Richard M. Nixon resigned as President of the United States 46 years ago today, just as the U.S. House of Representatives was about to impeach him for his role in the Watergate scandal:
“I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad,” Nixon said in a nationally-televised address the evening before. “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.”
Vice President Gerald Ford became the 38th President at noon on April 9, 1974.
Here are some of the statements issued by top New Jersey political figures at the time:
HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN PETER W. RODINO, JR. (D-NEWARK)
“It has been an ordeal for President Nixon and for all the people. I know it was necessary. I believe our laws and our system will be better for it. I hope we will be better for it. These past months have been the most solemn of our lives.”
Rodino rose to national prominence as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when it considered the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. The Newark Democrat was elected to Congress in 1948 and served until his retirement in 1988.
U.S. SENATOR CLIFFORD CASE
“All Americans share the same feelings for Nixon and his family, a relief at the lifting of a burden from the nation and a determination to get behind our new president and solve common problems both at home and throughout the world.”
Case was a liberal Republican who represented New Jersey in the U.S. Senate. He was first elected in 1954 and spent 24 years as a senator until conservative Jeff Bell, a former Reagan speechwriter, defeated him in the 1978 GOP primary.
U.S. SENATOR HARRISON WILLIAMS
“This is a nation of law and no man should be above the law. I would hope that all of the details of the White House plot are made public because this is a lesson that our nation must never forget. This will stand as a warning forever for those who would subvert government for their own purposes.”
Williams was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958, defeating ten-term Rep. Robert W. Kean, the father of the future governor. He resigned in 1982 following his conviction in the ABSCAM scandal.
GOVERNOR BRENDAN BYRNE
“It is now obvious that Richard Nixon could have best served his country by being candid with the public about his role in the Watergate affair and resigning months ago.”
Byrne rode voter anger toward Nixon and Watergate to a 67% victory in the 1973 gubernatorial election and spent eight years as governor of New Jersey.
ASSEMBLY MINORITY LEADER THOMAS KEAN
“It’s a very sad time for the United States, and not a good day for the Republic.”
Kean was the Assembly Speaker for two years until the Watergate wave left Republicans with just 14 Assembly seats. He served as governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990.
SENATE PRESIDENT FRANK DODD
“The issue is no longer his guilt or innocence. It is the ability to the executive department of government to function in the public interest.”
The Essex County Democrat became Senate President after his party emerged from the 1973 with 29 State Senate seats. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1981 and was replaced in the Senate by Richard J. Codey.
ASSEMBLY SPEAKER S. HOWARD WOODSON
“(A) tragic night for Americans.”
Woodson, a minister from Trenton, became the New Jersey’s first black Assembly Speaker in 1974.
ASSEMBLY MAJORITY LEADER JOSEPH LEFANTE
“There was no doubt in my mind what an egotist he is. He still went through this ‘I, I and me, me’ bit. But I think our country will be better off.”
The Bayonne Democrat became Assembly Speaker in 1976, and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives that year. After his one term in Congress, he served as New Jersey Commissioner of Community Affairs and lost the 1982 Democratic U.S. Senate primary to Frank Lautenberg.
FORMER GOVEROR ALFRED DRISCOLL
“One of America’s great tragedies. Mr. Nixon has been guilty of a betrayal of the American people.”
Driscoll, a Republican, served as governor of New Jersey from 1947 to 1954.
FORMER GOVERNOR ROBERT MEYNER
“(It was) the only course of action the president could pursue. I would have felt it would have been better for him to have told us why he kept quiet for two years. I always have had respect for the presidency, but I never felt it brings immunity from the law.”
Meyner, a Democrat, served as governor of New Jersey from 1954 to 1962.
REP. CHARLES SANDMAN (R-ERMA)
“I see a successful administration under Gerald Ford because he does not have an enemy that I know of. House Speaker Carl Albert is also very close to the new president and I know the will do all he can to help Ford be a great President, even if he is the leader of the opposition.”
The Cape May County Republican defended Nixon as a member of the House Judiciary Committee and lost his bid for re-election to a 5th term in Congress in the 1974 Watergate wave to Democrat William Hughes (D-Ocean City). Sandman was a former New Jersey Senate President. He defeated Gov. William Cahill in the 1973 GOP primary, but then lost the general election in a landslide to Brendan Byrne.
REP. PETER FRELINGHUYSEN (R-HARDING)
“By resigning his office, President Nixon has performed a great service to his country. To allow the constitutional process of impeachment to grind on for months, with an unfavorable outcome uncertain, would only have deepened the Watergate paralysis of our government and the personal anguish of the First Family and their friends.”
A member of one of New Jersey’s oldest political families, Frelinghuysen was first elected to Congress in 1952 and was not a candidate for re-election in 1974.
REP. JOSEPH MARAZITI (R-BOONTON)
“(President Nixon resigned) in the interest of the nation that he loved and served. The people who ran Nixon out ran Ford in and Ford will be our president for 10 ½ years.”
Maraziti was elected to Congress in 1972 and assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, where he was a staunch defender of Nixon during the impeachment hearings. He lost in 1974.
REP. FRANK THOMPSON, JR. (D-TRENTON)
“One cannot help but feel compassionate for a man who has been brought down in disgrace from the highest office in the land.”
Thompson was elected to Congress in 1952 after serving as Minority Leader of the New Jersey State Assembly. He lost re-election to 27-year-old Christopher H. Smith (R-Hamilton) after his indictment – he was later convicted – in the ABSCAM scandal.
REP. JOHN HUNT (R-PITMAN)
“The events of the last few days gave him very little choice but to resign. I’m personally saddened by the whole thing. He made a serious mistake in judgment. His loyalty to his friends was his downfall.”
Hunt had served as Gloucester County Sheriff and as a State Senator before his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966. He lost re-election in 1974 to Assemblyman Jim Florio (D-Runnemede).
REP. HENRY HELSTOSKI (D-EAST RUTHERFORD)
“The stability and strength of our system of government have prevailed. The magnitude of this tragedy transcends party lines. The tragedy of Watergate has plagued our country for more than two years. I am hopeful the Nixon resignation will mark the end of this incredible story.”
Helstoski was elected to Congress in 1964, defeating an incumbent in the LBJ landslide year. He lost re-election in 1976 after his own indictment.
REP. JOSEPH MINISH (D-WEST ORANGE)
“Whatever their political persuasions, Americans must feel deep sadness at this week’s events. The. office of the presidency is too revered for any citizen to feel gratification that the incumbent has been compelled to step down. From my association with Gerald Ford for more than a decade in the House of Representatives, I am confident that he possesses the qualities to fulfill honorably the burden that has been thrust upon him. Although we differ on many issues, we of course, share the goal of achieving a better, more united nation. The task before us now is to bind the wounds that have been inflicted upon the country, to work for reconciliation and progress.”
A labor leader, Minish was elected to the House in 1962 and served until 1984, when a panel of federal judges tossed the 1982 congressional redistricting map and replaced it with one that pushed him into most of Morris County.
REP. WILLIAM WIDNALL (R-UPPER SDDLE RIVER)
“I listened to Nixon’s final words. I thought his comments at that time were among the best he’s ever made. My heart goes Out to ‘Pat and the children. I can’t see much purpose by drawing the last ounce of blood although I do agree on the principle the President should get the same justice as do other citizens”
Widnall won a 1950 special election that followed the resignation of another scandal-tarred Republican, J. Parnell Thomas. Andrew Maguire (D-Ridgewood), a former Johnson administration official, defeated him in 1974.
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM HYLAND
“I think it would have been preferable for the full impeachment process to have been carried out. We lost an opportunity to show that in this country, the constitutional system for dealing with the transgressions of an incumbent president are both adequate and just. Mr. Nixon has, hopefully for the last time, passed up the opportunity to prove his faith in the U.S. Constitution. At the very threshold of completion of the full act of justice, the process has unfortunately been interrupted.”
A former Assembly Speaker and founder of one of the state’s biggest law firms, Hyland served as Brendan Byrne’s attorney general from 1974 to 1978.
NEW JERSEY REPUBLICAN STATE COMMITTEE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CONOVER SPENCER
“We Republicans, as well I am sure Democrat and independents alike, are deeply saddened by the culmination of events.”
Spencer was a Star-Ledger reporter before GOP State Chairman Webster Todd named him as the state party’s top staffer in 1974.
JERSEY CITY MAYOR PAUL JORDAN
“Although I disagreed with many of his policies and was appalled by the Watergate scandal, President Nixon is entitle to sympathy for the tremendous personal ordeal he must be going through.”
Jordan served as mayor of Jersey City from 1971 to 1977. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 1977, one of many officeholders to take on incumbent Brendan Byrne in the primary.
FORMER FIRST LADY HELEN MEYNER
“I sincerely hope that Mr. Nixon will cooperate with the Watergate prosecution so that this matter can be fully resolved and become a part of history and not a problem of the present.”
Meyner was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1974 Watergate wave election, defeating Joseph Maraziti in a district that included Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon counties, western Morris County, and northwestern Mercer County. She served two terms before losing in 1978 to Republican Jim Courter.
FORMER JOHNSON WHITE HOUSE AIDE FRED BOHEN
“The sharp edge of Mr. Nixon’s unfitness has been removed, but the Republican record of dashed hopes and unfilled promises is long, and includes economic as well as political problems. The people will turn to people like me, Democrats, to help the country out of its problems.”
Bohen was the Democratic candidate for Congress against Rep. Peter Frelinghuysen in 1972 and against Millicent Fenwick when Frelinghuysen retired in 1974.
FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO DENMARK KATHARINE ELKUS WHITE
“I think it is a very sad thing for our country that a mean that had been elected with such a tremendous majority los the faith and confidence of the people to such an extent that he had to resign in order to avoid impeachment.”
White was the former mayor of Red Bank, New Jersey Highway Authority chair, and 1960 Democratic candidate for Congress. Her father was Woodrow Wilson’s Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and she was Ambassador to Denmark from 1964 to 1968.