Nelson Rockefeller


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(b. Bar Harbor, Maine, 8 July 1908; d. New York City, 26 Jan. 1979)

US; Vice-President 1974–7 The grandson of J. D. Rockefeller (the founder of the family fortune in oil), Nelson's grandfather and father were both prominent Republicans. He served as Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs from 1944 and for a year under President Eisenhower. He was then elected Governor of New York State in 1958, winning election to that post four times in all. The 1958 election victory was significant because the Republicans did badly nationally. On the liberal wing of the party, he favoured advanced social programmes and civil rights for blacks, and sought to appeal to voters beyond the party. In 1960 he ran against Vice-President Nixon, for the Republican presidential nomination, but lost. He was unhappy with Nixon's proposed platform and managed to reshape it. He was offered and turned down the vice-presidential slot. In 1964 he fought and lost a bitter campaign against the right-wing Barry Goldwater for the party's nomination. Republican right-wingers detested him and his campaign was handicapped by his involvement in a messy divorce. In the presidential election he refused to campaign for Goldwater, the Republican candidate. He tried and failed again for the nomination in 1968.

As Governor of New York, he was criticized as the state encountered growing financial problems and for his handling of the prison riots in Attica in 1971 in which a number of people died. In 1974 President Gerald Ford appointed him Vice-President, in spite of strong lobbying by George Bush for the post. But Ford came under growing right-wing criticism for the appointment and Ronald Reagan posed a serious threat to his renomination. Rockefeller was seen as a political liability and he eased Ford's problem by announcing that he would not be a candidate for the vice-presidency in the 1976 presidential election. His contacts and wealth enabled him to tap the expertise of a wide range of policy-makers. In his career he tried to combine private enterprise initiatives with a social conscience.

Subjects: Politics — Arts and Humanities.

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