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August 1974

With just eleven words, Richard Nixon would become the first President of the United States to resign his office on August 9, 1974.

As if having a Vice President convicted of taking kickbacks weren't a big enough black eye for the Nixon Administration, the President and his people had a mountain of problems themselves - troubles that ultimately led to his resignation and the second invocation of the 25th Amendment in less than a year.

Downfall of a President

In the early hours of June 17, 1972, Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martinez, James McCord and Frank Sturgis were arrested, having been caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee's national headquarters, located in the Watergate Hotel and office complex in Washington, D.C.

The events of the next 26 months unraveled a presidency, and irreparably harmed the way the people of the United States viewed its own government.  In July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted 27-11 to send articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon, alleging obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress - charges on which the United States Senate would almost certainly convict and remove him from office.

Facing this, on August 8, 1974, Richard Nixon announced he would resign the presidency the following day.  On the morning of August 9th, an eleven word, one sentence letter of resignation was delivered to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.  Kissinger received the letter at 11:35 a.m., officially ending the Nixon presidency.  25 minutes later, Vice President Gerald Ford would be sworn in as the 38th President of the United States, as stipulated in Section 1 of the 25th Amendment.

Ford Moves Up, and Rockefeller Moves in

Ford's ascent to the presidency, meanwhile, left a vacancy in the office of the Vice President for a second time in just under ten months.  Even before the ink was dry on Nixon's resignation letter, speculation began as to whom Ford would select to succeed him as Vice President.

Ford himself considered several candidates, among them former Defense Secretary and Wisconsin congressman Melvin Laird, and Republican National Committee chairman George H.W. Bush.  But as John Connally had done with Richard Nixon prior to Nixon's selection of Ford, Laird backed award from a Vice Presidential offer.  Bush, meanwhile, was the target of a (pointless) investigation that allegedly linked him to a secret Nixon campaign slush fund - an investigation that would clear him of any wrongdoing, but given the climate of the day, Ford didn't want even a whiff of scandal.

After eleven days, on August 20 Ford nominated former New York Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President in accordance with Section 2 of the 25th Amendment.  While some anticipated a quick confirmation based on Rockefeller's extensive political record, the confirmation dragged on for months as Congress investigated his family's vast holdings in major corporations that did business with the government, suspecting potential conflicts of interest.

With a net worth estimated at $ 178 million ($ 864 million in 2015 dollars), Rockefeller offered to allay Congressional fears by placing his securities in a blind trust if confirmed.  Despite the length and contentiousness of the confirmation process, ultimately the Senate voted 90-7 to confirm Rockefeller, and the House of Representatives would soon follow suit by a 287 to 128 margin.  On December 19, 1974, Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller was sworn in as the 41st Vice President of the United States, and the second (in a row) to be installed under the 25th Amendment.

 

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