Richard Milhous Nixon was born into a Quaker family in Yorba Linda, California. He studied at Whittier College and at Duke University Law School, where he excelled, going on to practise law in Whittier. During World War II, he enlisted in the US Navy, serving in the Pacific as a Lieutenant Commander.
After the war, Nixon entered politics, winning a seat as a Republican in the House of Representatives and playing a prominent role as a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. From 1951-53 he served on the US Senate.
In 1952 President Eisenhower chose Nixon as his Vice-President. In 1960, Nixon himself received the Republican nomination for President but lost the election by a narrow margin to John F. Kennedy. Nixon finally triumphed and became President in 1969. In his 1972 run for a second term in the White House, Nixon defeated the Democrat candidate George McGovern by one of the widest margins recorded.
During his presidency, Nixon undertook a quest for global stability. In 1972, he visited Moscow and Beijing and succeeded in reducing tensions with both the Soviet Union and China. With the USSR Premier Leonid Brezhnev, he drew up a treaty aimed at limiting strategic nuclear weapons. In 1973, Nixon arrived at an accord with North Vietnam that ended America’s long and bloody involvement in the Indochina conflict. Henry Kissinger, his Secretary of State, was a tireless ambassador who successfully brokered disengagement agreements between Israel, Egypt and Syria.
But despite his achievements, Nixon is chiefly remembered for the greatest scandal to implicate a US President – the Watergate affair. During the 1972 presidential campaign, there was a break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee. It was revealed that the perpetrators had been commissioned by high-ranking Republican officials. Despite his public declaration that there could be ‘no whitewash at the White House’, Nixon’s attempt to cover up the full facts of the Watergate affair was exposed. Facing impeachment, he resigned in August 1974.
I want to talk to you tonight from my heart on a subject of
deep concern to every American.
In recent months, members of my Administration and officials of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President – including some of my closest friends and most trusted aides – have been charged with involvement in what has come to be known as the Watergate affair. These include charges of illegal activity during and preceding the 1972 presidential election and charges that responsible participated in efforts to cover up that illegal activity.
The inevitable result of these charges has been to raise serious question about the integrity of the White House itself. Tonight I wish to address those questions.
Last June 17, while I was in Florida trying to get a few days rest after my visit to Moscow, I first learned from news reports of the Watergate break-in. I was appalled at this senseless, illegal action, and I was shocked to learn that employees of the Re-Election Committee were apparently among those guilty. I immediately ordered an investigation by appropriate Government authorities. On September 15, as you will recall, indictments were brought against seven defendants in the case.
As the investigations went forward, I repeatedly asked those conducting the investigation whether there was any reason to believe that members of my Administration were in any way involved. I received repeated assurances that there were not. Because of these continuing reassurances, because I believed the reports I was getting, because I had faith in the persons from whom I was getting them, I discounted the stories in the press that appeared to implicate members of my Administration or other officials of the campaign committee.
‘The truth should be fully brought out – no matter who was involved.’
Until March of this year, I remained convinced that the denials were true and that the charges of involvement by members of the White House Staff were false. The comments I made during this period, and the comments made by my Press Secretary on my behalf, were based on the information provided to us at the time we made those comments. However, new information then came to me which persuaded me that there was a real possibility that some of these charges were true, and suggesting further that there had been an effort to conceal the facts both from the public, from you, and from me.
As a result, on March 21, I personally assumed the responsibility for coordinating intensive new inquiries into the matter, and I personally ordered those conducting the investigations to get all the facts and to report them directly to me, right here in this office.
‘Justice will be pursued fairly, fully and impartially’
I again ordered that all persons in the Government or at the Re-Election Committee should cooperate fully with the FBI, the prosecutors and the grand jury. I also ordered that anyone who refused to cooperate in telling the truth would be asked to resign from Government service. And, with ground rules adopted that would preserve the basic constitutional separation of powers between the Congress and the Presidency, I directed that members of the White House Staff should appear and testify voluntarily under oath before the Senate committee which was investigating Watergate.
I was determined that we should get to the bottom of the matter, and that the truth should be fully brought out – no matter who was involved.
At the same time, I was determined not to take precipitate action and to avoid, if at all possible, any action that would appear to reflect on innocent people. I wanted to be fair. But I knew that in the final analysis, the integrity of this office – public faith in the integrity of this office – would have to take priority over all personal considerations.
Today, in one of the most difficult decisions of my Presidency, I accepted the resignations of two of my closest associates in the White House – Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman – two of the finest public servants it has been my privilege to know.
I want to stress that in accepting these resignations, I mean to leave no implication whatever of personal wrongdoing on their part, and I leave no implication tonight of implication on the part of others who have been charged in this matter. But in matters as sensitive as guarding the integrity of our democratic process, it is essential not only that rigorous legal and ethical standards be observed but also that the public, you, have total confidence that they are both being observed and enforced by those in authority and particularly by the President of the United States. They agreed with me that this move was necessary in order to restore that confidence.
‘This office is a sacred trust and I am determined to be worthy of that trust.’
… Whatever may appear to have been the case before, whatever improper activities may yet be discovered in connection with this whole sordid affair, I want the American people, I want you to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that during my term as President, justice will be pursued fairly, fully and impartially, no matter who is involved. This office is a sacred trust and I am determined to be worthy of that trust.
In any organization, the man at the top must bear the responsibility. That responsibility, therefore, belongs here, in this office. I accept it. And I pledge to you tonight, from this office, that I will do everything in my power to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice and that such abuses are purged from our political processes in the years to come, long after I have left this office.
… Since March, when I first learned that the Watergate affair might in fact be far more serious than I had been led to believe, it has claimed far too much of my time and my attention. Whatever may now transpire in the case, whatever the actions of the grand jury, whatever the outcome of any eventual trials, I must now turn my full attention – and I shall do so -:- once again to the larger duties of this office. I owe it to this great office that I hold, and I owe it to you – to my country …. There is vital work to be done toward our goal of a lasting structure of peace in the world – work that cannot wait, work that I must do ….
There is also vital work to be done right here in America: to ensure prosperity, and that means a good job for everyone who wants to work; to control inflation, that I know worries every housewife, everyone who tries to balance a family budget in America; to set in motion new and better ways of ensuring progress toward a better life for all Americans.
When I think of this office – of what it means – I think of all the things that I want to accomplish for this Nation, of all the things I want to accomplish for you. On Christmas Eve, during my terrible personal ordeal of the renewed bombing of North Vietnam, which after 12 years of war finally helped to bring America peace with honour, I sat down just before midnight. I wrote out some of my goals for my second term as President. Let me read them to you: To make it possible for our children, and for our children’s children, to live in a world of peace. To make this country be more than ever a land of opportunity – of equal opportunity, full opportunity for every American.
To provide jobs for all who can work, and generous help for those who cannot work.
To establish a climate of decency and civility, in which each person respects the feelings and the dignity and the God-given rights of his neighbour.
To make this a land in which each person can dare to dream, can live his dreams – not in fear, but in hope – proud of his community, proud of his country, proud of what America has meant to himself and to the world.
‘There is vital work to be done … work that cannot wait, work that I must do.’
These are great goals. I believe we can, we must work for them. We can achieve them. But we cannot achieve these goals unless we dedicate ourselves to another goal.
We must maintain the integrity of the White House, and that integrity must be real, not transparent. There can be no whitewash at the White House.