President Richard Nixon

1913 - 1994

The Road to the Presidency

Upbringing/Early Life:

  • Richard Milhous Nixon was born the second of five sons of Francis and Hannah Nixon on January 9th, 1913 in Yorba Linda California. From the onset, Richard was a quiet, deeply intelligent boy with a peculiar introverted awkwardness about him.
  • Nixon's life from the start was not one of extravagance. He and his brothers helped his father tend their ranch, but in 1922 it failed due to the nationwide agricultural decline of the decade. The Nixon family then moved to Whittier, California, where Francis Nixon opened a small grocery store/gas station, and where Richard spent the rest of his adolescent life.
  • Hannah Nixon was a strict, evangelical Quaker. Thus, she instilled her sons Quaker observances, specifically restraint from violence, swearing and alcohol. Though not loving in the physical sense, Nixon often described her in his memoirs as "a Quaker saint." The softer, more withdrawn aspects of Nixon's personality likely have stemmed from Hannah. She was a tremendously strong women, as two of her children died during their childhoods, but she fought despair for the sake of her remaining boys.
  • Francis Nixon, on the other hand, was nearly the opposite of Hannah. Historians often describe him as mean-spirited, psychologically and sometimes physically abusing his sons. He had a deep interest in politics, which may have influenced Richard to enter the world of politics.
  • Nixon excelled as a student, graduating third in his class of 207 students, and was formally tutored in debate, leading to many championship victories. Nixon suffered his first political defeat during his junior year when he ran for Whittier Student Body President.
  • Nixon would be offered a scholarship to Harvard University, but was forced to attend Whittier College due to his brother Harold's medical bills putting financial stress on the family. There, Nixon played basketball and football. Though relatively unknown, coach Wallace Newman may have been a very influential force in Nixon's political philosophy.
  • "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser"
  • During his time at Whittier was rejected from the only male literary society, the Franklins. This rejection deeply angered Nixon, as the Franklins were primarily members of prosperous and influential families. This, in addition to his inability to attend a prestigious university such as Harvard, began Nixon's self-image as a champion of the "unheard majority" of middle-to-lower-class citizens that didn't have the same privileges as those fed by silver spoons. He founded the Orthogonian Society, which was comprised of students that were forced to work for their keep.
  • Nixon's hard work at college, leadership of the Orthogonian Society, and his status as a champion debater made for an impressive, if reserved, young man. In 1934, Nixon received a full scholarship to attend the Duke University School of Law, a new institution at the time. There he was elected president of the Duke Bar Association and graduated third in his class in 1937.
Early Adulthood:

  • After graduating and passing the California bar exam, Nixon was hired by Whittier's oldest law firm, and became partner in a year due to his incredible intelligence and work ethic.
  • Nixon met Thelma "Pat" Ryan, at a tryout for a play. They were cast as opposite lead roles, and Nixon described their meeting as love at first sight. Ryan was more hesitant, and extended courtship for two years before accepting his proposal. On June 21st, 1940, they were married.
  • After the Pearl Harbor attack, Nixon moved to Washington D.C., where he worked as an OPA attorney. He didn't much enjoy the job, and by August of the same year he became a U.S. Navy officer.
  • As a birthright Quaker, Nixon had the option and right to be exempted from the draft.
  • He began as a lieutenant junior grade in the US Navy, but his work ethic propelled him to lieutenant commander before he was relieved of active duty in the March of 1946. The same year his daughter Tricia was born.

  • Jerry Voorhis, a dominant Democratic Congressman of the Californian 12th congressional district, was deemingly unstoppable. Republicans searched for a strong character that may be able to defeat him. A family friend from Whittier recommended him, and after meeting with Nixon the committee was on board. Thus began Richard Nixon's fruitful political career.
  • Nixon's was an innovator in negative campaigning, alleging that Voorhis's financial endorsement groups were linked to communists, a tool that would be very powerful in his arsenal. Nixon won the election with 65,586 votes to 49,994.
  • Nixon gained national attention in 1948 when his investigation as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee led to Alger Hiss being convicted of perjury. This attention allowed Nixon to easily win his next congressional election. Nixon's daughter Julie was also born this year.
  • In the 1949 bid for a spot on the US Senate, Nixon faced against Helen Gahagan Douglas. His suggestion that her liberal voting record was eerily similar to that of a suspected communist led to his lasting nickname, "Tricky Dicky." Nixon won the election by nearly 20 percentage points.
  • In 1952, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was nominated for the Republican candidate, and he selected Richard Nixon as his Vice President, as recommended by his party. Nixon's large home state would help Eisenhower, and his anti-communist stance was hard to argue against.
  • Crisis struck when them media had learned that Nixon was being reimbursed by his backers for political expenses. Though legal, it seemingly compromised Nixon's interests, and support began for him to resign as Eisenhower's VP.
  • In response, Nixon gave one of the most memorable speeches in American history. In it he claimed that his donors support for him was a one-way street; there was no compensation. He described himself as a patriot of humble beginnings. His anecdote about his daughter's dog Checkers endeared the American public, forever branding this speech as the Checkers Speech.
  • The speech was a success, and General Eisenhower was elected with Nixon as his vice.
  • Nixon could be considered the first modern VP. Eisenhower gave Nixon more responsibilities as any other, likely due to Nixon's asking. Nixon was a work-a-holic, desperate to prove himself to the public. He attended meetings of National Security and the Cabinet, and made a tour of the Far East, leading to Nixon seeing the economic potential of the region.
  • In the September of 1955, President Eisenhower suffered a stroke and was out of commission for six weeks. With the 25th Amendment not yet in place, Nixon was not acting President. However, he kept the Cabinet and other councils running smoothly, trying to keep the nation calm. Nixon became well respected for his management of the Eisenhower scare. The two would run again in 1956, and would be reelected.
  • During the second term, Nixon convinced an indecisive Eisenhower to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1957 that showed Congressional support for the desegregation of schools.
  • In 1959 Nixon toured the American National Exhibition in Moscow with Soviet Premier Khrushchev. In the middle of this tour the two began a discussion about the benefits and problems with capitalism and communism. Nixon's ability to hold his own against Khrushchev in the Kitchen Debate displayed his own strength as a world leader.
The First Fall From Grace:

  • In the 1960 election, Nixon won the Republican nomination only to face off against John F. Kennedy, a wealthy businessman/politician Joseph Kennedy. Kennedy claimed the Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed for the Soviets to acquire more ballistic missiles than America, while Nixon campaigned primarily through portraying himself as a steady, experienced, and proven leader.
  • Historians often cite the introduction of televised debates as a detriment to the awkward and serious Nixon and a boon to the photogenic, handsome Kennedy. Kennedy went on to win the election by a mere 120,000 votes, nearly .2%.
  • There were allegations of voting fraud in Texas and Illinois, states in which Kennedy won, but Nixon denied the chance to contest the election. He realized that it would selfishly harm the interests of the United States.
  • In 1962 Nixon ran for California governor, only to lose. He moved to New York where he once again became a lawyer, this time at the Wall Street Law Firm. Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, and Alexander.
  • Nixon campaigned tirelessly during his time of "political retirement" for the Republican party, trying to return to power in a time of Democratic candidate dominance.


Nixon was an incredibly hard worker from early on his childhood. As one child of five, two of which were often deadly ill, Nixon did not receive an adequate amount of attention. Nixon was only able to receive this positive attention through accomplishment. Because Nixon was extraordinary athletically, he began to strive for excellence intellectually. However, when his older brother Harold become extremely ill for nearly a decade, Francis and Hannah Nixon were forced to tend to him rather than their other children. Harold's financial strain even kept Nixon from attending Harvard.

Nixon's modest beginnings made it apparent to him the disparity between wealthy and poor, and not just from an economic standpoint. He saw firsthand the way those outside of the wealthy social circles were rejected from his encounter with the Franklins. He became a champion of the middle-class to prove to himself and others that you didn't have to born in fortunate circumstances to attain great heights, as shown by this defining quote for Nixon's inner motivations:

"...what starts the process really are laughs and slights and snubs when you are a kid...But if you are reasonably intelligent and if your anger is deep enough and strong enough, you learn that you can change those attitudes by excellence, personal gut performance, while those who have everything are sitting on their fat butts..."

Nixon knew that even though he was the son of a poor farmer and a simple Quaker mother, he could achieve the American Dream and become successful as long as he worked hard enough. Unfortunately, Nixon never paused to think about the morality of his hard work. Nixon's negative, arguably dirty campaign tactics were successful in combination with his intense intellect, political skill, and rhetorical mastery, but Nixon clearly believed that the ends justified the means. This line of thinking continued even when Nixon acquired the pinnacle of political power, the Presidency. Nixon found that politics was "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." The duality of Nixon eventually ruined him. Nixon's simultaneous belief in the American Dream and willingness to bypass respectable politics and even the law led him along the path of destruction.

President Nixon

  • Nixon's Presidency included many firsts, including the longest distance phone call in history, between himself, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin. Nixon presided over the only successful manned moon landings in human history.
  • In 1969 Nixon established his foreign policy philosophy, nicknamed the Nixon Doctrine. He believed that the United States actions should be directed only by their national interests and commitments to their allies.
  • In 1970 Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act, which initiated the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Mammal Marine Protection Act.
  • Nixon peacefully ended segregation in southern school, a monumental progression for African American rights.
  • Nixon increased bombings on Cambodia in an effort to show the lengths that he was willing to go to win the Vietnam War. The method was ineffective and only led to massive civilian Vietnamese bloodshed.
  • With the help of Henry Kissinger, Nixon was able to open up economic relations with the previously isolated People's Republic of China. This prompted Soviets to become more open to peaceful negotiations in the midst of the Cold War. Kissinger began to take an extremely active role in foreign policy, and was incredibly influential in the limitation of strategic arms with the Soviet Union.
  • In 1972 Nixon was re-elected, winning 49/50 states, the largest victory in American history. This shows just how supported he was at the time.
  • In 1973, public disapproval and an inability to make significant progress in the war led to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, which freed all American POVs in exchange for military withdrawal. Shortly after Nixon ended the practice of the draft, which was widely controversial.
  • On June 17th, 1972, a burglary attempt at the Watergate hotel in Washington at the Democratic Party's National Committee marked the beginning of the end for Nixon. Nixon's denial of involvement in the the act of political espionage backfired when it was revealed that the White House had been bugged. Though he attempted to keep the tapes out of the public view, Congress eventually gained damning evidence through the tapes.
  • Media coverage of the Watergate scandal proved constant and disastrous for Nixon's public Nixon. Knowing that with Congress in control of the White House tapes impeachment was assured, Nixon resigned from the Presidency. He was pardoned by President Ford.
  • Nixon went on to advise five different presidents throughout his life and continued to develop his memoirs, completing ten by the time of his death on April 22nd, 1994.

Campaign Slogan/Speech Analysis

"If I'm a Crook, What Is She?"

If Nixon was the Republican Presidential nominee today, this would be an effective campaign slogan against the current democratic front runner, Hilary Clinton. It references Clinton's many scandals, such as Benghazi and her use of a public e-mail not subject to government supervision.

Nixon's Resignation Speech Annotations:

Most Effective Rhetorical Devices: Appeal to Sense of National Unity

A common rhetorical device in addresses to American audience is to appeal to their patriotism through loaded language, often in reference to growth of the nation socially, politically, or economically. Nixon's diction is very inclusive, addressing the American viewers as "you" and when referencing the nation he refers to it as "we" to influence the audience to feel a sense of solidarity with him. In the latter part of his resignation speech, Nixon discusses the many foreign policy successes of his administration, and through the previously discussed use of "we" entices the audience to view his terms positively. He only directly mentions Watergate once, despite it being the principle event that triggered his resignation. This all relates to Nixon's purpose, to influence the American public's perception of his legacy in a positive way.

Book Review Trailer

Evan Thomas' Being Nixon: A Man Divided approaches Nixon's life uniquely in relation to other biographies. The novel's purpose is to investigate Nixon's mind, and the many influences that caused his unending desire to get ahead by whatever means necessary. The biography attributes this desire to prove himself to the world as one of the main causes for his ruthlessness in political campaigns and his tendency to take political shortcuts. Thomas' evaluation of Nixon on a psychological level was extremely intriguing, and the best parts of the biography are when he delves into Nixon's inner-workings. Overall, Being Nixon: A Man Divided is a pleasing and unique biographical experience for its outlining of the progression of Nixon's psyche as his life progressed.


"What Did Richard Nixon Learn" -Howard Zinn

In “What Did Richard Nixon Learn,” Howard Zinn responds to former President Nixon’s memoir: No More Vietnams and its purpose to involve the United States in Central American conflicts. Nixon claims that the Vietnamese people’s lives suffered as a result of the United States removing its military presence, and therefore his only monumental mistake of the Vietnam War was withdrawal. Zinn rebuts strongly, arguing that the United States severe disregard for its damage to Vietnamese agriculture, environment, and infrastructure occurred in order to protect the tyrannical dictatorship in place in Saigon. Americans often justified foreign conflict since World War II as necessary to stimulate righteous self-determination in the wake of festering communism. However, the United States intended to restore France's colonial influence in Vietnam, rather than allow the people to govern. The United States’ involvement brought about nothing but destruction to Vietnam, yet Nixon refuses to acknowledge the war as one of many missteps in America’s foreign policy caused by anti-communist zeal. Zinn believes that this “moral” war against communism only serves to create high death tolls, and has historically installed leaders that abused their power at the expense of their people. Zinn is correct in this thinking. Since the end of World War II the United States sought to contain communism and fascism from spreading, at the cost of American lives. This crusade only brought a new kind of tyranny to countries liberated by the US, such as Guatemala and Chile. A significant portion of the American population felt that the United States was unjustified in its involvement with Vietnam, as shown by the protest movements of the time as well as draft boycotts. Zinn’s tone is one of anger and shock at the non-sequitur nature of Nixon’s statements. Oftentimes, Zinn expresses this through his elaboration on quotes from No More Vietnams to the point of hyperbole, which have the effect of portraying Nixon’s opinions as ridiculous and illogical. Additionally, Zinn often uses one word quotations regarding Nixon’s pro-war sentiment in arguments that are contextually negative in the sentence in which they have been placed. Overall, Zinn feels strongly that Nixon and the war-mongering ideals he represents are sickening and should be discredited completely so as not to plague the nation’s people with yet another foreign war that only results in domestic bloodshed.

Political Cartoon

Hangman compares Watergate's effect on Nixon's legacy to the classic game for which the political cartoon is named. The figure appears to be Nixon, but metaphorically speaking it his positive legacy's dwindling image, which is about to be dealt a killing blow by the completion of the phrase "Watergate." The noose is not made of rope, but rather the famous White House tapes that nearly guaranteed his impeachment should he choose not to resign. Knowing that forcibly being removed from office would permanently tarnish his Presidential legacy, Nixon resigned as Commander-in-Chief while he had some shred of dignity remaining. Aside from this, the Nixon administration made several important strides in American foreign policy and addressed important domestic challenges. The Chinese trade ship approaching from the sea is one example of this. Nixon was the first US President to visit the People’s Republic of China. With the aid of Henry Kissinger, he was able to the Chinese to abandon their isolationist practices and become involved in trade with the United States. Knowing that the Soviet Union would fear their biggest rivals being on good terms, Nixon visited the secretary-general of the Soviet Communist party, Leonid Brezhnev. The two signed seven agreements known as the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks that dealt with a future of technological and economic collaboration, and a decrease in the arms race that had begun following World War II. The détente period of the Cold War is regarded as one of the few periods of improved relations between the two Super-Powers. The nuclear weapon very insecurely discarded near the hanging post represents this tentative agreement with the Soviets. Any instability in America, such as a disgraced President, could upset the weapon and cause the pact Nixon worked for to crumble. The American flag that appears on the moon’s surface in the sky alludes to the fact that Nixon’s administration oversaw the only manned moon landings in world history, cementing America’s technological superiority. He also began the domestic war on drugs that continues to this day, as shown by the "just say no" belt, a term that was coined years latter by Nancy Reagan. The field that lies behind Nixon blooms as a result of his protection of the environment through the Environmental Protection Association. Finally, Vietnam was the second most controversial period of Nixon’s Presidency, and his only major failure in foreign affairs. Not only was it the first war that America had ever lost, many people publicly protested the morality of the war and the conscription that became so prevalent. Nixon ended the draft in 1973, as shown by the pin on his suit, a huge leap in American’s basic freedoms. Overall, Hangman outlines the many positive changes that came as a result of Nixon’s presidency. Nixon’s resignation was an attempt to save face, but his blank and unhappy visage in the cartoon shows that even he knew that Watergate would be his lasting mark on American history.

Impact on the Progressive Era (1890-1920)

If Richard Nixon had been a politician in the Progressive Era, he would have been an early proponent of Prohibition. As the son of a strict but kind Quaker mother, Nixon was likely aware of and in support of some of the arguments against alcohol. During the Watergate scandal, Nixon himself frequently drank to numb the experiences. Knowing this, Nixon would realize that alcohol, though not immediately dangerous in most cases, is capable of severely inhibiting the populations ability to live coherent and meaningful lives. Nixon's actions to desegregate southern schools during his Presidency suggests that he would have supported and perhaps even championed the largely ineffective African American movements that were unable to cause significant change to their social status. Additionally, Nixon's strong sense for foreign policy likely would have brought the United States into World War I quickly, due to his aggressive military tactics as displayed in Vietnam.

If I had Richard Nixon's skill-set in the Progressive Era, I would become a court lawyer rather than a politician. Assuming personality comes with the skill-set, Nixon was not meant to be in politics. He was an introverted intellectual that had to force himself to appear amiable to the American public. Throughout all my readings about Nixon, he never seemed to be happy, regardless of what new accomplishment he had achieved. His hard work was never ending in politics, and he seemed out of his element despite his presidential administrations causing major global change. Nixon's rhetorical mastery allowed for him to form cohesive arguments, and his collegiate and political debate experience would have made him formidable to rebut. This would make for either an unbreakable shield as a defense lawyer or an unstoppable force as a prosecution lawyer. However, it is clear that Nixon was skilled at defending against guilt and public disapproval, as shown by his Checkers speech. Clients such as John Scopes would be important to receive proper defense, so as to continue more modern ideas to grow despite attempt to trample them by traditionalists.

Conclusion- What Was Richard Nixon's American Experience?

As would befit his legacy, Richard Nixon's American Experience is both positive and negative. Nixon belief in and pursuit of the American Dream drove him from son of a grocer to the leader of the free world. However, the tantalizing fantasy of the American Dream was so hard to achieve, even for a man as fiercely driven and intelligent as Richard Nixon, that he resorted to cutting corners to catch up with those born far beyond him in terms of their wealth, connections, and frankly their social skills. Nixon realized in his election against John F. Kennedy that inherent skill and work ethic were only pieces of the puzzle to achieving one's goals in America. The tragic nature of Nixon's American Experience was that if he had instead done the right thing the right way instead of the easy way, his might have been a shining Presidential legacy, rather than one of disgrace.