Thanks to the brilliant investigation by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, the Watergate scandal gradually unraveled before a shocked and angry nation. In the end, President Richard Nixon was — to borrow Shakespeare’s colorful phrase — hoisted with his own petard; the petard being the tape recording system that was installed in the White House (containing over 4,000 hours of recordings). On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the White House tapes. Three days later, the House Judiciary Committee began voting to recommend the articles of impeachment: obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. The “smoking gun” tape (proving the cover-up orchestrated by Nixon and H.R. Haldeman) released on August 5, 1974 was the final straw. All the evidence, combined with intense political pressure, led to the inevitable: the resignation of Nixon. Several days before the delivery of his resignation speech, Nixon asked his chief speechwriter, Raymond Price, to write a draft. The speech went through five revisions before Nixon began to make his own edits. Nixon last scripted speech (just under 1,800 words) was broadcast live from the Oval Office at 9:01 pm on August 8, 1974. An estimated 400 million people tuned in to hear Nixon’s last speech. Most Americans suspected that he was going to announce his resignation — and just a few sentences into the speech, Nixon did exactly that:
“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. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad. 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 the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation speech, Bookshelf presents some of Nixon’s most memorable quotes regarding Watergate; some of these quotes are incredibly ironic, since Nixon said them before the Watergate house of cards came tumbling down):
People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I earned everything I’ve got.
When the President does it, that means that it’s not illegal.
Let others wallow in Watergate.
You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.
I can see clearly now… that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate.
I gave ‘em a sword. And they stuck it in, and they twisted it with relish. And I guess if I had been in their position, I’d have done the same thing.
You must pursue this investigation of Watergate even if it leads to the president. I’m innocent. You’ve got to believe I’m innocent. If you don’t, take my job.
It I talked about Watergate, I was described as struggling to free myself from the morass. If I did not talk about Watergate, I was accused of being out of touch with reality.
Watergate had become the center of the media’s universe, and during the remaining year of my presidency the media tried to force everything else to revolve around it.
The press is the enemy.
When I retire I’m going to spend my evenings by the fireplace going through those boxes. There are things in there that ought to be burned.
I brought myself down. I impeached myself by resigning.
Remember, 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.
Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the man in the arena, “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievements and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
And as I leave, let me say, that is an example I think all of us should remember. We think sometimes when things happen that don’t go the right way… We think that when someone dear to us dies… we think that when we suffer a defeat that all is ended. We think, as T.R. [Theodore Roosevelt] said, that the light had left his life forever. Not true. It is only a beginning, always. The young must know it; the old must know it. It must always sustain us, because the greatness comes not when things go always good for you, but the greatness comes and you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes, because only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.
For further reading: Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes by Stanley Kutler, Touchstone (1998)
All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Simon & Schuster (2014)
Nixon’s Secrets: The Rise, Fall, and Untold Truth about the President, Watergate, and the Pardon by Roger Stone and Mike Colapietro, Skyhorse (2014)
The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It by John Dean, Viking (2014)
The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat by Bob Woodward, Simon & Schuster (2006)
We Interrupt This Broadcast by Joe Garner, Sourcebooks (2002)
My Fellow Americans by Michael Waldman, Sourcebooks (2003)