The Invincible Quest: The Life of Richard Milhous Nixon

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2008-05-13
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart Ltd
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The Invincible Questis an authoritative biography of one of the most accomplished and controversial leaders of the twentieth century. Beginning with Richard Nixon's birth to Quaker parents in 1913 and ending with his death in 1994, Conrad Black traces Nixon's career, assessing both his achievements and the evolution of popular and historical thinking about him since his death. Drawing on recently opened tapes and documents, and on Black's personal interviews with many of the major players in Nixon's administration,The Invincible Questreveals a new side of Nixon: a man who didn't have the advantage of charisma but was surprisingly self-assured and effective; a man dogged by political scandal yet seemingly unstoppable. Opinionated, balanced, and perceptive,The Invincible Questmakes a significant contribution to re-evaluating the idiosyncratic president's entire, eventful career. From the Hardcover edition.

Author Biography

Conrad Black is the author of comprehensive biographies of Maurice Duplessis and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The former head of the Argus and Hollinger corporate groups and of London’s Telegraph newspapers, he is also the founder of Canada’s National Post, where he is now a columnist. Black is involved in a corporate governance controversy that will be adjudicated this year. He divides his time between London and Toronto and is a life peer of the United Kingdom.

From the Hardcover edition.


PART I: The Meteoric Rise, 1913-1953

Chapter One
One of the Common People

– i –

Richard Milhous Nixon was one of America’s greatest political leaders, and probably its most controversial president. He was both brilliant and strangely awkward, but ultimately and uniquely indestructible. And in his perseverance he made many of his countrymen awkward also, throughout a very long career, and after. He would not go away, and lingers yet.

Like much about Richard Nixon, the circumstances of his early years were nondescript. They were not as modest as those of some presidents, though they were certainly modest. There was almost nothing picturesque about them, little levity, but no degeneracy either; no careening, drunken, abusive adults about, none of the romance of the frontier, and not quite, in southern California around the First World War, the full proverbial wholesomeness of traditional, small-town America.

Life was real and life was earnest in the Quaker community of his childhood twenty miles from Los Angeles, which was just about to arise as a colossal and garish city that would influence the world. Young Richard listened to the distant train whistles and the roar of the steam engines in the night, “the sweetest music I’ve ever heard,”1 and dreamt of the wider world. There was often the scent of citrus groves in the air, but the harsh life of the great ranches and farms and migrant workers, the hucksterism of this early phase of the great trek to California from the East and the Midwest, blended uneasily with the Quakerism of the Nixons and their neighbors. There was little that seemed permanent or even durable, and almost no nearby trace of the long Spanish history in Southern California. Los Angles and its surroundings were just becoming a catchment for the demographic driftwood of America, as New York long had been for Europe.

And there was nothing to suggest that serious, diligent, well-scrubbed little Richard Nixon would incite the political passions of the United States as no one else has, for more than forty years, or that he would change the history of the world. But, of course, he did.

In Richard Nixon’s youth, the population of Southern California would grow very quickly, and be recognized as some sort of laboratory for America. Bertrand Russell, an unlikely visitor, called it the “ultimate segregation of the unfit,” and Upton Sinclair, the crusading novelist and radical 1934 candidate for governor of California, thought it a paradise of swindlers. The film industry arose and recorded, refracted, foretold human drama and comedy, and dispensed its images of American life to the whole world. Southern California became a precursor of public tastes in many fields, evanescently recruiting vast swaths of America and the world to its fashions and tastes, and repelling many by its insubstantial brazenness.

Richard Milhous Nixon was born close by this surging Babylon on January 9, 1913, to Quaker parents in a Quaker town, Whittier, named after one of America’s leading poets and most illustrious Quakers, John Greenleaf Whittier.

The Quakers, the Society of Friends, had departed the existing Christian churches in seventeenth-century England, rebelling against the political and religious feuding of the time. The English Reformation seesawed back and forth from the Roman Catholic apostate Henry viii and his Papist (Mary) and Protestant (Elizabeth) daughters, through Cromwell’s Puritan Commonwealth, to the officially self-proclaimed Glorious Revolution of 1688. George Fox had started the Society of Friends, taking the name from Christ’s assertion that his “friends” were those who did as he “commanded” (John 15:14). Fox founded an unstructured, quietist church, espousing simple dress and tastes, abstinence, temperance, asceticism, and many prophetic secular causes. These included pacifism and abolition of capital punishment, slavery, and racial discrimination. It was a contemplative church, where divine inspiration would come to the quiet seeker of it. They were good and courageous and idealistic, if somewhat unworldly, and unexciting people.

William Penn brought the Quakers to what became Pennsylvania in 1682, and by the American Revolution a century later, there were fifty thousand of them in the American colonies. The Friends moved west with the rest of the population, establishing communities across the country as the United States spread steadily toward the Pacific. Richard Nixon’s Quaker heritage came from his mother’s family, the Milhouses. They had come from the German principalities to England in the seventeenth century and changed their name from Milhausen. They fought with Cromwell in the English Civil War against the Anglo-Catholic King, Charles I. Cromwell rewarded them with land in Ireland, a country Cromwell, for all his Puritanism, suppressed with a severity that must have helped propel the Milhouses into the arms of the Quakers. They emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1729. In 1854, Richard Nixon’s great-grandparents, Joshua and Elizabeth Milhous, joined the move westward and decamped from Pennsylvania to Indiana. Joshua Milhous was the model for the protagonist of the novel Friendly Persuasion, written by another great-grandchild, Richard Nixon’s cousin, Jessamyn West. Elizabeth Milhous was a famous preacher, whom Richard Nixon well remembered from her later years, including one occasion when she related the miracle of the loaves and fishes with such exuberance that she showered the congregation with her lunch of sardine sandwiches.2

At the end of the 1880s, Richard Nixon’s grandparents, Franklin and Almira Milhous, moved to California. They brought with them their daughter, Hannah, Richard’s mother, born in 1885 and named after an aunt and the biblical mother of Samuel. They joined the colony in Whittier, incorporated in 1887, for which occasion the town adopted a bit of doggerel the poet had written for his grandnephew:3

A life not void of pure intent,
With small desert of praise or blame,
The love I felt, the good I meant,
I leave thee with my name.

Chapter One
1. Earl Mazo, Richard Nixon: A Political and Personal Portrait, p. 20.
2. Roger Morris, Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, p. 16.
3. Jonathan Aitken, Nixon: A Life, p. 47.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from The Invincible Quest: The Life of Richard Milhous Nixon by Conrad Black
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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