While the title of this essay might make one blanch; the concluding days of Watergate should be considered as one of Richard Nixon’s finest hours. Along with the successes of the opening to China, arms control with the Soviet Union, and all of his domestic achievements.
As we all know, difficult times provide the greatest test of one’s character. During the first days of August 1974, Richard Nixon’s character was tested unlike any other American president in history.
Becoming President of the United States was the great ambition of Richard Nixon. It is the ultimate journey for any American politician. Since his entry on to the national stage some twenty years before, it was a mighty struggle throughout his career. Thru the valleys of two defeats that would have shattered anyone else; and the constant rigors of intense political battles. Finally in 1969, thru all of his struggles; Richard Nixon became President of the United States.
Imagine for a moment how hard that would be to give up… Something you worked you whole career for. Something that possibly you valued more than anything else.
During the days of August, RNs political critics and adversaries feared the worse. His harshest opponents saw him as power mad, frightfully capable of anything. Would the President try to hold on to power by any means? Nixon’s personal strain of the times might cause a calamity unprecedented in American history. A member of RNs cabinet, James Schlesinger feared that the Armed Forces would be called to keep the President in power and sought to prevent it.
Of course, they did not know Richard Nixon. They could have seen how Richard Nixon would have handled these last days of his Presidency. After all, there was historical precedent for it in Nixon’s own career. In 1960 in the immediate aftermath of the closest election in American history, many Nixon supporters thought that the election was stolen. Many, including President Eisenhower favored contesting the election result. However, Richard Nixon could not contest the election. He felt that it would send the wrong message to young democracies that even American elections could not be legitimate. A contested election, without a President would harm America and its prestige around the world.
He loved his country, and respected the presidency too much to put it thru the political apocalypse that Nixon’s opponents feared. There would be no armed forces circling the White House. RN didn’t even insist that the process of impeachment continue. He thought that the country would be crippled by a part-time, politically damaged President. So, Richard Nixon sacrificed the very thing he valued most… The Presidency.
While there is much to criticize about Nixon’s handling of Watergate and related areas, future generations of Americans owe Richard Nixon a debt of gratitude. In other nations, other leaders in Richard Nixon’s position would have held tightly to power until a tragic end. History is filled with events like that. But Richard Nixon didn’t do that. He established a precedent for an orderly transfer of power, and in the final analysis the fact that no person is above the law.