Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon

37th President, 1969-1974

Early Life and Pre-presidency

Official presidential portrait of Nixon Artist: James Anthony Wills, 1984

Official presidential portrait of Nixon
Artist: James Anthony Wills, 1984

  • Born Richard Milhous Nixon on January 9, 1913 in Yorba Linda, California.
  • Parents: Francis A. Nixon and Hannah Milhous. Siblings: Harold, Donald, Arthur, and Edward.
  • Attended East Whittier Elementary School, then Fullerton Union High School, then transferred to Whittier High School in 1928, graduating in 1930.
  • Enrolled at Whittier College in Whittier, California, graduating in 1934.
  • Received a full scholarship to enroll at Duke University School of Law in 1934. He graduated in 1937.
  • Applied for a job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation after graduation, but when he received no reply, he went back to California where he was admitted to the bar in 1937. He practiced law in La Habra, California until 1942.
  • Married Thelma “Patricia” Catherine Ryan (1912–1993) on June 21, 1940. Children: Patricia (1946– ) and Julie (1948– ).
  • Took a job at the Office of Price Administration in Washington. D.C. in January 1942 but stayed only four months.
  • Enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was inducted in August 1942. Served with the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command. After serving in the Navy in various capacities at various locations, he resigned his commision on January 1, 1946.
  • Ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and won in 1946. He served from 1947 to 1950.
  • Ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1950 and won. He served from 1950 to 1953.
  • Nominated as the Vice Presidential running mate of Dwight Eisenhower by the Republican Party in the 1952 election and won. He was re-elected Vice President to President Eisenhower in the 1956 election.
  • Ran as the Presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the 1960 election but lost to Democrat John F. Kennedy.
  • Returned to practicing law in California. He ran for Governor in 1962 but lost. He moved to New York City and continued with his law practice.
  • Nominated by the Republican Party as its Presidential candidate in the 1968 election. He won with 43% of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral votes.


 White House photograph of Nixon, ca. 1973

White House photograph of Nixon, ca. 1973

  • Took his oath of office on Januray 20, 1969 at the East Portico, U.S. Capitol.
  • On July 20, 1969, Nixon presided over the Apollo 11 mission that made the U.S. the first to land a man on the Moon.
  • On July 25, 1969 he announced the Nixon Doctrine in a press conference in Guam as part of his plan to end U.S. involvelment in Vietnam. This doctrine stated that all allied nations of the U.S. would bear responsibility for their own security and the U.S. would only interfere when requested.
  • Wanting to end the war in South Vietnam, Nixon announced a plan for the withdrawal of 25,000 troops from the country by the end of August 1969.
  • Signed the National Environmental Policy Act in January 1970, which led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. In December 1970, he signed the Clean Air Act, which created strict regulations on industrial and transportation pollution. Signed the Endangered Species Act in December 1973.
  • Signed the Postal Reorganization Act in August 1970. The law established the United States Postal Service as a separate government entity.
  • A voice-activated taping system was installed in several rooms in the White House, including the Oval Office, in April 1971.
  • Signed the Wage–Price Controls Bill in May 1971, which gave Nixon more authority to control wages, salaries, prices, and rents for one more year. In July 1971, he signed the Emergency Employment Act, which provided $2.25 billion to create jobs in the public service sector.
  • Visited the People’s Republic of China from February 21 to 27, 1972 to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries. It marked the first time a U.S. President visited China.
  • In May 1972, Nixon also became the first incumbent President to visit the U.S.S.R. There, he signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which limited the development of anti-ballistic missiles used to protect areas from nuclear weapons delivered by missiles.
  • On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested inside the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. with wiretapping equipment. In August, Nixon denied any involvement in the break-in. The Washington Post broke the story linking the men to the Nixon administration. The revelations showed that Nixon’s aides had made several attempts to sabotage their political adversaries.
  • Nixon was re-elected for a second term in the 1972 election. When his Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in October 1973 due to a scandal, Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to be his Vice President. Congress approved his nomination, and Ford was sworn in on December 6.
  • On April 30, 1973, he admitted responsibility for the Watergate scandal on television but denied having any prior knowledge of it. In July, Nixon refused to turn over tape recordings made in the White House after Federal Aviation administrator Alexander Butterfield revealed their existence to the Senate Watergate Committee.
  • In April 1974, after Nixon released 1200 pages of transcripts of converstations between him and his aides, the House Judiciary Committee opened impeachment proceedings against the President. The Supreme Court ruled that all the recorded tapes must be released. One of the tapes revealed that Nixon had been told about the connection of the break-in to his administration soon after it took place.
  • In July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee filed three articles of impeachment against Nixon: obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and the unconstitutional defiance of its subpoenas. On August 8, 1974, faced with certain impeachment after losing political support in Congress, Nixon addresed the nation on television stating he woud resign the Presidency, effective at noon the next day.


Nixon preparing to annouce the release of the transcriptsof the Watergate tapes, April 29, 1974

Nixon preparing to annouce the release of the
transcriptsof the Watergate tapes, April 29, 1974

  • Returned to his home “La Casa Pacifica” in San Clemente, California after he resigned.
  • Gerald Ford, Nixon’s Vice President, was sworn in as President on August 9, 1974.
  • On September 8, 1974, President Ford granted Nixon a “full, free, and absolute pardon…” Nixon released a statement expressing his regret over his actions in the scandal.
  • He fell ill in October 1974 and had to undergo surgery and a long recovery period.
  • Began to work on his memoirs in the beginning of 1975 and was paid $2 million dollars. RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon was published in 1978 and became a bestseller.
  • Visited China in February 1976 at the invitation of Mao Zedong. He would visit Beijing again in 1979.
  • In 1977, he was paid $600,000 to be interviewd by David Frost for a British television program.
  • Visited the U.K. in 1978 and met with Margaret Thatcher, who was then the leader of the Opposition.
  • Moved to New York in 1980, then to Saddle River, New Jersey in 1981.
  • Traveled to the U.S.S.R. in 1986 and met with Mikhail Gorbachev, who was then General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
  • After raising more that $20 million dollars of private money, opened the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation in Yorba Linda, California on July 19, 1990. Former Presidents Ford and Reagan and then President President George H.W. Bush attended the dedication. In 2007, it became part of the Presidential libraries system maintained by the federal government and was renamed Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
  • Founded the Nixon Center as a public policy think-tank in January 1991. It became The Center for the National Interest in March 2011.
  • Died on April 22, 1994 from complications of a stroke.
  • Did not have a state funeral as was his wish. His body lay in repose at the Nixon Library from April 26 until his funeral the next day. The funeral service was attended by four former U.S. Presidents (Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush) and then President Bill Clinton, who delivered the eulogy. He was buried on the grounds of the Nixon Library.
  • The papers and tapes that Nixon surrendered to Congress during the Watergate investigation were initially kept by the government for fear they would be destroyed by Nixon if they were returned to him. After a legal battle that lasted 30 years, the Nixon and his estate eventually won the right to keep the papers, which are now at his library.


Detailed Biography

Born on 9 January 1913, Richard Milhous Nixon was the second of five sons born to Quaker parents in California. He would become the 37thPresident of the United States of America from 1969 to 1974 before resigning as a result of the Watergate Scandal.


Childhood and Early Years

Richard’s father, Francis “Frank” Anthony Nixon was born in December 1878 in Elk Township, Ohio to parents Sarah Ann Wadsworth Nixon and Samuel Brady Nixon. Frank’s mother died when Frank was just eight years old and he was moved to live temporarily with his aunt and uncle whilst his father struggled to cope. He eventually remarried, but Frank did not get along with his new stepmother and often ran away from the humble home. He was raised as a Methodist but converted to Quakerism upon his marriage to Hannah Milhous. Hannah was born in March 1885 near Butterville, Indiana to parents Almira Park and Franklin Milieus, both from Ohio.

Frank and Hannah first lived outside Los Angeles where Frank first grew fruit and opened his own lemon grove, however the business did not prosper and eventually Frank moved purely into sales, opening a grocery store in Whittier, California which was closer to Hannah’s relatives.

Hannah and Frank had five sons together, four of whom were named after famous English monarchs, Harold Samuel, born in June 1909, Richard Milhous, born on 9 January 1913, Francis Donald, born in 1914, Arthur Burdg, born in 1918 and Edward Calvert, born in May 1930. Richard and his brothers could trace their ancestry back to the time of the English settlers and were even descended from Thomas Cornell whose kinsman included Ezra Cornell who founded Cornell University. The Nixon’s share common ancestors with President Jimmy Carter and IT giant Bill Gates.

Quote: “We were poor, but the glory of it was we didn’t know it”

Richard Milhous, future President, was born and raised in a humble Quaker home where as a child he was expected to pitch in at the family grocery store and gas station, alongside his education. Illness also plagued the family, particularly tuberculosis, and tragedy hit the family twice during Nixon’s early years. His younger brother Arthur died in 1925 of tuberculosis when he was only seven years old. Richard was twelve at the time and the death affected the family greatly. Just eight years later, in 1933, when Richard was twenty years old, his elder brother Harold, who was twenty-three also died from tuberculosis.

Richard himself was suspected of having the deadly disease around the same time that Arthur died, when a spot was discovered on his lung. As a result of this he was banned from playing any sports at school, although it was later discovered that it was just scar tissue from an earlier bout of pneumonia.

Responsibilities in the family business, as well as restrictions due to health may have challenged Richard’s ability to be involved in sports, especially his beloved soccer, however he continued to play for his high school teams, although usually in reserve positions.


Education, Marriage & Military Service

Richard attended Fullerton High School which was about an hour away from the family’s hometown. Richard’s elder brother Harold attended Whittier High School in the town, but Hannah Nixon believed that her eldest son had been led astray at the school and so she sent Richard to what she considered to be a better school. We don’t know the exact reasons why, but at some point, during his high school education, Richard transferred to Whittier High School. It is possible that as he got older, he was needed to help out in the family grocery store and travelling an hour before and after school meant he could not help out as much as was needed. Attending the local school freed up his time to help the family out more.

In September 1930, Richard enrolled at Whittier College in his hometown. He had graduated second in his glass at Whittier High School and as a result was offered a scholarship to Harvard University, however the family couldn’t afford the travel and living costs, and as a result he could not take up the place, studying at home instead. He had an active college life, performing in drama productions, playing in a number of sports teams, as well as being an active member of the student body government. He graduated in 1934 and was offered a scholarship to Duke University Law School in Durham, North Carolina where he was President of the Student Bar Association and was a member of the Law Review.

He graduated in June 1937 and following his graduation, he returned home to Whittier, beginning a law career at the firm Wingert & Bewley. He continued to perform in local productions, and it was during one of these plays when he met a local girl, Thelma Catherine “Pat” Ryan.

Thelma Catherine Ryan was born on 16 March 1912 in Ely Nevada, a mining town but she was very quickly given the nickname Pat by her father William, who supposedly named her Pat due to his Irish roots as well as the fact that she was born the day before St Patrick’s Day. She would be known as Pat for the rest of her life, rarely being referred to by her first name.

The humble mining town of Ely was too small and did not have many possibilities for the young family, so Pat’s mother Kate persuaded her husband to start a new life in Artesia, California where they started a truck farm. However, tragedy struck when Pat was just twelve years old when her mother Kate died of cancer. Before her death, Pat became the main caregiver for her mother, stating “for the last two or three months I used to sit with her through the night. We couldn’t afford a night nurse and she needed attention.”

Just five years later, when Pat was just 17 years old, her father died of silicosis, a lung disease caused by the inhalation of minute particles of silica dust and which was a common mining disease. Once again, Pat took on the role of caregiver as her father’s condition worsened, and she also took on most of the household chores alongside the farm work and her schooling.

From this time on Pat was completely self-reliant. She accepted an opportunity to drive an elderly couple across the country to New York and then she decided to stay there, taking a job at Seton Hospital North of New York which was a tuberculosis hospital. Pat utilized the skills she had gained caring for both her parents in the job, and as a perk of the role she was able to live at the hospital which was run by the Catholic Sisters of Charity, and she saved what ages she received towards attending college in the future.

By 1934 she had enough money saved and she moved back West, enrolling at the University of Southern California where she majored in merchandising, graduating in 1937 with distinction.

Following college Pat tried to find work in a department store to utilise her career, however she could not find a position. In order to make ends meet she took a teaching job in Whittier, California where she met the young lawyer Richard Nixon in 1938.

Richard was smitten with Pat almost from the first meeting and the pair courted for two years before marrying on 21 June 1940 in Riverside, California and honeymooning in Mexico.

The couple lived in California for two years but then in January 1942 they moved to Washington D.C. where Richard briefly joined the Office of Price Administration before accepting an appointment as a junior lieutenant in the US naval reserve in June of the same year. Over the next ten years Richard attended Naval Training School in Rhode Island, served as Aide to the Executive Officer at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base in Iowa and volunteered for sea duty in the later stages of the second world war, being assigned to the Commander Air Force, of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He was promoted to the position of Lieutenant in October 1943 and went on to serve with Fleet Air Wing EIGHT in various places across the country. As a result of his hard work he was awarded a Letter of Commendation, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the WW2 Victory Medal.

He was promoted again in June 1953 to the rank of Commander in the Naval Reserve before retiring from the Naval Reserve in 1966.

Whilst Richard served in the war, Pat worked at the Red Cross in Washington D.C. before moving to San Francisco where she worked as an economist for the Office of Price Administration.


Political Beginnings

After the war the Nixon’s returned to Whittier California, where Richard initially planned to return to practising law, however prominent local Republican’s approached him and asked him to run for Congress in the 1946 election. Nixon accepted the offer and ran for the Republican candidate, ‘defeating Democratic candidate Jerry Voorhis by more than fifteen thousand votes’(

Following his successful election to Congress, Richard and Pat moved to Washington D.C. with their infant daughter Patricia, known as “Tricia” who was born on 21 February 1946. Their second daughter Julie was born on 5 July 1948.

‘As a congressman, he served on the Education and Labour committee and supported the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act, which greatly restricted the powers of labour unions. Nixon also served on the Herter Committee, which travelled to Europe to prepare a preliminary report on the Marshall Plan.’ ( His hard work paid off and in 1948 he was easily re-elected, working during his second term on the investigation of former State Department official Alger Hiss who had been accused of spying for the Soviet Union during WW2.

In 1950, Nixon took the next step in his political career, defeating democratic Congresswoman Helen Gahan Douglas to win California’s US Senate Seat. The battle for the seat was particularly fraught with Douglas calling Richard “Tricky Dick” and he replying that she was “pink right down to her underwear.” Despite this, Nixon’s period as Senator was marked by his criticism of President Truman’s handling of the Korean War.


Vice-President, First Election for President & The Wilderness Years

Nixon’s political career moved upwards again when he was chosen by General Dwight Eisenhower as his vice-presidential running mate for his election in 1952.

In September of 1952 the NY Post accused Nixon of taking secret cash funds from donors, however he conducted a televised interview where he was completely open about where the money came from, stating none of it was taken in secret and that it was all used for political purposes. He did admit during the interview that he and his family did accept one personal gift for themselves, a cocker spaniel dog that they named Checkers and whom they intended to keep. This speech was considered a big success and garnered Nixon a lot of public support as well as revealing how crucial television could be as a political marketing tool.

One of Nixon’s greatest achievements as vice president was to make the role more visible and showing what an important role it could be. In his position he chaired meetings for the National Security Council as well as taking part in a number of ‘goodwill tours’ around the world to increase support of American policies.

In 1960 Richard Nixon successfully became the Republican nominee for the Presidential campaign, running against John F. Kennedy who at the time was Senator for Massachusetts and had also been elected as a member of Congress in 1946, the same year as Nixon. Nixon was said to be ahead until a series of televised debates (the first ever to be televised in history). Nixon looked pale and uncomfortable whilst JFK looked cool and collected which ultimately meant he lost to JFK in a narrow defeat, losing by less than 0.2% of the popular vote.

The period of time from 1960-1968 marks a period where the Nixon family moved around, and which Richard later called his “Wilderness Years.” Following his defeat in the presidential election of 1960, the Nixon’s moved back to California and Richard went back to working in the law as well as spending time writing a bestselling memoir. However, politics soon came calling again when local and national republican leaders urged Nixon to run for the 1962 election for Governor of California, alleging that if Nixon moved away from politics now, it would signal an end of his career. Despite reluctance to get back into the world of politics, Nixon agreed to run for the Governorship but ultimately lost the race, which he believed signalled the end of his political career.


The Presidential Years

In January 1968 Nixon decided that he was not quite finished with politics and would try once again for the Presidency. His campaign was built on a promise to return to traditional values and “law and order” during what was considered a significant period of turmoil and upheaval. He was up against other candidates such as Ronald Reagan, governor of California, Nelson Rockefeller, NY Governor and George Romney, Governor of Michigan, but he did succeed and chose Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew as his vice-presidential running mate.

The campaign period was a fractious affair for the democratic party. Johnson initially planned to run for re-election, however in March of 1968 he dropped out of the race. His Vice President Hubert Humphrey joined the race as the main Democratic candidate, although he was seriously challenged by US Senator Robert F. Kennedy. On June 5 Robert was assassinated in Los Angeles by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian who shot Kennedy just after the announcement of his victory in the Californian primary.

Kennedy’s assassination shocked the presidential campaign, but especially affected democratic nominee Humphrey, even more so following the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which was marred by violence and protests. In contrast, Nixon remained calm throughout the campaign period, using the events of the campaign for his benefit, showing the public that to vote Republican was to vote for security and peace both at home and abroad.

Despite a late surge in support for Humphrey, Nixon did win the presidential election, winning by nearly 500,000 popular votes to become the 37thPresident of the United States of America.

Nixon’s first and most important policy was to bring an end to the Vietnam War and restore the publics faith in government. ‘He made a nationally televised address on 3 November 1969, calling on the “silent majority” of Americans to renew their confidence in the American government and back his policy of seeking a negotiated peace in Vietnam.’ ( He also engaged in a period of “Vietnamization” which was a plan to reduce the number of troops in Vietnam, a move which was hugely popular with the general public.

Nixon’s foreign policy also included plans to reduce international tensions by forging a new relationship with old rivals, two of which were China and Russia. Nixon met with Chinese leaders in 1972 in the first talks between the two nations in over 20yars. Nixon’s talks with the Soviet’s led to the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, which was the first nuclear weapons limitation between the US and Russia.

In domestic affairs Nixon also brought in change. In 1969 he proposed the Family Assistance Plan which aimed to help secure incomes for all Americans through a range of welfare packages. Despite being viewed by voters as positive, the Plan did not get congressional approval and instead Nixon imposed wage and price controls in 1971 in an effort to gain control of price levels and thus help the average American family in a different way.

One of the most notable events in Nixon’s first term as President was the Moon landings. On 19thJuly 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans on earth to set foot on the surface of the moon, beating out the soviet space agency who were racing the US in what is commonly referred to as “the space race.” Nixon spoke to the two astronauts from the Oval Office, in what has been named the longest long-distance telephone call ever made.

Perhaps one of the most light-hearted moments of Nixon’s first term as President was his meeting with Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll on 21stDecember 1970. The President and Presley reportedly spoke together about many things including the drug problem with America’s youth.

In family matters, Nixon’s younger daughter Julie married her fiancée Dwight David Eisenhower II, grandson of President Eisenhower, in December 1968 whilst her father was President-elect. His elder daughter Tricia married just three years later in June 1971 when she married her fiancée Edward Finch Cox of New York in the White House Rose Garden.

Pat, as First Lady, was heavily involved in her husband’s political career as well as working on her own initiatives. The role of First Lady was one that in many ways she revolutionised, creating a role that was much more politically involved than it had previously been. She campaigned for health, welfare, education, and many other causes, travelling across the world including trips to Peru, Liberia and even South Vietnam as the first First Lady to visit a combat zone.

In 1962, Nixon was easily re-elected to the Presidency, garnering 520 electoral votes against rival George Mc Govern’s 16 votes, and 61% of the popular vote.  However, his second term was immediately marred by the Watergate scandal which Nixon had successfully managed to keep covered up during the re-election campaign period.

The Watergate Scandal consisted of a series of coverups and corruption within the presidential administration surrounding a series of politically motivated burglaries which took place in June 1972 at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington. The burglaries were in the midst of Nixon’s re-election campaign, and, knowing that some of the burglars were politicians working on his campaign, he ordered a cover-up of the information, going as far as paying the burglars hush-money and ordering the CIA to force the FBI out of the investigation.

When he won the re-election in November 1973, the scandal came out into the public.

During this time there was also another political scandal breaking which would bring Ford into the political spotlight. In October of 1973, just before Nixon won his re-election campaign, his Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned as part of an arrangement with the Justice Department following the exposure of evidence of Agnew’s having accepted bribes whilst serving as Vice President and even as governor of Maryland.

In the midst of Nixon covering up the Watergate events and approaching the imminent election, he had to quickly find a replacement Vice President. He chose Ford, allegedly because he was the only congressman who the Senate and the House of Representatives would support.

Whilst the Watergate investigations had been ongoing since 1972, Nixon had been able to distance himself from the firing line slightly, by claiming he did not know of or approve the cover up, however in 1974 a number of tapes were released to the public which revealed Nixon’s involvement in the cover-up, going back to 1972 when he ordered the payment of hush-money. By February 1974 the House of Representatives approved an investigation into the involvement of the President and a possible impeachment. In July of that year, just after the tapes were released to the public, Nixon was found to have three articles of impeachment which were the obstruction of justice, an abuse of power and the contempt of congress.

On the evening of 8 August 1974 Nixon resigned from office, knowing that he had no chance of staying in office when the findings of the investigation were published, choosing to walk away rather than being removed from the presidency. He said, in part:

“To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home. Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”

As the Watergate Scandal broke, Pat supported her husband, urging him to stay in position and fight the impeachment, but even as he moved towards that result, she still continued to support him, alongside fervent support from his two daughters Julie and Tricia.



Following Nixon’s resignation, the couple moved back to their home state of California, living in San Clemente where Richard suffered with severe bouts of depression as well as finding himself embroiled in legal issues relating to his resignation. He was officially pardoned by his Vice President Gerald Ford just a few months after he took office, and eventually over the next decades he came to terms with his political career, writing another best-selling memoir as well as making some political appearances which rehabilitated his public reputation.  He also worked on establishing his Presidential library which was built on the site of his parent’s ranch in Yorba Linda, California.

In 1976 Pat suffered a stroke that temporarily took away her speech and the use of her left-hand side. A second stroke in the 1980’s made her so self-conscious that she rarely made any public appearances from that time onwards. She died on 22 June 1993 of lung cancer.

Richard took the loss of his wife incredibly hard and just ten months after her death, on 22 April 1994, Richard Milhous Nixon died of a massive stroke in New York City. His body was laid in state in the Nixon Library lobby for visitors to mourn and a reported 50,000 waited up to 18hours at a time to file past his casket and pay their last respects. He was laid to rest beside his wife Pat in Yorba Linda, California.



Rolling Stone Magazine webpage about Tricia and Julie Nixon: biographies of the family:

Biography of Pat Nixon:

Further biographies of Richard Nixon: