800px-Richard_Nixon_1969_inauguration

President Nixon takes the Oath of Office for President of the United States, January 20, 1969. (Ollie Atkins/Richard Nixon Presidential Library)

The Story Behind President Nixon’s First Inaugural Address

On January 20, 1969, Richard Nixon took the Oath of Office for the Presidency of the United States. This month marks the 50th anniversary of that momentous occasion.

Richard Nixon put his left hand on the Milhous Family bible held by the new First Lady Pat Nixon. Opened to Isaiah 2:4, the verse reads: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Nixon later said in his memoirs that the major theme of his first inaugural address was peace.

On this special edition of the Nixon Now podcast, “An Answer of the Spirit” we unpack the message of peace that Nixon communicated in his first inaugural address.

Transcript

 [Audio from President Nixon’s Swearing In]

President Nixon repeating Justice Earl Warren: I, Richard Milhous Nixon, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States. So help me God.

That was Richard Nixon taking the Oath of Office for the Presidency of the United States on January 20, 1969. This month, marks the 50th anniversary of that momentous occasion.

Richard Nixon put his left hand on the Milhous Family bible held by the new First Lady Pat Nixon. Opened to Isaiah 2:4, the verse reads: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Nixon later said in his memoirs that the major theme of his first inaugural address was peace. 

On this special edition of the Nixon Now podcast, “An Answer of the Spirit” we unpack the message of peace that Nixon communicated in his inaugural address. 

***

Webster Dictionary contains several definitions of peace. In a political sense, it defines peace as “a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom.”

Another definition reads, “a state or period of mutual concord between governments.”

Peace could also mean “harmony among people” or “a quiet and calm state of mind.”

The great Catholic Father Augustine of Hippo defined peace as the “the tranquillity of order.” Order as a manifestation of perfect justice and virtue in public life.

Nixon swearing on the Milhous family bible could be seen as homage to his mother’s Quaker heritage and the religion’s devotion to peace.

George Fox, the most influential early Quaker, first issued his Society of Friends testimony of peace in 1651, declaring his desire to live in the virtue that life and power should take away the occasions of all wars.

***

[Audio: Protesters chanting “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is going to win.”]

The anti-war movement was seeking peace and an end to the Vietnam War. Many were sincere in their clarion call. But as Nixon paraded in an open air limousine down 12th Street near the White House, the people who held that they were seeking peace barraged the new president’s vehicle with sticks, stones, and firecrackers. They raised the Vietcong Flag, chanting “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is going to win.”

In an ironic twist of history, Chief Justice Earl Warren administered the Oath of Office. Justice Warren had long been a political rival to Nixon in California. When Richard Nixon first ran for Congress in 1946, Warren, then the Golden State’s Governor, declined to endorse Nixon. Warren declined to endorse Nixon again when he ran against Hollywood starlet Helen Gahagan Douglas in the U.S. Senate Race in 1950.

And when Warren sought his party’s nomination for President in 1952, Nixon steered California’s electoral delegation for his eventual running mate, America’s beloved hero of Normandy, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

The following year, Eisenhower had appointed his one-time rival as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Through a more radically liberal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and its laws, the Warren Court — reigning from Nixon’s first term as Vice President to the first year of his first term as President —  helped drastically shape American culture. 

Though it had righted many wrongs of injustice by expanding Civil Rights for minorities, guaranteeing Due Process, and curing political inequality, the Warren Court was also an affront to many traditionally-minded Americans when it expanded the definitions of free speech to include pornography, ended mandatory prayer in school, and ruled that there was a fundamental right to privacy in America that would eventually pave the way for the right to an abortion. 

Nixon agreed that the Court had gone too far in many respects. He also felt the Court had done more wrong than right in undermining respect for order and justice: it coddled criminals and created a more permissive and less virtuous society. 

In 1967 Nixon penned an article in Readers Digest, entitled, “What happened to America?” Nixon wrote:

Our judges have gone too far in weakening the peace forces as against the criminal forces.

Our opinion-makers have gone too far in promoting the doctrine that when a law is broken, society, not the criminal is to blame.

Our teachers, preachers, and politicians have gone too far in advocating the idea that each individual should determine what laws are good and what laws are bad, and that he then should obey the law he likes and disobey the law he dislikes.

Thus we find that many who oppose the war in Vietnam excuse or ignore or even applaud those who protest that war by disrupting parades, invading government offices, burning draft cards, blocking troop trains or desecrating the American flag.

The same permissiveness is applied to those who defy the law in pursuit of civil rights. This trend has gone so far in America that there is not only a growing tolerance of lawlessness but an increasing public acceptance of civil disobedience.

***

In his campaign chronicle, The Making of a President 1968,  journalist Theodore White wrote that by the middle of the 1960s, “the gusts of history swept through America were to stir and shake every value that middle-class Protestant America had cherished for centuries.”

How did we get to this point?

As Nixon was getting set to write his inaugural address, his campaign aide and former law partner, Leonard Garment sent a memo. 

Garment was an anomaly in Republican politics. Democrat, the son of immigrant parents, and born in New York;  before 1968, he had campaigned and worked against Nixon, and even hosted a fundraiser in his home for Nixon rival, Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Garment had first met Nixon in 1964. Bored and depressed, he had felt he’d plateaued in life and career. He had no particular strong feeling on political issues, except sympathy for the underdog. 

Nixon was “an opening to a different life and the possibility of salvation,” Garment later wrote.

Garment believed his background didn’t seem to matter either. Nixon evidently welcomed diverse views on his campaign, saying that he had access to “more than enough” Republicans, many of whom “had less than scintillating ideas.”

Leonard Garment: We did hit it off. I mean, there was a sense of mutuality between two persons of a certain kind of ambition of a generic nature that one could not really pigeonhole, but that it was, we saw in each other. I mean, I can’t say exactly what he saw in me, but I knew it was something. But I was a link to the law firm and to the senior management, and I was a trial lawyer, and  I was young, and sort of a slightly harebrained, therefore interesting to him. And for me, he represented access to a world that I knew about, but had never been part of, and I was interested, curious, ambitious. I had a political nature that was — very positive at that point. I mean, I was interested in politics. 

I mean, if anything I was more to the left than conventional Democrats, kind of an aberrational personality, then and thereafter [laughter].

“The mood of America has to be deciphered and addressed,” Garment’s memo to Nixon said, “the mood in America has brought to the surface a mass of accumulating discontents.”

Life in America had progressed rapidly. The population had exploded, the economy boomed, cities were getting bigger, and technology had greatly advanced since the end of the Second World War. By the sixties, the college age had also increased by six times since the end of the War.

While America became richer — there were still major problems of crime, poverty, and inequality. Material solutions were deployed to fix many of these societal problems.

President Lyndon Johnson launched his Great Society in 1964. His administration expanded the size of the federal government, adding $42 billion dollars, or 13 percent to the national debt. The tradeoff were the highest rates of inflation in over twenty years.

Despite the political progress on Civil Rights, prejudice against blacks and other minorities was pervasive not only in the South, but across the country. A quarter of the nation’s black youth were also unemployed. 

Students were educated by professors with novel ideas that bucked the traditional norms of their parents. LSD was promoted by the likes of Harvard Professor Timothy Leary, marijuana became the popular drug of the protest movement, and crack-cocaine was sold to the young people in the inner city.

Cold War tensions were heightening, and U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War ballooned to over 500,000 troops.

America’s leadership was fully committed to the war effort, and as casualties mounted with no end in sight, America’s youth pondered its purpose. They also wondered why the poorest and least educated Americans were drafted by their government and deployed to die in a far away land, while the rich and politically connected escaped this fate with deferments. 

These accumulating discontents and rapid social changes led many to believe that they couldn’t trust their government to solve their problems. 

Many turned inward and became apathetic, while others rioted in the streets of America’s major cities.

Garment concluded that the underlying issue in America was the notion of power.

“Not national power, or power over foreign policy — but power to take part, to act, to have a role in events that affect one’s daily life,” Garment wrote.  “Man has a deep, primitive need to exercises his faculties…our resources for individual expression through meaningful words have diminished.”

Garment told Nixon that when he takes the steps of the Nation’s Capitol, his first inaugural address has to be a response to this moment. 

Recognize the discontent, but celebrate hope.

Articulate to the American people their power to take part and change their country for the better, working through their families, neighborhoods, and communities. 

Jim Keogh expanded on this point. 

Keogh had covered Nixon for two decades at Time, rising to become the magazine’s managing editor and then executive editor before joining the Nixon administration as a speechwriter. 

In his notes for the president-elect, Keogh listed and re-worked several sentences Nixon used during the campaign. 

“This will be an open administration— open to ideas from the people, and open in its communication with the people —  an administration of open doors, open eyes, and open minds,” one sentence read. 

Keough expanded on the idea that a new openness to individual initiative was the key to national unity. 

“Citizens will not have to break the law to be heard,” Keogh’s logic held. “As frustration ends, violence will wane; as runaway government is curbed, personal freedom will grow, as demeaning welfare systems are replaced, individual initiative will take the lead; as peace returns to the American city, America will be better able to build peace in the world.”

***

[Audio from first televised debate between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon]

Howard K. Smith: “Good evening, the television and radio stations of the United States, and their affiliated stations are proud to provide facilities for this discussion of issues in the current political campaign by the two major candidates for the presidency. The candidates need no introduction. The Republican candidate, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, and the Democratic Candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy.”

In the 1960s, television magnified the American political experience. 

During the 1960 election, television magnified Nixon’s infirmities in his first ever televised presidential debate with Senator John F. Kennedy. 

Eight years later, Nixon and his campaign team learned their lesson. His campaign aides urged the uses of new mediums of mass communications to leverage large audiences for their candidate’s message, and protect him precisely from the affliction that comes with unrelenting travel.

In 1962, during his ill-fated campaign for California governor, Nixon met Paul Keyes, writer for the popular weekend comedy hour “Laugh in.” 

Keyes became a friend and supporter of Nixon, and served as an outside advisor on the 1968 campaign. 

He urged Nixon to show a human side, and inject more humor into his political persona as part of an effort to reach out to younger voters. Against the advice of some of his political aides, Nixon accepted Keyes invitation to appear on “Laugh-In.”

Nixon settled on a brief appearance, and looking perplexed, amusingly uttered the show’s famous catch phrase: “Sock it to me.”

[Audio from “Laugh-in”]

[Music]

Woman: NBC, beautiful downtown Burbank!

[Laughter]

Woman: “Oh, hello Governor Rockefeller. Oh no, I don’t think we could get Mr. Nixon to stand still for a ‘Sock it to me.’

Richard Nixon: Sock it to me!

Keyes would remain a confidant well-in to the administration. He too shared his thoughts on the theme of the inaugural address. 

“A few thoughts which I ask you to read before completing the inaugural speech,” Keyes wrote to Nixon. “I concentrated on peace. I feel it is what people yearn for most.”

Keyes evidently borrowed from the Prayer of Peace by Saint Francis of Assisi.

Saint Francis begins his prayer, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace.”

It goes on to show the antidotes to the struggle of the world and the soul:

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

Keyes uses this template for emphasis on peace in his time.

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

***

William Safire, Patrick Buchanan, and Raymond Price were the principal speechwriters who submitted drafts to the president-elect. All began working for Nixon even before the campaign.  

Safire had witnessed Richard Nixon’s political career starting in July 1959 when he was an agent working for a New York public relations firm.

One of his clients, All State Properties, was a homebuilder looking to gain entry in the Russian market. They had an idea to present an affordable middle class style American home — as one would see in Levittown, New York —  at the American Exhibition in Moscow.

Then Vice President Nixon opened the exhibition, and toured Soviet Leader Nikita Kruchshev through the various displays of American consumers products and appliances. According to Safire’s account, the two men were wandering around like a couple of politicians at a county fair, when Kruschev took the opportunity to ambush his host in the RCA Color Television exhibit. 

As the cameras were rolling for rebroadcast in the United States, Krushchev began his attack on Nixon about the tenets of American capitalism and foreign policy. 

[Audio of Vice President Nixon and Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev]

Krushchev: We will be on the same level of achievement as America. And the following years we shall continue to surge ahead. And when we shall overtake you at the cross roads. We will greet you amiably [laughs].

Nixon: For people everywhere there must be a free exchange of ideas. There are some instances where you maybe ahead of us. For example in the development of the thrust of your rockets for the investigation of outer space. There may be some instances for example in television where we’re ahead of you. But in order for both of us [interruptions by Krushchev]

Krushchev: You won’t be ahead of us  — wrong, wrong. We are ahead of you in rockets as well as this technique.

As they left the RCA exhibition, Nixon appeared flustered. Safire shouted at Nixon’s military aide, Don Hughes, to have Nixon and Khrushchev make their way to his client’s typical American house. 

Safire linked a chain to the fence surrounding the house and the rear bumper of a jeep, pulling the fence down to allow the two leaders and the crowd which followed, inside the home’s kitchen. 

Nixon rebounded. As Khrushchev continued in on the Vice President, Nixon articulately defended his nation’s political and economic philosophy — prompting Khrushchev to pull back his temper. 

A photo hit the wires the next day of Nixon jabbing his finger into Khrushchev’s chest. The American Vice President appeared as a strong and composed Cold Warrior. 

Safire: So at the end of the session, everybody pulled out and Nixon said to me, ‘We really put your kitchen on the map, didn’t we?’ showing a certain understanding of public relations. And I said, ‘You bet.’ And Harrison Salisbury said, “We’re going to call it the Sokolniki Summit.” Sokolniki Park was the name of the place where in Moscow the U.S. Exhibition was being held. Well nobody elected Sukolniki so I said, “You mean the Kitchen Conference,” which had the benefit of alliteration. And he paid me back for letting me in by calling it then the Kitchen Conference. And so our kitchen became famous. And on the way out, Nixon said, ‘Come on over to Spaso House, let’s talk,’ because he figured I was a good flack. And so that night we talked and that next year, 1960, I went to work for his campaign. 

Safire flavored his draft of the inaugural with some of the bombast of a veteran of public relations. Maybe too much Keogh thought. 

“Here is one idea of a blockbuster!” Safire exclaimed in a cover memo. “Suggest an exchange of astronauts with the Russians. We land on the moon together. Instant detente!”

Safire’s hook was President Woodrow Wilson — a genuine progressive who called for a new era of personal freedom not only at home, but across the world. 

“Let the people come forward,” Woodrow Wilson told the District of Columbia’s police chief as he noticed the audience was being kept behind the barricades. 

Safire added a twist for the times: 

Today personal freedom is being denied and human dignity delayed; it is time to turn to the taproot of our strength, and say again: ‘Let the People Come Together.’

In Safire’s mind “The People Coming Together”  wasn’t a call for a unity for its own sake. It was a call for a commitment to progress — the means of which aren’t idealistic. 

Americans are realists. And only realists can be optimists, because they know what they’re capable of achieving, Safire held.

Safire then listed a litany of goals for the administration: the end of wars, the end of tyranny, the rise of human dignity.

He wrote about the irony of Americans becoming citizens of the universe — launching man into space, converting mass into energy, and transplanting living organs; but failing to become citizens of the world — finding an end to wars, treating masses of people as individuals, releasing the human spirit to enrich human life; and transplanting ideas of government to address human needs. 

“We have recently felt the shock of seeing the world as God sees it,” Safire concluded his draft in reference to the Apollo 8 Mission in December 1968, when three astronauts close to the moon’s surface were able to photograph the whole Earth. 

He continued: “A century from now, millions of space travelers will look Earthward and feel a surge of gratitude for the people of today.”

***

Patrick Buchanan joined the Nixon Campaign in 1966, and was the boss’s arch conservative. 

He had made his early career at the St. Louis Globe Democrat, rising to become the paper’s assistant editorial writer.

Following Senator Goldwater’s loss in the 1964 presidential election, Buchanan penned a 2,000 word essay for his paper in which he opined on the future of conservatism. For the young conservative, the candidate was defeated, not the movement. “It has lost a battle, not the war.”

Buchanan first met Nixon formally in December 1965 when the future candidate spoke at a Republican event in Bellevue, Illinois.

[Audio of Patrick Buchanan]

Buchanan: I had got an invitation because Don Hesse, the St. Louis Globe Democrat cartoonist was a friend of Nixon’s, and an admirer, and he was holding the cocktail party for Nixon after his speech, where he filled in for [Senator Everett] Dirksen, and I went up to him, and talked to Nixon for about 10 minutes, and told him I’d like to get aboard early. 

And he asked me what I did, and I told him I write editorials on all different subjects because we’ve got only two editorial writers. And he kept pressing me and pressing me, and the next day the cartoonist told me that Nixon had spent the entire time asking about me.

The next day the cartoonist told me that Nixon had spent the entire time asking about me.

Nixon was considered a moderate among Republicans. He worked for Eisenhower, and had kindred philosophical spirits with progressive presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.  

He was however, an ardent anti-communist. His performance in the case against accused Soviet-Spy Alger Hiss endeared him to the conservative movement. Conservatives also remembered Nixon’s loyalty when — despite ideological differences — he campaigned for Senator Barry Goldwater in the 1964 Presidential Race.

Throughout Nixon’s 1968 campaign, Buchanan would be Nixon’s designated liaison to conservatives. 

Buchanan also had a direct and decisive tone of writing. 

In the memo to his speech draft, Buchanan urged Nixon to be “simple and eloquent,” and not to play to the media. 

Focus on the long game, Buchanan emphasized. Focus on what historians will say. 

Buchanan recalled Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural speech in the opening sentence to his draft. The confidence of the American people had been shaken by the Great Depression. FDR took to the podium to help inspire hope:

[Audio from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address]

Roosevelt: This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things.

Buchanan held that the new crisis was the previous generation’s, but in reverse. It wasn’t a crisis concerning materials things. It was a crisis of the spirit. 

The draft argued that America would endure as it always has endured, but these particular set of challenges were a test of American virtues — in particular its wisdom, patience, endurance, and allegiance to its own democratic principles. 

True to the writer’s conservative principles, it wasn’t the province of government to fix society’s problems. 

Government could do a lot — it could put down violence, pass legislation, and right injustices.

However, government couldn’t heal and lift the nation’s collective soul. 

For Buchanan, it could not replace “a will to work together, a spirit of compromise, or a spirit of charity in a whole people.”

***

The bulk of the editorial work fell to Raymond K. Price, Jr.

He was conservative, but not in the same strand as Buchanan. 

The New York Times noted that while Nixon tapped Buchanan to write the “tough” speeches, the President would tap Price — who would later become the chief White House speech writer — to write the “thoughtful” speeches.

Price was a journalist by trade, and rose to become the chief editor of the opinion pages of The New York Herald Tribune.

He first joined Nixon in the spring of 1967 in preparation for the presidential race, and accompanied the candidate on foreign study trips. 

Of note was the trip to Asia. 

Price sat in on many of the meetings with various Asian leaders, and later reflected on these events as all substance, and little small talk. 

“He always showed a keen interest (genuine, not feigned) in the progress of Asia generally and of the host country specifically,” Price later wrote of Nixon. “He also would lead the conversation to the larger world picture, to the possible future roles of China, the Soviet Union, and the United States, and to the impact of these roles on Asia in general.” 

After each meeting, Nixon recorded extensive notes about what he had learned on an IBM portable dictation machine. 

These meetings became the bedrock from which Nixon  penned — with the help of Price  — his influential article “Asia After Viet Nam”  for Foreign Affairs Magazine in October of the same year. 

Nixon argued that Americans should think more dynamically about Asia, and that the myopic strategy of containment was disastrous for the United States. 

“A small country on the tip of the continent has filled the screen of our minds; but it does not fill the map,” he wrote.

Asia was changing. Southeast Asian leaders weren’t convinced that European colonists were still the cause of their societies’ problems. And the luster of Communism was starting to wear. Countries like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore were the example, and sustaining high percentages of economic growth. 

China was the dragon in the room. Nixon believed it could be induced to change, through the gradual purging of its Maoist ideology by these prevailing regional political and economic attitudes. 

Nixon concluded that there was no room on this small planet to leave China in “angry isolation,” outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors.”

The key phrase in the Foreign Affairs piece, “angry isolation” was introduced in Price’s drafts of the inaugural. 

“The discords in our own society mirror discords in the world,” Price wrote. 

Picking up on Safire’s reference to Woodrow Wilson’s inaugural address, Price included “as distances shrink, as weapons multiply in both numbers and power, the need intensifies that we go forward together, not one in fellowship here at home, but together with people everywhere.”

In his supplementary notes, Price emphasized “An answer of the Spirit” to the Crisis of the Spirit: “that unique, precious, indefinable thing that sets man apart from all else in creation, that powers his triumphs and sustains him in defeat.”

Ultimately for Price it was the forgotten Americans, whose voices were lost in this “fever of words.”

They were central to progress. With their talents and efforts, they could “build a cathedral of spirit,” allowing for hopes to be achieved, wrongs to be set right, for brotherhood to be rediscovered. 

***

Despite the speech writing staff’s contributions, none of these men were considered the ghost writer. 

“Mr. Nixon is known to be a careful editor, fussing over each word,” the Times noted. “On the average, he returns a speech to the writer eight times with notes scribbled around the margins — always clockwise — and with long inserts before a final version is reached.”

This speech was no exception.

Price proposed working on the drafts with Nixon. The two labored over eight days — incorporating the thoughts of the other speech writers, and quotes Nixon said on the campaign — producing a new draft each day.  Seven drafts were completed before the president read from his final copy on inauguration day. 

Price would submit a draft after draft. Nixon would underline, suggest new words, cross-out whole paragraphs, and look for new ways to communicate his message. 

[Audio of Raymond K. Price, Jr.]

Price: It was — some of it was just meeting with him, some of it was talking things out and then having me draft stuff up and then we would go back and forth. It was — he always used the writing process as a thinking process. As he went back and forth through ideas, through drafts and refined ideas, and I don’t recall how many drafts we went through on the inaugural itself, but it was just sort of working it out as we went.

In draft three for example, Nixon scribbled “better angels of our nature” in the margins of a paragraph that dealt with how to cure the crisis of the spirit. 

Price’s draft read:

To a crisis of the spirit, America needs an answer of the spirit.

 To find it we need look not further than ourselves. The elements of that answer are within us, each and everyone. 

In a world of increasing complexity, it’s the simple things we too often lose sight of. Yes these simple things are the enduring things, and the basic things. Simplicity is the essence of truth. Goodness, respect, love, decency — these all are simple things.

Price continued:

The most pressing questions today concern not the creation of wealth, but the use of wealth; not the mysteries of technology; not harnessing the power of nature, but releasing the energies of man.

This requires, not the genius of science, but the recognition of our interdependence. It requires that we stop shouting at one another, and start listening to one another, that we lower our voices, and raise our threshold of mutual respect.

After some re-wroking by Nixon, we hear in the final draft simplified prose:

[Audio from President Nixon’s First Inaugural Address]

Nixon: To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit.

And to find that answer, we need only look within ourselves.

When we listen to the better angels of our nature, we find that they celebrate the simple things, the basic things–such as goodness, decency, love, kindness.

Greatness comes in simple trappings. The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.

To lower our voices would be a simple thing.

In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.

We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another–until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.

One of the most significant moments of the speech isn’t included until the sixth draft. Price writes initially: 

We are privileged today to participate in the beginning of the most exciting period in the history of this nation and the world. Eight years from now America will celebrate its 200th anniversary as a nation. And within the lifetime of most people now living, mankind will celebrate that great new year which comes only once in a thousand years — the beginning of a Third Millennium.

In the final version, Nixon gives this crucial turning point punctuation and abstraction:

  [Audio from President Nixon’s First Inaugural Address]

Nixon: For the first time, because the people of the world want peace, and the leaders of the world are afraid of war, the times are on the side of peace.

Eight years from now America will celebrate its 200th anniversary as a nation. Within the lifetime of most 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 a nation we will be, what kind of a world we will live in, whether we shape the future in the image of our hopes, is ours to determine by our actions and our choices.

Nixon then turns to the key theme of peace in the speech:

[Audio from President Nixon’s First Inaugural Address]

Nixon: The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker. This honor now beckons America — 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 dawn of civilization.

In his notes to the president-elect, Price stressed that Nixon needed to address repairing the American community. He jotted a litany of issues and their corresponding solutions:

Race — becoming one community 

Peace — building a world community

Bring us together — as a community

Government — the framework of community

Lower our Voices—  behave as a community

The antidote was essentially what Leonard Garment wrote an earlier memo: the need for each individual to act, and take part.  

Price wrote in draft three:

We need today to reknit the fabric of community one stitch at a time. Our first need is not a great leap, but an infinity of steps; not a grand design but those small, splendid efforts that make headlines in the neighborhood newspaper than in the national journal.

The story is told of a traveler who came upon three stone cutters at work:

He asked the first: ‘Tell me, what are you doing?’

The man replied: ‘I am cutting a stone.’

He asked the second: ‘And what is it that you are doing?’

The man turned, and answered: ‘I am making a wall.’

Then the traveler put the same equation to third man. 

The third stonecutter rose, and he lifted his hands, and his eyes were bright. He replied: ‘I am building a cathedral.’

By the final draft, Nixon and Price had distilled this concept into effective language: individual Americans, empowered and enlightened through a sense of community, giving an answer of the spirit:

[Audio from President Nixon’s First Inaugural Address]

To match the magnitude of our tasks, we need the energies of our people — enlisted not only in grand enterprises, but more importantly in those small, splendid efforts that make headlines in the neighborhood newspaper instead of the national journal.

With these, we can build a great cathedral of the spirit — each of us raising it one stone at a time, as he reaches out to his neighbor, helping, caring, doing.

[Audio of Raymond K. Price]

Price: I thought there was a wonderful unity about the whole speech. I thought it really was a good one. And it was a time when the country needed to be healed and I think it was a healing speech. It was a forward looking speech, it was a creative speech in terms of new directions, pointing us in, not a belligerent way, but a firm way toward new ways of doing things; domestically and internationally. And one line in it was chosen by his family for his tombstone and that is, ‘The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker.’ 

Thank you for joining us on this special Nixon Now Podcast, “An Answer of the Spirit.”

Please check out the special online exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of President Nixon’s first inaugural at NixonFoundation.org. Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher to stay tuned for future episodes. This is Jonathan Movroydis, signing off.

Sources

Amadeo, Kimberly. “How LBJ’s Presidency Affects You Today,” The Balance, 12 January 2019. 

Amadeo, Kimberly. “U.S. Inflation Rate by Year from 1929 to 2010,” The Balance, 12 January 2019.

Buchanan, Patrick. The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority, PP.
24-27. New York: Crown forum, 2014.

Buchanan, Patrick. “Selected Passages/Inaugural Passages,” Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 7 January 1969. 

Farrell, John A. “The Inside Story of Richard Nixon’s Ugly 30 Year Feud with Earl Warren,” Smithsonian Magazine, 21 March 2017.

“The First Nationally Televised Debate: Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. 26 September 1960. 

Garment, Leonard. Crazy Rhythm: My Journey from Brooklyn, Jazz, and Wall Street to Nixon’s White House. PP. 65-68, 69. New York: Times Books, 1997. 

Garment, Leonard. “The Inaugural,” Richard Nixon Presidential Library, Date Unknown.

Haldeman, H.R. Memorandum to Richard Nixon on Political Campaigning, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 20 June 1967.

Hess, Stephen. Bit Player: My Life with Presidents and Ideas. PP. 66-68. Washington, D.C.: Brooking Institutions Press, 30 October 2018.

Keogh, James. “Notes on the Inaugural,” Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 11 January 1969.

Keyes, Paul. “On Peace: Probing for Inauguration Speech Thoughts,” Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 12 January 1969.

The Kitchen Debate.” Richard Nixon Foundation, 26 July 1959. 

Lintelman, Ryan. “In 1968, When Nixon Said ‘Sock It To Me’ on Laugh-In, TV Was Never Quite the Same Again,” Smithsonian Magazine. 19 January 2018.

New York March Against Vietnam War (1968),” Contemporary Films, 18 February 2015.

Nixon, Richard. “Asia After Vietnam,” Foreign Affairs Magazine, October 1967.

Nixon, Richard. “Inaugural Address,” American Presidency Project, University of California, Santa Barbara, 20 January 1969.

Nixon, Richard. “Inaugural Address,” Richard Nixon Foundation, 20 January 1969.

Nixon, Richard. Memoirs of Richard Nixon, New York: Grosset & Dunlap. 1 May 1978.

Nixon, Richard. “What Has happened to America?The Readers Digest, 1967 October. 

Oral History with Leonard Garment, Part I. Interview by Timothy Naftali and Paul Musgrave, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 6 April 2007. Click here for Transcript:

Oral History with Raymond K. Price, Jr.  Interview by Timothy Naftali, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 4 April 2007. Click here for Transcript.

Peace.” Dictionary of Merriam-Webster.

Peace Prayer of Saint Francis.” Loyola Press

Price, Jr., Raymond K. Inauguration Draft 1, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 3 January 1969.

Price, Jr., Raymond K. Inauguration Draft 2, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 10 January 1969.

Price, Jr., Raymond K. “Memorandum for the President-Elect, Subj: Inaugural,” Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 12 January 1969.

Price, Jr., Raymond K. Inauguration Draft 3, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 12 January 1969.

Price, Jr., Raymond K. Inauguration Draft 4, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 16 January 1969.

Price, Jr., Raymond K. Inauguration Draft 5, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 17 January 1969.

Price, Jr., Raymond K. Inauguration Draft 6A and 6B, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 18 January 1969.

Price, Jr., Raymond K. Inauguration Draft 7, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 18 January 1969.

Price, Jr., Raymond K. With Nixon, PP. 20-28, New York: Viking Press, 1977.

The Quaker Testimony for Peace: Introduction,” Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore College.

“RN’s Copy, Inaugural Address.” Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 20 January 1969.

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. Inaugural Speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library, 20 January 1933.

Safire, William. After the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House, PP. 2-6, New York: Double Day, 1975.

Safire, William. Draft Inaugural Speech, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 2 January 1969.

Safire, William. “The Cold War’s Hot Kitchen,” The New York Times, 23 July 2009.

Sock it to Nixon.” Rowan and Martin’s Laughin, 1968.

Two Nixon Writers. One ‘Thoughtful” And One ‘Tough’ Worked on Speech,” The New York Times, 16 August 1973.

White, Theodore. The Making of a President 1968, PP. 38, 68, New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1969.

Weigel, George. “What Peace Means Today,” National Review, 13 October 2016.

Writing for the 37 President: Pat Buchanan,” Richard Nixon Foundation. 18 April 2011.

Music

“Classical Gas,” Mason Williams (1968)

“Get Back,” The Beatles (1969)

“Gimme Shelter,” By The Rolling Stones (1969)

“Green Onions,” Booker T. & The MG’s (1962)

“Hail to the Chief,” By James Sanderson (1812)

“I’m a Man,” Spencer Davis Group (1966)

“Mad Men Suite,” David Carbonara (2007)

“The Men of Sterling Cooper,” David Carbonara (2007)

Credits

Produced and narrated by Jonathan Movroydis.

Edited by Chris Barber.