Richard Nixon Serves as Vice President
In part because of his reputation as an ardent anti-communist, 39-year-old Nixon was selected by Republican party nominee General Dwight D. Eisenhower to be the Vice Presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in July 1952.
In September, the New York Post published an article claiming that campaign donors were buying influence with Nixon by providing him with a secret cash fund for his personal expenses. Nixon responded that the fund was not secret, and the campaign commissioned an independent review which showed that it was used only for political purposes. Republicans, including some within Eisenhower's campaign, pressured Eisenhower to remove Nixon from the ticket, but Eisenhower realized that he was unlikely to win without Nixon.
Nixon appeared on television on September 23, 1952, to defend himself against the allegations. He detailed his personal finances and mentioned the independent third-party review of the fund's accounting. While it was the first time that a national politician released his tax returns, the speech became better known for its rhetoric, such as when he remarked that his wife Pat did not wear mink, but rather "a respectable Republican cloth coat," and that, although he had been given an American Cocker Spaniel named Checkers in addition to his other campaign contributions, he was not going to give the dog back because his daughters loved it. Now known as the "Checkers speech," it resulted in much support from the base of the Republican Party and from the general public, and greatly aided Nixon in remaining on the ticket. In the 1952 presidential elections, Eisenhower and Nixon defeated Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson and Alabama Senator John Sparkman by seven million votes.
As Vice President, Nixon expanded the office into an important and prominent post. Nixon would conduct National Security meetings in the president's absence. As President of the Senate, he intervened to make procedural rulings on filibusters to assure the passage of Eisenhower's 1957 civil rights bill, which created the United States Commission on Civil Rights and protected voting rights.
Although he had little formal power, Nixon had the attention of the media and the Republican Party. Using these, he and his wife undertook many foreign trips of goodwill to garner support for American policies during the Cold War. On one such trip to Caracas, Venezuela, anti-American protesters disrupted and assaulted Nixon's motorcade, pelting his limousine with rocks, shattering windows, and injuring Venezuela's foreign minister. Nixon was lauded and attracted international media attention for his calm and coolness during the incidents.
In March 1957, he visited Libya for a program of economic and military aid. Nixon was, and is still, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the African nation. In July 1959, President Eisenhower sent Nixon to the Soviet Union for Moscow's opening of the American National Exhibition. On July 24, while touring the exhibits with Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev, the two stopped at a model of an American kitchen and engaged in the impromptu "Kitchen Debate" about the merits of capitalism versus communism.
As Vice President, he officially opened the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California.
On the morning of April 16, 1956, Vice President Richard Nixon served notice that the vice-presidency had finally become an office to be sought after by ambitious politicians rather than a position in which to gain four years of rest. After weeks of speculation that Nixon would be dropped from the Republican ticket in the coming presidential race, fueled by President Dwight Eisenhower's comment that the vice president had to "chart his own course," Nixon decided to force Ike's hand. The young politician walked into the Oval Office and said, "Mr. President, I would be honored to continue as Vice President under you." Eisenhower now had to either accept his running mate or reject him openly. Not willing to risk a party squabble during what promised to be a successful reelection bid, Eisenhower told the press he was "delighted by the news." Richard Nixon had defied pressure to leave office voluntarily that came from within the White House, the press, and some segments of the party. In the process, he had been offered a major cabinet position and had been urged to run for a seat in the Senate. Instead, this ambitious young politician fought to remain in what had once been considered a meaningless office. Over the previous four years, Nixon had not only worked hard to promote the policies of the Eisenhower administration but had used the vice-presidency to build a foundation of support among the regulars of the Republican party that made him the early favorite for the presidential nomination in 1960. He had fought hard for the office in 1952 and was not about to let anyone but Eisenhower take it from him.
In 1952, when Nixon was nominated to be Dwight Eisenhower's running mate, he was only thirty-nine years old. It was soon exposed that Nixon had accepted $18,000 for political expenses and Eisenhower's advisors wanted Nixon to resign. He responded with a brilliant speech that (because of a sentimental reference to his dog) became known as the "Checkers Speech." It saved his political career.
Eisenhower and Nixon won the election defeating the Democrat Adlai Stevenson by over 6,000,000 votes. Although during the Eisenhower years, the relationship between the President and Vice President was somewhat strained, years later Nixon's youngest daughter, Julie, married Eisenhower's grandson, David, for whom the Presidential retreat, Camp David, is named.
Eisenhower and Nixon won easily in the 1956 election. As Vice President, Nixon became a vigorous Republican spokesman. In non-election years, he traveled the country trying to raise money for the party. He also achieved foreign affairs credentials by visiting numerous other countries, including the Soviet Union, where In 1959, Nixon, the anti-Communist, opened the American Exhibit in Russia. While escorting the Soviet leader through a model of an American house, an impromptu "kitchen debate" with Nikita Khrushchev made world-wide headlines. In an effort to make a strong point, Krushchev took off his shoe and banged it on the table.
As undisputed party leader, Nixon easily won the Presidential nomination in 1960. That was the year of the first televised Presidential debates, and some say Nixon's appearance put him at a disadvantage next to the young, charismatic Jack Kennedy, who won the presidency, but just barely. Out of the 70 million votes cast, JFK received a mere 113,000 more than Nixon did.
In 1962 Nixon went up against the popular Pat Brown for Governor of California. He lost that election and afterward bitterly attacked the press, saying "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more." Many felt it was the end of his career. Not so. He was again nominated in l968, when he and running mate, Spiro Agnew, won the White House by 500,000 votes.