The Political History of Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon being sworn in during 1953 Eisenhower inauguration

The 1960s and 70s were a time of great upheaval for the United States. In just two decades the country bore witness to economic hardship, sizable technological advancement, a myriad of social movements, the peak of the cold war, and several political assassinations. This period proved crucial as America began its shift into the more modern version of itself that we have come to know today. However, like every historically definitive era, the 60s and 70s bore their own unique set of challenges and hardships for America to navigate, the most significant of these being the rise of media technology and the Vietnam War. The course of social change in any country is vastly affected by the reactions of its leaders to key events. Few leaders came to define this era in America’s history as much as Richard Nixon did during his time at the country’s helm as its 37th president.

Richard Nixon’s journey to the presidency began with his election to the House of Representatives in 1947. Nixon was from the small town of Whittier, California and was in his mid-30s when he was elected as a congressman, a relatively young age to attain such position. Nixon spent three years in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1950. During his time as a senator he vehemently opposed global communism, regularly travelling and denouncing the practice in the country. In 1953, under Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nixon obtained the vice presidency at forty years of age. Over Eisenhower’s eight year presidential tenure, Nixon took on a great deal of political responsibility, continuing to promote the Red Scare, facilitating McCarthyism, and shepherding the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through congress. He took advantage of the vice presidency to garner favor from the Republican party in order to secure the nomination in the 1960 election.

Nixon lost in the presidential race against Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy. Speculation suggests that the introduction of the televised debates as a new political medium proved detrimental for his campaign, as he appeared rattled and uncomfortable to the American audience. Following this defeat, in 1962 Nixon ran against incumbent Pat Brown for governor of California and lost by a mere five points. These successive losses greatly frustrated Nixon and sparked a lifelong hatred of the press and media, blaming them for tarnishing his campaigns. The following years were marked with great unrest. Race riots were spawned as a result of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and although Lyndon Johnson won the presidency in 1964, he made the momentous decision to not run for a second term. Leading up to the 1968 presidential election, the Tet Offensive was launched in Vietnam and Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. In a time of pronounced chaos, Nixon crafted himself an image of stability and resolve, appealing to non-radical voters. His revised campaign directly opposed the counterculture and anti-war movements. Running against Hubert Humphrey, Nixon finally succeeded in obtaining the presidency in 1968. 

As president, Nixon’s policies greatly affected American foreign policy. He worked tirelessly to establish détente with both the Soviet Union as well as China, alleviating hostilities that had arisen as a result of the Cold War. Additionally, he withdrew all American soldiers from Vietnam in 1973 and worked to terminate the military draft. In regards to domestic policy, Nixon lobbied for a decrease in the power of the federal government, which had been previously extended by the New Deal and Johnson’s more recent Great Society policy. The divided government inherited by Nixon’s presidency proved to be a great obstacle to his proposition of “New Federalism,” which worked to delegate more power to the states and was radically opposed by the Democratic party. In an effort to reduce inflation, Nixon employed provisional regulation of wages and prices which ended up backfiring and resulting in moderate food shortages in later years. Notably, under Nixon’s presidency the United States was the first country to reach the moon in 1969, in spite of his reductive policies towards NASA’s funding.

In the same year of his victory over Montgomery in the election of 1972, Nixon denied knowledge of a break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters and attempted to subsequently cover-up the incident. He also pressured the FBI to suspend their investigations into the matter. This became known as the Watergate scandal. Throughout 1973 and early months of 1974, Nixon continued to deny allegations of involvement in Watergate, resulting in a massive loss of support from the Republican party. In August, a tape revealing Nixon’s certain involvement in the scandal in addition to many other politically damning policies and initiatives that were secretly discussed within the White House was uncovered. Facing certain impeachment, he resigned from the presidential office days later. He was later given amnesty by his successor, Gerald Ford. 

President Nixon and Mrs. Margaret Brock

John Watson and Mrs. Margaret Brock shaking hands with President Nixon

While Nixon’s presidential legacy and policies remain controversial to this day, letters between him and Margaret Brock connote a deep sense of respect towards Republican constituents. Brock’s correspondences with Nixon, both before and after his presidential tenure, evidence their shared desire to maintain and uphold the wellbeing of the American people. Margaret’s role in fundraising for the Republican party and Nixon’s election as well as the letters they exchanged with each other illustrate her contributory role in his campaign and express concern over issues of economic policy.