The 37th President of the United States, Richard Milhous Nixon, was born on January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California. His parents were Frank and Hannah Milhous Nixon and he was the second born of five brothers. His father was a service station owner and grocer, who also owned a small lemon farm. His mother was a Quaker who exerted a strong influence on her son. His parents were in some ways opposites, Frank was as argumentative as Hannah was sweet-tempered.
Richard’s father sold the family home and lemon grove in 1922, and moved the family to nearby Whittier. Richard suffered two great losses in his youth, his younger brother died in 1925, and his older brother died of tuberculosis in 1933.
In 1930 Richard finished 3rd in his high school class and won numerous awards, including the Harvard Club California award for outstanding all-around student, which earned him a scholarship to Harvard University. His family couldn’t afford the travel and living expenses so Richard attended the local Whittier College.
At Whittier College Richard was elected student body president, and became the founder and elected president of the Orthogonians fraternity, a men’s club that wore open-necked shirts to represent, “athletes and men who were working their way through school,”instead of the Franklins, who wore tuxedos. He also joined the debate team, acted in several plays, and was on the football team.
In 1937 Richard attended Duke University Law School on a scholarship and after graduation returned to Whitter, took the California bar, and was hired by the city’s oldest law firm. He did apply for a job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation but his scholastic achievements weren’t good enough.
Richard was trying out for the play, Dark Tower, with the Whittier Community Players when he met Thelma Catherine (“Pat”) Ryan, a teacher and amateur actress. He fell romantically in love with her and the couple married on June 21, 1940 at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California. They eventually had two daughters, Patricia (Tricia) and Julie.
In 1942 he began to work as an attorney at the Office for Price Administration (OPA) in Washington D.C. and the small-town lawyer witnessed the problems of government bureaucracy. The experience greatly influenced the policies he would later develop during his political career. He left public service and joined the U.S. Navy to serve as an aviation ground officer in the Pacific. Richard saw no combat, but did develop a skill for poker, which quickly became a great diversion while on active duty. He returned to the United States with two service stars and several commendations. He eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant commander before resigning his commission in January 1946 after being urged by Republican leaders in Whittier to run for the United States House of Representatives. The large amounts of money he won playing poker while on active duty helped him fund his first political campaign.
As a campaigner, Richard mastered “The Denigrative Method” or what others call, “negative campaigning.” He attacked his opponents, sometimes unscrupulously, always effectively. His first campaign set the pattern with Richard saying that his opponent, Democratic Congressman Jerry Voorhis, was a communist sympathizer. It worked and Richard was elected to represent California’s 12th district in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Richard ran for the Senate in 1950 against Helen Gahagan Douglas in a campaign that resonated his race with Voorhis. This time, Richard’s campaign staff distributed flyers on pink paper unfairly distorting Douglas’s voting record as left-wing. Richard won a seat in the Senate and a permanent nickname, “Tricky Dick.”
On July 11, 1952 the Republican National Convention accepted Dwight Eisenhower’s choice of Richard Nixon as his Vice Presidential running mate. Two months before the November election, the New York Post reported that Nixon had a secret “slush fund” provided by campaign donors for his personal use. Some within Eisenhower’s campaign called for removing Richard from the ticket but he realized that he might not win without Richard. On September 23, 1952 Eisenhower gave Richard a chance to clear himself and he delivered a nationally televised address in which he acknowledged the existence of the fund but denied that any of it had been used improperly. He turned the speech back on his political enemies, stating that unlike the wives of so many Democratic politicians, his wife, Pat, did not own a fur coat but only “a respectable Republican cloth coat.” The speech is best remembered for its conclusion in which Richard admitted accepting one political gift, a cocker spaniel that his 6 year old daughter, named “Checkers.” The public responded positively to what became known as the “Checkers Speech.”
On November 4, 1952 General Eisenhower was elected President of the United States, and Richard was elected as his Vice President. The following spring President Eisenhower sent Richard and Pat on a two month trip over 30 countries throughout Asia and the Middle East.
President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in September 1955 and between 1955 and 1957 Richard presided over regular Cabinet and National Security Council meetings. As president of the Senate, he helped ensure the passage of Eisenhower approved bills, such as the 1957 Civil Rights Bill. The health scares prompted Eisenhower to formalize an agreement with Richard on the powers and responsibilities of the Vice President in the event he became disabled.
In the 1960 presidential campaign Richard ran for President against Senator John F. Kennedy and was really the first time television was used for advertisements, news interviews and policy debates. Kennedy’s youthful and confident appearance was no match for Richard during the televised debates. Post-debate polls indicated that TV viewers believed Kennedy had won the debates but radio listeners indicated that they thought Richard had won. Richard lost the presidential election by only 120,000 votes, Kennedy received 303 of the Electoral College votes to Richard’s 219 votes.
Richard wrote his book Six Crises in 1961 and in 1962 ran for governor of California. He lost and his critics wrote his political obituary. He held his “last press conference,” and told reporters,“You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.”
After the California election, Richard moved his family to New York City and continued to practice law. He agonized whether to reenter politics and go for another run at the presidency and formally announced his candidacy on February 1, 1968. President Lyndon Johnson announced on March 31 that he would not seek another term and Richard was nominated as the Republican candidate for President on August 8, 1968.
On November 8, 1968 Richard was elected President of the United States, beating Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace in the general election by nearly 500,000 votes. He was inaugurated as the 37th President on January 20, 1969, stating in his inaugural address, “The greatest honor that history can bestow is the title of peacemaker.”
When Richard took office, 300 American soldiers were dying weekly in Vietnam. The Johnson administration had escalated the war to involve over 500,000 American troops and by 1969 the United States was spending between $60 and $80 million per day on the war. The American people were bitterly divided over the War, women marched for equal rights and racial violence rocked the nation’s cities.
When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, on July 20, 1969 Richard made the longest long distance phone call in history. Elvis Presley also requested to meet Richard in the Oval Office of the White House, on December 21, 1970 they discussed ways in which he could use his celebrity to help fight drug use in America.
Domestically, Richard also increased the number of female appointments in his administration, created a Presidential Task Force on Women’s Rights, ordered the Department of Labor to add sex discrimination guidelines to all federal contracts, and requested the Department of Justice to bring sex-discrimination suits against blatant violators.
Richard peacefully and effectively ended school segregation. The program was well accepted by the states, by the end of 1970 only about 18 percent of black children in the South were attending all-black schools, down from 70 percent in 1968.
In December 1970, Richard reduced trade restrictions against China. In February 1972, Richard and Pat traveled to China, to talk with Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader. The visit ushered in a new era of Chinese-American relations and pressured the Soviet Union to agree to better relations with the United States. Three months later Richard traveled to the Soviet Union and with Premier Leonid Brezhnev signed the agreement on the limitation of strategic arms.
On November 7, 1972 Richard was re-elected by the largest majority in American history, winning 49 out 50 states, nearly 61 percent of the popular vote. Within a few months, the Nixon administration was embattled over the Watergate scandal involving the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices during the 1972 campaign. A number of officials resigned, but Richard denied any personal involvement.
Vice President Spiro T. Agnew was implicated in unrelated scandals and resigned in 1973. Richard nominated, and Congress approved, House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford as Vice President.
Declaring his intention to achieve “peace with honor” in Vietnam, Richard introduced a strategy known as Vietnamization, which called for gradually withdrawing American troops from the war while training South Vietnamese army forces to take over their own defense. In January 1973, the Nixon administration reached a peace agreement with Communist North Vietnam. The POWs returned home from Vietnam in February 1973, and the last American combat troops left Vietnam in March. On May 24, 1973, Richard and Pat hosted a dinner at the White House for all the POWs.
During an emotional televised press conference in November 1973, Richard famously declared, “I’m not a crook.” He claimed executive privilege, and refused to release White House tape recordings that allegedly revealed details to sabotage political opponents and disrupt the FBI’s investigation. Richard eventually released 1,200 pages of transcripts of conversations between him and White House aides but still refused to release them.
The House Judiciary Committee, controlled by Democrats, opened impeachment hearings in May 1974. The Supreme Court denied Richard’s claim of executive privilege and ruled that all tape recordings must be released to the special prosecutor. One of the recordings confirmed the allegations of the cover-up and stated that Richard knew from the beginning.
Faced with what seemed almost certain impeachment, Richard announced his decision to resign as President of the United States on August 8, 1974. The following day the Nixon family bid farewell to White House staff and returned to their San Clemente, California home. He spent several months distraught and disoriented but began forming a public-relations comeback in 1977.
Ford’s pardon of Richard angered many in the public who felt that he should have been held accountable for any crimes he might have committed. Richard was reluctant at first to accept the pardon because it implied guilt but his friends and advisers warned him that any legal battle would be protracted and expensive. Ford’s decision probably cost him reelection in 1976 and he told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that, “I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon.”
Richard spent over $1 million defending himself in various lawsuits relating to Watergate and owed back taxes so he agreed to write his memoirs for more than $2 million, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon was a best seller. He also gave an interview to British television personality David Frost for $600,000 in the summer of 1977. Over 45 million people watch the interview and it became the most-ever watched political interview in history.
Richard continued to write books, his third book The Real War, influenced President Reagan’s foreign policy. He remained an acknowledged expert on foreign policy, gave countless speeches around the world; His other books include, Leaders (1982), Real Peace (1983), No More Vietnams (1985), 1999: Victory without War (1988), In the Arena (1990), Seize the Moment (1992), andBeyond Peace (1994).
In 1980, the Richard and Pat moved to New York City and then two years later they moved to Saddle River, New Jersey. He and Pat spent considerable time with their children and grandchildren.
Richard and a group of his friends raised more than $20 million to establish the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation in Yorba Linda, California. When it was dedicated in 1990, former Presidents Ford and Reagan and President Bush all attended along with 50,000 friends and supporters.
First Lady Pat Nixon died of lung cancer at home in Park Ridge, New Jersey, on June 22, 1993 at the age of 81, she was laid to restfour days later at the Nixon Library.
Richard took the loss of his wife hard, just 10 months after her death, on April 22, 1994, Richard Nixon died of a massive stroke at the age of 81. President Bill Clinton was joined by four former presidents and an estimated 50,000 to pay homage to the 37th president when he was buried beside his wife at his birthplace, in Yorba Linda, California.
President Bill Clinton’s eulogy dwelled on Nixon’s great accomplishments, particularly in foreign affairs, rather than on his constitutional crimes, remarking “May the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close.”
Nixon finished his tenth book, Beyond Peace, before he passed, it was published posthumously.
In 2007, the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum opened in Yorba Linda as part of the federal presidential libraries system. Nixon’s presidential papers and tapes are now located in both Maryland and California.
Richard Nixon Quotes
“Remember, always give your best. Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you. But those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”
“A man is not finished when he’s defeated he’s finished when he quits.”
“I had never expected that the China initiative would come to fruition in the form of a Ping-Pong team.” (On first friendly overture by People’s Republic of China)
“I took a look around the office. … I walked out and closed the door behind me. I knew that I would not be back there again.” (On leaving the Executive Office Building)
“Violence or the threat of violence must never be permitted to influence the actions or judgments of the university community. Once it does, the community, almost by definition, ceases to be a university. It is for this reason that from time immemorial expulsion has been the primary instrument of university discipline.”
“While technically I did not commit a crime, an impeachable offense… these are legalisms, as far as the handling of this matter is concerned it was so botched up, I made so many bad judgments. The worst ones, mistakes of the heart, rather than the head. But let me say, a man in that top job – he’s got to have a heart, but his head must always rule his heart.”
“Your mind must always go, even while you’re shaking hands and going through all the maneuvers. I developed the ability long ago to do one thing while thinking about another.”
“Sure there are dishonest men in local government. But there are dishonest men in national government too.”
“I gave ’em a sword. And they stuck it in, and they twisted it with relish. And I guess if I had been in their position, I’d have done the same thing.”
“The antiwar movement is a wild orgasm of anarchists sweeping across the country like a prairie fire.”
“The greatness comes not when things go always good for you. But the greatness comes when you’re really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes. Because only if you’ve been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”
“Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much.”
“You’re so goddamned concerned about the civilians, and I don’t give a damn. to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on civilian casualties in Vietnam”
“So you are lean and mean and resourceful and you continue to walk on the edge of the precipice because over the years you have become fascinated by how close you can walk without losing your balance.”
“I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is opposed to every instinct in my body. But as president I must put the interests of America first … Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.”
“I wish I could give you a lot of advice, based on my experience of winning political debates. But I don’t have that experience. My only experience is at losing them.”
“My strong point, if I have a strong point, is performance. I always do more than I say. I always produce more than I promise.”
“Well, I’m not a crook.”
“’Good luck, Mr President,’ I said to him. ‘As I told you when I named you, I know the country is going to be in good hands with you in the Oval Office.’”
“Any lady who is first lady likes being first lady. I don’t care what they say, they like it.”
“As this long and difficult war ends, I would like to address a few special words to … the American people Your steadfastness in supporting our insistence on peace with honor has made peace with honor possible.” (On the Vietnam War)
“Because of what you have done the heavens have become a part of man’s world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquillity, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and Tranquillity to Earth. For one priceless moment, in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one. One in their pride in what you have done. One in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”
“By taking this action, I hope that I will have hastened the start of the healing.”
“Certainly in the next 50 years we shall see a woman president, perhaps sooner than you think. A woman can and should be able to do any political job that a man can do.”
“Get a good night’s sleep and don’t bug anybody without asking me.” (To re-election campaign manager Clark MacGregor)
“I believe in the battle-whether it’s the battle of a campaign or the battle of this office, which is a continuing battle.”
“I brought myself down. I impeached myself by resigning.”
“I can see clearly now … that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate…”
“I can take it… The tougher it gets, the cooler I get…”
“I have impeached myself by resigning.”
“I hereby resign this office of president of the United States.”
“I let the American people down.”
“I turned into the helicopter … the red carpet was rolled up. … The White House was behind us now.”
“I want you to stonewall it.” (To staff on news of break-in at Watergate)
“I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but I’d bet the main house. I wouldn’t even bet the outhouse on Mondale.”
“I’d rather use the nuclear bomb…Does that bother you I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christ’s sake. to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on escalating the Vietnam War”
“I’ve analyzed the best I can … and I have not found an impeachable offense, and therefore resignation is not an acceptable course.”
“If an individual wants to be a leader and isn’t controversial, that means he never stood for anything.”
“If I were to make public these tapes, containing blunt and candid remarks on many different subjects, the confidentiality of the office of the president would always be suspect.”
“If we take the route of the permanent handout, the American character will itself be impoverished.” (Proposal to reform welfare programs)
“If you want to make beautiful music, you must play the black and the white notes together.”
“It is not too strong a statement to declare that this is the way civilizations begin to die … None of us has the right to suppose it cannot happen here.”
“It’s a piece of cake until you get to the top. You find you can’t stop playing the game the way you’ve always played it.”
“Look at the Justice Department, it’s full of Jews…The lawyers in government are damn Jews.”
“My concern today is not with the length of a person’s hair but with his conduct.” (On campus radicals)
“My own view is that taping of conversations for historical purposes was a bad decision on the part of all the presidents. I don’t think Kennedy should have done it. I don’t think Johnson should have done it, and I don’t think we should have done it.”
“My strong point is not rhetoric, it isn’t showmanship, it isn’t big promises-those things that create the glamour and the excitement that people call charisma and warmth.”
“My telephone calls and meetings and decisions were now parts of a prescribed ritual aimed at making peace with the past his calls, his meetings and his decisions were already the ones that would shape America’s future.” (On transfer of power to Gerald R Ford)
“My view is that one should not break up a winning combination.”
“No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.”
“Once you get into this great stream of history, you can’t get out.”
“People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I earned everything I’ve got.”
“Success is not a harbor but a voyage with its own perils to the spirit The lesson that most of us on this voyage never learn, but can never quite forget, is that to win is sometimes to lose.”
“The 1976 Bicentennial is not going to be invented in Washington, printed in triplicate by the Government Printing Office and mailed to you by the United States Postal Service.”
“The game of life is to come up a winner, to be a success, or to achieve what we set out to do. Yet there is always the danger of failing as a human being.”
“The memory of that scene for me is like a frame of film forever frozen at that moment the red carpet, the green lawn, the white house, the leaden sky. … The new president and his first lady.”
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
“The presidency has many problems, but boredom is the least of them.”
“The student who invades an administration building, roughs up a dean, rifles the files and issues ‘non-negotiable demands’ may have some of his demands met by a permissive university administration. But the greater his ‘victory’ the more he will have undermined the security of his own rights.”
“There are some people, you know, they think the way to be a big man is to shout and stomp and raise hell-and then nothing ever really happens. I’m not like that … I never shoot blanks.”
“There is a time to be timid. There is a time to be conciliatory. There is a time, even, to fly and there is a time to fight. And I’m going to fight like hell.” (On Congressional moves toward impeachment)
“There will be no whitewash in the White House.” (On Watergate investigation)
“This is a burden I shall bear for every day of the life that is left to me.”
“This is the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation.” (Saluting crew of the Apollo 11)
“Tonight-to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans-I ask for your support.” (On his Vietnam War policy)
“Under the doctrine of separation of powers, the manner in which the president personally exercises his assigned executive powers is not subject to questioning by another branch of government.”
“Unless a president can protect the privacy of the advice he gets, he cannot get the advice he needs.”
“We are all in it together. This is a war. We take a few shots and it will be over. We will give them a few shots and it will be over.”
“What starts the process, really, are laughs and slights and snubs when you are a kid. … If your anger is deep enough and strong enough, you learn that you can change those attitudes by excellence, personal gut performance.”
“When I retire I’m going to spend my evenings by the fireplace going through those boxes. There are things in there that ought to be burned.”
“When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
“Who are you going to shoot joking with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst about creating an opening on the Supreme court.”
“You must pursue this investigation of Watergate even if it leads to the president. I’m innocent. You’ve got to believe I’m innocent. If you don’t, take my job.”
“You see these bums, you know, blowing up campuses … storming around about this issue.” (On student protesters against Vietnam War)
The Richard Nixon Foundation
He Was a Crook – HUNTER S. THOMPSON
Watergate: The Scandal That Brought Down Richard Nixon
Books By Richard Nixon
The Real War
No More Vietnams
1999: Victory without War
In the Arena
Seize the Moment
Books by other authors
Richard Nixon: The Life
Nixon’s Secrets: The Rise, Fall, and Untold Truth about the President, Watergate, and the Pardon
Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full