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The Nixon Administration and Watergate

Nixon Resignation

Project: Nixon, Ford, and Watergate
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Barry Goldwater.Barry Goldwater. [Source: Blogger (.com)]Three senior Republican congressmen—Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), Hugh Scott (R-PA), and John Rhodes (R-AZ)—meet with President Nixon, and tell him that his chances of avoiding impeachment are “gloomy.” Pressure is mounting both in the press and among the citizenry for Nixon to resign. [Dean, 2006, pp. xxxi; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Hugh Scott, US Congress, Richard M. Nixon, Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes

Category Tags: Nixon Impeachment, Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

As President Nixon is resigning his office (see August 8, 1974), Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski receives a memo from his staff recommending Nixon be prosecuted. The memo, from Carl Feldbaum and Peter Kreindler, says: “[T]here is clear evidence that Richard M. Nixon participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice by concealing the identity of those responsible for the Watergate break-in and other criminal offenses.… Mr. Nixon should be indicted and prosecuted.” They summarize the arguments against prosecution: Nixon has been punished enough by being forced to resign, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach him (see July 27, 1974, July 29, 1974, and July 30, 1974), prosecuting Nixon might “aggravate political divisions in the country,” “the times call for conciliation rather than recrimination,” and a fair trial for Nixon would be difficult “because of massive pre-trial publicity.” Those arguments are outweighed by those favoring indictment and prosecution: the “principle of equal justice under law requires that every person, no matter what his past position or office, answer to the criminal justice system for his past offenses,” especially if Nixon’s “aides and associates, who acted upon his orders and what they conceived to be his interests, are to be prosecuted for the same offenses.” Not prosecuting Nixon would further divide the country, the memo asserts, and would threaten “the integrity of the criminal justice system and the legislative process, which together marshalled the substantial evidence of Mr. Nixon’s guilt.” The Constitution provides that anyone removed from office by impeachment should be tried in a court of law. Nixon’s resignation is not “sufficient retribution for [his] criminal offenses… [a] person should not be permitted to trade in the abused office in return for immunity.” And finally, to allow the argument of massive pre-trial publicity to obviate the ability to indict and prosecute Nixon “effectively would immunize all future presidents for their actions, however criminal. Moreover, the courts may be the appropriate forum to resolve questions of pre-trial publicity in the context of an adversary proceeding.” [Leon Jaworski, 1982]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Carl Feldbaum, Peter Kreindler, Leon Jaworski, Richard M. Nixon

Category Tags: Watergate Prosecutions, Nixon Impeachment, Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

August 8, 1974: Nixon Resigns Presidency

Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the country.Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the country. [Source: American Rhetoric.com]President Richard Nixon, forced to resign because of the Watergate scandal, begins his last day in office. The morning is marked by “burn sessions” in several rooms of the White House, where aides burn what author Barry Werth calls “potentially troublesome documents” in fireplaces. Nixon’s chief of staff, Alexander Haig, is preparing for the transition in his office, which is overflowing with plastic bags full of shredded documents. Haig says all of the documents are duplicates. Haig presents Nixon with a one-line letter of resignation—“I hereby resign the office of president of the United States”—and Nixon signs it without comment. Haig later describes Nixon as “haggard and ashen,” and recalls, “Nothing of a personal nature was said… By now, there was not much that could be said that we did not already understand.” Nixon gives his resignation speech at 9 p.m. [White House, 8/8/1974; White House, 8/8/1974; American Rhetoric, 2001; Werth, 2006, pp. 3-8] On August 7, Haig told Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski that Congress would certainly pass a resolution halting any legal actions against Nixon. But, watching Nixon’s televised resignation speech, Jaworski thinks, “Not after that speech, Al.” Nixon refuses to accept any responsibility for any of the myriad crimes and illicit actions surrounding Watergate, and merely admits to some “wrong” judgments. Without some expression of remorse and acceptance of responsibility, Jaworski doubts that Congress will do anything to halt any criminal actions against Nixon. [Werth, 2006, pp. 30-31] Instead of accepting responsibility, Nixon tells the nation that he must resign because he no longer has enough support in Congress to remain in office. To leave office before the end of his term “is abhorrent to every instinct in my body,” he says, but “as president, I must put the interests of America first.” Jaworski makes a statement after the resignation speech, declaring that “there has been no agreement or understanding of any sort between the president or his representatives and the special prosecutor relating in any way to the president’s resignation.” Jaworski says that his office “was not asked for any such agreement or understanding and offered none.” [Washington Post, 8/9/1974]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Leon Jaworski, Richard M. Nixon, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Barry Werth

Category Tags: Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

On his final working day in office, President Nixon instructs the National Archives to keep his presidential papers sealed until January 1, 1985. Nixon has already bestowed a great number of papers, documents, and other materials to the Archives (and taken a controversial $432,000 tax deduction for the gift), but before today they had been slated to be released to public view at the end of his presidency—effectively August 10, 1974. Author James Reston Jr. will write, somewhat sardonically: “What presence of mind! Here was a president about to resign in disgrace and humiliation, who was cool enough to concern himself with frustrating the work of historians who would want to analyze him.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 61-62]

Entity Tags: James Reston, Jr, Richard M. Nixon, National Archives and Records Administration

Category Tags: Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days, Allegations of White House Cover-up

Law professor and House candidate Bill Clinton.Law professor and House candidate Bill Clinton. [Source: About (.com)]Bill Clinton, a University of Arkansas law professor and candidate for the House of Representatives, says his opponent, John Paul Hammerschmidt (R-AR), is wrong in opposing President Nixon’s resignation, and is wrong to question whether Nixon committed impeachable offenses. Hammerschmidt now says the House should begin digging into Nixon’s alleged crimes, but Clinton retorts, “I don’t see how in the world he can say that when a year ago he was saying we should forget about it and he voted against giving funds for the House Judiciary Committee staff.” Clinton says: “I think it’s plain that the president should resign and spare the country the agony of this impeachment and removal proceeding. I think the country could be spared a lot of agony and the government could worry about inflation and a lot of other problems if he’d go on and resign.” There is “no question that an admission of making false statements to government officials and interfering with the FBI and the CIA is an impeachable offense,” Clinton says. [Arkansas Gazette, 8/8/1974]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Central Intelligence Agency, John Paul Hammerschmidt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard M. Nixon, House Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Nixon Impeachment, Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

Washington Post headline from August 7, 1974: ‘Nixon Says He Won’t Resign.’Washington Post headline from August 7, 1974: ‘Nixon Says He Won’t Resign.’ [Source: Washington Post]President Nixon’s speechwriter, Ray Price, writes a speech for Nixon to use in case the president chooses to stay and fight the Watergate allegations rather than resign. According to Price, who will allow the New York Times to publish the speech in 1996, Nixon is never shown this particular speech. Price’s speech acknowledges that the House Judiciary Committee has prepared articles of impeachment against Nixon (see July 27, 1974, July 29, 1974, and July 30, 1974), and that the matter will almost certainly go to the Senate for a trial. The speech has Nixon acknowledging the “smoking gun” tape of June 23, 1972 and released on August 5, 1974 (see June 23, 1972) as a conversation that could “be widely interpreted as evidence that I was involved from the outset in efforts at cover-up.” He should have made the tape available much sooner, the speech acknowledges, and excuses the lapse by saying he “did not focus on it thoroughly…” His failure to release the tape was “a serious mistake.” According to the speech, Nixon would say that he “seriously considered resigning,” but to do so “would leave unresolved the questions that have already cost the country so much in anguish, division and uncertainty. More important, it would leave a permanent crack in our Constitutional structure: it would establish the principle that under pressure, a president could be removed from office by means short of those provided by the Constitution. By establishing that principle, it would invite such pressures on every future president who might, for whatever reason, fall into a period of unpopularity.… I firmly believe that I have not committed any act of commission or omission that justifies removing a duly elected president from office. If I did believe that I had committed such an act, I would have resigned long ago…” In the long run, the benefits of Nixon staying and fighting “will be a more stable government,” avoiding “the descent toward chaos if presidents could be removed short of impeachment and trial.” America must not become like so many other countries, where “governmental instability has reached almost epidemic proportions…” For Nixon to resign could result in the destruction of the US government as it now stands, or almost as bad, would allow the government to “fall such easy prey to those who would exult in the breaking of the president that the game becomes a national habit.” [Cannon, 1994, pp. 309; New York Times, 12/22/1996; PBS, 1/2/1997; National Archives and Records Administration, 3/24/1999]

Entity Tags: Ray Price, House Judiciary Committee, Richard M. Nixon, New York Times

Category Tags: Nixon Impeachment, Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

Jerald terHorst.Jerald terHorst. [Source: Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images]A host of tips, leaks, rumors, and wild speculations swirl around President Nixon’s resignation from the presidency and upcoming departure from the White House (see August 8, 1974). Nixon has pardoned himself and all of his aides before resigning, one rumor goes. Nixon has already sneaked out all of his secret tapes of White House conversations to his private residence in San Clemente, California, claims another rumor. Another one, more worrying, has Defense Secretary James Schlesinger informing military commanders not to take orders from the West Wing in case a drunken, suicidally paranoid Nixon refused to leave or ordered a nuclear strike. Vice President Ford’s press secretary, Jerald terHorst, assures reporters that none of the rumors are true. The press listens to terHorst because he is one of them, having resigned a senior position with the Detroit News to take the position in the White House. [Werth, 2006, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, James R. Schlesinger, Jerald terHorst, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Category Tags: Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

Richard Nixon’s presidential documents—46 million pieces of paper and 950 reels of recording tape—are being packed up in boxes and stored throughout the White House, the Executive Office Building (EOB), and other locations. The question is, should all the materials be turned over to Nixon, as he insists, or retained for evidence in upcoming Watergate trials? President Ford wants to stay out of the dispute. Ford’s staff learns that White House aides still loyal to Nixon are stuffing documents into “burn bags” at an extraordinary rate, and the White House “burn room,” where documents are chemically destroyed, is overflowing, with cartons of documents stacking up in the halls. Ford orders his staff to guard the materials and prevent them from being destroyed or removed. Unfortunately, the problem is not so easily resolved. Ford’s staffers are working out of the EOB, and Nixon’s people command the West Wing, where they show little inclination to obey any directives from Ford’s people. One of Ford’s attorneys, Benton Becker, tries to prevent Army soldiers from loading a truck with boxes full of Nixon materials; the truck will convey the materials to Andrews Air Force Base, where they will be flown to California. When Becker tells the colonel in charge that Ford has ordered the documents to remain, the colonel retorts, “I take my orders from General Haig” [Alexander Haig, Nixon’s chief of staff]. Becker tells White House security not to let the truck leave the grounds, and informs Ford, who angrily confronts Haig. Haig denies any knowledge of the situation and says the colonel must be acting on his own, an explanation Becker finds hard to believe. Like it or not, Ford is now involved in the custody battle over Nixon’s documents. [Werth, 2006, pp. 33-35]

Entity Tags: Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Richard M. Nixon, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Benton Becker, Ford administration

Category Tags: Nixon Resignation, Watergate Tapes and Documents

The Washington Post prints a small, almost-buried story entitled “Pentagon Kept Watch on Military.” The relatively innocuous headline conceals a potentially explosive charge—that during the final days of the Nixon administration, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had “kept a close watch to make certain that no orders were given to military units outside the normal chain of command.” The article, careful in its word choices, says the extraordinary alert was “based on hypothetical situations that could arise during a period when President Nixon’s hold on the presidency was not clear.… Specifically, there was concern that an order could go to a military unit outside the chain of command for some sort of action against Congress during the time between a House impeachment and a Senate trial on the impeachment charge.” Pentagon sources say no one has any evidence that any such action was being contemplated, but steps were taken to ensure that no military commander would take an order from the White House or anywhere else that did not come through military channels. The implication is clear: Pentagon officials worried that Nixon might use certain elements of the military to stage some sort of coup. Schlesinger gives the story “legs” by issuing the following non-denial: “I did assure myself that there would be no question about the proper constitutional and legislated chain of command, and there never was any question.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: Ford administration, US Department of Defense, Washington Post, James R. Schlesinger

Category Tags: Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

President Ford names outgoing chief of staff Alexander Haig to be supreme allied commander in Europe, provoking an outcry in Congress and unprecedented demands that Haig be confirmed for the post by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) says, “I’d like to put him under oath to learn his role in the Nixon pardon” (see September 8, 1974). Haig will not be compelled to testify before the committee, but he weathers another scare, this one from inside the White House. Haig is told by former Nixon White House lawyer Fred Buzhardt, who now works for Ford, that the group preparing Ford for his upcoming House testimony on the pardon (see Mid-October 1974) has “prepared sworn testimony for the president that could very well result in your indictment,” as Haig will later write. Haig storms to the White House, reads the testimony, and demands an immediate audience with Ford. White House staffers refuse him. Haig then threatens to announce his knowledge of “a secret effort by Ford people to hurry Nixon out of the presidency behind Ford’s back.” Haig gets the meeting. He learns that Ford has not read the testimony, and decides that Buzhardt’s threat is hollow. [Werth, 2006, pp. 335-336]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, William Proxmire, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Fred Buzhardt, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Category Tags: Congressional Investigations, Ford Appointment to White House, Nixon Resignation

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