Newly discovered 1959 letter: Nixon feared American racism would drive world into the arms of the Russians
The history of United States’ relationship with the Russians has been marked by a delicate balancing act between internal political ramifications and external international relations goals.
In the last hundred years, the US and the Russians fought two world wars as allies and waged a long Cold War as adversaries. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, there was a Red Scare domestically and a second Red Scare following the end of World War II.
A newly surfaced letter from Richard Nixon was written against such a backdrop. The 1959 letter was written on official Office of the Vice President stationary and was addressed to Mrs. M. S. Richardson in La Grange, North Carolina on the subject of school integration.
In the letter, Nixon made the case that domestic American racism could help the Russians win the Cold War.
“I am deeply concerned with the impact of racial division in terms of world power,” Nixon wrote. “Most of the people of the world belong to the colored races. They deeply resent any slurs based on race.”
“If we of the United States are considered racists, then we may lose to the Communist camp hundreds of millions of potential friends and allies,” Nixon explained. “That would leave us disastrously isolated in a hostile world.”
The letter will be auctioned off on Tuesday, May 9 by Alexander Historical Auctions. The auction house estimates a sale of $4,000 between $5,000.
At the time, Nixon also focused on his moral opposition to racism.
“Praise or blame, acceptance or rejection, should be personal matters based on individual achievement and not the accident of color or birth,” he wrote. “I could not accept Hitler’s idea of a master race. I cannot accept the equally false principle of an inferior race.”
Between his unsuccessful 1960 presidential campaign and his successful 1968 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon famously embraced the “Southern Strategy” of exploiting racial divisions for reasons of political expediency.
Last year, the New Republic published a piece explaining how decades of Republicans embracing a Southern Strategy led to Donald Trump’s domination of GOP primaries.
“Goldwater’s Southern Strategy, inspired by National Review, set a pattern for the next half-century—and more. The party had changed so much in 1964 that even Nixon, who had been liberal on civil rights before the Goldwater takeover, adopted the Southern Strategy in 1968 and 1972, “the New Republic contextualized. “Dixie would be the new heartland for the Republican Party, which would stoke white resentment over African-American advances.”
Since Nixon’s 1968 campaign, Sourthern racism has been integral to conservative political ideology.
Notorious Republican campaign consultant Lee Atwater famously explained the dog whistle politics that defined the 1968 campaign.
” You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*gger, n*gger, n*gger.” By 1968 you can’t say “n*gger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract,” Atwater told Alexander Lamis, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University. “Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*gger, n*gger.””
Nixon’s shift on racism, from moral opposition to political expediency, foretold the trend we have witnessed in the last year as Republican moral opposition to the Russians has shifted to a position of political opportunism.
Nixon’s 1959 letter is a powerful data point in the story of how the Republican Party has reacted to both racism and the Russians.