Cover Page


List of Plates

Notes on Contributors


Part I: Pre-Presidential Years


Nixon Ascendant Biographies


Nixon Memoirs

Redemption and Damnation: Post-Watergate Biographies

Scholarly Biographies

Where Next?


Chapter Two: THE PRE-POLITICAL YEARS, 1913–1945

The Early Works: Mistakes and Mythology

The Earliest Biographies: “Fighting Quaker” and This Man Nixon

The Vice-Presidential Years

Presidential Years

The Psychohistorians and Richard Nixon


“The Age of Nixon”



Chapter Three: PAT NIXON












Chapter Seven: THE ELECTION OF 1960


The Republican Convention

Campaign Plans

The Religious Issue

The Great Debates

The Final Push

A Close Election



Part II: Domestic Policies

Chapter Eight: THE ELECTION OF 1968




Chapter Nine: THE ELECTION OF 1972



Analytical Prelude

Emergence of an Administrative Presidency


Contextual Tools: Political Appointees

Contextual Tools: Career Officials

Unilateral Tools: Structure, Money, and Rules

Impacts and Legacies




A “Head Start” for Social Policy in the Country

The Family Assistance Plan, Cornerstone of a New Welfare State

To Ease Racial Tensions?

A Legislative and Bureaucratic failure.

A Lost Opportunity?





Chapter Thirteen: ECONOMIC POLICY


First Period, January 1969–February 1970

Second Period, February 1970–November 1972

Third Period, November 1972–August 1974

Economic Policy-making and Presidential Agency






Origins of Environmentalism

White House Response


Second Thoughts

From Mass Movement to New Social Regulation

Land and Resources

Demise of the Planning Impulse

The End of the Beginning



Chapter Sixteen: NIXON AND THE MEDIA


Chapter Seventeen: NIXON AND DISSENT

The Administration’s Response to Dissent

Explaining Nixon’s Anti-dissent Policies



Chapter Eighteen: NIXON AND AGNEW


Part III: Foreign Policies


The Challenges of 1969

“A Structure of Peace” and the Primacy of Diplomacy

Détente and Linkage

Triangular Diplomacy

Beyond the Grand Façade: The Nixon Doctrine

Containment by Other Means




The Nixon-Kissinger Relationship


The Soviet Union and Détente

The Opening to China

The Middle East




Chapter Twenty-one: THE VIETNAM WAR







Chapter Twenty-three: THE CHINA CARD


Sources and Overview

Nixon’s approach to China

Nixon’s China Strategy

Nixon’s Achievements with China







Nixon and Latin American before 1969

Nixon as President

Cuba and Chile

Legacies and Judgments


Part IV: Post-Presidential Years

Chapter Twenty-six: WATERGATE


Chapter Twenty-seven: NIXON AND FORD



Chapter Twenty-eight: NIXON’S IMAGE: A BRIEF HISTORY


Chapter Twenty-nine: THE NIXON TAPES



Supplemental images



This series provides essential and authoritative overviews of the scholarship that has shaped our present understanding of the American past. Edited by eminent historians, each volume tackles one of the major periods or themes of American history, with individual topics authored by key scholars who have spent considerable time in research on the questions and controversies that have sparked debate in their field of interest. The volumes are accessible for the non-specialist, while also engaging scholars seeking a reference to the historiography or future concerns.



A Companion to the American Revolution

Edited by Jack P. Greene and J. R. Pole

A Companion to 19th-Century America

Edited by William L. Barney

A Companion to the American South

Edited by John B. Boles

A Companion to American Indian History

Edited by Philip J. Deloria and Neal Salisbury

A Companion to American Women’s History

Edited by Nancy Hewitt

A Companion to Post-1945 America

Edited by Jean-Christophe Agnew and Roy Rosenzweig

A Companion to the Vietnam War

Edited by Marilyn Young and Robert Buzzanco

A Companion to Colonial America

Edited by Daniel Vickers

A Companion to 20th-Century America

Edited by Stephen J. Whitfield

A Companion to the American West

Edited by William Deverell

A Companion to American Foreign Relations

Edited by Robert Schulzinger

A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction

Edited by Lacy K. Ford

A Companion to American Technology

Edited by Carroll Pursell

A Companion to African-American History

Edited by Alton Hornsby

A Companion to American Immigration

Edited by Reed Ueda

A Companion to American Cultural History

Edited by Karen Halttunen

A Companion to California History

Edited by William Deverell and David Igler

A Companion to American Military History

Edited by James Bradford

A Companion Los Angeles

Edited by William Deverell and Greg Hise

A Companion to American Environmental History
Edited by Douglas Cazaux Sackman

In preparation:

A Companion to American Urban History

Edited by David Quigley



A Companion to Franklin D. Roosevelt

Edited by William Pederson

A Companion to Richard M. Nixon

Edited by Melvin Small

In preparation:

A Companion to Abraham Lincoln

Edited by Michael Green

A Companion to Thomas Jefferson

Edited by Francis D. Cogliano

A Companion to Benjamin Franklin

Edited by David Waldstreicher

A Companion to George Washington

Edited by Edward G. Lengel

A Companion to Harry S. Truman

Edited by Daniel S. Margolies

A Companion to Theodore Roosevelt

Edited by Serge Ricard

A Companion to Lyndon B. Johnson

Edited by Mitchell Lerner

A Companion to Andrew Jackson

Edited by Sean Patrick Adams

A Companion to Woodrow Wilson

Edited by Ross A. Kennedy

A Companion to Dwight D. Eisenhower

Edited by Chester J. Pach

A Companion to Ronald Reagan

Edited by Andrew L. Johns

A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe

Edited by Stuart Leibiger

A Companion to John Adams and John Quincy Adams

Edited by David Waldstreicher

A Companion to the Antebellum Presidents, 1837–61

Edited by Joel Silbey

A Companion to the Reconstruction Presidents, 1865–81

Edited by Edward Frantz


List of Plates


Richard Nixon, age 1, 1914.


The violinist ca. 1927.


Richard Nixon, Lieutenant Commander, US Navy, 1945.


On the campaign trail, 1968.


Nixon with H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Henry Kissinger, William Rogers, and Charles de Gaulle in France, March 2, 1969.


Nguyen van Thieu in Washington, June 8, 1969.


Relaxing at the pool in San Clemente, July 9, 1971.


With Mao Zedong in Beijing, February 21, 1972.


With Golda Meir and Henry Kissinger, March 1, 1973.


With Leonid Brezhnev in Washington, June 19, 1973.


Watergate tape transcripts, April 29, 1974.


The family: Ed Cox, Patricia (Tricia) Nixon Cox, Pat Nixon, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, David Eisenhower, White House, August 7, 1974.

Notes on Contributors

Nigel Bowles was educated at the University of Sussex, Georgetown University, and Oxford University. He has taught at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Oxford where he has been a lecturer since 1988. His books include The White House and Capitol Hill (1987) and Nixon’s Business: Authority and Power in Presidential Politics (2005), for which he won the Richard E. Neustadt Prize of the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom in 2006. His current project is provisionally entitled “The Politics of Money: Presidents, Congress, and the Federal Reserve Board, 1945 to 1988.”

Justin P. Coffey is an Assistant Professor of History at Quincy University in Quincy, IL. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2003. His specialty is recent American History, with a concentration on the ideological battles of the 1960s. He is currently at work on a biography of former vice president Spiro T. Agnew. He has published articles and reviews in journals such as the Maryland Historical Magazine and Reviews in American History.

Sahr Conway-Lanz is an archivist at the Yale University Library. He is also a historian who received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He authored Collateral Damage: Americans, Noncombatant Immunity, and Atrocity after World War II (2006) and was awarded the Bernath Article Prize from the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations in 2005.

Joseph Dmohowski is an Associate Professor and Serials Librarian with special expertise in Nixon materials at Whittier College’s Wardham Library. His most recent article, “Under the Table: Michael Wilson and the Screenplay for The Bridge on the River Kwai,” which appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Cineaste, focused on the politics of the Hollywood blacklist.

Irwin F. Gellman has written three monographs on the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Roosevelt and Batista (1973), Good Neighbor Diplomacy (1979), and Secret Affairs: Franklin Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, and Sumner Welles (1995). Since 1995 he has embarked on a multi-volume biography of the life and times of Richard M. Nixon. The first volume in the series is The Contender: Richard Nixon: The Congress Years, 1946–1952 (1999). He is currently finishing the second volume tentatively titled, “The Apprenticeship: Richard Nixon: The Vice Presidential Years, 1952–1961” and expects it to be published in 2011.

Evelyn Goh is Reader in Inter­national Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research interests include US-China relations, US foreign policy, and East Asian security, both as diplomatic history and in the contemporary context. She is the author of Constructing the US Rapprochement with China, 1961–1974 (2004), and has published widely on contemporary East Asian security and international relations. She is currently working on a book project on the re-negotiating of regional order in East Asia after the Cold War.

David Greenberg is Associate Professor of History and Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University and the author of three books on US political history, including the prize-winning Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (2003). Formerly a full-time journalist, he served as managing editor and acting editor of The New Republic, where he remains a contributing editor, and has been a contributor to Slate since its founding. He has written for the New York Times, The New Yorker, Raritan, and many other scholarly and popular publications.

John Robert Greene is the Paul J. Schupf Professor of History and Humanities at Cazenovia College. Among his many books on the presidency are The Limits of Power: The Nixon and Ford Administrations (1993), The Presidency of Gerald Ford (1995), and The Presidency of George Bush (2000). He is an associate editor of Congress and the Presidency.

Jussi M. Hanhimäki is Professor and Chair of International Relations and Politics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Among his recent books are Handbook on Transatlanic Security (2010), United Nations: A Very Short Introduction (2008), and The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (2004). One of the founding editors of Cold War History, he was a recipient of SHAFR’s Bernath Lecture Prize (2002) and in 2006 was named Finland Distinguished Professor by the Academy of Finland.

Karen M. Hult is Professor of Political Science at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University. She is the author of Agency Merger and Bureaucratic Redesign (1987) and the co-author, with Charles E. Walcott, of Empowering the White House: Governance under Nixon, Ford and Carter (2004); Governing the White House: From Hoover through LBJ (1995); and Governing Public Organizations (1990). She has co-authored essays on the White House Counsel and the Staff Secretary as part of the White House Transition Project in 2000 and 2008. She is a past president of the APSA’s Presidency Research Group and book review editor of Presidential Studies Quarterly.

Romain Huret teaches at the University of Lyon II in France. He is the author of La Fin de Pauverte? Les Experts Sociaux en guerre contre le pauverte aux Etats Unis (1945-1974) (2007) and the forthcoming Nixon ou L’impossible Consensus. He has served as the international contributing editor for France for the Journal of American History.

Jeffrey P. Kimball is Professor Emeritus of History at Miami University, an award-winning author of articles and books on diplomacy, war, and peace, and a former Nobel Institute Senior Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Public Policy Scholar, and president of the Peace History Society. He wrote Nixon’s Vietnam War (1998) and The Vietnam War File (2003).

Tim Kiska is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Michigan-Deaborn, where he teaches journalism and journalism history. He joined the faculty after working for more than three decades as a journalist, first at the Detroit Free Press (1970–1987), and later at the Detroit News (1987–2002). He is the author of A Newscast for the Masses: the History of Detroit Television Journalism (2009) and From Soupy to Nuts: A History of Detroit Television (2005). Kiska also works as a producer/reporter at WWJ-AM, a CBS-owned all-news radio station and specializes in exit polls and election analysis.

Dean J. Kotlowski is Associate Professor of History at Salisbury University in Maryland. He is the author of Nixon’s Civil Rights: Politics, Principle, and Policy (2001) and many articles in such journals as Journal of Policy History, Diplomatic History, Journal of American History, and Presidential Studies Quarterly. During the 2005–2006 academic year, he was Paul V. McNutt Visiting Professor of History at Indiana University and during the fall of 2008 was a Fulbright Visiting Professor at De La Salle University in Manila, where he conducted research for a biography on Paul V. McNutt.

Mark Atwood Lawrence, Asso­ciate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, is author of Assuming the Burden: Europe and the American Commitment to War in Vietnam (2005) and The Vietnam War: A Concise International History (2008). He also published articles and essays on various topics in Cold War history and is now at work on a study of US policy-making toward the Third World during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Anthony Rama Maravillas earned his Masters Degree and Ph.D. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, under the direction of Richard M. Fried. After completing his graduate work, Prof. Maravillas has taught at various universities and colleges in the Chicago area, and researched and written about the career of Richard Nixon, concentrating on his dissertation topic, “Nixon in the Fifties” (2001).

Robert Mason is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority (2004) and The Republican Party and American Politics from Hoover to Reagan (2011). His current project is a study of connections between the Republican Party and political parties in Western Europe.

Paul Charles Milazzo is Assistant Professor of History at Ohio University and the author of Unlikely Environmentalists: Congress and Clean Water, 1945–1972 (2006). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in 2001. His research and teaching interests include twentieth century US history, politics, and policy, the environment, and American intellectual history with an emphasis on conservative thought.

Iwan W. Morgan is Professor of US Studies at the Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London. He has written extensively on American political history, particularly in relation to economic and fiscal policy. His publications include: Beyond the Liberal Consensus: A Political History of the United States since 1965 (1994), Nixon (2002), and, most recently, The Age of Deficits: Presidents and Unbalanced Budgets from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush (2009), and Assessing George W. Bush’s Legacy (2010).

Keith L. Nelson is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, where he taught from 1965 to 2004. His books include Victors Divided: America and the Allies in Germany, 1918–1923 (1975), Why War? Ideology, Theory, and History with Spencer C. Olin, Jr. (1980), and The Making of Détente: Soviet-American Relations in the Shadow of Vietnam (1995). He has also edited The Impact of War on American Life (1970).

Luke A. Nichter is Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University-Central Texas. He is revising a multi-archival manuscript for publication, tentatively titled “Richard Nixon and Europe: Confrontation and Cooperation, 1969–1975.” He also runs the website, where he makes the most complete digitized collection of Nixon tapes in existence freely available to the public. He is also writing a book-length biography of George W. Bush.

Keith W. Olson became Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland in 2008 where his research and teaching interests focused on twentieth-century United States history. He is the author of Watergate: The Presidential Scandal that Shook America (2003), The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges (1982), and Biography of a Progressive (1979). He was the recipient of three Fulbrights to Finland where he was awarded with an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Tampere.

Rick Perlstein is the author of the New York Times best seller, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008) and Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2001), winner of the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History. An independent historian, essayist, and journalist, his writings have been featured in Newsweek, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, and The Nation.

W. J. Rorabaugh teaches history at the University of Washington in Seattle. An expert on the 1960s, he is the author of The Real Making of the President: Kennedy, Nixon, and the 1960 Election (2009), as well as Berkeley at War: The 1960s (1989), and Kennedy and the Promise of the Sixties (2002). He also wrote The Alcoholic Republic (1979).

Robert D. Schulzinger is College of Arts and Sciences Professor of Distinction of History and International Affairs at the University of Colorado, Boulder where he has taught since 1977. He is a former president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and is the editor in chief of Diplomatic History. He is the author or co-author of twelve books on the history of US foreign ­relations and recent US history. Among them are Henry Kissinger: Doctor of Diplomacy (1989), A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941–1975 (1997), and A Time for Peace: The Legacy of the Vietnam War (2006).

Katherine Scott is Assistant Historian, United States Senate. She received her Ph.D. from Temple University in 2009. Her dissertation, “Reining in the State: Civil Society, Congress, and the Movement to Democratize the National Security State, 1970–1978,” explores the citizens’ movement to promote trans­­parency in government, protect the right to privacy, and impose greater democratic controls over the national-security state by instituting new national legal and institutional structures.

Melvin Small is Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at Wayne State University. A specialist in the domestic side of US foreign relations and a former president of the Peace History Society, he has written, among other books, the prize-winning Johnson, Nixon, and the Doves (1988), The Presidency of Richard Nixon (1999), Antiwarriors (2002), and At the Water’s Edge (2005).

Athan G. Theoharis is Emeritus Professor of History at Marquette University. A nationally recognized authority on the history of the FBI, he is the author or co-author of twenty books including Spying on Americans (1978), The Boss (1988), Chasing Spies (2002), and The Quest for Absolute Security (2008). He has testified before Congress on wiretapping, the FBI charter, the Freedom of Information Act, and Kennedy assassination records, and served as a consultant in 1975 to the Senate Committee on Intelligence Activities (The Church Committee).

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Visiting Scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard University, he is currently updating The History of American Presiden­tial Elections edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and Fred M. Israel. Troy’s books include See How They Ran: The Changing Role of Presidential Candidates (1996), Mr. and Mrs. President: From the Trumans to the Clintons (2000), Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s (2007), and Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents (2008). He blogs at the History News Network,


Melvin Small

Nearly forty years after he left office, Richard Nixon remains one of the most controversial, if not the most controversial, presidents in American history. Many of his supporters hail him as the brilliant master of US ­foreign policy who opened relations with the People’s Republic of China, launched a détente with the Soviet Union that led to the end of the Cold War, and ended American participation in the Vietnam War. They applaud his pragmatic, non-ideological approach to achieving a more peaceful world. And they gush over his inventiveness, such as playing the China card to win major concessions from both Beijing and Moscow. Indeed, for many observers, his diplomatic achievements overshadowed the worst political scandal in American history and made it possible for the disgraced former president to emerge during the last two decades of his life as a sagacious elder statesperson, a valuable national resource, whose books and articles positively influenced not only his ­successors’ foreign policies, but the national debate about those policies.

His many detractors find fault not only with his diplomatic activities but also with the manner in which he conducted them. According to them, although his opening to China was certainly a positive accomplishment, it netted the United States little over the next decade or more. In addition, his détente with the Soviet Union, in which he may have given away the store in his Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement and the wheat deal, ­collapsed pretty quickly to a point where President Gerald Ford had to ­disassociate himself from that policy in the 1976 presidential campaign. Finally, although he claimed credit for ending the Vietnam War with a peace with honor, critics suggested he could have made the same concessions to Hanoi much earlier that might have ended the war in 1970 or so, and, more importantly, South Vietnam was conquered by the communists in 1975. Critics also assail his indifference to, and sometimes even ill advised policies in, the Third World, especially in Chile.

More important to many is the way he and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, conducted their foreign policies, lying to the public and illegally implementing policies in a brazen attempt to operate as if they were not bound by constitutional rules in the democratic United States. And there are those, of course, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, who maintained that it was Henry Kissinger and not Richard Nixon who was the prime architect of administration policies.

The historiographical debate is just as contentious on the domestic front. Although Nixon would never have accepted the title, some historians have labeled him the last liberal president – not that he was a liberal but that he signed off on a host of policies that could be interpreted as being in the New Deal-Fair Deal-Great Society tradition. There is no doubt that he signed off on more environmental legislation than any president since Theodore Roosevelt. His administration receives the credit as well for ending school segregation in the South and sponsoring affirmative-action programs for businesses with government funding, for establishing OSHA and AMTRAK, promoting the all-volunteer army as well as the eighteen-year-old vote, approving of Title IX of the Education Act that contributed to the gains of the women’s movement, increasing significantly funding for the NEA and NEH, launching the first war on cancer, and introducing welfare-reform and national-health plans.

Those who challenge his “liberal” credentials call attention to the huge Democratic margins in Congress that made it difficult for him to resist much of their popular legislation. They are also disturbed by his polarizing electoral strategies, including his Southern Strategy and a wide variety of illegal and extra-legal “dirty tricks” to destroy not only his strongest ­opponents in the Democratic Party but hundreds of others who dared to challenge his policies in the media. Thanks to the existence of his tapes, critics can also point to his demeaning comments about Africans, African Americans, Jews, and others who were not fortunate to be born as white Christians. Further, those tapes reveal an insecure and paranoid person, lashing out at his “enemies,” and taking actions against them that violated behavioral and constitutional norms in the American democracy.

Above all, there is Watergate. Again, he has his defenders. Some contend that whatever he did did not merit the threats of impeachment and removal from office, especially since he allegedly was only playing hardball politics like many of his predecessors. A minority of his supporters go even further, identifying conspiracies organized by his enemies – the CIA, John Dean, the media – to take him down.

While agreeing that other presidents did some of the things that Nixon did some of the time, or even a lot of the time, critics maintain that no other president committed so many crimes and misdemeanors so consistently, beginning from his first days in office. They contend that it is difficult to identify a defense for his cover-up of the Watergate burglary as well as his suborning of perjury related to that burglary, considering the clarity of the evidence on the tapes. Those tapes also reveal many more illegal acts that transcended the break-in and suggested that the president was on his way to subverting American democracy in a dramatic fashion.

Because of the Watergate investigation and the Senate and House ­hearings related to the break-in, many of the Nixon administration’s domestic files were released rather quickly. Historians did not have to wait to see some of the evidence as long as they usually had to wait for the release of comparable documents from other administrations. The slow release of tapes, beyond those originally related to the investigation, began in the mid-1990s, ­providing another treasure trove for historians and journalists. More recently, a good portion of the diplomatic records, particularly those related to Henry Kissinger, have become available to the scholarly community.

Because his domestic and foreign policies between 1969 and 1974 have been so consequential, and also because Richard Nixon was a major ­political figure from 1946 to 1968 and from 1974 to his death in 1994, historians, other scholars, journalists, and Nixon alumni created a cottage industry writing about him, using the unusually rich resources available at the National Archives, the Nixon Library, and other depositories. Where we are in Nixon studies in 2010 is the subject of this volume.

In 2009, I invited 28 scholars to write chapters in their specialties in Nixonology. They were asked to present primarily historiographical essays that would permit readers to learn about the major printed, electronic, and archival resources in their areas and, especially, the different ways different authors have tackled the key issues. Most of the contributions reflect the state of Nixon studies in mid-2010. The participants include not only Americans but four from the United Kingdom and one each from France and Canada. The foreign scholars brought a unique perspective to their analyses.

The volume is divided into four sections. The first and last sections deal with Nixon’s pre-presidential (8 chapters) and post-presidential ­(4 ­chapters) years. The second section deals with Nixon’s domestic policies as president (10 chapters) while the third deals with his foreign policies (7 chapters). All of the authors’ bibliographies have been aggregated in a master bibliography. Its formidable length, including many books and articles published in the twenty-first century, reflects the continuing interest in assessing the life and work of Richard Nixon.

Part I


Chapter One


Iwan W. Morgan

One of the most written about of all America’s leaders, Richard Nixon still remains one of the most elusive for biographers. None of the many studies produced to date on the life and character of the thirty-seventh president has fully captured this complex man. The absence of anything approaching a definitive biography of Nixon stands in marked contrast to those gracing the lives of most of his significant predecessors.

Why Richard Nixon is such a difficult subject for biography is not hard to explain. First, gaining access to his presidential records, held until recently at the Nixon Presidential Materials Project in the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, was initially fraught with difficulty. The former president conducted a dogged campaign first to block and then to slow their release, one that his estate continued after his death in 1994. Meanwhile, the Nixon pre-presidential and post-presidential papers were held some three thousand miles to the west at the private Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California and also, until recently, at the National Archives facility in Laguna Niguel. The ­integration in 2007 of these hitherto separate collections in the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, now made part of the presidential library system administered by the National Archives, has largely resolved these legalistic and logistic problems, a development that should ease but not erase the challenge of Nixon biography (Hoff 1996; Worsham 2007).

Even with fuller access to the historical documents, the task of writing Nixon’s story will continue to pose problems that do not pertain to biographical examination of other modern presidents. As traditionally understood, the art of historical biography is the telling of history through the telling of lives (Ambrosius 2004). This is particularly difficult in Nixon’s case because symbolism has been as significant as substance in biographical interpretation of him. In consequence, no other major figure of twentieth-century American politics has been subject to such divergent characterization. Such diffuse terms as populist, liberal, conservative, free-world crusader, red-baiter, mad bomber, and peacemaker have all been used to describe him at one stage or another – and these by no means exhaust the lexicon of Nixonography. In view of Nixon’s lack of fixed ­identity in his biographical canon, some analysts contend that his image and the disputed meanings it engendered have become as important to understand as what he actually did. In the words of Daniel Frick, “[W]hen we fight about Nixon, we are fighting about the meaning of America. And that is a struggle that never ends” (Frick 2008: 17; see also Greenberg 2003). If that is the case, disagreement over what his life signified about his nation is less a ­matter of establishing what is true than it is a struggle to shape ­understanding of the recent past, which in turn influences ­perspectives on the present and future.

The problems of document-based research and of separating symbol from substance largely explain why Nixon biographies by professional ­historians to date number only three. Reaction against his final campaign for rehabilitation from the disgrace of Watergate and presidential resignation is another factor. Nixon has occupied a lowly status in the scholarly ranking of presidential greatness – usually with the likes of James Buchanan, Ulysses S. Grant, and Warren Harding for company in the “failed presidents” category (Bose and Nelson 2003; Felzenberg 2008). Frustrated with the consistently negative assessment of historians in particular, the former president declared in a 1988 television interview: “History will treat me fairly. Historians probably won’t, because most historians are on the left” (Nixon 1990: 75).

To Nixon, the hostility of historians was another example of the enmity of liberals that he had suffered throughout his political career. In reality, their animus had less to do with ideological prejudice than a concern about the meaning and making of history. In the eyes of many scholars, Nixon’s efforts to be his own historian in the memoirs and books he wrote in retirement made history vulnerable to personal interest and manipulation. This served to limit their enthusiasm for Nixon revisionism lest they inadvertently became allies in his post-resignation pursuit of respectability and, after his death, the efforts of his admirers to rewrite the past in his favor. As Stanley Kutler, arguably the foremost historian of Watergate, remarked, “Richard Nixon has struggled mightily for the soul of history and ­historians. Historians ought to worry about theirs” (Kutler 1992: 111).

Plenty of others have rushed in where historians seemingly fear to tread, of course. In its consideration of the myriad Nixon biographies, this ­chapter organizes these works into the following categories for analysis: “Nixon ascendant” pre-Watergate biographies; psychobiographies; Nixon’s ­memoirs and post-resignation writings; redemption and damnation ­post-Watergate biographies by non-professional historians; and scholarly studies.

Nixon Ascendant Biographies

As Nixon rose in politics, he became the subject of admiring studies written by sympathetic journalists. Produced as a vice-presidential campaign book, Philip Andrews’s 1952 volume is historically interesting as the first Nixon biography – and the one with the longest title – but for little else. Consideration of Nixon biographical historiography better starts with Ralph de Toledano’s 1956 study, which was updated for the 1960 campaign and provided the foundations of a third volume when his hero finally got to the White House. These works manifest three traits common in the pre-­downfall biographies. They present Nixon as: a man of the people rising through his work ethic; a lone battler against the institutional power of the establishment; and a leader dedicated to his nation’s interests in seeking practical solutions rather than doctrinaire responses to its problems.

De Toledano had come to know Nixon when covering the Alger Hiss case as a Newsweek journalist. A supporter of the post-War conservative movement, he also wrote for anti-Communist journals like American Mercury and became in 1955 a founder of National Review, but broke with his fellow editors in backing Nixon over Barry Goldwater for the 1960 Republican presidential nomination. For him, Nixon “represents an American phenomenon … as indigenous as an Indian fighter, as characteristic as a covered wagon, as unpretentious as apple pie” (de Toledano 1956: 16). Whereas psychobiographers tended to emphasize the negative effects of Nixon’s family background in allegedly warping his personality, de Toledano typifies the tendency in early biographies to celebrate it for making him an American everyman dedicated to hard work in pursuit of the American Dream. He also sees a sense of destiny in Nixon’s choice of a political career to lead a nation that generations of his forbears had shaped in their ordinary lives: “Heredity is the operative word, for there have been Nixons and Milhouses in America almost as long as there has been a white man’s America. And though Nixon has never made a fetish of it, the consciousness – and subconsciousness – of his antecedents as a fact of his life and character is with him at all times, as it should be” (de Toledano 1969: 15).

De Toledano’s books present Nixon as the solitary battler for truth and justice in the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ (HUAC) investigation of Alger Hiss. His lone warrior is a man of conscience determined to lay bare not only the communist conspiracy in government but also liberal efforts to cover it up. Echoing his hero’s own perspective, de Toledano sees this episode both as the making of Nixon and the issue that would dog him for the remainder of his time in politics because of liberals’ desire to be revenged for his exposure of their folly in supporting Hiss. The case “earned him the enduring enmity of powerful men in high places, and lesser men – in government, journalism, among the liberal intelligentsia – whose aggregate influence is immense. … They turned on him not only because of Hiss, but because he had proved the dangerous error of their belief that communists were merely ‘liberals in a hurry’ ” (de Toledano 1969: 99).

Lastly, de Toledano’s own conservatism did not prevent him from admiring what he described as Nixon’s “divorcement from any doctrinaire espousal” (de Toledano 1956: 183). The politician who emerges from his pages is prepared to appropriate what best suits the nation’s needs from the agendas of both liberalism and conservatism without identifying himself with either value system. In relation to this, de Toledano anticipates later analysts in asserting that both sides of the political divide tried to remake Nixon’s identity into their own image of him (de Toledano 1956: 182; 1969: 9–10, 374). However, post-Watergate scholarship would not recognize his depiction of President Nixon as anxious for quiet discourse, patience and caution in the task of governing America at a difficult moment in time (de Toledano 1969: 1–13, 360–74).

Other than de Toledano, Nixon’s favorite chronicler was New York Herald Tribune reporter Earl Mazo, whose biography spent fifteen weeks (highest position number six) on the New York Times Book Review ­best-seller list in 1959. A friend of Nixon’s, Mazo got him to open up in interviews more than any other writer probably would ever do. In part, this was because his subject trusted him to write the story he wanted. The staples of the Nixon life are all there: the rise from humble origins through hard work and talent; the tenacity against the odds in the Hiss case; and the willingness to do what is right for the nation regardless of ideological inconsistency. The author gave his subject the chance to review the manuscript and propose any changes, but it was so friendly that none of substance was required. In writing it, Mazo had already taken up a number of Nixon’s suggestions, notably that he address head-on the criticism that his issue positions were based on electoral calculation rather than principle. An updated version, written with the assistance of political scientist Stephen Hess, took the story to 1968. This uncritically reported a Nixon statement in an interview with Mazo that his determination not to plunge the nation into a constitutional crisis was his main reason for not contesting the 1960 presidential election count. It also contains an interview transcript in which Nixon defines his politics in somewhat mangled fashion but to best ­advantage for 1968: “You can’t classify me. … I’m just not doctrinaire. If there is one thing that classifies me it is that I’m a non-extremist” (Mazo and Hess 1968: 316).

Two other biographies produced for the 1960 campaign also merit ­consideration as part of the Nixon-rising genre. Hungarian émigré Bela Kornitzer wrote a human-interest study that received much more cooperation from Hannah Nixon than from her son, who consented to only one interview and was uncomfortable with the writer’s angle. Kornitzer had built his career in the United States by focusing on parent-child relations in shaping the characters of its leaders. This reflected his belief that the essence of US democracy was to be found in the tolerant democratic attitudes ­prevalent in the American family. One of the interesting snippets in his book is the reproduction of a letter written by Nixon when ten years old, in which he imagined himself as a dog begging his master to come home because he is being mistreated by his temporary carers. For Hannah, who let Kornitzer see the letter, it was just an example of her son’s precocious intelligence. For later psychobiographers, however, it was evidence that Nixon’s childhood was shaped by maternal control and a desperate yearning for his mother’s love (Kornitzer 1960: 57; Abrahamsen 1977: 59–63).

William Costello’s The Facts about Nixon, the sole exception to the generally friendly tenor of early biographies, has historical interest as the first critical study of his life. Growing out of a series of articles in The New Republic, it is generally well researched but faults Nixon’s McCarthyite past, particularly in the Hiss case, and what the author sees as his opportunism in shifting to the center ground of politics in the 1950s. Even so, Costello is at one with the Nixon-as-common-man orthodoxy in declaring his subject “an authentic product of the American pioneer tradition,” who succeeded because “no effort was impossible, no goal unattainable” (Costello 1960: 17).


Political scientist David Barber’s 1972 study of presidential character claimed that it was possible to predict how presidents would behave in office on the basis of which one of four personality types they fitted into. In an interview with Time magazine, he pronounced Nixon a psychologically flawed active-negative president who was ambitious out of anxiety (Time 1972; see also Hirsh 1980). Notwithstanding the problems of reducing human complexity to four types and his questionable categorization of particular presidents, the turn of events appeared to validate Barber’s warnings and helped to give respectability to the new Nixon studies genre of psychobiography.

Predating Barber, the first entry in this field was journalist-academic Gary Wills’s Nixon Agonistes (1970), but in reality this was more cultural history with Nixon at its center than psychobiography. For Wills, Nixon was the embodiment of the self-made man, who had triumphed in the political market by becoming the “ ‘least’ authentic man alive, the late mover, tester of responses, submissive to the discipline of consent.” Brilliant though this study is as a cultural polemic, it works far less well as biography – even of the “psycho” kind – because Nixon is reduced to a one-dimensional figure. As a consequence, Wills leaves many questions about his protagonist unasked let alone unanswered. In particular, if Nixon was so inauthentic, why did he generate controversy throughout his career and why was he so prone to take political and policy risks?

More authentically psychobiographical but inherently less interesting than the Wills study are the oeuvres of historian Bruce Mazlish (1972) and Manhattan psychoanalyst (and criminal-behavior specialist) David Abrahamsen (1977). Both make sweeping claims about Nixon’s personality without having interviewed their subject and his close family or examined the documentary record (beyond his public statements). For Mazlish, three factors defined Nixon’s persona: absorption of self in his role (in essence being Nixon is his role); ambivalence; and denial as a defense against unacceptable feelings. Their supposed effect was that Nixon had as much difficulty as the rest of the country in deciding who he really was. In Mazlish’s pre-Watergate estimate, the president’s insecurity in not knowing himself could create serious problems for his administration and the nation. In Abrahamsen’s post-Watergate analysis, the possibility became proven in his portrayal of Nixon as engaged in constant struggle between two different sides of his personality. The effect was a string of psychological disorders that included being obsessive-compulsive, self-hating, hysterical, ­masochistic, uncertain of his masculinity, and even psychopathic, all of which made it difficult for him to link morality and behavior. The root of Nixon’s problems in Abrahamsen’s analysis was the contradictory influence of his mother and father and his inability to please both. According to the psychoanalyst, “His childhood fears and anger never left him, even when he became ­president of the United States” (Abrahamsen 1977: 248).

Fawn Brodie’s posthumously published Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character also portrayed a man prone to rage, hatreds, images of death, and duplicity, one torn above all between the conflicting personalities of his brutal father and gentle mother. She is particularly concerned to explain why Nixon told so many lies throughout his political career. In Brodie’s analysis, he did so “to gain love, to shore up his grandiose fantasies, to bolster his ever wavering sense of identity” (Brodie 1981: 25). Though less technical in its psychoanalysis than others of the genre, her work still presents problems for historians. It concentrates on Nixon’s first fifty years, but does not explain why his lying and other negative traits did not become evident until he entered politics. A perfectly reasonable case can be made that Nixon was hardly maladjusted as a youth, college student, and World War II naval officer. Even when it came to politics, Brodie showed a marked reluctance to explain why he sometimes did good because her concern was always with his capacity for doing bad things.

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