The 37th President of the United States Richard M. Nixon will be remembered for two things, Watergate and his resignation of the Office of President. The Nixon Presidential Library opened 1990, four years before the President’s death in 1994. The Library deals with Watergate in a very straightforward way and lets visitors come to their own conclusions about the scandal.
Richard Nixon was born on his father’s citrus farm in Yorba Linda in 1913. The Library is located on the site of the family’s farm.
Nixon’s birthplace is a simple home, where Nixon lived as a boy. It stands not far from the President’s gravesite. The original Nixon family home is open for tours during your visit. It is a reminder of the President’s humble beginnings.
Nixon attended Whittier College, where he studied government, drama, and football. He won a scholarship to Duke University’s Law School, where he graduated in 1937. Nixon returned to California to practice law. He met schoolteacher, Pat Ryan, at a play rehearsal, and they married in 1940.
Nixon’s naval career began when he accepted an appointment to the Navy as a Lieutenant J.G. in 1942. He served in the South Pacific during the war and was released from active duty in 1946.
His Republican political career began in 1946 when he was elected to Congress by the citizens of Whittier, California. In 1948, he served as a member of the Un-American Activities Committee. He led the investigation into State Department spy, Alger Hiss. It was his service on that committee propelled him into the national spotlight. In 1950, he was elected to the Senate.
It was Nixon’s stance as an anti-communist that brought him to the attention of President Eisenhower. He named Nixon as his running mate for the 1952 election. By the 1960 election, Nixon was the Republican nominee, and John F. Kennedy was the Democratic nominee. It was the televised debate between the two candidates that swung the election in Kennedy’s favor.
After his defeat, Nixon returned to his home state of California. He ran for governor of California in 1962 and was again defeated. By 1968, a time of upheaval, President Johnson did not seek re-election because of the war in Vietnam. Nixon was the Republican nominee for President, who promised a return to traditional values.
In his first term, he sought to reduce the number of troops in Vietnam. He reached out to forge new relations with both China and the Soviet Union. On July 19, 1969, the U.S. accomplished President Kennedy’s challenge and landed men on the moon. By 1971, he was dealing with economic issues at home and took the U.S. off the gold standard.
The 1972 election was a landslide for Nixon when he won the most ever electrical votes in an election. Nixon’s goodwill ride was short-lived. His Vice President, Spiro Agnew resigned on suspicion of tax evasion, and the Watergate scandal broke in June 1972. That led to the President’s resignation in August 1974 and the appointment of Gerald Ford as President.
Ford pardoned Nixon for “for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969, through August 9, 1974.”
Nixon was one of the twenty-six Presidents who were also attorneys;
One of eight Presidents to argue a case before the Supreme Court;
Proposed the Family Assistance Plan, his welfare reform plan;
Established the Environmental Protection Agency;
Banned cigarette ads on television; and signed the Clean Air Act.
Visitors begin the library experience with a short film on Nixon’s life in the Orientation Theater. From the beginning, he was a driven man; he was hard-charging and determined to win. It was this ‘anything to win’ attitude that would eventually lead to his downfall.
Entering the exhibit area of the Library, your senses are assaulted as you walk through the crises’ that were ongoing when Nixon won the office in 1968. From racial issues to the Vietnam War that continued to rage, he had a lot to oversee.
It was President Roosevelt, who began tape recording conversations in the White House, but it is Nixon who will be remembered for the tapes, or should that be the ‘missing’ tapes.
The Library’s exhibits on Nixon’s successes are impressive: the moon landing in 1969, the visit to China, the establishment of the EPA, the war on cancer, and the end to the Vietnam War.
First Lady, Pat Nixon
Born on St. Patrick’s day, her father nicknamed her Pat. She lost her mother at age 12, and it ingrained in Pat that she had to work. “I never had time to dream about being anyone else. I had to work.” She said in one interview. Pat graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree from USC in 1937.
Pat was a schoolteacher when she met Richard Nixon. Patricia Nixon is one of the few women to have served as both the Second and First Lady. She was the first First Lady to enter a combat zone. She suffered two strokes and was then diagnosed with lung cancer, and she died in New Jersey in 1993 at age 81. At Pat’s funeral at the Library, President Nixon was visibly distraught.
Pat Nixon Gardens
The gardens that surround the Library are always teeming with new buds and beautiful flowers. The gardens are also both President Nixon and First Lady Patricia Nixon’s final resting place.
At the far end of the gardens, you will find Army One, the helicopter that served Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. It was this helicopter that took President Nixon and Patricia to Andrew’s Air Force base when he left the White House after his resignation.
Nixon retired to his beloved California “La Casa Pacifica” in 1974, where he lived out his life trying to rehabilitate his legacy. He wrote his memoirs and was interviewed by David Frost. During the interview, the President admitted he “brought himself down.”
He traveled a great deal during his post-presidency. He also authored ten books. On a trip to England, he stated about Watergate, “Some people say I didn’t handle it properly and they’re right. I screwed it up, Mea culpa. But let’s get on to my achievements. You’ll be here in the year 2000, and we’ll see how I’m regarded then.”
The Nixon’s relocated to New York City in 1979 then later moved to New Jersey. Nixon suffered a stroke in 1994 and died four days later. Nixon opted not to have a State Funeral. Instead, his funeral was conducted at the Nixon Library. He was laid to rest next to Pat.
His gravestone reads, “The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker.”
The Nixon Presidential Library is an honest look at a consequential time in U.S. history and an astonishing presidency.