Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Archives

Categories

Contact Us

Subscribe to Email Updates

“I have never been a quitter . . .”

Today’s post comes from Emma Rothberg, intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC. August 8 marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. 

Early on the morning of June 17, 1972, five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. The aftermath brought the first resignation of a sitting President, a pardon, and a national uproar.

The story of Watergate and the Nixon administration’s involvement has become synonymous with government scandal. As we approach the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, we take a moment to reflect on that period in our history.

Section 4 of Article II of the United States Constitution states, “The President, Vice President, and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Until 1974, Congress had only once attempted to impeach the President—Andrew Johnson in 1868. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, the House Judiciary Committee recommended that the President be impeached. Facing certain impeachment and removal from office, Nixon decided to resign.

President Richard Nixon's Resignation Speech, August 8, 1974. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library, National Archives)

President Richard Nixon’s Resignation Speech, August 8, 1974. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library, National Archives)

On the night of August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon announced his resignation to the American people live via television and radio. To an anxious public, President Nixon explained, “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 interest of America first.” He then announced, “I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”

Richard M. Nixon's Resignation Letter, 08/09/1974. (National Archives Identifier 302035)

Richard M. Nixon’s Resignation Letter, 08/09/1974.
(National Archives Identifier 302035)

The next day, on August 9, 1974, President Nixon sent his resignation letter to Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.

The story of Nixon’s resignation may have ended there, but on September 8, 1974, newly sworn-in President R. Gerald Ford opened a new chapter when he issued a highly controversial Proclamation Granting Pardon to Richard Nixon.

In the proclamation, President Ford cited the “tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks”—Nixon’s resignation—“could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States.”

Ford wholeheartedly believed that a trial would only bring more division as well as “exposing to further punishment and degradation of a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.”

Nixon’s letter of resignation and Ford’s subsequent pardon are among the holdings of the National Archives. They are on display in the in the East Rotunda Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC, from August 8 to 11, 2014. 

Presidential Proclamation 4311 of September 8, 1974, by President Gerald R. Ford granting a pardon to Richard M. Nixon., 09/08/1974. (National Archives Identifier 299996)

Presidential Proclamation 4311 of September 8, 1974, by President Gerald R. Ford granting a pardon to Richard M. Nixon., 09/08/1974. (National Archives Identifier 299996)

Photograph of President Gerald Ford Announcing His Decision to Grant a Pardon to Former President Richard Nixon, 09/08/1974. (National Archives Identifier 7140608)

Photograph of President Gerald Ford Announcing His Decision to Grant a Pardon to Former President Richard Nixon, 09/08/1974.
(National Archives Identifier 7140608)

 


Harry Truman and The Bomb

Today’s post is from Lee Lacy, an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 

When Harry S. Truman was told on April 12, 1945, by Eleanor Roosevelt that her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was dead, Truman reacted true to form.

Henry Stimson to Harry S. Truman, April 24, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library)

Henry Stimson to Harry S. Truman, April 24, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library)

He asked if there was anything he could do. Her famous reply: “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

Trouble indeed. Truman would soon learn just how much FDR did not tell him about the status of the war effort.

Moments after Truman’s hastily-called swearing in ceremony, Secretary of War Henry Stimson lingered to speak with him about an “immense project.” Stimson briefly told Truman about the Manhattan Project, but Truman deferred an in-depth discussion to a later date.

The nation was in shock over the death of FDR, the only President many Americans had ever known, and World War II raged on. Germany was close to collapse, but it appeared that the war against Japan might go to the Japanese mainland and drag out into 1946. Amidst these troubles, Truman had to learn all the things FDR did not tell his newly-elected Vice President, in office only 82 days.

The issue of the “immense project”—the atomic bomb—re-surfaced April 24 when Stimson pressed for an appointment. Truman met with him the next day. The President listened intently. He already knew some sketchy details from his days in the Senate when he discovered secret War Department spending. Stimson advised Truman to appoint a committee to study the use of atomic weapons, which Truman took under consideration.

For the moment, any decisions regarding the use of the atomic bomb were put off. Elsewhere, plans for the invasion of Kyushu, Japan’s southern-most province, proceeded in earnest. Truman remained hopeful Japan might surrender, given the great damage inflicted by strategic bombing.

Truman's handwriting on the back of a Potsdam photograph describing telling Stalin about the atomic bomb, July 19, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library)

Truman’s handwriting on the back of a Potsdam photograph describing telling Stalin about the atomic bomb, July 19, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library)

In May 1945, Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew spoke to Truman about a plan to get Japan to surrender. Truman gave his support and presented it to the Joint Chiefs. The use of atomic weapons remained under consideration and no final decision was made. Truman sought the advice and opinions of others. He prepared himself and read voraciously.

As the Allied Powers prepared to meet in Potsdam, Germany, Truman wanted to release another surrender ultimatum at the meeting. He hoped the ultimatum would coincide with a successful test of the atomic bomb to demonstrate the resolve of the Allies to Japan.

Still, early in July 1945, no final decision was made about the bomb, but Truman knew it was a viable option and he continued to gather information. The committee formed to study this new weapon met and advised Truman to use it immediately—and without warning. No demonstration as a warning was recommended. Truman consulted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who concurred.

No doubt the weight of the world was on Truman’s shoulders, and the final decision was not easy.Finally, he concluded it was his decision, alone, if, when, and where to use the bomb. On July 24, 1945, the order was issued to U.S. Army Strategic Air Forces with operational control delegated to its commander, General Carl Spaatz.

If the recent invasion of Okinawa was any predictor, an amphibious invasion of the Japanese mainland was unthinkable. Neither were the estimated millions of American lives that would be lost if mainland Japan was invaded.

This, in part, prompted Truman to give Japan one more chance to surrender. Another warning was issued to the Japanese on July 26 from the Potsdam conference. On July 28, Japan announced its intention to continue the war. There was no alternative—Truman had to take action to end the war.

Secretary of War Henry Stimson's cable to President Truman regarding the atomic bomb, 07/30/1945. (National Archives Identifier 200665)

Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s cable to President Truman regarding the atomic bomb, 07/30/1945. (National Archives Identifier 200665)

Truman's handwritten reply to Stimson's cable, 07/30/1945. (National Archives Identifier  200665)

Truman’s handwritten reply to Stimson’s cable, 07/30/1945. (National Archives Identifier 200665)

 

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed on August 6 and August 9, respectively, and the war came to a dramatic end a few days later.

President Truman announces Japan's surrender, August 14, 1945. (National Archives Identifier 520054)

President Truman announces Japan’s surrender, August 14, 1945. (National Archives Identifier 520054)

For his part, Truman never regretted his decision—nor did he ever gloat, even in the face of decades of second-guessing by those who disagreed with him.

Truman made the decision, and, as he was fond of saying, “that’s all there was to it.”

Professor Lacy drew this account from Truman’s memoirs and from the archives of the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, MO. Dr. Lacy can be contacted at lee.o.lacy.civ@mail.mil.

To view original documents relating to the use of the A-bomb, visit the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum’s website.


Loan to Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax

Today’s post comes from James Zeender, Senior Registrar. 
Last week, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax opened the exhibition “Prize and Prejudice: Nova Scotia’s War of 1812.”   It is a companion to the War of 1812 exhibit organized by the Canadian War Museum.  “Prize and Prejudice” features two letters on loan from the National Archives.  They were written by Black escaped slaves who were among the 3400 slaves who fled from the Chesapeake region during the war.  Most of them resettled in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Trinidad.  The letters were among many from the US-Canadian Boundary Commission records (RG 76) that scholar Dr. Alan Taylor cites in his recent work “Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772 – 1832: The Internal Enemy.”
In December 1816, just about a year after the war’s end, young William Whiddington sent this moving letter to his “dear honored mother.”
National Archives Identifier: 27487.

National Archives Identifier: 27487.

 
I have often wished it was in my power to let you hear from me, as, I dare say, you have thought I was long ago dead. but Thanks be to God, I arriv’d in this place safe – and have had no cause to repent coming away – though I was very sorry to leave you, and all my relations. but though I may never see any of you again, my dear Mother, yet I shall always think of you and love you.  and I hope,  I shall act so honestly and soberly in this World that when I die I may meet all my Friends in a happy state of Eternity….I am a sober well-behaved Lad. I get six Dollars a month and am now comfortably cloathed, and live well. Nice Leech and his two children came away. 
 
National Archives Identifier: 27487

National Archives Identifier: 27487

 

 

 

Later, in the same letter, Whiddington writes:

I pray and beseech you to let me hear from you and not only tell me how you and my Father, and Brothers, and Sisters all are, but I wish also to hear how my Master and Mistress – and my young Masters are -  particularly, Master Clement. and I beg you will remember me to them all, and to all enquiring Friends. I wish to know where Mr. Clement is and how he does, for I feel a great love for him.

Display case with Black refugee letters and the panel entitled "The Power of the Written Word." Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of Nova Scotia.

Display case with Black refugee letters and the panel entitled “The Power of the Written Word.” Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of Nova Scotia.

 

Using the Whiddington letter as an example, Taylor finds “the letters reveal the great emotional complexity to the master-slave experience.  While proud of their accomplishments in freedom, some writrs missed their personal relationship with a former master.”  

Writing in May 1820, Bartlet Shanklyn writes with obvious emotion, perhaps anger, to his former owner, Abraham Hooe.
National Archives Identifier: 27485

National Archives Identifier: 27485

I take this opportunity of writing these lines to inform you how I am situated hear. I have [a] Shop & Set of Tools of my own and am doing very well when I was with you [you] treated me very ill and for that reason i take the liberty of informing you that i am doing as well as you if not better. When i was with you I worked very hard and you neither g[ave] me money nor any Satisfaction but sin[ce] I have been hear I am able to [make] Gold and Silver as well as you. The night that Cokely Stoped me he was very Strong but I shewed him that Subtilty Was far preferable to Strength and brought away others with me who thank God are all doing well.
Left edge of case next to panel reading "Black Refugees in Nova Scotia." Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of Nova Scotia.

Left edge of case next to panel reading “Black Refugees in Nova Scotia.” Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of Nova Scotia.

 
A similar exodus of Black Refugees from Britain’s former colonies to Canada occurred earlier during the American Revolution. Those persons too are documented here in the National Archives on inspection rolls kept at General George Washington’s order so that American owners could later make claims for their lost “property”.  Such removals were prohibited under the terms of the recently signed Preliminary Articles of Peace at Paris.  The British Commander, Guy Carlton, however refused to return any of the refugees to slavery.  At least one of  the slaves recorded on the rolls escaped from Washington’s own Mount Vernon plantation seven years earlier.
National Archives Identifier: 13935

National Archives Identifier: 13935

National Archives Identifier: 13935

National Archives Identifier: 13935

For more information about the War of 1812 exhibition, see https://maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca/what-see-do/war-1812-exhibits .


The Origins of Senatorial Courtesy

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, an Outreach Specialist at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.

Nomination of Benjamin Fishbourn and others to be Port Collectors, etc., August 3, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Nomination of Benjamin Fishbourn and others to be Port Collectors, etc., August 3, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, on August 3, 1789, President George Washington sent the Senate a seven-page list of nominees for port collectors. Several days before, he had signed an act establishing a system for collecting import taxes at the ports, and he acted quickly to staff the customs system so the new government could establish a steady flow of revenue.

The government’s inability to raise adequate revenue under the Articles of Confederation was one of the main reasons the Constitution had been adopted just the year before.

Washington sent his list of nominees to the Senate in observance of the Constitution’s requirement that the Senate give its “advice and consent” to Federal officers. The neatly prepared document listed each port and the positions to be filled.

The name of each nominee appears next to each position. Next to each name, a clerk in the Senate noted the outcome of the Senate’s votes. “Aye” is written next to all of the names but one—Benjamin Fishbourn for naval officer at the port of Savannah, Georgia.

Fishbourn was the first Presidential nominee to be rejected by the Senate, and the event marks the beginning of the custom of senatorial courtesy. This tradition holds that the Senate may reject a nominee who is not supported by the nominee’s home state senators. It encourages the President to engage the Senate in the “advice” part of the nomination process as well as the “consent” part.

In the case of Fishbourn, he was opposed by Senator James Gunn of Georgia. President Washington was reportedly angered at the rejection of his choice and went to the Senate directly to ask why. Senator Gunn told the President his reasons, but only after he made it clear that he was doing so out of his personal respect for Washington and that the Senate owed no explanation of its votes to any President.

Senatorial courtesy reflected the view that home state senators should have a voice in the selection of officials who could have a substantial impact within their state. By the early 1900s, this custom led to the advent of the “blue slip.”

Senator Thomas Hardwick’s Blue Slip for U.V. Whipple, April 11, 1917. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Senator Thomas Hardwick’s Blue Slip for U.V. Whipple, April 11, 1917. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

The chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee sends a blue slip to the home state senators of a nominee for positions such as judge, attorney, or marshal.  It offers home state senators the opportunity to weigh in on the nominee and indicate whether the support or oppose the nomination.

This 1917 blue slip for U. V. Whipple to be a district judge for the southern district of Georgia is one of the earliest existing blue slips in the records of the Senate. Senator Thomas Hardwick of Georgia returned this blue slip to the committee chairman with a strong statement of his opinion. Hardwick wrote, “I object to this appointment—[Whipple] is personally offensive and objectionable to me, and I can not consent to the confirmation of the nominee.”

Under some Senate Judiciary chairmen, a “negative” blue slip was treated as a veto, and the chairman refused to move the nomination forward. At other times it was treated more as advisory. In 1917, the Judiciary Committee reported Whipple’s nomination to the full Senate, but recommended that the Senate reject Whipple. The Senate later voted against the nomination, thereby refusing to give its consent.

Although in 1789 Senator James Gunn couldn’t know the significance of his objection to President Washington’s nomination of Benjamin Fishbourn, it resulted in senatorial courtesy and later the blue slip—traditions that continue today.

 


An inaugural blunder

Today’s post is from David Steinbach, intern in the National Archives History Office.

Chief Justice William H. Taft administering the oath of office to Herbert Hoover, March 4, 1929. (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum)

Chief Justice William H. Taft administering the oath of office to Herbert Hoover, March 4, 1929. (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum)

William Howard Taft had unusually extensive experience with the Presidential oath of office. In 1909, Taft recited the text on the steps of the Capitol to become the 27th President of the United States.

Sixteen years later, as Chief Justice of the United States, Taft stood on the other side of the Bible and administered Calvin Coolidge’s swearing in.

By the time of Herbert Hoover’s inauguration ceremony in 1929, Taft should have mastered the oath. But the Chief Justice blundered nonetheless, substituting erroneously the phrase “preserve, maintain, and defend” for the traditional “preserve, protect, and defend.”

Letter from Chief Justice William Howard Taft to President Herbert Hoover Regarding the Oath of Office, 03/01/1929. (National Archives Identifier 7722952)

Letter from Chief Justice William Howard Taft to President Herbert Hoover Regarding the Oath of Office, 03/01/1929. (National Archives Identifier
7722952)

Taft could not blame lack of preparation. In the exhibit “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” currently open at the National Archives in Washington, DC, we see a particularly interesting letter from the Chief Justice to incoming President Hoover. The communication is dated March 1, 1929—three days before the inauguration. Taft described in great detail where the two men would stand, what text that he would recite, what Hoover’s response should be, and the logistics surrounding the Bible—all with the goal, as Taft asserted, that “you and I shall know what we are to do.”

Ironically, it was Taft, not Hoover, who made the false step.

Taft’s error may have gone overlooked were it not for the attentiveness of Helen Terwilliger, a 13-year-old from New York. Listening on the radio, the teenager caught the slip-up and wrote Taft a letter explaining the blunder.

In his reply, Taft acknowledged he had made a mistake but disagreed regarding the error itself, claiming that he had instead said “preserve, maintain, and protect.”

Eventually, three different news networks delved into their footage and concluded that Terwilliger’s account was correct—Taft had been mistaken not just once at the inauguration, but for a second time a few days after the fact.

Taft was by no means the last to botch the delivery of the Presidential oath. In 2009, Chief Justice John Roberts and incoming President Barack Obama shared an awkward silence when Roberts misplaced the word “faithfully.” Like Taft, Roberts had prepared extensively for the ceremony. But both Chief Justices realized that on the big stage, all their rehearsals—even the detailed instructions and predetermined movements Taft shared with the President—could not save them from error.

The exhibit “Making Their Mark: Stories through Signatures” is free and open to the public in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, through January 5, 2015.