Nixon, John William (1877–1949), policeman and politician, was born 1 June 1877 in Graddum, Co. Cavan, into a methodist family; other family details are unknown. He joined the RIC in 1899, served in Belfast, Donegal, Antrim, Mayo, Fermanagh, and Dublin, and on 11 August 1917 became the youngest district inspector to have risen from the ranks. For his activities during the war of independence he won three commendations for exceptional zeal, perseverance, and ability in the performance of duty. An ultra-loyalist, he refused to work in the south after partition and was stationed in Brown Square in the Shankill area, Belfast, transferring to the RUC after its formation in April 1922. That summer he was passed over for promotion; he circulated an aggrieved letter, claiming that the Sinn Féiners were laughing at him for being left out after all his exertions against them. The NI minister of home affairs, Richard Dawson Bates (qv), wanted to take immediate disciplinary action against Nixon, who was blatantly sectarian and was widely suspected of being at the centre of an assassination gang operating from within the crown forces and carrying out reprisals on catholics for the murder of RIC members. A dossier prepared by the Free State Department of Defence (February 1924) described him as a religious fanatic, linked him with the murder of Owen McMahon and his sons on 24 March 1922, and named him as leader of the gang who murdered four men and a child in Arnon St., Belfast, on 1 April 1922. However he enjoyed strong support within the RUC – when he failed to get his promotion, numerous Orange lodges sent in formal protests, threatening to take the matter further. Bates backed down, and in the king's birthday honours the following summer Nixon was awarded an MBE on the recommendation of the Unionist chief whip, Capt. Herbert Dixon (qv), and the lodges were appeased.
That October he was appointed the first worshipful master of the force's new Sir Robert Peel Lodge. In this capacity he made an inflammatory speech at the lodge's annual meeting on 3 January 1924. This was the first open identification of the police force with the Orange Order and was widely reported in the Dublin papers. On 17 January the RUC's inspector general, Charles Wickham (qv), issued an internal order to all members forbidding them from making political speeches. Disregarding this warning, Nixon made a highly provocative speech to his lodge two weeks later, in which he said that the Free State expected to get a big slice of Ulster but that protestants would give ‘not an inch’. He prided himself on being the originator of this phrase, which became part of unionist political vocabulary. He was suspended from the RUC, and a court of inquiry was convened for 14 February. The night before the court hearing, a crowd of 10,000, complete with bands, rallied in his support outside the city hall. The next day the court could not proceed because journalists who had reported the speech now refused to give evidence. Nixon was dismissed on full pay on 29 February and was not reinstated, despite threats by Orange lodges to campaign against the government at future elections. The case had aroused too much British interest to allow the Stormont government to act otherwise; the colonial secretary, J. H. Thomas, congratulated them on the dismissal.
Nixon was elected to the position of alderman for Court ward on the Belfast corporation in August 1924; the following April he stood as official Unionist candidate for Belfast North, but was not elected. Standing as an independent unionist for Woodvale in 1929, he was elected easily and held the seat until his death in 1949. He did not represent a significant threat to the government as he preferred to attack the opposition: the nationalists and the sole Labour MP, Jack Beattie (qv), who was warned by Nixon that ‘the blackshirts would have to clear him out’ (Barton, 108). From September 1932 to November 1933, when the nationalists, Labour, and the one other independent practiced absenteeism in protest at the government's handling of the depression, Nixon was left as the Unionists’ sole opposition, and posed no threat, though he remained a thorn in Dawson Bates's side, accusing him of placating Ulster's enemies. He was founder in 1931 of the Ulster Protestant League, whose object was to safeguard protestant jobs, and was also connected with the Ulster Protestant Association, which included a hard core of loyalist gunmen who carried out assassinations on catholics during the mid 1930s. Until the end of his life, fearful that the IRA would catch up with him, Nixon carried a revolver in the glove compartment of his car.
He died 11 May 1949 at home in Woodvale House, Ballygomartin Road, Belfast. He married first (5 June 1920) Nellie Dunbar Moore, and secondly Kathleen (maiden name unknown), who survived him, as did a son and daughter. During his lifetime Nixon won two major libel actions: £1,000 from the Derry Journal and £1,250 from the London publishers Methuen for alleging that he was involved in reprisal killings, including the MacMahon murders. He remains a notorious figure and his MBE a continued source of embarrassment, but his reputation has been neither conclusively proved nor vindicated. Historians have found the government record incomplete.