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Richard Nixon

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Richard Nixon

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!

Impeachment

To impeach means to charge, usually a public official, with misconduct in court – impeachment is the first step to removing someone from office

Richard Nixon facts

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.

Richard Nixon, Picture of President Nixon, StudySmarterPresident Richard Nixon, Wikimedia Commons

President Nixon's political career

After WWII ended, Nixon began his political career – let's look at the roles he held before becoming President.

Role

Explanation

Congressman

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.

Red Scare

Widespread fear of communism

Senator

In 1950, Nixon was elected to the US Senate – he served in this role until 1953.

Senate

The upper house of the US legislature (Congress)

Vice President

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 played a leading role in passing the 1957 Civil Rights Bill, which created the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and introduced more protection for Black voting rights.

  • Nixon met with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow on 24th July 1959. The two engaged in an intense debate about the merits and disadvantages of both communism and capitalism. This debate was labelled the 'kitchen debate' as it was conducted in a model kitchen exhibit and was televised in the Soviet Union and the USA. Nixon fought fiercely for capitalism, so he was regarded as a very viable presidential candidate.

Affirmative action

Favouring those from groups that were previously discriminated against (positive discrimination)

Welfare policy

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.

Great Society

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.

Environment

Environment

Richard Nixon, President Nixon 1970 Earth Day, StudySmarter1970 Earth Day demonstrations, Wikimedia Commons

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:

  1. The Department of Natural Resources

  2. The Environmental Protection Agency

President Nixon's foreign policy

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?

Nixon and the Vietnam War

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:

  1. 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.

  2. Nixon wanted to significantly or ideally remove all US forces from the region.

  3. 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?

Successes

Failures

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.

Relations with China and the Soviet Union

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.

Richard Nixon, Picture of President Nixon and Mao Zedong, StudySmarter

President Nixon and Mao Zedong, Wikimedia Commons

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 Watergate Scandal

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.

Electoral College

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.

  1. Taking part personally and through his close associates in a scheme to stall, slow, and impede the investigation into the Watergate break-in

  2. Illegally using the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate political enemies and illegally using the FBI to do illegal surveillance

  3. 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.

Richard Nixon, Impeach Nixon Demonstration, StudySmarterImpeach Nixon, Wikimedia Commons

President Nixon's death and legacy

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.

President Nixon - Key takeaways

  • Richard Nixon became the 37th President of the United States (1969–1974) after already holding various political offices.
  • As Vice President, Nixon notably engaged in a deep and passionate debate with Nikita Khruschev about the merits and disadvantages of both communism and capitalism, labelled as the 'kitchen debate'.
  • Nixon appealed to the silent majority during his campaign by implementing a Southern strategy.
  • Nixon's presidency was rather contradictory as he often changed between liberal and conservative policies when it best suited his presidential popularity.
  • Nixon made several progressive policy changes concerning the environment, welfare and civil rights.
  • Nixon oversaw the end of the Vietnam War although he controversially widened the war to Cambodia and Laos. He also built relationships with China and the Soviet Union, signing the SALT with the Soviet Union.
  • Nixon's legacy was tarnished in 1972 after the Watergate Scandal and Nixon resigned.

Frequently Asked Questions about Richard Nixon

Nixon was charged with three articles of impeachment.


  1. Taking part personally and through his close associates in a scheme to stall, slow, and impede the investigation into the Watergate break-in.
  2. Illegally using the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate political enemies and illegally using the FBI to do illegal surveillance.
  3. Failing to comply with summons from investigators, including the Senate Watergate Committee.

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.

Final Richard Nixon Quiz

Question

President Nixon was what number president?

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Answer

37th

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Question

What year was Earth Day?

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Answer

1970

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Question

Who did Nixon help convict as a member of the HUAC?

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Answer

Alger Hiss

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Question

What is the name of the debate between Nikita Khruschev and President Nixon?

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Answer

The Kitchen Debate

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Question

What was the name of the nuclear arms restriction between the US and the USSR?

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Answer

Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT)

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Question

What is the name of the scandal President Nixon was embroiled in?

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Answer

Watergate?

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Question

President Nixon was the first president to?

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Answer

Resign

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Question

Nixon resigned to avoid being ____________?

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Answer

Impeached

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Question

When was Nixon president?

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Answer

1969 - 1974

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Question

What was the SSI?

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Answer

Supplemental Security Income provided a guaranteed income for those disabled and elderly.

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Question

When was the Clean Air Act and what agencies were established as a result?

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Answer

  1. 1970
  2. The Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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Question

What was Nixon's main presidential aim?

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Answer

To end the Vietnam War

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Question

What year did Nixon push for a Civil Rights act during his vice presidency?

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Answer

1957

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