The Nixon-Ford Years

Watergate Affair and National Crisis

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.