Richard Nixon served in Congress for less than six years. His short career there made him a national figure and catapulted him into national leadership roles. He was twice elected Vice President of the United States and twice elected President of the United states, the second time carrying 49 states.
Richard Nixon was a young lawyer who served in the Navy during World War II, and was discharged as a lieutenant commander in 1946. That same year, he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from California’s 12th Congressional District as a Republican. His opponent was five term Democratic veteran Representative Jerry Voorhis. The Republicans couldn’t find anyone to run against Voorhis, and placed an ad in the local newspaper. Nixon answered the ad and won the nomination.
Nixon upset Voorhis, winning by a vote of 65,586-49,994, and was re-elected two years later without opposition. Nixon served in the House of Representatives from January 3, 1947 until November 30, 1950. He served on the House Education and Labor Committee where he helped draft the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. As a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee, he co-sponsored the Mundt-Nixon bill requiring the registration of Communist-front organizations and making it a crime to “aid the immediate or ultimate objectives of the world Communist movement.” The bill passed the House but not the Senate. The provisions of the Mundt-Nixon bill were incorporated into the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950, which did pass.
Nixon gained national attention as the chairman of the House Un-American Activities Special Subcommittee that investigated charges by Time Magazine editor Whittaker Chambers that government officials had been Communist spies in the 1930s. One of those accused was Alger Hiss, who was eventually convicted of perjury for his testimony before Nixon’s committee. The affair made Nixon a national figure.
In spite of Nixon’s criticism of the Truman administration, Nixon voted for the Marshall Plan, aid to Greece and Turkey, and reciprocal trade agreements. He also voted for a peacetime military draft, lower taxes and an end to the discriminatory poll tax. Nixon declined to run for re-election to his House seat in 1950. Instead, he ran for the U.S. Senate.
Nixon ran against Democratic Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas for the seat being vacated by retiring Senator Sheridan Downey. It was a particularly nasty campaign. Nixon flooded the state with over 500,000 “pink sheets” linking Mrs. Douglas’ voting record in the House with the goals of the International Communist Party. Nixon referred to her as “the Pink Lady.” Actually, her record was every bit as anti-Communist as Nixon’s, but she never managed to counter the damage done to her image by Nixon’s tactics. In response to Nixon’s tactics, a small newspaper in southern California, the Independent Review, dubbed Nixon with the epithet “Tricky Dick” which stuck to Nixon for the rest of his political career.
Nixon won the election by over 680,000. He was due to start his term on January 3, 1951. But the retiring Senator Downey was in poor health and resigned his seat before the end of his term and Nixon was appointed to finish the term. Nixon took his seat on December 1, 1950 and served until his resignation on January 1, 1953. He resigned after being elected Vice President of the United States, into which office he was inaugurated on January 20, 1953.
While in the Senate, Nixon served on the Government Operations Committee and its Permanent Investigations Subcommittee that was chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Nixon was one of the “communist-baiters” trying to root out Communist spies or sympathizers in the federal government, and continuously warned of the dangers of Communist influence in the federal government. Nixon also opposed the administration’s policy in Korea as too restrained, and condemned President Truman for firing General Douglas MacArthur.
As Vice President, Nixon was one of the most visible and active men to hold the post. His famous “Kitchen Debate” with the leader of the Soviet Union made headlines around the world. He was the natural candidate to lead the Republican Party in 1960. He lost the White House in a very close race to John F. Kennedy. As Vice President, Nixon was President of the Senate, and it was his job, before a joint session of Congress, to open and count the electoral votes and declare the winner. He, therefore, had the unenviable job of declaring himself the loser in the 1960 Presidential election. He made a short, gracious speech calling for the country to unite behind the new President and pledging his support. It was one of his finer moments.
After his term as Vice President, Nixon moved to California, and lost a race for governor there in 1962. He retired with a statement to reporters (with whom he never got along very well) that they would not “have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” In a stunning comeback, Nixon was elected President in another close race in 1968. He was re-elected in 1972 by a record majority, carrying 49 states. He was forced to resign the Presidency to avoid impeachment as a result of his role in the Watergate scandal, and retired.