Richard Nixon is the only American President so far to resign from office. With a history that spans for more than 200 years and 50 presidents, that’s quite the statement and while he was preceded by Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, J.F.K and Lyndon Johnson, you could say the line of great men broke with his immediate predecessor.
The reason for his resignation on August 9, 1974 was the certainty of impeachment caused by the infamous Watergate scandal. As that has been covered extensively through the years that followed, this article aims to discover Nixon’s life after his fall from grace.
“And as the helicopter began to rise,” the president continued. “I heard Mrs. Nixon, who was sitting in the seat next to us, speaking to no one in particular but to everyone, and she said, ‘It’s so sad. It’s so sad.’” Recalls the former President of his departure on his last day in the White House. That’s when both their lives restarted, almost overnight, with Richard a broken man, having no idea where to start the tedious process of reconstructing their lives.
They retreated to “La Casa Pacifica”, their home in California and were faced with a mountain of debt from back taxes and the cost of his defence in various cases that originated with the Watergate scandal. For the first part of their California stay, Nixon was extremely lonely. He used to be up in his office at 7 a.m. but found little to do and often had to spend time doing nothing, in the company of Ron Ziegler, his former press secretary. To make things worse, at the end of 1974 Nixon had to have a blood clot extracted from his foot, a procedure that sent him into shook from internal bleeding which ended with another surgery and a very long convalesce. By all accounts of friends and family this was one of, if not the, worst period in Nixon’s life.
He slowly recovered beginning of 1975, but the weight of his resignation was still very much upon him. It is reported that at one time that year he had just 500$ left in his bank account and the statement release after his pardon was as valid as ever: “…. No words can describe the depth of my regret and pain at the anguish my mistakes over Watergate have caused the nation and the presidency, a nation I so deeply love, and an institution I so greatly respect.”
By that summer though, things started to get better, with financial gains from the selling of the rights to his memoirs for $ 2 million and then the famous interview he gave to British television personality David Frost, for 600.000$. With America still in bitter disappointment towards him, Nixon found a much more welcoming crown outside the US. What followed was a series of visits to foreign countries, where, although a civilian, was able to meet with heads of state that included the likes of China’s Deng Xiaoping, Japan’s Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and in 1986 he even met with Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.
At home, things were beginning to improve as well. He will never regain the recognition or respect he held before the scandal, but Nixon made steady public appearances, at first in front of small groups of supporters, debuting with a public appearance in Kentucky in 1978 and released no less than nine books after his term in Office, almost all held in high regard, especially because he was still viewed as an expert on foreign policy.
He gave advice to President Carter regarding China and both President Bush and President Reagan consulted with Nixon, while in office, on matters of foreign affairs, with Ronald Reagan receiving invaluable information from Nixon on how to deal with Gorbachev after the two of them had met.
In 1980 the Nixons moved to New York, as if returning from exile. The 80’s saw better times for them, with arguably the pinnacle of his return being in 1986, making the cover of Newsweek with the caption “He’s back: The Rehabilitation of Richard Nixon”.
The later part of their lives was market by Nixon’s struggle and eventually success in creating the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation in Yorba Linda, California. It was never declared a “presidential library” and subsequently never received any federal funding. All of the expenses were covered through donations gathered by Nixon and a few of his friends. With the administration still refusing to release the presidential papers while he held Office, the library was stocked with papers belonging to him from before and after the Presidency.
Nixon died of complications related to a stroke, in 1994, less than a year apart from his wife. His funeral was attended by all then living Presidents and the eulogy done by President Clinton who emphasised he be remembered for his entire life, which seemed to almost pardon the wrong doings of Watergate on a personal level. The nation had, at least partially, forgiven Richard Nixon of his wrong doings, due to his relentless spirit while making a comeback and his never diminished inherent value as a man.