Childhood & Early Years
Richard Milhous Nixon was born on January 9, 1913, in the suburban city of Yorba Linda in Orange County, California. At the time of his birth, his father Francis Anthony Nixon owned a lemon ranch outside Los Angeles. His mother Hanna Milhous Nixon was a religious woman, who had a great influence on the future US president.
Richard was born second of his parents’ five children. His eldest brother Harold Samuel died at the age of 24. Among his three younger brothers, Francis Donald and Edward Calvert reached adulthood, while his second younger brother, Arthur Burdg, died at the age of seven.
In 1922, his father’s lemon grove failed, and his family moved to the Whittier city of California, a region populated by the Quaker community. His father opened a grocery store-cum-gas station there. However, the Nixons remained impoverished, and the whole family had to work in the shop to make ends meet.
The Nixon sons were raised in accordance to the Quaker faith, which forbade alcohol consumption, dancing and swearing. His father was said to have been an abusive man who occasionally beat his sons. Although Richard absorbed his father’s discontent with their working class situation and developed a strong sense of ambition, he also became an awkward and withdrawn young man who best worked alone.
Richard began his education at the East Whittier Elementary School where he was elected president of the eighth grade. For his secondary education, he was sent to the Fullerton Union High School because his parents held his previous school responsible for his older brother’s debauched lifestyle.
To reach Fullerton, Richard had to spend one hour on the bus, each way. Therefore, he started spending the weekdays with his aunt in the city. He proved to be an excellent student who regularly participated in debates, receiving guidance in public speaking from his English teacher H. Lynn Sheller.
Sheller taught him that public “speaking is conversation” and one should not shout at people. He remembered this principle for the rest of life, winning many championships in debate. He was however less lucky in volleyball, as he never got a chance to play in tournaments despite practicing regularly.
In September 1928, at the start of his junior year, Richard was brought back home and enrolled at the Whittier High School. Life was very tough for the Nixons during this period. His older brother had developed tuberculosis, and his mother had taken him to Arizona.
While living with his father and younger brothers in Whittier, Richard often had to get up at four o’clock in the morning to purchase vegetables for their shop. He first drove his truck to Los Angeles to buy fresh produce and upon his return, he had to wash and display the merchandize in the store before leaving for school.
Despite his numerous responsibilities at home, he continued to excel in studies and debate. He graduated high school in 1930 and placed third in the class of 207. Following that, he received a tuition grant to study at the ‘Harvard University,’ but could not make it as he was still required at his father’s shop.1930
In 1930, he enrolled at the Whittier College, financing his studies with a grant received from his maternal grandfather. At college, he participated in debates, played basketball and football, but was snubbed by Whittier’s literary society, Franklins, due to his ordinary background. He therefore cofounded a new one called the ‘Orthogonian Society’.
In 1934, Richard graduated summa cum laude from the ‘Whittier College’ and entered the ‘Duke University School of Law’ with full scholarship. He retained full scholarship throughout his stay at Duke despite a stiff competition among the students of second and third year.
At Duke, he fared well and became the president of the student bar association as well as a member of the Order of the Coif. In June 1937, he graduated by placing third in his class. Thereafter, he applied for a post in the ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation’, but did not receive any response from the agency.
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In 1937, Richard Nixon returned to California where he joined a reputed law firm called ‘Wingert and Bewley’. He mainly worked on commercial litigations and wills. He avoided divorce cases because he did not like to talk to women on sexual matters.
In 1938, he opened his own branch of Wingert and Bewley in La Habra, California, and became a full partner of the firm in 1939. In January 1942, he relocated to Washington, D.C., where he joined the tire rationing division of the Office of Price Administration.
On June 15, 1942, he joined the US Naval Reserve as a junior lieutenant. Although he did not take part in direct combat, he received two stars and several commendations for his devotion to duty, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. He resigned his commission on January 1, 1946.
Immediately after his return to the civil life, Richard Nixon was approached by some Republicans from Whittier to run for the national election. Although he was pitted against five-term liberal, Democratic Jerry Voorhis, he rose to the challenge and won a seat in the House of Representatives in November 1946.
During his first term, he was assigned to the Select Committee on Foreign Aid. He traveled to Europe as a part of the Herter Committee to report on the Marshall Plan. In no time, he established himself as an expert in international policies.
In 1947, he also became a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HAUC). In this capacity, he took a leading role in investigating Alger Hiss and bringing him to the witness box. His hostile questions not only led to Hiss’ imprisonment, but also cemented Nixon’s reputation as an anti-communist.
In 1950, Nixon won a seat in the Senate by defeating Helen Gahagan Douglas. As a Senator, he played a prominent role in opposing global communism. Very soon, his anti-communist image caught the attention of Dwight D. Eisenhower and in 1952; he was nominated as a vice presidential candidate.
Two weeks before the November 1952 presidential election, New York Post reported that Nixon’s backers were running a ‘slush fund’ for his political activities. However, he was given a chance to clear himself, which he did through a nationally televised address on September 23, 1952. But the press remained hostile towards him.
As Vice President
In 1953, Richard Nixon became the vice president of the United States, while Eisenhower was sworn in as the president. Although he had little power as a vice president, Eisenhower’s frequent illness in 1955 allowed him to gradually expand his role.
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During Eisenhower’s absence, Nixon chaired cabinet and National Security Council meetings. He often went on foreign tours and started devoting more time to foreign policies. Concurrently, he began to campaign for the 1954 election. Unfortunately, Republicans lost control of both the House of Representatives as well as the Senate.
In November 1956 presidential elections, Eisenhower and Nixon were reelected with a comfortable margin. In 1957, Nixon toured Africa and on his return, he helped to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
In 1960, he launched his first campaign for presidency, but was defeated by his opponent John F. Kennedy, who called for new blood. Nixon returned to California in 1961 and resumed his law practice. He ran for the post of the governor of California in 1962, but lost.
As US President
In 1963, Richard Nixon moved to New York, where he became a senior partner in the leading law firm, ‘Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander’. However, he did not lose touch with politics, campaigning loyally for Barry Goldwater, Republican nominee for the 1964 presidential elections.
In 1967, he decided to run for presidency once again, eventually winning the election in November 1968. He defeated his nearest rival by nearly 500,000 votes and was sworn in as the 37th President of the United States on January 20, 1969.
At that time, the inflation was as high as 4.7% in the US, which along with the Vietnam War, was causing a huge budget deficit. Nixon realized that the only way to control it was to end the Vietnam War.
He unveiled the policy of ‘Vietnamization’, which sought to reduce American troops in Vietnam, transferring the burden of fighting the war to South Vietnam. After intense negotiations, an agreement was signed between the USA and North Vietnam in January 1973, whereby American troops were entirely withdrawn from Vietnam by March 29.
Establishment of direct contact with People’s Republic of China after 25 years of rift was also one of his major achievements in foreign policy. It all started in 1971-1972 with ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ by Chinese and American table tennis teams. Later in February 1972, Nixon visited China, where he recognized ‘One China Policy’.
In May 1972, he visited Moscow, signing 10 agreements with the USSR, among which were the nuclear arms limitation treaties like SALT I and a memorandum called ‘the Basic Principles of U.S.-Soviet Relations’. His policies relating to the Middle East were equally successful.
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Nixon’s domestic policies focused on controlling the inflation, a goal he was able to meet by 1972 to a large extent. However, its aftereffects were seen even during his second term as the president following his landslide victory on November 7, 1972.
Watergate & Impeachment
Sometime in 1972, right before the presidential elections, a rumor began to circulate that White House was involved in a seemingly isolated case of burglary at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Since it was the Democratic National Election Headquarters, a full scale investigation was called for.
After a thorough investigation, FBI confirmed that Nixon’s aides had tried to disrupt the election prospect of the Democrats. Later, it was revealed by the Senate committee that Nixon had tried to conceal some facts.
Although Nixon continued to plead innocence, increased political pressure forced him to release 1,200 pages of transcripts of conversations between him and White House aides. In May 1974, the House Judiciary Committee, controlled by the Democrats, opened impeachment hearings against him.
Fearing post impeachment conviction, Nixon resigned from his office on August 9, 1974, and moved to his home in San Clemente, California. On September 8, 1974, he was pardoned by his successor, President Ford, whom he had appointed vice president in 1973.
Family & Personal Life
Richard Nixon married Thelma Catherine ‘Pat’ Ryan in a small ceremony on June 21, 1940. He met and fell in love with her while acting in a play in Whittier in 1938. They had two daughters; Patricia Nixon, born in 1946 and Julie Nixon, born in 1948.
Initially after his resignation, Nixon led a secluded life; but by 1977, he began to make a comeback to public life, traveling and speaking across the world. In 1978, he published the first of his 10 books, ‘RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon’. Very soon, he began to be considered a senior foreign policy expert.
Pat Nixon died of cancer on June 22, 1993, a loss that devastated her husband greatly. Richard Nixon died of a massive stroke just 10 months later, on April 22, 1994, in New York City.
As his body lay in the Nixon Library lobby, around 50,000 people came to pay their last respect, waiting in queue for almost 18 hours despite chilly and wet weather. He was buried beside his wife at his birthplace, in Yorba Linda, California.