A Man Is Finished When He Quits - The Early Presidency of Richard M. Nixon

Chapter 3: Part 1
*Chapter III*
‘Inauguration’
-Thursday, January 20th, 1961-



The flags on the hood of the limousine ripped through the brisk freezing air of Washington as it left the White House. Outside, the blanketing snow smoothed over all within eyesight, save for the streets, which were only traversable thanks to the US Army shoveling throughout the night for the occasion. Inside the car, the aged general and his protégé of eight years stared out from the bubble top and onto the crowds braving the cold, all of them hoping to catch a glimpse of the time-honored transfer of power. Aside from the necessary pleasantries, little had been said between Eisenhower and Nixon when the latter had arrived at the Residence. Their strained relationship had grown ever more palpable during the election and flared to a boil after the famous ‘Give Me Two Weeks’ press conference. Nixon stared out the window in silence, his eyes darting back and forth between the countless faces. Eisenhower, sitting to Nixon’s right, stared down his successor.

“Well Mr. Nixon…,” Eisenhower said, his face remaining neutral of expression. “I believe its safe to say you were indeed the right choice eight years ago.”

The statement got nothing but a small nod from the President-elect, his gaze never leaving the window. He’d never shown the President such relative indifference before. Perhaps it was the Capitol Building looming in the distance and his impending inauguration that provided such confidence.

“I’ve never coddled my men you know,” Eisenhower added, his head leaning in toward Nixon as he reached the end of his sentence. “Not during my military profession or political career. I always expected the best from my men and that they give their all. That they follow orders and follow the chain of command, for better or worse in that.”

“Mhmm,” Nixon nodded.

“And I never held the times you, after a drink, vented to dinner guests about me against you. Even if the words chosen were… more curt than I may prefer. It is true, I did ask a lot from you, more so than most of the men. Regardless of the venting Mr. Nixon, you followed through. You took the spit, stuck your fingers in the chests, and did what was asked of you. Before we get to the end of this ride, I want you to know that I have never wished anything but the best for you. Despite our differences. We certainly haven’t agreed on everything, but you were, are, a valued adviser. I should have made it a point to say so clearer and sooner.”

Although Nixon said nothing, air was catching in the back of his throat. The words coming from the general hitting as if they were that of a father finally speaking to a son and although he’d never admit it, it almost choked him up.

“I’ve made it a point to put you in the hotseat. To have you prepared. Now whether that was for today, I’m not entirely sure. But the fact remains Dick that you proved yourself. Put yourself out on the line and held your throat out more than its fair share. I want you to know that I support you without any hindrance and I hope you remember that. I will be at your disposal should you ever need advice or action. Any man that can keep his composure in full when under siege, attacked, insulted, and spit on in a foreign country will do far better than most. Just don’t think the office stops the attacks, and remember that the house is always under siege from one direction or another.”

Nixon cleared his throat as the car finished its trip and began its final approach to the landing,

“Thank you,” Nixon said. Whether Eisenhower’s kind words were finally a private affirmation that he had appreciated his eight years of hard work, or were simply that of an outgoing President seeking to maintain relevance he could not tell, but it didn’t really matter. He appreciated the sentiment either way. Ike had never been this warm before, and the usual cold steely eyes he knew him for displayed a familiarity and kindness he wasn’t used to. If it were any other day, it would have unnerved him actually.

Nixon took the few moments left to straighten his tie and brush the hair back by his ears, he wanted the pictures to be as good as they could be. From this moment on, he’d have to be as straightened as possible, posture sharing the forefront of his mind as well as the speech he had finished putting to paper two nights before. He felt the folded speech in his overcoat pocket, it had taken him 5 drafts and three legal pads worth of rewriting to get it polished enough for him to find it presentable. As he always did, he felt his heart speed up and his nerves build up, but he pushed them down to the point of smothering them as he went over the words in his mind. He brushed the lint from his lapel and looked at the Washington monument as they passed, the monolith almost disappearing for a moment against the white sky and blanketed ground as the glare hit the window.

…......

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The procession of men into the capitol contained friends and enemies alike as Nixon and Eisenhower proceeded in step through the halls and out toward the newly expanded East portico. Amongst the men in line, and of those quickly making their way to their seats, Nixon spotted that of Senator Kennedy, whom he insisted be invited, if only to rub his nose in the occasion. Lyndon Johnson’s sneering grin was also among the crowd, his seat secured by default given his stature in the Senate. What he also noticed, to his anger and factoring resentment, was who wasn’t amongst the sea of people and droves of power seekers. Former-President Truman had sent word to the effect that he would not be attending on account of the weather and worsening health, although Nixon knew it to simply be a layover of the feud the two shared from Nixon’s early days in the House. There was no doubt in his mind that Truman would have been one of the first in line to attend if it were Kennedy in his place. The same stood for Eleanor Roosevelt and several others that had declined their invitation. Their declinations did not leave empty seats however, after all it was a Presidential inauguration, but the mere fact that they had declined out of personal vendettas, or even political, insulted Nixon to his core. The office deserved more respect than that in his opinion. Nevertheless he tried not to let it get to him. He watched Former-President Hoover, who had arrived in Washington two days ago to beat the weather, stepping out onto the portico up ahead and moving quickly down the steps to his awaiting seat.

It was quickly after this that the beginning notes of hail to the chief championed through the air, Nixon and Eisenhower stepping out into the cold air yet again and onto the upper landing of the portico steps. They both stopped momentarily as the instruments played on and a collectively thunderous orchestra of clapping hands could be heard over the instruments, before long they were moving again and they found their seats all the way down and to their right, Eisenhower passed by Nixon and took his seat, while Nixon took a moment longer to scan his gaze across the collection of people here to see the transition, before taking his next to Pat.

The next stretch of time was filled with that of pleasantries and traditions. The culmination being that of poet Robert Penn Warren’s recitation of his specially prepared and purposed poem he had entitled ‘Chances’. A poem which to Nixon’s liking contained strong patriotic tones of hope for the future and the chances that ought to be held by every American. It very neatly set the coming tone that would be the primary focus of his inauguration speech.

A moment of relative silence followed the announcement of Vice-President-Elect Lodge's turn to be administered his Oath. Lodge stood up from Nixon’s left and took his stance at the podium across from Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen. Nixon ran through the speech in his head one final time during the process. Probably not paying as close attention as was warranted, but given he had been in Lodge’s place twice before, he didn’t feel it too necessary. He haphazardly listened as Lodge recited and completed his Oath of Office. The short burst of applause indicated when the little ceremony had concluded and Nixon began gearing himself up for his own. Nixon stood, alongside Pat, and took 3 steps up to the podium, shaking Lodge’s hand as he did so, both of them smiling from ear to ear.

“Your turn now, Mr. President,” Lodge said into Nixon’s ear, as he began to move away,

“Thank you Henry,” Nixon said.

Dirksen quickly made his way to his nearby seat as Chief Justice Earl Warren took his place and once Nixon and Warren stood in front of one another Nixon felt time slow to a crawl. Everything moving as if life was playing out in slow motion all while rocketing by in a blink, a feeling he would experience only a few more times in his life. Before he knew it, Nixon’s hand was coming into contact with the two family bibles that Pat held, the books both opened, one atop the other.

“Repeat after me,” Warren said. This being far from his first time reciting these words.

“I, Richard Milhous Nixon, do solemnly swear,” Warren began.

“I, Richard Milhous Nixon, do solemnly swear.”

“That you will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States,”

“That I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States,” Nixon returned.

“And will to the best of your Ability,”

“And will the best of my Ability,”

“Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

“Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

“So help you God?,” Warren finished.

“So help me God,” Nixon said, his voice carrying far and wide.

As Warren’s hand departed the Bible, Nixon did the same, exchanging the aged family heirlooms for that of a handshake from the Chief Justice.

“Congratulations, Mr. President,” Warren said quietly and away from the reception of the microphone.

Nixon met eyes with Pat as she smiled and nodded, handing the bibles off and beginning her return to her seat.

Nixon’s right hand then grasped the side of the podium, and pivoted his body around in order to face the crowd. The sunlight reflecting off of the snow and shining down effectively blinded him for a few seconds. He removed the carefully folded speech and placed it on the podium, and quickly realized that the reflecting light made his writing nearly invisible. It was then he thanked his torturous method of memorization and the yellow legal pads that he had rewritten the speech on time and time again.

“My fellow Countrymen,” Nixon began, his voice growing louder and louder as he finished the short sentence.

“Vice President Lodge, Senator Dirksen, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, President Hoover, Senator Kennedy, Senator Johnson and my fellow citizens.” Nixon continued.

“I ask you to share with me today the true majesty of this moment. Today is not just an orderly transfer of power, a process through which we celebrate the unity that keeps us free. It is a celebration, a celebration of what makes our nation truly unique in this world. And with this, we continue onward the torch that was lit by our founding fathers over a century and three-quarters ago.

We live today in a fleeting time, each day precious and unique. Each morning carrying with it another moment in history. But some- some stand out as moments of beginning, in which paths are set that shape the decades and centuries to come.

This can be such a moment.Forces now are converging that make possible, For the first time in the course of our collected history, the hope that many of man's deepest aspirations can at last be realized is more than just that. This spiraling pace of change allows us to contemplate, within our own lifetime, advances that once would have taken centuries.

For the first time, because the people of the world want peace, and the leaders of the world fear the onset of war- the times are at last on the side of peace.

We can at last look onto the awaiting years, with optimism. Optimism of a bright and fulfilling future. In holding true to our faith and trust in God, let us remain firm in purpose and let us fulfill the promise of this nation.That of leading the free world through the trials that await with a calm and guiding hand. For the first time we have the foresight to recognize the rapid onset of an era of progress. For the first time we may allow the knowledge and intention of peace to drive forward our nation and the people of the world.

Fifteen years from now America will celebrate its 200th anniversary as a nation. Within the lifetime of many people now living, mankind will celebrate that great new year which comes only once in a thousand years—the beginning of the third millennium.

What kind of nation we will be, what kind of world we will live in, whether we will shape the future in line with our hopes, is ours to determine by our actions and our choices.

This era of progress beckons America— with the chance to help lead the world at last out of the valley of turmoil, and onto that high ground of peace that man has dreamed of since the very dawn of civilization. No people has ever been so close to this achievement or so possessed by the will to achieve it.

Because our strengths are so great, we can afford to appraise our weaknesses with candor and to approach them with hope. We have given freedom new reach, and we have begun to make its promise real for black as well as for white.

If we succeed, in grasping the chance afforded to us, generations to come will say of us now living that we seized our moment, that we helped make the world safe for mankind and ensured the nourishment of liberty and the expansion of freedom to all Americans.

This is our summons to greatness. If we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us, those who have been left out, must be brought in.Those left behind, helped to close the distance. For all Americans, we will set as our goal the decent order that makes progress possible and our lives secure.

As we reach toward our hopes, our task is to build on what has gone before—not turning away from the old, but turning toward the new. We will and must press urgently forward. Taking with us the successes of our past, and the lessons afforded by our mistakes.

I ask every American to join in a high adventure.

Let us take as our goal: where peace is unknown, let us make it welcome; where peace is fragile, let us make it strong; where peace is temporary, let us make it permanent.

Let all nations know that during this administration our lines of communication will be open. Let all nations know that we seek an open world—open to ideas, open to the exchange of goods and people—a world in which no people, great or small, will live in angry isolation.

We cannot expect to make everyone, and every nation, our friend, but we can try to make no one our enemy.Those who would be our adversaries, we invite to a peaceful competition—not in conquering territory or extending dominion, but in enriching the life of man.

As we set out to explore the reaches of space, let us go to the new worlds together—not as new worlds to be conquered, but as a new adventure to be shared.

Let us all cooperate to reduce the burden of arms, to strengthen the structure of peace, to lift up the poor and abate hunger.

In my time of public life, I have come to know the leaders of the world, and the great forces, the hatreds, the fears that divide the world. In that time, I have learned that peace does not come simply by wishing for it—that there is no substitute for patience and prolonged diplomacy.

I speak from my own heart, and the heart of my country, when I say let there be no doubt- that we will be as strong as we need to be for as long as we need to be.

For I have taken an oath today in the presence of God and my fellow countrymen to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. To that oath I now add this sacred commitment: I shall consecrate my office, my energies, and all the wisdom I can summon, to the cause of peace among nations and the progress of mankind. To forge the means to benefit from this era of progress.

The peace we seek to win is not victory over any other people, but the peace that comes with compassion. For those who have suffered; For those who have opposed us; For those different than our own; for all the peoples of this earth to choose their own destiny.

As I prepare to conclude, I would let this message be heard by the strong and weak alike:

The American dream, and the dream of a bettered world, does not come to those who fall asleep.

God bless you and thank you,”

As he concluded the final sentence, Nixon faded back and collected himself, he could hear the applause as he stepped away from the podium and met the awaiting hand of who was now his predecessor. He picked up his overcoat from the chair and moved to sit, the applause still ongoing. There would be a few more minutes to go, including the prayer, before the crowd among the steps began to depart, with the President and First Lady, along with Mr. Eisenhower and Vice President Lodge leading the way.

The rest of the day, afternoon, and night would be filled with an air of celebration. The inaugural parade, fireworks, and numerous inaugural balls kept the Nixons occupied until late that night. Pat and the girls, who had long ago retired, found themselves asleep in a new, yet familiar, home draped in an air of magnitude and importance, an atmosphere of history, that they were now distinctly a part of.

As they slept, Nixon lay on his back wide-eyed. An all-too-familiar thought seeping through and flowing over him. A thought that was distinctly fixated on himself. It was not a fear so much as it was the knowledge that he was now captaining the ship. Letting the people down, letting his family down, letting those that had entrusted their futures down were now all very real threats to him. Nixon quietly stood from his bed and made his way toward the door to the west sitting hall, stopping along the way to place his opened palm against the wood of the door to Pat’s adjoining room. She had looked absolutely beautiful today, and he wished he had made it more of a point to let her know that. Stepping into the sitting hall, he was drawn to the moonlight scattering through the massive arched window overlooking the roof of the West Wing. The surreal scene was dreamlike, the furniture casting elongated shadows in the moonlight and for a brief fleeting second the President doubted he was truly awake. Carefully, he made his way around the table and sofa and stood in the thin area between them and the window. He brushed the curtains to the side to expand his view, his eyes tracing their way down the West Colonnade and eventually landing on the windows into the Oval Office. He stared down and through them, the weight on his shoulders almost suffocating him. Sleep wouldn’t find him that night.

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-Friday, January 21st, 1961-

4921 30th Place, N.W., Forest Hills, Washington D.C.


The stream of alcohol was still flowing somewhat freely in the home of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson. Now, at three in the morning, the topics of conversation among the men were of the inauguration, the next four years and the one woman who had been missing from the crowd.

“All I am going to say about it more is that if I attended an inauguration for someone I lost to, Lady Bird would damn sure have been with me, new child or not. Meanwhile, that pretty girl hasn’t showed her face since the concession. Frankly, I’m not sure which of them it speaks more ill against.”

“The word in town is she’s not come to Washington once since the election and he hasn’t gone back home since late November,” Senator Hubert Humphrey said.

“Maybe if he took a break once in a while and zipped up his pants he might have some time. He’s not even trying to keep up appearances for God’s sake. That isn’t the way to do it.”

“Yes, it is just about the most open secret here,” Rayburn said, holding his empty glass on his knee. “Its barely even an open secret at this point, I think everyone including him has pretty well accepted that. Now we've got a busy four years, and we’re going to need to pick our battles carefully. It's key to remember that in losing the executive branch… yet again, we’ve lost a great deal of opportunities in which to move our party in the direction we’d have liked. We’re going to see pushes and pulls in other directions that we might find… unappealing. I trust you all are aware of the branches of the party I’m speaking about.”

“Certainly…,” Humphrey sighed.

“Even if Dick makes moves in the right direction, or even talks about it, we’re going to have to keep rank and ensure we at least get some of the fucking credit. That’s especially the case where Civil Rights is concerned,” Johnson began. “If Thurmond and others like him get their way, Nixon’ll have the negroes voting Republican up into the next millennium regardless of his success. We might not have a choice but to throw a victory or two his way if it comes to it. Much as that makes me want to vomit.”

“It is crucial that we not have a party split if we want to turn this around in four years. That much is clear,” Rayburn added. “And even without a Presidency to guide it, we’re going to need to ensure that this party stays united in its plan and action. We and those like minded can guide it.”

“In that spirit…,” Johnson said before taking a deep breath and standing from his chair. “I think its crucial we set the precedent now that the Kennedys need not be included in any way, shape, or form when it comes to the ticket in ‘64. Nixon will be the weakest incumbent in a hell of a long time and we can’t go about fracturing the party by letting the little pretty boy have another chance.”

“There’s bound to be a Kennedy camp, but I’m inclined to agree,” Rayburn said putting all of his attention on Johnson. “If we’re to prime the party for the best chance of success, we’re going to have to put our pull behind a candidate amenable to all mindsets of the party.”

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"...we’ve lost a great deal of opportunities in which to move our party in the direction we’d have liked. We’re going to see pushes and pulls in other directions that we might find… unappealing. I trust you all are aware of the branches of the party I’m speaking about.”

“Certainly…,” Humphrey sighed.

“Even if Dick makes moves in the right direction, or even talks about it, we’re going to have to keep rank and ensure we at least get some of the fucking credit. That’s especially the case where Civil Rights is concerned,” Johnson began...
Humphrey was gung-ho for civil rights, but Rayburn? And Johnson? IIRC Johnson didn't sign the Southern Manifesto to maintain his eligibility to be Majority Leader, which was excuse enough. Rayburn would have a similar justification, and as Speaker would not have to vote. Johnson voted for the 1957 Civil Rights Act, but only after working behind the scenes to weaken it.

His embrace of civil rights as President is generally viewed as motivated by pure political calculation. ISTM that both he and Rayburn would at this time be more worried about splitting the party than pursuing black votes.
 
His embrace of civil rights as President is generally viewed as motivated by pure political calculation.
Not in the least. Certainly not by Caro.

His work against civil rights was driven by pure political calculation. His work for civil rights was in 1957 entirely about political calculation. His work for Civil Rights as President was done knowing exactly how much it would damage the Democratic Party and perhaps his own power and he did it anyway.

edit: his desire for power always trumped his personal feelings. Until he finally had the brass ring and could in fact do something without risking his future. Not like a great guy, but all those great guys accomplished absolutely nothing on civil rights.
 
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It'll be interesting to see if Nixon goes forward with the Bay of Pigs like Kennedy (possibly expanding it) or if he decides that the invasion attempt will be more trouble than it's worth.
 
It'll be interesting to see if Nixon goes forward with the Bay of Pigs like Kennedy (possibly expanding it) or if he decides that the invasion attempt will be more trouble than it's worth.
He would invade. It was an Eisenhower era plan. He'd likely keep overt American support, so plausible deniability that we just came to rescue Cuban patriots is less plausible. The plan leaked OTL, which is why Castro was as ready as he was. So some of the outcome depends on that.

With overt US cover, Castro falls. And while it would not be another Vietnam (Cuba is 90 miles from the US and an island so it's controllable) it would have the prospect of being a bloody occupation if a rebellion persists. A reference for this would be the US invasion of Santo Domingo in 1965.

The other issue is, Khrushchev wants parity with the US in terms of nuclear threat / deterrent. The Missile Crisis wasn't simply because Khrushchev saw Kennedy as weak. Khrushchev was being combative and provocative throughout the early 1960s. For example, at Vienna, Kennedy came to talk but Khrushchev came to argue and pick a fight. In OTL Cuba, Khrushchev put in the missiles because he thought the US would simply come to the bargaining table as an equal. He miscalculated because the US reaction was obviously far different. So the issue here is not simply Kennedy or Nixon, but is Khrushchev.

Without Cuba, where else may he be provocative? Cuba would also play a role here in Soviet propaganda: pointing to the invasion as an imperialist war (no different from the banana wars) to subjugate natives and suppress the will of the people. It would be presented as the US once again using military force to interfere with and control Latin America. That's a propaganda tool to existing and potential Latin American Marxists and Third World Marxists.
 
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So links to share. First off, a book video interview on the book "Ike and Dick". Seriously, if you're a history nerd, look up these types of CSPAN book videos.


Two, the Armageddon Letters. I tried to find "Clouds Over Cuba" which was a masterful interactive site but it looks sadly defunct.


 
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So links to share. First off, a book video interview on the book "Ike and Dick". Seriously, if you're a history nerd, look up these types of CSPAN book videos.
I actually found that book on my campus library and boy oh boy, would I recommend it heavily. The insight it provides is quite good regarding Nixon's role in the Eisenhower administration, as well as the very on and off relationship Eisenhower had with Nixon.
 
Update: just letting everyone know I'm still alive and intend on updating again soon! Just trying to work out a restructuring to the next segment. Didn't feel like what I had originally fit in well.
 
I was very excited to find this as I've become quite intrigued with the idea of an earlier Nixon presidency. I'm finding what you've got here very engaging. Are you still planning to continue the story? I ask as I notice it's been a few months since you added to it.
 
I was very excited to find this as I've become quite intrigued with the idea of an earlier Nixon presidency. I'm finding what you've got here very engaging. Are you still planning to continue the story? I ask as I notice it's been a few months since you added to it.
Might be a necro-post but I do share the same sentiment.
 
I was very excited to find this as I've become quite intrigued with the idea of an earlier Nixon presidency. I'm finding what you've got here very engaging. Are you still planning to continue the story? I ask as I notice it's been a few months since you added to it.
Still very much working on it, actually had the docs open today. World's just been incredibly busy lately
 
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