Richard Milhous Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th president of the United States (1969-1972), was born on January 9, 1913 in Yorba Linda, California. Nixon was one of the most controversial politicians of the twentieth century. He built his political career on the communist scare of the late forties and early fifties, but as president he achieved dtente with the Soviet Union and opened relations with the People’s Republic of China. His administration occurred during the domestic upheavals brought on by the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. He was re-elected in 1972 by an overwhelming margin, but less than two years later he was forced to become the first man to resign the presidency amid the scandal and shame of Watergate. He staged a difficult political comeback in 1968, after purportedly retiring from politics, and by the end of his life, he had shed some of the scourge of Watergate and was once again a respected elder statesman, largely because of his record on foreign policy. He died on February 22, 1994. His writings include three autobiographical works, Six Crises (1962), RN: the Memoirs of Richard Nixon (1978), and In the Arena (1990).
Early Political Career
Nixon came from a southern-California Quaker family, where hard work and integrity were deeply-rooted and heavily emphasized. Always a good student, he was invited by Harvard and Yale to apply for scholarships, but his older brother’s illness and the Depression made his presence close to home necessary, and he was attended nearby Whittier College, where he graduated second in his class in 1934. He went on to law school at Duke University, where his seriousness and determination won him the nickname “Gloomy Gus.” He graduated third in his class and applied for jobs with both large Northeastern law firms and the FBI His applications were all rejected, however, and he was forced to go home to southern California, where his mother helped get him a job at a friend’s local law firm.
At the outbreak of World War Two, Nixon went to work briefly for the tire-rationing section the Office of Price Administration in Washington, DC, and eight months later, he joined the Navy and was sent to the Pacific as a supply officer. He was popular with his men, and such an accomplished poker player that he was able to send enough of his comrades-in-arms’ money back home to help fund his first political campaign. Shortly after returning from the war, Nixon entered politics, answering a Republican party call in the newspaper for someone to run against the five-term Democratic Congressman, Jerry Voorhis. Nixon seemed the perfect man for the job, and he was welcomed generously by the California Republican party, who considered him “salable merchandise.”
The style of Nixon’s first campaign set the tone for the early part of his political career, where he achieved national renown as a fierce anti-Communist. He accused Congressman Voorhis of being a communist, and even went so far as to have campaign workers make anonymous calls to voters stating that as a fact and advising that a vote for Nixon was therefore the best move. This sort of straightforward communist-baiting was new at the time, and fear of the Soviet Union, who appeared to be spreading its influence throughout Asia (China fell to Mao Tse-tsung’s communist forces in 1949), made it a particularly persuasive tactic. “Of course I knew Jerry Voorhis wasn’t a communist,” Nixon later said, “but I had to win.”
Nixon defeated Voorhis with sixty percent of the vote, and upon taking his seat in Congress, he became the junior member of the infamous House Committee on un-American Activities. Nixon’s dogged pursuit of Alger Hiss, a former adviser to Franklin Roosevelt and one of the organizers of the United Nations, brought him national exposure. Hiss had been accused of being a communist and of transmitting secret State Department documents to the Soviets, and though many believed him innocent, Nixon fiercely pushed the case forward, eventually getting Hiss convicted of perjury and jailed. At the age of thirty-five, Nixon was a national figure, and he rode this fame to an easy victory in his senate race against three-term Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas in