Under the label of “new federalism,” Nixon shifted responsibility for many social programs from Washington to state and local authorities. He developed the concept of revenue sharing, by which federal funds (via grants) were dispersed to state, country, and city agencies to meet local needs in the form of block grants. These governments could use the money as they saw fit.
Nixon devised a political strategy to form a Republican majority by appealing to the millions of voters who had become disaffected by antiwar protests, black militants, school busing to achieve racial balance, and the excesses of the youth counterculture. Nixon referred to these conservative Americans as the “silent majority.” Many of them were Democrats, including southern whites, northern Catholic blue-collar workers, and recent suburbanites who disagreed with the liberal drift of their party.
To win over the South, Nixon asked the federal courts in that region to delay integration plans and busing orders. He also nominated two Southern conservatives to the Supreme Court. The courts rejected his requests and the Senate refused his nominees.
His southern strategy played well with Southern white voters. The success of Nixon’s southern strategy became evident in the presidential election of 1972 when the Republican ticket won majorities in every southern state.
Roe v. Wade
In the 7-2, Roe v. Wade decision, the court struck down many state laws prohibiting abortions as a violation of a women’s right to privacy. This ignited the anger of conservatives, but especially the religious right who vowed to defeat the decision.
War Powers Act
The public discovered that Nixon authorized 3500 secret bombing raids in Cambodia, a neutral country. Congress used the public uproar over this information to attempt to limit the president’s powers over the military.
After a long struggle, Congress passed the War Powers Act over Nixon’s veto. This law required the president to report to Congress within 48 hours after taking military action. It further provided that Congress would have to approve any military action that lasted more than 60 days. This was also a result of the disastrous Vietnam War.
Nixon was sensitive to the unauthorized release of information about American foreign policy. Anytime leaks occurred, Nixon grew outraged and demanded that they be stopped.
The White House established an informal office of covert surveillance – the “plumbers,” its operatives were called – which began by investigating the national security breaches but, during the 1972 campaign, branched out into spying on Nixon’s Democratic opponents and engaging in political dirty tricks. They also created an enemies list of prominent Americans who opposed Nixon, the Vietnam War, or both. People on the list were investigated by government agencies, such as the IRS.
Five of the “plumbers” were arrested in June 1972 during a break in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex in Washington. Nixon personally ordered the cover-up saying “I want you to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover-up, or anything else.”
James McCord, one of the burglars, was the first to break the silence. When he was sentenced to a long jail term, he asked for leniency, informing the judge that he had received money from the White House and has been promised a presidential pardon in return for silence.
By April 1973, Nixon was compelled to fire aide John Dean, who had directed the cover-up but who now refused to become a scapegoat. Two other aids were also forced to resign.
The Senate then appointed a special committee to investigated the unfolding Watergate scandal. The committee’s discovery of the existence of tape recordings of conversations in the Oval Office made regularly since 1970, proved the beginning of the end for Nixon. Nixon tried to invoke executive privilege to withhold the tapes.
Archibald Cox, appointed as Watergate special prosecutor, demanded the release of the tapes, so Nixon fired him. The new prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, continued to press for the tapes. Nixon released only a few of the less damaging ones, but the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in June 1974 in the case US v. Nixon that the tapes had to be turned over.
By this time, the House Judiciary Committee, acting on evidence compiled by the staff of the Senate committee, had voted three articles of impeachment, charging Nixon with obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. Faced with the release of tapes that directly implicated him in the cover-up, the president chose to resign on August 9, 1974, and vice president Gerald Ford became president.
President Gerald Ford’s presidential honeymoon lasted only a month. On September 8, 1974, he shocked the nation by announcing he had granted Nixon a full and unconditional pardon for all federal crimes he may have committed. Some argued that Ford and Nixon had argued that there had been a secret deal while others argued that it was unfair for him to go free while so many were serving in jail. Ford acted in an effort to end the bitterness over Watergate, but it backfired, eroding public confidence in him and as a result, he would lose election for his own term.
🎥Watch: AP US History - The 1970s