Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Nelson A. Rockefeller

Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller was the third of six children of John D. Rockefeller and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; he was born on July 8, 1908, in Bar Harbor, Maine. He attended the Lincoln School, a division of the Teachers College of Columbia University. In 1930, he graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College, with a B.A. in economics. A few days after graduating, he married Mary Todhunter Clark, a marriage that produced five children and a divorce in 1962. The next year, Rockefeller was remarried to Margaretta "Happy" Murphy, with whom he had two sons.

In 1940, Rockefeller was appointed as head of a new agency for Latin American affairs. He would stay in Washington for the next five years. He returned to Washington from 1953 to 1955, working on foreign affairs, government reorganization, and public policy under President Dwight Eisenhower.

In 1958, Rockefeller was elected Governor of New York and was re-elected three times. As governor, he instated a dramatic growth in state services in the areas of transportation, health and welfare, education, environmental protection, and housing. During his tenure, there were substantial tax increases, and the state operated on a pay-as-you-go basis with a balanced budget.

Rockefeller denied interest in running for President in 1960. However, he made it clear that if a nomination was made, he would accept it. Despite his initial rejection of running for President, Rockefeller aspired to run in 1964 but his recent divorce and remarriage caused his public popularity to decline, and he lost the Republican nomination to Senator Barry Goldwater. In 1968, Rockefeller was considered a likely choice for the Republican nomination. However, indecision in his campaign caused him to lose an early foothold, and Richard Nixon won the nomination. The 1968 campaign brought an end to Rockefellerâ?‚?™s quest for the presidency.

In 1973, Rockefeller resigned from the governorship and devoted himself to the Commission on Critical Choices for America, which he organized in order to develop national policy alternatives. He returned to the national scene in 1974 when President Gerald Ford nominated him as vice president. After lengthy confirmation hearings, which centered almost exclusively on Rockefeller's sizeable fortune, Congress approved the nomination, and he was sworn in on December 19, 1974.

As vice president, he served Ford loyally. He was appointed to head the domestic council and to be chairman of the President's commission on the Central Intelligence Agency ("The Rockefeller Commission"). In the latter role, Rockefeller proved to be a foil to the congressional committees investigating the same abuses, arguing that while what was found was serious, they were not violations of the law. The report issued by the committee ultimately mirrored that of its congressional counterparts, charging the CIA with a myriad of domestic and foreign abuses of power.

An outspoken moderate Republican, Rockefeller was anathema to conservatives, who pushed for his removal on the ticket in 1976. Ford finally succumbed to the pressure, asking Rockefeller to step down in favor of Senator Robert Dole of Kansas. Ever the loyalist, Rockefeller not only stepped down, but campaigned for the ticket.

Rockefeller retired back to New York to pursue interests in private business, the arts, and politics. On January 26, 1979, Rockefeller died after suffering a heart attack while working at his office in mid-town Manhattan.

Shannon Torgersen contributed to the writing of this entry.