It’s 40 years since US president Richard Nixon resigned over Watergate

It’s 40 years since US president Richard Nixon resigned over Watergate
Richard Nixon in the Oval Office (Picture: File)

‘I have never been a quitter.’

It might seem a strange line to insert into the speech announcing your resignation from the highest office in the land, but former US president Richard Nixon was one for surprises. And he was called far worse than ‘quitter’.

On August 8th, 1974, Nixon went before the American nation and told them he was stepping down, the only president to ever resign.

The threat of impeachment hung over Nixon because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal, as the evidence stacked up that he knew of his administration’s connection to the infamous 1972 break-in of Democratic headquarters shortly after it took place.

Nixon broke the delicate bond of trust between a democracy and its head and it could be argued that politicians have been trying to recover ever since.

‘I let the American people down. And I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life,’ said Nixon in one of the famous interviews he did with Sir David Frost three years after he resigned.

But what is Nixon’s legacy? We asked two experts in American politics.

* John E Owens, professor of United States government and politics at the University of Westminster:

‘Nixon was the first president to resign in office – under threat of impeachment. That simple fact will always be significant.

‘The cognoscenti – and Democratic opponents – knew all about “Tricky Dicky” and his corrupt practices even before he became president, but to have them revealed in such detail in televised congressional hearings over a two-year period – and to learn how Nixon and his staff behaved within the Oval Office – was a deep shock to most Americans.

‘Nixon’s crimes and subsequent resignation were a huge shock to the vast majority of Americans resulting in a decline in trust in government generally.

‘History moves on. Nixon remains – and always will be – a criminal who sought to usurp the Constitution, the judicial process and the separation or sharing of power system.

NIXON...FILE--President Nixon gestures toward transcripts of White House tapes after announcing he would turn them over to House impeachment investigators and make them public in April of 1974. Copies of President Nixon's tapes wound around 5,000 plastic reels will be shredded and burned in the next few months because they contain personal and political talk the court says the public isn't allowed to hear. (AP Photo/Files)...A...FILE
Nixon gestures toward transcripts of White House tapes after announcing he would make them public in April 1974 (Picture: AP)

‘But the US has also become far more conservative than it was in the late ’60s and early ’70s. On today’s ideological spectrum – with the Tea Party Republicans shifting their party much further to the right – Nixon would be regarded as a centrist, or even a liberal.

‘In supporting stronger welfare provision and wage price controls, he entertained and supported government intervention in economy and society far more than the vast majority of today’s Republicans.

‘On foreign policy, he (and Henry Kissinger) were willing to seek rapprochement with the Chinese and Russians, albeit in the context of the Cold War. So that is also an important part of Nixon’s legacy.

‘Nixon was an active president – and a bad one with serious psychological hang-ups.’

* Iwan Morgan, professor of United States Studies at University College London:

‘Nixon’s presidency from the outset was bedeviled by his personality, which saw enemies everywhere, and having to govern amid the divisions of the Vietnam war.

‘He was not the first president to overstep his constitutional authority – every president from Roosevelt to LBJ did so, but none of them did so as systematically and extensively as he did.

‘The White House became involved in a variety of abuses of power ranging from deliberately deceiving Congress about the secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 to illegal political espionage that included break-ins by White House-connected operatives.

President Richard Nixon meets with Elvis Presley December 21, 1970 at the White House.    (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers) 380450 02:
The President and The King – Nixon meets Elvis Presley in 1970 (Picture: National Archive)

‘How much Nixon knew about the Watergate break-in in advance is unclear, but he was centrally engaged in the cover-up from the very start.

‘Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon after he left office was very controversial – it did not specify what crimes the ex-president had committed. So Nixon was able to spend the last 20 years of his life seeking to rebuild his reputation. He projected the image of a foreign policy maestro in retirement – but Watergate is the spot that will not out.

‘He had many achievements in the field of détente with the Soviets, opening up China, environmental reform and civil rights at home – more public schools in the South were desegregated under Nixon that under Kennedy and Johnson. But all that is secondary in historical memory to his disgrace.

‘He was truly a Shakespearean tragic figure – a man capable of greatness but undone by his personal flaws and ambition.’

Apollo XI astronauts, from left, Neil Armstrong (DEAD 8/2012), Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin laughing with President Richard Nixon aboard the USS Hornet. The president was on hand to greet the astronauts after their splashdown in the Pacific. Armstrong, who was famous for being the first man on the moon, died Saturday Aug. 25, 2012.   This July 24, 1969, photo provided by the Richard Nixon Foundation shows (AP Photo/Richard Nixon Foundation)
Nixon shares a joke with Apollo XI astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969 (Picture: AP)
Former US President Richard M. Nixon, right, with broadcaster David Frost in California in this 1977 file photo. Sir David Frost has died at the age of 74 his family said in a statement Sunday Sept. 1 2013.  (AP Photo, file)   (Sir David Frost died 31st August 2013)
David Frost photobombs the former president before photobombing existed (Picture: AP)
BFI 52nd London Film Festival 15-30 October, BFI Southbank, SE1 plus other venues around London (020 7928 3232) www.bfi. American politics is high on the agenda at this year's festival, which opens with Frost/Nixon - the film adaptation of Peter Morgan's Evening Standard Award-winning piece, based on the story behind David Frost's interviews with a post-Watergate scandal Richard Nixon. Also on the bill is W, Oliver Stone's daring George W Bush biopic, tracking his hard-partying younger years and his rise to power.
Frank Langella and Michael Sheen as Nixon and Frost in 2008 movie Frost/Nixon (Picture: File)
RICHARD NIXON WAVES AS HE LEAVES THE WHITE HOUSE AFTER HIS RESIGNATION...WAS05:PEOPLE-NIXON-RESIGN:WASHINGTON,8AUG99 - FILE PHOTO 9AUG74 - Following his resignation, U.S. President Richard M. Nixon flashes the V-for-victory sign as he boards his Marine One helicopter for the last time on the South lawn of the White House August 9, 1974. The image of that moment 25 years ago may be the most enduring picture ever of the U.S. presidency. One look would indicate the leader of the free world at the  height of his powers. Actually, it was the low ebb of the presidency. Nixon was on his way out, having resigned his  office effective at noon that day or "resigned in disgrace" as many of the news accounts would say as it became clear the House of Representatives would impeach him for Watergate misdeeds and the Senate would follow by convicting him.             bm/File Photo/BETTMANN-UPI           REUTERS...POL
Nixon flashes the V-for-victory sign as he boards his Marine One helicopter for the last time on the White House lawn on August 9, 1974, the day after he announced his resignation (Picture: Reuters)

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7 August 2014 | 11:01 pm – Source:

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