The Presidency of Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal

Teacher Guide by Richard Cleggett

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Richard Nixon Presidency Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Presidency of Richard Nixon Include:

Analyze and explain what defined Nixon as a president, as well as how the Watergate Scandal ultimately came to serve as his political demise. Students will be able to go in depth as to how Nixon functioned in the highest office, yet also how his ambition and ruthlessness proved to be his downfall in the Watergate Scandal.

The Presidency of Richard Nixon Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Nixon’s Rise to the Presidency

Richard Nixon rose swiftly in the political sphere. Using the timeline layout, have students detail Nixon’s rise to the presidential office. Students will be able to explain and analyze how Nixon rose to the executive office, as well as what major events highlighted his eventual election. Students should highlight both his political successes and failures, as well as what positions Nixon held before becoming president. Students should also be made aware of what issues constructed Nixon’s platform as president, as well as what influenced his ideas and policies.

Example Nixon Timeline

1942 - Nixon in the Office of Price Administration

A young, ambitious lawyer, Nixon first emerged on the national political stage by serving as an attorney for the Office for Price Administration (OPA). The position had a profound effect on him and his views towards political policies.

1946 - Honorable Discharge from the Navy

After serving at various battle station assignments in the Navy, Nixon was honorably discharged, leaving with the rank of lieutenant. Nixon is credited with aiding pilots and servicemen, and notably ran the only hamburger stand in the South Pacific.

1946 - Elected to the House of Representatives

Running as a candidate for California's 12th district, Nixon was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Here, Nixon continued to make key political connections and had continued success, further advancing his quick rise in politics.

1950 - Elected to U.S. Senate

After serving in the House of Representatives, Nixon was then elected to the U.S. Senate, again representing California, his home state. His position helped catapult him onto Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidential ticket.

1952 - Chosen as Eisenhower’s Vice President

Nixon was chosen as Eisenhower's running mate on the Republican presidential ticket. He served two terms with Eisenhower. He also delivered his famous "Checkers" speech, as well as participated in the "Kitchen Debates".

1960 - Lost Presidential Race to Kennedy

After being nominated as the Republican presidential candidate, Nixon lost the 1960 presidential race to John F. Kennedy. The loss motivated Nixon tremendously, as he hated to lose.

1968 - Elected America’s 37th President

From 1963-1967, Nixon (as a private citizen) toured the globe promoting Republican candidates. In 1968, Nixon was chosen as the Republican candidate and defeated VP Hubert Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace. Richard Nixon became the 37th president of the United States.

Extended Activity

Have students create a timeline of Nixon’s actions as vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower. This will give students a more expansive look at Nixon before he became president. Furthermore, it will allow students to go deeper into his political background and what influenced his actions in the future as president.

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The Election of 1972 5 Ws Activity

Nixon swept the election of 1972 in dominating fashion. However, the election would not go without controversy, as news of the Watergate scandal began to spread.

With a spider map, students can create a graphic organizer to show the 5 Ws of the election of 1972. By outlining the 5 Ws of the election and emergence of the Watergate scandal, students will be able to explain and analyze just what defined Nixon’s second run and victory while also examining and explaining the emergence of what became known as the Watergate scandal. This will allow students to be able to understand just how Nixon achieved re-election, as well as how his re-election would be marred by the emerging scandal.

Example Election of 1972 5 Ws

WHO was involved in the election of 1972?

The 1972 presidential race was held between Richard Nixon and Democratic candidate George McGovern. In addition, Nixon was supported by his Committee to Re-elect the President, headed by John Mitchell.

WHAT were the results of the election of 1972?

The results of the election turned out to be a sweeping victory for Nixon. He carried 49 states, winning 520 electoral votes to McGovern's 1 state (plus D.C.) and 17 electoral votes. Furthermore, Nixon won 60.7% of the popular vote to McGovern's 37.5%.

WHERE did the election of 1972 take place?

The election took place throughout the United States. Nixon hailed from California and McGovern from South Dakota. Five days before the election, a break-in at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. would prove to be a major scandal for Nixon in the coming years.

WHEN did this happen?

The election itself took place on November 7th, 1972, with Nixon emerging victorious. However, 5 days prior, investigations began into the Watergate Hotel break-in (the DNC's headquarters), which would come to ruin Nixon.

WHY did Nixon win?

Nixon won such a decisive victory for several reasons. For one, his foreign policy was much admired and considered successful in calming Cold War tensions. Also, Nixon pledged to end the Vietnam War.

Extended Activity

Have students create a spider map detailing major terms of the 1972 election. Students should examine major terms such as Watergate, the Democratic National Convention, as well as major figures of the election, including members of Nixon’s staff and perpetrators of the Watergate scandal. This will give deeper understanding to not only the election itself, but also the major terms surrounding the emergence of what the Watergate scandal came to be.

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Nixon's Domestic Policies Graphic Organizer

Utilizing a spider map, students will outline, define, and explain the domestic policies initiated by Nixon during his presidency. Students will be able to analyze and synthesize how Nixon conducted affairs domestically. Teachers may pre-select which major policies define his domestic agenda.

This activity will highlight how Nixon dealt with major issues of his presidency, including social issues, the anti-war movement, the economy, and what Nixon came to define as “New Federalism.” Suggested topics include his dealing with inflation, the oil crisis, his “Southern Strategy”, and the first moon landing.

President Nixon: Domestic Policy

Economic and Energy Crisis With war raging in the Middle East between Israel, Egypt, and Syria, Nixon and the U.S. backed Israel as their ally. However, other Middle Eastern nations soon embargoed the oil trade with the U.S. as a collective known as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC. Inflation and recession resulted.
“New Federalism” Under what Nixon deemed his idea of a "New Federalism", he sought to improve relations between states and the federal government. By giving states more control over the use of federal funds, Nixon hoped to balance the desires of traditional social program supporters and conservative voters who demanded cutbacks on these programs.
Inflation Economically, the United States faced many issues, particularly in regards to rising inflation. With a growing budget deficit and spending on the Vietnam War, Nixon sought to halt inflation and keep the deficit at bay. He instituted deficit spending to try and stimulate the economy and froze wages, prices, and rents in 1971.
26th Amendment:
Lowering the Voting Age
Under Nixon, the 26th amendment was passed, lowering the voter age to 18 years old from 21. The amendment was much welcomed and anticipated, as many believed it was wrong to be old enough to fight in war, but not old enough to vote for policy change. It is considered a great advancement in voting rights for young Americans.
“Southern Strategy” In an attempt to appeal to both Northern liberals and Southern conservatives, Nixon implemented what is deemed his "Southern Strategy". In effect, this slowed desegregation, while also making it easier to meet desegregation requirements. He opposed busing as a means to end segregation in schools.
The Environment Looking to help slow down pollution and preserve conservation lands, Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. In terms of legislation, Nixon also passed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Mammal Marine Protection Act, all aimed at slowing down and preventing further pollution.

Extended Activity

Have students create a 5 Ws spider map on one specific domestic policy. Students should define and explain the major points of why such policy was initiated, as well as what effect it had on the American government and public. This will allow students to further understand the effects of Nixon’s policies as a president, as well as his actions in a more historical context.

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President Nixon's Foreign Policies Graphic Organizer

Utilizing a spider map, students will outline, define, and explain the foreign policies initiated by Nixon during his presidency. Students will be able to analyze and synthesize how Nixon conducted foreign affairs. Teachers may pre-select which major policies define his foreign agenda.

This activity will highlight how Nixon dealt with major issues of his presidency, including his role in the continuing Cold War, relations with China, the increasing energy crisis, and talks regarding limiting nuclear arms. Suggested specific topics include his relationship with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, détente with the U.S.S.R., improved relations with China and policies of Realpolitik, and weapons talks including the passing of SALT I.

The Presidency of Richard Nixon: Foreign Policy

Realpolitik German for "practical politics", realpolitik defined how Nixon and his administration handled political affairs abroad. Nations that followed this policy aimed at maintaining their own country's strength rather than morally making decisions. This factored into their decisions regarding China and the USSR.
Détente with the U.S.S.R. A great success of Nixon's foreign policy was bringing about "détente", or relaxed tensions, with the leading communist nations of China and the USSR. Through talks and Nixon's personable but strong approach, he was able to bring about peace between the superpowers that had been at odds since the end of WWII.
Ping-Pong Diplomacy in China After a ping-pong match between the American and Chinese national teams, Nixon visited the People's Republic of China, the first president to ever do so. Nixon managed to end the embargo between the two nations, while also establishing better trade relations.
Henry Kissinger Henry Kissinger served as Nixon's Secretary of State. Kissinger is credited, along with Nixon, for their success in foreign affairs. Although they did not consider each other friends, both Nixon and Kissinger held a close political relationship. Kissinger even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his efforts.
Limiting Nuclear Arms After visiting China, Nixon traveled to the Soviet Union with a warm welcome. Nixon met with Lenoid Brezhnev, Premier of the U.S.S.R. Between the two, they were able to sign and implement the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, or SALT I. This treaty aimed to freeze the number of missiles and nuclear weapons each country created.
The Vietnam War Beginning in 1969, Nixon implemented his policy for the Vietnam War dubbed "Vietnamization". With growing opposition to the war, and rising American casualties, Nixon began the process of removing American troops from Vietnam, replacing them with Southern Vietnamese soldiers.

Extended Activity

Have students create a spider map on one specific foreign policy. Students should define and explain the major points of why such policy was initiated, as well as what effect it had on the American government and public, and global relations. This will allow students to further understand the effects of Nixon’s policies as a president, as well as his actions in a more historical, global context.

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Major Events of the Watergate Scandal Timeline Activity

Have students create a timeline of the Watergate scandal. Students should highlight major events stemming from the break-in of the Democratic National Convention headquarters, to Nixon’s eventual resignation as president. Students will be able to explain and analyze the major events surrounding the Watergate scandal, as well as how it led to the eventual resignation of Nixon from the presidency in 1974. In addition, by outlining these major events, students will gain a better understanding of how events unfolded in what would become the most damning scandal to a president in U.S. history.

November 1968

Nixon Elected President

In 1968, Richard Nixon was elected the 37th president of the United States. Hailing from California, Nixon was admired for his extensive career. The victory was much welcomed by Nixon, who had lost elections prior to this presidency.
August 1971

Nixon’s Enemies List

Through Nixon's close White House aides, an "Enemies List" was created to keep an eye on political and social opponents of Nixon and his administration. Although Nixon's awareness of the list is disputed, it highlighted Nixon's desire to hold, and keep, political power.
January 1972

"Plumbers" Assigned to "C.R.E.E.P."

Nixon's "Plumbers", E. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy, were assigned to the Committee to Re-elect the President, or "C.R.E.E.P." Frustrated by their lack of assignments, the Plumbers desired more work to aid Nixon. This potentially set in motion actions culminating with the Watergate break-in.
June 1972

Watergate Break-In

At 2:30am on Jun 17, 1972, the Plumbers were arrested for breaking into and planting surveillance devices in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. The hotel was serving as the Democratic National Committee's headquarters. Their goal was to retrieve incriminating evidence against their political opponents.
July 1973

Nixon Refuses to Turn in Evidence

Nixon refused to turn over presidential recording tapes to the newly formed Senate Watergate Committee, who were investigating the scandal. Vice President Spiro Agnew soon resigned. Nixon later gave his famous "I am not a crook" speech, implying his innocence in the scandal.
October 1973

"Saturday Night Massacre"

Soon after refusing to turn in crucial presidential recordings, Nixon dismisses special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and oversaw the resignation of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. These dismissals, deemed the "Saturday Night Massacre", resulted from Cox's request for presidential tapes.
July 1974

House Passes Articles of Impeachment

Through the Supreme Court's decision in the United States vs. Richard Nixon, Nixon was ordered to give up his recorded tapes. Senate moved to impeach him, and eventually the House of Representatives passed articles of impeachment. A tape recorded before the break-in seriously implicated Nixon, and was considered the "smoking gun".
August 1974

Nixon Resigns the Presidency

On August 8, 1974, Nixon delivered his resignation speech. On August 9th, 1974, Nixon officially resigned from the presidency, and Gerald R. Ford was inaugurated as president. Ford later pardoned Nixon of all crimes.

Extended Activity

Have students create a timeline of Nixon as an ex-president, beginning with his resignation. Students should highlight the major events of how Nixon responded to and dealt with the scandal and also give insight to how he lived the remainder of his life until his death in 1994. Suggested major events should include his Frost interview, as well as his continued public service. In addition to this, students should highlight how the public viewed him, and how his role as president was interpreted post-Watergate.

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Primary Source Analysis: Nixon’s Resignation Speech of 1974

In this activity, students will analyze and synthesize Nixon’s resignation speech of 1974 using a T-Chart. Students will take several excerpts from his speech, explain their meaning and rationale, and infer as to how they think the public may have responded. Students will be able to explain, analyze, and synthesize what Nixon was trying to say, as well as how it was received by the American public. By creating a rationale, as well as inferring how the public (or they) interpreted his words, students will gain a broader, more in-depth understanding to one of the few presidential resignation speeches in American history. Furthermore, it will give a broader context to how he, and the public, responded to the Watergate scandal.

Excerpts from Nixon’s Resignation Speech Student Example

"In all the decisions I have made in my public life, I have always tried to do what was best for the nation. Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me. In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort."
Rationale / Meaning
Nixon is reminding the nation he has always done what he can as president to create a better nation. Despite this, Nixon feels as though he does not have the needed support in Congress, and any hope for preserving his innocence, is lost.

How Should Citizens Respond?
I feel as though the public would respond with anger to this quote. For one, it seems as though Nixon is admitting defeat, and that he is recognizing his failing support in Congress, something crucial for a president to have. However, it does show courage in admitting such defeat, and not putting his interests first over the nations.

" President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress...To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow."
Rationale / Meaning
This quote builds from the previous quote, saying that America and its people come first, not his interest in retaining the presidency. There are many issues at hand for the country at the time, and Nixon recognizes his scandal cannot be one of them. In dramatic fashion, he officially announces his resignation as president, an unprecedented moment in history.

How Should Citizens Respond?
Nixon again admits that his interests should be above those of the nation's. I think the public would respect this position, as they are being put first. Also, I think the public would be truly shocked to hear his official resignation, something that rarely, if ever, occurs during presidencies.

"Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the man in the arena, 'whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions..."
Rationale / Meaning
This quote provides some insight as to what has influenced Nixon as a man, president, and as someone dealing with the very hard task of resigning from the presidential office. By quoting T. Roosevelt, it is evident Nixon is trying to say that his shortcomings and failures throughout the Watergate scandal will not define him, and he will strive to recover and continue to possibly serve the country in some way.

How Should Citizens Respond?
I believe the public would appreciate the Roosevelt quote, but Roosevelt being a great president might be taken back by Nixon quoting him. Although the quote tells of rebounding, I am sure the public would actually wonder how Nixon would rebound and, if at all, continue to serve the country after such a major scandal as Watergate.

"When I first took the oath of office as President five and a half years ago, I made this sacred commitment, to 'consecrate my office, my energies, and all the wisdom I can summon to the cause of peace among nations'. I have done my very best in all the days since to be true to that pledge. As a result of these efforts, I am confident that the world is a safer place today, not only for the people of America but for the people of all nations..."
Rationale / Meaning
This quote exemplifies Nixon's attempt to justify himself, citing his many positive actions as president, in balance to the Watergate scandal. By quoting the oath he took, he is admitting to being unable to uphold that oath, and that because of his actions, the world and nation is actually in a better place. In a sense, it distances him from the Watergate scandal.

How Should Citizens Respond?
I think the public would respond well to this quote. Although the Watergate scandal was terrible and revealing about Nixon, I think it would remind them of all the good he did do. In particular, his foreign policy and attention to calming international tensions does give credence to this message. I believe the public would probably attempt to think of the good, and not just the bad.

Extended Activity

Have students create a T-Chart storyboard on Bill Clinton’s speech in regards to his affair with Monica Lewinsky. This will allow students to create a comparison of two presidents and their responses to scandal. In addition, it will better serve students as practice in analyzing, synthesizing, and understanding primary source documents and presidential speeches.

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Presidency of Richard Nixon

Richard M. Nixon’s presidency is shrouded in both success and controversy. Having served several political positions, Nixon was a ruthless politician who cared very much about his public image. Hailing from California, Nixon first emerged on the political scene as a representative and senator. He then served as Vice President under Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953-1961.

As a Republican, Nixon held conservative views. Elected to the presidency in 1968, Nixon came into office in the midst of the Vietnam War, which had been raging since 1964. He sought to eliminate any and every opponent, namely his political adversaries, the press corps, and leaders of the anti-war movement. However, his experience and staunch positions helped thrust him into the highest office, despite previous failed political campaigns for governor of California and the presidency itself in 1960.

In office, he tackled economic turmoil, backlash from the Vietnam War, and sought to promote new partnership between federal and state governments in what he deemed a “New Federalism.” In addition, Nixon achieved success on the international stage, improving relations with both the Soviet Union and China. Yet, these successes would soon be overshadowed in what would become the Watergate Scandal.

Although reelected in 1972, Nixon’s victory was soon swept away in scandal. Nixon’s back was against the wall when under investigation for burglarizing the Democratic headquarters and paying off defendants. With imposing Senate hearings and possible impeachment, Nixon resigned from the presidency in 1974. He entered office a favorable politician, and left as the most tarnished president in American history. Regardless, Nixon’s presidency and role in the Watergate Scandal forever changed the landscape of American politics.

Essential Questions for The Presidency of Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal

  1. Who was Richard Nixon as a man? How did his character help define him as a president?
  2. What major events and policies defined Nixon’s domestic and foreign policies?
  3. How did Nixon respond to major crises such as the economy, Vietnam War, and social issues of the day?
  4. How did Nixon and his reelection committee conduct itself in getting him reelected as president in 1972?
  5. What was the Watergate break-in, and how did it bring scandal to the Nixon office?
  6. How did Nixon respond to the allegations concerning the Watergate scandal, and what was the process through which he had to go? How does this process highlight the congressional and judicial actions in regards to such scandal?
  7. What led to Nixon’s resignation?
  8. What perceptions of Nixon existed both before and after the Watergate scandal? What, then, is Nixon’s legacy as a president?

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