This is Rich Kleinfeldt.
And this is Stan Busby with THE MAKING OF A NATION -- a VOA Special English
program about the history of the United States.
Today, we complete the story of the 37th president of the United States,
Richard Nixon's first term as president ended with hope for complete American
withdrawal from the fighting in Vietnam. Yet Americans still were very angry
about the war and its effects on life at home. Paying for it was difficult.
Inflation was high. Unemployment was high, too. Some political observers thought
the president would not be elected to a second term. Nixon, however, was sure
the American people would support him.
President Nixon with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1972
Nixon with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1972
He did not campaign in the
local primary elections before the Republican convention. Instead, in the winter
and spring of 1972, he visited China, Canada, Iran, Poland, and the Soviet
On June 17, 1972, something happened in Washington, D.C. It was a small
incident. But it would have a huge effect on the United States.
Five men broke into a center of the National Committee of the Democratic
Party. The building was called the Watergate. That name would become a symbol of
political crime in the nation's highest office.
At the time, the incident did not seem important. Police caught the
criminals. Later, however, more was learned. The men had carried papers that
linked them to top officials in the administration.
The question was: Did President Nixon know what was going on? He told
reporters he was not involved. In time, though, the Watergate case would lead to
a congressional investigation of the president.
For a while, the political conventions of the summer of nineteen seventy-two
pushed the story of the Watergate break-in out of the major news of the
The Democratic Party met and chose George McGovern as its candidate
for president. McGovern was a senator from the state of South Dakota. The choice
of the Republican Party was no surprise. Delegates re-nominated Richard Nixon.
McGovern attacked Nixon for his policies about Vietnam. McGovern's anger made
many voters see him as an extremist.
Nixon won the election of 1972 by a huge popular vote. He would not be
able to complete his second term, however. This was because Watergate would not
Early in 1973, reporters found the evidence that linked the Watergate
break-in to officials in the White House. The evidence also showed that the
officials tried to use government agencies to hide the connection.
Pressure grew for a complete investigation. In April, President Nixon ordered
the Justice Department to do this. A special prosecutor was named to lead the
A special Senate committee began its own investigation in May. A former White
House lawyer provided the major evidence. By July, it was learned that President
Nixon had secretly made tape recordings of some of his discussions and telephone
calls. The Senate committee asked him for some of the tapes. Nixon refused. He
said the president of the United States has a Constitutional right to keep such
A federal judge ordered the president to surrender the tapes. Lawyers for the
president took the case to the nation's highest court. The Supreme Court
supported the decision of the lower court.
After that, pressure increased for Nixon to cooperate. In October, he offered
to provide written versions of the most important parts of the tape recordings.
The special prosecutor rejected the offer. So, Nixon ordered the head of the
Justice Department to dismiss him. The Attorney General refused to do this, and
President Nixon had another political problem, in addition to Watergate. In
late 1973, his vice president, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign. A court had
found Agnew guilty of violating tax laws.
President Nixon asked Gerald Ford to become the new vice president. Ford was
a long-time member of Congress from the state of Michigan.
By that time, some members of Congress were talking about removing President
Nixon from office. This is possible under American law if Congress finds that a
president has done something criminal. Was Richard Nixon covering up important
evidence in the case? Was he, in fact, guilty of wrongdoing?
In April 1974, Nixon surrendered some of his White House tape recordings.
However, three important discussions on the tapes were missing. The Nixon
administration explained. The tape machine had failed to record two of the
discussions, it said. The third discussion had been destroyed accidentally. Many
Americans did not believe these explanations.
Two months later, the Supreme Court ruled that a president can not hold back
evidence in a criminal case. It said there is no presidential right of privacy
in such a case.
A committee of the House of Representatives also reached an historic decision
in July 1974. It proposed that the full House put the president on trial. If
Richard Nixon were found guilty of crimes involved in the Watergate case, he
would be removed from office.
Finally, Nixon surrendered the last of the documents. They appeared to
provide proof that the president had ordered evidence in the Watergate case to
be covered up.
The rights of citizens, as stated in the Constitution, are the basis of
American democracy. Every president promises to protect and defend these
Constitutional rights. During the congressional investigation of Watergate,
lawmakers said that President Nixon had violated these rights.
They said he planned to delay and block the investigation of the Watergate
break-in and other unlawful activities. They said he repeatedly misused
government agencies in an effort to hide wrongdoing and to punish his critics.
And they said he refused repeated orders to surrender papers and other materials
as part of the investigation.
Richard Nixon's long struggle to remain in office was over. He spoke to the
nation on August eighth.
RICHARD NIXON: "Throughout the long and
difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make
every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me. In
the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a
strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort.
Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow."
Never before had a president of the United States resigned. And never before
did the United States have a president who had not been elected. Gerald Ford had
been appointed to the office of vice president. Now, he would replace Richard
Nixon. On August 9, 1974, he was sworn-in as the nation's 38th president.
Soon after becoming president, Gerald Ford made a surprise
announcement. He pardoned Richard Nixon. Many Americans criticized Ford for
doing this. But he believed he had good reasons.
Ford wanted to move ahead and deal with the other problems that faced the
nation. He did not want Watergate to go on and on. The case did go on, however.
Several top officials in the Nixon administration were tried, found guilty, and
sent to prison.
The effects of the case went on, too. Watergate influenced government policy
and public opinion for years.
For example, laws were passed to prevent an administration from using its
power to punish opposition political groups. Intelligence agencies were forced
to provide Congress with more information about their activities. And rules were
approved to restrict the activities of public officials.
The American public, and especially the press, felt the effects of Watergate.
Many citizens and reporters felt less able to believe their government. As one
writer said, "Never again will we trust our public officials in quite the same
This program of THE MAKING OF A NATION was written by Jeri Watson and
produced by Paul Thompson. This is Rich Kleinfeldt.
And this is Stan Busby. Join us again next week for another VOA Special
English program about the history of the United States.