Tag Archives: Watergate

Nixon and Cox

President Nixon and William H. Natcher

President Nixon and William H. Natcher

When, on October 21, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and triggered the resignations of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General in protest, the upheaval became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”  Charles Lowther, then a history student at WKU, wrote to several members of the U.S. Congress expressing his outrage at Nixon’s action.  The replies he received reflected a common fear that the country was in the midst of a deep political crisis.

“Removal of Mr. Cox was a serious mistake,” replied Kentucky Congressman William Natcher (D), aware that House Speaker Carl Albert had directed the House Judiciary Committee to assess whether there were grounds to impeach Nixon.  Kentucky Senator Walter “Dee” Huddleston (D), shared Lowther’s concern but, like Congressman Frank Stubblefield, assured him that Congress would maintain its investigations “to insure that we continue to have a government by law, and not by men.”  Kentucky Senator Marlow Cook (R) advised that he had co-sponsored a bill to allow the removal of a special prosecutor only on authorization of Congress, but pledged to retain his objectivity in the event he was called upon to “sit as a juror in an impeachment trial.”  Edmund Muskie (D) of Maine acknowledged Lowther’s letter as one of thousands he had received “urging Congress to act to reestablish the principle that no office in our government—and no office holder—is above the law.”

And finally, North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin (D), chairman of the Senate committee investigating the activities of Nixon’s reelection campaign, sought to refute any accusation of political bias by pointing out that his committee had been constituted by unanimous vote of the Senate.  Evidence uncovered so far, he suggested in language betraying both anger and sadness, “tends to show that men, upon whom fortune had smiled benevolently and who possessed great political power and great governmental power, undertook to nullify the laws of man and the laws of God for the purpose of gaining what history will call a very temporary political advantage.”

These letters to Charles Lowther are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“This Good Year of 1974”

President Richard Nixon and William H. Natcher in happier times

President Richard Nixon and William H. Natcher in happier times

Facing impeachment for obstruction of justice after attempting to thwart the investigation of the 1972 break-in at Democratic Party Headquarters in Washington DC’s Watergate office complex, Richard M. Nixon resigned as President on August 9, 1974.  In his journal, Kentucky Congressman William H. Natcher chronicled the legal and political drama of what Nixon’s successor, Vice President Gerald Ford, famously called “our long national nightmare.”

Nixon’s alleged crimes were at the center of the storm, but other aspects of the controversy also gained the spotlight.  For example, Natcher recorded on July 24, 1974, that the news media “is very much under trial in this country today and during the past several days television officials are making every attempt to televise the Watergate matters in such a manner as to not be subject to charges of demanding impeachment. . . .”

As they faced mounting evidence of Nixon’s guilt, the political dilemma of his fellow Republicans intensified.  “Jerry Ford,” wrote Natcher on August 1, “has been advised time after time by his close friends to keep his mouth shut now and to sit on the sidelines during this critical period.”  Republican House Minority Leader John Rhodes of Arizona, observed Natcher on August 2, “knows that if he cast[s] his vote for impeachment [as his constituents were demanding] this will place him in a position where. . . he will have difficulty leading his party in the House. . . .  Rhodes knows that after the impeachment proceedings are over, his major duty will be to try to put the wheels back on the Republican Party.”

On August 6, 1974, as an impeachment vote loomed, Natcher heard that Nixon “seriously considered resigning and rejected this move. . . .  The President also discussed. . . the possibility of letting Vice President Ford take over temporarily under the provisions of the 25th Amendment.”  Nixon’s health, as Natcher learned the next day, was indeed an issue: fellow Kentucky Congressman Carl D. Perkins told him that the President “was a sick man and that he had been taking all kinds of harsh drugs for many, many months and that this, along with considerably more drinking than anyone knew about had placed him in a position where he was not physically or mentally qualified to govern.”

Finally, on August 9, Nixon announced his resignation.  Natcher, who believed that Nixon ought to have defended himself in a Senate trial rather than voluntarily leave office, was informed that if the House impeachment proceedings had gone forward, he had been selected to preside.  “It would have been quite an experience,” was Natcher’s classic understatement.

On July 3, 1974, during that summer of political crisis, Natcher had recalled the 1872 declaration of Carl Schurz, the first German-born American elected to the U.S. Senate:  “My country right or wrong; when right, to keep her right; when wrong, to put her right.”  This was “not a bad expression,” he concluded, “and certainly applies in this good year of 1974.”

To read William Natcher’s journals, part of the collections of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, click here.  For more of our political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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