January 9th, 2022


Happy Birthday Richard Nixon

On January 9, 1913 (109 years ago today) Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, was born in Yorba Linda California. His parents were Frank and Hanna Nixon and he was the second of five sons. According to some sources, he was named for King Richard the Lion-hearted of England. He has the unenviable distinction of being the only president to resign the office. Nixon had previously served as a U.S. Representative and Senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961.

Richard Nixon graduated from Whittier College in 1934 and Duke University School of Law in Durham, North Carolina, in 1937. He returned to California to practice law. In 1940 he married the former Thelma "Pat" Ryan and in 1942 the couple moved to Washington DC where he worked for the federal government at the Office of Price Administration. Four months later he began his service in the United States Navy during World War II. He resigned his commission after the war on New Year's Day of 1946.

Nixon was elected in California to the House of Representatives in 1946 and to the Senate in 1950. In 1948 as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee, his pursuit of the Alger Hiss case established his reputation as a leading anti-communist, and elevated him to national prominence. In 1952 Senator Nixon was selected to be the running mate of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican Party presidential nominee in the 1952 election. Nixon served for eight years as vice president. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1960, narrowly losing to John F. Kennedy. Two years later he lost a race for Governor of California in 1962, following which he told reporters "you won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more." But that wasn't correct. In 1968, he ran again for the president and was elected, defeating Democrat Hubert Humphrey.

At first Nixon escalated America's involvement in the Vietnam War that he inherited from the previous administration, but he subsequently ended U.S. involvement by 1973. Nixon's visit to the People's Republic of China in 1972 opened diplomatic relations between the two nations, and he signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union the same year.

Domestically, many of Nixon's policies offended some in his conservative base. He was very progressive in response to many social issues. For example, he launched initiatives to fight cancer and illegal drugs. He also imposed wage and price controls, enforced desegregation of Southern schools, implemented environmental reforms, and introduced legislation to reform healthcare and welfare. While he was President, the first manned spacecraft landed on the moon, that being Apollo 11. But it was also Nixon who later replaced manned space exploration with shuttle missions. He was re-elected by a landslide in 1972.

Nixon's second term was marred by the Watergate scandal, in which operatives working with the knowledge of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, were caught breaking in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Mistrust of Nixon abounded and he became pejoratively referred to by his critics as "Tricky Dick". It was a terrible shame, because it was totally unnecessary for Nixon's re-election. As the scandal escalated, and investigators followed a trial that led to the White House, Nixon lost almost all of his political support, and faced certain impeachment. On August 9, 1974, he resigned the presidency. After his resignation, he accepted a pardon issued by his successor, Gerald Ford.


In retirement, Nixon's work as an elder statesman, authoring nine books and undertaking many foreign trips, which helped to rehabilitate his public image. His wife Pat died on June 22, 1993, of emphysema and lung cancer. Her funeral services were held on the grounds of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace and Richard Nixon was distraught throughout the ceremony. Less than a year later, Nixon suffered a severe stroke on April 18, 1994, while preparing to eat dinner in his Manhattan home. A blood clot resulting from his heart condition had formed in his upper heart, broken off, and traveled to his brain. He was taken to New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, alert but unable to speak or to move his right arm or leg. Damage to the brain caused swelling and he slipped into a deep coma. Richard Milhous Nixon died at 9:08 p.m. on April 22, 1994, with his daughters Tricia and Julie at his bedside. He was 81 years old.

Mid-Term Elections: 1974

How did the Watergate scandal affect the mid-term elections held in 1974, following the resignation of Richard Nixon? Pretty much as one might expect. In the House, Democrats gained 49 seats, increasing their majority from 242 to 291 seats, while Republicans dropped from 192 to 144, a loss of 48 seats. Democrats also won one seat formerly held by an independent. This was the largest gain of seats in the house by Democrats since 1958, and those elected to office that year later came to be known as "Watergate Babies." In the senate, Democrat gains were more modest, increasing their majority from 57 to 61 seats, with Republicans dropping from 41 to 37. Two remaining seats were held by independents who were not up for re-election.


Gerald Ford's rise to the Presidency in 1974 was quite remarkable, considering that he had not gotten elected to either positions (the only person so far to hold that distinction.) He had wanted to become House Speaker, and had worked to help Republicans across the country get a majority in the chamber, often traveling to speak in their districts. After failing to do so for over a decade, he promised his wife Betty that he would try again one last time in 1974 and then retire in 1976. As John Lennon once said, life is what happens to us when we're busy making other plans, and that certainly was true for Ford.

On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned and later pleaded no contest to criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering. This was the result of his having accepted $29,500 in bribes when he was Governor of Maryland. Incumbent President Nixon sought advice from senior Congressional leaders about a replacement, knowing that he needed to find someone who could gain enough support within the Democratic controlled Congress. House Speaker Carl Albert later said, "We gave Nixon no choice but Ford" and Ford agreed to the nomination. He told his wife that the vice presidency would be "a nice conclusion" to his political career.

Ford was nominated to take Agnew's position on October 12, 1973, two days after Agnew's resignation. It was the first time that a vice-presidential vacancy was filled under the provision of the 25th Amendment. The United States Senate voted to confirm Ford on November 27 by a margin of 92 to 3. On December 6, 1973, the House confirmed Ford by a vote of 387 to 35. After the confirmation vote in the House, Ford took the oath of office as vice president.

At the time, the Watergate scandal was unfolding and things were getting worse for President Richard Nixon. On Thursday, August 1, 1974, Chief of Staff Alexander Haig contacted Ford to tell him to get ready to become President. Ford and his family were still living in suburban Virginia and hadn't yet moved into the newly designated vice president's residence in Washington, D.C. Ford recalled:

"Al Haig asked to come over and see me to tell me that there would be a new tape released on a Monday, and he said the evidence in there was devastating and there would probably be either an impeachment or a resignation. And he said, 'I'm just warning you that you've got to be prepared, that things might change dramatically and you could become President.' And I said, 'Betty, I don't think we're ever going to live in the vice president's house.'"

Ford was correct about that. Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, and Ford assumed the presidency, making him the only person to become the nation's chief executive without having been previously voted in either as president or vice-president by the Electoral College. Immediately after Ford took the oath of office in the East Room of the White House, he spoke to those assembled in a speech that was broadcast live to the nation. He said:

"I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers. I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it. Those who nominated and confirmed me as Vice President were my friends and are my friends. They were of both parties, elected by all the people and acting under the Constitution in their name. It is only fitting then that I should pledge to them and to you that I will be the President of all the people...

"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice, but mercy... Let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and hate."

On August 20, Ford nominated former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill the vice presidency he had vacated. Rockefeller underwent extended hearings before Congress. Conservative Republicans were not pleased that Rockefeller was picked, but most of them voted for his confirmation, and his nomination passed both the House and Senate. His old conservative nemesis Barry Goldwater was one of the Republicans who voted against him.

Probably nothing hurt Republican chances in the upcoming mid-term and presidential election than Ford's most controversial act. On September 8, 1974, Ford issued Proclamation 4311, which gave his predecessor Richard Nixon a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes he might have committed against the United States while president. Ford tried to explain his action in a televised broadcast to the nation, but much of the nation was unconvinced, including many Republicans. Ford said that he felt the pardon was in the best interests of the country. He called the Nixon family's situation "a tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must."

Ford's critics called the pardon a "corrupt bargain" that had been struck between Ford and Nixon. Many believed that Ford's pardon was granted in exchange for Nixon's resignation. Ford's first press secretary and close friend Jerald terHorst resigned his post in protest after the pardon. According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, Nixon Chief of Staff Alexander Haig had proposed a pardon deal to Ford, but that Ford later decided to pardon Nixon for other reasons, primarily the friendship he and Nixon shared. Whatever the truth was, the controversy was certainly one of the major reasons that so many Republicans lost their seats in the mid-term elections that year and why Ford later lost the 1976 presidential election. Ford himself agreed with these conclusions. A New York Times editorial called the Nixon pardon a "profoundly unwise, divisive and unjust act" and added that it had destroyed the Ford's "credibility as a man of judgment, candor and competence".

On October 17, 1974, Ford testified before Congress about the pardon, making him the first sitting president since Abraham Lincoln to testify before the House of Representatives.

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On September 16 (shortly after he pardoned Nixon), Ford also issued Presidential Proclamation 4313, which introduced a conditional amnesty program for military deserters and Vietnam War draft dodgers who had fled to countries such as Canada. The conditions of the amnesty required that those receiving the amnesty must reaffirm their allegiance to the United States and serve two years working in a public service job or a total of two years service for those who had served less than two years of honorable service in the military. The program for the Return of Vietnam Era Draft Evaders and Military Deserters established a Clemency Board to review the records and make recommendations for receiving a Presidential Pardon and a change in Military discharge status. Full pardon for draft dodgers would not come until the administration of Ford's successor, Jimmy Carter.

The 1974 Congressional midterm elections took place less than three months after Ford assumed office. The Democratic Party used voter anger over Watergate and the Nixon pardon to their advantage and won large gains in the House elections, taking 49 seats from the Republicans, increasing their majority to 291 of the 435 seats. Only 290 seats were needed for a two-thirds majority, the number necessary to override a Presidential veto or to propose a constitutional amendment. The 94th Congress went on to overrode the highest percentage of vetoes since Andrew Johnson's presidency. Republicans even lost the seat that Ford had held for many years, once considered reliably Republican, to Democrat Richard Vander Veen. In the Senate elections, the Democratic majority rose to 61 seats from 57. Republicans would not retake control of Congress for another 20 years.