University of Georgia Special Collections Libraries

THE NIXON/GANNON INTERVIEWS

< Back to Nixon/Gannon Interviews

Richard Nixon: A Short Biography

Richard Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California in 1913, one of five boys born to Francis and Hannah Nixon. While growing up, Nixon worked in a gas station and general store owned by his father and mother. On the basis of early talent, he spent six month living in Northern California in order to take piano lessons from his Aunt Jane, who was an accomplished pianist. Later, he was noted for his oratory and debating skills at Whittier High School. While attending Whittier College, he played on the football team and was elected president of the student body. Graduating summa cum laude in 1934, Nixon was awarded a scholarship to attend Duke University Law School. After graduating from Duke in 1937, he returned to Whittier, California, to practice law. While in Whittier, Nixon took an interest in amateur theater and landed the lead role in the play The Dark Tower. It was during this production that he met Thelma Catherine "Pat" Ryan, his future wife.

Shortly before Pearl Harbor, Nixon had moved to Washington, D.C. to begin working in the tire-rationing section of the Office of Price Administration. Seven months later he volunteered for the U.S. Navy and attended Officer Training School at Newport, Rhode Island. Lieut. Commander Nixon’s first duty station was in Ottumwa, Iowa, and then he was sent to the South Pacific where he worked setting up bases for the Air Transport Command. After World War II, Nixon returned to the United States and began his political career by defeating the incumbent Jerry Voorhis in the race for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 1947 Nixon was appointed to the Labor and Education Committee, where he helped shape the Taft-Hartley Labor Law. He was also appointed to the Committee on Un-American Activities, and in this capacity he became the leading figure in the investigation of Alger Hiss, a State Department official accused of being a Communist spy. Whittaker Chambers, a former Time magazine senior editor, testified that Hiss gave him secret State Department records. Chambers hid some of the microfilmed in a hollowed-out pumpkin on his Maryland farm (hence the popular nickname for the documents it contained, the Pumpkin Papers) before showing it to Nixon and congressional investigators as evidence that Hiss was a spy. This espionage case brought Richard Nixon and the issue of anticommunism to national attention.

In 1950, Nixon continued to advance his career as a politician by defeating Democratic Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas for the United States Senate, and in 1952 he was nominated to be Dwight Eisenhower's running mate. He ran into some difficulty when he was accused of accepting money from a secret political fund. In response, Nixon gave the a televised address in which he disclosed his complete financial worth. He stated that the only gift he had accepted was sent by train from a Texas admirer --- a black-and-white cocker spaniel (named Checkers by his daughter Tricia) that had become the family pet. The Checkers Speech became famous and saved Nixon's place as Dwight Eisenhower's running mate. In 1953, he was sworn in as nation’s the second youngest vice president. Nixon went on to serve a second term as vice president with the re-election of Eisenhower in 1956.

During the second term, after Eisenhower suffered a stroke, he formalized an agreement with Nixon regarding the responsibilities and power of the vice president in various situations of presidential incapacity; this agreement eventually became the Twenty-fifth Amendment. During his vice presidency, Nixon traveled all around the world, including such places as Austria and Germany, to inspect the Hungarian refugee crisis; the Soviet Union, where he had a testy and widely seen confrontation with Soviet Premier Khrushchev in the model house at an American exhibition (the “kitchen debate”); and South America, where he was met with angry mobs throwing stones at his car. He arrived back in the US to a hero's welcome.

Nixon ran for the presidency in 1960 against John Kennedy and lost. In 1962 he ran for governor of California but lost that race as well. Upon this second defeat, he moved to New York and joined a law firm.

Nixon at last won the presidency in 1968 and was re-elected in 1972. His administration gave considerable attention to the needs of low-income families, the disabled, and the elderly, which included improvements to food stamps, health insurance, and cost of living. His administration was responsible for the desegregation of schools in the south and for the first "Affirmative Action" plan and provided additional funding for the Equal Rights Opportunity Commission."

After years of negotiations between Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s National Security advisor, and North Vietnamese foreign minister Le Duc Tho, fighting finally ended in Vietnam in January 1973.

Perhaps Nixon's most noteworthy achievement as President sprang from his visits to China. Nixon sent Kissinger to open up positive relations with China, which eventually improved relations with the Soviet Union. Nixon then traveled to Moscow, which resulted in the signing of formal agreements, the most important being the nuclear-arms limitation (SALT) treaties.

The Watergate scandal begin in 1972 with the illegal activities by Nixon’s re-election campaign relating to illegal entry and wiretapping at the headquarters of the Democratic Party at the Watergate office in Washington, D.C. As a result of this incident and the attempt to cover it up, other scandals were uncovered throughout the administration. Finally, after enduring almost two years of investigations and hearings culminating in impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, on August 9, 1974, Nixon became the first President in U.S. history to resign his office. He was succeeded by Gerald Ford, the Vice President he had appointed after the resignation (also because of a scandal) of his elected running-mate Spiro Agnew.

Richard and Pat Nixon raised two daughters, Julie and Tricia. In 1968, Julie married Dwight Eisenhower's grandson David; they have raised three children, Jenny, Alexander, and Melanie. In a White House wedding in 1971, Tricia married Edward Cox; they have raised one child, Christopher.

After his resignation, Nixon retired to his home in California and wrote numerous books, including RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (1978), Beyond Peace (1994), and Leaders (1982). In 1979 he moved to New York, where he continued to write. Four days after suffering a stroke, Richard Nixon died on April 22, 1994.

 

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.

 
Nixon, Richard. Richard M. Nixon, 1913 : chronology, documents, bibliographical aids.
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. : Oceana Publications, 1975.

 

< Back to Nixon/Gannon Interviews