Nixon, Richard M. (1913–1994)

Author:Henry F. Graff

Page 1815

Richard Milhous Nixon, the thirty-seventh President of the United States, was born in Yorba Linda, California. An alumnus of Whittier College and Duke University Law School, he practiced law in Whittier, California, from 1937 to 1942. After a brief stint in the enforcement of wartime price controls, he entered the Navy and served with it in the South Pacific. Upon his release from duty he was elected to the HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES from the Twelfth District of California. Shortly he gained national prominence as a member of the HOUSE COMMITTEE ON UNAMERICAN ACTIVITIES, and he played a decisive role in generating the perjury case against Alger Hiss. Nixon was elected to the SENATE from his home state in 1950, gaining new notoriety in denouncing the Democrats for having "lost" China to communism. In 1952 he was elected vice-president as the running mate of DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER. Nixon had riveted national attention?once again?with an impassioned defense on radio and television of his acceptance of money from a political "slush" fund. As vice-president he drew international notice through his "kitchen debate" with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Nixon was nominated for President by his party in 1960, but lost to the Democrats' JOHN F. KENNEDY in a close election. Two years later Nixon ran for governor of California and lost. He reentered the private practice of law, this time in New York City. Maintaining and broadening his political contacts, he was again nominated for the presidency by the Republicans in 1968. His campaign theme was a pledge to heal the divisions in the nation that the Vietnam War had created and to bring the hostilities to an honorable conclusion. He won a plurality of the popular vote over the Democrats' HUBERT H. HUMPHREY and George C. Wallace, candidate of the American Independence Party.

As President, Nixon took advantage of the dramatic expansion of the office that had been taking place since the time of FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, recognizing that the public had grown accustomed to regarding the Chief Executive as the undisputed architect of national policies. But Nixon stretched his authority with less restraint than his predecessors, undertaking steps violative of the law and of the Constitution itself. A full explanation for his actions may never be forthcoming. Possibly he felt keenly that his party's inability to capture or control Congress would continue to frustrate his desire to dismantle many New Deal and Great Society programs. He may also have been guided by inner compulsions of ambition and feelings of inadequacy he never articulated. Nixon, at any rate, interpreted by his own lights the constitutional prerogatives of his office, including an assumed right to ignore or modify the letter and intent of laws.

Nixon, for example, did not consider himself obligated to respect the law of 1972 requiring that EXECUTIVE AGREEMENTS arrived at with foreign governments be reported to Congress within sixty days, cavalierly submitting them late. Moreover, he sometimes negotiated them at a lower diplomatic level and labeled them "arrangements." Under Nixon's stewardship...

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