Richard Nixon was the only American president ever to resign from office. Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, won a second term in office by a landslide in 1972. But his involvement in a scandal forced him to leave the presidency in 1974.
Richard Milhous Nixon was born in a small home in Yorba Linda, California, in 1913. Young Nixon had a strong drive to succeed. He worked his way through college, where he was elected president of the student body. He also won a scholarship to Duke University Law School in North Carolina.
After graduating from Duke, Nixon returned to California and joined a law firm. He met and married Thelma (“Pat”) Ryan, a high school teacher. During World War II (1939-1945), Nixon served as an officer in the Navy.
THE RISE OF NIXON
In 1946, Nixon ran for a seat in the Congress of the United States as a member of the Republican Party. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives representing California.
As a congressman, Nixon pressed the government to investigate a man named Alger Hiss. Nixon suspected Hiss of spying for the Soviet Union, a communist country that was America’s enemy. Hiss went to prison. Nixon gained fame for his part in sending Hiss to prison.
In 1950, Nixon ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate and won. Two years later, Dwight Eisenhower ran for president. He chose Nixon as his running mate. Nixon became vice president at the age of 40.
In 1960, Nixon tried to win the presidency for himself. Nixon ran against Senator John F. Kennedy, a Democrat. The two men debated each other on television. These were the very first televised debates between presidential candidates. Most people thought Kennedy won the debates. Nixon lost a close election.
In 1962, Nixon ran for governor of California. Nixon lost again. Many people believed he was finished in politics. Over the next six years, Nixon quietly rebuilt his power.
NIXON WINS THE PRESIDENCY
In 1968, Nixon ran for president again. This time, Nixon won a close race. Four years later, Nixon won a second term. He beat his opponent overwhelmingly, winning in 49 of 50 states.
The most important issue Nixon faced when he became president was the Vietnam War (1959-1975). America had been fighting a communist-backed uprising in South Vietnam, a country in Southeast Asia. Nixon campaigned against the war. But as president, Nixon expanded the war for a time. The war was unpopular. Eventually, Nixon turned the fighting over to the Vietnamese and brought most of the American troops home.
TRIP TO CHINA
Nixon did much to improve America’s ties with China. This giant communist nation had been a bitter enemy of the United States. Nixon traveled to Beijing, China’s capital. He met China’s leaders and began building trust between the two countries. He was also the first American president to visit the Soviet Union.
THE WATERGATE SCANDAL
Early in Nixon’s second term, a scandal began to hound him. In 1972, a group of burglars was caught in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. They were stealing papers from a Democratic Party office.
The burglars, it turned out, worked for President Nixon’s campaign team. Reporters dug into the story further. They found that Nixon’s team may have committed a number of crimes to get Nixon elected.
Congress decided to investigate. Nixon denied any role in the burglary. Congress then learned that Nixon had secretly recorded many of his conversations. These recordings could show if Nixon was involved. There was talk of putting Nixon on trial.
NIXON STEPS DOWN
On August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned before he could be charged with any crime. His vice president, Gerald Ford, took over. Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed.
In retirement, Nixon gradually regained some public respect. He wrote and traveled widely. Many people listened to his views about dealing with other countries. Nixon died in 1994.