Saturday, August 09, 2014

“Long National Nightmare” Came to Conclusion on August 9, 1974

Richard Nixon's resignation letter
Forty years ago, Richard Nixon became the first, and thus far only, U.S. President to resign from office. His downfall was brought about by the June 1972 Watergate burglary and the subsequent cover-up of the crime orchestrated by the White House. Over the course of those two plus years between the burglary and his resignation, Mr. Nixon did not quietly accept his fate. Using all the political and legal means at his disposal, he fought the efforts of a variety of federal government entities that were trying to get the bottom of the scandal, including the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. District of Court of the District of Columbia, and a Special Prosecutor. In the end, however, his fate was sealed by evidence that the President himself was responsible for creating and maintaining: audio tapes that had been recorded using a taping system that he authorized to be installed in the White House’s Oval Office. What these tapes revealed was an ongoing, concerted effort by the President and his staff to obstruct the criminal investigation of the Watergate break-in. Once the most damaging of these tapes were made public in late July of 1974, Nixon was left with only two alternatives: either resign or face impeachment.

On Thursday evening, August 8, 1974, the President addressed the nation and announced that he intended to resign at Noon the next day. In that address, Nixon only admitted to having made errors of judgment. At no point during the speech, or at any point afterwards, did he ever admit to having committed a crime. He was saved the embarrassment of having to face criminal action when his successor, President Gerald Ford, granted him a full pardon on September 8, 1974. It was also Ford who captured the somber mood of a nation suffering from Watergate fatigue when he declared in his inaugural address, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

The Birmingham Public Library offers a wealth of resources for anyone wanting to learn more about the personalities and issues surrounding the Watergate affair. Numerous books, DVDs, and audios are available on both Watergate and the life and presidency of Richard Nixon. The library’s Government Documents Department houses Nixon’s public presidential papers, as well as the congressional hearings that were held in relation to Watergate in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Interested patrons may also want to consult the website of the Mary Ferrell Foundation which has a very well organized collection of material on Watergate that includes full text copies of the congressional hearings, the Report of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, and transcriptions of all of the White House tapes deemed relevant to the Watergate affair.

Jim Murray
Business, Science and Technology Department
Central Library

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