It was one of the most polarizing scenes in American history. It was time for change.
Richard Milhaus Nixon, the 37th President Of The United States, officially resigned from that office 40 years ago today in the midst of the Watergate scandal. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the days leading up to the resignation included a lot of soul-searching, and a final, lucid moment of truth.
On August 5, 1974, Nixon had lost his fight over the last bit of evidence: the missing recorded tapes. The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 for the President to release the tapes; Judge Willian Rehnquist recused himself from the vote. The tape proved Nixon and then-Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman had tried to get the CIA to falsely claim national security was involved in the Watergate manner, in an effort to get the FBI to end its nascent investigation.
Now that Nixon’s lies were exposed, even his most loyal backers, Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, who replaced Haldeman, and Secretary Of State Henry Kissinger, knew his time as President was short. They would focus on how Nixon would leave office. “Haig wanted to smooth the way — for the country, for the President and for himself. He could see, hear and feel the erosion. Everything was crumbling at once,” wrote the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their book The Final Days.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, had chosen Arizona Senator Bob Goldwater to deliver some bad news to Nixon. Congress was going to impeach and then convict Nixon, and that was how Goldwater would vote. Though thought of as a curmudgeon, Goldwater was well-respected by the Republicans, Nixon included. Haig made sure Goldwater was working to help Nixon, and not trying to get Nixon to resign for their own purposes. Haig and Goldwater met to make sure all were on the same page. Then, Goldwater, House republican leader John Jacob Rhodes, and Senate republican leader Hugh Scott paid Nixon the fateful visit.
Nixon now knew his own party could not protect him, and he would be impeached, convicted, and forcibly removed from office. He then met with family members. Some wanted him to resign, some wanted to keep fighting. However, Nixon saw the writing on the wall. He knew what he had to do.
USA Today reports that on August 8, 1974, at 9:01 pm, with his approval rating falling to 24 percent, Nixon delivered his announcement that his resignation would be effective the next day. American politics have never been the same.