On August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon publicly announced he would be resigning from office in a now-famous televised address. This decision made him the first American president to resign. But what led to this decision? Why did he resign?

The Watergate scandal

Most people have heard the term ‘Watergate scandal,’ but they might not know the full history. On June 17, 1972, five men, including a salaried security coordinator for Nixon’s re-election committee, were arrested for breaking into the office of the Democratic National Committee, located inside the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. These individuals were also found guilty of illegally wiretapping the headquarters, hoping to gain insight into the re-election. At the time of the arrests, Nixon denied any involvement in the scandal, but the story would eventually change.

It came to light that Nixon wasn’t entirely truthful. Following the arrests, the president arranged to provide thousands of dollars in “hush money.” Then, Nixon and his aides instructed the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] to impede the FBI’s investigation, becoming a more serious crime than the initial break-in. In May 1973, the U.S. Senate began televised proceedings of the affair, including proving Nixon’s involvement in the scandal. By July 1974, the American public had lost their trust in Nixon.

Resign or get impeached

The House Judiciary Committee presented Nixon with three articles of impeachment. They found him guilty of obstruction of justice, abuse of presidential powers, and hindrance of the impeachment process. Nixon knew he had to do something, so on July 30, he finally released the Watergate tapes. On August 5, transcripts of the recordings were released to the public, including a recording of Nixon instructing the FBI to halt the investigation.

Three days later, on August 8, Nixon publicly addressed his resignation. In his solemn address from the Oval Office, he announced, “By taking this action, I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.”

The next day, Nixon ended his term as the 37th president of the U.S., and Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president. Nixon smiled farewell and raised his arms in a peace salute. Then, he was off with his family back home to San Clemente, California, where he did his best to move on from the scandal.