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Overview (4)

Date of Birth 8 July 1908Bar Harbor, Maine, USA
Date of Death 26 January 1979New York City, New York, USA  (heart attack)
Birth NameNelson Aldrich Rockefeller
Nickname Rocky

Mini Bio (1)

Nelson Rockefeller, the son and grandson of billionaires and a billionaire in his own right when there fewer than a baker's dozen of such creatures, was a major force in national politics for three decades. Rocky bestrode the State of New York like a colossus in the 1960s, serving four terms as governor of the Empire State between 1959 and 1973. Under his helmsman-ship, the size and scope of the state government was vastly expanded, as was the state debt.

Born in Bar Harbor, Maine four days after the Fourth of July in 1908, Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller was the third child and the second son of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. He was named after his maternal grandfather, Rhode Island Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, a political power-broker as the head of the Senate's Finance Committee. Aldrich battled his fellow patrician, President Theodore Roosevelt, over T.R's political reforms. Ironically, Aldrich's grandson would inherit T.R.'s mantle as head of the progressive wing of the Grand Old Party and would be the last progressive Republican to make a serious bid for the G.O.P.'s presidential nomination.

After graduating from Dartmouth College, the young Rockefeller dabbled in his family's oil business, but it was public service and the arts that were his passion. Working for a Venezuelan subsidiary of his family's Standard Oil of New Jersey Co. piqued his interest in Latin America, and he learned Spanish. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, T.R.'s fourth cousin and another member of the New York-American patricianate, created the position of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs in the Office of Inter-American Affairs for young Rocky after he told the president of his concern over Nazi influence in Latin America.

Roosevelt named Rockefeller the Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs, a new position in the State Department, in 1944. He served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Conference on International Organization at San Francisco in 1945 at which the UN was founded. Rockefeller was instrumental in persuading the UN to establish its headquarters in New York City, and his father subsequently donated the land on which the UN building was built.

In late 1945, he resigned from the State Department and went back to private business. Five years later, he was tapped by President Harry S. Truman to serve as chairman of the International Development Advisory Board, which was tasked with developing a plan provide technical assistance to foreign governments. President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower gave Rockefeller the job of studying governmental reorganization, then in 1953, Ike appointed Rocky to serve as Under Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, a new Cabinet-level department. Under Ike, he oversaw the expansion of Social Security, a program that would be targeted by right-wing Republicans after Eisenhower left the White House. In 1955, he was appointed Special Assistant to the President for Foreign Affairs.

In 1958, Rocky was elected governor of New York State and proved immensely popular, creating a presidential buzz. The Republican Rockefeller had his hat in the ring for the GOP Presidential nomination in 1960 (when he bowed out early as the political position of Vice President Richard Nixon proved too impregnable), 1964 and 1968 (when once again, Nixon bested him). His best showing was in 1964, when he lost the nod to Barry Goldwater in a bitter contest.

A proponent of Big Government, Rocky was the head of the progressive wing of the Republican Party, when such a thing still existed, and was despised by hard-core right-wingers like Goldwater. After losing the nomination to him and being booed by Goldwater supporters for 16 straight minutes when he took the stage to deliver a speech at the GOP Convention in San Francisco, Rocky refused to campaign for Goldwater in his match-up with President Lyndon Johnson, a Big Government liberal in the Rocky mold. Rocky was not alone: many moderate and liberal Republicans, including Michigan Governor George Romney, the father of Mitt Romney, eschewed Goldwater, whom the felt was a dangerous reactionary.

Early on, Rocky supported George Romney, the fair haired boy of the GOP circa 1966, for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination. Subsequently, Romney stumbled badly before the New Hampshire primary and withdrew from the race before the first votes were cast (New Hampshire was won by Richard Nixon) when Rockefeller made it known that he was open to being drafted. Norman Mailer reported in '68 that Rockefeller would have been elected President of the United States as he was well-liked by the common people who, at the time, voted Democratic but were angry with the Democratic Party and Lyndon Johnson due to the Vietnam War, inflation, and race riots.

Rocky's own polls showed that he was more likely to beat Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, than was Nixon or Ronald Reagan, then making his first bid for the presidency as the Great White Hope of the Goldwater wing of the G.O.P. However, he was unable to secure his party's nomination, which was roiled then (as it is now) by a hard-core reactionary right. (The Goldwater wing of the party would come back to haunt him eight years later.)

Nixon, who had carefully cultivated G.O.P politicians and the Republican rank-and-file who served as delegates to the convention, won the nomination on the first ballot and eked out a victory over Humphrey that November. Rocky went back to governing New York State and won a fourth term in 1970.

In 1973, Rockefeller resigned as governor of New York three years into his fourth term, but the following year, Gerald Ford tapped him to serve as his Vice President when he assumed the Presidency after the resignation of Richard Nixon. Rockefeller remains only the second man to become vice president without first being elected (Ford being the other), raised to the office by the machinations of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

Ford's nomination of Rockefeller as his Veep was not a popular choice among right-wing Republicans or among liberal Democrats, as his reputation as a progressive had been tarnished by his support of the military-industrial complex and the Vietnam War and by his failure to bring a peaceful conclusion to the 1971 prisoner riot and take-over of Attica State Prison. In the post-Watergate environment, Rockefeller's role as a power broker (Henry Kissinger had been one of his aides) was looked on with suspicion. Rocky along with his brothers, most notably Chase Manhattan Bank CEO David Rockefeller, had long funded think tanks and other organizations that had been instrumental in the creation of the post-WWII, government-academia establishment that had defined the parameters of he Cold War state, including how wars of national liberation were to be resisted and how the welfare state was to be shored up. Some critics accused Rocky of being one of the main architects of a "secret government" that really ruled the United States.

Rockefeller failed to get his finger in the Big Brass Ring of American politics, the presidency, but his nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and on December 19, 1974, he became Vice President of the United States. He would serve two years, one month and one day in the post as his nemesis Barry Goldwater and Ford's nemesis Ronald Reagan vetoed Rocky as Ford's running mate at the 1976 Republican convention, where Reagan nearly upset Ford. For the presidential match-up in November, Ford had Kansas Senator Bob Dole, then considered a rock-rib Republican conservative, foisted upon him, which likely cost him the election. He narrowly lost New York State (and its 41 Electoral College votes) to former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, which gave Carter the presidency.

Ford later admitted it was a mistake to allow Reagan to bully him into kicking Rocky, the avatar of progressive Republicans (now a dead species but once a vibrant part of the Grand Old Party since its founding), off of the ticket. With Rocky on the ticket, the Empire State would likely have swung his way and he would have won a term as president in his own right. Ford remains the only unelected president in U.S. history.

The Rockefeller family's billions had once helped finance the Republican Party and the advancement of the interests of African Americans by endowing the N.A.A.C.P. and institutions of higher learning serving black folk. The Party of Lincoln had been the natural home of African Americans until the Great Depression and F.D.R. started to peel them away from the G.O.P.

L.B.J. and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voters Right Act of 1965 sparked a major realignment of the political parties in America. African Americans in the 1960s were now solidly Democratic and the Solid South, which had once been solidly Democratic, began moving towards the new Republican Party procreated by Goldwater, Reagan and ex-Democrats from the former Confederacy like Strom Thurmond.

The first Republicans voted to Congress since Reconstruction from the Deep South started to appear in the 1960s, starting with John Tower in 1961, who was was elected to the U.S. Senate seat once held by then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson in a special election in 1961. Connecticut transplant George Bush, whose father Prescott Bush was a moderate Republican who represented the Nutmeg State in the U.S. Senate, was elected to the House of Representatives from Texas in 1964, reaping political hay from the backlash against civil rights.

The Republican in the South to make the biggest splash in the 1960s was U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who as the Palmetto State's governor in 1948 broke with Harry Truman over the inclusion of a civil rights plank in the Democratic Party platform (crafted by Hubert H. Humphrey) and ran for president as the head of the "Dixiecrat Party". Thurmond won four Southern states good for 39 votes in the Electoral College. In 1964, he quit the Democratic Party and resigned from the Senate to protest the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which a filibuster by Southern Senators, Democrats all (including Senator Strom, a racist who had fathered a mixed race child with his African American mistress) failed to derail. He subsequently was elected in a special election to his old seat as a Republican.

Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Reagan's political career had been bolstered by his support of Goldwater and his opposition to Fair Housing Laws in the state of California. Reagan rode the backlash against civil rights to the governor's mansion in Sacramento and later to the White House. Under Reagan, who had launched his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the lynching of three civil rights workers in 1964, the spirit of the hated Abraham Lincoln was exorcised from the G.O.P. he helped create, enabling Southerners to embrace the Grand Old Party they previously had despised as a symbol of the Union's defeat of the Confederacy and is championing of equal rights for black folk during the hated Reconstruction period.

Shorn of Lincoln and a commitment to civil rights (in 1990, Republican President George H.W. Bush would become the first president in history to veto a civil rights act), the realignment of the Deep South with the Republican Party that had started in the 1960s quickened. The process that had begun with a Democrat from the South (L.B.J.) in the White House was completed by the mid-1990s, ironically, under another Democratic President from a former Confederate state, Bill Clinton. (The next Democrat in the White House would be an African American, Barack Obama.)

By 1976, the Grand Old Party that the Rockefeller family had financed was dying. Rockefeller's party had supported African American suffrage (Ike pushed the Civil Rights Acts of 1958 and 1960 to increase the number of black voters in the Deep South and L.B.J. as Senate Majority Leader got them passed) and had had an equal rights for women plank in the party platform since 1940. (An echo of Teddy Roosevelt's support for women's suffrage in his renegade 1912 Progressive Party presidential bid, the equal rights plank would be torn out of the party platform by Ronald Reagan in 1980.) In the Bicentennial Year of '76, Rockefeller's G.O.P was waning, and a new party more aligned with Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat Party of 1948 was arising, Phoenix-like from the ashes of Lincoln's G.O.P. In 1976, Nelson Rockefeller was no longer welcome, and by 1980, progressive "Rockefeller Republicans" like U.S. Senator Jacob Javits of New York would begin to fall by he wayside, defeated by the likes of conservative 'Alfonse D'Amato'. By the 1980s, the only Rockefeller in elected office, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia (the son or Rocky's brother John D. Rockefeller III), would be a Democrat.

After a long career in public service, Rocky retired to private life after President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale were sworn into office. He was a noted art collector and a patron of the arts and served as a trustee of New York City's the Museum of Modern Art, which was founded by his mother, from 1932 to 1979.

Nelson Rockefeller died of a heart attack in New York City on January 26, 1979. He was 70 years old.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (2)

Margaretta Fitler Murphy (4 May 1963 - 26 January 1979) (his death) (2 children)
Mary Todhunter Clark (23 June 1930 - 16 March 1962) (divorced) (5 children)

Trivia (10)

Governor of New York (1959-1973).
U.S. vice president (1974-1977).
Governor of New York (1959-1973). U.S. vice president (1974-1977).
Cousin of Robert Aldrich .
Suffered from dyslexia.
Per his wishes, his body was cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. His ashes were scattered at the Rockefeller Estate in nearby Tarrytown, New York. He is the only former U.S. Vice President not to have a final resting place in a cemetery.
Has the distinction of being only one of two U.S. Vice Presidents who were appointed as Vice President under the terms of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The only other Vice President who was appointed under these circumstances was Gerald Ford, who not only was Rockefeller's predecessor as Vice President, but also the Chief Executive that Rockefeller served under as Vice President.
Upon his death, his remains were interred at Rockefeller Family Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, Westchester County, New York.

Personal Quotes (2)

I never liked being number two.
A secret ballot in America is the most sacred heritage which we have and that I have stood by. Even my wife doesn't know how I voted.

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