The Speech That Might Have Been: Nixon Refuses To Resign

What might Nixon have said if he had decided not to resign?

Ray Price was President Nixon’s speechwriter. In an article in the New York Times on December 22, 1996, Price provided a copy of the draft of a speech he prepared for Nixon in which he vowed not to resign. The speech was never shown to Nixon.

Text of Ray Price’s non-resignation letter.

Richard NixonGood Evening.

With the deliberations of the House Judiciary Committee completed and its recommendations awaiting action by the full House of Representatives, questions have been raised about my own plans for dealing with the impeachment issue.

I have requested this time in order to tell you how I intend to proceed.

Debate on the committee’s impeachment recommendations is scheduled to begin on the House floor two weeks from today — on Aug. 19.

In the wake of the Judiciary Committee’s action, there has been a very substantial erosion of the political base that I would need in order to sustain my position in the House of Representatives. Therefore, at this time it appears almost a foregone conclusion that one or more articles of impeachment will be voted by the House, and that the matter will go to a trial in the Senate. . . .

It is not my purpose tonight to argue my case. There will be time for that later. Rather, I want to explain how I intend to proceed.

I also want to tell you about one new piece of evidence I have discovered, which I recognize will not be helpful to my case — but which I have instructed my attorneys to make available immediately to the Judiciary Committee. . . .

In the past several days, I have been engaged in an intensive review of the 64 taped conversations covered by the Special Prosecutor’s subpoena and the Supreme Court’s recent order that they be turned over to Judge Sirica. With one exception, I have found that they bear out what I said on April 29 when I announced my decision to make public the original transcripts: that the evidence I have turned over to the Judiciary Committee tells the full story of Watergate, insofar as the President’s knowledge or involvement is concerned. These 64 additional tapes are being turned over to Judge Sirica. . . . As they become public, which they undoubtedly will, the truth of this will be evident.

The one exception is a conversation I held with H. R. Haldeman on June 23, 1972, which concerns my instructions with regard to coordination between the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. In reviewing the tape it is now clear to me that Mr. Haldeman and I did discuss the political aspects of the situation, and that we were fully aware of the advantages this course of action would have with respect to limiting the possible public exposure of involvement by persons connected with the re-election committee. Because this conversation took place just a few days after the break-in, I know it will be widely interpreted as evidence that I was involved from the outset in efforts at cover-up.

Let me take a moment to explain why I did not make this public sooner, although I should have. In May of this year I began a review of the 64 tapes subpoenaed by the Special Prosecutor, but then postponed completing it pending the decision that was finally handed down 12 days ago by the Supreme Court. In the course of that earlier partial review I listened to this tape, but did not focus on it thoroughly. I did not at the time consider it inconsistent with my past statements, nor did I have transcripts made or advise my staff or counsel about any possible concern with it.

I now recognize this as having been a serious mistake, because as a result of it my counsel, my staff, and others, including members of the Judiciary Committee, who defended my position did so on the basis of facts that were incomplete. . . .

Let me turn now to the future.

There has been a great deal of speculation that I would resign, rather than face trial by the Senate. Some cite the erosion of my political base, and say that this either dims or dooms my chances in the Senate. Some cite the costs to the nation of more months of distraction and uncertainty. Some say I should not see the Constitutional process through, because even if vindicated by the Senate I would be so weakened politically that I could not govern effectively for the remainder of my term.

Some suggest that if I persevere, I am not only ignoring what they consider the inevitable outcome, but doing so at considerable political risk.

Indeed, when I reviewed the June 23 tape, and realized the interpretations that will probably be placed on it, I seriously considered resigning.

I have thought long and hard about all of these questions. . . . I have explored the questions thoroughly with my family.They share in my belief that the Constitutional process must not be aborted or short-circuited — that having begun, it must be carried through to its conclusion, that is, through a fair trial in the Senate. . . .

If I were to resign, it would spare the country additional months consumed with the ordeal of a Presidential impeachment and trial.

But it would leave unresolved the questions that have already cost the country so much in anguish, division and uncertainty. More important, it would leave a permanent crack in our Constitutional structure: it would establish the principle that under pressure, a President could be removed from office by means short of those provided by the Constitution. By establishing that principle, it would invite such pressures on every future President who might, for whatever reason, fall into a period of unpopularity. . . .

Whatever the mistakes that have been made — and they are many — and whatever the measure of my own responsibility for those mistakes, I firmly believe that I have not committed any act of commission or omission that justifies removing a duly elected President from office. If I did believe that I had committed such an act, I would have resigned long ago. . . .

For me to see this through will have costs for the country in the short run. The months ahead will not be easy for any of us. But in the long run — whatever the outcome — the results will be a more stable form of government. Far more damaging than the ordeal of a Senate trial, far more damaging that even the conviction and removal of a President, would be the descent toward chaos if Presidents could be removed short of impeachment and trial.

Throughout the Western world, governmental instability has reached almost epidemic proportions. . . . In the United States, within the last dozen years one President was assassinated; the next was in effect driven from office when he did not even seek re-election; and now the third stands on the verge of impeachment by the House of Representatives, confronted with calls for his resignation in order to make the process of removal easy.

This country bears enormous responsibilities to itself and to the world. If we are to meet those responsibilities in this and future Presidencies, we must not let this office be destroyed — or let it fall such easy prey to those who would exult in the breaking of the President that the game becomes a national habit.

Therefore, I shall see the Constitutional process through — whatever its outcome.

I shall appear before the Senate, and answer under oath before the Senate any and all questions put to me there.

Nixon’s Resignation Letter

Nixon’s resignation letter was delivered to the Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger.

Click here to read the full text of Nixon's Resignation Speech


Nixon’s Final Remarks To The White House Staff

On the morning of his resignation as president, Richard Nixon addressed the White House staff.

  • Listen to extracts of Nixon’s remarks (1m)
  • Watch Nixon’s speech in full (21m)

Text of President Nixon’s final remarks to the White House staff.

Nixon's Farewell to the White House StaffMembers of the Cabinet, members of the White House Staff, all of our friends here:

I think the record should show that this is one of those spontaneous things that we always arrange whenever the President comes in to speak, and it will be so reported in the press, and we don’t mind, because they have to call it as they see it.

But on our part, believe me, it is spontaneous.

You are here to say goodbye to us, and we don’t have a good word for it in English—the best is au revoir. We’ll see you again.

I just met with the members of the White House staff, you know, those who serve here in the White House day in and day out, and I asked them to do what I ask all of you to do to the extent that you can and, of course, are requested to do so: to serve our next President as you have served me and previous Presidents—because many of you have been here for many years—with devotion and dedication, because this office, great as it is, can only be as great as the men and women who work for and with the President. [Read more…]

Memorandum To Jaworski On Prosecuting Nixon

This is a memorandum prepared for the Watergate Special Prosecutor, Leon Jaworksi, on the day Richard Nixon resigned the presidency.

It was prepared by Carl Feldbaum and Peter Kreindler.

WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTION FORCE

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

MEMORANDUM

TO: Leon Jaworski, Special Prosecutor

DATE: August 9, 1974

FROM: Carl B Feldbaum & Peter M. Kreindler

SUBJECT: Factors to be Considered in Deciding Whether to Prosecute Richard M. Nixon for Obstruction of Justice

In our view there is clear evidence that Richard M. Nixon participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice by concealing the identity of those responsible for the Watergate break-in and other criminal offenses. There is a presumption (which in the past we have operated upon) that Richard M. Nixon, like every citizen, is subject to the rule of law. Accordingly, one begins with the premise that if there is sufficient evidence, Mr. Nixon should be indicted and prosecuted. The question then becomes whether the presumption for proceeding is outweighed by the factors mandating against indictment and prosecution.

The factors which mandate against indictment and prosecution are:

  1. His resignation has been sufficient punishment.
  2. He has been subject to an impeachment inquiry with resulting articles of impeachment which the House Judiciary Committee unanimously endorsed as to Article I (the Watergate cover-up).
  3. Prosecution might aggravate political divisions in the country.
  4. As a political matter, the times call for conciliation rather than recrimination.
  5. There would be considerable difficulty in achieving a fair trial because of massive pre-trial publicity.

The factors which mandate in favor of indictment and prosecution are:

  1. The principle of equal justice under law requires that every person, no matter what his past position or office, answer to the criminal justice system for his past offenses. This is a particularly weighty factor if Mr. Nixon’s aides and associates, who acted upon his orders and what they conceived to be his interests, are to be prosecuted for she same offenses.
  2. The country will be further divided by Mr. Nixon unless there is a final disposition of charges of criminality outstanding against him so as to forestall the belief that he was driven from his office by erosion of his political base. This final disposition may be necessary to preserve the integrity of the criminal justice system and the legislative process, which together marshalled the substantial evidence of Mr. Nixon’s guilt.
  3. Article I, Section 3, clause 7 of the Constitution provides that a person removed from office by impeachment and conviction “shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment, and Punishment, according to Law.” The Framers contemplated that a person removed from office because of abuse of his public trust still would have to answer to the criminal justice system for criminal offenses.
  4. It cannot be sufficient retribution for criminal offenses merely to surrender the public office and trust which has been demonstrably abused. A person should not be permitted to trade in the abused office in return for immunity.
  5. The modern nature of the Presidency necessitates massive public exposure of the President’s actions through the media. A bar to prosecution on the grounds of such publicity effectively would immunize all future Presidents for their actions, however criminal. Moreover, the courts may be the appropriate forum to resolve questions of pre-trial publicity in the context of an adversary proceeding.
Jaworski Memorandum 1

Jaworski Memorandum 2

Nixon’s Resignation Speech

Richard M. Nixon addressed the nation at 9pm on August 8, 1974, to announce that he would resign the presidency at noon the following day.

Nixon became the only president ever to resign the office.

The video shows Nixon’s preparations for his televised resignation announcement. The official speech begins at the 7 minute mark:

  • Listen to Nixon’s resignation speech (16m)
  • Watch Nixon’s speech (23m)

Text of President Richard Nixon’s resignation speech.

Richard Nixon

Good evening.

This is the 37th time I have spoken to you from this office, where so many decisions have been made that shaped the history of this Nation. Each time I have done so to discuss with you some matter that I believe affected the national interest.

In all the decisions I have made in my public life, I have always tried to do what was best for the Nation. Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me.

In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. As long as there was such a base, I felt strongly that it was necessary to see the constitutional process through to its conclusion, that to do otherwise would be unfaithful to the spirit of that deliberately difficult process and a dangerously destabilizing precedent for the future.

But with the disappearance of that base, I now believe that the constitutional purpose has been served, and there is no longer a need for the process to be prolonged. [Read more…]