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The Aftermath > Overview

By May 9, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee began hearings on articles of impeachment. Judge Sirica turned over to the committee evidence gleaned against Nixon by the grand jury. Meanwhile, Jaworski appealed to the Supreme Court to force Nixon to surrender more tapes. On July 24, the Court handed down an 8-0 decision, laying bare the president's last line of defense.

In late July, the House committee drafted three articles of impeachment against Nixon:

  • Obstructing the Watergate investigation
  • Misuse of power and violating his oath of office
  • Failure to comply with House subpoenas

This bold move, combined with the decision of the Supreme Court, forced Nixon's hand. On Monday, August 5, he released tapes of three conversations between himself and Haldeman recorded six days after the break-in. The text showed the president obstructing justice by ordering the FBI to end its investigation of the break-in. At the Cabinet meeting the next day, Vice President Ford stated that, as “a party in interest,” he would have no further public comments on the issue.

Nixon's remaining support in the House and Senate crumbled. With impeachment certain in the House and the outcome of a trial in the Senate in little doubt, three leading Republicans paid Nixon a visit at the White House. They told him of his dwindling chances on the Hill. “You all agree that it looks bad,” Nixon asked. Each concurred. “I'm going to make up my mind very shortly,” he told them. The following day, August 8, Nixon announced in a broadcast to the nation his decision to resign the presidency at noon the next day. His terse letter of resignation was delivered to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at 11:53 AM on August 9.

At noon on August 9, in an East Room ceremony in the White House, Gerald Ford was sworn in as the nation's 38th president. In taking the oath of office, Ford spoke words of relief and assurance. “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a Government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”

The new president faced many difficulties. Besides having to handle the continuing legal and political concerns surrounding Richard Nixon, domestic and international challenges thrived. Also, the war in Vietnam lingered and the selection of a vice president demanded attention. With the need to put the Nixon ordeal behind him, and to give his full attention to the grave economic and foreign policy matters, Ford reached a decision. In a surprise announcement made to the nation on September 8, Ford granted the former president a “full, free and absolute” pardon for “all offenses against the United States ” committed between January 20, 1969 and August 9, 1974.

Although his pardon of Richard Nixon was very controversial and probably was a factor leading to his loss in the 1976 presidential election, Gerald Ford never second-guessed his decision to grant it. Acting as his conscience dictated, he did not worry about political consequences. Although the initial reaction to the pardon was overwhelmingly negative, in recent years many original opponents of the pardon have reconsidered Ford's decision. On May 21, 2001, President Ford received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award at the Kennedy Library. Speaking on this occasion, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg said of President Ford, “As President, he made a controversial decision of conscience to pardon former President Nixon and end the trauma of Watergate. In doing so, he placed his love of country ahead of his own political future.”

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A picture of the last meal Nixon ate at the White House prior to him leaving the White House, August 08, 1974
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Nixon's farewell to his cabinet and members of the White House staff, August 9, 1974
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As Betty Ford looks on, Gerald R. Ford is sworn in as the 38th President of the United States by Chief Justice Warren Burger on August 9, 1974.
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