Richard M Nixon

37th president - 1969-1974


Richard Nixon is synonymous with the Watergate scandal – one of the greatest crises that the presidency has ever faced. Yet in other respects his time in office was not without its achievements.

It was he who eventually disentangled the US from its disastrous involvement in Vietnam – although not before a bloody and much criticised widening of the conflict into Cambodia and Laos. (Some 20,000 US servicemen, and innumerable South-east Asians, were killed during the Nixon presidency.) He also contributed significantly to a reduction of tensions with China and the USSR, laying the foundations for diplomatic relations with the former with a visit to Beijing in 1972 and holding a series of summits with Leonid Brezhnev that culminated in the signing of the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He also encouraged Henry Kissinger, his Secretary of State, to negotiate disengagement agreements between Israel, Egypt and Syria after the Yom Kippur war.

Domestically, he dealt firmly (some would say too firmly) with anti-war protests, and appointed several conservative judges to the Supreme Court, but also undertook what he described as "government reform such as this nation has not witnessed in half a century". He increased social security spending, introduced forms of affirmative action for racial minorities, passed new anti-crime laws and launched a broad environmental programme. He also ended conscription, attempted to put limits on wage and price increases, and took a surprisingly progressive approach to the chronic problems of inflation and unemployment.

His prospects of re-election in 1972 were excellent, and it was surprising that he felt the need for the systematic dirty tricks (carried out by a secret White House team known as "The Plumbers") that led to the Watergate break-in, cover-up and scandal. It has been suggested that he had never got over his close and controversial defeat in the 1960 election by John F Kennedy, and was determined not to leave anything to chance. A dark, driven man – a former lawyer who grew up in a strict, working-class Quaker family in southern California – he had been associated with scheming and rule-bending for much of his political career: from his enthusiastic work for the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the late Forties to the time he had to appear on television in 1952 to defend himself against charges of fund-raising irregularities, to the eight years he served as the vice-presidential "bad cop" to the benign President Eisenhower. He believed that the 1960 election had been stolen from him, and he lacked the moral fibre to resist the temptation to steal one back.

The denouement is well-known. A bungled burglary at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee headquarters on 17 June 1972 was followed by clumsy attempts by the White House to conceal its involvement, and by the slow, relentless exposure of the cover-up by the Washington Post. Nixon brazened it out until 9 August 1974, when, with impeachment looming, he announced that he would stand down for the good of the nation.

His successor, Gerald Ford (who had only taken over the vice-presidency after the resignation of Spiro Agnew over unrelated corruption charges), issued a presidential pardon for any crimes he might have committed while in office. Twenty other people were eventually convicted of criminal offences relating to Watergate.

Nixon never really seems to have accepted that he had been discredited, and he found a role for himself after his resignation as an expert on foreign affairs. He visted 18 foreign countries in the first decade of his retirement and met with 16 heads of state. He died in 1994.

Opinion remains divided as to whether his was a successful presidency ruined by a single fatal flaw; or whether his resignation actually created a misleadingly positive impression of his achievements, by leaving his successor to sort out the problems that were building up in the economy. The fairest verdict can probably be found in Jimmy Carter's words: "He's disgraced the presidency."

In his own words

"America's record in this century has been unparalleled in the world's history for its responsibility, for its generosity, for its creativity and its progress. Let us be proud that our system has produced and provided more freedom and more abundance, more widely shared, than any other in the history of man."

"Once a man has been in politics, once that's been in his life, he will always return if the people want him."

"I played by the rules of politics as I found them."

"When the president does it, that means that it's not illegal."

"A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits."

"I am not a crook."

"What in the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] caused this?"

"I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first...

"Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow...

"By taking this action, I hope that I will have hastened the start of that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.

"I regret deeply any injuries that may have been done in the course of the events that led to this decision. I would say only that if some of my judgements were wrong, and some were wrong, they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the Nation."

(Resignation statement, 9 August 1974)

In others' words

"The irony about Nixon is that his pre-Watergate record is a lot better than most liberals realise. It was Nixon, after all, who opened the door to China and who eventually brought the troops home from Vietnam." Thomas P O'Neill

"Richard M Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States." House Judiciary Committee, articles of impeachment, 1974

"Richard Nixon is a no-good lying bastard. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he'd lie just to keep his hand in." Harry S Truman

"In 200 years of history, he's the most dishonest president we've ever had. I think he's disgraced the presidency." Jimmy Carter

"It was a Greek tragedy. Nixon was fulfilling his own nature. Once it started it could not end otherwise." Henry A Kissinger

"Nixon's grand mistake was his failure to understand that Americans are forgiving, and if he had admitted error early and apologised to the country, he would have escaped." Bob Woodward


Nixon was the first president to visit all 50 states.

Accused of financial impropriety while running as Eisenhower's vice-presidential candidate in 1952, he famously defended himself on television, itemising all his assets and explaining that the only one that was a gift was a spaniel puppy called Checkers – which, he tearfully declared, his daughters would keep, come what may. The public loved it.

On failing to be elected Governor of California in 1962, he seemed to announce his retirement from politics, telling reporters: "You won't have Nixon to kick around any more because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."

He was the second Quaker president, after Herbert Hoover. Unlike Hoover – who had observed the Quaker ban on oaths by using the words "I affirm" rather than "I swear" in the presidential – Nixon used the words "I swear".

As a student, he was known as Gloomy Gus.

His great-grandfather was killed in the Battle of Gettysburg (and would thus have been among those honoured by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address).

In 1970, Elvis Presley visited the White House to talk about drugs – and gave Nixon a gold revolver.

In his early career as a lawyer, Nixon refused to work on divorce cases, claiming that he was "severely embarrassed by women's confessions of sexual misconduct".

He was in Dallas on the day that John F Kennedy was shot.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 1 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ofsted have said "Good te...

Advertising and Marketing Communications Manager

£52000 - £58000 per annum + benefits, company car: Ashdown Group: Advertising ...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

JavaScript Developer (HTML5, Ext JS, CSS3, jQuery, AJAX)

£40000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor