Richard M. Nixon


Born: January 9, 1913; Yorba Linda, California... Richard Nixon was the first president to resign from office... The enigmatic nature of the Nixon presidency combined comparatively progressive legislative initiatives with a flagrant abuse of presidential power and the public trust. His achievements in expanding peaceful relations with China and the Soviet Union stand in stark contrast with his continuation of the war in Vietnam. Finally brought down by scandal and duplicity, his administration did much to erode the citizenry's faith in government... Died: April 22, 1994.

Did you know? - Read some fun facts about Richard M. Nixon

The Era

  • Woodstock Music and Art Fair (1969)
  • Man lands on moon (1969)
  • Environmental Protection Agency formed (1970)
  • Allende elected president of Chile (1970)
  • China is admitted to United Nations (1971)
  • Ms. magazine begins publication (1972)
  • Roe v. Wade decision handed down by Supreme Court (1973)
  • Native Americans stage protest at Wounded Knee, South Dakota (1973)

World Timeline - See a timeline of world events during Richard M. Nixon's administration.

Early Career

Richard Nixon
A position on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 was anything but a prime assignment. Staffed by right-wing zealots and conducted with the decorum of a kangaroo court, the committee had largely failed in its mission to flush out Communist subversives in America. Nonetheless, freshman Congressman Richard M. Nixon, Republican from California's twelfth district, accepted a seat on HUAC. Nixon recognized that anti-Communism was growing in popularity in the United States. He had seized upon the issue in his campaign for Congress and had ridden an anti-Communist wave to the House of Representatives. Now he would use HUAC as his springboard to national celebrity.

Save his skill as a debater and his capacity for perseverance, little in Nixon's past marked him as a likely candidate for politics. He was born on January 9, 1913 in Yorba Linda, California, to Frank Nixon, a hardworking, opinionated businessman, and Hannah Milhous Nixon, a devout, compassionate Quaker housewife. When Richard was nine, the family moved to nearby Whittier, California, where Frank Nixon opened a grocery store and gas station. Richard learned the value of hard work, putting in long hours at the family store.

The Nixons often lived at the edge of poverty and suffered their share of misfortune. Two of Nixon's four siblings, Arthur and Harold, died of tuberculosis as boys. Forced to attend to her ailing sons, Hannah Nixon did not intentionally neglect Richard; he would later refer to his mother as a saint. But the boy experienced little overt affection and grew up a loner.

Richard worked diligently in high school, offsetting his social awkwardness with academic achievement. Harvard and Yale both offered him scholarships, but Harold's struggles with tuberculosis and the Nixons' tenuous financial position during the Great Depression forced Richard to remain close to home.

Richard Nixon
Whittier College, Nixon distinguished himself as a formidable debater, an enthusiastic actor, and a fearless, if ineffectual, football player. Richard brought his combative nature to the social playing field as well as the gridiron. In opposition to the exclusive Franklin Club, an elite society which denied him admittance, he helped found the Orthogonians, an organization for working-class students.

Nixon flourished in Whittier College politics. He won election as freshman class president. He served as the student body's vice president in his junior year and its president in his senior year. But despite his political successes, he never forgot the slights of the Franklins. Early on, Nixon defined himself as a "have not." He would resent the "haves" for the rest of his life.

At Duke Law School, where he studied after Whittier, Nixon applied himself with characteristic tenacity. His determination earned the respect of his fellow classmates -- and election to the presidency of the Duke Bar Association. But all of his work, it seemed, went for nothing. After graduation, he applied to prestigious Eastern law firms; again the elites rejected him. With bitter reluctance, he settled for work at a law firm in Whittier.

Bored with the life of a small-town lawyer, Nixon traveled to Washington, where he worked in Franklin Roosevelt's Office of Price Administration (OPA). During this brief stint, his distaste for Eastern liberal intellectuals, many of whom worked in OPA, grew. And amid the tangle of bureaucratic red tape, he reinforced his negative opinion of the New Deal's socialistic big-government programs.

When a committee of local Republicans drafted Nixon as a Congressional candidate in 1946, he got his first opportunity to take on the New Deal. President Harry Truman had struggled unsuccessfully to quell postwar labor unrest; millions of workers struck for higher pay, causing nationwide shortages of consumer goods. Nixon might have beaten his opponent, Democratic incumbent Jerry Voorhis, on economic issues alone. Instead, he seized upon Red-bashing.

By 1946, Americans had begun to equate Communism with all that they hated and feared. Voorhis, a hardworking five-term Congressman, had previously been endorsed by CIO-PAC, a political labor organization suspected of Communist affiliation. He declined CIO-PAC endorsement in 1946, but Nixon accused him of ties to the group.

In the first of a series of debates between the two candidates, Voorhis denied CIO-PAC affiliation. With a dramatic flourish, Nixon produced a document showing that Voorhis had been endorsed by a related group, the National Citizens Political Action Committee. Nixon knew the difference between the two groups; most of the voters did not. And when Nixon distributed flyers distorting Voorhis's voting record as pro-Communist, the incumbent's fate was sealed. Using anti-Communist smear tactics, Richard Nixon had become a Congressman.

Richard Nixon
attacks on Communism recommended him to sit on the House Committee on Un-American Activities. As HUAC's only lawyer, he brought it a previously unknown fairness and civility. Nixon earned his peers' respect, but received little public attention. This changed almost overnight in August, 1948, when former Time magazine editor and admitted Communist Whittaker Chambers accused Alger Hiss of spying for the Communists.

Hiss was everything Nixon despised. Wealthy, liberal, educated, and handsome, he had graduated from Harvard Law School, served as a clerk under Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and worked in Franklin Roosevelt's Agricultural Adjustment Administration. He had served as an aide to Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference and as temporary secretary-general to the United Nations. At the time of the HUAC hearings, he headed the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

From the start, most Americans believed Hiss. Chambers, overweight and disheveled, looked the villain's part. Hiss denied that he had ever met Chambers. Nixon, however, suspected otherwise. He dissuaded other committee members from dropping the case. Then, by questioning Chambers about Hiss's personal life, he determined that the two men must have met before.

On August 17, Nixon brought Hiss to the witness stand. Under a stinging cross-examination, Hiss admitted that he had known Chambers, albeit under the name George Crosely. Hiss continued to deny being a spy. In November, Chambers suddenly produced copies of State Department documents typed on Hiss' typewriter. Hiss was indicted for perjury and subsequently sentenced to five years in prison. Nixon, who shared the media limelight with Chambers, became an instant celebrity, loved by conservatives and hated by liberals.

If there was ever an easy target for Nixon's Red-bashing campaign tactics, it was his Democratic opponent in the Senate race of 1950, Helen Gagahan Douglas. A wealthy, educated, New Deal congresswoman, Douglas had belonged to numerous progressive organizations. She had spoken out against anti-Communist scare tactics and condemned HUAC as a smear organization. Many California businessmen hated her.

Led by his unscrupulous campaign manager, Murray Chotiner, Nixon made every effort to paint Douglas as being soft on Communism. His campaign workers referred to her as the "pink lady," and as he did so effectively in his fight against Jerry Voorhis, Nixon linked her voting record with alleged Communist sympathizers in the House. He was not the first to do so.

Douglas's opponent in the Democratic primary had circulated flyers comparing her voting record to that of leftist Congressman Vito Marcantonio. Nixon and Chotiner refined the effort, printing a flyer claiming that Douglas had voted with Marcantonio a total of 354 times. The flyer was printed on pink paper -- a less than subtle implication that Douglas was a Communist. A later analysis showed that Nixon had once again unfairly distorted an opponent's voting record, but the flyer did its dirty work. On election day, Nixon won 59% of the vote, and a Senate seat.

Two years later, Nixon's star rose further, when he won a position as Dwight Eisenhower's vice presidential running mate. But liberals would not forget how Nixon had played the Communist card in his ruthless drive to the top. When he was elected to the presidency in 1968, they would be waiting to challenge him.

Domestic Politics

Nixon takes oath of office
after Richard Nixon took office in 1969, he proposed a dramatic restructuring of American government. The bloated federal bureaucracies, Nixon believed, buried creative entrepreneurship under mountains of red tape and fostered dependency on handouts. He called instead for a "New Federalism" -- a system which directed money and power away from the federal bureaucracy and toward states and municipalities. This system, Nixon said, could respond more efficiently to the needs of the people.

The president's New Federalism was anything but new. In fact, if not in name, Nixon had been a practicing New Federalist since he entered Congress in 1946. Throughout his political career, he had opposed big government programs and fought to restore political authority to the local level. Now he would use the power of the presidency to further the cause of New Federalism.

In 1969, despite civil rights reforms like the landmark decision declaring that segregated schools where unconstitutional, the 1964 Civil Rights bill and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, many African Americans lived without the full protection of the law, equal access to public facilities, or equal economic opportunity. Nixon viewed this situation as not only unfair to African Americans, but as a waste of valuable human resources which could help the nation grow.

Presient Nixon at desk
the most pressing civil rights issues was desegregation of public schools. Nixon inherited a nation in which nearly 70% of the black children in the South attended all-black schools. He had supported civil rights both as a senator and as vice president under Eisenhower, but now, mindful of the Southern vote, he petitioned the courts on behalf of school districts seeking to delay busing. Meanwhile, he offered a practical New Federalist alternative -- locally controlled desegregation.

Starting in Mississippi and moving across the South, the Nixon administration set up biracial state committees to plan and implement school desegregation. The appeal to local control succeeded. By the end of 1970, with little of the anticipated violence and little fanfare, the committees had made significant progress -- only about 18% of black children in the South attended all-black schools.

New Federalism's focus on local empowerment did not mean an abdication of federal responsibility. In fact, the de-emphasis of federal bureaucracy coincided with a concentration of power within the White House. The president's actions on behalf of women illustrated his willingness to use that concentrated power.

Nixon had campaigned as a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, but did little to push its passage following his election. When feminists pointed out his lack of support for women's issues, he used presidential power to push the federal government forward.

Despite the opposition of many men in his administration, Nixon increased the number of female appointments to administration positions. He created a Presidential Task Force on Women's Rights. He asked the Justice Department to bring sex discrimination suits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. And he ordered the Labor Department to add sex discrimination provisions to the guidelines for its Office of Federal Contract Compliance.

Nixon's responsiveness to various constituencies may have been as much a reflection of his political savvy as a commitment to New Federalism. Prior to the Earth Day demonstrations of 1970, the president showed little interest in environmental issues. But in the millions who gathered in communities around the nation, he saw political power.

The president sent dozens of environmental proposals to Congress, including the Clean Air Act of 1970, perhaps one of the most significant pieces of environmental legislation ever passed. He also created two new agencies, the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency, to oversee environmental matters.

President Nixon
While Nixon increased spending on domestic initiatives during his presidency, he consistently stood by the New Federalist principle of fiscal efficiency. Nixon insisted that all environmental proposals meet the cost-benefit standards of the Office of Management and Budget. In 1972, he vetoed the Clean Water Act, which he generally supported, because Congress had boosted its cost to $18 billion. When Congress overrode his veto, he used his presidential powers to impound half of the money.

In many ways, Nixon's New Federalism paralleled Conservatives' desires for a smaller, less costly federal government. But an element of true radicalism was evident in two of his most controversial domestic proposals -- revenue sharing and the Family Assistance Plan.

Nixon viewed the federal bureaucracy as a poor revenue manager. But instead of simply cutting taxes, as later Conservatives would, he proposed a new system called revenue sharing, which redirected funds to the state and municipal levels. The federal government would collect taxes and the local governments would spend the money.

Although revenue sharing was anathema to the federal bureaucrats, whose jobs it threatened, and to the Congressmen who made political hay by dispensing federal dollars within their districts, it offered great appeal at the local level. Without the cumbersome red tape that weighed down big federal programs, states and localities received guaranteed revenue which they could distribute as they pleased.

Passed after contentious debate, the State and Local Assistance Act of 1972 initially delivered $4 billion per year in matching funds to states and municipalities. The program, which distributed some $83 billion dollars before it was killed by Ronald Reagan in 1986, proved enormously popular. But if revenue sharing increased Nixon's popularity, another proposal, closer to his heart, had the opposite effect.

Nixon had experienced the sting of poverty as a child, and he never forgot it. But while he sympathized with the poor, he also shared many Americans' conviction that the welfare system had grown into an inefficient bureaucracy which fostered dependency and low self esteem among welfare recipients and contributed to the breakdown of families by providing assistance only to households which were not headed by a working male.

With the assistance of Urban Affairs Council secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nixon created the Family Assistance Plan. FAP called for the replacement of bureaucratically administered programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Food Stamps, and Medicaid, with direct cash payments to those in need. Not only single-parent families, but the working poor would qualify for aid. All recipients, save the mothers of preschool age children, would be required to work or take job training.

Nixon revealed FAP in a nationwide address on August 8, 1969. Heavy criticism followed. Welfare advocates declared the income level Nixon proposed -- $1600 per year for a family of four -- insufficient. Conservatives disliked the idea of a guaranteed annual income for people who didn't work. Labor saw the proposal as a threat to the minimum wage. Caseworkers opposed FAP fearing that many of their jobs would be eliminated. And many Americans complained that the addition of the working poor would expand welfare caseloads by millions. A disappointed Nixon pressed for the bill's passage in various forms, until the election season of 1972. He knew a bad campaign issue when he saw one, and he let FAP expire.

Nixon won reelection by a landslide in 1972. During his first term, Nixon succeeded in redirecting power away from the federal government. Some argue that his efforts benefited women and minorities, resulted in a cleaner environment and provided money and power for local initiatives. New Federalism, however, withered on the vine as Nixon fought in vain to preserve his presidency during the Watergate scandal.

Foreign Affairs

Nixon and Kissinger
many who had watched Richard M. Nixon build his political career as a Communist fighter, it must have seemed the ultimate irony. On July 15, 1971, Nixon announced on national television that he would become the first president ever to visit the People's Republic of China, a nation which had remained isolated from the West since the Communist revolution in 1949.

For Nixon, however, his upcoming visit represented the ultimate diplomatic triumph. Although he had publicly condemned the Chinese Communists, he had proposed a more relaxed attitude toward the People's Republic as early as 1954. In 1967, as a presidential candidate, he had written in the magazine Foreign Affairs, "We simply cannot afford to leave China outside the family of nations."

Nixon envisioned a future in which more cordial relations among the major world powers -- the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Western Europe, and Japan -- would allow for ventures profitable to all. Through international cooperation, these nations might reduce revenue-draining defense expenditures and prevent the occurrence of costly Third World conflicts such as the Vietnam War.

Perhaps because engagement with the Communist world represented such a turnabout from past U.S. policy, but also because he distrusted the diplomatic bureaucracy, Nixon tightly controlled his foreign policy. His main operative was National Security Council director Henry Kissinger; his favorite mode of operation was secret, back-channel diplomacy. Frequently, the two men acted without the permission or the knowledge of the State Department.

US Flag and China Flag hanging in room
began to woo China in February 1969, by sending covert signals of rapprochement through third party nations such as Pakistan and Romania. Publicly, the president took a less dramatic approach, asking Secretary of State William Rogers to announce that the U.S. favored increased cultural and scientific exchanges with the People's Republic.

Initially, the president's overtures bore little fruit, but he persisted. During the spring and summer of 1969, Soviet and Chinese troops clashed repeatedly along the border between the two nations. Kissinger believed that the Chinese feared the Soviets, and that these clashes might help push China toward the United States and may help contain the Soviet Union.

Nixon and Kissinger were playing global power politics. In effect, they were balancing China against the U.S.S.R and intimidating both of them.

Nixon, however, recognized that he would have to make concessions if he wanted rapprochement with China. Early on, he took steps to tone down the anti-China rhetoric coming from the White House, loosened trade and visa restrictions between China and the U.S., and began troop reductions in both Vietnam and on bases near China.

Richard M. Nixon
July 25, on a stopover in Guam, the president announced what would become known as the Nixon Doctrine, a cornerstone of his foreign policy. The United States, he said, would support democratic third world nations by providing them with financial and military aid, but not troops. In October of that year, Nixon called for a cease fire in Vietnam and a unilateral withdrawal of American troops. Hanoi refused his overture, but Nixon continued with "Vietnamization" -- supporting South Vietnam with equipment and money while gradually withdrawing American troops from the war.

By the start of 1970, Nixon's concessions had begun to thaw China's icy demeanor. The two nations began covert talks in Warsaw in January, but China canceled further discussions over the defection to the West of a Chinese diplomat and the extension of U.S. troops into Cambodia. That spring, Nixon resumed sending positive messages through Romania and Pakistan; by the end of the year China had responded.

In March 1971, the public face of Sino-American relations took a negative turn when Chinese premier Chou en Lai visited Hanoi, the capital of Communist North Vietnam. Just as quickly, however, relations turned toward the positive, when in April, American ping-pong players traveled to China.

The meeting of American and Chinese athletes marked the first significant cultural exchanged between the two nations since 1949. "Ping-pong diplomacy" delighted Americans, and improved Nixon's chances of selling better relations with China to the average voter. Perhaps more importantly, the warming trend in Chinese-U.S. relations helped convince the Soviets to warm up their own relationship with the United States.

From the time that the Soviets developed their own atomic bomb in 1949, they had engaged with the United States in a race for nuclear superiority. In 1963, John F. Kennedy sealed an agreement with the Russians and Great Britain to limit atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, but no other meaningful arms treaty had been signed.

As an alternative to the arms race, Nixon proposed to the Soviets that the two nations settle for a "strategic parity" in nuclear weapons. If each side possessed enough weapons to guarantee the destruction of the other, neither would dare to start war, and the peace would hold.

Since the start of Nixon's administration, however, progress in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) had been sluggish. Working largely through back channels, and largely through Kissinger, Nixon tried repeatedly to forge an agreement with the Soviets -- with little success. But as U.S.-China relations warmed, the Soviets began to fear what might happen if a strong Sino-American alliance were forged. Just a month after the excitement of ping-pong diplomacy, Nixon announced another victory: the Soviets had agreed to work out an antiballistic missile treaty within one year.

Meanwhile, Nixon built on his success with the Chinese. On July 9, 1971, he sent Henry Kissinger on a secret visit to Peking, to meet with Premier Chou en Lai. Kissinger's goal was to arrange a China visit for his president, and he returned to Washington triumphant. On July 15, Nixon spoke to the nation, announcing that he would visit China the following year.

In the first half of 1972, Nixon became the world statesman he had always dreamed he would be. For a week in February, he met with Chou en Lai in China. The two leaders signed no specific agreements; the opening of relations itself was a dramatic achievement. From May 22 to 26, Nixon met in summit with Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow, where the two signed ten formal agreements, including an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty, an interim SALT treaty and a billion-dollar trade agreement. Nixon basked in international glory, but still one diplomatic coup eluded him -- an end to the war in Vietnam.

Publicly, Nixon had promised that he would "win the peace" in Vietnam. Privately, he assured himself that he would not be the first American president to lose a war. To do so would not only be damaging to his image, but would encourage further aggression by the Soviets and the Chinese. He held on, hoping for an exit which would allow America at least the appearance of victory.

Nixon coupled his policy of Vietnamization with hard-hitting attacks on North Vietnamese bases in Laos and Cambodia, but could not bludgeon Hanoi into an agreement. The official peace talks in Paris stalled repeatedly, and the covert dialogue between Kissinger and North Vietnam dragged on with little progress. At home, antiwar activists filled the streets. Nixon had hoped that improved relations with the Chinese and the Soviets would spur a quick exit from Vietnam. But the summits did little to push the war toward its end.

Following his reelection in 1972, Nixon temporarily abandoned diplomacy. For twelve days in December, the U.S. unleashed a ferocious bombing attack on the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. Nixon gave no explanation for the bombing; he wanted to appear irrational, desperate, willing to do anything to get what he wanted.

The president's "madman" strategy paid off. In January 1973, the United States and North Vietnam negotiated a peace. Sadly, the terms were little better than the ones proposed by North Vietnam in 1969. More than 25,000 American lives had been lost in the interim. Nixon had gained little by delaying withdrawal.

By the start of 1973, the wheels of the Watergate scandal had begun turning faster. Nixon would never realize his plan to peacefully unite the world's superpowers. The Soviet-American détente collapsed shortly after Nixon's resignation. Sino-American relations improved slowly over the ensuing years, hampered by the Taiwan issue and by differences of opinion over human rights. Most Americans would remember Nixon's foreign policy not for its successes, but for its greatest failure -- the inability to achieve a rapid end to the war in Vietnam.

Presidential Politics

Richard M. Nixon inaugural
Nixon was first elected to the presidency in 1968. Starting with President Lyndon Johnson's stunning decision not to seek a second term, the campaign of that year reflected the uncertainty and turmoil that gripped much of the nation. Hundreds of young Americans were dying in Vietnam. In the spring, civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis. In June, Senator Robert Kennedy was shot and killed following his victory in the California Democratic primary. Nixon's eventual challenger, Hubert Humphrey, won the nomination at a chaotic and violent convention. When the dust settled, Richard Nixon was the last contender still standing. The nation around him, however, was reeling.

When President Richard M. Nixon stepped in front of the television cameras on November 3, 1969, he faced a nation sharply divided. War raged on in Vietnam, and American soldiers were dying. To read the daily newspapers and watch the nightly news was to see an administration under siege. Antiwar protesters took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands. Pundits predicted that the activists would not stop until they brought the president down.

Nixon believed that his long-standing enemies -- the elite, East Coast liberals of the media -- conspired to tell only one side of the story. Polls showed majority support for Nixon's policy of gradual withdrawal from Vietnam. So using a strategy that had served him well in the past, the president took his case directly to the people on national television.

In his address, Nixon outlined the situation in Vietnam. He warned that an early withdrawal would show weakness to Russia and China and negatively affect the Paris peace talks. And he called upon "the great silent majority of my fellow Americans" to help him "end the war in a way that we could win the peace."

The silent majority responded immediately. Telegrams and letters of support flooded the White House. A delighted Nixon, who had an obsessive hatred of the media, proclaimed that the "press corps is dying because of that speech."

Richard Nixon's tumultuous relationship with the press had begun some twenty years before, when he served on the House Un-American Activities Committee. In dramatic public hearings, Nixon helped to uncover liberal stalwart Alger Hiss's links to a Communist spy ring. Nixon became a national celebrity because of the case, but liberal commentators scorned him. From the Hiss case forward, Nixon would consider the media his enemy.

Nixon's first major clash with the press came in 1952 when he ran as Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice-presidential running mate. On September 18, the New York Post incorrectly reported that wealthy backers had set up a secret fund for Nixon's personal use. Desperate to avoid being dumped by Eisenhower, Nixon turned the media against itself on nationwide television.

Known later as the "Checkers" speech, Nixon's address of September 23, 1952, was a textbook exercise in manipulation. An accomplished debater with a flair for the dramatic, he delivered an overwrought accounting of his personal finances. He explained that his wife, Patricia Nixon, did not have a mink coat, but a "respectable Republican cloth coat," and said that one gift he had received, a cocker spaniel named Checkers, was adored by his children. "Regardless of what they say about it," Nixon said, "we're going to keep him."

The calculated emotional appeal struck a chord with sixty million Americans -- the largest television audience ever. Pro-Nixon telegrams barraged Eisenhower, and the two Republicans triumphed in November. Nixon's next major television appearance did not bring such positive results.

In 1960, Nixon won the Republican presidential nomination. When his opponent, John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, challenged him to a series of televised debates, Nixon accepted, despite the fact that as the favorite he had little to gain.

The first debate, held on September 26, dramatically altered the course of the campaign. Kennedy, poised and handsome, presented a reassuring image to the record television audience. Nixon, recovering from a severe knee injury, appeared gaunt and unhealthy; he perspired profusely and his makeup ran. Those who watched on television favored Kennedy. But listeners on the radio thought Nixon had won the debate. In the wake of the Kennedy's television performance, momentum shifted his way. Nixon lost in November; another defeat lay ahead.

In 1962, Nixon lost the California gubernatorial race to incumbent Pat Brown. He announced his retirement from politics -- and vented his hostility toward the media. "For 16 years, ever since the Hiss case, you've had a lot of fun," he said. "Just think how much you're going to be missing. You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore."

Nixon's retirement lasted six years. In 1968, he swept to the White House amid promises of ending the Vietnam War. But his plan for a gradual withdrawal failed to satisfy antiwar activists. Nixon's silent majority speech of November 1969 brought an outpouring of support, but could not stop the nightly news broadcasts showing an American war gone horribly wrong.

On June 13, 1971, the New York Times published the first excerpt from "The Pentagon Papers," classified documents detailing Vietnam policy during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The papers, leaked to the press by a former Defense Department worker named Daniel Ellsberg, revealed public duplicity on the part of Kennedy and Johnson. Although the papers made no mention of his administration, Nixon went into a rage.

Press leaks had plagued the Nixon White House. In May, 1969, when the New York Times published a story revealing secret bombings of Cambodia, Nixon had ordered more than a dozen FBI wiretaps in an effort to track down the source of the leaks. Now more leaks threatened to disrupt his secret diplomatic negotiations with China and the Soviet Union and his covert peace talks with North Vietnam. If these nations believed that Americans could not keep secrets, talks might break down.

Watergate Hotel
leaks continued, a furious Nixon ordered the creation of a group of anti-leak operatives known as the plumbers. Among other operations, the plumbers burglarized the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, searching for evidence that would discredit Ellsberg. They found none. Shortly thereafter, the group disbanded, but another, the Committee to Re-elect the President, took its place. On June 17, 1972, police apprehended members of CREEP in a burglary of the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington's Watergate Hotel.

Nixon neither authorized the burglary nor knew about it beforehand. Yet he feared that if anyone linked the break-in to his administration, he might lose the election of 1972. He ordered the FBI to halt its investigation of the burglary, and won re-election. But by early 1973, Watergate was a staple of the nightly news.

The Nixon White House paid hush money to the Watergate burglars and appealed to the fidelity of the President's aides. Still, under the pressure of the media and a Senate investigation, the conspiracy began to unravel. On March 23, 1973, James McCord implicated the White House in the cover-up. In April, Nixon's counsel, John Dean, revealed details of the Ellsberg break-in to investigators; in May, a spellbound nation watched on TV as Dean testified before the Senate Watergate Committee about Nixon's role in the cover-up. The media noose grew tighter, and Nixon struggled to escape.

In Senate testimony on July 16, former White House Aide Alexander Butterfield revealed that Nixon had recorded his conversations in the Oval Office. First Senate investigators, then independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox subpoenaed the tapes. Nixon refused to surrender them, and fired Cox. Americans swamped Congress with telegrams demanding the president's impeachment.

A desperate Nixon decided to do what had worked so well in the "Checkers" and "silent majority" speeches -- go over the heads of his enemies in the media and speak to the people directly. On April 29, 1974, he announced the release of edited transcripts of the Watergate tapes. He appealed to "the basic fairness of the American people" and expressed hope that the transcripts of the tapes would suffice.

Nixon's proposal generated near-universal outrage; the media strengthened its calls for his ouster. After Nixon lost a Supreme Court bid to keep control of the tapes, the House Judiciary Committee recommended that the president be impeached. This set the stage for the most dramatic media appearance of Nixon's career.

Nixon before resignation
August 8, 1974, Richard M. Nixon addressed the nation for the final time. "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." Facing the media which had raised him up, become his enemy, and helped to bring him down, the president resigned.


Mao Tse-Tung, President Richard M. Nixon
Nixon served one full presidential term and less than half of another before he resigned in disgrace on August 8, 1974, a victim of his own paranoid obsession with his enemies. For many Americans, the word Watergate serves as convenient if insufficient shorthand for an administration tainted by scandal, haunted by war, and marked by creative initiatives in both foreign and domestic policy.

When Nixon took office in 1969, the America's involvement in the war in Vietnam had been going on for nearly five years. Over 30,000 Americas had died, and a vocal contingent of citizens at home had taken to the streets to demand peace. Nixon optimistically predicted that a satisfactory truce would come in time for the Congressional elections of 1970, but his policy of Vietnamization, or gradual withdrawal of American troops, foundered when South Vietnam failed to hold up its end of the fighting.

Nixon managed to end the war not in 1970, but in early 1973. By then, 25,000 more American soldiers had died, and Nixon's chance to earn the title of peacemaker had evaporated. Although Nixon withdrew American troops steadily from the time he took office, he had also extended the war into Cambodia and Laos. In the minds of many, Vietnam would always be Richard Nixon's war.

President Nixon and Henry Kissinger
Vietnam tragedy often overshadows Richard Nixon's greatest diplomatic achievement: the opening of the People's Republic of China to the West. In the spring of 1972, Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit Communist China. Although Nixon and Chinese premier Chou-en-Lai signed no binding agreements, the summit marked the beginning of a new relationship between the United States and the People's Republic. Just months after the China summit, Nixon visited the Soviet Union, where he and premier Leonid Brezhnev signed the first ever agreements on nuclear weapons control.

Although he relished his role as an international diplomat, Nixon worked to create a more responsive, more efficient system of government at home. His calls for a "New Federalism," -- a movement of money and power away from the federal government and toward states and municipalities -- resulted in the creation of numerous local initiatives. Revenue sharing, one of the most popular New Federalist reforms, sent $83 billion in matching funds to states and municipalities from its passage in 1972 until it was killed by Ronald Reagan in 1986.

An advocate of "practical liberalism," Nixon believed in using government wisely for the benefit of all. As president, he brought affirmative action to the urban construction trades. He formed a task force on women's rights and brought sex discrimination suits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. He authored the Clean Air Act of 1970 and created the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency. To Nixon's dismay, however, he failed to achieve one of his most controversial domestic goals -- a reform of the welfare system which would have provided a guaranteed income for America's poor.

Nixon thinking
Sadly, Nixon's long-standing distrust of the media precipitated criminal behavior on his part which crippled, then destroyed his administration and his political career. In an effort to stop potentially damaging press leaks and help ensure his re-election, Nixon created a domestic espionage network. Members of this network, working for the Committee to Re-Elect the President, were caught in a burglary of Democratic National Committee Headquarters at Washington's Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972. Fearful that revelation of the scandal would damage his re-election bid, Nixon ordered a cover-up of CREEP's White House connections.

In one of the most dramatic media events of the twentieth century, the Watergate conspiracy unfolded. Despite contrary public testimony by his closest aides, Nixon repeatedly denied any connection to Watergate; in the end dramatic tape recordings the president had made himself provided irrefutable evidence of his role in the cover-up. Under threat of impeachment, Nixon became the first American president ever to resign.

By the time of his death in 1994, Richard Nixon's reputation had undergone minor rehabilitation, mostly due to his continued activity in the field of international diplomacy. Still, the pall of Watergate and the war remained, and many of his creative foreign and domestic enterprises would be all but forgotten. Nixon died not famous but infamous, an icon of American political tragedy.

Even after his death, Nixon continued to make headlines. In 1997, 201 hours of newly released tapes spawned countless articles on Nixon and his White House. Unfortunately, the tapes confirmed the worst suspicions many had about the Watergate break-in and cover-up.

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