Following the Watergate scandal, and facing impeachment, President Richard Nixon resigned from the office of president on Aug. 9, 1974. “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interests of America first,” said Nixon during his televised resignation speech on Aug. 8, 1974.
During his last year in the office, Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate scandal. The scandal began on June 17, 1972 when five individuals were caught breaking into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate hotel. The Washington Post reports Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the story of Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate burglary thanks to “Deep Throat,” later identified as former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt.
Over the course of two years, more evidence linked Nixon to the Watergate break-in and in 1973, just months after Nixon was re-elected in a landslide against Democratic nominee George McGovern, Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord Jr. were convicted on three charges stemming from Watergate while two of Nixon’s staff members resigned, reports the Washington Post.
The Watergate Committee public hearings began on May 18, 1973 and John Dean, former presidential counsel, told investigators he spoke to Nixon about covering up the Watergate incident and in July Alexander Butterfield, a former Nixon aide, said Nixon had all conversations in the White House recorded since 1971.
The White House tapes would then be subpoenaed and after several court battles, as well as the “Saturday Night Massacre” on Oct. 20, 1973 which saw Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus quit after Nixon tried to fire Archibald Cox as the special prosecutor for the Watergate Committee. During a meeting with the press on Nov. 17, Nixon infamously declared, "I'm not a crook."
The White House released edited version of Nixon’s recorded conversations on April 30, 1974 and on July 24, 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the tapes must be given to special prosecutor Leon Jaworski, who replaced Cox in November 1973. The tapes handed over to Jaworski confirmed Nixon knew of the Watergate incident and subsequent cover-up. The House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment that were sent to the House of Representatives but Nixon assigned his resignation before the vote.
Nixon became the first U.S. president to resign from office and on Aug. 9 signed the letter of resignation and Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in.
Nixon’s resignation speech can be viewed below and the full address can be read here.