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Richard Milhous Nixon

First Term

In 1968 Nixon again won the Republican nomination for president; Spiro T. Agnew was his running mate. In a low-key campaign, Nixon promised to bring peace with honor in Vietnam and to unite a nation deeply divided by the Vietnam War and the racial crisis. He defeated his two opponents, Hubert H. Humphrey and George C. Wallace, but won only a plurality of the popular vote.

As President, Nixon began the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam. He achieved (1973) a cease-fire accord with North Vietnam, but only after he had ordered invasions of Cambodia (1970) and Laos (1971) and the saturation bombing of North Vietnam. In other areas of foreign policy, Nixon eased cold war tensions. He initiated strategic arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union in 1969 and visited (1972) the People's Republic of China.

At home, Nixon reversed many of the social and economic welfare policies of President Lyndon B. Johnson. He vetoed much new health, education, and welfare legislation and impounded congressionally approved funds for domestic programs that he opposed. Nixon's Southern strategy, through which he hoped to woo the South into the Republican party, led him to weaken the federal government's commitment to racial equality and to sponsor antibusing legislation in Congress. Nixon's first term in office was also beset by economic troubles. A severe recession and serious inflation brought about the imposition (1971) of a wide-reaching system of wage and price controls.

Despite these problems, Nixon and Agnew easily won reelection in 1972. Widespread popular distrust of his Democratic opponent, Senator George S. McGovern, brought Nixon a landslide victory. (Agnew was forced to resign in 1973, however, on charges of corruption that dated to when he was Baltimore co. executive, and Gerald R. Ford was nominated by Nixon and confirmed by Congress to succeed Agnew.)

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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