Richard Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California. He was educated in public schools, including Fullerton High School and Whittier High School, graduating near the top of his class. Nixon attended Whittier College from 1930-1934, and graduated second in a class of 85. He was also president of the student body. He went on to Duke University Law School on scholarship, and graduated in 1937- second in that class, too. After being admitted to the California bar the same year, Nixon practiced law in Whittier.
In 1942, Nixon joined the Navy, and in 1946 he ran for Congress. He soon emerged as a national figure because of his position as Chairman of the House Un-American Activities Special Subcommittee to investigate whether government officials were former Communists.
In 1950, Nixon won a US Senate seat. He was victorious partly because of his attacks on opponent, Helen Gahagan Douglas, that claimed her voting record in the House corresponded with the goals of the Communist Party.
In 1952, Nixon was nominated to fill the Vice President's slot on the Eisenhower ticket.
As Vice President, Nixon presided over cabinet meetings when Eisenhower was away and when he was ill. Nixon travelled extensively and is rememered for engaging in the famous kitchen debate with Khruschev at the US exhibition in Moscow.
Nixon lost his bid for the Presidency in 1960 to John F. Kennedy in a close election. In 1962, he then lost a bitter election for Governor of California. His opponent was the incumbent, Edmund Brown. Following this defeat, Nixon held a press conference in which he stated: "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."
For the next six years, Nixon worked for a New York law firm and campaigned for Republicans throughout the country. In 1968, he returned from what was believed to be political oblivion to run successfully for the Presidency.
President Nixon's initial major foreign policy focus was on ending the war in Vietnam. He followed a dual track: decreasing direct American involvement in the fighting by Vietnamization, turning over more and more of the ground fighting directly to the Vietnamese, and simultaneously expanding the fighting to neighboring Cambodia to destroy North Vietnamese sanctuaries.
Many of Nixon's actions, especially the incursions into Cambodia, met with violent protest, including one at Kent State University in which four students were killed by National Guardsmen.
While the war continued, Nixon's National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger was involved in negotiations to end it. In January 1973, the United States and North Vietnam signed a peace treaty. Under those terms there was a cease-fire, return of American prisoners of war, continued presence of US civilian advisors and a process toward reaching a final peace agreement. The peace failed and, during the Ford Presidency, the North finally conquered the South.
As President, Nixon pursued two major and related foreign policy objectives. He pioneered American relations with China, culminating in a visit there in February 1972. At the same time, Nixon pursued "detente" with the Soviet Union. This was a policy designed to find ways for the two countries to work together to reduce tension and coexist, despite their obvious differences.
The high point in the detente process was the signing of the SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) treaty during Nixon's visit to Moscow in May 1972.
Nixon's most notable domestic actions were on the economic front. In 1971, he imposed a price-wage freeze to combat inflation. He also removed the United States from the gold standard. The price-wage freeze was lifted after 90 days to be replaced by complex systems of wage-price controls. Almost all controls were lifted by the end of 1973.
Nixon will go down in history as the first (and thus far, only) President to resign from office. His resignation occured after a protracted cover-up, which became known as the Watergate scandal. The scandal began when members of the Nixon reelection committee were caught breaking into the offices of the Democratic Party in the Watergate complex in Washington. The crisis deepened as President Nixon tried to cover up the involvement of his staff.
During the investigation, it became known that Nixon had made tapes of all his conversations and phone calls. These became key items of evidence, and when the House drew up Articles of Impeachment, Nixon decided to resign instead of face impeachment.
After his resignation, Nixon wrote several memoirs and books of political commentary and continued serving as an unofficial advisor to several Presidents. By the end of his life, historians were still trying to accurately assess Nixon's place in history.