Assistant U.S. Archivist Sharon Fawcett’s remarks at the Watergate exhibit press preview on March 31:
I’m Sharon Fawcett and I am the Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries. I want to welcome all of you – students, docents, staff, and the press – to today’s preview and opening of the Watergate exhibit gallery. Nearly four years ago, the Nixon Library was donated to the federal government by the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation. We asked at the time that the Foundation deed over to the government the political materials in the Nixon collections and on the Nixon tapes and that the Watergate exhibit then in the Library be replaced. The Foundation deeded the political materials to us on the day of the Library transfer and asked NARA if the NARA director of the Library, Dr. Timothy Naftali, could take on the task of re-doing the Watergate exhibit. I want to express my thanks and appreciation to the Nixon Foundation for asking us to take on this task and for their many thoughtful and heartfelt comments on the content of this exhibit. This is the National Archives Nixon Library exhibit curated by the Library Director, Dr. Timothy Naftali, but it is an exhibit that has benefitted from our interaction with the Foundation following Tim’s initial draft. I also want to thank the NARA committee of experts on Watergate and exhibits – Nancy Smith, Steve Tilley, and Stacey Bredhoff. David Paynter of the National Archives staff also contributed through his research and fact-checking. The current staff of the Nixon Library and former staff in College Park worked diligently for decades to open this vast trove of records upon which this exhibit is based. We look at this exhibit as one built on the work of two generations of archivists.
Using the documentary record, we have chosen to highlight specific events, conversations, and reflections on the Watergate timeline. The original Watergate exhibit in this Library is itself a record of President Nixon’s own view of Watergate events. The Nixon Foundation has put online on its website the original script with the handwritten notes of President Nixon. We welcome this as a great addition to the historical record reflecting President Nixon’s own thoughts on Watergate and complementary to the original exhibit slides and text that are available today on the Nixon Library website. You will find in the exhibit opening today excerpts from the Frost-Nixon interview and Nixon’s memoirs. Combined these reflect the three times President Nixon commented publicly about Watergate after his resignation.
Every President has faced controversy and many have looked to their predecessors for how to govern and how to record the history of their administrations. President Nixon was no different. President Johnson filled him in on the taping system he had used and President Nixon maintained and refined the recording systems in place in the White House to keep a record of his conversations. As the Presidents before him, he intended these recordings for his personal use. Wiretapping for national security purposes was not then illegal. And dirty tricks, though wrong and unethical, had long been a part of American electoral politics – ask any historian. Did President Nixon go further than other American Presidents? How did the turmoil of the sixties and early seventies surrounding the Vietnam War impact Presidential actions? Did President Nixon know about the break-in at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate hotel? What role did Congress, the Supreme Court, and the media play in the controversy and how did their actions impact President Nixon? Did Watergate change how we look at the use of Presidential power? These are questions we look at in this exhibit today.
The National Archives assumed responsibility for Presidential Libraries in 1941 when we accepted the Roosevelt Library. Seventy years later we have experienced the evolution of many Presidential Library exhibits. Today the Roosevelt Library openly discusses the controversy surrounding America and President Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust. Today the Hoover Library looks seriously at the reasons that Hoover failed in leading America at the onset of the Great Depression. Today the Reagan Library exhibit includes the Iran-Contra controversy that nearly derailed the Reagan Administration. And today, the Nixon Library provides a detailed Timeline and Thematic exhibit on the scandal that came to be known as Watergate. In each of these Presidential Libraries and others, the exhibits have benefited from the extensive work of archivists opening the archives of these men who have served in the Nation’s highest office. And in each of these Libraries, as in all of our Libraries, we seek to explore the complete life and legacy of these men who have been President and what we can learn from them: as President Roosevelt remarked at the opening of his library “…to gain in judgment for the creation of the future.”
And now it is my distinct honor to introduce David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States. He has been enormously helpful and supportive of this major exhibit – including ensuring that funds were available to support the installation of this exhibit. David began his career as a shelver at the MIT Library and rose to head Librarian. He went on to direct the Library at Duke University and to head up Special Libraries at the New York Public Library. His interest in Presidents began early in his life. The Presidential Library directors at Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Johnson have found in their extensive archives, letters he wrote when a young student to each of the Presidents. It is fitting that David could be with us today to open this important new exhibit.