Today (August 9) is a historical anniversary that, while I’m sure won’t go un-noticed, may well go unappreciated. Forty-six years ago today, on August 9, 1974, Richard M. Nixon resigned as President of the United States, the only president (thus far) to do so. Gerald Ford took over as the nation’s 37th President that afternoon. This was a pivotal event in U.S. political and social history. Nothing was ever quite the same, but perhaps for reasons that are under-appreciated or outright misunderstood.
Nixon, of course, resigned because of the Watergate scandal. In 1972, as he was running for re-election, a group of political spies paid by the White House broke into some Democratic Party offices to snoop around, and they got caught. This wasn’t really what got Nixon into trouble. What happened was, three days later, he told an aide, Bob Haldeman, to call the FBI and tell them to stop investigating the case. With those words, Nixon committed a crime–obstruction of justice–and the crime was caught on tape. In 1973 it was revealed Nixon recorded many of his conversations in the White House. He fought a year-long battle to keep the tapes, and especially this one, from coming out, but the Supreme Court ruled he had to turn them over. His political support drained away. To forestall impeachment and conviction, you might say Nixon “ragequit.”
I think the emotion he was feeling was more sorrow and shame than rage. Look at this, the full recording of his farewell speech to the White House staff. It’s 21 minutes long, but I’ve cued it up to 19:06 so you can hear his interesting advice to those who want to continue in government.
“Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty, always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”
The rest of the story: “Those who hate you don’t win”: thoughts on Nixon’s resignation.