On this day in 1974, President Richard M. Nixon resigns in the wake of the Watergate burglary scandal. He was the first president in American history to resign.
In a televised address, Nixon, flanked by his family, announced to the American public that he would step down rather than endure a Senate impeachment trial for obstruction of justice. Since 1972, Nixon had battled increasing vociferous allegations that he knew of, and may have authorized, a botched burglary in which several men were arrested for attempting to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Between 1972 and 1974, the press, and later a Senate investigation committee, revealed disturbing details that revealed that Nixon had indeed attempted to cover up the crime committed by key members of his administration and re-election committee. The most damning evidence came from subpoenaed tape recordings of Nixon’s White House conversations. Nixon fought the release of the tapes, which led the House of Representatives in 1973 to initiate impeachment charges against the president for obstruction of justice.
During the televised address, Nixon stated that he had never been a “quitter” and that choosing to resign went against his instincts. He refused to confess to committing the alleged high crimes and misdemeanors of which he was accused. He claimed his decision was encouraged by his political base and was in the best interests of the country and said that he hoped it would heal the political and social division caused by the Watergate scandal.
A report by the Washington Post on August 9 revealed the drama that had unfolded in the White House cabinet room an hour before Nixon’s resignation speech. After saying goodbye to 46 members of Congress, including his staunchest supporters, the president told them that the “country could not operate with a half-time President,” broke into tears and left the room.