My Gift to the President

    BB_at_WH_04021974The author (right) presents a scrapbook in support of President Nixon on April 2, 1974. White House staffer, Robert Genader (left) accepted the gift on behalf of President Nixon.

    By Bob Bostock

    Forty years ago today I visited the White House for the first time. I remember the date specifically because my visit was incredibly exciting and memorable for a then-16-year-old fervent admirer of President Nixon. But first, a little background.

    In 1972, I had worked as a young volunteer for the President’s re-election, manning GOTV phone banks in Hackensack, New Jersey every evening and Saturdays from Labor Day until Election Day. I had the time of my young life, being part of a cause (a very small part) greater than myself. The only disappointment of the entire campaign was that the President didn’t make a campaign stop in North Jersey.

    Over the course of the next two years, as the Nixon presidency became ensnarled in Watergate, I remained a staunch advocate. I believed then, as I do today, that the President had not committed an impeachable offense that warranted his removal from office.

    During that time I wrote countless letters to the President expressing my support. Many of them asked for the opportunity to meet the President, so I could express my admiration in person. Each request was politely declined, but that did not dampen my enthusiasm.

    Then I had an idea. I had seen a photograph in our local paper of the President in the Oval Office greeting a supporter who had collected thousands of signatures expressing solidarity with the President. I thought, “I should do something like that; maybe then I could meet him.”

    Not wanting to repeat the effort I had read about, I decided to pull together a scrapbook containing editorials, letters to the editor, and advertisements expressing support for the President’s cause. I wrote several of the letters to our local daily newspaper. Others I had sent to papers on Cape Cod where my grandfather, who had retired there, would clip them out and send them to me.

    Finally, the scrapbook was completed and I wrote to the President asking for the opportunity to present it to him. I was going to be in Washington in early April attending a scouting event, and asked for an appointment while I was there.

    Before too long I received a letter from a member of the President’s staff, informing me that although the President’s schedule would not allow him to meet with me, a member of the White House staff, Mr. Robert Genader, would accept my scrap book on his behalf.

    My excitement at the prospect of actually having an appointment at the Executive Mansion completely overshadowed any disappointment at not being given the chance to meet the President. And besides, I harbored the secret hope that once they saw what I had prepared, I would be ushered into the Oval Office anyway!

    The time appointed finally arrived and I entered the White House through the East Gate. I checked in with the uniformed Secret Service agent just inside the entrance and was escorted to what I was told was the First Lady’s Reception Room.

    After only a brief wait Mr. Genader appeared and graciously accepted my offering. I thought that would be the end of my appointment, but he then asked if I had time for a special tour. Needless to say, I did.

    We left the reception room, walked along the East Colonnade, and stepped out into the First Ladies’ Garden. From there we walked across the driveway past the iconic South Portico, past the Rose Garden, along the West Colonnade and into the West Wing.

    When we entered the West Wing, Mr. Genader showed me the press room, the Roosevelt Room, and the Cabinet Room. He took me into the Cabinet Room around to the President’s chair, where I stood for a moment thinking that this all must be a dream.

    When we left the Cabinet Room we turned left and took a few steps down the hall. I saw an open door ahead and could just make out the edge of a distinctive blue rug, bordered with gold stars. I knew immediately I was just steps away from the Oval Office.

    My heart was racing as we covered the last few feet to the door to the most famous office in the world. A velvet rope hung across the doorway, but Mr. Genader lowered the rope and we entered the office, taking just one or two steps into the office, only barely stepping onto the rug. The office was unoccupied, but the sense of the presidency was palpable. We lingered for a moment or two, so I could drink in the scene.

    Much too soon, we turned and headed back the way we had come. Just before exiting the West Wing, Mr. Genader asked me to wait a moment while he ducked into an office. A few seconds later he reappeared, and accompanying him was a White House photographer.

    We made our way back along the West Colonnade, past the Rose Garden, and out to the South Lawn. There we stopped, and the photog snapped a few photos of me presenting my scrapbook to Mr. Genader. After this brief photo op, Mr. Genader took his leave, but not before inviting me to tour the public rooms of the mansion.

    Less than two weeks passed before I received in the mail the print of my presentation, accompanied by a letter from President Nixon thanking me for my scrapbook. I was deeply honored that my rather modest expression of support had been received in such a gracious way. That photograph and letter remain among my most treasured mementoes.

    photoFollowing his visit to the White House, the author received a signed letter from President Nixon.

    But that’s not the end of this story. Back in 2012, when I was helping to develop President Nixon’s centennial exhibit at the Nixon Library, I shared this story with Olivia Anastasiadis, the National Archives’ supervisory curator, while we were looking at some artifacts for possible inclusion in the exhibit.

    Shortly thereafter, Olivia excused herself to go back into the vast artifacts storage area. I figured she was going to bring back some more exhibit-worthy artifacts for us to consider. Instead, she emerged just a few minutes later with something I had last seen 38 years before – the scrapbook I had compiled as an expression of support for the President.

    I couldn’t believe it. My scrapbook had been logged in as a gift to the President, right alongside gifts of state and other gifts from ordinary citizens, and had been preserved all these years. Olivia slipped the scrapbook from its protective plastic bag, and handed it to me. I was instantly transported back to that early spring day in 1974.

    I could not have imagined it that day when I stood on the South Lawn of the White House to have my picture taken, but I would eventually get to meet – and even know – President Nixon.

    Fifteen years later I had the great privilege of working with President Nixon over the last five years of his life, including writing much of the text in the Nixon Library that covers his presidency. More recently, I worked with the Richard Nixon Foundation as curator and author of the Pat Nixon Centennial Exhibit and as co-curator and co-author of President Nixon’s Centennial Exhibit.

    As I remember that day exactly four decades ago, I do so with a profound sense of gratitude that I had the opportunity to extend my support of our 37th president long after that special moment at the White House in 1974.

    It was a day that I’ll never forget in a journey that I have long embraced – ensuring that President Nixon receive his due for all that he did for our country and for the great cause of peace and freedom in the world.

    BB_with_scrapbookOver three decades later, the author learned that his scrapbook had been logged by the White House as a presidential gift.

      Peaceful Competition: Vice President Nixon’s Mission to Moscow

        img746Vice President Nixon holds a Russian child while visiting the Soviet Union in 1959.

        By Brian Robertson

        In a historiographical essay published in A Companion to Richard M. Nixon, historian Irwin F. Gellman noted, few historians “have published anything on the genesis of Nixon’s evolution during the vice-presidency. No historian has written any study on how deeply involved the Vice President was in the administration’s foreign policies.”

        Perhaps most neglected is Vice President Nixon’s 1959 trip to the Soviet Union and, as Gellman further observed, “No scholar has evaluated the significance of that mission to Russia and Poland.” While it is not feasible to investigate all of the intricacies of the Russia trip in this entry, the Vice President’s reflections on the need for “peaceful competition” with the Soviet Union bear an uncanny resemblance to his Presidential orchestration of détente based on strategic interests.

        To be sure, historians frequently address the Russia trip by focusing on the famed kitchen debate but have not fully explored the trip in its entirety.

        One clue to the Vice President’s analysis is the oft ignored article he wrote for National Geographic which reflects his refined assessment of U.S.-Soviet relations. Titled “Russia as I Saw it,” the Vice President recounted a remarkable eleven day trip in which he openly visited various venues and studiously probed the economic, cultural, and social structure of the Soviet Union:

        Perhaps most noteworthy is the Vice-President’s rejection of “peaceful coexistence” in favor of “peaceful competition:”

        I reject the negative concept of co-existence, Soviet style, which means two worlds with two hostile camps, each struggling to impose its system on the other. I submit in its place the concept of one world where different people live under the different systems they choose, but where there is freedom of communication and exchange, and cooperation in achieving mutual goals.

        The Vice-President’s reflections can be further explored in typed copies of his handwritten notes:

        In other words, peaceful competition.

        1. It must be fair
        (1) Victory of communism?– over us?
        2. Not __ tools but a better life?
        3. Man needs more than to be well fed, sheltered and clothed and exercised.
        (1) He needs the ____ of the existing explanations of new ideas—unpopular and popular.
        4. Can’t be in our part of the world alone
        5. Can’t intervene in internal affairs of others
        6. Competition in ideas

        Vice-President Nixon concluded the trip by addressing the Russian people on radio and television, and in addition to promoting peaceful competition, he professed his admiration for the Russian people while denouncing the Soviet form of government and their official propaganda organ, Pravda. Based on close observation, one can see a hint of the détente policies championed by President Nixon while in office.

        The entire text of Vice-President Nixon’s annotated copy of the address can be viewed below:

        Brian Robertson holds a Ph.D. in Diplomatic History and specializes in the Nixon Presidency.

          RN’s Plan for Higher Education

            RN and Robert Finch Washington Technical InstitutePresident Nixon and Secretary of H.E.W Robert Finch visit Washington Technical Institute in Cleveland, Ohio.

            By Chris Barber

            By the time Richard Nixon became President, America’s higher education system began to suffer under its own weight. A growing identity crisis brought on by the universities’ ambition to become ‘multiversities’ of research, teaching and contractual work for businesses and government, prompted a concerted effort by the Nixon administration to reform and innovate the existing institution. It was Lyndon Johnson who instigated an era of higher educational awareness with his sweeping legislation—it was Richard Nixon who tried to forge its purpose.

            The uncanny parallel between the rapidly growing size and cost of the federal government and in the universities were a result of taking on far too much than what could be conceivably managed. Because of this, the reformation of America’s higher education institution, like the goal of restructuring the executive branch, was high on President Nixon’s domestic policy agenda.

            44 years ago, on March 19, 1970, President Nixon advised Congress on his administration’s proposals to address the issue of an unsustainable higher education institution.

            Below, see an administrative fact sheet outlining the President’s proposals:

            While recognizing the many achievements of higher academia–increased enrollment in colleges among young Americans — President Nixon critiqued post-secondary schools’ irrelevant curriculums, the imbalance between teaching and research, and the inequity of ill-directed federal funding.

            For universities to become credible again, as acclaimed Professor Stephen J. Tonsor of the University of Michigan suggested in a piece concerning the alienation and relevance of higher education, “universities must regain a sense of modesty and a selectivity in the formulation of their objectives.”

            For President Nixon, as much as it was the responsibility of higher education institutions to recognize their errors, Federal, state, and local governments also had to share the burden of responsibility. He proposed to realign higher education through four pieces of legislation:

            1. The creation of a new financial institution enabling banks and colleges to expand the supply and availability of federal guaranteed student loans.

            2. Restructuring the Federal student subsidy program.

            3. The establishment of a National Foundation for Higher Education.

            4. The creation of a Career Education Program in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

            The new financial institution, under the moniker of The National Student Loan Association, would function as a private financial intermediary institution, and would raise its own capital from sale of stock to foundations, educational organizations and other financial institutions. The desired effect would be the increase of student loan liquidity, thus allowing lenders to increase the total amount of funds available to students.

            To combat the inequity of the federal loan system, Nixon proposed increasing the federal student aid programs under H.E.W. by 10% while simultaneously shifting aid to largenumbers of low income students attending college. It would make every student from a family below the $10,000 income level–nearly 40% of all students enrolled in 1970–eligible for Federal aid.

            The National Foundation for Higher Education would serve the purpose of assisting higher education institutions in restoring educational purpose, essentially educating young men and women in a way that makes them capable participants in a highly technical society, “sophisticated and creative members of our common culture and active and concerned citizens.” This foundation would address, through funding, the rediscovery of educational excellence.

            The creation of a career education program within the Department of H.E.W. would authorize formula grants to be given to states to cover part of the cost of beginning new programs of education in critical career skills in community colleges, technical institutes, and other post-secondary institutions. In line with President Nixon’s policy of revenue sharing, State agencies would determine which institutions and programs would receive these funds.

            It took over two years for Congress to act on President Nixon’s proposals. In June of 1972, he signed the Education Amendments of 1972, which contained only two of the provisions the President asked for two years earlier in addition to the more well-known Title IX provisions. Though a step forward in the right direction, it was not what President Nixon had entirely hoped for.

            Though not fully realized during his Presidency, many of the principles and ideas of RN’s vision for a more equitable higher education institution were adopted in part during future administrations. The Student Loan Reform Act of 1993 and the implementation of FAFSA, for example, espouse principles that President Nixon once introduced. The goal to revitalize the system of higher education still remains relevant. As tuition continues its unabated rise, it would appear that now, more than ever, we must heed President Nixon’s words, that the time has once again come “for a renewed national commitment to post-secondary education and especially to its reform and revitalization.”

              Michelle Obama Follows in Pat Nixon’s Footsteps

                Former members of the Nixon White House staff discuss First Lady Pat Nixon’s role on the 1972 trip to the People’s Republic of China.

                By Will Swift, author of PAT AND DICK: The Nixons, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage.

                As Michelle Obama makes her well-publicized visit to the People’s Republic of China this week, Mrs. Obama is, according to First Lady historian Carl Anthony, the fifteenth presidential spouse to visit that country.

                Former First Lady Julia Grant was the first to do so in 1879, but the most memorable visit was made by Pat Nixon who accompanied her husband on a ground-breaking trip, opening up the Chinese communist world to the West for the first time, in February 1972.

                Since that time, five other incumbent presidential couples have made official visits to China, including the Fords in 1975, the Reagans in 1984, the George H.W. Bushes in 1989, the Clintons in 1998, and the George W. Bushes in 2002, who traveled there on the thirtieth anniversary of Richard and Pat Nixon’s 1972 arrival.

                Michelle Obama, who is bringing her mother and her daughters Sasha and Malia, will engage in the soft, person-to-person diplomacy that Pat Nixon exemplified on her historic 1972 visit opposed to the confrontational political stance that Hillary Clinton took in 1995 when she challenged the Chinese leadership on women’s rights, human rights, and media censorship.

                Pat Nixon was fully capable of tough political diplomacy as she showed during her solo multinational visit to Africa in January 1972. During her visit to China the following month, she represented America’s best attributes as a warm-hearted and open-minded emissary of her countrymen, showing that the relationship between the two countries was not just a connection between two leaders, but, most importantly, a relationship between peoples.

                As Michelle Obama follows in Pat’s footsteps, touring the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, visiting schools, and stopping to see Chinese pandas, it is important to remember the precedent Pat Nixon set. Here, the precedent can be seen in an excerpt from Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage:

                “There had been little or no direct dialogue or trade between the United States and the People’s Republic of China since the communists had taken over the mainland in 1949. During this mission to China, Pat and Dick gave their finest performance—marking their most memorable moment on the world stage—as forty million people watched them on television. The First Lady played a starring role beside her husband, without upstaging him, in a remarkable diplomatic transformation that Dick had hoped for since he assumed the presidency.

                She told reporters, “Of course I wouldn’t say anything to spoil the good work Dick has done.” She and Dick and their advisors knew little about the attitudes they would encounter in China. Dick was chancing a highly visible international failure. He was risking U.S. relationships with Taiwan and the Soviet Union and jeopardizing his own political support from intensely anticommunist elements in his own party, but Dick viewed the risk as worth taking because he felt a U.S. rapprochement with China would calm the region and perhaps motivate the Soviets to help the United States wind down the Vietnam War.

                The Nixons had quieted their nerves by doing intense preparation. They learned basic Chinese phrases, Chinese history, and culture,
                studied Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, known in the West as the Little Red Book, learned something about Chinese philosophy and the structure of the Communist Party, and studied sketchy biographies of the main leaders. Pat read some of Mao’s poetry. Speechwriter Pat Buchanan prepped the First Lady on how to answer reporters’ questions as she toured sites in China…Ramping up the stakes for Pat, the State Department reminded her that she had an “unprecedented opportunity . . . to influence the way in which Americans view the Chinese, Chinese women, and the social order.” On the morning of February 21, the worldwide television audience watched as the presidential plane, renamed The Spirit of ’76 for this occasion, landed at the dull, gray Capital Airport outside Beijing.

                Premier Chou created a dramatic tableau by standing alone on the tarmac to greet Nixon… Columnist Hugh Sidey described the moment for readers of Life magazine. Nixon “came in vast silence. It [the small greeting party] was the only such welcome for a president in history and it was stunning. . . . The panoply of presidential power that has brought whole cities into the street cheering was shrunken to a few people.”

                Pat Nixon made her own bold statement. Wearing a fur-lined red coat, she followed her husband down the stairs. Her coat matched the airport’s red banners with their revolutionary slogans and signaled her openness to the Chinese people and her attention to their culture. Set off against the dark outfits of Communist Party officials, the coat was one of the fashion masterstrokes of the era. It looked as if she was personally bringing color and hope into a gray world. Pat knew that the color red meant good luck to the Chinese; she wore bright red coats and dresses at many of the settings she visited in China. In that moment and in the remaining days of the visit, she was catapulted into diplomatic stardom.

                Pat and Dick stood at attention as they listened to a Chinese band play “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the windy and cold runway—a groundbreaking moment in the center of the communist world. The Nixons rode into central Beijing in curtained limousines along eerily deserted streets. They traveled through Tiananmen Square, the city’s main and most historic plaza, which was nearly empty, to their official guesthouse. Shortly after their arrival, Nixon and Kissinger were whisked away for a secret one-hour meeting with the ailing, epochal figure Mao Tse-tung, who pointedly grasped Nixon’s hand for a full minute. Photographers recorded their talks. Nixon was enthralled with Mao’s power and his philosophical bent… In China the president spent fifteen hours in meetings with Chou, seeking to forge a stable relationship between the two countries and working out principles of territorial integrity—the United States seemingly acknowledging Taiwan was a part of China, mutual nonaggression in Vietnam, and noninterference in each other’s internal affairs.

                On their first evening in Beijing, Pat and Dick attended a banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square. Television networks carried it live, without commentary, for four hours. Nixon noted that more people viewed the banquet via television than had seen any previous historic event… Echoing Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech, Nixon declared that the world might not remember what words would be said that evening, but that the events of the trip would be supremely memorable; he went on to quote Mao, saying, “Seize the day, seize the hour.”

                While her husband was sequestered in private meetings with Premier Chou, television film crews followed Mrs. Nixon as she introduced Americans and the rest of the world to China. According to her aide Jack Brennan, the Chinese were wary of authority figures, but they were drawn to Pat’s warmth and grace. Helen Thomas, one of three female reporters allowed on the trip, remembered that when young Revolutionary Committee guides attempted to involve her in discussions of Communist Party dialectics, Pat would smile politely and say, “Yes, I am acquainted with the philosophy.”

                Pat emphasized how much she enjoyed the sights, her own connections to the people and places she visited, and singled out similarities between the American and Chinese people. She trudged through the dusty gray Evergreen People’s Commune, a large community labor and living collective with its own government, in a snowfall, observed acupuncture treatments at a clinic, turning away at first, saying, “I think it’s sort of rude to watch,” hugged children at the Beijing Children’s
                Hospital, and visited math and art classrooms, telling them she was a schoolteacher, and passing on a “hello from the children of America.” While she petted the commune’s pigs, she recalled she had once “raised a prize winner—second prize” during her 4-H years. When she asked about the breed of pigs she was seeing and Helen Thomas declared them to be “Male chauvinist[s],” Pat joined in the laughter. At the Beijing Glassware Factory she focused on some small green elephant figurines: “Ah, the elephant,” she declared, “the symbol of our party.” In the kitchen of the Peking Hotel, with its staff of 115 cooks, she gamely tasted a goldfish and a “fiery stuffed pickled squash,” claiming it was delicious. Wickedly, she offered a bite to a reporter, who grew pale upon tasting it.

                While shopping, Pat cracked up Jack Brennan when she chose a pair of pajamas for Dick, held them up to Brennan, approximately the same size as her husband, and asked if he thought they would fit “Ricardo.” Brennan and other members of the official party were less amused with Barbara Walters, who tried to stand next to Pat at every opportunity. CBS’s Walter Cronkite and ABC’s Harry Reasoner were also in hot pursuit of television photo opportunities at Pat’s side. Even conservative political journalist William F. Buckley, who had come along on the trip although he had initially opposed the president’s overture to China, recognized that “Pat Nixon was the only show in town.” When Pat and Dick went together to the snow-covered courtyards of the Forbidden City, they saw a royal reception room where child-emperors had managed the affairs of state with “prompting from their mothers who had hid behind screens.” Nixon joked, “It’s the same
                today. The women are always the back seat driver.”

                On their second night Pat and Dick sat alongside Mao’s grim, vengeful wife, Chiang Ching, who had avidly purged the Communist Party and spearheaded the burning of books during the Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966, a social and political movement designed to enforce communism and eradicate capitalist elements in Chinese culture and society. It was only now abating. The Nixons watched the interminable proletarian ballet Ching had created and staged, The Red Detachment of Women, which told the story of a peasant who was tortured by a landlord, ran off to join communists, and came back with her colleagues to kill her tormentor. Correspondent Bernard Kalb quoted another correspondent who said it “took revolutionary patience to sit through the first act.”

                In the key public moment of their visit, on a cold, sunny day, the Nixons traveled to the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China, begun three centuries before the birth of Jesus and stretching from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert—a stretch of more than three thousand miles. For Pat, the most exciting moment of the trip was standing on a wall that was “so graceful winding up the mountain like a dragon’s back.” According to historian Gil Troy, photographs of the smiling Nixons standing “on the enduring symbol of Chinese xenophobia” symbolized their historic “breakthrough.”

                Chou En-lai and his wife, Deng Yingchao, captivated Pat, who described him as “a charmer” with a “delightful sense of humor.” Sitting beside Chou at a dinner, Pat mentioned her visit to see the giant pandas at the Beijing Zoo. She picked up one of the packs of Panda Cigarettes set by each place at the table. “Aren’t they cute? I love them,” she said, referring to the drawings on bright pink paper of two pandas cavorting with each other. Chou responded, “I’ll give you some.” She thought he meant the cigarettes, but he was offering her pandas. Less than two months later, on April 16, 1972, Pat officially welcomed two giant pandas (Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing) and the Chinese delegation that brought them to Washington. The two pandas caused what Pat called “panda-monium,” attracting hundreds of millions of visitors over the years, until their deaths in the 1990s. In return, the United States government gave the Chinese people two North American musk oxen named Milton and Matilda. These shaggy beasts with curled tusks—native to North America and the arctic region—developed mange and did not attract the same level of adulation in China.

                At a banquet on February 28, Nixon hyperbolically called his visit “the week that changed the world.” The Nixons’ trip contributed to the eventual Westernization of China and shifted the balance of power, placing the United States in a cardinal position between China and the Soviet Union, at least until Watergate diluted Nixon’s diplomatic influence. It may also have helped the president resolve the Vietnam War. U.S. editorial responses to the visit were cautious, but generally positive. “A smiling dragon is a big improvement over one spitting, but it is still a dragon,” opined an editorial in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

                The trip…certainly proved them to be one of the most powerful couples on the world stage. Kandy Stroud of Women’s Wear Daily was struck that Nixon “seems to have taken a second look at his wife.” The man who had ignored or sniped at his wife in public suddenly seemed “genuinely attentive and gentle.” Stroud noticed that he coaxed her to his side when she fell back to let him garner the attention.

                No one was trendier that year than Pat Nixon in her red wool coat on the far side of the world. Chicago Today wondered in a February 24 editorial whether historians might conclude that while Dick conducted business, Pat did “the important work,” establishing “direct and friendly contact with the Chinese people on a normal human level” through her “unfailing warm, gracious conduct.” White House correspondent and columnist Robert Thompson editorialized that Pat had achieved a perfect balance between playing “a vital role in world affairs” and maintaining a “feminine manner.”

                In the diplomatic arena Pat had become a woman truly of the early 1970s—someone who balanced significant achievement with a domestic and family focus.”

                  Presidents Nixon and Truman: Reconciliation at the Truman Library

                    Truman NixonRichard Nixon playing the “Missouri Waltz” at the dedication of the Harry Truman Presidential Library and Museum, March 21, 1969. Courtesy of the Truman Presidential Library and Museum.

                    By Brian Robertson

                    “Powerful ideological differences cannot always be bridged with personal camaraderie,” President Richard Nixon wrote in In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal. “When people feel strongly about major issues, they do not easily put their arms around others who feel the other way.” No statement could better describe the twenty-five year contentious relationship between Presidents Harry Truman and Richard Nixon. When the newly elected thirty-seventh President attended the dedication of the Harry Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri on March 21, 1969, it proved that fierce political rivals could respect one another despite their differences, and provided a powerful, public symbol of political reconciliation.

                    The two Presidents’ political relationship did not start out so badly. In 1947, newly elected Congressman Nixon voted to support President Truman’s plan to provide military and economic assistance to the non-communist Kingdom of Greece in their civil war with the Soviet supported Provisional Democratic Government. The utilization of American military and economic aid to contain the spread of communism became the basis for the Truman Doctrine and led to the institution of the Marshall Plan and the signing of the National Security Act of 1947, the three pillars of U.S. Cold War strategy.

                    The relationship, however, took a turn for the worse when Congressman Richard Nixon pursued allegations that former State Department official Alger Hiss functioned as a Soviet spy during and after World War II. Popularly known as the “Hiss case,” President Truman responded by enacting executive orders and executive privilege to limit Congressman Nixon’s investigation and dismissed the case as nothing more than political theater and a “red herring.” By 1950, a jury convicted Hiss on perjury charges and it wouldn’t be until the 1990s that evidence from the NSA’s and CIA’s Venona material overwhelmingly confirmed Hiss’ guilt.

                    The 1952 Presidential campaign pitted the Eisenhower-Nixon campaign against the incumbent and further imbued acidity. In an interview, the late Stephen Ambrose elaborated on the bitterness of the campaign and the icy pre-inaugural meeting between newly elected President Dwight Eisenhower and President Truman:

                    And they began taking cracks at each other that got worse and worse — Truman especially, saying, ”You know Eisenhower doesn’t know any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday.” And they were so furious with each other that when the transition took place, Eisenhower refused to go into the White House to have a cup of coffee with President Truman. And then Truman joined Eisenhower in the open limousine for the ride to the inaugural and they say that silence was the coldest you ever heard.

                    Yet after the 1969 inaugural, the newly elected President Nixon attended the dedication of the Truman Presidential Library and presented former President Truman with the piano he once played in the White House. Years later, Richard Nixon described the event and his relationship with and respect for President Truman in a letter to grand-nephew Harry S. Truman IV:

                    Truman 1

                    Dear Harry,

                    Your letter with regard to “Leaders” was very perceptive.

                    While I had some pretty rough differences with your great uncle and namesake I never considered them to be personal. And on the political side my first vote as a freshman Congressman in 1947 was for the Greek-Turkish aid program which was the basis for the Truman doctrine.

                    I have a warm recollection of my last meeting with him when I presented the piano he had played in the White House for his Presidential library in Independence. He got a kick out of my rather amateurish rendition of the Missouri Waltz.

                    You have a great heritage and bear a proud name.

                    After former President Truman’s death in 1972, President Nixon illustrated his respect and admiration for the former President in a statement:

                    HARRY S TRUMAN will be remembered as one of the most courageous Presidents in our history, who led the Nation and the world through a critical period with exceptional vision and determination.

                    Our hopes today for a generation of peace rest in large measure on the firm foundations that he laid.

                    Recognizing the new threat to peace that had emerged from the ashes of war, he stood boldly against it with his extension of aid to Greece and Turkey in 1947–and the “Truman Doctrine” thus established was crucial to the defense of liberty in Europe and the world. In launching the Marshall Plan, he began the most farsighted and most generous act of international rebuilding ever undertaken. With his characteristically decisive action in Korea, he made possible the defense of peace and freedom in Asia.

                    He was a fighter who was at his best when the going was toughest. Like all political leaders, he had his friends and his opponents. But friends and opponents alike were unanimous in respecting him for his enormous courage, and for the spirit that saw him through whatever the odds. Whether in a political campaign or making the great decisions in foreign policy, they recognized and admired him–in a description he himself might have appreciated the most–as a man of “guts.”

                    Embroiled in controversy during his Presidency, his stature in the eyes of history has risen steadily ever since. He did what had to be done, when it had to be done, and because he did the world today is a better and safer place–and generations to come will be in his debt.

                    It is with affection and respect that a grateful Nation now says farewell to “the man from Independence”–to its thirty-third President, Harry S Truman.

                    Brian Robertson holds a Ph.D. in Diplomatic History and specializes in the Nixon Presidency.


                      The New Nixon Archives

                      Join Our Email Newsletter