OK, so you need to be at least as old as me, and probably older to answer this question. As for me (I was 14), my family was on vacation in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. That afternoon my father told me that President Nixon was going to speak on national television.
I had known that the noose was closing on him and I believed that he was guilty of a cover up. I asked my father if Nixon was going to resign and he said it’s hard to believe that he asked for time on national TV to do anything else. I was swimming in the hotel pool when my father peeked his head out the door and told me he was coming on TV. I got out of the pool and wrapped a towel around my shoulders; I went into the hotel room, watched him resign, and went back into the pool. The next morning I saw the headline in the New York Daily News.
Because I grew up in northern Virginia and started reading the Washington Post from the time I could read, I had a front row seat on the Watergate scandal. I know way more than anyone should about it, but I’m amazed at how badly President Nixon handled this.
On June 17, 1972 five men were caught and arrested in the Watergate office complex, more specifically, the offices of the Democratic National Headquarters. Almost everyone believes that President Nixon knew nothing about it and was caught off guard when he got word.
It was silly on several levels. President Nixon was running for re-election against Senator George McGovern and was expected to soundly defeat him (which he did). The burglars were looking for information that the McGovern campaign had on Nixon, but if they did have anything, it would have been at McGovern headquarters, not the DNC offices.
In any case President Nixon saw the arrests as an attack on him and ordered his staff to pay the burglars to make sure they didn’t testify in their trial that they had been ordered by anyone to do this. Over the next 2 years it all unraveled. We learned that while President Nixon didn’t order the break in, he tried to cover it up. We call that obstruction of justice.
Forty years ago today he was facing the real possibility that he would be impeached and removed from office. In a decision that I supported then (and now) he chose to resign, fearing that an impeachment and trial would divide the nation. The next day Gerald Ford took the oath of office and became the next President. In another decision I agreed with, President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. It may have cost him his re election in 1976 but I think he did the right thing.
In the last 40 years I’ve come to recognize the strength of our nation. Not many nations could survive the voluntary resignation of a sitting President and the orderly transition of power to another without the fear of a military takeover. Watergate gave us an unprecedented Constitutional crisis but the next day the government opened for business and did well. Its employees showed up for work just like every other day. The national parks open for business, Social Security checks were processed and mailed, and everything was worked like it should.
August 7, 1974 was a bad day for many reasons, but a good day for the confidence we all should feel in our government.