These scandalous events had their roots in the long Democratic years beginning with Roosevelt, when the American presidency had risen in a kind of solitary majesty to become overwhelmingly the most powerful agency of government. All that was needed for grave events to occur was the appearance in the White House of individuals who would put this immense power to its full use. Lyndon Johnson was such a man, for he was driven by gargantuan dreams. One result was America's disastrous war in Vietnam. Richard Nixon, too, believed in the imperial authority of the presidency. He envisioned politics as an arena in which he represented true Americanism and his critics the forces of subversion.
At least from 1969, Nixon operated on the principle that, at his direction, federal officials could violate the law. On June 17, 1972, members of his Special Investigations Unit (created without congressional authorization) were arrested while burglarizing the national Democratic party offices in the Watergate office-and-apartment complex in Washington, D.C.
A frantic effort then began, urged on by the president, to cover up links between the Watergate burglars and the executive branch. This cover-up constituted an obstruction of justice, a felony. This fact, however, was kept hidden through many months of congressional hearings (begun in May 1973) into the burglaries. Televised, they were watched by multitudes. The American people learned of millions of dollars jammed into office safes and sluiced about from hand to hand to finance shady dealings, of elaborate procedures for covering tracks and destroying papers, and of tapes recording the president's conversations with his aides.
With Watergate eroding Nixon's prestige, Congress finally halted American fighting in Indochina by cutting off funds (after Aug. 15, 1973) to finance the bombing of Cambodia, which had continued after the Vietnam Peace Agreement. Thus, America's longest war was finally concluded. In November 1973, Congress passed, over the president's veto, the War Powers Act, sharply limiting the executive's freedom of action in initiating foreign wars. When Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew resigned his office on Oct. 10, 1973, Nixon, with Senate ratification, appointed Gerald R. Ford to replace him.
On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to deliver his Oval Office tapes to Congress. This order, in turn, led to the revelation that he had directly approved the cover-up. Informed by Republican congressional leaders of his certain conviction in forthcoming impeachment proceedings, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974.