Richard Milhous Nixon was born to Frank Nixon and Hannah Milhous Nixon on January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California, as their second of five children. His father ran a service station and a grocery store in Yorba Linda and a modest lemon farm. His mother was a devout Quaker who influenced her son greatly. Nixon’s childhood was difficult, as he put it: “We were weak, but the joy of it was we didn’t realize it.” Nixon’s family suffered tragedy twice during his childhood: his younger brother died in 1925 after a brief illness, and his older brother, whom he admired, died of tuberculosis in 1933.
Nixon began his high school years at Fullerton High School before transferring to Whittier High School, where he competed for student body president (but lost to a more popular student). In high school, Nixon was awarded second in class and was given a Harvard scholarship, but his family couldn’t cover the travel and living expenses. Instead of attending Harvard, Nixon enrolled at Whittier Academy, a Quaker school in his hometown. He established himself as a formidable debater, a star in college drama plays, and a competitive athlete. Nixon was an outstanding student who earned a scholarship to Duke University Law School in North Carolina after graduating second in his class at Whittier College. Nixon was unable to find employment on the East Coast after graduating from Duke in 1937, so he returned to Whittier and practiced as a small-town lawyer at Kroop & Brawley.
In a community theater performance, Nixon met his wife, Thelma Catherine Patricia “Pat” Ryan, where they were cast opposite one another. He married Pat on June 21, 1940, and they had two daughters, Tricia and Julie. A career as a small-town lawyer was insufficient for a man with Nixon’s ambition, so Nixon and Pat moved to Washington, D.C., in August 1942, where he took a position in Franklin Roosevelt’s Office of Price Administration.
Japan bombed the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, launching the U.S. into World War II. Despite his exemption from compulsory service as a Quaker and his work with the Office of Price Administration, he grew disillusioned with the New Deal’s big-government programs and bureaucratic red tape. He left public service for the United States Navy.
Nixon was entitled to qualify for a Quaker exemption from military service because he was a Quaker. He was dissatisfied with his job at the OPA, so he applied to the Navy and entered when he was 29 years old in August 1942. Nixon served in the South Pacific Combat Air Transport as a naval control officer.
About the fact that Nixon did not participate in combat during the war, he received two service stars and a citation of commendation and was subsequently promoted to lieutenant colonel. In January 1946, Nixon resigned his commission.
A party of Whittier Republicans contacted Nixon during his return to civilian life, who urged him to run for Congress. Nixon faced five-term liberal Democrat Jerry Voorhis in the election, but he rose to the occasion. Nixon’s campaign used Voorhis’s supposed communist sympathies. This strategy would recur throughout his political career, and it succeeded, helping Nixon gain a seat in the United States House of Representatives in November 1946. During his first term, Nixon was elected to the Select Committee on Foreign Aid and traveled to Europe to testify on the recently implemented Marshall Plan. Nixon soon made a name for himself as a foreign policy internationalist.
His anti-communist crusade during his time in the House of Representatives was well-known. Nixon became a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which investigated persons and organizations accused of having links to communism.
Nixon also played a role in the trial and arrest of Alger Hiss, a suspected founder of an underground communist group, for perjury. Nixon’s vigorous interrogation of Hiss at the HUAC hearing was instrumental in Hiss’ arrest and garnered media recognition for Nixon.
Eventually, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1950, defeating Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas. Helen had been a vocal critic of the anti-Communist scare and HUAC’s actions. Nixon’s campaign team used his past active campaign tactics to spread pink-paper leaflets that falsely portrayed Douglas’s voting record as left-wing. Nixon was dubbed “Tricky Dick” by The Independent Review, a minor Southern California publication, for his contributions. This dismissive moniker would stick with him for the remainder of his life.
As Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted to run for president of the Republican Party in 1952, he requested a running mate. Nixon was an excellent candidate because of his anti-communist stance and strong popularity in California.
During the race, Nixon was on the verge of being booted off the ticket after being accused of misusing an $18,000 campaign donation for personal expenses.
Nixon defended his dignity and dignity in a televised address remembered as the “Checkers” speech, delivered on September 23, 1952. Nixon joked that there was one person present he wouldn’t return: a little Cocker Spaniel puppy called “Checkers” by his 6-year-old daughter. Nixon was able to retain his seat on the ticket due to the success of his speech.
Eisenhower endured a string of ailments between 1955 and 1957, including a heart attack and a stroke. Despite having no institutional authority as vice president, Nixon extended the office to an effective and influential position over his two terms, possibly out of necessity. He helped secure the passage of Eisenhower-approved legislation, such as the 1957 Civil Rights Act, as President of the Senate. When Eisenhower was incapacitated, Nixon was asked to lead several high-level meetings, though real influence was concentrated in a small group of Eisenhower advisors. The health scares caused Eisenhower to formally negotiate with Nixon on the vice president’s rights and obligations in the case of presidential disability; all presidents adopted the compromise before ratifying the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1967.
President Eisenhower sent Nixon to Moscow in July 1959 for the opening of the American National Exhibition. Nixon paused at a model of an American kitchen and engaged Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev in an impromptu discussion on July 24 while visiting the exhibits with Khrushchev. Both men debated the virtues of capitalism and communism, respectively, as it concerned ordinary American and Soviet homemakers in a polite but determined manner.
After Eisenhower’s two terms in office were over, Nixon began his presidential campaign in 1960, successfully winning the Republican nomination. On the Democratic side, he faced Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, who ran on introducing a new wave of leadership to the White House.
For advertising, reporting, and public debates, the 1960 movement was the first to use the modern broadcasting medium. Citizens were allowed to watch the presidential race in real-time for the first time in American history.
Nixon opted to wear no lipstick, a poorly chosen gray coat, and came off as elderly and weary compared to the younger and more photogenic Kennedy in the first debate. The race stayed close throughout, but Kennedy defeated Nixon by 120,000 votes.
Between 1960 and 1968, Nixon wrote the best-selling book “Six Crises,” which detailed his role in six political crises. He later ran for governor of California but was defeated by Democratic incumbent Pat Brown.
Nixon declared his candidacy in 1967, just before the 1968 election, and comfortably secured the Republican nomination. Following Richard Nixon’s victory in the California primary on June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed. In a last-ditch effort to find a nominee, the Democratic Party nominated Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s vice president, to run against Nixon. As an independent candidate, Alabama Governor George Wallace entered the race.
Nixon was elected president by 500,000 popular votes in yet another close race. He was re-elected in 1972 in one of the most lopsided electoral wins in American history. Regrettably, Nixon was able to go to whatever length to secure his re-election.
Five men broke into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., on June 17, 1972, to install listening devices. Nixon’s team thought the machines would reveal secrets used against Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern.
Throughout the Watergate crisis, Nixon appeared adamant, saying on November 17, 1973, in a televised speech. Nixon gave his resignation speech from the Oval Office on August 8, 1974, after losing the Republican Party’s endorsement and facing impeachment. Nixon resigned from office at noon the following day, becoming the first president in U.S. history to do so.
Gerald R. Ford, Nixon’s vice president, was elected president. Nixon was given a “full, unconditional, and absolute pardon” by Ford on September 8, 1974, effectively ending the possibility of an indictment against him.
After his retirement, Nixon and his wife fled to the seclusion of their estate in San Clemente, California, where he spent several months depressed and disoriented. He gradually regrouped, and by 1977, he had started to form a public-relations revival. Nixon met with British commentator David Frost in August 1977 for a series of interviews in which he sent conflicting messages of regret and pride, never denying any wrongdoing. Though the discussions received negative ratings, they were widely watched and helped to improve Nixon’s public profile.
Pat, his wife, died of lung cancer on June 22, 1993. Nixon was devastated by the loss, and he died of a major stroke in New York City on April 22, 1994, just ten months after his wife died. Four past presidents joined President Bill Clinton in paying tribute to the 37th president. His body lay in state in the Nixon Library lobby, where an estimated 50,000 people queued for up to 18 hours in the pouring rain to pay their respects. He was laid to rest with his wife in Yorba Linda, California, where he was born.