Forty years ago, on August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States. The troubled conclusion to his term in office was the result of the Watergate investigations, but to understand the history, we must understand the man.
Tracing the history of Richard Nixon illustrates the unique role that the National Archives and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission play together in preserving and providing access to primary source materials. The bulk of Nixon’s papers are at the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library. The National Archives Office of Presidential Libraries administers a nationwide network of 13 libraries beginning with the 31st President of the United States, Herbert Hoover. Material on Nixon’s service as Vice President from 1953-1960 can be found at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, and information on his run for the Presidency in 1960 may be found at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
Between February 16, 1971 and July 18, 1973 Richard Nixon secretly recorded roughly 3,700 hours of conversations and meetings in five different locations. With the exception of the manually-operated equipment in the Cabinet Room, Nixon’s recording system was sound-activated and recorded a wide range of conversations of varying audio and substantive quality. The Presidential Recordings Program at the Miller Center, the University of Virginia, is making those the secret White House recordings more accessible through transcripts and historical research. These recordings constitute an extremely rich historical resource, but one that cannot be unlocked without considerable time and experience in working with the tapes. Once unlocked, the tapes can, are, and will make significant contributions to our understanding of recent political history and how the U.S. government works. To that end, the PRP brings together historians, journalists, and a talented team of student interns to work with these materials to transcribe, annotate, interpret, and share them.
Researchers are also encouraged to visit the Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower, a project at the Johns Hopkins University Press, for details of Nixon’s Vice Presidency. The NHPRC supported the annotation of those papers for nearly 20 years before the project was completed.
More on Nixon can be found in the Public Policy collections at Princeton’s Mudd Library–in particular the history of the Cold War and mid-20th century economic policy. Through a grant to the Minnesota Historical Society, the NHPRC also funded the digitization of the speeches of Hubert Humphrey, Nixon’s opponent in the 1968 Presidential Election, and through a grant to Bates College, the preservation of the papers of Edmund Muskie, the 1968 Vice Presidential nominee, who also ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972.
These resources–and there are, no doubt, others–are the essential evidence for writing the history of those times. Whether through its holdings of Federal government records or through its NHPRC support for nationally significant historical records held at other repositories, the National Archives is vital to preserving every chapter of the American story.