 1974, however. The expanding investigation of a bungled burglary at the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC ultimately forced Nixon to resign to avoid almost certain impeachment. In the years before his death in 1994, he gained praise as an elder statesman.
Richard Milhous Nixon was born in a modest house on January 9, 1913. His father, Frank Nixon, used a kit to build the house in a small grove of trees on his eight-acre citrus farm. The one and one-half story, white clapboard siding house has a low-pitched gable roof. A long dormer on the north side lights a small second-floor bedroom. The front elevation features a projecting gable-roofed entry. There is a small flat-roofed addition on the back.
Nixon’s parents were members of the Quaker community in Yorba Linda and active in civic life. They taught their four sons patience, courage, and determination, qualities that Nixon drew strength from during trying times. He later recalled that he gained his first taste for politics during debates around the family dinner table and described friendly pillow fights with his three brothers in the small upstairs bedroom they shared. The family lived here until 1922, when they moved to the nearby community of Whittier.
Nixon had a brilliant record at Whittier College and Duke University Law School, in North Carolina. He opened his law practice in Whittier and became involved in local politics as a Republican. In 1940, he married Thelma Catherine Ryan, universally known as “Pat.” He served 14 months on active duty in the Pacific during World War II. Nixon ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1946, defeating a long-term Democratic incumbent. He won national recognition, and controversy, as an anti-communist crusader on the Un-American Activities Committee. Reelected to the House in 1948, he easily won a seat in the United States Senate two years later in an extremely bitter campaign.
In 1952, Republican presidential candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower chose Nixon, only 39 years old, as his running mate. During the campaign, accusations of using political contributions for personal purposes threatened Nixon’s place on the ticket. He saved his candidacy in one of the first live, nationwide political television broadcasts—the famous "Checkers" speech. Nixon was an active and visible vice president and had no trouble gaining the nomination to succeed Eisenhower in 1960. His extremely narrow loss to John F. Kennedy was the first defeat in his career. Returning to California, he ran for governor two years later and lost again. He thought his political career was over, telling reporters, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore . . . This is my last press conference.”
Nixon remained active in Republican politics during these “wilderness years,” however, and in 1968, he again sought the presidential nomination. Hanoi announced that it was ready to meet with U.S. representatives to begin preliminary negotiations. Talks did begin, but they were about where to hold the talks, about protocol, about participation by South Vietnam and the NLF [Viet Cong], about seating and even the shape of the table. The United States maintained its bombing halt above the 20th parallel, but the fighting continued, killing 14 000 Americans in 1968. As if to underscore the mindless suicidal tenor of the times, two calamitous assassinations occurred in quick succession. Less than a month after Johnson's speech, Martin Luther King was shot by escaped convict James Earl Ray. Riots exploded in cities and towns across the Nation. Heaviest hit was Washington DC, which experienced 700 fires and 10 deaths. Robert Kennedy was shot while leaving a Los Angeles hotel. Later that summer at a stormy Democratic nominating convention, young war protestors fought pitched battles with the Chicago police. Aided by the third-party candidacy of Alabama Governor George Wallace, who siphoned off almost 14 percent of the vote, Nixon won the election with 31.8 million votes as compared to Humphrey's 31.3 million. It was a meager victory, but Nixon was the new president. Vietnam was now his problem. Reelected in 1972, Nixon won the largest number of popular votes in the nation's history, defeating Democrat George McGovern in the Electoral College by 520 to 71.
President Nixon’s domestic achievements included revenue sharing, new anticrime laws, a broad environmental program, and the end of the military draft. Concerned about rising inflation, he instituted mandatory wage and price controls. On July 19, 1969, Nixon spoke with the American astronauts who had made the first Moon landing in a long-distance telephone call.
Working with his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nixon pursued a vigorous foreign policy. His first priority was the conflict in Vietnam. The invasion of Cambodia and expanded bombing in North Vietnam triggered violent protests in 1970. A student protest at Kent State University met with police violence that left four students dead. More than 4 million students participated in the following nationwide strike. In January 1973, Nixon announced an accord with North Vietnam ending American military involvement in Southeast Asia. By March, he reduced the number of United States military forces in Vietnam to zero, from 543,000 in April 1969. One of President Nixon’s proudest achievements was opening official contact between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. He was the first American president to visit China during his term of office. His talks with Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai led to a new spirit of amity between the two countries. On a trip to the Soviet Union, he met with Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, preparing the ground for the signing of the first treaty to limit nuclear arms.
Nixon's attempt to introduce an “imperial presidency” dates back to the early 1970s. Then the United States again fell into a difficult crisis. The country was defeated in Vietnam, the dollar was in a fever (a refusal to change it to gold was introduced), civilian riots raged. The US rival, the Soviet Union, was at that time on the rise and was pushing the Americans in full. To top it all off, the 1973 energy crisis erupts with a fantastic rise in oil prices. The American economy was in a fever, queues are lining up at gas stations. Crazed crowds sweep away everyday goods from store shelves.
During these years, President Richard Nixon tried to introduce an “imperial presidency” to combat the US-wide crisis. To start the pH. he sought the liquidation of the Congress’s control over the activities of his administration, demanded that his cabinet spend unexplained special financial funds, and tightened secrecy in the administration’s actions. He then demanded the right to use the emergency powers previously given to him to fight external enemies against political opponents within the United States. Justifying the violation of laws, Nixon referred to the interests of national security. He created a secret department in the White House, which was involved in falsifying political and archival documents, searches in government offices, wiretapping the phones of government officials, employees of foreign missions and journalists.
The “imperial presidency” was to become a plebiscite dictatorship — the president, in the Nixon version, was only accountable to voters every four years. He receives a mandate of trust from the people, and then rules without intervention by Congress or the public, having the unlimited right to solve issues of war and peace, while prosecuting and punishing his political opponents..
The series of revelations that led to Nixon's resignation began with a June 1971 third-rate burglary at the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC. Newspaper accounts eventually traced the break-in, virtually ignored during the election campaign, to the president’s special reelection committee. The investigation of the “Watergate Affair” eventually led to the conviction and imprisonment of a number of senior administration officials. Nixon himself denied any personal involvement in Watergate. He tried to use executive privilege to protect audio tapes of conversations at the White House, but the Supreme Court overruled his efforts.
When the tapes indicated that he had tried to divert the investigation, his support with the public and in Congress eroded. Late in July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommended his impeachment on counts of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. Republican leaders urged Nixon to step down. On August 8, 1974, he announced his decision to resign, saying that he wished to begin the “process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.” His resignation was effective at noon on August 9. Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon as president. Ford, who had been majority leader of the House of Representatives, became vice president in December 1973 after Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned in October 1973 amid a bribery scandal.
In retirement, Nixon represented the United States on a number of trips abroad, gaining unusual access to major political leaders because of his status as an elder statesman. He also maintained a busy speaking schedule and wrote 10 books. He played an active role in planning his presidential library in Yorba Linda, and he and his wife were present at its dedication in 1990. Richard Nixon suffered a stroke in April 1994 at his home in New Jersey, dying a few days later. His grave and that of his wife, who died in 1993, lie near the birthplace on the grounds of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
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