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President Nixon Resigns!

By Patrick Mondout

On August 9th, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first U.S. President to resign his office rather than become the first to be removed via impeachment. The night before he had made one of the most dramatic appearances in television history by announcing his intention to resign.

A White House speechwriter began drafting a resignation speech several days before the event, as the President agonized over his decision to stay or to go. Speaking to the nation on TV for over 15 minutes, Nixon recounted his successes as President, with an emphasis on foreign policy triumphs such as China (despite his campaign promises of 1969, American troops were still in southeast Asia when he spoke these words). He rationalized his departure as simply a matter of practical politics and the result of losing his political base. Not once did he address the issue of abuse of power nor did he use the word "impeachment."

On the morning of August 9, the day following President Nixon's televised resignation speech, White House Chief of Staff Alexander "I'm in Charge" Haig presented a resignation letter to Nixon to sign. In keeping with a law passed by Congress in 1792, the President's resignation letter was addressed to the Secretary of State. The letter became effective when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger initialed it at 11:35 a.m. Vice-President Gerald Ford was sworn in soon thereafter.


With daughter Tricia Nixon watching, Nixon gives his farewell speech to his cabinet and the White House staff, Aug 9, 1974.


Photo by Karl Schumacher, courtesy NARA


President Ford, the man he chose to replace Spiro Agnew (who also resigned), granted Nixon a pardon which ensured he would not do jail time nor be compelled to testify against co-conspirators.

Nixon would spend the rest of his life attempting to gain a more favorable place in history while grooming an elder-statesman image with the help of political friends like protégé Bob Dole. Nixon wrote many books and gave many interviews and speeches but could never quite bring himself to admit responsibility for the Watergate crimes.

Watergate Bibliography:
(We have a much more complete bibliography here.)
Ambrose, Stephen. Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 1973-1990. Simon & Schuster, 1991.
Discovery Communications. Watergate (3 part documentary). 1995.
Emery, Fred. Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon. Crown, 1994.
Morris, Roger. Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician. Henry Holt, 1989.
Pakula, Alan. All The President's Men (motion picture). 1976.
Woodward, Bob and Bernstein, Carl. All The President's Men. Simon & Schuster, 1974.
Woodward, Bob and Bernstein, Carl. The Final Days. Simon & Schuster, 1975.
Woodward, Bob. The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat. Simon & Schuster, 2005.



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President Nixon waves his victory sign to the White House staff for the last time.


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