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Richard Milhous Nixon is documented as the 37th president of the United States. Despite being born in a middle-class family, he managed to overcome these hurdles and clinch the government’s top seat, a position he occupied between 1969 and 1974. He was preceded by Lyndon B. Johnson and was succeeded by Gerard Ford. He is remembered for championing for human rights, putting an end to the Vietnam War and initiating a successful United States space program. However, his second term was full of controversy, more so due to the Watergate Scandal, which led to his resignation. This essay details Nixon’s personal and public life and gives important insights about his presidency.
Richard Nixon was born to Francis and Hannah Nixon in Yorba Linda, present-day California on January 9, 1913. He had four brothers: Harold, Donald, Arthur and Edward. His mother, a devoted Christian of the Quaker denomination, raised him in a strict manner and abhorred over-indulgence in merry-making such as dancing or consumption of alcohol. The Nixon’s were a middle-income family who derived their source of income from their ranch. However, in 1922, their ranch failed and was subsequently sold. They were forced to migrate to Whittier in present-day California, where his parents opened a gas station and a grocery store. Soon afterwards, young Nixon joined East Whittier Elementary School. However, he was forced to live a desolate life since doctors found a lung defect, which forced him not to participate in sports.
Following the death of his older brother, Harold, Richard was transferred to Fullerton High School. Despite various hardships, such as riding the bus during his freshman year in order to attend school, he managed to score excellent grades. Later on, his lung defect was diagnosed as a scar tissue, allowing him to play junior varsity football. Nonetheless, he was more successful in debate, where he won several accolades despite having been under the tutorage of only one English teacher, Lynn Sheller.
In 1928, due to his father’s failing health, Richard attended Whittier High School where he graduated third in his class despite the fact that he had to take care of the family’s business. Consequently, he was granted a tuition-only scholarship by Harvard University. However, he could not attend this prestigious school due to his mother’s failing health. He joined Whittier College where he graduated in 1934. He gained a reputation as a hardworking individual and a champion debater. Soon afterwards, he was granted a scholarship by the Duke University School of Law. After several years of hard work, he graduated third in his class. In addition, he was elected president of the university’s Bar Association (Nixon, 1990).
After graduating from Duke University, Nixon applied for a position in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, he did not receive a reply. Hence, in 1937, he returned to California, his homeland, where he was admitted to the bar and began practicing law with Wingert and Bewley. He specialized on commercial litigation and majored on petroleum companies. In addition, he drafted several wills. In 1938, Nixon became a full partner in the firm and opened a branch in La Habra, California. In the same year, he met Thelma ‘Pat’ Ryan during a cast of a local production by the Whittier Community Players. They wed two years later and had two children: Trica, who was born in 1946, and Julie, who was born in 1948.
In 1942, Nixon and his wife moved into Washington D.C, where he took a position in the tire rationing department at the Office of Price Administration. He disliked replying to correspondence and sought admittance to the United States Navy. Consequently, he joined the Officers Candidate School where he graduated in October 1942. He worked both in the United States and overseas where he garnered several accolades before finally resigning in 1946 on New Year’s Day (Nixon, 1990).
Nixon as a Congressman
After resigning from the army, Nixon set his sights on congress. He decided to vie for the Congressman’s post in the 12th Congressional District in California. After a year of intense lobbying and campaigning, Nixon defeated Jerry Voorhis. After a successful period in Congress where he gained national attention, such as through his notable role in the Alger Hiss spy case, he decided to run for a post in the United State’s senate. By taking a strong anti-communist stand, he won against Helen Gahagan Douglas. In 1952, following his impeccable Senate record, large political base, youth, and his outspoken nature against communism, he was nominated by the Republicans as Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate. Both Eisenhower and Nixon served as the president and vice-president respectively for two consecutive terms (1953-1961).
Nixon Launches his Presidential Bid
In 1960, Nixon launched his first presidential bid and chose Henry Cabot Lodge, the then Massachusetts senator, as his running mate. During the Republican primaries, he faced little or no opposition. However, John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate, posed a huge challenge. Nixon went on to loose his bid to Kennedy. In 1962, he returned to his homeland, California, where he wrote several books and practiced law.
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In 1967, Nixon launched a second presidential bid. Despite stiff competition from George Romney, the then Michigan governor, Nixon managed to secure a win in the Republican nominations. Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Nixon faced Hubert Humphrey, the then incumbent vice-president, and George Wallace, the then governor for Alabama. He won the election and was sworn in as the United States 37th president on 20th January, 1969 (Biography of Richard Milhous Nixon, 2008).
Nixon served as president of the United States for two terms: 1969-1973 and 1973-1974. However, his second presidential term was cut short by the Watergate Scandal which forced him to resign. These were a set of clandestine activities that came into the public limelight after a group of five men were caught during an illicit break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters which was located at Watergate. Nixon’s government had continually bugged opponents’ offices illegally in addition to harassing political opponents and other people deemed as threats to his administration. In April 1974, despite insisting that he was innocent, Nixon resigned from office.
Although the Watergate Scandal marked the end of Nixon’s political career and presidency, he was very successful especially in the foreign policy arena. First, Nixon pursued peace with a passion. He held intense negotiations with the Soviet Union which culminated in the signing of two landmark treaties: Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), which aimed at halting the production of nuclear weaponry, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. This not only put an end to the hostilities between the two superpowers but also ensured that no other hostilities which threatened world peace and had the capacity to ignite a Third World War would ever occur. Secondly, Nixon prompted the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam. This was marked by the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. Although fighting broke out again after the withdrawal of American forces, a solution was soon attained. Thirdly, Nixon solved the Cuban and Latin American crises. He signed treaties that forced Russia not to build forts for launching ballistic missiles in Cuba and Chile. Finally, Nixon is remembered for launching a successful United States space program that culminated in man’s first landing on the moon (Naughton, 1999).
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However, Nixon was less successful in the enactment of his domestic policies. His policies resulted in near failure, more so in his first term. Despite promising a quick respite for the high inflation levels during his election bid, this was not achieved during the first half of his first term. However, by ending the Vietnam War and the Soviet Union-United States crisis, he managed to reduce inflation rates significantly. Secondly, Nixon promised to end the Vietnam War as soon as he ascended into power. However, this was only achieved in his second term.
Three crucial failures can be identified throughout Nixon’s regime. First, he cut back funding of important sectors such as education, health care and employment sector whereas channeling funds towards foreign missions. This culminated in an economic depression in the 1970s. Secondly, the Watergate Scandal signified his intolerance for political opponents. In fact, this served as the greatest stumbling block that led to the end of his career. Finally, he failed to involve his family in his political quests. The First Lady was very shy of the public limelight and contributed very little during his presidency.
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Nixon’s Post-Presidential Life
Nixon maintained a quiet and ambiguous role after his resignation. Despite visiting a few countries such as China and Britain, he did not participate in any diplomatic mission. However, he received an official and unconditional pardon from his successor, Gerald Ford, for his role in the Watergate Scandal. This granted him immunity from any prosecution. After suffering a sever stroke in April 1994, he was rushed to hospital where he died aged 81.
Richard Nixon’s achievements eclipse his failures. Despite the fact that he majored on foreign policy in comparison to domestic policies, he achieved the unimaginable: made peace with the Soviet Union, thus putting an end to a conflict that had ensued for decades. In addition Nixon handled himself in a dignified manner after the Watergate Scandal. Despite scathing attacks from his opponents and calls for impeachment, he chose to resign honorably.
This study was dedicated to the study of Richard Nixon’s life for his inspiring and stimulating personality. Despite starting his career from a humble background, he managed to rise to the highest office in the United States. Richard Nixon remains one of the United States and world’s highest achievers. It is due to the courage and the brilliance exhibited by men such as him that we enjoy today’s peace and prosperity.
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