Historical Figures: Richard Nixon

Best known for being the only US president to have been impeached, Richard Nixon's career's spanned over 40 years. But long before he resigned from the presidency in disgrace, Nixon earned a reputation as a campaigner who would stop at nothing to win and as a virulent anti-Communist.

Richard Nixon


Nixon's 'red-baiting' credentials were established early in his political career. When the small-town Californian lawyer was conducting a campaign for election to the House of Representatives in 1946, he set out to smear his Democrat rival Jerry Voorhis as a Communist. The tactic worked, Nixon taking 60% of the vote. He later admitted: 'Of course I knew Voorhis wasn't a Communist, but I had to win.'


When Nixon joined the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, it was a shambolic, obscure outfit staffed by extreme right-wing zealots. But Nixon, sensing a growing anti-Communism in American society, saw it as a platform for his dogged legal skills - and a way to get noticed.

Hollywood Ten

HUAC's profile was raised - the same year Nixon joined it - when it launched an investigation into alleged Communist sympathisers in the movie industry. The 'Hollywood Ten', which included screenwriters and directors such as Edward Dmytryk and Ring Lardner, Jr, were given jail sentences, while many other famous figures, among them Elia Kazan and Lee J Cobb, were coerced into testifying against their colleagues.

Prosecuting Hiss

Nixon and HUAC's big break came in 1948 when diplomat and archetypal East Coast liberal Alger Hiss was accused of spying for the Communists. Nixon's relentless interrogation broke Hiss, who was sentenced to five years in prison. The young congressman became a national figure.

Dirty Dick

Nixon acquired his nickname, 'Dirty Dick', in 1950, when he orchestrated a smear campaign against his Democrat rival in Senate elections: Helen Gahagan Douglas was dubbed 'the Pink Lady'; thousands of voters received telephone calls denouncing her as a Communist; and Nixon distorted her voting record to prove her 'un-American' credentials. Once again, Nixon won.

Baiting Stevenson

In 1952, Nixon turned his red-baiting experience against Democrat presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson - 'a PhD graduate of the Cowardly College of Communist Containment', as Nixon dubbed him. The tactic worked for Dwight Eisenhower, who was elected president, and for Nixon himself, who became vice-president.