Richard Nixon's 90th Birthday Commemorated By Family, Friends

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:29pm EDT

( - America's 37th president and its only chief executive to resign from office, was born on Jan. 9, 1913. Thursday, the remaining family and friends of the late Richard M. Nixon commemorated his 90th birthday at the Nixon presidential library in Yorba Linda, Calif., which is located on the same lot as his childhood home.

The Nixon family opened an exhibit containing documents, photographs and even a film narrated by Julie Nixon Eisenhower, the younger daughter of Richard and Pat Nixon. The film includes never-before-seen footage of the former president's historic trip to China in February 1972.

Library officials said the exhibit is entitled "Journeys to Peace" and will contain "original documents" and "rare photographs" seen for the first time.

The exhibit will also present life-sized statues of Nixon and Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai as well as footage of their historic handshake when Nixon stepped off Air Force One in Beijing.

President George W. Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin are featured in the exhibit with videotaped greetings commemorating Nixon's visit.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower and former California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson were to attend the all-day celebration as well, according to library officials.

On Thursday night, the library will commemorate the former president's birthday by awarding the "Victory of Freedom" award to former Reagan administration Secretary of State George Shultz, who also served as secretary of labor and secretary of treasury during the Nixon administration and helped Nixon desegregate southern schools.

In 1940, Nixon married Thelma Patricia Ryan, who is now deceased, and they had two daughters, Patricia (Tricia) and Julie. During World War II, Nixon served as a Navy lieutenant commander in the Pacific.

He is remembered for his foreign policy achievements and for the Watergate scandal that led to his resignation from office.

During his presidency, Nixon succeeded in ending American involvement in the Vietnam War and improving diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and China.

Before becoming president, Nixon served in the House and Senate, representing California and as vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower. At age 39, he became the second youngest man ever to serve as vice president.

During the 1952 campaign, as Eisenhower's running mate, Nixon faced a crisis when it was reported that he had a special campaign fund, financed by close political friends, set up to underwrite his political expenses during his Senate term.

Questions arose concerning the propriety of Nixon accepting the money and the possibility of his granting special favors to the donors. Republican leaders and even the New York Herald-Tribune editorial called on him to withdraw from the ticket.

But Nixon secured prime television time and proclaimed his innocence, lashing out at his accusers in what became known as the "Checkers Speech." Checkers was the name of a cocker spaniel that was given as a gift to Nixon's daughters, and he declared that he didn't care what anybody said, the family was going to keep the dog.

In 1960, Nixon was nominated as the GOP presidential candidate. He lost the general election by a razor-thin margin to Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John F. Kennedy.

After that loss, Nixon returned to California and in 1962 ran for governor and lost to Democratic Gov. Pat Brown. He blamed the press in large part for that loss, telling reporters the day after Election Day, "This is my last press conference. You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore."

But Nixon staged a comeback. He campaigned extensively for Republican congressional candidates in 1966, a year in which the GOP gained 47 U.S. House seats. More important for Nixon, he picked up many political IOUs, which were instrumental in him receiving the 1968 Republican presidential nomination and defeating Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the general election.

Nixon inherited the Vietnam War from former president Democrat Lyndon Johnson along with much discord from the American people about the war.

But in 1972, Nixon made history with a successful trip to Mainland China, the first by an American president while China was under communist rule.

That same year, Nixon defeated Democrat Sen. George McGovern in a re-election landslide, carrying 49 states and winning 521 electoral votes to McGovern's 17.

In 1973, he announced an accord with North Vietnam, thus ending America's longest war.

But the Watergate scandal began engulfing Nixon that year. This stemmed from a break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee during the 1972 campaign. A number of administration officials resigned, Nixon denied personal involvement, but the scandal grew.

On Nov. 17, 1973, at a press conference with the Associated Press Managing Editors Association in Orlando, Fla., Nixon declared, "People have got to know, whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I have worked for everything I've got."

James Buckley, then a U.S. senator from New York, became the first conservative Republican senator in 1974 to call on Nixon to resign, but Thursday, Buckley said he believes the country benefited from Nixon's leadership.

"I made it clear in my call for his resignation that this was not casting any judgment on whether or not he was guilty as charged. I made the call before the [White House] tapes were produced," Buckley said.

"It was clear by that time, however, that he was no longer able to conduct the business of the presidency, because he was so preoccupied by fending off all the attacks and it was threatening the very programs that he was elected on," Buckley said.

"With mid-term [1974 congressional] elections, it would be very costly for the Republican Party. So I asked him to do it as an act of patriotism," Buckley said.

He admitted that since Nixon's resignation, he has found that Nixon "abused his [presidential] prerogatives in very serious ways."

"But he certainly did nothing as bad as [President] Lyndon Johnson routinely did in terms of power and certainly nothing as bad as [former President] Bill Clinton," Buckley said. "So my view of him [Nixon] is a person who had some real problems but I think on balance served the country well."

Buckley also said he believes Nixon was no conservative.

"He was not a pure conservative, there is no doubt about that," Buckley said. "I think that the concerns of the conservatives at that time were reasonable and understandable. He practiced excellent leadership and made gains in some areas. Surprisingly enough, he did in the environmental area.

"He was the person who put in the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), which I think went a little overboard since then, but I think in principle it was the proper thing to do. So I think if you look at the overall balance of his presidency, there definitely were more pluses than minuses," Buckley added.

Nixon ran out of options, however, and in the wake of impeachment articles drawn up against him in the House, decided to resign on Aug. 8, 1974.

In his resignation speech, he said he was resigning to begin "that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America."

After his resignation, Nixon rehabilitated himself as an "elder statesman." He wrote numerous books about his political experiences and foreign policy issues.

He died on April 22, 1994.

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