Richard Nixon’s legacy is, to say the least, complicated. An awful lot of people see him as the perfect emblem of a particular, toxic strain of American politics—secretive, paranoid, arrogant–and as the one figure most patently responsible for the volatile generational and political rift that defined so much of the mid-1970s in the United States. Others, of course, defend Nixon as a Republican icon who signed into law some of the most significant environmental laws in U.S. history; normalized relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China; and, in their eyes, ended American involvement in the war in Vietnam long before any Democratic president would have, or could have done so.
However one remembers Nixon today, though, the image of him as a relaxed, smiling, comfortable-in-his skin candidate on the campaign trail is probably not one that comes quickly to mind. And yet, here—on the 40th anniversary of the day President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon—LIFE.com shares a photo of the disgraced former president that feels almost . . . sweet. In the picture, LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt adjusts Nixon’s tie while covering the GOP presidential candidate during his 1960 campaign against Sen. John F. Kennedy. (LIFE magazine endorsed Nixon in the election—a fact often forgotten in subsequent years in light of the magazine’s celebratory coverage of JFK, Jackie and the “Camelot” White House.)
Like him or hate him, there’s no denying that in this particular photo, Richard Nixon looks like a pretty happy guy. In light of what was to come—in his own career, and in the fraught decade that had just been born—the unhurried, almost serene mood of the picture feels like the calm before an especially bleak, long-lasting storm.