The Nixon Administration
Republican Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968 and easily won reelection in 1972; however he left office amidst a scandal in 1974.
Identify Nixon’s domestic and foreign policy achievements
- Richard Milhous Nixon was elected President in the election of 1968, narrowly beating the incumbent Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, and pledging to end partisan acrimony. After winning a landslide reelection victory in 1972, Nixon resigned before the end of his term in 1974 amidst political scandal and allegations of criminal involvement in the Watergate scandal.
- Guided by Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s foreign policy was marked by a new era of U.S.-Chinese relations, which in turn helped pressure the Soviet Union to agree to
détente with the United States.
- Nixon oversaw the end of American involvement in Vietnam, which went hand-in-hand with the “Vietnamization” of the war, replacing American troops with Vietnamese troops.
- In 1970, Nixon advocated a New Federalism, which would devolve power to state and local elected officials.
- Nixon implemented the Philadelphia Plan, the nation’s first affirmative action legislation.
- Philadelphia Plan: An act of legislation, revised in 1969, that required federal contractors to meet certain goals for the hiring of African American employees by specific dates, in order to combat institutionalized discrimination on the part of specific skilled building trades unions.
- affirmative action: A policy or program providing advantages for people of a minority group who have been historically and institutionally discriminated against, with the aim of creating a more egalitarian society through preferential access to education, employment, health care, social welfare, etc.
- Vietnamization: A policy of the Richard M. Nixon administration during the Vietnam War, as a result of the Viet Cong’s Tet Offensive, to “expand, equip, and train South Vietnam’s forces and assign to them an ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U.S. combat troops.”
- détente: A term often used in reference to the general easing of the geo-political tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, beginning in 1969.
Nixon Becomes President
Richard Milhous Nixon was elected President in the election of 1968, narrowly beating the incumbent Vice President, Hubert Humphrey. Nixon became only the second Republican president elected since 1932. He was inaugurated on January 20, 1969, sworn in by his former political rival, Chief Justice Earl Warren. In his inaugural address, which received almost uniformly positive reviews, Nixon remarked that “the greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker”—a phrase that would later be placed on his gravestone. He pledged an end to partisan acrimony and a new era of unity:
In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading. We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another, until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.
In 1972, Nixon was reelected, defeating Democratic Senator George McGovern in a landslide victory. Emphasizing a stable economy and his successes in foreign affairs, Nixon won 60.7% of the popular vote, only slightly lower than Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. However, Nixon resigned before the end of his term, on August 9, 1974, amidst a scandal that came to be known as Watergate. On June 17, Nixon was implicated in the burglary of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate complex, and he became the only president in American history to resign.
Nixon was popular among voters in the South, Southwest, and Northern suburbs as he appealed to their anxieties about civil rights, women’s rights, antiwar protests, and the counterculture taking place around them. Nixon spent his first term in office pushing measures that slowed the progress of civil rights and sought to restore economic stability. His greatest triumphs were in foreign policy, but his largest priority throughout his first term was his reelection in 1972.
Nixon’s Foreign Policy
Nixon achieved some successes in the realm of foreign policy. Assisted by Henry Kissinger (initially Nixon’s National Security Advisor and later his Secretary of State), Nixon initiated diplomatic relations with China, and made a well-received and productive visit to China in February of 1972. The visit ushered in a new era of U.S.-Chinese relations. Fearing the possibility of a U.S.-Chinese alliance, the Soviet Union yielded to pressure for détente with the United States.
Nixon had pledged to end America’s military involvement in Vietnam, which had been greatly escalated by his predecessor, President Johnson. Nixon’s strategy included a secret bombing campaign of North Vietnamese positions in Cambodia, coupled with what was termed as “Vietnamization” of the war—replacing American troops with Vietnamese troops. Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords in 1975, allowing for the withdrawal of remaining American troops. North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam in 1975.
The Nixon administration also improved diplomatic relations with the USSR. In successful summits, Nixon and Brezhnev proclaimed a new era of “peaceful coexistence.” The USSR and the United States agreed to arms reduction treaties, and USSR limited its support of North Vietnam.
Nixon’s Domestic Policies
In domestic policy, Nixon advocated a New Federalism, which would devolve power to state and local elected officials. Congress, however, was hostile to these ideas and enacted few of them. During this era, Nixon contended with budget deficits and high inflation. He made controlling inflation a priority, experimenting with price controls with mixed success. Nixon also sparred with Democratic senators over national health insurance. On civil rights, Nixon sought to find a politically popular solution to the school integration issue, though he could not avert widespread anti-bussing riots around the country. Nixon also implemented the Philadelphia Plan, the nation’s first affirmative action legislation, in 1970.
Vietnam Becomes Nixon’s War
The Nixon Doctrine aimed to gradually strengthen South Vietnamese forces so they could defend themselves against North Vietnam without U.S. support.
Analyze Nixon’s strategies for ending American involvement in the Vietnam War
- Nixon’s overtures to the communist People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union resulted in an era of detente and nuclear arms reduction.
- While Nixon viewed the collapse of South Vietnam as inevitable, he and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger strove to preserve South Vietnamese security for a “decent interval” so that Nixon could not be blamed for its fall.
- In an effort to pressure North Vietnam into negotiations and to buy time for the U.S. withdrawal, Nixon approved a secret bombing campaign (code-named Operation Menu) in 1969, which resulted in the largest bombing operation since World War II.
- Nixon’s strategy against North Vietnam included the initiation of military incursions into Cambodia, and the installation of pro-American General Lon Nol, who replaced Prince Sihanouk as the ruler of Cambodia in 1970.
- Several unintended consequences of Nixon’s Cambodian Campaign led to the destabilization of the country and increased support for the North Vietnamese Army (PAVN). The Cambodian Campaign sparked a surge in anti-war activism in the United States, which included large-scale demonstrations on American college campuses that often ended in violence.
- Nixon Doctrine: A statement put forth in a press conference in Guam on July 25, 1969, by the President of the United States, in which he stated that the United States henceforth expected its allies to take care of their own military defense, but that the U.S. would aid in defense as requested.
- Cambodian Campaign: A series of military operations conducted in during mid-1970 by the United States (U.S.) and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) during the Vietnam War.
- fragging: A term used to describe the deliberate killing or attempted killing of a soldier by a fellow soldier, usually a superior officer or non-commissioned officer.
- détente: A term often used in reference to the general easing of the geo-political tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, beginning in 1969.
Richard Nixon campaigned for the 1968 presidential election behind the promise that he would end the war in Vietnam and bring “peace with honor.” At the time Nixon took office in 1969, roughly 300 American soldiers were dying each week in Vietnam. The war was broadly unpopular in the United States, with violent protests occurring frequently. Amid protests at home demanding an immediate pullout, President Nixon implemented a strategy of replacing American troops with Vietnamese troops, known as Vietnamization. The goal of the American military was to buy time so it could gradually build up the strength of the South Vietnamese armed forces by re-equipping them with modern weapons. This policy became the cornerstone of the Nixon Doctrine.
The Johnson administration had reached an agreement with the North Vietnamese to suspend bombing in exchange for negotiations without preconditions, but this agreement never fully took effect. Thus, Nixon sought to implement a policy that would ensure the safety of American forces from North Vietnamese attacks as they withdrew from and evacuated South Vietnam. No policy ever came to fruition, however, resulting in the continuation of the American war commitment for another five years.
Adjusting to Nixon’s policy of Vietnamization, General Creighton W. Abrams, commander of the American military forces in Vietnam, advocated for smaller-scale operations against the logistics of the two North Vietnam armies, the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the National Liberation Front (NLF); more openness with the media; and more meaningful cooperation with the South Vietnamese forces. Vietnamization of the war, however, created a dilemma for U.S. forces. The strategy required that the U.S. troops fight long enough for the South Vietnamese army, the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN), to improve enough to hold its own against the northern forces. Morale in the U.S. ranks rapidly declined during 1969-1972, as evidenced by declining discipline, worsening drug use among soldiers, and increased fraggings of U.S. officers by disgruntled troops.
U.S. Relations with China and the Soviet Union
One of Nixon’s primary foreign policy goals was to achieve breakthroughs in U.S. relations with both the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union. An avowed anti-communist since early in his political career, Nixon could make diplomatic overtures to the communists without being accused by the American public of being “soft on communism.” These overtures resulted in an era of détente, in which the U.S. and the Soviet Union reduced their nuclear arms, enabling productive dialogue with China.
Nixon viewed the conflict in Vietnam as merely a small part of the larger tapestry of the United States’ relations with other global superpowers. Although Nixon believed the collapse of South Vietnam to be inevitable, he was still determined to preserve South Vietnamese security long enough to separate himself from any blame that a collapse might evoke. To this end, Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger employed Chinese and Soviet foreign policy gambits to defuse some of the anti-war opposition at home, and to pressure North Vietnam into favoring negotiations.
Operation Menu and the Cambodian Campaign
In order to intensify the pressure on North Vietnam to negotiate, and to buy time for U.S. withdrawal, Nixon approved a secret bombing campaign of North Vietnamese positions in Cambodia in March of 1969 (code-named Operation Menu). The tactical goal of this bombing was to destroy what was believed to be the headquarters of the northern Viet Cong army. Approximately 2,756,941 tons of bombs were dropped on Cambodia over the next five years. In correlation with the bombing campaign, Nixon began efforts to negotiate peace with the North Vietnamese in mid-1969.
The following year, Nixon launched military incursions into Cambodian territory. This decision was enabled when, on March 18, 1970, Cambodian ruler Prince Sihanouk was deposed by a vote of the National Assembly, and replaced by the pro-American General Lon Nol. Cambodia’s ports were immediately closed to North Vietnamese military supplies, and the government demanded that the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and National Liberation Front (NLF) forces, both northern armies, be removed from the border areas within 72 hours. Taking advantage of the situation, Nixon ordered a military incursion into Cambodia by troops from the U.S. and the southern-based Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), in hopes of destroying PAVN/NLF sanctuaries bordering South Vietnam and buying time for U.S. withdrawal. During the Cambodian Campaign, U.S. and ARVN forces discovered and then either removed or destroyed a huge logistical and intelligence haul in Cambodia.
Politically, the Cambodian incursion resulted in two unintended effects. First, it pushed the PAVN (the North Vietnamese army) deeper into Cambodia, which destabilized the country. Secondly, it forced the North Vietnamese to openly support its allies, the Chinese-supported Khmer Rouge, and allowed the latter to extend their power (the Khmer Rouge would commit atrocities in the Cambodian Civil War later that decade). Moreover, the American incursion into Cambodia was especially violent compared to the behavior displayed by the North Vietnamese troops, thus increasing support for the North Vietnamese cause even further. Sihanouk arrived in Beijing, where he established and headed a government in exile, and threw his substantial personal support behind the Khmer Rouge, the North Vietnamese, and the Laotian Pathet Lao.
Protests at Home
This incursion sparked a surge in anti-war activism in the United States. Many Americans perceived the expansion of the conflict into yet another country as a negation of Nixon’s promise to de-escalate the war. Unfortunately, some of the ensuing protests resulted in tragedy. Four students were killed by Ohio National Guardsmen during a demonstration at Kent State University, and two other students were killed at Jackson State University in Mississippi. In an effort to lessen opposition to the war, Nixon announced on October 12 that the U.S. would withdraw 40,000 more troops from Vietnam before Christmas. Nevertheless, the actions led to charges that Nixon had a “credibility gap” regarding Vietnam.
Gradual Withdrawal of Troops
In 1972, the withdrawal of American troops, who numbered less than 100,000 at the beginning of the year, continued as scheduled. By June, only six infantry battalions remained. On August 12, the last American ground combat division left the country. However, the U.S. continued to operate the base At Long Binh. Combat patrols continued there until November 11, when the U.S. handed over the base to the South Vietnamese. After this, only 24,000 American troops remained in Vietnam, and President Nixon announced that they would stay there until all U.S. prisoners of war were freed.
Nixon and Foreign Policy
Under the Nixon Doctrine, the U.S. continued to assist its allies through economic aid and military supplies, while encouraging allies’ self defense.
Analyze the Nixon Doctrine
- Nixon’s foreign policy strategy, the Nixon Doctrine, focused on safeguarding America’s strategic Cold War interests, while engaging in diplomacy with some of the United State’s biggest Cold War nemeses, the Soviet Union and China.
- Nixon stated that the United States would expect its allies to manage their own military defense, and that, in lieu of direct military action, the U.S. would provide economic aid and military supplies.
- The 1973 Paris Peace Accords on “Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam” officially ended direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. However, conflict continued until the eventual defeat of South Vietnam. Application of the Nixon Doctrine “opened the floodgates” of U.S. military aid to allies in the Persian Gulf; in the long-term, it made direct U.S. military involvement in the Gulf War and Iraq War more likely.
- Allegations of CIA involvement in a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet to overthrow Chilean President Salvador Allende, a Marxist, has since placed Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissenger ‘s foreign policy in question.
- Nixon’s involvement in the 1973 airlift of American arms to Israel during the Yom Kippur War increased tensions with Arab countries, resulting in the 1973 oil embargo, and exemplifying Nixon Doctrine in practice.
- Kissinger continued to engage in shuttle diplomacy, as part of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, during the Nixon and Ford administrations.
- Augusto Pinochet: Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, more commonly known as Augusto Pinochet, (November 25, 1915-December 10, 2006), was an army general and dictator of Chile, from 1973 until transferring power to a democratically elected president in 1990. He was the commander-in-chief of the Chilean army from 1973 to 1998, and president of the Government Junta of Chile from 1973 to 1981. He assumed power in a coup d’état on September 11, 1973 that overthrew the government of Salvador Allende.
- Henry Kissenger: Heinz Alfred “Henry” Kissinger is a German-born American writer, political scientist, diplomat, and businessman. A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, he served as National Security Advisor, and later concurrently as Secretary of State in the administrations of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
- Yom Kippur War: A war fought from October 6-25, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria.
President Nixon’s most significant accomplishments were arguably in the field of foreign policy. Nixon formed what became known as the Nixon Doctrine, an approach to the Cold War in which the United States would continue to assist its allies but would not assume the responsibility of defending the entire non-communist world. Within this, his biggest achievements were in diplomacy with China and the Soviet Union.
The Nixon Doctrine
The Nixon Doctrine (also known as the Guam Doctrine) was first issued by Nixon in a press conference in Guam on July 25, 1969. Nixon stated that while the United States would continue to offer military and other support to its allies, it would henceforth expect its allies to take the lead in their own military defense, and that, in lieu of direct military action, the U.S. would also provide economic aid and military supplies. Nixon laid out the Doctrine’s tenants in an address to the nation on November 3, 1969:
- First, the United States would keep all of its treaty commitments.
- Second, they would provide a shield if a nuclear power threatened the freedom of an allied nation, or a nation “whose survival we consider vital to our security.”
- Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, the U.S. would furnish military and economic assistance when requested, in accordance with its treaty commitments; however, the nation directly threatened would assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its own defense.
During Nixon’s presidency, an end to direct military involvement in the Vietnam War was demanded by a majority of Americans: a poll in May showed 56% of the public believed sending troops to Vietnam was a mistake. Public opinion favored withdrawal from Vietnam, even if it meant abandonment of its treaties and a communist takeover of South Vietnam. U.S. retreat from a strategy of military intervention on behalf of Cold War allies was also driven by financial concerns and the growing expense of maintaining the war.
The Nixon administration also applied the Nixon Doctrine to conflicts in the Persian Gulf region, giving military aid to Iran and Saudi Arabia. According to author Michael Klare, application of the Nixon Doctrine “opened the floodgates” of U.S. military aid to allies in the Persian Gulf, setting the stage for the Carter Doctrine in 1980.
The Paris Peace Accords
The Paris Peace Accords of 1973 intended to establish peace in Vietnam and end the Vietnam War. They ended direct U.S. military involvement and temporarily stopped the fighting between North and South Vietnam. The governments of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam ( North Vietnam ), the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the United States, as well as the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), which represented indigenous South Vietnamese revolutionaries, signed the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam on January 27, 1973. The agreement was not ratified by the U.S. Senate. In March of 1973, Nixon implied that the United States would intervene militarily if the communist side violated the ceasefire; however on June 4, 1973, the U.S. Senate passed the Case-Church Amendment to prohibit such intervention.
Renewed Conflict and the Fall of South Vietnam
After the withdrawal of American forces, it was not long before renewed conflict ignited between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The Vietcong resumed offensive operations when the dry season began, and by January of 1974, it had recaptured the territory it lost during the previous dry season. After two clashes that left 55 South Vietnamese soldiers dead, President Thiệu announced on January 4, 1974 that the war had restarted and that the Paris Peace Accord was no longer in effect. There had been over 25,000 South Vietnamese casualties during the ceasefire period.
On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese troops overcame all resistance and took Saigon. Following the North Vietnamese takeover of South Vietnam, a reunited Vietnam subsequently invaded the Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia) during the Cambodian-Vietnamese War, and fought the Third Indochina War, or the Sino-Vietnamese War, against a Chinese invasion. Amidst the violence in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, more than three million people fled the region, eventually finding their way to the United States, Canada, Australia, and France, after being refused by many Asian countries.
Effects of the War on the U.S.
Between 1965 and 1975, the United States spent $686 billion, resulting in a large federal budget deficit. More than three million Americans served in the Vietnam War; by war’s end, 58,220 American soldiers had been killed, more than 150,000 had been wounded, and at least 21,000 had been permanently disabled. In 1977, United States President Jimmy Carter granted a full, complete, and unconditional pardon to all Vietnam-era draft dodgers. Large death tolls amongst American soldiers, including many under the age of 21, combined with large numbers of desertions and draft dodging led to drastic changes in the U.S. military, including the end of conscription. In addition to human losses and financial deficit, U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War demonstrated to many in the U.S. that there were limitations to its overseas military engagements.
The Nixon administration pursued America’s strategic interests in conflicts in Latin America. Nixon had been a firm supporter of Kennedy in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Upon taking office, Nixon increased covert operations against communist Cuba and its president, Fidel Castro. These activities worried the Soviets and Cubans, who feared Nixon might attack Cuba, in violation of the 1962 agreement which had ended the missile crisis. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence revealed that the Soviet Union was expanding their base at the Cuban port of Cienfuegos in October of 1970. A minor confrontation ensued, which was concluded with an understanding that the Soviets would not use Cienfuegos for submarines bearing ballistic missiles. The final round of diplomatic notes, reaffirming the 1962 accord, were exchanged in November.
In September of 1970, the election of Marxist candidate Salvador Allende as President of Chile led Nixon to order that Allende not be allowed to take office. Edward Korry, U.S. Ambassador to Chile, told Nixon that he saw no alternative to Allende, and Nixon ruled out American intervention, though he remained willing to assist opponents of Allende who might come forward. The military regrouped under General Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew Allende in 1973 with the backing of the United States. During the coup, the deposed president died under disputed circumstances. There have been allegations of CIA involvement in the coup, incited by declassified transcripts of conversations between Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger.
The Middle East
The Nixon administration strongly supported Israel, an American ally in the Middle East, although the support was not unconditional. Nixon believed that Israel should make peace with its Palestinian Arab neighbors, and that the United States should encourage this. The president believed that—except during the Suez Crisis—the U.S. had failed to put sufficient pressure on Israel to do its part in the conflict resolution process. Nixon believed that the U.S. should use it massive military aid contributions to Israel as leverage in bringing all parties to the negotiating table. However, the Arab-Israeli conflict was not a major focus of Nixon’s attention during his first term—he felt that no matter what he did, American Jews would oppose his reelection, and much of his efforts during his first term were geared toward ensuring his reelection.
In October of 1973, an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, beginning the Yom Kippur War. Israel suffered initial losses but had cut deep into foreign territory by the time the U.S. and Soviet Union had negotiated a truce. After taking no action at the beginning of the war, Nixon cut through inter-departmental squabbles and bureaucracy to initiate an airlift of American arms. The war resulted in the 1973 oil crisis, in which Arab nations refused to sell crude oil to the U.S. in retaliation for its support of Israel.
The Energy Crisis
In October of 1973, the members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, or the OAPEC, proclaimed an oil embargo “in response to the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military” during the Yom Kippur War; it lasted until March of 1974. OAPEC declared that it would limit or stop oil shipments to the United States and other countries if they supported Israel in the conflict.
The U.S. actions were seen as initiating the oil embargo, and the long-term possibility of embargo-related high oil prices—along with the disrupted supply and the resulting recession—created a strong rift within NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance of countries from Europe and North America). As a result, European countries and Japan sought to disassociate themselves from the U.S. Middle East policy. Arab oil producers had also linked the end of the embargo with successful U.S. efforts to create peace in the Middle East, which complicated the situation. To address these developments, the Nixon Administration began parallel negotiations with both Arab oil producers, to end the embargo, and with Egypt, Syria, and Israel, to arrange an Israeli pull-back of military forces. By January 18, 1974, Kissinger had negotiated an Israeli troop withdrawal from parts of the Sinai. The promise of a negotiated settlement between Israel and Syria was sufficient to convince Arab oil producers to lift the embargo in March of 1974. By May, Israel agreed to withdraw from the Golan Heights.
The effects of the embargo were immediate, and the price of oil quadrupled by 1974. This had a dramatic effect on oil-exporting nations, as the countries of the Middle East, which had long been dominated by the major industrial powers of the world, were seen to have acquired control of a vital commodity. The traditional flow of capital reversed as the oil-exporting nations accumulated more wealth. The Arab embargo had a negative impact on the U.S. economy, causing immediate demands to address the threats to U.S. energy security, and search for new ways to develop expensive oil. The retail price of a gallon of gasoline (petrol) rose from a national average of 38.5 cents in May 1973, to 55.1 cents in June 1974. State governments requested citizens not put up Christmas lights, with Oregon banning commercial lighting altogether. Politicians called for a national gas rationing program. The energy crisis lingered on throughout the 1970s, amid the weakening competitive position of the dollar in world markets.
In diplomacy and international relations, shuttle diplomacy is the action of a third party in serving as an intermediary between principals in a dispute, without direct principal-to-principal contact. Originally, and usually, the process entails successive travel (“shuttling”) by the intermediary, from the working location of one principal to that of another. The term was first applied to describe the efforts of United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, beginning November 5, 1973, which facilitated the cessation of hostilities following the Yom Kippur War. Negotiators often use shuttle diplomacy when one or both of the two principals refuses to recognize the other.
Shuttle diplomacy became an important part of Kissinger’s diplomatic efforts in the Middle East during the Nixon and Ford administrations. He accomplished the Sinai Interim Agreement (1975), and arrangements between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights (1974). Kissinger also oversaw United States negotiations in Vietnam in the 1960’s, playing a leading role in the negotiations that produced the Paris Peace Accords. Under Kissinger’s influence, the United States government supported Pakistan in the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. Kissinger was particularly concerned about the expansion of Soviet influence in South Asia as a result of a treaty of friendship recently signed by India and the U.S.S.R., and he sought to demonstrate to the People’s Republic of China (Pakistan’s ally and an enemy of both India and the Soviet Union) the value of a tacit alliance with the United States.
Nixon in China
Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China was an important step in easing relations between both nations.
Analyze Nixon’s 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China
- President Nixon’s 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) marked an important turning point in U.S.-China relations after 22 years of separation.
- Nixon’s foreign policy was heavily influenced by his National Security Advisor and future Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
- In China, Nixon and Kissinger met with Chairman Mao Zedong, and Chinese Premeir Zhou Enlai, to address the nations’ shared interests, which included the controversial recognition of Taiwan as part of China.
- The improved relations between the U.S. and PRC entailed a significant shift in the Cold War balance of power, pitting China with the U.S. against the Soviet Union.
- Improved relations between the United States and China and the Soviet Union resulted in a change in America’s involvement in Vietnam. Both China and the Soviet Union, North Vietnam ‘s two allies and sponsors, cut back on their diplomatic support for North Vietnam.
- Mao Zedong: A Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, anti-imperialist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution; the architect and founding father of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from its establishment in 1949. He held authoritarian control over the nation until his death in 1976.
- Henry Kissinger: A German-born American writer, political scientist, diplomat, and businessman who served as National Security Advisor, and later concurrently as Secretary of State in the administrations of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
- Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty: An agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union, signed in 1972, on the limitation of the weapons systems used in defending areas against nuclear weapons.
Nixon’s Visit to China
Richard Nixon ‘s 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was an important step in easing relations between the two countries. The visit marked the first time a U.S. president had entered the PRC, which at that time considered the U.S. one of its staunchest enemies. Since the Chinese Civil War, the U.S. had not had diplomatic relations with the Beijing government, instead recognizing the Republic of China in Taiwan as the legitimate Chinese government.
Nixon’s policy on China was greatly influenced by Henry Kissinger, the National Security Advisor and future Secretary of State with whom the President worked closely (often bypassing Cabinet officials). Early in his first term, Nixon and Kissinger began sending subtle overtures to the PRC government. With relations between the Soviet Union and China at a low point—border clashes between the two took place during Nixon’s first year in office—Nixon sent private word to the Chinese that he desired closer relations. A breakthrough came in early 1971, when Chairman Mao invited a team of American table tennis players to visit China and play against top Chinese players. Nixon followed up by sending Kissinger to China for clandestine meetings with Chinese officials. On July 15, 1971, it was simultaneously announced by Beijing and by Nixon that the President would visit China the following February. The announcements astounded the world. The secrecy allowed both sets of leaders time to prepare the political climate in their countries for the contact.
In February of 1972, Nixon and his wife traveled to China, accompanied by over 100 television journalists. On Nixon’s orders, television was strongly favored over printed publications, as Nixon felt that the medium would capture the visit much better than print. Nixon and Kissinger met for an hour with Mao and Zhou at Mao’s official private residence, where they discussed a range of issues. Nixon and Zhou agreed to a joint communique addressing the nations’ shared interests and common positions on geopolitical questions. Controversially, the communique recognized Taiwan as a part of China and looked forward to a peaceful solution to the problem of reunification. The statement enabled the U.S. and PRC to temporarily set aside the “crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations” concerning the political status of Taiwan, and to open trade and other contacts. However, the United States continued to maintain official relations with the government of the Republic of China in Taiwan until 1979, when the U.S. broke off formal diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, and established full diplomatic relations with the PRC.
The repercussions of Nixon’s visit to China were vast. The improved relations between the U.S. and PRC entailed a significant shift in the Cold War balance of power, pitting China with the U.S. against the Soviet Union. Specifically, Nixon used the improving international environment to address the topic of nuclear arms.
Following the announcement of his visit to China, Nixon made a visit to Moscow, arriving on May 22, 1972. Nixon met and engaged in intense negotiations with Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party. Out of the summit came agreements for increased trade and two landmark arms control treaties: SALT I, the first comprehensive limitation pact signed by the two superpowers, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which banned the development of systems designed to intercept incoming missiles. Nixon and Brezhnev proclaimed a new era of “peaceful coexistence.”
Improved relations between the United States and both China and the Soviet Union resulted in a change in America’s situation in Vietnam. Both China and the Soviet Union—North Vietnam’s two allies and sponsors—cut back on their diplomatic support for North Vietnam, and as a result, the United States began working to withdraw its troops from the region.
Nixon and the Economy
Nixon’s domestic policies were shaped by the ideas of New Federalism, which proposed the decentralization of political power.
Analyze Nixon’s economic policies
- Nixon’s economic policies were shaped by an economic climate of high inflation, high interest rates, and large government spending resulting from the Vietnam War and the Great Society programs of the Johnson administration.
- Taking advantage of new authorities to impose wage and price freezes, Nixon subsequently enacted temporary wage and price controls in an attempt to reduce inflation and strengthen the U.S. economy.
- Nixon’s anti-inflation stance, while in reality only somewhat effective, helped increase Nixon’s political popularity.
- During Nixon’s second term, price controls became unpopular and were seen as more dangerous than the powerful labor unions associated with the Democratic Party.
- Wage Cut: An economy-wide tool to manage wages, most commonly as a response to inflation, and usually below market level, as part of an incomes policy.
- New Federalism: A political philosophy of devolution, or the transfer of certain powers from the United States federal government back to the states; the restoration to the states of some of the autonomy and power they had lost to the federal government as a consequence of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
- Price Freeze: An economy-wide tool to control costs, most commonly instituted as a response to inflation, and usually below market level, as part of an incomes policy.
Nixon’s Domestic Policies
Nixon was far more interested in foreign affairs than domestic policies; however, he believed voters tended to focus on their own financial conditions. At the time Nixon took office in 1969, inflation was at 4.7 percent—its highest rate since the Korean War. The Great Society had been enacted under Johnson, and its expensive policies were, together with the costs of the Vietnam War, causing large budget deficits. Unemployment was low, but interest rates were at the highest they’d been in a century. Nixon thus perceived the state of the economy to be a threat to his reelection chances.
The primary goal of Nixon’s economic policy was the reduction of inflation rates. The most obvious means of reducing inflation was the cessation of the Vietnam War. This policy could not be implemented overnight, however, and the U.S. economy continued to struggle throughout 1970, contributing to a lackluster Republican performance in the midterm congressional elections, and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress throughout Nixon’s presidency.
Nixon’s broader philosophy on domestic policy was informed by the ideas of New Federalism, which proposed the decentralization of political power, and the transfer of certain powers from the United States federal government back to the states. The primary objective of New Federalism, as opposed to the 18th-century political philosophy of Federalism, is the restoration to the states of some of the autonomy and power that they had lost to the federal government during the New Deal, including the power to administer social programs. Pursuing New Federalist policies, Nixon’s budget included grants to the states and the sharing of federal revenue with states. These proposals were mostly rejected by congress; however, Nixon gained popularity from voters by advocating these policies.
The Nixon Shock
By 1971, the American money supply (the total number of dollars available in the economy) had increased by 10%. Due to both the excess printed dollars and the negative U.S. trade balance, other nations began demanding fulfillment of America’s “promise to pay”—that is, the redemption of their dollars in exchange for gold. Meanwhile, European countries began leaving the Bretton Woods international financial system, which had based the value of foreign currencies on the value of the gold-backed dollar.
In 1970, Congress had granted the president the power to impose wage cuts and price freezes. The Democratic majorities, knowing Nixon had opposed such controls through his career, did not expect Nixon to actually use this authority. With inflation unresolved by August of 1971, and an election year looming, however, Nixon convened a summit of his economic advisers at Camp David. He subsequently announced temporary wage and price controls. He also suspended the gold standard, allowing the dollar to float against other currencies and ending the convertibility of the dollar into gold. The move had momentous consequences for the system of international financial exchange, and in turn, other nation’s economies. Because Nixon made the decision without consulting any interested foreign parties, the international community deemed the new American policies the “Nixon Shock.”
These policies essentially ended the Bretton Woods system of international financial exchange, which had been in place since the end of World War II. The “Nixon Shock” ended the direct convertibility of the United States dollar to gold, otherwise known as the gold standard. Nixon’s policies dampened inflation through 1972, although their after-effects contributed to inflation during his second term and into the following Ford administration. The policies were more successful, however, as political maneuvers. By aligning himself with anti-inflation policies, Nixon appealed to voters and created a strong competition for Democrats.
Nixon’s Second Term
After the 1972 elections, which Nixon won handily, inflation began to rise again. Nixon thus reimposed price controls in June of 1973, which quickly became unpopular with the public and businesspeople. Many saw the price board bureaucracy, associated with Republican policy, as more dangerous than powerful labor unions, which were associated with the Democratic party. The price controls produced food shortages, as meat disappeared from grocery stores, and farmers drowned chickens rather than sell them at a loss. Despite the failure to control inflation, controls were slowly ended, and on April 30, 1974, their statutory authorization lapsed.
Civil Rights Under Nixon
The Nixon administration, prioritizing a return to “law and order,” did not advance civil rights to the extent of the previous administrations.
Describe civil rights under the Nixon administration
- Public support for civil rights had peaked in the mid-1960’s; however, race riots sparked a conservative backlash in the public opinion of white citizens.
- A majority of fearful white Americans began to prioritize “law and order” over the advancements of civil rights, and Nixon sought an approach that would appeal to his entire voting base.
- Nixon promised a return to law and order and did not prioritize civil rights to the extent his predecessors had; however, his administration still made advancements to educational and economic opportunities to African Americans.
- Nixon appointed Vice President Spiro Agnew, who delegated this role to Labor Secretary George Shultz, to lead a task force on school integration.
- Nixon’s civil rights efforts included the Philadelphia Plan of 1970, the first significant federal affirmative action program, which required government contractors to meet certain minority quotas in hiring workers.
- Nixon’s civil rights efforts also included his endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that outlawed any form of discrimination based on sex; however, the amendment failed state ratification.
- Philadelphia Plan: A legislative act that required federal contractors to meet certain goals for the hiring of African American employees by specific dates, in order to combat institutionalized discrimination by specific skilled building trades unions.
- Equal Rights Ammendment (ERA): A proposal to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for women.
- affirmative action: A policy or program providing advantages for people of a minority group who have been traditionally discriminated against, with the aim of creating a more egalitarian society, through preferential access to education, employment, health care, social welfare, etc.
Civil Rights vs. “Law and Order”
The Nixon administration did not prioritize civil rights to the extent of the previous Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Public support for civil rights had peaked in the mid-1960’s, galvanized by Martin Luther King ‘s leadership and media coverage of overt repression in the south. However, violent urban protests, which first broke out in the summer of 1965, and recurred occasionally for the rest of the decade, sparked a conservative backlash in the public opinion of white citizens. A majority of fearful white Americans began to prioritize “law and order” over the advancements of civil rights. Nixon sought a politically viable stance on civil rights, promising a return to law and order while simultaneously offering improved educational and business opportunities to African Americans. Nixon’s presidency thus saw the continuation of some of the civil rights progress set in motion by previous administrations, even as he courted conservative voters.
Public School Integration
The Nixon years witnessed the first large-scale integration of public schools in the south. Nixon sought a middle way between the segregationists (those supporting school segregation), and liberal Democrats who supported integration. He supported integration in principle, but he was opposed to the use of busing (using bus systems to transport African American students to previously all-white school districts and vice versa) to force integration. Nixon’s goals were partly political; he hoped to retain the support of southern conservatives, many of whom had voted Republican for the first time in the 1964 and 1968 elections. These southern voters had been alienated from the Democratic party by Kennedy and Johnson’s civil rights legislation; to capitalize on this, Nixon tried to get the issue of desegregation out of the way with as little damage as possible.
Soon after Nixon’s inauguration, he appointed Vice President Spiro Agnew to lead a task force to work with local leaders—both white and black—to form a plan for integrating local schools. Agnew had little interest in the work, so most of it was done by Labor Secretary George Shultz. The task force’s plan made federal aid and official meetings with President Nixon available as rewards for school committees who complied with desegregation plans. By September of 1970, fewer than 10% of African American children were attending segregated schools. Many whites reacted angrily to busing and forced integration, sometimes protesting and rioting. Nixon opposed busing personally, but enforced court orders requiring its use.
In addition to desegregating public schools, Nixon implemented the Philadelphia Plan in 1970—the first significant federal affirmative action program. The Philadelphia Plan was based on an earlier plan developed in 1967 by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance and the Philadelphia Federal Executive Board. Executive Order 11246 put the Philadelphia Plan into effect, and Department of Labor Assistant Secretary for Wage and Labor Standards Arthur Fletcher was in charge of implementing it.
The plan required government contractors in Philadelphia to hire minority workers, meeting certain hiring goals by specified dates. It was intended to combat institutionalized discrimination in specific skilled building trade unions that prevented equitable hiring of African Americans. The plan was quickly extended to other cities. The Philadelphia Plan was challenged in the lawsuit Contractors’ Association of Eastern Pennsylvania v. Shultz, et al, but the court upheld the plan and the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.
Equal Rights Amendment
Nixon’s civil rights efforts also included his endorsement of the Equal Rights Ammendment (ERA). The ERA was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that outlawed any form of legal discrimination based on sex. In 1972, it passed both houses of Congress and went to the state legislatures for ratification. The ERA failed to receive the requisite number of ratifications before the final deadline mandated by Congress of June 30, 1982 expired, so it was not adopted.
The Election of 1972
In 1972, Nixon beat George McGovern in a landslide reelection victory, due to negative views of McGovern’s campaign.
Analyze the election of 1972
- In the presidential election of 1972, Richard Nixon beat the Democratic nominee, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, with 60.7% of the popular vote.
- Emphasizing a good economy and his successes in foreign affairs, such as reducing American involvement in Vietnam and establishing relations with China, Nixon’s popularity was at its height.
- Prior to his presidential bid, McGovern had led a commission, later termed the McGovern Commission, to redesign the Democratic nomination system after the divisive nomination struggle and convention of 1968.
- McGovern’s campaign was undermined by his restructuring of the primary process (which alienated many powerful Democrats and reduced his funding support), the perception that his foreign policy was too extreme, and his indecisiveness over choosing a vice presidential running mate.
- McGovern Commission: A group created in response to the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention.
- George McGovern: A historian, author, and former U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and the Democratic Party nominee in the 1972 presidential election.
- George Wallace: An American politician and the 45th governor of Alabama, having served four nonconsecutive terms: 1963-1967, 1971-1979, and 1983-1987.
Overview: The Election of 1972
In the presidential election of 1972, Richard Nixon beat the Democratic nominee, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, by a significant margin. Emphasizing a good economy and his successes in foreign affairs, such as reducing American involvement in Vietnam and establishing relations with China, Nixon’s popularity was at its height. Nixon won 60.7% of the popular vote, only slightly lower than Lyndon B. Johnson had in 1964. Nixon had a larger margin of victory in the popular vote than Johnson had, however, with 23.2%—the fourth largest in presidential election history. McGovern ran an anti-war campaign, but was confined by his outsider status and limited support from his own party. McGovern won only the state of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. Despite supporting Nixon over McGovern, many American voters split their tickets, returning a Democratic majority to both houses of Congress.
At the start of the campaign, Nixon had expected his Democratic opponent to be Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, brother of the late president, but Kennedy was removed from contention after the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident. Instead, Maine Senator Edmund Muskie, Hubert Humphrey ‘s running mate in 1968, became the front runner, with South Dakota Senator George McGovern a close second place. McGovern began campaigning as an progressive anti-war candidate nearly two years before the election. In the end, he succeeded in winning the nomination, bolstered by strong grassroots support, and in spite of establishment opposition.
McGovern had led a commission to redesign the Democratic nomination system after the divisive nomination struggle and convention of 1968. The fundamental principle of the McGovern Commission—that the Democratic primaries should determine the winner of the Democratic nomination—has lasted through to the present day. However, the new rules marginalized many prominent Democrats, whose influence had been cut, and those politicians refused to support McGovern’s campaign (with some even supporting Nixon instead), leaving the McGovern campaign at a significant fundraising disadvantage.
The Democratic National Convention was chaotic, with hundreds of delegates angry at McGovern for various reasons. Eventually, Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri was chosen as his running mate. Eagleton accepted the nomination despite not personally knowing McGovern well and privately disagreeing with many of McGovern’s policies. After the convention, it was discovered that Eagleton had undergone intensive psychiatric treatment for depression and had concealed this information from McGovern. McGovern had initially claimed that he would back Eagleton “1,000 percent,” only to ask Eagleton to withdraw three days later. This perceived lack of conviction in sticking with his running mate was disastrous for the McGovern campaign. After a week in which six prominent Democrats refused the vice presidential nomination, Sargent Shriver (brother-in-law to John, Robert, and Ted Kennedy, former Ambassador to France, and former Director of the Peace Corps) finally accepted. He was officially nominated by a special session of the Democratic National Committee. By this time, McGovern’s poll ratings had plunged from 41 to 24 percent.
In the general election campaign, McGovern called for the immediate exit of the Vietnam War. He also proposed liberal domestic policies, including guaranteed minimum incomes for the nation’s poor. His campaign was undermined by his restructuring of the primary process, the perception that his foreign policy was too extreme, and his disloyalty to Eagleton. With McGovern’s campaign weakened by these factors, the Republicans successfully portrayed him as a radical left-wing extremist, and McGovern suffered a landslide defeat to Nixon of 61%-38%.
Nixon’s campaign included an aggressive policy of keeping tabs on perceived enemies. His aides also committed the Watergate burglary to steal Democratic Party information during the campaign, a move that would prove to be Nixon’s political downfall. Nevertheless, Nixon’s campaign boasted of détente with the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, both popular with most Americans. Nixon’s strategy was to appeal to working- and middle-class suburbanites.
The election was held on November 7, 1972. This election had the lowest voter turnout for a presidential election since 1948, with only 55% of the electorate voting. It was also the first election since 1808 in which New York did not have the largest number of electors in the Electoral College.
The Watergate scandal encompassed a series of illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration in 1972, leading to Nixon’s resignation.
Summarize the Watergate scandal, including the arrests, the breaking of the story, and the resignation of President Nixon
- Leading up to the 1972 presidential election, the Nixon Administration used bugging, harassment, and other intimidation tactics to create an environment of secrecy, while covering up illegal campaign activities.
- On the night of June 17, 1972, five men who were later tied to the Nixon Administration were caught breaking into the Democratic National Convention (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office complex.
- Following the Watergate break-in, The Washington Post, relying on an informant nicknamed “Deep Throat,” published a series of articles demonstrating the link between the burglary and the Nixon administration.
- On October 10, the FBI reported the Watergate break-in was only one part of a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage on behalf of the Nixon reelection committee.
- Relying heavily upon anonymous sources, Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered information suggesting knowledge of the break-in and attempts to cover it up by the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and the White House.
- In light of his loss of political support and the near certainty of impeachment, Nixon resigned the office of the presidency on August 9, 1974.
- bugging: Installing a covert listening device, usually a combination of a miniature radio transmitter with a microphone.
- Watergate: An American political scandal in 1972 that eventually led to the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon.
- Watergate Complex: A group of five buildings in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C. in the United States; headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in 1972.
- Deep Throat: The pseudonym given to the secret informant who provided information to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post in 1972 about the involvement of Nixon’s administration in the Watergate scandal; thirty-one years after Nixon’s resignation, he was revealed to be former Federal Bureau of Investigation Associate Director Mark Felt.
The Watergate scandal encompassed a series of clandestine, and often illegal, activities undertaken by members of the Republican Nixon administration. Those activities included bugging the offices of political opponents and people of whom Nixon or his officials were suspicious. Nixon and his close aides also ordered harassment of activist groups and political figures, using the FBI, CIA, and the IRS to further their cause.
Despite attempts at secrecy, the activities were exposed after five men were caught breaking into Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. on June 17, 1972. The Washington Post picked up on the story and, with tips from an FBI informant, gradually exposed the link between the burglary and the Nixon administration. Nixon downplayed the scandal as mere politics, calling news articles biased and misleading. As a series of revelations made it clear that Nixon aides had committed crimes in attempts to sabotage the Democrats and others, senior aides, such as White House Counsel John Dean and Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, faced prosecution.
Facts About the Case
In January of 1972, G. Gordon Liddy, general counsel to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP), presented a campaign intelligence plan to CRP’s Acting Chairman Jeb Stuart Magruder, Attorney General John Mitchell, and Presidential Counsel John Dean, that involved extensive illegal activities against the Democratic Party. Liddy was put in charge of the operation, assisted by former CIA Agent E. Howard Hunt and CRP Security Coordinator James McCord. John Mitchell resigned as Attorney General to become chairman of CRP.
On May 17, after two attempts to break into the Watergate complex failed, Liddy’s team placed wiretaps on the telephones of Lawrence O’Brien, the Chairman of the Democratic Convention, and R. Spencer Oliver, Jr., the Chairman of the Executive Director of Democratic States. When Magruder and Mitchell read transcripts from the wiretaps, they deemed the information inadequate and ordered another break-in.
Shortly after 1:00 a.m. on June 17, 1972, Frank Wills, a security guard at the Watergate complex, noticed tape covering the latch on several doors in the complex, allowing the doors to close but remain unlocked. He removed the tape and thought little of it. He returned an hour later and, having discovered that someone had re-taped the locks, called the police.
Five men were discovered and arrested inside the Democratic National Convention’s office. Virgilio González, Bernard Barker, James W. McCord, Jr., Eugenio Martínez, and Frank Sturgis were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. On September 15, a grand jury indicted them, as well as Hunt and Liddy, for conspiracy, burglary, and violation of federal wiretapping laws. The five burglars who broke into the office were tried by Judge John Sirica and convicted on January 30, 1973.
Breaking of the Watergate Story
Hearing of the incident at the Watergate complex, The Washington Post started publishing a series of articles probing the link between the burglary and the Nixon administration. Reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward relied on an informant, famously known as “Deep Throat” (later revealed to be deputy director of the FBI, William Mark Felt), to link the burglars to the Nixon administration.
On September 29, 1972, it was revealed that John Mitchell, while serving as Attorney General, controlled a secret Republican fund used to finance intelligence-gathering against the Democrats. On October 10, the FBI reported that the Watergate break-in was only one part of a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage on behalf of the Nixon reelection committee. Despite these revelations, Nixon’s campaign was never seriously jeopardized, and on November 7, the president was re-elected in one of the biggest landslide victories in American political history.
The connection between the break-in and the reelection committee continued to be highlighted by media coverage—in particular by The Washington Post, TIME, and The New York Times. The coverage dramatically increased publicity and consequent political repercussions. Relying heavily upon anonymous sources, Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered information suggesting knowledge of the break-in and attempts to cover it up by the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and the White House.
Nixon’s Impeachment and Resignation
As the investigation unfolded, the depths to which Nixon and his advisers had sunk became clear. Some twenty-five of Nixon’s aides were indicted for criminal activity. In July of 1973, White House aide Alexander Butterfield testified that Nixon had a secret taping system that recorded his conversations and phone calls in the Oval Office. The President’s most intimate conversations had been caught on tape, and they were subpoenaed by the Senate. Nixon refused to hand the tapes over and cited executive privilege, the right of the president to refuse certain subpoenas. On October 20, 1973, in an event that became known as the Saturday Night Massacre, Nixon ordered Attorney General Richardson to fire the prosecutor of the case, Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned, as did Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus when confronted with the same order. Control of the Justice Department then fell to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who complied with Nixon’s order. In December, the House Judiciary Committee began its own investigation to determine whether there was enough evidence of wrongdoing to impeach the president.
The public was enraged by Nixon’s actions, as it seemed the president had placed himself above the law. Telegrams flooded the White House, and the House of Representatives began to discuss impeachment. At first, though Nixon lost much popular support, even from his own party, he rejected accusations of wrongdoing and vowed to stay in office. At the end of its hearings, in July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach. Before the full House could vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Nixon to release the actual tapes of his conversations; one of the released tapes revealed that Nixon had in fact been told about White House involvement in the Watergate break-in shortly after it occurred. In a speech on August 5, 1974, Nixon, pleading a poor memory, accepted blame for the Watergate scandal. Warned by other Republicans that he would be found guilty by the Senate and removed from office, he resigned the presidency on August 8.
Nixon’s resignation, which took effect the next day, did not make the Watergate scandal vanish. Instead, it fed a growing suspicion of government felt by many. The events of Vietnam had already showed that the government could not be trusted to protect the interests of the people or tell them the truth. For many, Watergate confirmed these beliefs, and the suffix “-gate” attached to a word has since come to mean a political scandal.