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Nixon, Richard M.

Last Updated: 2006

Born on January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California, Richard M. Nixon would become the thirty-seventh president of the United States. Nixon attended Whittier College and Duke University School of Law. In 1940, he married Patricia Ryan. During World War II, Nixon was commissioned as a lieutenant commander in the Navy, serving in the Pacific theater.

Nixon’s political career began in 1946 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. During his time in the House, Nixon received a degree of notoriety as a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which investigated espionage charges leveled against Alger Hiss. With the national exposure he gained, Nixon successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1950. Two years later, at the age of 39, Nixon was selected by Dwight D. Eisenhower as his vice presidential running mate. After serving two terms as vice president, Nixon won the Republican nomination for president in 1960. He narrowly lost that election to John F. Kennedy. After this defeat, Nixon’s political career suffered another setback when he lost the 1962 California gubernatorial contest.

Richard M. Nixon. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Nixon’s political career seemed over until two events changed his political fortune. The first was the overwhelming defeat of the 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. The second was the success of Republican congressional candidates in the 1966 elections due in part to Nixon’s efforts on their behalf during the campaign. This set the stage for his successful run for the presidency in 1968 when he defeated Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee, and third-party candidate George C. Wallace. Nixon was overwhelmingly reelected in 1972 when he defeated George McGovern.

While Nixon is best known for his foreign policy initiatives, one of the central features of his domestic agenda was New Federalism, which was a reaction to the President Lyndon Johnson’s creative federalism initiatives. New Federalism emphasized decentralization within nine federal agencies by establishing regional and common headquarter cities. In 1972, Nixon’s General Revenue Sharing program, which provided direct federal dollars that could be spent on a broad range of purposes decided by states and localities, was approved by Congress. The Nixon administration also signed off on two block grants, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act and the Community Development Act, which it originally proposed as special revenue-sharing programs.

The Nixon administration also streamlined the grant delivery system by standardizing administrative procedures through the interagency Federal Assistance Review. New Federalism also sought to sort out the functions of the federal and state governments by ceding decision-making authority in several areas—such as law enforcement, education, and urban development—to states and localities. At the same time, the federal government assumed financing for adult public assistance programs.

Nixon’s presidency began to unravel in 1974. In July, the House Judiciary Committee passed three Articles of Impeachment based on the president’s involvement in interfering with the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate break-in. The Supreme Court also ruled that the White House must release audiotapes of conversations that apparently implicated the president in the Watergate affair. Faced with certainty of impeachment and a possible conviction by the Senate, Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974.

After resigning, Nixon returned to San Clemente, California, and later moved to New Jersey in 1981. In the years after leaving the White House, Nixon traveled frequently and wrote a number of best-selling books on foreign policy. He died on April 22, 1994, in New York City.

SEE ALSO: New Federalism (Nixon)


Jonathan Aitken, Nixon: A Life (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1996); and Stephen E. Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962–1972 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990).