July 27, 1974 – U.S. House Judiciary Committee Adopts the First of Three Articles of Impeachment Against President Richard Nixon

On June 17, 1972, five men, including a salaried security coordinator for President Nixon’s reelection committee, were arrested for breaking into and illegally wiretapping the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Washington, D.C., Watergate complex. The Nixon administration denied any involvement. But later that year, reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of “The Washington Post” discovered a high-level conspiracy surrounding the incident.

In May 1973, the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, headed by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, began televised proceedings on what was now known as “the Watergate Affair.”

The Watergate Complex from the air

In July, the existence of what were to be called the Watergate tapes – official recordings of White House conversations between Nixon and his staff – was revealed during the Senate hearings. It turned out that between February 1971 and July 1973, President Nixon secretly recorded 3,700 hours of his phone calls and meetings across the executive offices.

Archibald Cox, sworn in as special Watergate prosecutor, subpoenaed these tapes, and after three months of delay President Nixon agreed to send summaries of the recordings. When Cox said summaries were unacceptable, Nixon fired him. His successor as special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, leveled indictments against several high-ranking administration officials, including White House legal counsel John Dean, who provided damning testimony against Nixon.

John Dean testifying before Congress during the Watergate hearings

On this day in history the House Judiciary Committee, by a vote of 27-11, with 6 of the committee’s 17 Republicans joining all 21 Democrats, adopted the first of three articles of impeachment against President Nixon. (The three articles pertained to obstruction of justice, abuse of presidential powers, and hindrance of the impeachment process.) The remaining two articles were approved on July 29 and 30.

The impeachment article specified nine categories of unlawful activities that were allegedly part of the cover-up of the original crime, and concluded:

In all this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”

On July 30, under coercion from the Supreme Court, Nixon finally released the Watergate tapes. On August 5, transcripts of the recordings were released, including a segment in which the president was heard instructing Haldeman to order the FBI to halt the Watergate investigation. Three days later, on this day in history, Nixon announced his resignation, and the next day, he left the White House.

U.S. President Richard M. Nixon as he announces his resignation on television, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) (Photo: Hulton Archive)

Shortly after Nixon and his family departed, Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States in the East Room of the White House. After taking the oath of office, President Ford spoke to the nation in a television address, declaring, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” He later pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office, explaining that he wanted to end the national divisions created by the Watergate scandal.

Gerald Ford announcing his pardon of Nixon

Nixontapes.org is a website dedicated to the production and dissemination of digitized audiotapes and transcripts from recordings secretly made by President Nixon between February 1971 and July 1973. Approximately 3,000 hours of his tapes have been declassified, released, and made available to the public. This website claims to be “the only website dedicated solely to the scholarly production and dissemination of digitized Nixon tape audio and transcripts.”

(The website explains that there is currently no plan to release the final 700 hours of Nixon tapes, which have been deemed to be classified or private.)

You can search the tapes by primary participant (other than Nixon), theme, or date. Another section of the website features additional materials, such as analyses of the content of the tapes.

August 8, 1974 – Resignation of President Richard M. Nixon

On June 17, 1972, five men, including a salaried security coordinator for President Nixon’s reelection committee, were arrested for breaking into and illegally wiretapping the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Washington, D.C., Watergate complex. The Nixon administration denied any involvement. But later that year, reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of “The Washington Post” discovered a high-level conspiracy surrounding the incident.

In May 1973, the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, headed by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, began televised proceedings on what was now known as “the Watergate Affair.”

The Watergate Complex from the air

In July, the existence of what were to be called the Watergate tapes – official recordings of White House conversations between Nixon and his staff – was revealed during the Senate hearings. It turned out that between February 1971 and July 1973, President Nixon secretly recorded 3,700 hours of his phone calls and meetings across the executive offices.

Archibald Cox, sworn in as special Watergate prosecutor, subpoenaed these tapes, and after three months of delay President Nixon agreed to send summaries of the recordings. When Cox said summaries were unacceptable, Nixon fired him. His successor as special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, leveled indictments against several high-ranking administration officials, including White House legal counsel John Dean, who provided damning testimony against Nixon.

John Dean testifying before Congress during the Watergate hearings

By the end of July 1974 the House Judiciary Committee had adopted three articles of impeachment against President Nixon: obstruction of justice, abuse of presidential powers, and hindrance of the impeachment process. On July 30, under coercion from the Supreme Court, Nixon finally released the Watergate tapes. On August 5, transcripts of the recordings were released, including a segment in which the president was heard instructing Haldeman to order the FBI to halt the Watergate investigation. Three days later, on this day in history, Nixon announced his resignation, and the next day, he left the White House.

U.S. President Richard M. Nixon as he announces his resignation on television, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) (Photo: Hulton Archive)

Shortly after Nixon and his family departed, Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States in the East Room of the White House. After taking the oath of office, President Ford spoke to the nation in a television address, declaring, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” He later pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office, explaining that he wanted to end the national divisions created by the Watergate scandal.

Gerald Ford announcing his pardon of Nixon

Nixontapes.org is a website dedicated to the production and dissemination of digitized audiotapes and transcripts from recordings secretly made by President Nixon between February 1971 and July 1973. Approximately 3,000 hours of his tapes have been declassified, released, and made available to the public. This website claims to be “the only website dedicated solely to the scholarly production and dissemination of digitized Nixon tape audio and transcripts.”

(The website explains that there is currently no plan to release the final 700 hours of Nixon tapes, which have been deemed to be classified or private.)

You can search the tapes by primary participant (other than Nixon), theme, or date. Another section of the website features additional materials, such as analyses of the content of the tapes.

May 26, 1972 – Nixon and Brezhnev Sign First Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty

During the late 1960s, the United States learned that the Soviet Union had embarked upon a massive Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) buildup designed to reach parity with the United States. Moreover, the Soviet Union had begun to construct a limited Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) defense system around Moscow. The development of an ABM system could allow one side to launch a first strike and then prevent the other from retaliating by shooting down incoming missiles.

President Lyndon Johnson, as a State Department history site recounts, called for strategic arms limitations talks (SALT), and in 1967, he and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin met at Glassboro State College in New Jersey. Nothing was resolved, however.

Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, also believed in the importance of arms limitations, and on November 17, 1969, his administration began formal talks with the Soviets in Helsinki, Finland and in Vienna, Austria. The negotiations lasted until May of 1972.

On this day in history, May 26, 1972, American President Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev signed the first strategic arms limitation treaty. The landmark “SALT I” accord limited nuclear defense systems and froze the number of missiles on each side. (SALT stands for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.) It also provided for the addition of new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers after the same number of older intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and SLBM launchers had been dismantled. You can read a summary of all the provisions here. They also signed the “Interim Agreement Between The United States of America and The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Certain Measures With Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms.” (You can read the text here.)

President Nixon shaking hands with Brezhnev after the signing of SALT; Photo via Richard Nixon Foundation & Library

The State Department site claims that SALT I is considered the crowning achievement of the Nixon-Kissinger strategy of détente. But a number of important issues were not addressed and negotiations for a second round of SALT began in late 1972.

Although SALT II resulted in an agreement in 1979, the United States Senate chose not to ratify the treaty in response to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, which took place later that year. The Soviet legislature also did not ratify it. The agreement expired on December 31, 1985 and was not renewed.

October 23, 1973 – “Saturday Night Massacre” during Nixon Administration

In June 1972, five men associated both with the CIA and with the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (i.e., President Richard Nixon) broke into the Democratic National Committee’s offices in the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C. They were discovered by a security guard, and a scandal erupted.

The Watergate Complex from the air

The Watergate Complex from the air

That August, President Nixon announced that John Dean, who served as White House Counsel for United States President Richard Nixon from July 1970 until April 1973, completed an investigation into the Watergate case and found no involvement with anyone in the White House.

John Dean while serving as White House Counsel

John Dean while serving as White House Counsel

Nevertheless, on February 7, 1973, the U.S. Senate created a Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities to begin its own investigation. Various Nixon administration officials, including Dean, who made a deal to cooperate with investigators, alleged that Nixon’s innermost circle had orchestrated both the break-in, the cover-up of the break-in, and other illegal activities.

Honoring a promise that he had made during his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Elliott Richardson appointed lawyer Archibald Cox to serve as a special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate case if his own nomination garnered approval.

Elliot Richardson is sworn in as Secretary of Defense in February of 1973.

Elliot Richardson is sworn in as Secretary of Defense in February of 1973.

Cox demanded that Nixon produce tape recordings he had made in the Oval Office during the time period in question, and Nixon refused, claiming “executive privilege.”

On the night of October 23, Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Cox. Because Richardson had promised Congress he would appoint Cox, Richardson refused, and resigned in protest. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, and Ruckelshaus also refused and resigned. The Solicitor General, Robert Bork, agreed to fire Cox, in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

Former Watergate Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox in 1983. Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post

Former Watergate Special Prosecutor,
Archibald Cox in 1983.
Lucian Perkins — The Washington Post

Congress was so outraged it introduced bills of impeachment, charging Nixon with abuse of power and obstruction of justice. Meanwhile, Cox’s successor, Leon Jaworski, followed in Cox’s footsteps, much to Nixon’s chagrin. The Supreme Court weighed in as well, and on July 24, 1974, Chief Justice Burger announced the Court’s decision in United States v. Nixon (418 U.S. 683, 1974) requiring Nixon to produce the Oval Office tapes. However, there was an eighteen-minute gap in the transcripts, never found, that Nixon claimed resulted from an error by his secretary.

But what had not been deleted was damaging enough, and on August 8, 1974, Nixon became the first U.S. President to resign from office. Vice President Gerald Ford assumed the presidency, and on September 8, 1974, he pardoned Nixon for any crimes associated with the Watergate affair.

U.S. President Richard M. Nixon as he announces his resignation on television  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

U.S. President Richard M. Nixon as he announces his resignation on television (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

June 17, 1972 – Watergate Break In

On this day in history, a security guard discovered five men breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee inside the Watergate Building in Washington, D.C. The men were later found to be linked not only to the CIA but to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, or CREEP.

The Watergate Complex from the air

The Watergate Complex from the air

The scandal led to the discovery of multiple abuses of power by the administration of Richard Nixon, articles of impeachment, and the subsequent resignation of Nixon from the presidency on August 9, 1974. The scandal also resulted in the indictment of 69 people, with trials or pleas resulting in 25 being found guilty and incarcerated, many of whom were Nixon’s top administration officials.

The term Watergate has come to encompass an array of clandestine and often illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration, and the extension “gate” has come to be associated with scandal generally.

December 9, 1971 – President Nixon Vetoed the Only Publicly Funded Childcare Bill Ever Passed by Congress

The United States Congress passed the Comprehensive Child Development Bill in 1971, with the Senate voting in favor 63 to 17. The Comprehensive Childcare Act (CCA) was intended to meet the growing day-care demand and to provide subsidies for families who could not afford it on their own. The legislation included provisions for medical, nutritional, and educational services for children from infancy to fourteen years of age. But on this day in history, President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill, and Congress failed to override the veto.

Richard M. Nixon, 37th President of the U.S.

Richard M. Nixon, 37th President of the U.S.

In Nixon’s veto message, written by conservative Pat Buchanan, Nixon said that the bill “would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing [a coded reference to Communism] over against the family-centered approach.” He also alleged “There is a respectable school of opinion that this legislation would lead toward altering the family relationship.”

There is some speculation that Nixon, who was up for re-election in 1972, was eager to counter the criticism of the conservative Congressman John Ashbrook of Ohio, who was running against Nixon, and whose slogan was “No Left Turns.”

You can read the full text of Nixon’s veto remarks here.

September 8, 1974 – President Ford Grants an Unconditional Pardon to Ex-President Nixon

On this day in history, President Gerald Ford granted former President Richard M. Nixon an unconditional pardon “for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.”

The pardon exempted Nixon from indictment for, among other things, his role in the cover-up of the Watergate burglary. He issued a statement saying that he could now see he was “wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate.”

President Ford said that he based his decision to pardon Nixon on the consideration in part on he thought Nixon and his family had suffered enough.

You can read the full text of President Ford’s pardon here.

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November 7, 1962 – Nixon Vows Press Won’t Have Him to Kick Around Anymore

On this date in history, former Vice President Richard Nixon held a press conference after losing the 1962 California governor’s race to Edmund G. “Pat” Brown. In a promise that unfortunately turned out not to be true, he assured the reporters “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” You can see an excerpt from that press conference here:

September 26, 1960 – First Televised U.S. Presidential Debate

On this day in history, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon faced each other before television cameras in front of an estimated 70 million American viewers. The debate was carried simultaneously by all three major television networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS. It was also carried by the radio networks of all three and by that of the Mutual Broadcasting System.

Most of the news coverage after the debate focused on the appearance of the two candidates. Kennedy was clearly the more photogenic of the two. Not only was Kennedy young and handsome, but Vice President Nixon had been ill, and appeared pale and unwell. “The New York Times” reported that Nixon “dabbed frequently at the perspiration that beaded out on his chin.”

Today’s presidential candidates are much more aware of the importance of appearance in the televised debates.

First Televised Presidential Debate, September 26, 1960

First Televised Presidential Debate, September 26, 1960