On this day in 1994, former President Richard M. Nixon dies after suffering a stroke four days earlier. In a 1978 speech at Oxford University, Nixon admitted he had screwed up during his presidency but predicted that his achievements would be viewed more favorably with time. He told the young audience, “You’ll be here in the year 2000, see how I am regarded then.”
Nixon is most often remembered for his involvement in the Watergate scandal as president and for his Cold War-era persecution of suspected communists while serving as a U.S. senator. However, Nixon left a legacy as complex as his personality.
Nixon did not owe his success in politics to personality or charm: in fact, even many of his staunch supporters described him as cold, aloof, crude, arrogant and paranoid. President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself, whom Nixon served as vice president, claimed that Nixon would never win the presidency because the people don’t like him. After proving his former boss wrong, Nixon left the office in disgrace, resigning in the face of impending impeachment. His paranoia of political sabotage by his opponents had inspired him to authorize the wire-tapping of enemies and supporters alike. Ironically, it was the conversations he taped in his own office that led to his ultimate downfall.
Despite the immense disappointment and distrust in government that the Watergate scandal inspired in most Americans, Nixon was correct in assuming that some aspects of his leadership would be judged favorably with the passage of time. These include his bold efforts to improve diplomatic relations with China and Russia, as well as pushing lasting and influential legislation through Congress. Nixon’s legislative legacy includes the National Environmental Policy Act, passed in 1969, which created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. He also lowered the voting age to 18, established Amtrak, launched the space-shuttle program and authorized the formation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). During his retirement, several subsequent presidents consulted Nixon for his expertise in international affairs.
Nixon and his wife Pat are both buried on the grounds of his birthplace in Yorba Linda, California. The site is also the home of the Richard Milhous Nixon Presidential Library.