Richard Milhouse Nixon (1913-94)

Figure 1.--This is the best known boyhood picture of Richard Nixon. He is at right. His older brother Harold is at left and his younger brother Donald in the center on their mother's lap.

Richard Milhous Nixon was the 36th president of the United States. Nixon was an inteligent, experience man when he became president. His essential amprality, however, was to result uin a failed presidency. He is most remembered for his Vietnam War policies and the Watergate scandal which resulted in his resignation, the only president ever to do so. Nixon was a highly competent negotiator with considerable understanding of world affairs. Nixon and his foreign affairds adviser Henry Kissinger ended the participation of U.S. combat troops in the Vietnam War by pulling out U.S. forces. They initiated relations with Mainland China and at the same time the Soviet Union--an impressive achievement. They helped end a war between Israel and the Arab countries. The oil embargo placed by the Arabs on America had a major impact on the resulting recession.


Richard was the second of five children of Francis A. and Hannah Milhous Nixon. The Nixons lost two of their boys. Francis Nixon was quite severe with the boys, strapping them on numerous occassioins. Francis' fathrer did odd jobs, including building their house from a kit. Francis had a small 12-acre lemon grove in Yorba Linda, California, but had to give it up when he couldn't make a profit out of it. He was of Irish ancestry. He took the family Whittier where he operated a gasoline station and country store. Richard's gentle, more nuturing mother was a staunch Quaker. Her family had been Quakers for more than 200 years. Richard attended the Friends Meeting with his mother. Hannah looked after the boy's studied. Richard could read before he began school. She would often give food to beggers who his father called "bums".


The Nixon family consisted of four boys (Harold, Richard, Donald, and Arthur) and a daughter. Arthur (1922)the youngest and Harold (1933) the oldest died of tuberculosis. Some speculate that their father's preference for raw milk could have been the reason.


Richard was born in Yorba Linda, Orange county, California in 1913. He grew up in California. The Nixons moved to Whittier when he was 9 years old. Their father severely disciplined the boys with numerous strappings which was not all that unusual at the time. There father was not mean, he was a loving man but expected the boys to behave and went after them when they failed to do so. The family lost Anthony (1922) when the boys were young and then Harold (1933) when they were young adults. Their father was also very demanded. He virtually insisted that Richard play football at Whitier College even though he was not a great athelete and got battered quite a bit. Looking back though he thought the experience a valuable lesson in competition. In partricular he remembered his Native American coach, Chief Wallace Newman.

Figure 2.--Here the Nixib boys are playing in 1919. Richard is at the left behind the tire. Arthur at the right died in 1922.


Richard attended public schools. We see Richard at the Yorba Linda Elementary School wgre he began school. When the family moved to Whittier, he finish his primary education at East Whittier Elementary School. He was was elected president of his 8th-grade class. He was slated to attend Whittier High School, but his parents did not approve of this. They decided that attendance therre was why Richard's older brother Harold adopted a dissolute lifestyle. He eventually contracted tuberculosis, dieing in 1933. His parents sent him to larger Fullerton Union High School in nearby Fullerton, whrevhe had to rideccaus forccan hour each way every day. He was an excellebt student. After his freshmwn year, he movedcin with his aunt who lived in Fullerton during the week and retuened home for the weekend. He participated in athletics, playingd junior varsity football. He rarely missed a practice, but did not play very much. His forte was debating. He won several championships and was coached in public speaking and debating by Fullerton High's Head of the English Deprtment, H. Lynn Sheller. Nixon took to heart Sheller's advise. "Remember, speaking is conversation ... don't shout at people. Talk to them. Converse with them." His parents finally allowed Richard to transfer to Whittier High School for his junior year, (September 1928). He ran for student body president, but lost. He had full days as he had many chores at home and to help out at the store. He got up at 4 AM and drove the family truck into Los Angeles to purchase vegetables at the market. After returning to the store, he washed and displayed them. Then he was off to school. His mother had to take Harold, who had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. to Arizona. This meant that Richard had tohelp out more in tghe store. He had to give up football. Even so, he graduated third in his class of 207 students (1937). Nixon was offered a tuition grant for Harvard University. Money was, however, too short for this. And Harold's continued illness and the need for his their mother's care meant that Richard was needed to help out at the store. He thus entered Whittier College, a small Quaker school, where he could attend while living at home. The expenses were met by a bequest from his maternal grandfather. At Whittier he continued to be active in student politics and had more success at debating. He graduated (1934). He won a full scholarship to the Duke University Law School which he accepted. He worked part-time to help with living expenses in a National Youth Administration (NYA) job. He graduated third in his class of 25 (1937).


Hannah had wanted Richard to be a mussionary, but he was drawn to politics by his mother. One of his earliest memories was his father scolding his mother for because she voted for the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wiolson in 1916. Richard became very active in school politics and found that he was good at it.

Political Career

After service in World War II, Nixon was elected to the U.S. House of Represenatives from California, defeating a prominent New Dealer. He made a name for himself in the anti-Communist hysteria developing in Washington at the time. Nixon then ran for the Senate against a liberal woman senator. It is at this time that Nixon begins to attract the ire of many liberals for what they saw as a dirty campaign. Picking up on the growing anti-Communism in America, Nixon question his opponents patriotism with remarks like "The lady is pink down to her underwear." He became a prominent young spokesman for the resurgent Republican Party.

Vice President

World War II hero General Dwight Eisenhower was the overwealming choice for president in 1952. He could have had the nomination in either party. As a military commander, he had not been involved in politics until the both parties began courting him for the 1952 election. Eisenhower let the Republican Convention choose his running mate. At the time Senator Joseph McCarthy had become a major figure in the Republican Party with his red-baiting and had demonstrated the effectiveness of the tactic in elections. As a result, the Convention chose one oif the most prominent anti-Communists in the party, the young U.S. Senator from California--Richard Nixon.and the U.S. Senate and as vice president. An articulate spokesman for

1960 Election

Vice President Nixon was the overwealming choice of Republicans in 1960 to repalce President Eisenhower. He was to be selected to the GOP national ticket a record five times. Nixon lost in a very close election to the charismatic Senator John F. Kennedy. Noth men believed in the need for a more energetic confrontation with the Soviet Union which had launched Sputnik--the first satellite (1959). Nixon had a initial advantage in that he was familar with the public and associated with the emensely popular President Eisenower. Eisenhowe played a strange role in the election. He did not appear overly supportive of his Vice-President. When the issue of Nixon's role in his administration came up, he failed to provide any confirmation of an important contribution. Nixon's role as Vice-President meant, however, that he had to defend the Administration. Just as Nixon had tapped into anti-Communism to make his career, Kennedy tapped into a feeling that America was falling behind in to the competition with the Soviet Union. Nixon's performance or more accurately appearance in the televised debates was a major factor. Also his loss of the Black vote in the North and his failure to take more Southern states were also major reasons for his defeat. Kenndy's running-mate, Sentaor Lyndon Johnson from Texas played a key role of keeping much of the South in the Democratic column.

1968 Election

President Johnson was elected in a landslide over his Republican challenger Senator Barry Goldwater (1964). Johnson pursued his Great Society social reforms, but his popularity was destroyed by the Vietnam War. Anti-war senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota challenged the President for the nomination. His showing in the New Hapshire primary convinced President Johnso not to run for reelection. Senator Robert Kennedy and later Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey announced their candidacies. Both Kennedy and McCarthy ran against President Johnson's war in Vietnam. However, McCarthy's supporters were more likely to be fervently anti-war. Kennedy and McCarthy contested the primaries in close races. Senator Kennedy's victory in the important California primary seemed to insure the nomination for him. Tragically after he delivered his victory speech, Palestinian nationalis Sirhan Sirhan assassinated him. This set up a dramatic convention. Vice-President Humphrey had before the convention obtained the support of a majority of delegates without contesting the primaries. Senator McCarthy and his supporters were determined to challenge the Vice President's nomination. They showed up at the Chicago convention in strength. Thousands of anti-war protesters protested outside the convention. The violent actions of the Chicago Police was broadcast along with convention coverage on national television. McCarthy delegates also demonstrated inside the convebtion hall. The convention eventually nominated Humphrey along with Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine as his vice presidential running mate. The Republican primaries were much less evenful. Former presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon emerged as the leading candidate. Other candidates were California governor Ronald Reagan and New York governor Nelson Rockefeller. Nixon was nominated on the first ballot at the Republican convention. Nixon then selected Governer Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland as his running mate. For the first time in many years, a third party played an importan role in an American presidential election. Segregationist leader Govenor George Wallace of Alabama ran for President as the American Independent Party candidate. He stressed states' rights as the major issue which at the time was a polite way of saying segregation. He also stressed anti-Communism. Vice President Humphrey's biggest problem in the campaign was his support for the Vietnam War. As the sitting vice-president, he could not bring himself to repudiate President Johnson. Senator McCarthy refused to endorse him. Thus Nixon from the beginning was the front runner. Nixon ran an effective campaign. His basic pitch was that that he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War. Humphrey was tarred as a tool of President Johnson. Popular aditudes began to swing in October. Only days before the election two developments helped to set up a very close vote. President Johnson announced a cease-fire in Vietnam. It is likely that the North Vietnamese were concerned about a Nixon victory. And Senator McCarthy finally, grudgingly endorsed Humphrey. Humphrey carried most of the traditional Democratic strong-holds in the Northeast as well as Michigan, Hawaii, Minnesota, Washington, and Texas. Wallace carried five Deep South states. Nixon took the rest of the country, although the vote in California was very close.

Presidency (1969-73)

Much of Nixon's presidency was dominated by the Vietnam War. Nixon had not involved the United States in the War and wisely avoided comment on the validity of the War. He insisted that he had a secret plan to end the War. When he did not immediately end the War after becoming president, he became a target for anti-War protestors, much as President Johnson had been. He assessed that the American public would not tolerate a continued American pressence in Vietnam. He thus continued the withdrawl of American forces, but tried to support South Vietnam and negotiate an arrangement with North Vietman that would enable the continued presence of South Vietnam. Here he failed. Some analysts havd blamed Nixon, but any negotiation once the American public turned against the War would have been unlikely to have scored a diplomatic success. Nixon and his foreign affairds adviser Henry Kissinger ended the participation of U.S. combat troops in the Vietnam War by pulling out U.S. forces. They initiated relations with Mainland China and at the same time the Soviet Union--an impressive achievement. They helped end a war between Israel and the Arab countries. The oil embargo placed by the Arabs on America had a major impact on the resulting recession.

1972 Election

President Nixon had little opposition in the Republican primaries and was easily renominated at the Republican Miami Beach Convention. The Democratic primary race was more turbulent and included some bruising primary contests. Senator Muskie and Senator Humphrey withdraw from the campaign. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota with the most anti-War record was nominated by the the Democrats on the first ballot at their Convention. The focus wa on Senator McGovern'a anti-War stance. Less notuiced at the time was the increasingly leftward drift of the Demiocratic Party and McGovern's support for sweeping changes. There was support for the Senatorr's anti-War stance, but not for the increasingly leftist drift of the Democratic Party. President Nixon in accepting the nomination said, "It has become fashionable in recent years to point up what is wrong with the American system. The critics contend that it is unfair, so corrupt, so unjust that we should tear it down a substitute something else in its place. I totally disagree, I believe in the American system." The Republicans successfully depicted Senator McGovern as too liberal for America. He was unable to shake that depiction. Senator McGovern failed to achieve traction with the American public. Even his anti-War position won him few votes despite the increasing unpopularity of the Vietnam War. Reports of unfair campaign practices surfaced, but appeared in the back pages of newspapers. Two weeks before the election, Secretary of State Kissinger announced that "peace was at hand". President Nixon won reelection in a huge landslide. Soon after his reelection with a huge mandate, newspapers and television news began giving more attention to the Watergate breakin and the connection with the President's reelection campaign. This would eventually lead to his resignation. He was replaced with Vice-President Gerald Ford. Most failed presidential candidates rapidly fade from the political scene, President Nixon's comeback was an exception. Senator McGovrn would, however, have a huge impact on the Democratic Party, remaking it as a much more leftist oriented Party.


Nixon's presidency was shattered when evidence conclusively established that he along with key staff members had played major roles in trying to cover up the Watergate break-in aimed at the Democratic Natical Commottee. One unanswered question about Watergate is why the President and his men could have been so wreckless given the fact that he was far ahead in the polls and a virtual shoe-in for reelection. One historian suggests that he was concerned about contacts with the south Vietnamee Embassy before the 1968 election advising thm to boycott the Paris Peace talks ad that theu would get a better deal from him once elected. Subverting U.S. diplomcy and continuing the War and U.S. casualties could have been an incendiry issue. He was alo concernd about information on the 1969 'secret bombing' of Cambodia. Nixon did not know how much the Democrats knew and if they were oing to use the information. Thus he was according to one source desperte o know wht the Dmocrats were planning. [Hughes] We do not know that the President peronally ordered the breakin, but his aides certainly knew that the Presudent was very interested in knowing wht the Democrats were planning. The investigation into the Watergate break-in and cover up took 2 years. Although the President was reelected with overwealming majorities, his popularity began to decline as one relevation of misconduct after another on the nightly news. Some of the most serious were covert actioins against oppones, the enemies list, missing segments of tape, firing investigators, crude language, and other matters. Nixon's decline and fall spanned two years as the truth slowly unfolded before an incredulous nation. Along with Nixon, government officials, campaign aides, and financial contributors were implicated in the Watergate and related scandals. Many went to jail. One historian wrote, "When Nixon resigned, the nation lost more than it gained." [Ambrose]

The Tapes

President Nixon had a voice activated tape system. As a result he got used ti=o not paying much attention to it. As a result, virtually everything got taped, including conversations tht would not jave been taoed if the system required the President to selectively turn it on. There are some 3,700 hours of recorings (1971-73). Very few of thise conveesations have been transcribed. There is a good selections of conversations covering the China as well as Watergate.[Brinkley and Nichter]



The Nixon had two daughters. They are best known for their "little dog Checkers".

Tricia (1946- )

As a small child, their father then Vice-President, used their pet Checkers to deflect a scandal avout campaign funds. Tricia came to value her privacy and did not especially enjoy White House functions. She tutored inner-city children. She was, however, married in the White House Rose Garden in 1971. Her husband was Ed Cox, a corporate attorney in New York. Tricia became a housewife and devoted her energies to raising her son Christopher (1979- ) who is in Law School. She actively promotes medical reserch. Currently she and her sister have serious differences over their father's Presidential Library.

Julie (1948- )

Julie met Dwight David Eisenhower II, President Eisenhower's grandson, in the White House while still a child. Her father was Vice President at the time. Their marriage joined two of the most famoous American political families. Savid studied law and has become a respected historian. Julie wrote an interesting book about people she met whike acciompanying her father. She also wrote a biography ofher mother, Pat Nixon: The Untold Storu. They have three children: Jennie, Alex, and Melanie.

Final Years

Nixon was concerned about actually going to jail and developed plebitus. President Ford insured that this would not happen when he provide a full pardon. It was a brave action on Ford's part and probably cost him the 1976 election. Nixon as tempers cooled attempted to rehabilitate his tattered image. He lecturing in the United States and made several foreign trips. He published several books on U.S. foreign policy.


Ambrose, Stephen. Ambrose was a great admirer of Dwight Eisenhower and wrote an excellent biography of Ike. Perhps for that reason his publisher convinced him to do a biography of Nixon. It took some convincing because Ambrose disliked Nixon, but came to admire some of his qualities while working on the book.

Brinkley, Douglas and Luke Nichter. The Nixon Tapes (2014).

Hughes, Ken. Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watrgate (2014), 240p.

Wead, Doug. All the President's Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families (Atria: New York, 2003), 456p.


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Created: May 11, 2002
Last changed: 3:42 AM 7/20/2015