Richard Nixon: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: James Moeller
We'll seek to find out who our nation's 37th President was by looking at his early years, education, and rise to power. We'll also examine Nixon's political career, from its zenith to its downfall.

The Life & Turbulent Times of Richard Milhous Nixon

'Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty: always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.'

37th President Richard M Nixon

President Richard M. Nixon said those words on August 9, 1974 to his administrative staff just after resigning the Presidency. There are few political characters in American history that are as difficult to define as Richard M. Nixon. By any reasonable measure, his background would indicate that he should have been an outstanding president. But it was the fear of losing power and the belief others hated him that cost him his high office.

Early Years in California

Richard Milhous Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California on January 9, 1913 to Frank & Hannah Nixon. Frank owned a gas station and a grocery store and was generally seen as stern but fair. His mother, however, may have had the greater influence in his life as she was a Quaker and responsible in large part for Richard's growing faith. Nixon said he had a hard life, as evidenced in the following statement: 'We were poor but the glory of it is we didn't know it.'

Upon graduation from high school, he was offered a full scholarship to prestigious Harvard University. However, due to traveling and living expenses that were not affordable for the family, he attended local Whittier College instead. After his graduation in 1934, he accepted a scholarship to Duke University Law School. He graduated third in his class in 1937 and was admitted to the Bar of the State of California the same year.

Marriage & Early Political Career

The young future president returned to Whittier and practiced law for a local firm. Nixon was cast in a local community playhouse and as a result met Thelma Catherine ('Pat') Ryan. A local school teacher, she immediately caught his eye and he asked her out for a date (she turned him down twice). They married in 1940 and would later have two daughters, Tricia & Julie.

Dissatisfied with being a small-town lawyer, he and Pat moved to Washington, D.C. in 1942 after accepting a job with FDR's Office of Price Administration. With World War II fully engaged , he left his office and joined the US Navy where he served as a Ground Aviation Officer. Lt. Nixon never saw combat but, received two Service Stars and other awards. When he resigned his commission from the Navy in January of 1946, he held the rank of Lt. Commander.

Now a civilian, a group of Republican leaders from Whittier encouraged Nixon to run for Congress. He won his seat in 1946 and quickly established himself as an expert in foreign policy. Nixon won further fame as a member of HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee), part of Senator Eugene McCarthy's campaign to root out Communists in the US government. Nixon was particularly active in prosecuting State Department worker, Alger Hiss. In 1950 he staged a successful campaign for the Senate. Using pink flyers to undermine his female opponent as a left-winger, he earned the name, 'Tricky Dick'.

Presidency & the Watergate Scandal

At the 1952 Republican National Convention, Richard M. Nixon was nominated as Vice-President along with Presidential nominee, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike believed Nixon could win much needed votes in the West. Upon winning the election, Nixon served eight years as Ike's VP.

In 1960 he ran for president against the Democratic Party newcomer, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, In the first ever televised debate, Nixon looked tired and haggard compared to the young, vibrant, Kennedy. Nixon lost by only 120,000 votes, although Kennedy had 303 electoral votes compared to Nixon's 219. Nixon returned to California, ran for the governorship in 1962, and lost to Democrat Pat Brown. Nixon later said, 'You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore!'

VP Nixon with Marine Corp Commandant, Nov 1954

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