Tuesday, October 16, 2012

President Richard M. Nixon

Richard M. Nixon

(1913 - 1994)

Richard M. Nixon Campaigning 1972 - White House Photo
Click Here to view the US Mint & Coin Acts 1782-1792 
36th President of the United States

Under the 
Constitution of 1787

January 20, 1969 – August 9, 1974

RICHARD MILHOUS NIXON was born January 9, 1913, in his father’s house in Yorba Linda, California. He was the second of the five sons of Francis Anthony and Hanna Milhous Nixon. His parents were Quakers, the Nixons being of Scots-Irish descent and the Milhouses, Irish and English. They were hardworking and serious, running a small lemon farm. Their farm failed in 1922 and the family moved to Whittier, California, where young Nixon attended public schools, while his father operated a combination general store and gas station. They had little money, and the boys helped out tending the store, pumping gas and doing other odd jobs. Nixon was an excellent student, graduating second in his class at Whittier High School. He was invited by both Harvard and Yale to apply for scholarships, but the Depression and his older brother’s illness made his presence close to home necessary.

Nixon attended local Whittier College, a small Quaker institution, majoring in history. He excelled in debating and won a public speaking contest and his first election, as president of the student body. He was a good student, graduating second in his class in 1934. He received a scholarship to Duke University Law School and received his law degree in 1937. 

Richard and Pat Nixon Vice Presidential Inscribed and signed photo 

He returned home and joined an established law firm in Whittier and at a local community theater tryout, he met Thelma Catherine Ryan. Known as Patricia or Pat, she taught shorthand and typing at a local high school, and they started dating when they were cast in the same play. They were married on June 21, 1940, and they had two daughters: Patricia, born in 1946 and Julie, born in 1948. Julie later married David Eisenhower, grandson of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Nixon went to work for the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C. In 1942, Nixon gave up a desk job with the Office of Emergency Management to join the Navy in the hopes of seeing action in the war. Though never in combat, he did serve overseas with the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command at Guadalcanal in the Solomons and later at Green Island.  Writing to his buddies back on Green Island, Lieutenant Richard Nixon describes the homefront in 1944: 

Richard Nixon 1944 Autographed Letter Signed 

"This note is intended for all the boys at Green. I'd figured that you were the best one to whom to address it, since you never get a break! (no Sydney trips, etc.!) I left Guadal on 10 July, flew to Pearl and went by ship from there to San Diego, arriving on 17 July. By good luck I was assigned to the N.A.S. [Naval Air Station] Alameda for duty, and will report there tomorrow. Things on this side are pretty messed up, as you have heard. There are lines for absolutely everything, movies, restaurants, hotels etc. However it's compensated for by being with the people we left behind. I hope all of you fellows with your time in soon get out of there. I saw Red Stickney...at San Diego, so they are still sending the Marines home. If you are assigned to the West Coast don't have families come out until you find a place to live. The housing shortage is terrible. People over here think the war will be over very soon. I hope they're right but will believe it when it happens..."

By the end of the War in 1945, he had achieved the rank of lieutenant commander,  He was discharged in early 1946 and  was persuaded by some California Republicans to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives against a popular Democratic incumbent, Jerry Voorhis. Nixon, a tremendous poker player who won thousands of dollars off his comrades in the Navy,  put his winnings towards a successful 1946 run for Congress.  He  waged a hard aggressive campaign that would become characteristic of his political career. The two men confronted each other in a series of debates and Nixon won the election. 

Richard M. Nixon Congressman Autographed  Boy Scout Program 

After winning reelection in 1948, Nixon was appointed to the House Un-American Activities Committee as it began its investigation of Alger Hiss, a State Department official who was accused of passing secret documents to the Soviets. Nixon personally pressed the investigation, and Hiss was indicted for perjury and Nixon gained a national reputation as an enemy of Communism.

In 1950, Nixon was chosen as the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. His opponent was Helen Gahagan Douglas. Nixon defeated he by a wide margin in a campaign that was called one of the roughest, most bitter campaigns in political history.

In 1952, Nixon gained the attention of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who selected him to be his running mate. Nixon’s candidacy received a setback when he was accused of having improperly accepted campaign contributions, but no evidence was produced to indicate he had misused the fund or given special favors. Nixon made a televised speech to the nation in response to the allegations, known as the “Checkers” speech because it contained a sentimental reference to his dog, Checkers.   In the speech, Nixon demolished the corruption charge by quoting the independent audit carried out by Price Waterhouse and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher: the money was all used for legitimate campaign expenses, and none of it was diverted to Nixon's private use, or could be considered taxable income.  

Vice President Richard M. Nixon Autographed  Checkers Speech  -
Courtesy of Christies.com Forbes Sale

Nixon, however,  didn't stop there making a case to prove that he has never enriched himself in public life.  In the speech he launches into a remarkable recitation of his entire financial history, starting from when he married his wife Pat in 1940. He lists all of his assets--his $15,000 annual salary as a Senator, a $41,000 house in Washington, a $13,000 home in Whittier; "I have just $4,000 in life insurance, plus my GI policy...I own a 1950 Oldsmobile car." He then declares all his debts: the mortgages on the two houses, $3,500 he borrowed from his parents, a $4,500 bank loan and $500 borrowed against his life insurance. 

"Well, that's about it. That's what we have, and that's what we owe. It isn't very much, but Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we have got is honestly ours. I should say this, that Pat doesn't have a mink coat, but she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat; and I always tell her that she'd look good in anything."

Then he makes this admission: 

"We did get something, a gift, after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog; and, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from the Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us...You know what it was? It was a little Cocker Spaniel dog...black and white spotted, and our little girl, Tricia, the six-year old, named it 'Checkers.' And, you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog; and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep him."

Nixon then challenged Adlai Stevenson and his running mate to "come before the American people as I have, and make a complete financial statement as to their financial history."  Nixon concludes by telling the public to write or wire the Republican National Committee to let them know whether they, the American people, wanted Dick Nixon to stay on the ticket. He promised to abide by whatever they decided. A torrent of mail came in supporting Nixon, and Eisenhower kept him on despite not liking that if Stevenson had to bare his financial soul than so would he.

The Eisenhower/Nixon ticket was swept into office in a Republican landslide. Nixon received the vice presidential nomination again in 1956, easily winning reelection with Eisenhower.  During his term as Vice President Nixon was very active in foreign affairs.  In a letter signed  to Lawrence E. Spivak dated May 1959 Nixon admires Castro's charisma and bravery here in this memorandum summarizing his discussion with the Cuban leader on 19 April 1959. He has, Nixon says, "those indefinable qualities which make him a leader of men." But there was also much that disturbed him. Everything Castro did, from suspending elections to the execution of political opponents, he justifies as carrying out "the will of the people." "It was," Nixon says, 

"this almost slavish subservience to prevailing majority opinion--the voice of the mob--rather than his naive attitude toward Communism and his obvious lack of understanding of even the most elementary economic principles which concerned me most in evaluating what kind of a leader he might eventually turn out to be."

There were, however, some points of agreement: "He indicated that it was very foolish for the United States to furnish arms to Cuba or any other Caribbean country." Arms, Castro said, "are only used to suppress people, as Batista used his arms to fight the revolution." America should provide investment capital instead. "I will have to admit," Nixon says, "that as far as his basic argument was concerned here I found little that I could disagree with!" Castro hit another nerve with Nixon when he pointed out that the American people--the citizens of the most powerful country on earth--were surprisingly uneasy and insecure: "Your people...should be proud and confident and happy," Castro told him. "But everyplace I go you seem to be afraid-afraid of Communism, afraid that if Cuba has land reform it will grow a little rice and the market for your rice will be reduced." Instead Americans "should be talking more about your own strength and the reasons why your system is superior to Communism." In his conclusion, Nixon says that because Castro has "the power to lead...we have no choice but at least to try to orient him in the right direction." 

Vice President Richard M. Nixon  Kitchen Debate with Nikita Khrushchev 

As Eisenhower neared the end of his second term, Nixon emerges as his logical successor, and the overwhelming choice of his party. His opponent was Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts. For the first time, the American public was able to see a series of four televised face-to-face debates between the two candidates for president. Kennedy’s youth and good looks played well to the television audience and that partly attributed to helping him win the election, one of the closest is U.S. history. Both candidates received more than 34 million popular votes and Kennedy beat Nixon by only 112,803, about two-tenths of one percent.

Nixon returned to California and his law practice following his defeat. In 1962, he became the Republican candidate for governor and again lost after a bitterly fought campaign. Nixon moved to New York after his California defeat, where he became a partner in a prominent law firm, but always keeping a close eye on Republican politics. He campaigned for Republican candidates in the 1964 and 1966 elections and by early 1968 he had sufficiently recovered his political standing. He announced his candidacy for the 1968 presidential nomination on February 1. He won most of the state primary elections he entered and accumulated so much strength that by the Republican Convention in August, his nomination was an inevitable conclusion. His running mate was Governor Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland and their opponents were Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota and Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine. A third party ticket headed by George C. Wallace, the former governor of Alabama, complicated the election. Nixon won with 301 electoral votes to Humphrey’s 191 and Wallace’s 46.

Taking office in 1969, Nixon was faced with his most important issue, the Vietnam War. By the end of 1968, more than 500,000 U.S. troops were stationed there and antiwar sentiment developed at home. Nixon had campaigned against the war, saying that he would bring the troops back home. He announced a policy of gradual withdrawal of American troops along with “Vietnamiztion” of the conflict, which would make South Vietnam responsible for its own defense against the Communist North.

However, in April 1970, he authorized the invasion of Cambodia to pursue North Vietnamese troops stationed there, expanding the war. The invasion of Cambodia led to widespread American protests, mainly on university campuses. At Kent State University in Ohio, four students were killed and others wounded when national guardsman fired into a group of demonstrators.

Nixon made great strides in foreign affairs, visiting China and the Soviet Union and he initiated the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) with the Soviets. In 1973, Nixon signed a peach accord with North Vietnam, finally extricating the country from a conflict that had cost 58,000 American lives. However, his achievements were overshadowed by a constitutional crisis at home. On June 17, 1972, a break-in was discovered at the Democrats National Committee headquarters in the Watergate building. Five men were arrested in an attempt to steal documents and place wiretaps on the telephones. Nixon denied any knowledge of the incident and went on to a landslide reelection victory in November. Slowly, however, evidence was amassed that implicated the White House. Senior Administration Officials were caught in a cover-up that unraveled under mounting investigation. Threatened with impeachment, Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974.  

President Richard M. Nixon  Resignation Letter  August 9, 1974 -- Digital Image taken from the National Archives Collection.

In his resignation speech he made no admission of guilt instead asking the people to support President Ford.  He added:

Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the man in the arena, "whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievements and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Nixon  returned  to his home of La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, California. While in California, on September 8, 1974, President Ford  granted Nixon a "full, free, and absolute pardon", which ended any possibility of an indictment. Nixon  released the following  statement:

I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate, particularly when it reached the stage of judicial proceedings and grew from a political scandal into a national tragedy. No words can describe the depth of my regret and pain at the anguish my mistakes over Watergate have caused the nation and the presidency, a nation I so deeply love, and an institution I so greatly respect

Richard M. Nixon  Letter to Blair House Manager Mary Wilroy 

Nixon slowly worked himself back into political respectability. He took his boldest step during the 1992 presidential campaign when he circulated a memo with the vaguely threatening title of "Who Lost Russia?" Nixon, after all, first came to prominence in the late 1940-s bashing the Truman administration for "letting China go communist." After Clinton's election Nixon sent signals through intermediaries about his interest in meeting the new President to discuss Russia. Reportedly, First Lady Hillary Clinton was adamantly opposed and rebuffed these overtures.

But Nixon kept pressing his views and on March 5, 1993, just weeks before a Clinton-Yeltsin summit in Vancouver, he published an op-ed piece in the New York Times stressing the importance of America and the G7 nations aiding Russia. Clinton's political advisers urged him to grant Nixon an audience. It would, they argued, bolster the administration's Russian policy on Capitol Hill, and it would also prevent Nixon from (as one aide colorfully put it) "coming back and kicking you in the teeth" if things in Russia went downhill. Clinton agreed and on March 8,1993, using the rear entrance to avoid cameras, Richard Nixon returned to the White House. The meeting with Clinton was a great success, lasting more than an hour. "God what a comeback!" said Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose. "Who'd have believed it possible?" 

Nixon, in a March 26, 1993 letter to George Neavoll responded to an appreciative editorial in the Portland Press Herald. Editorial page editor Neavoll praised Nixon for his constructive support of the Clinton administration's Russian policy. "Apart from your very generous comments with regard to my role,"   Nixon wrote:

"I thought your editorials on support for democratic Russia were among the best I have seen on this subject. President Clinton deserves great credit for making a gutsy call on this issue. Any foreign aid--including aid to Russia is politically unpopular. But he recognizes that it is a leader's responsibility not just to follow public opinion but to lead it. Even with our help, Yeltsin may fail. Without our help he will certainly fail. He deserves our help not because we like him personally but because he stands for our values."

This letter marks not only an important event in American foreign policy, but the culminating act of Nixon's long effort at rehabilitating his reputation after resigning the presidency in disgrace over the Watergate scandal in August 1974. Through a series of books on foreign policy and carefully rationed public appearances 

A year later, Nixon suffered a severe stroke on April 18, 1994, while preparing to eat dinner in at home in Park Ridge, New Jersey . He died four days later at 9:08 p.m in New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.

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