When Richard Nixon was buried at his boyhood home in Yorba Linda, California, following his death in 1994, the nation, almost in spite of itself, paid homage to a president who betrayed his oath of office—the only chief executive in U.S. history to resign office.
Born on January 9, 1913, Nixon overcame a financially pinched childhood and excelled in school, becoming a successful lawyer, then serving in the navy during World War II. Returning from the war, Nixon ran for Congress from California’s 12th district in 1946, handily winning after he attacked his Democratic opponent, Jerry Voorhis, as a communist. From that point on, Nixon focused on communism as his principal political theme. Reelected to the House in 1948, Nixon defeated Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas in a 1956 Senate race, accusing her of communist leanings (“pink right down to her underwear”).
In 1952, the 39-year-old Nixon was tapped as running mate of Dwight D. Eisenhower and served as vice president through Ike’s two terms. Nixon earned particular respect in 1955 when he effectively and confidently filled in for Eisenhower as the president recovered from a heart attack.
In 1960, Nixon became the Republican candidate for president, only to lose the election by a mere 100,000 votes to John F. Kennedy. Discouraged, Nixon ran for California governor two years later and was defeated, telling reporters that they wouldn’t “have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
But Nixon returned as a presidential candidate in 1968, defeating Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey. As president, Nixon reached out to-the Soviet Union and China, beginning a gradual thaw in the Cold War. Through foreign policy advisor (later secretary of state) Henry Kissinger, Nixon engineered a painful U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. On the domestic front, he developed what he called the “New Federalism,” cutting back on federal programs and shifting power as well as responsibility back onto state and local governments.
The 1972 elections swept Nixon back into office for a second term; however, his campaign tactics involved a myriad of illegal activities, and, after a lengthy congressional inquiry, Nixon resigned office on August 9, 1974. He accepted a pardon from his successor, Gerald R. Ford, and spent the rest of his life writing works of autobiography and foreign policy. He died cloaked in the mantle of elder statesman.