Nixon, Resignation of
NIXON, RESIGNATION OF
NIXON, RESIGNATION OF. On 9 August 1974, Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency of the United States as a result of his involvement in the Watergate scandal. He remains the only president ever to resign the office.
On 17 June 1972, burglars working for Nixon's reelection campaign were arrested breaking into Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. For the next two years, Nixon and his top aides concealed information from prosecutors and the public about the break-in and related illegal activities. Eventually Senate hearings, the burglars' trials, and investigative reporting unearthed evidence that suggested Nixon had joined in the cover-up and abused the power of his office. On 30 October 1973, the House Judiciary Committee began hearings on whether to impeach him. On 27–30 July 1974, it passed three articles of impeachment. The House of Representatives appeared likely to approve the articles (it did so as a pro forma matter on 20 August)—a decision that would put Nixon on trial before the Senate.
To remove Nixon from office, two-thirds of the Senate (67 senators) would have to support conviction. By early August Nixon's support was clearly eroding. On 24 July, the Supreme Court had unanimously ordered the president to surrender the transcripts of 64 conversations that Nixon had secretly taped. On 5 August Nixon finally made public the transcripts of three of those discussions. In those discussions, which took place on 23 June 1972, Nixon had instructed H. R. Haldeman, his chief of staff at the time, to have the CIA, under false pretenses, order the FBI to curtail the Watergate probe. The tape-recorded evidence starkly contradicted Nixon's longstanding claims of his own innocence.
With the disclosure of the contents of this so-called "smoking gun" tape, many of Nixon's own aides and lawyers concluded he should resign. On 6 August, Nixon's congressional liaison, Bill Timmons, told the president that only seven senators supported his continuation in office. Later that day Nixon told family members and top aides that he would resign imminently. On 7 August Senators Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania and Barry Goldwater of Arizona and Representative John Rhodes of Arizona, all leaders of the Republican party, visited Nixon to tell him directly how meager his Congressional support was. Nixon was alternately emotional and stoic. The next day he told aides that he did not fear going to prison, since Lenin, Gandhi, and others had written great works from jail.
On 8 August, at 9:00 p.m., Nixon delivered a 15-minute televised address. Admitting to bad "judgments" but not to serious wrongdoing, he announced that he would resign the next day. The next morning he delivered an emotional speech to his staff and supporters in the White House East Room. Speaking about his parents, his boyhood, and the premature death of two of his brothers, he concluded by stating, "Always remember: others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself."
Nixon and his wife, Pat, then boarded a helicopter and flew to the nearby Andrews Air Force Base; they then flew to California, where he would live for the next six years. At 11:35 a.m. on 9 August his letter of resignation was given to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and at 12:03 p.m. Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as president. In his inaugural statement, Ford declared, "Our long national nightmare is over."
Kutler, Stanley I. The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon. New York: Knopf, 1990.
New York Times, Staff of. The End of a Presidency. New York: Holt, 1974.
Nixon, Richard M. RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978.
White, Theodore H. Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon. New York: Atheneum, 1975.