One of the most famous Quakers ever is also one of the most controversial. So was Richard Nixon really a Quaker? Author and Quaker historian Larry Ingle tackles the question.
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- Larry Ingle says, “the question of the testimony of integrity undercuts and destroys any enemies list.” What do you think he means? Do you agree?
- While Richard Nixon maintained his membership at his home meeting, he did not continue to attend, and yet he still claimed to be a Quaker. What is your definition of Quaker? What qualifies someone to call themselves that?
Formally, Richard Nixon was a Quaker. He was member of East Whittier Friends Church, and he had Quaker heritage from his Milhous ancestors, represented, for him, by his mother. The other things—whether he’s a pacifist or not, whether he lives by the testimonies or not—are really not important, in his view of things, apparently. At least if you look at his memoir, in which he devotes three paragraphs out of, what, a 670 page book. Three paragraphs to his religion! That’s all he needs to say. That’s all he says.
Was Richard Nixon a Quaker?
My name’s Larry Ingle. I live in Chattanooga, and I go to Chattanooga Meeting. I wrote a biography of George Fox, called First Among Friends, the first scholarly biography of Fox in ’94. And soon after that, I began work on studying Nixon and his religion, and that produced a book published by the University of Missouri Press last June. It’s entitled Nixon’s First Cover-Up: The Religious Life of a Quaker President.
Who Was Richard Nixon?
Richard Nixon was the 37th president of the United States. He liked to keep a list of the first things he did. The first time any president had ever done “x,” he would note that. I don’t know that he noted that he was the first president ever to resign, but he was.
Was Richard Nixon a Quaker?
If Nixon had been sitting here, and you asked him the question, he would say, “I’m a Quaker because of the Quaker heritage of my mother.” Who was Hannah Milhous. She came to California, to Southern California, from Indiana, and they had a long Quaker heritage going back to the 17th century. He didn’t attend, he never attended after his mother died in ’67. He lived until 1994, so that’s, what, 28 years or so? A third of his life he didn’t attend.
How Politicians Use Religion
Donald Trump simply announced, a few weeks ago, two months ago or so, that he was a Presbyterian. I heard a report last weekend that that probably is not true, although I don’t know that. He certainly proclaims to be a Presbyterian. Well, Richard Nixon was much the same way. He didn’t make a big thing of his religion. He was a Quaker, and that was it; he didn’t talk about anymore. It seems to me that they are treating religion very much the same way, which is to say, as a vehicle for their political aspirations. I think that Richard Nixon saw that the popular appeal of a certain variety of Quakers would redound to his political advantage. He did this because those actions in support of the underground, in resisting the war, and supporting slaves, that those positions would redound in 1959 and 1960 to his benefit. They would remind people that Quakers were people who opposed slavery, who not only opposed it but aided slaves to escape.
The Testimony of Integrity and Nixon’s Enemies List
Quakers have no creed. You can’t go anywhere and say Quakers believe this. Therefore Quakers have developed “testimonies.” The most basic of these testimonies is the testimony of integrity, because that testimony assumes that we will do and be what we say we are. After looking at Richard Nixon’s life, and studying as many memoirs, as many recollections as you can find that have been kept and produced, the one that I have found most valuable talked about Richard Nixon setting up in the White House an “Us versus Them” category. That we’re different from everybody else. We’re doing what’s right. Everybody else is doing what’s wrong. That’s the basis of the enemies list, a list of enemies of the administration. For me, the testimony of integrity undercuts and destroys any enemies list. Everyone is a human being to be respected. Quakers insist that there’s something invisible in human beings that we call “that of God” in people. Nixon seldom saw that of God in everyone.
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The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.