Biography for Nelson A. Rockefeller
Despite an enviable record of public service (that included four terms as governor of New York and two years as vice president) and the Rockefeller family fortune (the combined total of which exceeds that of the wealth of many nations), Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller never achieved what he most desired—the Republican nomination for president. Rockefeller was born on July 8, 1908 in Bar Harbor, Maine on the birthday of the then richest man in the world, his grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, who had built the Standard Oil Company into one of the world's greatest corporations. He was named after his maternal grandfather, Nelson Aldrich, a powerful U.S. senator and unabashed champion of big business in government. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1930, Rockefeller invested in a Standard Oil subsidiary in Venezuela. Although it was a relatively small investment by Rockefeller standards, he quickly became so knowledgeable about Latin American problems that in 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him coordinator of inter-American affairs. Four years later, he became assistant secretary of state for American republic affairs but was dismissed in 1945 by President Harry Truman. In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Rockefeller to serve on a presidential advisory committee on government organization that recommended, among other reforms, the creation of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Rockefeller was appointed the first under secretary of the new department. A year later, he became special assistant to the president for foreign affairs, but he grew so frustrated by his inability to influence Eisenhower that he resigned in December 1955 and returned to New York to run for elective office. He confided to a friend that he had learned a lesson from his years in Washington: appointive office would never satisfy him because "you can't have a real voice in your party until you've proved you know how to get the votes." In 1958, Rockefeller won the first of four consecutive terms as governor of New York. Ambitious and driven to make a large-enough impact in New York to win the presidency, Rockefeller assumed the responsibility for raising taxes to fund a wide array of new state services in education, transportation, health, welfare, housing, and environmental protection. At this time, Rockefeller represented the epitome of the Eastern Republican Establishment, which had come to support a great many of the domestic changes created by the New Deal and in foreign policy was decidedly internationalist in outlook. Rockefeller tried, after losing the 1960 Republican presidential nomination to Richard Nixon, to develop a more conservative image. After his landslide reelection victory in 1962, he was the leading contender for the 1964 Republican nomination. He might have won the nomination then except for his unfavorably perceived decision to divorce his wife of more than 30 years to marry a woman 18 years younger and a shift in control within the Republican Party away from the liberal Eastern Establishment to the more conservative, anticommunist, and unilateralist elites of the Southwest and West. Conservative senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona was nominated instead. Rockefeller halfheartedly made one last try to win the presidential nomination in 1968, but he entered the race too late to overcome Nixon's lead. In December 1973, Rockefeller resigned from the governorship. He planned to concentrate his energy on developing the Commission on Critical Choices for America, which he had organized. However, following the forced resignation of President Nixon due to the Watergate scandal, Vice President Gerald Ford became president and nominated Rockefeller to be his vice president. After undergoing close public scrutiny by Congress into his vast private wealth, Rockefeller became vice president on December 19, 1974. In spite of the fact that President Ford designated him to lead several important committees, the vice presidency was a disappointment to Rockefeller. He was unable to win the support of conservative Republicans and was perceived as such a liability to Ford's election chances in 1976 that he withdrew from consideration to be Ford's running mate. He returned to New York after leaving Washington in 1976 and concentrated on developing his art collection until his death on January 26, 1979.