Nixon: Education of Politician 19
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About this Item
Title: Nixon: Education of Politician 19
Publisher: Random House Value Publishing
About this title
From acclaimed biographer Stephen E. Ambrose comes the life of one of the most elusive and intriguing American political figures, Richard M. Nixon. From his difficult boyhood and earnest youth to bis ruthless political campaigns for Congress and Senate to his defeats in '60 and '62, Nixon emerges liExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
FRANK AND HANNAH 1878-1912
Richard Nixon had no famous ancestors, nor any who were rich. There was not a political leader among them. He came from humble folk and was born in the turn-of-the-century California equivalent of a log cabin.
On his father's side, his progenitors were generally loud, boisterous, emotional, and Methodist. On his mother's side, they were generally quiet, restrained, unemotional, and Quaker. What they had in common was a penchant for taking risks. They were men and women unafraid to move on west with the frontier.
Nixon's maternal ancestors were Germans who came to England to fight for Cromwell, and who received as their pay an estate in Timahoe, Ireland. Their name was anglicized from Melhausen to Milhous. In Ireland, the Milhouses became Quaker converts of William Penn, and in 1729 Thomas Milhous and his family migrated to Chester County, Pennsylvania. A century later, his descendants were living in a Quaker colony in Ohio. In 1854, when Richard's grandfather, Franklin Milhous, was six years old, the family moved west again, to Jennings County, Indiana. The family was abolitionist, and the farm was a way station on the Underground Railroad. In 1879 Franklin Milhous, a widower at age twenty-eight, married Almira Burdg. Together they raised two sons and seven daughters; the daughters included Richard Nixon's mother, Hannah, born in 1885.
The Milhouses were gentle Quaker folk, living an unpretentious and frugal life. Almira was a schoolteacher; Franklin, a farmer. Ordinary though their occupations were, they shared an urge to migrate. California beckoned, for all its usual reasons -- the agreeable climate, the orange groves, the space, the low price of land -- and because in 1887, just east of Los Angeles, the Society of Friends had founded a Quaker community, Whittier, named for the famous Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier. The founders chose a site away from the railroad line, a site suitable for the peaceful, conservative Quakers, who wanted to grow their crops and live their lives away from the city and the hurly-burly of modern life. The lure proved irresistible to many Indiana Quakers, including nearly the whole of the large Milhous clan. Whittier soon became the largest Quaker colony in the United States.
In 1897 Franklin, his mother, his wife Almira, and his nine children made the move. They brought with them the doors, window frames, and much of the lumber from the farmhouse in Indiana. Franklin loaded it on a freight car, along with his livestock. On the outskirts of Whittier he planted orange groves and a nursery. A good husbandman, he was successful enough to become a prominent member of the community, well known for his honesty. His children helped him graft the plants; he guaranteed the pedigree and hardiness of each plant, and if it sickened and died, or did not grow true, he would replace it. He also traded actively in real estate. He saved enough money to establish a trust fund at Whittier College for his grandchildren's education.
While Franklin tended the crops, Almira made their home into a center for social and religious activities, with her dining room as the focus of events. She loved gathering the constantly growing Milhous family around her; in time her family reunions ran to forty and fifty people. They used "thee" and "thou" and other Quaker expressions in their ordinary speech. Religion, work, and family were the center and almost the circumference of their existence. The religion was neither overbearing nor overpowering, rather peaceful and comforting, but it was always there -- in speech, in dress, in mannerisms, in daily prayers and Bible readings. It was a religion without doctrines, one that put a great stress on individual conscience and responsibility.
Franklin was a jovial man, liked by everyone and adored by his family. He took Almira and the children on trips, to San Francisco and Yosemite. "Father loved music," Hannah later told reporter Bela Kornitzer. "He sang in the church choir and played the organ. Later on, he took up the accordion. Evenings, he used to sing hymns and then read aloud to us. His favorite tale was James Whitcomb Riley's Bear Story." Hannah said her mother Almira "was even more appreciative of the pleasures of life....She loved social contacts and special events, whether in our home, picnics at the park, at the beach, the mountains, or at church. She loved to work in the yard, tending her plants or caring for her chickens." As parents, Hannah recalled, "Father and Mother were full of love, faith and optimism. I don't recall ever seeing them in despair....[They] never talked loud -- never yelled orders."
Richard Nixon had vivid memories of his grandmother Almira. "My grandmother set the standards for the whole family. Honesty, hard work, do your best at all times -- humanitarian ideals. She was always taking care of every tramp that came along the road....She had strong feelings about pacifism and very strong feelings on civil liberties. She probably affected me in that respect. At her house no servant ever ate at a separate table. They always ate with the family. There were Negroes, Indians and people from Mexico -- she was always taking somebody in."
Most of all, Almira held the family together. "Every year at Christmas and usually once during the summer we had a family reunion....She was a prolific letter writer. On birthdays she composed rhymes and couplets and sent them to us." She used the plain speech, "thee" and "thou," exclusively, but her daughters did not use it with their children.
Almira was a staunch Republican, as were most Quakers with their abolitionist backgrounds and dedication to hard work and thrift. "She virtually worshipped Lincoln," Richard Nixon later recalled. "On my thirteenth birthday she gave me, in addition to a very welcome five-dollar bill, a picture of her idol. Underneath, written in her own hand, was the last part of Longfellow's Psalm of Life. I can remember part of it even now:
Lives of great men oft' remind us,
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us,
Footprints on the sands of time."
Almira and Franklin Milhous' emphasis on religion, family, and duty dominated Hannah's youth, and left her with lifelong values. To an outsider her life may have seemed dull and dispiriting, her boundaries limited by the backwater town where nothing ever happened, but she found Whittier a source of strength and comfort. Her father gave her security; her mother, inspiration and guidance; her sisters and brothers and the entire Quaker community provided playmates aplenty, while church, school, and work were outlets for her energy.
Discipline in the family was done verbally rather than physically, and the words of criticism were spoken softly rather than shouted. "Father never paddled us," Hannah recalled in her old age. "Mother switched my ankles once with an apple twig." By high-school age, she had a dark, brooding look. Of medium height, she was exceedingly slender, bony in her shoulders and face. She usually did up her long black hair in a knot. Her eyes were dark and deep-set. Her lips were narrow and pursed, her mouth a bit too wide for her narrow face. Her nose was deep and broad at the nostrils, narrow and pinched at the top. The line of the curve looked a bit like a ski jump, a trait her son Richard inherited. All the photographs taken of her during her adolescence show a serious, almost forbidding face, and the testimony of her childhood friends and family agrees that she was indeed a serious young lady.
She was no great beauty, and she had no talent that set her apart from the community, aside from her devotion to her religion, which even in Quaker Whittier went beyond the norm. One of her brothers-in-law thought she was too gentle, too soft-willed, and called her "the angel unaware." But an acquaintance found her to be "cranky and Puritanical" and a family friend dismissed her as a "colorless little thing." She did not appeal to the boys -- one of her sisters said, "Hannah sometimes went out with a group but she never had a single date...."
After graduating from Whittier High School, Hannah entered Whittier College, which she attended for two years before dropping out to teach school. On February 15, 1908, at a social gathering at the Friends Church in East Whittier, she met Frank Nixon. Whatever impression she made on the other young men in the community, she swept Frank oft his feet. He walked her home that night, and as he later testified, "I immediately stopped going with the five other girls I was dating, and I saw Hannah every night."
Frank Nixon had arrived in California a year earlier, marking the end of a westward migration of Nixons that had begun in the seventeenth century, when Frank's ancestors had moved over to County Wexford, in Ireland, from Scotland. The name, in Celtic, was variously spelled Nicholl, Nicholson, Nicholas, Nickson, and Nickerson, all meaning, roughly, "he wins" or "he faileth not." In the 1730s the Nixons became part of that great wave of emigration of Scotch-Irish to America. Later critics of Richard Nixon, referring to him as a "black Irishman," missed the truth. Whatever the cause of the adult Nixon's dark moods, introspection, and depression, it was not Irish blood, at least not such as any Catholic citizen of the Irish Republic would recognize.
James Nixon was the first to come to America. He settled in New Castle County, Delaware, within twenty miles of Hannah Milhous' ancestor Thomas. James became a substantial, if not prominent, citizen; his will, dated May 16, 1773, included a sixty-pound bequest to his wife, Mary, forty-five pounds to his daughters, a hundred-acre farm to his son George, and two slaves to his other son, James, Jr. Both sons fought in the Revolution, George crossing the Delaware with Washington to fight in the Battle of Trenton, and both moved west after independence, following the frontier to Ohio. George Nixon III enlisted with Company B, 73rd Ohio, in 1861, and fought and died in the Battle of Gettysburg. He is buried in the national cemetery. He left behind eight children, including a son, Samuel Brady Nixon.
On April 10, 1873, Samuel, then aged twenty-six, married a twenty-year-old schoolteacher, Sarah Ann Wadsworth. They had five children, three boys and two girls. The second-oldest, Francis Anthony Nixon, was always called Frank. He was born on December 3, 1878, in Vinton County, Ohio; he became Richard Nixon's father.
Shortly after Frank's birth, Sarah contracted tuberculosis, the most dreaded disease of the nineteenth century, thought erroneously to be inherited. Samuel sold his farm, piled the children into a covered wagon, and headed south for Georgia and the Carolinas, where he hoped Sarah might recover in the warmer climate. But her condition worsened, then became acute. In despair Samuel returned to Ohio, where, in January 1886, Sarah died in her father's home.
Frank went to live with an uncle, while his father, Samuel, tried to overcome his grief and poverty. Samuel worked in a pottery factory, taught school in Vinton, and carried the mail. He eventually saved enough money to buy a forty-acre farm and bring Frank home. "When we moved there," Frank's younger brother, Ernest, remembered, "Dad's only assets were a five-dollar bill and a hen setting on a nest of eggs. He gave those last dollars to the man who helped us move. Still, we never begged, nor did we let on we were next to destitute. He said: 'Here we are and it's root, hog, or die.'"
In 1890, when Frank was eleven years old, Samuel remarried. Frank's stepmother was harsh, demanding, even cruel. "She was hard and beat Frank," a relative recalled.
He had other problems. "Frank and I attended a one-room country school, known as Ebenezer, miles from home," Ernest later reported. "We were newcomers; poor, strange, and badly dressed. The big boys would follow us home through the woods to pick a fight. Frank was the more aggressive of us, slow to anger but a wild bull if things went too far."
Frank could not put up with this stepmother, school, or poverty. At fourteen, only past the fourth grade, a consequence of all the disruptions in his life, he quit school and ran away from home. He took a job as a hired hand with a local farmer at $13 per month, plus the right to put a calf he had bought on the pasture. In the fall he sold the fatted calf. He had promised to send his earnings home to his family, but, as Ernest related, instead he used the profit from the sale on his wardrobe. "He seemed to take keen delight in showing his former classmates that he was dressed just a bit better and was more mannerly. He acquired a pride that became the armor of his body and soul."
Life as a farmhand, however, had little appeal. "We usually had milk and bread for dinner," Frank recalled. "Fifty to seventy-five cents a day was just about tops in wages for a farmhand in those days." Restless by nature, skilled with his hands, he was willing to work. "The dignity of labor was...my brother's philosophy," Ernest declared. "He liked to quote the Scripture: 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.'" He became a jack-of-all-trades, and something of a rolling stone, as he journeyed across Ohio, taking jobs as a glass worker, potter, house painter ("I even painted Pullmans at one time"), potato farmer, telephone linesman, motorman, and carpenter. (Ernest stayed in school, eventually earned a Ph.D., and became a professor at Penn State.)
Frank did not prosper, he did not starve, he did not improve his station in life. He knew a great deal about machines and tools, little about people. He was argumentative, cantankerous, opinionated; he shouted a great deal; he was critical of his bosses; small wonder that every spring found him working at a new job.
Like Hannah Milhous, Frank was deeply religious. Unlike her, he was demonstrative about it. He came from a long line of frontier, fundamentalist, Bible-thumping Methodists, which placed him in a tradition about as different from that of the Quakers as one Protestant sect can be from another. The Methodists were loud, in their sermons, in their hymns, in their greetings, in everything. They had a set of strict rules for folks to live by and were dogmatic about them. These precepts both fit and helped shape Frank's personality. Hannah's Quakerism led her to love God; Frank's Methodist faith led him to fear God.
Neither Hannah nor Frank ever smoked or drank. In Hannah's case, no one around her did either, but in Frank's case abstaining was far more difficult. He lived in many a rough environment, working beside roustabouts of all types, men who tempted him with their tobacco, whiskey, and tales of amorous adventures. He never gave in, a mark of both the depth of his religion and the strength of his willpower. Nor did he abstain through avoidance -- he led a hectic social life, with many dates and parties.
He was a handsome young devil, of average height but big in the shoulders and hands, as befit a workingman. When dressed for a social event, he wore his dark hair slicked down and precisely parted. He had a fine full face, a strong but not oversized no...
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