Richard M. Nixon, the son of a grocer, was born on 9th January, 1913. His father owned a small lemon farm in Yorba Linda, California. A good student, Nixon graduated from Whittier College in 1934.
After obtaining a degree at Duke University Law School, Nixon returned to Whittier where he joined the law firm of Kroop & Bewley. In 1937 he moved to Washington where he served in the Office of Price Administration.
Nixon joined the United States Navy in August, 1942. Given the rank of lieutenant he was sent to the Pacific as an operations officer with the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command. He left the Navy in January 1946 when the Republican Party in Whittier asked him to run for Congress. During the campaign he attacked the New Deal and accused his Democratic Party opponent as an enemy of free enterprise.
Elected to the House of Representative, Nixon was invited to join the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he became involved in its campaign against subversion. In 1947 the HUAC began its investigation into the entertainment industry and was responsible for the blacklisting of 320 artists.
J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation provided Nixon with information on members of the Communist Party. Nixon soon emerged as the most skillful members of the House of Un-American Activities Committee and played an important role in the interrogation of Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers. This led to the successful prosecution of Alger Hiss, Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg.
These cases brought Nixon to the attention of the public and in 1952 Dwight Eisenhower chose him as his running mate in the presidential election of 1952. During the campaign Nixon was accused of receiving $18,235 from private citizens. In a television speech he accounted for the money and Eisenhower allowed him to remain on the team.
Adlai Stevenson was chosen as the Democratic Party candidate for the 1952 presidential election. It was one of the dirtiest in history with Nixon, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, leading the attack on Stevenson. Speaking in Indiana, Nixon described Stevenson as a man with a "PhD from Dean Acheson's cowardly college of Communist containment." In an attempt to link Stevenson with the Soviet spy ring he added: "Somebody had to testify for Alger Hiss, but you don't have to elect him President of the United States."
In October, 1953, Joseph McCarthy began investigating communist infiltration into the military. Attempts were made by McCarthy to discredit Robert Stevens, the Secretary of the Army. The president, Dwight Eisenhower, was furious and now realised that it was time to bring an end to McCarthy's activities. Eisenhower instructed Nixon to attack McCarthy. On 4th March, 1954, Nixon made a speech where, although not mentioning McCarthy, made it clear who he was talking about: "Men who have in the past done effective work exposing Communists in this country have, by reckless talk and questionable methods, made themselves the issue rather than the cause they believe in so deeply."
After the Republican victory, Nixon became the government's chief spokesman. He travelled widely and he impressed world leaders with his knowledge of foreign affairs. This included a meeting with Nikita Khrushchev in the Soviet Union.
In 1960 Nixon won the Republican presidential nomination. After his eight years as Eisenhower's deputy, Nixon was expected to win. However, the Democratic candidate, John F. Kennedy, ran a successful campaign and won by just 100,000 votes out of the 68 million cast. Nixon became a lawyer in Los Angeles, and after losing the race for governor of California in 1962, claimed he was retiring from politics.
Nixon changed his mind and in 1968 he won his party's presidential nomination. Nixon picked Spiro T. Agnew as his running mate. This time Nixon won and in his inaugural address on 20th January, 1969, he promised to bring the nation together again.
In 1969 Nixon appointed Henry Kissinger as his adviser on National Security Affairs. In this post Kissinger played an important role in the improved relations with both China and the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. He also iniated peace talks between the Arabs and the Israelis.
Kissinger later admitted that in September 1970, Nixon ordered him to organize a coup against the government of Salvador Allende. Kissinger also said that he called off the operation a month later. The government documents, however, indicate that the Central Intelligence Agency continued to encourage a coup in Chile.
During the presidential campaign Nixon promised to negotiate the end of the Vietnam War. However, negotiations with North Vietnam at the Paris peace talks were unproductive and Nixon decided to escalate the war by bombing National Liberation Front bases in Cambodia . In an effort to avoid international protests at this action, it was decided to keep information about these raids hidden. Pilots were sworn to secrecy and operational logs were falsified.
The bombing failed to destroy the NLF bases and so in April, 1970, Nixon decided to send in troops to finish off the job. The invasion of Cambodia provoked a wave of demonstrations in the United States in the United States and in one of these, four students were killed when National guardsmen opened fire at Kent State University.
By 1972 Nixon was convinced that a victory in Vietnam was unobtainable. In October, 1972, Henry Kissinger came close to agreeing to a formula to end the war. The plan was that US troops would withdraw from Vietnam in exchange for a cease-fire and the return of 566 American prisoners held in Hanoi. It was also agreed that the governments in North and South Vietnam would remain in power until new elections could be arranged to unite the whole country.
The main problem with this formula was that whereas the US troops would leave the country, the North Vietnamese troops could remain in their positions in the south. In an effort to put pressure on North Vietnam to withdraw its troops, Nixon ordered a new series of air-raids on Hanoi and Haiphong. It was the most intense bombing attack in world history. In eleven days, 100,000 bombs were dropped on the two cities. The destructive power was equivalent to five times that of the atom bomb used on Hiroshima.
The North Vietnamese refused to change the terms of the agreement and so in January, 1973. Nixon agreed to sign the peace plan that had been proposed in October. However, the bombing had proved to be popular with the American public as they had the impression that North Vietnam had been bombed into submission.
Nixon won the 1972 presidential election against the anti-Vietnam War campaigner, George McGovern, with 61 per cent of the popular vote. During the election campaign there was a break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic Party at the Watergate complex in Washington. Reports by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, began to claim that some of Nixon's top officials were involved in organizing the Watergate break-in.
Nixon continued to insist that he knew nothing about the case or the payment of "hush-money" to the burglars. However, in April 1973, Nixon forced two of his principal advisers H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, to resign. A third adviser, John Dean, refused to go and was sacked. Nixon's vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, was also forced to go after being charged with income evasion and was replaced by Gerald Ford.
On 20th April, Dean issued a statement making it clear that he was unwilling to be a "scapegoat in the Watergate case". When Dean testified on 25th June, 1973 before the Senate Committee investigating Watergate, he claimed that Nixon participated in the cover-up. He also confirmed that Nixon had tape-recordings of meetings where these issues were discussed.
The Special Prosecutor now demanded access to these tape-recordings. At first Nixon refused but when the Supreme Court ruled against him and members of the Senate began calling for him to be impeached, he changed his mind. However, some tapes were missing while others contained important gaps.
Under extreme pressure, Nixon supplied tapescripts of the missing tapes. It was now clear that Nixon had been involved in the cover-up and members of the Senate began to call for his impeachment. On 9th August, 1974, Nixon became the first President of the United States to resign from office.
On 8th September, 1974, the new president, Gerald Ford, controversially granted Nixon a full pardon "for all offences against the United States" that might have been committed while in office. The pardon brought an end all criminal prosecutions that Nixon might have had to face concerning the Watergate Scandal. However, other members of his staff involved in helping in his deception were imprisoned.
In 1977 Nixon's chief-of staff, Jack Brennan, informed the media that he was willing to give a television interview on his presidency. Nixon was trying to get an agreement for an interview that did not involve a discussion of Watergate. Under these terms, the most he was offered was $400,000. David Frost offered $600,000 (over $2 million in todays money) and a 20 percent share of any profits, if he was willing to discuss all subjects. Nixon agreed because he considered Frost a lightweight interviewer who would not know enough about the case. This was a miscalculation. Frost recruited James Reston, Jr. and Bob Zelnick to evaluate the Watergate minutiae prior to the interview.
The interviews began on March 23, 1977 and lasted 12 days. Frost lured Nixon into a false sense of security by interviewing Nixon for 24 hours without mentioning Watergate. In these sessions he gave him an easy time and allowed Nixon to boast about his contribution to world peace. However, in the final six hour session, his questioning revealed details of a previously unknown conversation between Nixon and Charles Colson. This clearly unsettled Nixon and Frost was able to go in for the kill. During the interview Nixon suggested that the break-in might have been botched on purpose. He added that he suspected that the CIA had been behind the operation.
The episode on Watergate, broadcast on 4th May, 1977, was watched by 45 million people. A Gallup poll conducted after the interview showed that 69 percent of the public thought that Nixon was still trying to cover up, 72 percent still thought he was guilty of obstruction of justice, and 75 percent thought he deserved no further role in public life.
David Frost was recently asked by Joan Bakewell why he had been willing to take such a dangerous risk by talking on television about Watergate. Frost had been told by Nixons chief of staff and confidant, Jack Brennan, that Nixon feared that some of the people who had gone to prison over Watergate, would sue him when they were released. Frost added that this surprisingly did not happen. Maybe Nixon needed the money to stop them from talking. It was not only the burglars who needed hush money.
Richard M. Nixon died of a stroke on 22nd April, 1994.