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Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (July 8, 1908 – January 26, 1979) was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1977, as well as serving the Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations in a variety of positions. A member of the Rockefeller family, he was also a noted businessman, art collector, and philanthropist.
Rockefeller, a Republican, was relatively liberal and his views were generally closer to those of the opposing Democratic Party. In his time, moderates in Republican Party were called "Rockefeller Republicans".1964 and 1968 Presidential Campaigns
Rockefeller sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1960, 1964, and 1968. His bid in 1960 was ended early when then-Vice President Richard Nixon surged ahead in the polls. After quitting the campaign, Rockefeller backed Nixon, and concentrated his efforts on introducing more moderate planks into Nixon's platform.
Rockefeller, favored by moderate and liberal Republicans, was considered the front-runner for the 1964 campaign against conservative Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who led the right wing of the Republican Party. In 1963, a year after Rockefeller's divorce from his first wife, he married Margaretta "Happy" Murphy, a divorcee with four children. This turned many in the party off, especially women. The divorce hurt Rockefeller's standing among voters and was widely condemned by politicians, including US Senator Prescott Bush (R-Connecticut), father of President George H.W. Bush and grandfather of President George W. Bush who spoke out condemning Rockefeller for his infidelity, divorce, and remarriage. Rockefeller finished third in the New Hampshire primary in March, behind write-in Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (from neighboring Massachusetts) and Goldwater. He then endured poor showings in several primaries, before winning an upset in the Oregon primary in May. The birth of Rockefeller's child during the California= campaign put the divorce and remarriage issue back in the headlines. After a furious contest, Rockefeller narrowly lost the California primary in early June and dropped out of the race. However, at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco in July, Rockefeller was given five minutes to speak before the convention in defense of five amendments to the party platform put forth by the moderate wing of the Republican Party to counter the Goldwater plank. Right wing delegates booed and heckled Rockefeller for 16 minutes while he stood firmly at the podium insisting on his right to speak. Rockefeller refused to support Goldwater in the general election.
1968 Presidential Election
Rockefeller again sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1968. His main opponent was Governor Ronald Reagan of California. In the contest, Rockefeller again represented the liberals in the GOP with Reagan representing the conservatives. Rockefeller announced his candidacy early, armed with public opinion polls that showed him doing better among voters than Reagan against Democrat Hubert Humphrey. Rockefeller’s campaign was able to effectively portray Reagan as a Goldwater-style Republican whose views were too extreme for most Americans. Rockefeller went on to win the nomination, and named Governor James A. Rhodes of Ohio, a “favorite son” candidate who controlled the Ohio delegation, as his running mate. On November 5, Rockefeller narrowly defeated Vice President Humphrey.
First Term, 1969-1973
One of the main priorities for the Rockefeller administration was the ongoing war in Vietnam. Amid growing protests and demands for an immediate pullout, Rockefeller implemented a strategy known as “Vietnamization,” which involved gradually replacing American troops with South Vietnamese ones. This process was rapidly accelerated in 1971 following the publication of the “Pentagon Papers” in the New York Times and Washington Post. Conscription was also ended that year, and the Paris Peace Accords were finally signed in December of that year.
Russia and China
Rockefeller favored détente with the Soviet Union and improving relations with the People’s Republic of China. Upon the advice of Henry Kissinger, Rockefeller began initiating a series of high-level talks with China early in 1971, with the promise of a visit to the country by Rockefeller himself before his first term ended, which would make him the first American president to visit Communist China. Although the visit actually did not take place until January of 1973, it laid the groundwork for a new anti-Soviet Sino-American strategic alliance. In 1974, he made his first visit as President to Russia.
Vice President Rhodes comments controversy
On Sunday, May 3, the day before the Kent State shootings, Vice President Rhodes said of campus protesters:
“They’re worse than the Brownshirts, and the Communist element, and also the Night Riders, and the vigilantes. They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America.”
The comments prompted calls for Rhodes’ resignation, which Rockefeller refused, although Rhodes did issue an apology in the wake of the shootings.
The environment was a major issue for the Rockefeller administration. President Rockefeller authorized the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. With inflation rising in 1971, Rockefeller ended the conversion of U.S. currency to gold but resisted calls for wage and price controls. In 1972, he signed the Clean Water Act into law, angering some fiscal conservatives who argued against the cost. A major domestic initiative, a health care bill which provided for federally run universal health insurance for low-income families which was supported by Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, was also supported by Rockefeller but failed to pass in the Senate, and led to conservative charges that Rockefeller was a “New Deal Republican.”
Second Term, 1973-197
President Rockefeller defeated Democratic nominee Edmund Muskie in the 1972 Presidential election, largely on the success of his foreign policy initiatives and the end of the Vietnam conflict.
Agnew Resignation and FBI Wiretapping Scandal
In 1972, it was revealed that the FBI had illegally wiretapped the offices of the Democratic Party’s national campaign headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. The ensuing scandal resulted in the resignation of the director of the FBI. In 1973, U.S. Attorney General Spiro Agnew resigned over charges of income tax evasion.
The economy was the main focus of the last two years of Rockefeller’s presidency. To that end, he supported a five per cent income tax increase on corporations and wealthy individuals. He also opposed tax reductions that came without spending cuts and a Federal bailout for New York City when Mayor Abraham Beame attempted to obtain Rockefeller’s support for federal funds.
The Middle East and Turkish Crisis
In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, prompting a major crisis that placed incredible strain on the NATO alliance. In response, Rockefeller agreed to a halt on military aid to Turkey, an act which led to a disruption in U.S.-Turkish relations until 1978. He also agreed to $2.59 billion in aid for Israel.
As South Vietnam fell to advancing North Vietnamese forces in 1975, the Rockefeller administration oversaw the evacuation of U.S. citizens, Vietnamese, and third country nationals from Saigon. Although Congress approved an aid package that was half of what Rockefeller originally requested, the money eventually went to the Indochina Migration and Refugee Act of 1975.
President Rockefeller faced three assassination attempts during his presidency. The first occurred in Sacramento, California, as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a member of Charles Manson’s cult, pointed a .45 caliber handgun at Rockefeller. The second was at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, as Sarah Jane Moore pointed her .38 caliber revolver at him. The third and final attempt was by white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin on September 6, 1976, during a campaign stop in Madison, Wisconsin.
Post-Presidency and Death
Under the American Constitution, President Rockefeller was prohibited from running for a third term. He supported the Republican nominee in the 1976 Presidential election, Vice President Rhodes. A lifelong patron of the arts, Rockefeller co-founded Rockefeller Publications, Incorporated, with the goal of publishing fine art books of high quality.
Rockefeller died on January 26, 1979, at age 70 of a heart attack.