Early Life and Education
Richard Nixon was born on January 9, 1913, in California. Nixon grew up relatively poor, yet his parents ensured he and his brothers, who died young, never knew how poor they actually were. Each of his parents held modest jobs and this instilled a strong work-ethic in Richard. In school Nixon did very well and was accepted to Harvard, but his parents could not afford the tuition, so he enrolled in a smaller local college. Nixon was then accepted into Duke University Law School on a scholarship and upon graduation he returned to his small hometown to join a local law firm.
Nixon briefly served in the military and when he returned home he was encouraged to run for Congress, where he was voted to a seat in the House of Representatives. Nixon quickly gained popularity and was sent to Europe to monitor the Marshall Plan, a multi-billion dollar loan from America to European nations who were struggling to rebuild economically after World War II. His efforts in Europe earned him high-praise by government officials for how he handled foreign affairs. Nixon made his mark on the House Un-American Activities Committee where he investigated the Alger Hiss espionage case. Nixon made it his personal mission to ensure Alger Hiss, and any other person associated with Communism, would be tried and convicted of treason.
Vice-President to Eisenhower
Nixon’s big break came when Dwight Eisenhower chose him to be his Vice-president. Nixon showed his strong political acumen with the passing of key legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Social Security Act when Eisenhower was sick and out of office. Nixon worked to expand the role of the Vice-president and was the one of the first Vice-presidents to take on a major role in foreign affairs.
In 1960, Nixon ran for President against John F. Kennedy. Although Nixon was lauded for the substance of his arguments in the presidential debates, he ultimately failed to overcome the movie-star qualities of his opponent and was defeated. This loss was devastating for Nixon and he decided to take a brief hiatus from politics. When Lyndon B. Johnson decided against running for reelection in 1968, Nixon was again ready for a run at the White House. This time, Nixon won the presidential election. His presidency would become one of the most controversial in American history.
The Vietnam War Ends; The Military Draft is Eliminated
Nixon's most pressing concern when he entered office was the controversial Vietnam War. Nixon took measures to reduce American casualties by forcing the South Vietnamese to do more of the fighting, a process known as "Vietnamization." Nixon also employed a strategy of heavy bombing in North Vietnam to strengthen Vietnamization. In January of 1973, a cease-fire agreement was signed, officially ending the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. At the end of the war, Nixon also signed legislation ending the military draft. Nixon also forced the last of the Southern public schools to desegregate, established Diplomatic relations with China, and created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Watergate Scandal and Resignation
Nixon, however, will forever be tied to the infamous Watergate Scandal at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C., site of the Democratic National Convention. It was here that two of Nixon’s aids infiltrated the hotel in secret, hoping to find top-secret documents as well as wire-tap phones for the purposes of acquiring important information to ensure Nixon’s victory in the upcoming election. The spies, however, were caught in the hotel, sparking a FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) investigation that Nixon tried to block by using the CIA (Central Intelligence Network. His unsuccessful attempt to block the FBI investigation meant possible criminal charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of Presidential powers. Nixon vehemently denied any involvement with the entire Watergate Scandal. Several of Nixon’s aids were asked to testify against the President and it was ultimately revealed that Nixon had secretly taped every conversation he had in the Oval Office. Nixon denied a Congressional request to relinquish the tapes, citing his executive privilege. Eventually, the Supreme Court forced Nixon to deliver the tapes. Meanwhile the House of Representatives voted to impeach him. Facing certain impeachment by the Senate as well, Nixon resigned, making Vice President Gerald R. Ford President. After being sworn in, Ford pardoned Nixon of any wrongdoing, but this entire Watergate Scandal caused the American people to mistrust the government.
Following his presidency, Nixon wrote books and traveled to Europe. He died of a stroke on April 18, 1994, at the age of 81.