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Winning the White House
Six years after losing the governorship in his home state, Nixon made a remarkable political comeback and once again claimed his party's presidential nomination. He prevailed in the 1968 U.S. presidential election, defeating Democrat Hubert Humphrey (1911-78) and third-party candidate George Wallace (1919-98). Nixon took office at a time of upheaval and change in the U.S. The American people were bitterly divided over the Vietnam War (1954-75), while women marched for equal rights and racial violence rocked the nation's cities.
Declaring his intention to achieve "peace with honor" in Vietnam, Nixon introduced a strategy known as Vietnamization, which called for gradually withdrawing American troops from the war while training South Vietnamese army forces to take over their own defense. In January 1973, Nixon administration officials reached a peace agreement with Communist North Vietnam. The last American combat troops left Vietnam in March of that year. The hostilities continued, however, and in 1975 North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam and reunited the country under Communist rule.
In addition to dealing with the Vietnam War, Nixon made historic visits, in 1972, to China and the Soviet Union. He reduced tensions between these Communist nations and the U.S., helping to set the stage for establishing formal diplomatic relations. Nixon also signed important treaties to limit the production of nuclear weapons.
The Watergate Scandal and Beyond
While Nixon was running for re-election in 1972, operatives associated with his campaign broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Several members of Nixon's administration had knowledge of the burglary and while Nixon denied any involvement, secret tapes of White House conversations later revealed that the president had participated in efforts to cover up the criminal activity.
Facing impeachment by Congress, Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974. He was replaced by Vice President Gerald Ford (1913-2006), who a month later pardoned Nixon for any wrongdoing. A number of administration officials were eventually convicted of crimes related to the Watergate affair.
After leaving the White House, Nixon retired to California (he and his wife later moved to New Jersey) and quietly worked to rehabilitate his image, writing books, traveling extensively and consulting with Democratic and Republican presidents. By the time he died on April 22, 1994, at age 81 in New York City, after suffering a stroke, some people viewed him as a respected elder statesman. Other Americans, however, rejected efforts to paint him as anything but a disgraced criminal.
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