Presidency of Richard Nixon

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The presidency of Richard Nixon began on January 20, 1969, when Nixon was inaugurated, and ended on August 9, 1974, when he resigned in the face of almost certain impeachment and removal from office, the first U.S. president ever to do so. He was succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford, who had become vice president nine months earlier, following Spiro Agnew's resignation from office. A Republican, Nixon took office after the 1968 presidential election, in which he defeated Hubert Humphrey, the then–incumbent Vice President. Four years later, in 1972, he won reelection in a landslide victory over George McGovern.

Nixon, the 37th United States president, succeeded Lyndon B. Johnson, who had launched the Great Society, a set of domestic programs financed and run by the federal government. In contrast, Nixon advocated a "New Federalism" domestic program model, one in which certain powers would devolve back to the states. The creation of the EPA, passage of the Endangered Species Act, and the integration of Southern public schools happened during his presidency, as did the end of military draft and the Apollo program, which successfully landed Americans on the Moon.

Nixon's primary focus while in office was on foreign affairs. His foreign policy agenda, known as the Nixon Doctrine, called for indirect assistance to American allies in the Cold War, with the "Vietnamization" of the Vietnam War being the most notable example of his doctrine. Nixon pursued a detente with the People's Republic of China, taking advantage of the Sino-Soviet split and significantly altering the nature of the Cold War. Nixon also signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and SALT I, two landmark arms control treaties with the Soviet Union.

Nixon's domestic and foreign policy accomplishments as president were however, largely overshadowed by the scandals that enveloped his administration. Nixon was forced to resign from office after Congress began impeachment proceedings in reaction to the Watergate Scandal. He remains the only president to ever resign from office. Regarding his lasting legacy, historian Stephen Ambrose wrote, "Nixon wanted to be judged by what he accomplished. What he will be remembered for is the nightmare he put the country through in his second term and for his resignation."[1]

Election of 1968[edit]

One year prior to the 1968 Republican Convention the early favorite for the party's presidential nomination was Michigan governor George Romney. Later that year however, his prospects foundered on the issue of Vietnam,[2] and by the end of 1967, Nixon was, according to Time magazine, the "man to beat."[3] Nixon entered the new year confident that, with the Democrats torn apart over the war in Vietnam, a Republican had a good chance of winning, although he expected the election to be as close as in 1960.[4]

Nixon won a resounding victory in the first Republican Party primary on March 12 in New Hampshire, winning 78% of the vote. Antiwar Republicans wrote in the name of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, the leader of the GOP's liberal wing, who received 11% of the vote. He later defeated Nixon in the Massachusetts primary on April 30 but otherwise fared poorly in the state primaries and conventions. That spring, California governor Ronald Reagan emerged as the leading voice of Republican conservatism, attaining second place in two primaries and winning the contest in his home state.

At the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida, Reagan and Rockefeller discussed joining forces in a stop-Nixon movement, with each hoping to be nominated in a brokered convention. No such movement materialized, and Nixon secured the nomination on the first ballot.[5] He selected Maryland governor Spiro Agnew as his running mate, a choice which Nixon believed would unite the party, appealing to both Northern moderates and Southerners disaffected with the Democrats.[6] Nixon's acceptance speech was a message of hope:

We extend the hand of friendship to all people. To the Soviet people. To the Chinese people. To all the people of the world. And we work toward the goal of an open world, open sky, open cities, open hearts, open minds.[7]

Democrats began 1968 expecting that President Johnson, who was constitutionally eligible for election to a second full term under the provisions of the 22nd Amendment, would again be the party's presidential nominee. Those expectations were shattered by Senator Eugene McCarthy, who had entered the campaign late in November to give voice to those in the party opposed to Johnson's Vietnam policies.[8] McCarthy narrowly lost to Johnson in the first Democratic Party primary on March 12 in New Hampshire, winning 42% of the vote to Johnson's 49%. The results startled the party establishment and spurred Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York to enter the race. Two weeks later, Johnson told a stunned the nation that he would not seek a second term. In the weeks that followed, much of the momentum that had been moving the McCarthy campaign forward shifted toward Kennedy.[9] This, one of the most tumultuous Democratic primary election seasons in modern times, concluded with Kennedy being assassinated on June 4 in Los Angeles, following a rally celebrating his victory in the California primary.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who announced his candidacy in late April saying he would run on the Kennedy-Johnson record, but would be his "own man,"[8] won the presidential nomination at Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine was selected as his running mate. Outside the convention hall, thousands of young antiwar activists who had gathered to protest the Vietnam War clashed violently with police. The mayhem, which had been broadcast to the world in television, crippled the Humphrey campaign. Post-convention Labor Day surveys had Humphrey trailing Nixon by more than 20 percentage points.[10]

1968 electoral vote results.

In addition to Nixon and Humphrey, the race was joined by former Democratic Alabama governor George Wallace, a vocal segregationist, who ran on the American Independent Party ticket. Throughout the campaign, Nixon portrayed himself as a figure of stability during a period of national unrest and upheaval.[11] He appealed to what he later called the "silent majority" of socially conservative Americans who disliked the hippie counterculture and the anti-war demonstrators. Agnew became an increasingly vocal critic of these groups, solidifying Nixon's position with the right.[12] Nixon waged a prominent television advertising campaign, meeting with supporters in front of cameras.[13] He stressed that the crime rate was too high, and attacked what he perceived as a surrender by the Democrats of the United States' nuclear superiority.[14] Nixon promised "peace with honor" in the Vietnam War and proclaimed that "new leadership will end the war and win the peace in the Pacific".[15] He did not release specifics of how he hoped to end the war, resulting in media intimations that he must have a "secret plan".[15] His slogan of "Nixon's the One" proved to be effective.[13]

In a three-way race, Nixon defeated Humphrey by about 500,000 votes – 43.4% to 42.7%; Wallace received 13.5% of the vote. In the Electoral College, Nixon's victory was substantial. He secured 301 votes to Humphrey’s 191 and 46 for Wallace (including one faithless elector in North Carolina who had been pledged to Nixon.[10][16] In his victory speech, Nixon pledged that his administration would try to bring the divided nation together.[17]



The Nixon Cabinet
Office Name Term
President Richard Nixon 1969–1974
Vice President Spiro Agnew 1969–1973
none 1973
Gerald Ford 1973–1974
Secretary of State William P. Rogers 1969–1973
Henry Kissinger 1973–1974
Secretary of Treasury David M. Kennedy 1969–1971
John Connally 1971–1972
George P. Shultz 1972–1974
William E. Simon 1974
Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird 1969–1973
Elliot Richardson 1973
James R. Schlesinger 1973–1974
Attorney General John N. Mitchell 1969–1972
Richard Kleindienst 1972–1973
Elliot Richardson 1973–1974
William B. Saxbe 1974
Postmaster General Winton M. Blount 1969–1971
Secretary of the Interior Wally Joseph Hickel 1969–1971
Rogers Morton 1971–1974
Secretary of Agriculture Clifford M. Hardin 1969–1971
Earl Butz 1971–1974
Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans 1969–1972
Peter Peterson 1972–1973
Frederick B. Dent 1973–1974
Secretary of Labor George P. Shultz 1969–1970
James Day Hodgson 1970–1973
Peter J. Brennan 1973–1974
Secretary of Health,
Education, and Welfare
Robert Finch 1969–1970
Elliot Richardson 1970–1973
Caspar Weinberger 1973–1974
Secretary of Housing and
Urban Development
George W. Romney 1969–1973
James Thomas Lynn 1973–1974
Secretary of Transportation John A. Volpe 1969–1973
Claude Brinegar 1973–1974
Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman 1969–1973
Alexander Haig 1973–1974
Administrator of the
Environmental Protection Agency
William Ruckelshaus 1970–1973
Russell E. Train 1973–1974
Director of the Office of
Management and Budget
Robert Mayo 1969–1970
George P. Shultz 1970–1972
Caspar Weinberger 1972–1973
Roy Ash 1973–1974
United States Trade Representative Carl J. Gilbert 1969–1971
William Denman Eberle 1971–1974
President Nixon's cabinet in 1971.

For the major decisions of his presidency, Nixon relied on the Executive Office of the President rather than his Cabinet. Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and adviser John Ehrlichman emerged as his two most influential staffers regarding domestic affairs, and much of Nixon's interaction with other staff members was conducted through Haldeman.[18] Unlike many of his fellow Cabinet members, Attorney General John N. Mitchell held sway within the White House, and Mitchell led the search for Supreme Court nominees.[19] In foreign affairs, Nixon enhanced the importance of the National Security Council, which was led by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger.[18] Nixon's first Secretary of State, William P. Rogers, was largely sidelined. In 1973, Kissinger succeeded Rogers as Secretary of State while continuing to serve as National Security Advisor. Nixon presided over the reorganization of the Bureau of the Budget into the more powerful Office of Management and Budget, further concentrating executive power in the White House.[18] Rather than relying on the Republican National Committee, his re-election campaign was primarily waged through the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CREEP), whose top leadership was composed of former White House personnel, including Mitchell.[20] Despite his centralization of power in the White House, Nixon allowed his Cabinet officials great leeway in setting domestic policy in subjects he was not strongly interested in, such as the environmental policy.[21] In 1973, as the Watergate scandal came to light, Nixon accepted the resignations of Haldeman, Erlichman, and Mitchell's successor as Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst.[22] Haldeman was succeeded by Alexander Haig, who became the dominant figure in the White House during the last months of Nixon's presidency as Nixon increasingly focused on Watergate.[23]

Vice presidency[edit]

As the Watergate scandal heated up in mid-1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew became a target in an unrelated investigation of corruption in Baltimore County, Maryland of public officials and architects, engineering, and paving contractors. He was accused of accepting kickbacks in exchange for contracts while serving as Baltimore county executive, then when he was Governor of Maryland and Vice President.[24] On October 10, 1973, Agnew became the second Vice President to resign the office (after John C. Calhoun in 1832). That same day, he pleaded no contest to tax evasion in the sum of $13,551.47 for 1967. He was fined $10,000 and avoided prison time.[24] Nixon used his authority under the 25th Amendment to nominate Gerald Ford for vice president. The well-respected Ford was confirmed by Congress and took office on December 6, 1973.[25][26] This was the first time since the office of vice president was established in 1789 that intra-term vacancy in it was filled. The Speaker of the House, Carl Albert of Oklahoma, was next in line to the presidency during this 57-day vacancy.

Judicial appointments[edit]

Nixon made four successful (and two unsuccessful) appointments to the Supreme Court while in office, shifting the Court in a more conservative direction following the era of the liberal Warren Court.[27] Nominated were:

  • Warren E. Burger – Chief Justice (to replace Earl Warren),
    nominated May 23, 1969 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate June 9, 1969.[28] He tended to take conservative positions in cases.[27]
  • Harry Blackmun – Associate Justice (to replace Abe Fortas),
    nominated April 15, 1970 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate May 12, 1970.[28] While initially conservative, Blackmun became more liberal during his tenure.[27]
  • Lewis F. Powell Jr. – Associate Justice (to replace Hugo Black),
    nominated October 22, 1971 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate December 6, 1971.[28] Powell compiled a conservative voting record on the Court.[27]
  • William Rehnquist – Associate Justice (to replace John Marshall Harlan II),
    nominated October 22, 1971 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate December 10, 1971.[28] Rehnquist, a conservative, succeeded Burger as chief justice in 1986, remaining in that position until 2005.[27]

Additionally, Nixon appointed 231 federal judges, surpassing the previous record of 193 set by Franklin D. Roosevelt. In addition to his four Supreme Court appointments, Nixon appointed 46 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, and 181 judges to the United States district courts.

Foreign policy[edit]


Just weeks after his 1969 inauguration, Nixon made an eight-day trip to Europe, that began in Brussels on February 23, 1969. He met with Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Wilson in London and France's President Charles de Gaulle in Paris. He also stopped in Bonn, Berlin and Rome and met with Pope Paul VI in Vatican City . He also made groundbreaking trips to several Eastern European Communist nations, including: Romania (1969), Yugoslavia (1970), and the Soviet Union (1972 and 1974).



President Nixon shakes hands with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai upon arriving in Beijing

Even those who opposed Nixon occasionally praise his work in China. The extent to which his visit had any profound consequences of note, however, remain very much open to debate. Nixon laid the groundwork for his overture to China prior to becoming president, writing the before his election that: "There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation."[29] Assisting him in this venture was his National Security Advisor and future Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, with whom the President worked closely, bypassing Cabinet officials. With relations between the Soviet Union and China at a nadir—border clashes between the two took place during Nixon's first year in office—Nixon sent private word to the Chinese through Pakistan, a country friendly to both China and United States,[30] that he desired closer relations with the Chinese. A breakthrough came in early 1971, when Chairman Mao invited a team of American table tennis players to visit China and play against top Chinese players. Nixon followed up by sending Kissinger to China for clandestine meetings with Chinese officials.[29] On July 15, 1971, it was simultaneously announced by Beijing and by Nixon (on television and radio) that the President would visit China the following February. The announcements astounded the world.[31] The secrecy allowed both sets of leaders time to prepare the political climate in their countries for the contact.[32]

In February 1972, President and Mrs. Nixon traveled to China. Kissinger briefed Nixon for over 40 hours in preparation.[33] Upon touching down, the President and First Lady emerged from Air Force One and greeted Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. Nixon made a point of shaking Zhou's hand, something which then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had refused to do in 1954 when the two met in Geneva.[34] Over 100 television journalists accompanied the president. On Nixon's orders, television was strongly favored over printed publications, as Nixon felt that the medium would capture the visit much better than print. It also gave him the opportunity to snub the print journalists he despised.[34]

Nixon and Kissinger met for an hour with Mao and Zhou at Mao's official private residence, where they discussed a range of issues.[35] Mao later told his doctor that he had been impressed by Nixon, whom he considered forthright, unlike the leftists and the Soviets.[35] He also said he was suspicious of Kissinger,[35] though the National Security Advisor referred to their meeting as his "encounter with history".[34] A formal banquet welcoming the presidential party was given that evening in the Great Hall of the People. The following day, Nixon met with Zhou; during this meeting he stated that he believed “there is one China, and Taiwan is a part of China.”[36][37] When not in meetings, Nixon toured architectural wonders including the Forbidden City, Ming Tombs, and the Great Wall.[34] Americans received their first glimpse into Chinese life through the cameras which accompanied Pat Nixon, who toured the city of Beijing and visited communes, schools, factories, and hospitals.[34]

The visit ushered in a new era of Sino-American relations.[11] Fearing the possibility of a Sino-American alliance, the Soviet Union yielded to pressure for détente with the United States.[38]


At the time Nixon took office, about 300 American soldiers were dying each week in Vietnam,[39] and the war was broadly unpopular in the United States, with widespread, sometimes violent protests against the war taking place on a regular basis (including a protest at Nixon's inauguration). The Johnson administration had agreed to suspend bombing in exchange for negotiations without preconditions, but this agreement never fully took force. According to Walter Isaacson, soon after taking office, Nixon had concluded that the Vietnam War could not be won and he was determined to end the war quickly.[40] Conversely, Black argues that Nixon sincerely believed he could intimidate North Vietnam through the Madman theory.[41] Nixon sought some arrangement which would permit American forces to withdraw, while leaving South Vietnam secure against attack.[42]

In mid-1969, Nixon began efforts to negotiate peace with the North Vietnamese, sending a personal letter to North Vietnamese leaders, and peace talks began in Paris. Initial talks, however, did not result in an agreement.[43] In July 1969, Nixon visited South Vietnam, where he met with his U.S. military commanders and President Nguyen Van Thieu. Amid protests at home demanding an immediate pullout, he implemented a strategy of replacing American troops with Vietnamese troops, known as "Vietnamization".[11] He soon instituted phased U.S. troop withdrawals[44] but authorized incursions into Laos, in part to interrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail, used to supply North Vietnamese forces, that passed through Laos and Cambodia. Nixon announced the ground invasion of Cambodia to the American public on April 30, 1970.[45] His responses to protesters included an impromptu, early morning meeting with them at the Lincoln Memorial on May 9, 1970.[46][47] Documents uncovered from the Soviet archives after 1991 reveal that the North Vietnamese attempt to overrun Cambodia in 1970 was launched at the explicit request of the Khmer Rouge and negotiated by Pol Pot's then second in command, Nuon Chea.[48] Nixon's campaign promise to curb the war, contrasted with the escalated bombing, led to claims that Nixon had a "credibility gap" on the issue.[44]

In 1971, excerpts from the "Pentagon Papers", which had been leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, were published by The New York Times and The Washington Post. When news of the leak first appeared, Nixon was inclined to do nothing; the Papers, a history of United States' involvement in Vietnam, mostly concerned the lies of prior administrations and contained few real revelations. He was persuaded by Kissinger that the papers were more harmful than they appeared, and the President tried to prevent publication. The Supreme Court eventually ruled for the newspapers.[49]

As U.S. troop withdrawals continued, conscription was reduced and in 1973 ended; the armed forces became all-volunteer.[50] After years of fighting, the Paris Peace Accords were signed at the beginning of 1973. The agreement implemented a cease fire and allowed for the withdrawal of remaining American troops; however, it did not require the 160,000 North Vietnam Army regulars located in the South to withdraw.[51] Once American combat support ended, there was a brief truce, before fighting broke out again, this time without American combat involvement. North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam in 1975.[52] Communist governments also took power in Laos and Cambodia.


Nixon delivers an address to the nation about the bombings in Cambodia, April 30, 1969

Nixon approved a secret B-52 carpet bombing campaign of North Vietnamese positions in Cambodia in March 1969 (code-named Operation Menu), without the consent of Cambodian leader Norodom Sihanouk.[53][54][55] The bombing of Cambodia continued into the 1970s in support of the Cambodian government of Lon Nol—which was then battling a Khmer Rouge insurgency in the Cambodian Civil War—as part of Operation Freedom Deal. It is estimated that between 50,000 and 150,000 people were killed during the bombing of Cambodia between 1970 and 1973.[55] The relationship between the massive carpet bombing of Cambodia by the United States and the growth of the Khmer Rouge, in terms of recruitment and popular support, has been a matter of interest to historians. Some historians have cited the U.S. intervention and bombing campaign as a significant factor leading to increased support of the Khmer Rouge among the Cambodian peasantry. However, Pol Pot biographer David Chandler argues that the bombing "had the effect the Americans wanted – it broke the Communist encirclement of Phnom Penh".[56] Chandler states that "If you just made a very cold, calculating, military decision, the bombing of 1973 was in fact a sensible thing to do [at the time], because had it not happened, the Khmer Rouge would have taken Phnom Penh [much earlier] and South Vietnam would have had a communist country on its flank."[57] Peter Rodman and Michael Lind claimed that the US intervention saved Cambodia from collapse in 1970 and 1973.[58][59] Craig Etcheson agreed that it was "untenable" to assert that US intervention caused the Khmer Rouge victory while acknowledging that it may have played a small role in boosting recruitment for the insurgents.[60] William Shawcross, however, wrote that the "Khmer Rouge were born out of the inferno that American policy did much to create" and that Sihanouk's "collaboration with both powers [the United States and North Vietnam] ... was intended to save his people by confining the conflict to the border regions. It was American policy that engulfed the nation in war."[61]

Latin America[edit]

Nixon and Mexican president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz riding a presidential motorcade in San Diego, California, September 1970


Nixon had been a firm supporter of Kennedy in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion and 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis; on taking office he stepped up covert operations against Cuba and its president, Fidel Castro. He maintained close relations with the Cuban-American exile community through his friend, Bebe Rebozo, who often suggested ways of irritating Castro. These activities concerned the Soviets and Cubans, who feared Nixon might attack Cuba in violation of the understanding between Kennedy and Khrushchev which had ended the missile crisis. In August 1970, the Soviets asked Nixon to reaffirm the agreement. Despite his hard line against Castro, Nixon agreed. The process—which began in secret, but quickly leaked—had not been completed when the U.S. deduced that the Soviets were expanding their base at the Cuban port of Cienfuegos in October 1970. A minor confrontation ensued, which was concluded with an understanding that the Soviets would not use Cienfuegos for submarines bearing ballistic missiles. The final round of diplomatic notes, reaffirming the 1962 accord, were exchanged in November.[62]


The election of Marxist candidate Salvador Allende as President of Chile in September 1970 led Nixon to order that Allende not be allowed to take office. Edward Korry, US Ambassador to Chile, told Nixon that he saw no alternative to Allende. According to the ambassador, Nixon said, "That son of a bitch, that son a bitch...Not you, Mr. Ambassador. It's that son of a bitch Allende. We're going to smash him." [63]:25 Nixon pursued a vigorous campaign of covert resistance to Allende, intended to first prevent Allende from taking office, called Track I, and then when that failed, to provide a "military solution", called Track II.[64] As part of Track II, CIA operatives approached senior Chilean military leaders, using false flag operatives, and encouraged a coup d'état, providing both finances ($50,000) and weapons (submachine guns).[65][63] With US encouragement, coup plotters first assassinated Army leader, General René Schneider, as he opposed military interference in the political process.[63]

Once Allende took office, extensive covert efforts continued with US-funded black propaganda placed in El Mercurio, strikes organized against Allende, and funding for Allende opponents. When El Mercurio requested significant funds for covert support in September 1971, “ a rare example of presidential micromanagement of a covert operation, Nixon personally authorized the $700,000—and more if necessary—in covert funds to El Mercurio."[63]:93 CIA operatives in Santiago had been instructed by the Nixon administration to provide a military solution: "In sum, we want you to sponsor a military move which can take place, to the extent possible, in a climate of economic and political uncertainty."[64]:177 Henry Hecksher, CIA station chief in Santiago, warned it would be violent: "We provide you with formula for chaos, which is unlikely to be bloodless." [64]:181

Nixon had supported a concerted effort to undermine the Chilean economy, saying he wanted "to make the economy scream" with up to "$10,000,000 available, more if necessary" for covert activities.[66] The White House effort, ordered by Nixon and carried out through Kissinger and the 40 Committee, finally succeeded when General Augusto Pinochet assumed power in a violent coup d'état on September 11, 1973.[67] During the coup, the deposed president died under disputed circumstances, and there were allegations of American involvement.[68] These allegations were proven in 2000, when more than 24,000 formerly classified papers from the White House, NSC, CIA, FBI, US Embassy, and DIA were released as part of the Chilean Declassification Project.[63]:xv-xx The papers documented extensive evidence of the covert activities engineered by Nixon and Kissinger designed to overthrow Allende. The Nixon administration later provided covert US support for Augusto Pinochet, despite knowledge of his record of extensive torture, internal repression, and state-supported international terrorism carried out by DINA, the Chilean secret police, through its Operation Condor program. American casualties of Nixon's policies include Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, who were executed in the National Stadium after the Pinochet coup; Boris Weisfeiler, who disappeared near a Chilean interrogation camp called Colonia Dignitad;[63]:170,300 Rodrigo Rojas, who was burned to death by Chilean Army soldiers;[63]:456 and Ronni Moffitt, who was killed when Orlando Letelier was assassinated by a car bomb planted by DINA, in Washington, D.C.[63]

Soviet Union[edit]

Nixon used the improving international environment to address the topic of nuclear peace. Following the announcement of his visit to China, the Nixon administration concluded negotiations for him to visit the Soviet Union. The President and First Lady arrived in Moscow on May 22, 1972 and met with Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party; Alexei Kosygin, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers; and Nikolai Podgorny, the head of state, among other leading Soviet officials.[69]

Nixon meets with Brezhnev during the Soviet leader's trip to the U.S. in 1973.

Nixon engaged in intense negotiations with Brezhnev.[69] Out of the summit came agreements for increased trade and two landmark arms control treaties: SALT I, the first comprehensive limitation pact signed by the two superpowers,[11] and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which banned the development of systems designed to intercept incoming missiles. Nixon and Brezhnev proclaimed a new era of "peaceful coexistence". A banquet was held that evening at the Kremlin.[69]

Richard Nixon in Kiev in 1972

Seeking to foster better relations with the United States, both China and the Soviet Union cut back on their diplomatic support for North Vietnam and advised Hanoi to come to terms militarily.[70][71][72] Nixon later described his strategy:

I had long believed that an indispensable element of any successful peace initiative in Vietnam was to enlist, if possible, the help of the Soviets and the Chinese. Though rapprochement with China and détente with the Soviet Union were ends in themselves, I also considered them possible means to hasten the end of the war. At worst, Hanoi was bound to feel less confident if Washington was dealing with Moscow and Beijing. At best, if the two major Communist powers decided that they had bigger fish to fry, Hanoi would be pressured into negotiating a settlement we could accept.[73]

Having made considerable progress over the previous two years in US-Soviet relations, Nixon embarked on a second trip to the Soviet Union in 1974.[74] He arrived in Moscow on June 27 to a welcome ceremony, cheering crowds, and a state dinner at the Grand Kremlin Palace that evening.[74] Nixon and Brezhnev met in Yalta, where they discussed a proposed mutual defense pact, détente, and MIRVs. While he considered proposing a comprehensive test-ban treaty, Nixon felt he would not have time as president to complete it.[74] There were no significant breakthroughs in these negotiations.[74]

Middle East[edit]

Nixon meets with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, June 1974

As part of the Nixon Doctrine that the U.S. would avoid direct combat assistance to allies where possible, instead giving them assistance to defend themselves, the U.S. greatly increased arms sales to the Middle East—particularly Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia—during the Nixon administration.[75] The Nixon administration strongly supported Israel, an American ally in the Middle East but the support was not unconditional. Nixon believed that Israel should make peace with its Arab neighbors and that the United States should encourage it. The president believed that—except during the Suez Crisis—the U.S. had failed to intervene with Israel, and should use the leverage of the large U.S. military aid to Israel to urge the parties to the negotiating table. However, the Arab-Israeli conflict was not a major focus of Nixon's attention during his first term—for one thing, he felt that no matter what he did, American Jews would oppose his reelection.

When an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria attacked in October 1973, beginning the Yom Kippur War, Israel suffered initial losses. The U.S. took no action for several days, until Nixon ordered an airlift to Israel, taking personal responsibility for any response by Arab nations. Nixon cut through inter-departmental squabbles and bureaucracy to initiate an airlift of American arms. By the time the U.S. and Soviet Union negotiated a truce, Israel had penetrated deep into enemy territory. A long-term effect was the movement of Egypt away from the Soviets toward the U.S. But Israel's victory came at the cost to the U.S. of the 1973 oil crisis; the members of OPEC decided to raise oil prices in response to the American support of Israel.[76] After Nixon chose to go off the gold standard, foreign countries increased their currency reserves in anticipation of currency fluctuation, which caused deflation of the dollar and other world currencies. Since oil was paid for in dollars, OPEC was receiving less value for their product. They cut production and announced price hikes as well as an embargo targeted against the United States and the Netherlands, specifically blaming U.S. support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War for the actions.[77] The embargo caused gasoline shortages and rationing in the United States in late 1973, and was eventually ended by the oil-producing nations as peace took hold.[78] Kissinger played a major role in the settlement, and was also able to reestablish U.S. relations with Egypt for the first time since 1967; Nixon made one of his final international visits as president there in June 1974.[79]

List of international trips[edit]

Nixon made fifteen international trips to 42 different countries during his presidency.[80]

Countries visited by Nixon during his presidency.
Dates Country Locations Details
1 February 23–24, 1969  Belgium Brussels Attended the 23rd meeting of North Atlantic Council. Met with King Baudouin I.
February 24–26, 1969  United Kingdom London Informal visit. Delivered several public addresses.
February 26–27, 1969  West Germany West Berlin
Delivered several public addresses. Addressed the Bundestag.
February 27–28, 1969  Italy Rome Met with President Giuseppe Saragat and Prime Minister Mariano Rumor and other officials.
February 28 –
March 2, 1969
 France Paris Met with President Charles de Gaulle.
March 2, 1969   Vatican City Apostolic Palace Audience with Pope Paul VI.
2 July 26–27, 1969  Philippines Manila State visit. Met with President Ferdinand Marcos.
July 27–28, 1969  Indonesia Jakarta State visit. Met with President Suharto.
July 28–30, 1969  Thailand Bangkok State visit. Met with King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
July 30, 1969  South Vietnam Saigon,
Di An
Met with President Nguyen Van Thieu. Visited U.S. military personnel.
July 31 – August 1, 1969  India New Delhi State visit. Met with Acting President Mohammad Hidayatullah.
August 1–2, 1969  Pakistan Lahore State visit. Met with President Yahya Khan.
August 2–3, 1969  Romania Bucharest Official visit. Met with President Nicolae Ceaușescu.
August 3, 1969  United Kingdom RAF Mildenhall Informal meeting with Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
3 September 8, 1969  Mexico Ciudad Acuña Dedication of Amistad Dam with President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz.
4 August 20–21, 1970  Mexico Puerto Vallarta Official visit. Met with President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz.
5 September 27–30, 1970  Italy Rome,
Official visit. Met with President Giuseppe Saragat. Visited NATO Southern Command.
September 28, 1970   Vatican City Apostolic Palace Audience with Pope Paul VI.
September 30 –
October 2, 1970
 Yugoslavia Belgrade,
State visit. Met with President Josip Broz Tito.
October 2–3, 1970  Spain Madrid State visit. Met with Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
October 3, 1970  United Kingdom Chequers Met informally with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Edward Heath.
October 3–5, 1970  Ireland Limerick,
State visit. Met with T Prime Minister Jack Lynch.
6 November 12, 1970  France Paris Attended the memorial services for former President Charles de Gaulle.
7 December 13–14, 1971  Portugal Terceira Island Discussed international monetary problems with French President Georges Pompidou and Portuguese Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano.
8 December 20–21, 1971  Bermuda Hamilton Met with Prime Minister Edward Heath.
9 February 21–28, 1972  China Shanghai,
State visit. Met with Party Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai.
10 April 13–15, 1972  Canada Ottawa State visit. Met with Governor General Roland Michener and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Addressed Parliament. Signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.[81]
11 May 20–22, 1972  Austria Salzburg Informal visit. Met with Chancellor Bruno Kreisky.
May 22–30, 1972  Soviet Union Moscow,
State visit. Met with Premier Alexei Kosygin and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Signed the SALT I and ABM Treaties.
May 30–31, 1972  Iran Tehran Official visit. Met with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
May 31 – June 1, 1972  Poland Warsaw Official visit. Met with First Secretary Edward Gierek.
12 May 31 – June 1, 1973  Iceland Reykjavík Met with President Kristján Eldjárn and Prime Minister Ólafur Jóhannesson and French President Georges Pompidou.
13 April 5–7, 1974  France Paris Attended the memorial services for former President Georges Pompidou. Met afterward with interim President Alain Poher, Italian President Giovanni Leone, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, Danish Prime Minister Poul Hartling, Soviet President Nikolai Podgorny and Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka.
14 June 10–12, 1974  Austria Salzburg Met with Chancellor Bruno Kreisky.
June 12–14, 1974  Egypt Cairo,
Met with President Anwar Sadat.
June 14–15, 1974  Saudi Arabia Jedda Met with King Faisal.
June 15–16, 1974  Syria Damascus Met with President Hafez al-Assad.
June 16–17, 1974  Israel Tel Aviv,
Met with President Ephraim Katzir and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
June 17–18, 1974  Jordan Amman State visit. Met with King Hussein.
June 18–19, 1974  Portugal Lajes Field Met with President António de Spínola.
15 June 25–26, 1974  Belgium Brussels Attended the North Atlantic Council Meeting. Met separately with King Baudouin I and Queen Fabiola, Prime Minister Leo Tindemans, and with German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Italian Prime Minister Mariano Rumor.
June 27 – July 3, 1974  Soviet Union Moscow,
Official visit. Met with General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, President Nikolai Podgorny and Premier Alexei Kosygin. Signing of the Threshold Test Ban Treaty.

Domestic affairs[edit]


At the time when Nixon took office in January 1969, inflation was at 4.7%, its highest rate since the Korean War, and rising. The Great Society had been enacted under Johnson, which, together with the Vietnam War costs, was causing large budget deficits. There was little unemployment (3.3%,[82]), but interest rates were at their highest in a century.[83] Nixon's major economic goal was to reduce inflation; the most obvious means of doing so was to end the war.[83] That however could not be accomplished overnight. The administration adopted a policy of restricting the growth of the money supply to address the inflation problem. In February 1970, as a part of the effort to keep federal spending down, Nixon delayed pay raises to federal employees by six months. When the nation's postal workers went on strike, he used the Army to keep the postal system going. In the end, the government met the postal workers' wage demands, undoing some of the desired budget-balancing.[84] According to political economist Nigel Bowles's 2011 study of Nixon's economic policies, the new president did little to alter Johnson's policies through the first year of his presidency.[85] The president and congressional Republicans entered the 1970 campaign season faced with unemployment, inflation, and Democratic demands for an incomes policy, all of which contributed to a lackluster Republican performance in the midterm congressional elections (Republicans gained two seats in the Senate but lost nine in the House; Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress throughout Nixon's presidency).[86]

In 1970, Congress had granted the president the power to impose wage and price controls, though the Democratic congressional leadership, knowing Nixon had opposed such controls through his career, did not expect Nixon to actually use the authority.[85] With inflation unresolved by August 1971, and an election year looming, Nixon convened a summit of his economic advisers at Camp David. He then announced temporary wage and price controls, allowed the dollar to float against other currencies, and ended the convertibility of the dollar into gold.[87] Bowles points out, "by identifying himself with a policy whose purpose was inflation's defeat, Nixon made it difficult for Democratic opponents ... to criticize him. His opponents could offer no alternative policy that was either plausible or believable since the one they favored was one they had designed but which the president had appropriated for himself."[85] Nixon's policies dampened inflation in 1972, although their aftereffects contributed to inflation during his second term and into the Ford administration.[87]

As Nixon began his second term, the economy was plagued by a stock market crash and a surge in inflation. With the legislation authorizing price controls set to expire on April 30, the Senate Democratic Caucus recommended a 90-day freeze on all profits, interest rates, and prices.[88] Nixon re-imposed price controls in June 1973, echoing his 1971 plan, as food prices rose; this time, he focused on agricultural exports and limited the freeze to 60 days.[88] The price controls became unpopular with the public and business people, who saw powerful labor unions as preferable to the price board bureaucracy.[88] Business owners, however, now saw the controls as permanent rather than temporary, and voluntary compliance among small businesses decreased.[88] The controls and the accompanying food shortages—as meat disappeared from grocery stores and farmers drowned chickens rather than sell them at a loss—only fueled more inflation.[88] Despite their failure to rein in inflation, controls were slowly ended, and on April 30, 1974, their statutory authorization lapsed.[88] Ultimately, inflation would rise to 12.1% by the end of the year.[82]

Governmental reorganization[edit]

Nixon advocated a "New Federalism", which would devolve power to state and local elected officials, though Congress was hostile about these ideas and enacted only a few of them.[89] Nixon hoped to reduce the number of government departments to eight: The existing departments of State, Justice, Treasury, and Defense, with the remainder of the Executive Branch made parts of new departments of Economic Affairs, Natural Resources, Human Resources, and Community Development. Although Nixon did not succeed in this,[90] was able to convince Congress to eliminate one Cabinet-level department, the United States Post Office Department, which in July 1971 (as a result of the Postal Reorganization Act) was transformed into the United States Postal Service, an independent entity within the executive branch of the federal government.[91] Postmaster General Winton M. Blount continued to serve through this transition until January 1, 1972.

Federal regulations[edit]

Environmental policy had not been a significant issue in the 1968 election; the candidates were rarely asked for their views on the subject. He saw that the first Earth Day in April 1970 presaged a wave of voter interest on the subject, and sought to use that to his benefit; in June he announced the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), broke new ground by discussing environment policy in his State of the Union speeches. Other initiatives supported by Nixon included the: Clean Air Act of 1970 – expanding the federal mandate to control air pollution and protect air quality; Occupational Safety and Health Act – establishing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH); and the National Environmental Policy Act – requiring environmental impact statements for many Federal projects.[92] Other significant regulatory legislation enacted during Nixon's presidency included the: Noise Control Act (1972); Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972); Consumer Product Safety Act (1972); and the Endangered Species Act (1973).[82]

While applauding Nixon's progressive policy agenda, environmentalists found much to criticize in his record.[82] The administration strongly supported continued funding of the "noise-polluting" Supersonic transport (SST), which Congress dropped funding for in 1971. Additionally, he vetoed the Clean Water Act of 1972, and after Congress overrode the veto, Nixon impounded the funds Congress had authorized to implement it. While not opposed to the goals of the legislation, Nixon objected to the amount of money to be spent on reaching them, which he deemed excessive.[93] Faced as he was with a generally liberal Democratic Congress, perceived as being spendthrift (in 1972 John Ehrlichman used the term "credit-card Congress"[94]), Nixon used this power on multiple occasions during his presidency.[95] Congress's response came in the form of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which established a new budget process, and included a procedure providing congressional control over the impoundment of funds by the president. Nixon, mired in Watergate, signed the legislation July 12.[96]


In August 1970, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy introduced legislation to establish a single-payer universal health care, financed by taxes and with no Cost sharing).[97] In February 1971, Nixon proposed more limited health insurance reform, an employee mandate to offer private health insurance if employees volunteered to pay 25 percent of premiums, the federalization of Medicaid for poor families with dependent minor children, and support for health maintenance organizations (HMOs).[98] This market-based system would, Nixon argued, "build on the strengths of the private system."[99] Both the House and Senate held hearings on national health insurance in 1971, but no legislation emerged from either committee,[100] as House Ways and Means committee chairman Wilbur Mills or Senate Finance committee chairman Russell Long.[98] In October 1972, Nixon signed the Social Security Amendments of 1972, extending Medicare to those under 65 who had been severely disabled for over two years or had end stage renal disease, and gradually raising the Medicare Part A payroll tax from 1.1 to 1.45 percent (in 1986).[101] In December 1973, he signed the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973, establishing a trial federal program to promote and encourage the development of HMOs.[102]

There was a renewed push for health insurance reform in 1974. In January, representatives Martha Griffiths and James C. Corman introduced the Health Security Act, a universal national health insurance program providing comprehensive benefits without any cost sharing backed by the AFL-CIO and UAW.[100] The following month Nixon again proposed the Comprehensive Health Insurance Act – an employer mandate to offer private health insurance if employees volunteered to pay 25 percent of premiums, replacement of Medicaid by state-run health insurance plans available to all with income-based premiums and cost sharing, and replacement of Medicare with a new federal program that eliminated the limit on hospital days, added income-based out-of-pocket limits, and added outpatient prescription drug coverage.[100][103] In April, Kennedy and Mills introduced the National Health Insurance Act, a bill to provide near-universal national health insurance with benefits identical to the expanded Nixon plan—but with mandatory participation by employers and employees through payroll taxes and with lower cost sharing.[100] Both plans were criticized by labor, consumer, and senior citizens organizations, and neither gained traction.[104] That summer, after Nixon's resignation and President Ford's call for health insurance reform, Mills tried to advance a compromise based on Nixon's plan, but gave up when unable to get more than a 13–12 majority of his committee to support his compromise.[100][105]

Medical research initiatives[edit]

Nixon submitted two significant medical research initiatives to Congress in February 1971.[106] The first, popularly referred to as the War on Cancer, resulted in passage that December of the National Cancer Act, which injected nearly $1.6 billion (equivalent to $9 billion in 2016) in federal funding to cancer research over a three-year period. It also provided for establishment of medical centers dedicated to clinical research and cancer treatment, 15 of them initially, whose work is coordinated by the National Cancer Institute.[107][108] The second initiative, focused on Sickle-cell disease (SCD), resulted in passage of the National Sickle Cell Anemia Control Act in May 1972. Long ignored, the lifting of SCD from obscurity to high visibility reflected the changing dynamics of electoral politics and race relations in America during the early 1970s. Under this legislation, the National Institutes of Health established several sickle cell research and treatment centers and the Health Services Administration established sickle cell screening and education clinics around the country.[109][110]

U.S. space program[edit]

Nixon visits the Apollo 11 astronauts in quarantine aboard USS Hornet.

After a nearly decade-long national effort, the United States won the race to land astronauts on the moon on July 20, 1969, with the flight of Apollo 11. Nixon spoke with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their moonwalk. He called the conversation "the most historic phone call ever made from the White House".[111] Nixon, however, was unwilling to keep funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the high level seen through the 1960s as NASA prepared to send men to the moon. NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine drew up ambitious plans for the establishment of a permanent base on the moon by the end of the 1970s and the launch of a manned expedition to Mars as early as 1981. Nixon, however, rejected both proposals.[112] On May 24, 1972, Nixon approved a five-year cooperative program between NASA and the Soviet space program, culminating in the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project, a joint mission of an American Apollo and a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft in 1975.[113]


The Nixon years witnessed the first large-scale efforts to desegregate the nation's public schools.[114] Particularly in the South, Nixon sought a middle way between the segregationist Wallace and liberal Democrats, whose support of integration was alienating some Southern whites.[115] Soon after beginning his first term, Nixon appointed Vice President Agnew to lead a task force, which worked with local leaders—both white and black—to determine how to integrate local schools. Agnew had little interest in the work, and most of it was done by Labor Secretary George Shultz. Federal aid was available, and a meeting with President Nixon was a possible reward for compliant committees. By September 1970, less than ten percent of black children were attending segregated schools. By 1971, however, tensions over desegregation surfaced in Northern cities, with angry protests over the busing of children to schools outside their neighborhood to achieve racial balance. Nixon opposed busing personally but enforced court orders requiring its use.[116]

In addition to desegregating public schools, the administration worked to increase the number of racial minorities hired across the nation in various construction trades. The first affirmative action program set up, the Philadelphia Plan, implemented in 1969, required government contractors in Philadelphia to hire minority workers.[117]

Constitutional amendments[edit]

When Congress extended the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in 1970 it included a provision lowering the age qualification to vote in all elections—federal, state, and local—to 18. Later that year, in Oregon v. Mitchell (1970), the Supreme Court held that Congress had the authority to lower the voting age qualification in federal elections, but not the authority to do so in state and local elections.[118] Nixon sent a letter to Congress supporting a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age, and Congress quickly moved forward with a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing the 18 year-old vote.[119] Sent to the states for ratification on March 23, 1971, the proposal became the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution on July 1, 1973 after being ratified by the requisite number of states (38).[120]

Nixon also endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which passed both houses of Congress in 1972 and was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification.[121] The amendment failed to be ratified by 38 states within the period set by Congress for ratification. Nixon had campaigned as an ERA supporter in 1968, though feminists criticized him for doing little to help the ERA or their cause after his election. Nevertheless, he appointed more women to administration positions than Lyndon Johnson had.[122]

Vietnam War opposition[edit]

Over the course of the Vietnam War a large segment of the American population came to be opposed to U.S. involvement in South Vietnam. Public opinion steadily turned against the war following 1967, and by 1970 only a third of Americans believed that the U.S. had not made a mistake by sending troops to fight in Vietnam.[123] During the late-1960s opponents of the war turned to teach-ins and street protests, such as those at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium, in an effort to turn U.S. political opinion.

Opinions concerning the war grew more polarized after the Selective Service System instituted a draft lottery in December 1969. Some 30,000[124] young men fled to Canada to evade the draft between 1970 and 1973. Tensions ran higher as well, especially after the fatal shooting of four students at Kent State University in 1970, which led to nationwide university protests, and the mid-1971 publication of the first Pentagon Papers.[125] Antiwar protests ended with the final withdrawal of troops after the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973.

Election of 1972[edit]

Nixon meets the public during the 1972 presidential campaign.

Nixon was a popular incumbent president in 1972, as he was credited with achieving détente with the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union. Virtually assured the Republican nomination,[126] polls showed that he held a strong lead in the Republican primaries. He was challenged in the primaries by Pete McCloskey from California, who ran as an anti-war candidate, and John Ashbrook, who opposed Nixon's détente policy. In the New Hampshire primary McCloskey garnered 19.8% of the vote to Nixon’s 67.6%, with Ashbrook receiving 9.7%. The president's re-nomination was never in doubt after that. At the Republican National Convention that August he received 1,347 of the 1,348 votes on the first ballot (McCloskey received one). Delegates also re-nominated Spiro Agnew by acclamation. Throughout the convention chanted "Four more years! Four more years!"[127]

1972 electoral vote results

The President had initially expected his Democratic opponent to be Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, but he was largely removed from contention after the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident.[128] Instead, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine was the front runner, with Senator George McGovern of South Dakota in a close second place.[129] In the end, McGovern won the nomination at the Democratic National Convention.[130] Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri was the vice-presidential choice, but after it was disclosed that he had undergone mental health treatment, including electroshock therapy, in the past, Eagleton withdrew from the race. McGovern replaced him with Sargent Shriver of Maryland, a Kennedy in-law.[131]

Nixon dismissed the Democratic platform as cowardly and divisive.[132] McGovern intended to sharply reduce defense spending[133] and supported amnesty for draft evaders as well as abortion rights. With some of his supporters believed to be in favor of drug legalization, McGovern was perceived as standing for "amnesty, abortion and acid".[131] McGovern was also damaged by his choosing and then rejecting Eagleton.[134]

Nixon, ahead in most polls for the entire election cycle, focused on the prospect of peace in Vietnam and an upsurge in the economy. He was elected to a second term on November 7, 1972 in one of the largest landslide election victories in American history. He won over 60% of the popular vote, receiving 47,169,911 votes to McGovern’s 29,170,383, and won an even larger electoral college victory, garnering 520 votes (49 states) to 17 (one state and the District of Columbia) for McGovern[135][136] (additionally, one faithless elector in Virginia who had been pledged to Nixon voted for political activist John Hospers).

Watergate and resignation[edit]


The term Watergate has come to encompass an array of clandestine and often illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration. Those activities included "dirty tricks" such as bugging the offices of political opponents and people of whom Nixon or his officials were suspicious. Nixon and his close aides ordered harassment of activist groups and political figures, using the FBI, CIA, and the IRS. These activities became known after five men were caught breaking into Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. on June 17, 1972. The Washington Post picked up on the story; reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward relying on an informant known as "Deep Throat"—later revealed to be Mark Felt, associate director at the FBI—were able to link the men to the Nixon administration. The White House, through Presidential Press Secretary Ron Ziegler, repeatedly dismissed Woodward and Bernstein's reports, and tried to brush the incident aside as a "third rate burglary attempt."[137] That August, Nixon categorically denied that any of his White House staff had prior knowledge of the crime, and the episode had no impact on his reelection campaign.[138] He downplayed the scandal as mere politics, calling news articles biased and misleading. As a series of revelations later made it clear however, Nixon aides had committed crimes in attempts to sabotage the Democrats and other. By early in 1973, senior aides such as White House Counsel John Dean and Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman faced prosecution.[11][139][140]

In May 1973 the Senate conducted an investigation of the Watergate scandal. The investigation, known as the "Watergate hearings," was televised and widely watched. As the various witnesses gave details, not only of the Watergate break-in, but of various other alleged acts of malfeasance by various administration officials, Nixon's approval rating plummeted.[82] On June 25, Dean named Nixon as having helped to plan the burglary's cover-up,[138] and the following month, White House aide Alexander Butterfield testified that Nixon had a secret taping system that recorded his conversations and phone calls in the Oval Office. These tapes were subpoenaed by Watergate independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Nixon refused to release them, citing executive privilege.[95]

The White House and Cox remained at loggerheads until October, when Nixon had Cox fired in what was called the "Saturday Night Massacre." The firing infuriated Congress and engendered public protest. On October 30, the House Judiciary Committee began consideration of possible impeachment procedures; the following day Leon Jaworski was named as Cox's replacement, and soon thereafter the president agreed to turn over the requested tapes.[141] When the tapes were turned over a few weeks later, Nixon's lawyers revealed that an audio tape of conversations, held in the White House on June 20, 1972, featured an 18½ minute gap.[140] Rose Mary Woods, the President's personal secretary, claimed responsibility for the gap, alleging that she had accidentally wiped the section while transcribing the tape, though her explanation was widely mocked. The gap, while not conclusive proof of wrongdoing by the President, cast doubt on Nixon's statement that he had been unaware of the cover-up.[142] That same month, during an hour-long televised question-and-answer session with the press,[143] Nixon insisted that he had made mistakes, but had no prior knowledge of the burglary, did not break any laws, and did not learn of the cover-up until early 1973. He boldly declared,

People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got.[144]

A demonstrator demands Nixon's impeachment, October 1973.

Through the winter months Nixon continued to deflect accusations of wrongdoing and vowed that he would be vindicated.[140] Meanwhile, in the courts and in Congress, developments continued to propel the unfolding saga toward a climax. On March 1, a grand jury indicted seven former administration officials for conspiring to hinder the investigation of the Watergate burglary. The grand jury, it was disclosed later, also named Nixon as an unindicted conspirator.[141] In April the House Judiciary Committee voted to subpoena tapes of 42 presidential conversations, and the special prosecutor subpoenaed more tapes and documents as well. The White House refused both subpoenas, citing executive privilege once more.[95]

In an unexpected move at the end of April, the president announced the release of 1,200 pages of transcripts of White House conversations between him and his aides. The House Judiciary Committee, opened impeachment hearings against the president on May 9.[141] These hearings, which were televised, culminated in votes for articles of impeachment, the first being 27–11 in favor on July 27, 1974 on obstruction of justice; six Republicans voted "yes" along with all 21 Democrats.[145] On July 24, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the full tapes, not just selected transcripts must be released.[146]

Nixon Oval Office meeting with H.R. Haldeman "Smoking Gun" Conversation June 23, 1972 Full Transcript

Even though his base of support had been diminished by the continuing series of revelations, Nixon hoped to avoid impeachment. However, one of the newly released tapes, the "Smoking Gun Tape", recorded soon after the break-in, demonstrated that Nixon had been told of the White House connection to the Watergate burglaries soon after they took place, and had approved plans to thwart the investigation. In a statement accompanying the release of the tapes on August 5, 1974, Nixon accepted blame for misleading the country about when he had been told of the truth behind the Watergate break-in, stating that he had a lapse of memory.[147] With their release, Nixon's popular support all but evaporated,[148] and his political support collapsed. He met with Republican congressional leaders two days later, and was told he faced certain impeachment in the House and had, at most, 18 senators who might vote against his conviction on the articles of impeachment—far fewer than the 34 he needed to avoid removal from office.[82][149] That night, knowing his presidency was effectively over, Nixon finalized his decision to resign.[150]

Resignation [edit]

At 11:00 a.m. on August 8, his last full day in office, Nixon met with Vice President Ford to inform him of the resignation decision and discus the presidential transition.[150] That evening, Nixon announced his intention to resign to the nation.[151] The speech was delivered from the Oval Office and was carried live on radio and television. Nixon stated that he was resigning for the good of the country as he had lost the political support in Congress necessary to govern effectively, and asked the nation to support the new president, Gerald Ford. Nixon went on to review the accomplishments of his presidency, especially in foreign policy,[152] and concluded by expressing his personal philosophy[153] about perseverance in public service:

Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the man in the arena, 'whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievements and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly'.[154] Full text Wikisource has information on "Richard Nixon's resignation speech"

Nixon displays the V-for-victory sign as he departs the White House after resigning, August 9, 1974

Nixon's speech contained no admission of wrongdoing, and was termed "a masterpiece" by Conrad Black, one of his biographers. Black opined that "What was intended to be an unprecedented humiliation for any American president, Nixon converted into a virtual parliamentary acknowledgement of almost blameless insufficiency of legislative support to continue. He left while devoting half his address to a recitation of his accomplishments in office."[155] The initial response from network commentators was generally favorable, with only Roger Mudd of CBS stating that Nixon had evaded the issue, and had not admitted his role in the cover-up.[156]

Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974. Early that morning White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig brought Nixon a prepared letter of resignation, which was addressed to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as required by the Presidential Succession Act. The brief letter read: “I hereby resign the Office of President of the United States.” Kissinger would subsequently sign his initials, acknowledging that he had received it, and write the time—11:35 a.m.—denoting when Nixon's presidency officially ended. Then, with his family at his side, Nixon gave an emotional farewell talk in the East Room to an assembly of White House staff and Cabinet officials. Afterward, he and the first lady departed the White House for the last time.[150]

This was the ninth time in U.S. history that an incumbent President did not complete a term that he had been elected to; it was, however, the first to occur for a reason other than death. To date, Nixon is the only president to have resigned. One month after leaving office, President Ford granted Nixon an unconditional pardon for all federal crimes he "committed or may have committed or taken part in" while president.[157][158] Full text Wikisource has information on "Proclamation 4311"


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Works cited

Further reading[edit]

U.S. Presidential Administrations
Preceded by
L. B. Johnson
Nixon Presidency
Succeeded by