It is difficult to summarize the singular period of history between the June 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters and the August 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon. Briefly, it involved bugging opponents’ offices, an electoral college landslide, the kidnapping of the former Attorney General’s wife, a journalist’s source named for a pornographic film, a series of Justice Department firings popularly known as “The Saturday Night Massacre,” a Supreme Court decision denying executive privilege over covert Oval Office recordings, investigatory and impeachment hearings, and, finally, Nixon’s resignation, when it was made clear to the President he would be convicted by the Senate if impeached.
Vice President Gerald Ford had taken office during this time, when Spiro Agnew resigned his position in December 1973, after pleading no contest to tax evasion and and money laundering charges. The crimes had occurred while he served as Governor of Maryland. When Nixon left, Ford became the only US president to take office without election to either the presidency or vice presidency.
Ford lost the 1976 election, and many believed—himself included—that it was due to his controversial pardon of Nixon, issued on September 8, 1974, a decision met with significantly negative responses in the media both nationally and internationally. Nixon had considered pardoning himself while in office, and sought a legal opinion considering the constitutionality of doing so (his lawyers believed that it was constitutional). However, three days before his resignation, the Justice Department issued its own opinion to the contrary: “Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself.”
This month’s annotated document is Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon. The text links to scholarship illuminating the historical, political, and sociological conditions that came before, during, and after the civil, criminal, and constitutional crises of the Nixon Presidency. All articles are free to read and access, and they are presented here as a collection meant to communicate the full import of the time, its reverberations still echoing through contemporary US politics and society.
September 8, 1974
By the President of the United States of America a Proclamation
Richard Nixon became the thirty-seventh President of the United States on January 20, 1969 and was reelected in 1972 for a second term by the electors of forty-nine of the fifty states. His term in office continued until his resignation on August 9, 1974.
Pursuant to resolutions of the House of Representatives, its Committee on the Judiciary conducted an inquiry and investigation on the impeachment of the President extending over more than eight months. The hearings of the Committee and its deliberations, which received wide national publicity over television, radio, and in printed media, resulted in votes adverse to Richard Nixon on recommended Articles of Impeachment.
As a result of certain acts or omissions occurring before his resignation from the Office of President, Richard Nixon has become liable to possible indictment and trial for offenses against the United States. Whether or not he shall be so prosecuted depends on findings of the appropriate grand jury and on the discretion of the authorized prosecutor. Should an indictment ensue, the accused shall then be entitled to a fair trial by an impartial jury, as guaranteed to every individual by the Constitution.
It is believed that a trial of Richard Nixon, if it became necessary, could not fairly begin until a year or more has elapsed. In the meantime, the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States. The prospects of such trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.
Now, THEREFORE, I, GERALD R. FORD, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9,1974.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of September, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and seventy-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and ninety-ninth.
GERALD R. FORD
[Text of Pardon courtesy of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, where further related documents can be found.]