The Early Life of President Richard Nixon

Most people remember Richard Nixon for being the only President of the United States to resign from office. Yet when I was researching this blog post, I realized that I knew almost nothing about his childhood and education. Like most leaders, his early experiences shaped what he did later in life.

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Official White House Photo of President Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon was born in 1913 in Yorba Linda, a small town east of Los Angeles. His father Frank planted lemon groves, but these failed and the family moved to Whittier, California. Here Frank ran a grocery store and gas station. Richard Nixon said of his childhood, “we were poor, but the glory of it was we didn’t know it.”

Although Frank and Hannah Nixon had five children, they lavished most of their attention and what little money they had on their oldest son, Harold. They bought Harold a Boy Scout uniform but couldn’t afford to get one for Richard. Richard and his other brothers stayed home while Harold was sent to a Christian boarding school in Massachusetts.

Harold and Richard were opposites. Harold was popular with other kids and girls “swooned over him.” In contrast, Richard felt uncomfortable around people he didn’t know well and the other boys teased him. Instead of fighting the bullies, Richard kept his anger bottled up. Realizing he would never be as popular as Harold, Richard threw himself into his schoolwork. He became his grammar school’s valedictorian and joined the debate team in high school. Richard also had big dreams. His grandmother gave him a framed portrait of Abraham Lincoln, which he hung over his bed.

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Photo of Richard Nixon as a senior in high school, 1930

While Richard Nixon could literately look up to Abraham Lincoln, his parents’ volatile personalities had the most influence on him. Frank Nixon had a terrible temper. Richard and his brothers were rapped on the head by their father at various times. At his grocery store, Frank subjected customers to his conservative political opinions whether they wanted to hear them or not. He also blamed others for his bad luck.

In contrast, Richard’s mother, whom he called “a saint,” smiled and bottled up her frustrations. Hannah Nixon had a gentle voice but punished her children by not speaking to them. Though deeply religious, she was not affectionate.

As a result of his childhood experiences, Richard developed a dislike of conflict and a sense that he was not good enough, especially when compared with Harold. When Harold died of tuberculosis in 1933, Frank Nixon said, “Why is it, that the best and finest of the flock has to be taken?” Richard, as the second oldest son, would always be trying to live up to his dead brother’s potential.

After high school, Richard was offered a scholarship to Harvard but ended up at Whittier College to save money on living expenses. Determined to distinguish himself, Richard participated in school debates and was eventually elected president of the student body. While he excelled in debates and in his studies, Richard remained somewhat of a loner. One former classmate recalled that “I don’t think he had anybody you would call a close friend.” He had an on and off relationship with a young woman which she described as “stormy.” Even she said she didn’t feel that she really knew him.

At the end of college, Nixon received and accepted a scholarship to Duke University Law School. He told his girlfriend that he hoped to do something important with his life. Clearly, Richard Nixon was ready to make his mark on the world.

Sources:

Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas

The American President by Phillip B. Kunhardt, Jr., Phillip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt

https://www.biography.com/people/richard-nixon-9424076

 

Book Review of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times

Let me start this review by explaining what Leadership in Turbulent Times is NOT. It is not a commentary on the current White House; Donald Trump’s name is never even mentioned. The book is also not as lengthy as Doris Kearns Goodwin’s other titles. Without notes, Leadership is 370 pages. In contrast, Goodwin’s previous book The Bully Pulpit is 752 pages without notes.

Now for what Leadership in Turbulent Times IS. It is a survey of four presidents who, though imperfect, displayed extraordinary leadership qualities during their time in office. The men included are Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Goodwin spent years writing about each of these leaders.

The book is divided into three main sections. In Ambition and the Recognition of Leadership, Goodwin shows how important early ambition and the desire to take charge are to successful leadership later in each man’s life. Abraham Lincoln’s famous thirst for knowledge helped him walk for miles to borrow a book. He got no encouragement from his father, who thought a strong young man like Abe should be helping with the family farm. Yet Lincoln was determined to get ahead of other young people. A contemporary recalled how Lincoln would devote himself to books while the other kids played. Years later, when a law student asked him for advice, Lincoln said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other thing.”

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Abraham Lincoln, Feb. 1860 by Mathew Brady

The second section of the book, Adversity and Growth, demonstrates how each of these men became better leaders as a result of overcoming challenges. For example, Franklin Roosevelt came from a wealthy family and appeared to be living a charmed life until he contracted polio. Suddenly the pampered FDR had to work hard just to manipulate a wheelchair. He went to Warm Springs, Georgia after hearing about a man who gained strength in his legs by swimming in the warm mineral water. FDR invested money in a rundown hotel and turned it into a resort and treatment center for polio patients. He took an active interest in his investment and became known to other patients as Doc Roosevelt. Spending time listening and sharing his own struggles with others who had polio changed Roosevelt. According to his future cabinet member Frances Perkins, the experience made him “completely warmhearted, with humility of spirit and with a deeper philosophy.” FDR’s newfound empathy would later help him to understand what other people were going through as he worked to get the U.S. out of the Great Depression.

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Gubernatorial portrait of FDR, Dec. 1940

In the third section of the book, The Leader and the Times: How They Led, Goodwin shows how the ambition and personal trials of each man made him a better leader. She presents case studies from each of their presidencies to show how effectively they led their country at challenging times. For Lincoln, she uses the introduction of the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War. Theodore Roosevelt’s chapter discusses his response to The Great Coal Strike of 1902. For FDR, his first 100 days in office dealing with the Great Depression are examined. Finally, Goodwin discusses Lyndon Johnson’s work on behalf of civil rights.

I recommend this book for readers who want a relatively quick introduction to these four presidents and want to learn how they became great leaders. Leadership in Turbulent Times is also a good choice for people who may be hesitant about starting one of Goodwin’s larger tomes. If readers decide they want to learn more about a particular president, they can check out Goodwin’s other excellent books.

Presidential Pets: Herbert Hoover’s Dogs

President Hoover and his wife enjoyed having dogs in the White House. They had some trouble keeping pets in the busy executive mansion, however.

Hoover’s favorite dog was a Belgian shepherd named King Tut. King Tut met the future US President while Hoover was on assignment in Belgium for President Wilson. Hoover adopted the dog and brought him back to the US.

When Hoover ran for president in 1928, his political advisors looked for a way to soften the public servant’s stiff image. Hoover fished wearing a full suit, so his advisors had their work cut out for them. Their solution was to photograph Hoover with King Tut. In the photograph, a smiling Hoover holds up the dog’s front paws, as if he were begging for votes. After Hoover autographed the photo, it was sent to thousands of voters. King Tut and his master became more popular as a result. The New York Times called it “one of the happiest photos ever made” of Hoover. With the help of man’s best friend, Hoover was elected president.

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Herbert Hoover with his dog King Tut before the 1928 election

After he arrived at the White House, King Tut took on the responsibility of guarding both the president and the grounds around his new home. The White House security chief considered Tut “a sergeant, not merely a sentry” as Tut made his rounds each night.

Unfortunately, being on guard 24/7 started to stress the dog out. Tut sulked and stopped eating. Hoover sent him to a quieter residence in the hope that King Tut would improve, but he died in late 1929.

Hoover didn’t make the dog’s death public for several months. The stock market had already crashed and people were feeling the effects of what would be called the Great Depression. Under those circumstances, Hoover didn’t think it was appropriate to grieve publicly over a dog.

Like her husband, First Lady Lou Hoover also liked dogs. She received an Irish wolfhound from a breeder and school friend when she moved into the White House. The friend thought the dog’s enormous size would make him a good guard dog for the president and his family. Sadly, the dog, whose name was Patrick, passed away from an infection shortly after his arrival.

To compensate for this loss, Mrs. Hoover’s friend sent another Irish wolfhound named Patrick II. A contemporary newspaper reported that Patrick was “sensitive, shy, and shaggy.” Mrs. Hoover decided the dog was too shy for the busy White House and traded him for Shamrock, another Irish wolfhound. Shamrock was definitely not shy, but he wasn’t friendly, either. He bit one of the Marine guards at Camp Rapidan. The Hoovers eventually gave Shamrock to a colonel.

Ultimately, neither President Hoover or his dogs stayed long at the White House. In 1932, Hoover ran for reelection without King Tut and lost to fellow dog lover Franklin Roosevelt.

 

Why FDR Decided to Rescue Jews from the Holocaust in 1944

As mentioned in my last blog post, President Franklin Roosevelt showed little interest in the fate of Europe’s Jews until January 16, 1944. On that date he had a meeting with officials from the Treasury Department, including Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and a man in his thirties named John Pehle. These men presented to FDR a report which detailed the State Department’s attempts to “stop the obtaining of information concerning the murder of the Jewish people of Europe.” The report revealed that State Department officials blocked cables about Nazi atrocities that reliable informants tried to send to the U.S.

 

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Henry Morgenthau, Jr. 1944

Fortunately for Morgenthau and Pehle, FDR was receptive to a report of State Department wrongdoing. A major reason for this was the recent testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long. The House of Representatives was debating whether to ask FDR for a refugee rescue agency that would be separate from the State Department. Congress held private hearings with witnesses testifying for and against the new agency.

Breckinridge Long testified that another agency was not needed because “we have taken into this country, since the beginning of the Hitler regime and the persecution of the Jews, until today, approximately 580,000 refugees.” Most members of the House initially believed Long’s story. Then Long made a mistake by allowing his testimony to be published. A few news outlets and Jewish organizations pointed out the inconsistencies in Long’s statement. According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the number of Jews who came in under national quotas between January 1, 1933 and June 30, 1943 totaled only 166,843–far from Long’s claim of 580,000.

The press made Long a laughingstock, and members of Congress who supported the new agency were more determined than ever. The Senate planned to put the rescue agency to a vote, and polls showed it would pass.

FDR hated the idea of a scandal, especially in an election year like 1944. Long’s false testimony and the Treasury Department’s report on State Department duplicity were enough to convince FDR to create the War Refugee Board. He made his decision in his twenty minute meeting with Henry Morgenthau and John Pehle.

Why FDR Showed Indifference to Jews during the Holocaust

Before President Franklin Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board in January 1944, he showed little interest in the plight of Europe’s Jews. His indifference wasn’t caused by a lack of information. FDR had read reports that revealed the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews. He also met with Jan Karski, a Polish underground leader, who witnessed the gassing of Jews in a concentration camp. Since he knew what was going on, why did FDR fail to act on proposals to rescue the Jews until 1944?

One problem was FDR’s personal opinion of European immigrants. In his April 23, 1925 column for the Macon Daily Telegraph, FDR wrote that immigration to the U.S. should be restricted to those who had “blood of the right sort.” FDR happily upheld the strict immigration quotas he inherited from previous presidents and even left quota slots unfilled. More than 190,000 additional immigrants from Germany and other Axis countries could have entered the U.S. between 1933 and 1945, without the quotas being exceeded.

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Official Presidential Portrait of FDR

The president’s callous attitude toward immigrants influenced his choice for Assistant Secretary of State, the chief government official in charge of refugee matters. FDR appointed his friend Breckinridge Long to the job. Long had no intention of relaxing the strict immigration laws. On October 3, 1940, Long wrote in his diary “I left him [FDR] with the satisfactory thought that he was wholeheartedly in support of the policy which would resolve in favor of the United States any doubts about the admissibility of any individual.” FDR generally left State department officials in charge of refugee and immigration issues. He knew his desire to limit immigration would be taken care of by Long.

Anti-Semitic feeling among American voters influenced politicians including FDR. Public opinion polls taken during World War II showed one-third of the American public was anti-Semitic. When voters show little sympathy for a group of people, elected officials have little incentive to act.

Yet not all politicians were as insensitive as FDR to the European Jews. For example, some members of Congress drafted the Wagner-Rogers bill. If passed, the bill would have allowed 20,000 Jewish children to enter the U.S. outside the immigration quota. Even though the children were supposed to return to Europe after the war, many members of Congress and the public opposed the bill. The president’s cousin, Laura Delano, commented that “twenty-thousand charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults.” When the bill crossed his desk, FDR wrote “no action” on it.

In my next post, I’ll discuss why FDR changed his mind and created the War Refugee Board in January 1944.

Source: Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II by Heather Voight

The First Book on the U.S. War Refugee Board’s Efforts to Save Jews during the Holocaust FREE on Kindle

Hi all. I wanted to let you know that my book Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II is FREE on Amazon Kindle through Sunday, April 8th. Here’s the link: http://amzn.to/2IAWwzv.

 

 

The Education of Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton grew up on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. The island was famous for its sugar plantations.

He didn’t attend the Anglican schools on the island but he got some home schooling. He learned French from his mother and read all the books he could get his hands on. Hamilton’s mother bought books for him and his brother James. It’s unclear what kind of education Rachel Hamilton had, but she made sure her sons read Machiavelli and Plutarch, along with some poetry and sermons. The boys became orphans when their mother died after an illness; their father James Hamilton left the family when the boys were younger.

Young Alexander was taken in by a merchant named Thomas Stevens. Hamilton became best friends with Stevens’ son Edward. He also got a chance to use his natural curiosity by doing interesting work. The firm Beekman and Cruger supplied whatever the sugar planters needed. Hamilton always viewed his apprenticeship there as the most useful part of his education. He learned to track freight, chart courses for ships, and calculate prices in different currencies throughout Europe.

Despite his interest in business, Hamilton wanted to move up in society. He hoped to go to college like his friend Edward Stevens who was studying in New York. In a letter to his friend, Hamilton wrote, “my ambition is so prevalent that I…would willingly risk my life, tho’ not my character, to exalt my station.” Fortunately for Hamilton, some of his poems and a letter he wrote describing a storm on the island were published in The Royal Danish American Gazette when he was seventeen. The local businessmen were so impressed with his writing that they raised money for him to sail to America and attend college.

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Painting of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1792

Though Hamilton was naturally intelligent, his lack of formal schooling meant that he needed to take some extra classes before applying to college. He studied Latin, Greek, and advanced math at Elizabethtown Academy (near Princeton). After completing those classes, he applied to Princeton. The school, however, wouldn’t let him take as many courses as he wanted. Hamilton attended King’s College in New York in 1773. King’s College was more conservative than Princeton and many staff members were Tories who supported the British monarchy.

Hamilton was in a hurry to catch up to other students who started college at a younger age than he did. Some speculate that he altered his birth year from 1755 to 1757 so he would seem closer in age to his fellow students. He spent his free time auditing classes and reading books in the university library.

While in college, Hamilton and his friend Robert Troup formed a club. The club focused on writing and debating—skills that Hamilton later drew on during his political career. The club also helped Hamilton refine his political views. He wrote anti-British pamphlets that clashed with the views of his college professors. Fortunately, his first political tract—a defense of the Boston Tea Party–was anonymous.

John F. Kennedy’s Childhood and Education

John F. Kennedy, or Jack as his family called him, was born on May 29, 1917. He had an older brother, Joe Kennedy Jr. and seven younger siblings. He spent the first decade of his life in Brookline, Massachusetts. JFK’s father Joseph Kennedy Sr. didn’t play an active role in young Jack’s life since he was often away on business. His mother, Rose Kennedy, did have help with the children though. She needed it since Jack was often ill. The family joked that if a mosquito bit Jack, it would be sorry because it would catch whatever illness he had at the time.

Eventually the Kennedys moved to Bronxville, New York. Thanks to his father’s successful business ventures, the family could afford several different homes. They spent summers in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Easter and Christmas holidays took place at their home in Palm Beach, Florida.

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Kennedy family at Hyannis Port Sept. 4, 1931. JFK at left in white shirt, Joe Jr. far right

Jack and his older brother were extremely competitive. Joe Sr. encouraged this quality in his sons. He often said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Unfortunately for Jack, his brother was both two years older and stronger, so if they fought Jack got beat up. Jack couldn’t best Joe as a student, either. Joe had ambition. Since childhood Joe said that he wanted to become the first Catholic President of the United States. While Joe worked hard in all his subjects, Jack tended to pay attention only to the ones that interested him, such as English.

When he enrolled at Choate boarding school in ninth grade, Jack found other ways of distinguishing himself from Joe. While Joe was the better student and an accomplished athlete, Jack became the class clown. He formed a group at Choate called the Muckers, which was responsible for many school pranks. Most memorably, they exploded a toilet seat with a firecracker. Jack was nearly expelled for that incident. Instead, poor health interfered with his studies. He was diagnosed with colitis. It made him tired and he also lost his appetite. He got well enough to graduate in the middle of his class. Despite his mediocre performance as a student, his classmates voted him most likely to succeed.

Jack’s colitis interfered again when he entered Princeton and had to quit after six weeks. In 1936, he enrolled at Harvard. While there, he produced a campus newspaper called the “Freshman Smoker” and got a spot on the varsity swim team. He wanted to play football, too, but he ruptured a disk in his spine. From then on JFK always lived with back pain.

In 1938, Joe Sr. served as President Franklin Roosevelt’s ambassador to Great Britain. Both Jack and Joe Jr. went to Great Britain to work with their father. To prepare for his senior thesis, Jack traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Soviet Union. He returned to London on September 1, 1939—the same day that World War II began. Jack’s thesis pointed out that Great Britain was unprepared for war because it had neglected its military. Published as Why England Slept, his work became a bestseller. He used the money he made from the book to buy a Buick convertible, but he also gave the royalties he made from Great Britain to charity.

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Lt. John F. Kennedy, 1942

After graduation, Jack joined his brother in the U.S. Navy. Joe was a flyer and Jack was a Lieutenant assigned to the South Pacific. Only Jack came home. Joe Jr. died when his plane blew up during a mission in Europe.

Joe’s death changed everything for JFK. With his oldest son gone, Jack’s father encouraged him to abandon his interests in writing and teaching to run for Congress. JFK won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1946. His political career had begun.

Presidential Pets: Dogs in the Kennedy White House

President John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie loved dogs, which meant that First Kids Caroline and John-John had several furry playmates in the White House.

The most famous Kennedy dog was Pushinka, whose name meant fluffy in Russian. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave the mixed breed dog to Caroline as a gift after the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the Secret Service checked the dog for bugs to make sure the Soviets weren’t using it as a spy, Pushinka became part of the family. JFK Jr. remembered that he and Caroline taught Pushinka to go down the slide on the White House playground. “Sending the dog down that slide is probably my first memory,” he said.

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White House dog handler Traphes Bryant with Pushinka and puppies, July 1963

Pushinka struck up a romance with the Kennedy’s Welsh terrier, Charlie. In June 1963, Pushinka had puppies. Caroline and John-John named them Butterfly, White Tips, Blackie, and Streaker. JFK referred to the puppies as “pupniks” since Pushinka was the daughter of a dog who had been to space on the Russians’ Sputnik 2. When the puppies were two months old, the First Lady picked two children from the thousands that had written to the White House asking for one of the pups. That’s how Butterfly and Streaker got adopted. The other puppies were given to family friends.

The father of the puppies, Charlie, was “large and in charge.” He bossed the other dogs around and made sure he got first dibs at dinnertime.  When given the chance, he showed humans who was boss, too. If a visitor ignored him, Charlie peed on that person. Although he was not an official watchdog, he growled if someone got too close to JFK.

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First Lady Jackie Kennedy with children and dog Charlie, Dec. 25, 1962

 

Charlie loved to play fetch, but he got so obsessed with the game that the president got annoyed. Fortunately, Charlie and the president both enjoyed swimming and long walks.

Charlie may have been one of JFK’s favorite dogs, but the First Lady preferred a German shepherd named Clipper. A gift to the family from JFK’s father John Kennedy, Clipper velcroed himself to the First Lady’s side. He was the only Kennedy family dog to get formal obedience training. Caroline and John-John enjoyed tagging along with their mom to watch Clipper and other German shepherds at the training site.

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First Lady with Clipper, Jan. 15, 1963

 

Mrs. Kennedy valued her privacy and Clipper helped her with that, too. Sometimes the president and Mrs. Kennedy walked the dogs outside the White House grounds in the evenings so no one would recognize them. Mrs. Kennedy walked Clipper and the president usually took Charlie. The Secret Service car had to follow at a distance, but it relaxed both humans to have that little bit of freedom.

Note: this is not a complete list of the Kennedy presidential pets, but includes some of the most popular ones.