President Nixon began his term of office in 1969 with a pledge to seek peace abroad and tranquility at home. He sought to associate his administration with the aspirations of the "silent majority" of Americans who wanted an end to the turbulence that had marked the second half of the 1960's.
Nixon concentrated his efforts on measures to halt inflation and to streamline government structures and programs. Often the Republican administration was at odds with the Democratic-controlled Congress. The U.S. Senate twice rejected the President's nomination of conservative Southern jurists to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nixon vetoed bills that provided more money for nonmilitary purposes than he had requested. Legislation enacted in 1969-72 included bills to reform taxes, introduce a military draft lottery, convert the post office department into a government-owned corporation, deploy an antiballistic missile defense system, and fight environmental pollution.
Despite calls for "law and order," violent disorders continued as many blacks and young whites demonstrated their disaffection with the government and with American society in general. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew became a figure of controversy as an outspoken foe of dissent.
Other developments included manned landings on the moon, the first of which was accomplished by Apollo 11 in July, 1969. Also in 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded upon its earlier desegregation rulings by ordering an immediate end to segregation in Southern schools. In 1971 busing of schoolchildren to achieve racial balance was begun in parts of the nation. It provoked widespread opposition, including that of the Nixon administration. Also that year, the 26th Amendment was ratified, lowering the voting age to 18. In August, in an attempt to aid the economy—ailing from simultaneous inflation and recession—the government instituted wage and price controls.
President Nixon began withdrawing troops from Vietnam in 1969 to reduce American involvement in Southeast Asia. In 1972 military and diplomatic efforts to end the Vietnamese War were stepped up.Relations with Communist nations continued to improve. The Soviet Union and the United States signed a nuclear nonproliferation treaty in 1969 and a strategic arms limitation treaty in May, 1972, during a historic visit to the Soviet Union by President Nixon. Earlier in 1972 he had made a similar precedent-setting trip to China.
President Nixon sought reelection, with Vice President Agnew again his running mate. The Democratic nomination was hotly contested by Senators Edmund S. Muskie, George S. McGovern, Hubert H. Humphrey, and Henry Jackson and Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama. During the primary campaign, Wallace was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt. McGovern won the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in July. His original choice for a running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, withdrew from the ticket and was replaced by R. Sargent Shriver, Jr., brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy and former director of the antipoverty program.
The Republicans focused the campaign on McGovern's political views, which they called radical. Nixon was reelected by one of the largest majorities in American history.
During the campaign, there had been a brief furor over what was called the Watergate Affair. Men with links to the Nixon reelection committee and to the White House had been caught breaking into Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate Office Building, Washington, D.C., on June 17, 1972. After the election, there were allegations by the press and some former Nixon administration officials that certain campaign aides and White House assistants had attempted a cover-up of not only their roles in Watergate but also in various other improper and even illegal activities. There also were suggestions of Presidential involvement. In 1973 investigations into these charges were begun.
Meanwhile, United States participation in the longest war in its history—the Vietnamese War—came to an end by cease-fire agreement in January, 1973. Soon after, the government announced that the military draft would be abolished. With the end of the war and the draft, the protest movement waned. Black militancy also was being channeled into more peaceful efforts, such as the quest for jobs and political power. Busing of schoolchildren remained a point of blackwhite contention. However, a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling placed restrictions on the use of busing.
Inflation continued to plague the economy despite wage and price controls. Higher food and fuel prices were major contributors to the sharp rise in the cost of living. In the winter of 1973-74, there was a severe energy shortage, caused in part by an embargo on oil placed by the Arab nations against the United States and other supporters of Israel.
Unrelated to Watergate but adding to the growing political crisis was the resignation of Vice President Agnew, convicted of tax fraud in late 1973. Gerald R. Ford, minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, was chosen his successor under the 25th Amendment.
Watergate developments continued to overshadow most other events and led to the most serious governmental crisis since the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson more than a century earlier. News accounts and testimony before congressional committees, grand juries, and federal prosecutors produced evidence of burglary, illegal wiretapping, perjury, obstruction of justice, and violations of campaign financing laws. Several former White House officials and members of the Nixon reelection committee were indicted and convicted. President Nixon denied personal involvement in any illegal activities. However, there were growing demands for his resignation or impeachment. The House Judiciary Committee began an impeachment inquiry.
In the summer of 1974, a rapid succession of events brought the Watergate crisis to a climax. In July, the Supreme Court ordered the President to turn over, to the special Justice Department prosecutor handling Watergate cases, the tape recordings Nixon had made of certain White House conversations during 1971-73. A week later, the Judiciary Committee, using evidence it had previously gathered, voted articles of impeachment against Nixon. On August 5, transcripts of conversations taped shortly after the Watergate break-in were made public; they indicated that the President had participated in the Watergate cover-up.
Congressional leaders indicated that impeachment and conviction were virtually certain. As a result, on August 8, Nixon announced he would resign. On August 9, 1974, Vice President Ford succeeded to the Presidency. He promised an open and honest administration that would continue Nixon's foreign policy and give the fight against inflation top priority. He selected former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller to be his Vice President.
The Watergate scandal had a disturbing effect on the American people and their confidence in government. National morale was further shaken when, in addition to continuing inflation, there was a slump in the economy. A major setback for American foreign policy occurred in April, 1975, when South Vietnam fell to Communist North Vietnam in renewed fighting in the Vietnamese War. More than 100,000 refugees from South Vietnam were helped to escape to the United States.
The economy began to rebound, and a slow but steady recovery was under way in 1976. In the Presidential election of that year, President Ford was defeated by the Democratic nominee, former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter.