20th CenturyPoliticsUnited States of America

9 August 1974 – Richard Nixon Resigns

Richard Nixon says farewell to his staff. 9 August 1974.
Richard Nixon says farewell to his staff. 9 August 1974.

The Republican leader, Richard Nixon, becomes the most high-profile casualty of the Watergate scandal – and the only president to step down from office.

Richard Nixon did not sleep well. It was after all, his last night as President of the United States of America, but it wasn’t uncommon for Nixon to sit up until the small hours working. This time though, most of his time was being spent talking to friends and colleagues on the telephone, soliciting their reactions to his announcement earlier that evening that he was going to step down. At 2am, he made his last call, and then sat alone in the silence of the shadows.

Just after 9am on the morning of the 9th of August, 1974, Nixon and his family entered the East Room of the White House in order to bid farewell to his staff. When this was done, his presidency was going to be over, only two short years since his landslide re-election. The Watergate Scandal had destroyed everything.

With television lights increasing the temperature in the room and weary from lack of sleep, Richard Nixon then launched into a tribute to his father, “a little man, common man”, and to his mother who he called, “a saint”. You couldn’t hear a pin drop in the room. “The greatness comes and you are really tested”, he said, “when you take some knocks and disappointments, when sadness comes. Because only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”

With that, it was all over. Tears were streaming down the faces of some of the staff. Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger said, “It was horrifying and heartbreaking” some time later. He had lost patience with Nixon’s tendency for self-flagellation. “I was at the same time moved to tears and outraged at being put through the wringer once again.”

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