Richard Nixon Became the First President to Resign From Office 45 Years Ago On This Date
How do you feel about Nixon's resignation on its anniversary?
by Countable | 8.8.19
On August 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon became the first president to resign from office amid an accelerating impeachment inquiry prompted by the Watergate scandal. Vice President Gerald Ford took the oath of office to become the 38th president of the United States.
Less than two weeks before Nixon’s resignation, the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress over the course of July 27-30, 1974:
- The obstruction articles were linked to efforts by Nixon to delay, mislead, and cover up an investigation into the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972. The articles passed 27-11 with all Democrats and six Republicans voting in favor (11 GOP reps voted no).
- The abuse of power articles were linked to efforts by Nixon misuse the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to violate the constitutional rights of citizens. They passed on a vote of 28-10 with all Democrats and seven Republicans voting in favor (10 GOP reps voted no).
- The contempt of Congress articles were linked to efforts by Nixon and his administration to ignore and disobey subpoenas issued by Congress, actions deemed “subversive of constitutional government”. The articles passed on a 21-17 vote with 19 Democrats & two Republicans in favor, and 15 Republicans & two Democrats opposed.
- Other articles of impeachment related to unauthorized bombing in Cambodia and failure to pay taxes were rejected on votes of 12-26 with all Republicans and nine Democrats opposed.
Nixon insisted he wouldn’t resign and would allow the constitutional process to play out, but on August 5, 1974, the so-called “Smoking Gun” tape was released by the White House pursuant to an order by the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Nixon. The tape featured Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman conspiring to block investigations into the Watergate break-in.
Two days later, key Republican senators went to the White House to tell Nixon that support for his continued presidency had deteriorated and that the Senate had the votes for a conviction that would result in his removal from office. On August 8th, Nixon delivered an address to the nation from the Oval Office announcing his resignation:
“I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put the interests of America first… To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home. Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”
On August 9, 1974, Nixon issued a one-sentence resignation letter stating “I hereby resign the Office of President of the United States.” After taking the oath of office, President Gerald Ford offered remarks from the Oval Office and expressed in part:
“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over… As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate. In the beginning, I asked you to pray for me. Before closing, I ask again your prayers, for Richard Nixon and his family. May our former President, who brought peace to millions, find it for himself. May God bless and comfort his wonderful wife and daughters, whose love and loyalty will forever be a shining legacy to all who bear the lonely burdens of the White House.”
Nearly a month later on September 8, 1974, Ford granted Nixon a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes Nixon may have committed while in office. The decision sparked controversy and later led to Ford becoming the first sitting president since Abraham Lincoln to give testimony before the House of Representatives in an effort to explain the pardon, which Nixon accepted in a statement that read in part:
“No words can describe the depths of my regret and pain at the anguish my mistakes over Watergate have caused the nation and the Presidency, a nation I so deeply love and an institution I so greatly respect. I know that many fair-minded people believe that my motivation and actions in the Watergate affair were intentionally self-serving and illegal. I now understand how my own mistakes and misjudgments have contributed to that belief and seemed to support it. This burden is the heaviest one of all to bear.”
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Ollie Atkins / Public Domain)
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