Richard Milhous Nixon first saw the light of day fifty-six years ago in a California home in which Quaker parents frowned on anything having the marks of violence. They believed also in the biblical admonition, “Be still and know that I am God.” In his inaugural address as President of the United States, he picked up these two themes.

The speech put priority on “peace.” And it is time, he said, for the nation’s malcontents to lower their voices “until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”

Nixon only alluded to a few tangibles—housing, education, better cities, full employment. The crisis for the nation, he said, does not primarily lie in these. “We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but falling into raucous discord on earth.” The challenge is a “crisis of the spirit.” The remedy: “an answer of the spirit … and to find that answer, we need only look within ourselves.”

The inauguration was covered with religious trappings. Quipped Religious News Service’s Elliott Wright: “That was one of the finest church services I ever witnessed. Billy Graham prayed, Terry Cooke pronounced the benediction, and Dick Nixon preached the sermon. Certainly, that message had the preacher’s art to it.”

Nixon “preached” his message before the biggest congregation ever, using as his text: “The times are on the side of peace.”

When his former political foe Chief Justice Earl Warren administered the oath, Nixon placed his hand on two open family Bibles held by the new First Lady. They were opened to Isaiah 2:4, the millennial promise that there will be no more war. Nixon’s swearing-in probably had more of a religious tone than any other since ...

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