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Richard Nixon was the 37th President of the United States between 1969 and 1974. Before his presidency, Nixon was a Republican politician and had a long career in American politics. However, his political legacy was tarnished in his second presidential term after he was forced to resign or face impeachment after the 'Watergate Scandal'.
What was the Watergate Scandal, and what policies did Nixon introduce before this, specifically in relation to the Cold War? Read on to find out!
To impeach means to charge, usually a public official, with misconduct in court – impeachment is the first step to removing someone from office
Richard Milhous Nixon was born in 1913 in California to his Quaker parents, Frank and Hannah Nixon. His Quaker faith led Nixon to identify with conservative political values.
Quakers are members of a group with Protestant Christian roots that began in England in the 1650s. The formal title of the movement is the Society of Friends or the Religious Society of Friends.
Nixon came from a very poor and humble background but excelled in his educational pursuits. Nixon attended Duke University and studied law, graduating at the top of his class in 1937.
As World War II (1940–1945) began, Nixon became actively involved in the government's war effort. Nixon played an integral role in overseeing wartime supplies, later joining the US Navy in 1942.
After WWII ended, Nixon began his political career – let's look at the roles he held before becoming President.
In 1946 Nixon was elected to the US House of Representatives to represent his district in California. This was a huge win for Nixon as he managed to beat the five-term Democratic representative in his district.
He served as a congressman (member of the House of Representatives) from 1947 until 1950.
House of Representatives
The lower house of the US legislature (Congress)
Member of House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)
During his time in the House of Representatives, Nixon played a key role in the HUAC, an essential factor in his rise to national prominence.
This committee was initially formed to investigate alleged disloyalty and communist/fascist subversion (undermining the authority of an institution) of US citizens and organisations. In 1947, it began a series of hearings to identify communists in the US. These hearings were in the era of the post-war Red Scare.
As a member of this committee, Nixon took a leading role in the investigation of government official Alger Hiss. Nixon's hardline questioning led many Americans to admire Nixon's staunch anti-communist stance.
Widespread fear of communism
In 1950, Nixon was elected to the US Senate – he served in this role until 1953.
The upper house of the US legislature (Congress)
General Dwight Eisenhower chose Nixon to be his running mate in the 1952 election. The pair won, and Nixon became Vice President, a position he would hold until 1961.
He was very active in this role, particularly between 1955 and 1957 after Eisenhower suffered a stroke.
Nixon first campaigned for president in 1960 without success but returned to win eight years later. What happened in these two campaigns, and what affected his success?
After Nixon's success as Vice President, he wanted to take his political career to a new level by running as the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1960.
Nixon's main opponent was the Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy. Although Nixon could hold his own, Kennedy gained the upper hand due to his youthful and vibrant personality. Kennedy won the election by a small margin of just 112,000 votes.
Many Republicans believed that a recount would tip the balance in Nixon's favour. Nixon, however, refused to engage in this speculation and returned to California to practice law.
After much convincing, Nixon put himself forward for the 1968 Republican nomination and won. This meant that the Republican National Convention chose him to run as their candidate for President. His rival was the Democratic candidate Herbert Humphrey, who Nixon beat by a narrow majority.
Let's explore the critical elements of Nixon's campaign.
The silent majority
The silent majority, also referred to as middle America, is a large undefined group of citizens who do not vocally express their political opinions. The term was not popularised until after Nixon had become president - on 3rd November 1969, in a speech about the Vietnam War, he said:
And so tonight, to you, to the great silent majority of my fellow Americans, I ask for your support.1
In his campaign, Nixon realised that this group was being overshadowed by the vocal minority, who took part in anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and other counterculture movements at the time.
Although the silent majority is unspecified, it can be broadly categorised as the white conservative majority of America, especially the white conservative South.
The southern strategy was a method of rallying support by appealing to racist sentiment in the South, which was unimpressed with African American civil rights advancements. Nixon used this to grow support among white voters.
Republican revival and realignment
|Before Nixon, the Republican party was associated with the abolition of slavery and opposition to the South in the Civil War. This meant that the party had not enjoyed support from white Southerners due to its association with the end of slavery, which had been the backbone of the South's economy. |
The realignment of the Republican party during Nixon's campaign to become more conservative increased the support basis. As such, Nixon is credited with the revival of the Republican party by attracting conservative voters who had traditionally voted for the Democratic party.
Today, historians claim that the changes made to the Republican Party in the 1960s and 1970s have made it extremely difficult for the Republican Party to win back the support of Black voters, especially in the South. African Americans often perceive the Republican Party as a vehicle for white supremacy, and such ideas were furthered under President Donald Trump's leadership. As with Nixon, Trump appealed to the silent majority to win the election, some of whom held racist views.
Generally, counterculture refers to attitudes against the social norm. In American history, it refers to a period in the 1960s and 70s in which mostly young people began to develop an increased sense of political and social agency against conventional ideas.
Despite Nixon's southern strategy and the silent majority campaign, he also appealed to the counterculture youth. Nixon's campaign was primarily aimed at ending the Vietnam War, and for many of America's youth, this was an urgent matter.
Divisions in the Democratic Party
A contributing factor to Nixon's election victory was the weakening of the Democratic Party due to internal divisions. Along with counterculture, the New Left emerged, which favoured a more progressive political ideology than the Old Left.
American historians argue that party alignments during this period virtually reversed. The Democratic Party, which had traditionally favoured the votes of Southern, white, and often racist conservatives, had now lost a significant number of their votes to the Republicans because they were becoming too progressive. Meanwhile, the Republican party started making compromises with the same demographic, effectively abandoning a long-standing tradition of progressivism.
After winning the 1968 election, Nixon became President on 20 January 1969. He won a second term in 1972 by a landslide but did not finish it as he resigned on 8th August 1974 when threatened with impeachment.
What did Nixon do as President before he was forced to resign? His policies were often contradictory as he switched between liberal and conservative policies, depending on which would boost his popularity. He introduced progressive policies concerning civil rights, welfare, and the environment, but his greatest accomplishments were in foreign policy, as he laid the foundations for the end of the Cold War.
Although Nixon had campaigned using the southern strategy, he still introduced policies that advanced civil rights.
He introduced policies that required a certain percentage of jobs on federally funded construction projects to be given to African Americans.
He increased funding to civil rights agencies, especially the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).
Nixon's administration set up biracial committees to implement the desegregation of schools. This resulted in an 18% drop in African American children attending all-black schools in 1970.
President Nixon also played an instrumental role in increasing the visibility of women in American politics.
Notably, in 1972, Nixon signed the Equal Opportunity Employment Act, which
Prohibited federal agencies from using discriminatory hiring practices,
Expanded the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sex as well as race in the workplace,
Expanded the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination in educational institutions, governments, and agencies,
Gave the EEOC the authority to carry out lawsuits if discrimination occurred.
Nixon's work on civil rights is one of the reasons he is considered a liberal politician. His policies foreshadowed further affirmative action to forward civil rights.
Favouring those from groups that were previously discriminated against (positive discrimination)
By 1968, conservative backlash against previous President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program had intensified. President Nixon set out to dismantle what many viewed as costly failures of the program.
Lyndon B. Johnson introduced a series of ambitious policies intended to end poverty, reduce crime, eliminate inequality, and improve the environment.
In his 1971 State of the Union Address, Nixon expressed that welfare reform was his highest domestic priority.
Nixon tried to push through the Family Assistance Programme (FAP), which would have provided low income and unemployed families with a guaranteed annual income.
This was deemed far too progressive, and many thought it would remove the incentive to work.
Instead, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) was introduced, providing a guaranteed income for the elderly and disabled people.
Although it wasn't as all-encompassing as Nixon had intended, it was extremely important to the welfare system.
There was also an expansion of other existing welfare programmes such as food stamps and health insurance.
Some of Nixon's domestic policy changes were influenced by popular opinion rather than his personal political agenda. Environmental policy was not Nixon's passion. After the 1970 Earth Day protests, which saw millions of Americans rally for climate policy, plus pressure from the Democratic Party, Nixon made slight adjustments to appease the nation.
He introduced the Clean Air Act of 1970, which established two environmental agencies:
The Department of Natural Resources
The Environmental Protection Agency
Nixon's presidency coincided with a tense period of the Cold War, mainly surrounding US involvement in the Vietnam War which had intensified under Johnson. Nixon made it his goal to end the Vietnam War and improve relations with China and the Soviet Union. How successful was he in achieving these goals?
The US had become directly involved in the Vietnam War in 1965. By the time Nixon became president, hundreds of American soldiers were dying every week in Vietnam, civilian deaths at the hands of American soldiers were increasing, and the war was costing the US around $70million per day.
In the silent majority speech of 1969, Nixon laid out his Vietnamisation policy and his approval ratings reached around 80%.
Nixon's plan to end the Vietnam War consisted of three critical elements:
In Nixon's view, the US should move towards 'Vietnamisation' – a programme designed to prepare the South Vietnamese to fight the communist forces themselves without the assistance of US troops.
Nixon wanted to significantly or ideally remove all US forces from the region.
In the final phase of Nixon's plan, Nixon aimed to escalate airstrikes on Cambodia and Laos to force the communists into negotiations.
Was Nixon successful?
Between 1969 and 1972, around 405,00 US troops were withdrawn from Vietnam.
Widening the war into Cambodia proved to be disastrous. Nixon decided to target Cambodia because the Cambodian government had permitted North Vietnamese troops to establish bases there.
Nixon concealed this decision from the American public as it effectively prolonged the war and spread the conflict. However, as soon as American and South Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, protests erupted and the anti-war movement gained further momentum.
Furthermore, the communist Khmer Rouge group gained popularity as a result of the invasion and went on to commit mass atrocities in the country.
In January 1973, an agreement was signed leading to a ceasefire and the withdrawal of all remaining American personnel.
Although North Vietnam initially agreed to a ceasefire in 1973, by 1975 South Vietnam forces were defeated by North Vietnam and the country was united under communist rule.
Nixon had success in relations with China and the Soviet Union. Relations between the two communist countries had begun deteriorating in the 1950s. Nixon saw an opportunity to tip the Cold War power balance in the West's favour by building a relationship with China.
In 1970 the Nixon administration reduced the trade and protectionist barriers against China, and in 1971 China invited the American table tennis team for a tournament in China. This move acted as an olive branch between the rival nations and led Nixon, alongside his wife Pat Nixon, to take a trip to China in February 1972.
On this trip, Nixon engaged in talks with the then leader of China, Mao Zedong. These talks allowed for the relationship between the nations to be mended.
Protectionist Barriers are policies put in place by a nation to protect their domestic industry usually by placing tariffs (taxes) or restrictions on foreign importations into their nation. When Nixon reduced the barriers, this made it easier for China to trade with the United States.
Just a few months after, Nixon travelled to Moscow to meet with Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union. This meeting led to a mutual pact of nuclear arms control/ limitation named the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT).
Both of these advances in foreign policy contributed to the end of the Cold War.
American and China relationship
Henry Kissinger served as Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under Richard Nixon (1969-1974) and Gerald Ford (1974-1977). Kissinger played a crucial role in mending America's relationship with China. Kissinger made secret trips to the nation on behalf of Nixon, to forge diplomatic ties.
The famous Watergate Scandal was Nixon's downfall, but what exactly was it?
In Nixon's 1972 bid for re-election, Nixon defeated Democratic candidate George McGovern. This electoral win was the widest in American history. Nixon won 520 electoral colleges over McGovern's 18.
A group of people that represent the states of the US, who vote for the President and Vice President based on the citizens' votes in each state
Within a few months of his victory, Nixon was implicated in a scandal that destroyed his reputation. There was a break-in attempt at the Democratic National Committee's offices in Watergate, DC, on 17th June 1972. Five men were caught trying to bug the offices.
After a thorough investigation, the break-in was traced to the committee that helped Nixon get re-elected. Those of his administration that were proven to be involved resigned or were convicted.
Democratic National Committee
The governing body of the United States Democratic Party
Nixon denied any personal involvement. Eventually, a court required Nixon to hand over his presidential tapes of conversations between him and his presidential advisors. These tapes revealed that Nixon had intentionally tried to cover up the scandal and divert the investigation.
Nixon was charged with three articles of impeachment.
Taking part personally and through his close associates in a scheme to stall, slow, and impede the investigation into the Watergate break-in
Illegally using the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate political enemies and illegally using the FBI to do illegal surveillance
Failing to comply with a summons from investigators, including the Senate Watergate Committee
Rather than face certain impeachment, Nixon resigned on 8 August 1974.
Nixon's defence of capitalism and democracy was celebrated in the 'kitchen debate', so when the Watergate scandal exposed him as having allowed various undemocratic crimes, it was shocking.
Nixon died on 22nd April 1994 after a stroke. What was the legacy he left behind?
Ultimately, the Watergate scandal shaped much of Nixon's presidential impact and legacy. Nixon is so far the only American President in history to resign from their duties. However, Nixon did introduce some progressive domestic policies, ended US involvement in the Vietnam War, and built relationships with China and the Soviet Union.
Nixon was charged with three articles of impeachment.
Nixon's political legacy was tarnished in his second presidential term after he was forced to resign or face impeachment after the 'Watergate Scandal' due to illegal activities during his administration.
Nixon initially refused to hand over the tapes between him and his presidential advisors because they implicated Nixon in an intentional cover-up. The tapes revealed that Nixon had intentionally tried to cover up the scandal and divert the investigation.
In 1972 there was a break in the offices of the Democratic National Committee. After much investigation, it was found that the break-in was traced to the committee that aided Nixon's re-election.
Richard Nixon was the 37th President of the United States between 1969 and 1974.
President Nixon was what number president?
What year was Earth Day?
Who did Nixon help convict as a member of the HUAC?
What is the name of the debate between Nikita Khruschev and President Nixon?
The Kitchen Debate
What was the name of the nuclear arms restriction between the US and the USSR?
Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT)
What is the name of the scandal President Nixon was embroiled in?
President Nixon was the first president to?
Nixon resigned to avoid being ____________?
When was Nixon president?
1969 - 1974
What was the SSI?
Supplemental Security Income provided a guaranteed income for those disabled and elderly.
When was the Clean Air Act and what agencies were established as a result?
What was Nixon's main presidential aim?
To end the Vietnam War
What year did Nixon push for a Civil Rights act during his vice presidency?
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