The Nixon Era and Watergate
|1968||Richard Nixon elected president|
|1969||Warren Burger appointed to the Supreme Court|
|1970||Congress creates the Environmental Protection Agency|
|1971||Nixon aides begin to compile “enemies list”|
Nixon visits China
Nixon visits Soviet Union; signs SALT Treaty
Break-in at Democratic headquarters in Watergate buildings
Senate begins investigating Watergate scandals
Vice president Agnew resigns; replaced by Gerald Ford
Saturday Night Massacre
Taped Oval Office conversations made public
Nixon resigns; Ford becomes president
Ford pardons Nixon
Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward publish All the President’s Men
The Nixon Era and Watergate
Elected president by 500,000 votes in 1968, Richard Nixon intended to stay president for a second term. More than that, he ordered his closest aides to see to it that he was reelected by the largest landslide in history, telling them he did not care how they did this, so long as it was done. The actions that his aides took, with Nixon’s full knowledge and approval, eventually led to the break-in at the Watergate buildings. This burglary was the beginning of a Washington Post investigation that led to the downfall of the Nixon administration.
Nixon’s major legacy to the nation was twofold. On the positive side, he eased the tense American relationship with the Soviet Union and paved the way for more cordial relations with China. On the negative side, he played the leading role in a major political conspiracy to subvert the electoral process.
The important issue involved in the Nixon scandals is the notion of representative government and the power of the law over all citizens. The Americans’ early experience of being ruled without representation had led them to devise a government of checks and balances to ensure that the government could not become tyrannical. The Constitution does not allow the president the same privileges as a dictator or an absolute monarch. Nixon’s behavior violated this principle. When asked about his illegal activities, he was quoted as saying “If the president does it, it isn’t illegal.” Nixon genuinely believed that the president was above the law, with absolute power to make what- ever decisions he believed were in the best interest of the nation. He believed that a Nixon presidency was in the nation’s best interest; on that basis, he did everything he could to ensure that he got reelected and he clung to his official position even when the nation began to turn against him.
Nixon’s position—that the U.S. president is above the law—is simply not tenable. The U.S. Constitution is based on long-standing British principles that state that no one, including the monarch, is above the law; the Magna Carta of 1215 spells this out clearly. By the same token, the U.S. Constitution includes procedures by which the president can be removed from office for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” If a president can commit crimes, he is clearly not above the law.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:
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