THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: AUGUST 9, 1974

President Nixon Resigns

nixon-resignsOn June 17, 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 October 30, 1973, the House Judiciary Committee began hearings on whether to impeach him. On July 27-30, 1974, it passed three articles of impeachment. The House of Representatives appeared likely to approve the articles — 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 July 24, the Supreme Court had unanimously ordered the president to surrender the transcripts of 64 conversations that Nixon had secretly taped. On August 5 Nixon finally made public the transcripts of three of those discussions. In those discussions, which took place on June 23, 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 August 6, 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 August 7 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 August 8, at 9 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 August 9 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.”

Greenberg, David. “Nixon, Resignation of.” Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 6. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. 110-112. U.S. History in Context. Web.


Learn more about Nixon’s legacy »

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