A. Nixon won the presidency in 1968 as reconciler who represented a “silent majority” of Americans
B. The election of 1968 brought an end to 30 years of liberal reform & activist foreign policy
II. Nixon’s Presidency
A. Foreign Policy
1. Nixon & National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger were effective in their foreign policy
2. Nixon planed for an “honorable peace” with Vietnam
a. Vietnamization (turning over the fighting to the South Vietnamese) & a withdraw of U.S. troops
b. Privately, Nixon wanted a “knockout blow” & ordered troops to Cambodia & Laos
c. This action led to massive protest (esp. Kent State & Jackson State) & the War Powers Act in 1973
d. In 1973, the U.S. & North Vietnam agreed to a cease-fire; In 1975, South Vietnam fell to communism
3. Nixon developed a plan for a Cold War détente (relaxing of tensions)
a. Nixon eased the Cold War by becoming the 1st president to recognize Communist China
b. Nixon eased the Cold War by selling grain & negotiating SALT with the Soviet Union
4. Nixon ended the Yom Kippur War in 1973 but order CIA covert ops in Iran, South Africa, Philippines, & Chile
B. Domestic Policy
1. Nixon was a moderate Republican
a. Nixon kept Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs in place but, made state gov’ts responsible for them
b. Nixon reshaped the Supreme Court into a more conservative branch of gov’t, led by Warren Berger
2. Nixon created the EPA, OSHA, quotas for minority contractors, & ended the gold standard
3. Disastrous Nixonomics in the late 1960s became the Great Nixon Turnaround due to a 90-day wage/price freeze
C. The election of 1972 against Democrat George McGovern was a landslide victory for Nixon
III. The Watergate Scandal
A. A break-in at McGovern’s Democratic headquarters revealed an orchestrated covert plan by CREEP
B. The Watergate scandal unraveled in 1973
1. The scandal was uncovered by Woodward & Bernstein at the Washington Post
2. Nixon’s “enemies list” & Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers
4. Nixon resigned from the presidency in August 1974 & VP Gerald Ford became president
C. The Impact of Watergate
1. The necessity of a “watchdog” press & an independent judicial branch
2. The shift in power from the president to Congress
2. Watergate eroded public trust in their government & prevented effective leadership in the 1970s
The Ford & Carter Years: A Crisis in Confidence I. The 1970s
A. An Overextended Society
1. The economy was defined by low economic growth, inflation, & rising unemployment
2. American politics were defined by a distrust of the government due to Watergate & “passionless presidents”
3. An end to détente with the Soviet Union
B. The U.S. Economy in the 1970s
1. Oil and Energy
a. The 2 major oil shocks of 1973 & 1979 led to gas shortages, increased prices, & a recession
b. The U.S. created the Dept of Energy & led a new emphasis on conservation & domestic energy production
a. The economy stagnated due to a decline in industry, unemployment, outsourcing, & foreign competition
b. Inflation grew due to deficit spending, oil shocks, & the lack of an effective plan by Ford or Carter
II. The Lean Years: The Presidencies of Ford & Carter
A. The Ford Presidency (1974-1977)
1. Ford failed to restore American confidence in the presidency by pardoning Nixon
2. Ford made blunders in foreign policy by revealing CIA operations & vetoed domestic social reforms
B. The election of 1976 was won by “dark horse,” “outsider” candidate Jimmy Carter (Democrat from GA)
C. The Carter Presidency (1977-1981)
1. Carter’s lack of a clear vision was best reflected in his inability to solve the economic recession
2. The “National Malaise” speech seemed to blame Americans for the recession
III. Carter’s Human Rights Foreign Policy
A. America’s world dominance declined due to its failure in Vietnam, War Powers Act, & Cold War deficit spending
B. Carter pledged his foreign policy to a commitment to human rights
1. Spoke out against oppression in Latin America & Africa & reformed the CIA’s covert operations
2. Negotiated a return of the Panama Canal
3. Greatest achievement was the Camp David Accords resulting in peace between Egypt & Israel in 1979
C. Cold War tensions between the U.S. & USSR increased
1. The USA & USSR developed new nuclear weapons & SALT II failed to reduce nuclear weapons
2. Détente ended when the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979
a. The U.S. retaliated with an economic embargo, boycott of the Olympics, & aid to Afghanis
b. Carter hoped to end the Cold War, but helped make it worse
D. The Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979
1. Islamic fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini led a coup over the shah of Iran
2. Iranian mobs stormed the U.S. embassy in Iran & took 52 hostages & held them for 444 days
3. Carter’s attempts at returning the hostages failed & hurt his re-election bid in 1980
Ronald Reagan & the Conservative Resurgence of the 1980s I. Neo-Conservativism & the Rise of Ronald Reagan
A. Neo-Conservatives (the “New Right”) rose in the late 1970s as a reaction to “New Left” counterculture & social liberalism
1. Focused on capitalism, a smaller government, a return to family values, a stronger military, & American patriotism
2. Jerry Falwell & the Moral Majority led the attack on the ERA, abortion, & social welfare
B. The election of 1980 & the “Reagan Revolution”
1. Carter was hurt by stagflation, foreign policy failures, & Reagan’s “Are you better off today than you were 4 years ago?”
2. Reagan won a landslide with “New Right” support, by picking up “Reagan Democrats,” & eroding the FDR-voting bloc
II. Domestic Policy under Ronald Reagan
A. Reagan’s deregulation: Conservatives reduced gov’t restrictions (EPA, OSHA, SEC) & unions in favor of business productivity
1. Supply-side economics: The Economic Recovery Act of 1981 cut taxes 25% over 3 years to increase consumer spending
2. Decreased gov’t spending: The Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1981 cut social services like food stamps & urban aid
3. Despite an increase in the recession, by 1983 the economic rebounded & stagflation shrunk by 1990
4. But…industry declined, the gap between rich & poor grew, & the federal debt increased 300%
C. Social Problems
1. In the 1970s & 80s, the gap between the rich & poor widened; growth of the “Me Generation;” 3rd wave of immigration
2. Reagan’s opposition to social programs increased crime & homelessness; Attacked abortion rights & affirmative action
3. The Bakke decision & nomination of Sandra Day O’Conner to the Supreme Court were victories for minorities, but the Reagan administration failed to solve the “crack” (“war on drugs”) or the AIDS epidemics
D. Reagan won another landslide victory in 1984 against Walter Mondale & Geraldine Ferraro (1st female VP candidate)
III. Foreign Policy under Ronald Reagan
A. Reagan was committed to restoring America’s supremacy in the world after the failures of Carter
B. Foreign Policy in the Middle East & Central America
1. In the Middle East, troops were sent to aid Lebanon during an Israeli attack but 239 Marines were killed by terrorists
2. In Latin America, Reagan sent troops to Granada but could not overtly aid Nicaraguan Contras against a Sandinista-led coup
3. Iran-Contra Affair: NSC agents sold weapons to Iran (for hostages) & used profits to aid Nicaraguan contras fight socialism
C. Reagan took a hard-line approach to the USSR that led to an increase in nuclear weapons & the “Star Wars” program (SDI)
2. The fall of communism in the Eastern Bloc in 1989 & the breakup of the USSR in 1991 ended the Cold War
IV. George H.W. Bush
A. George Bush succeeded Reagan & offered a “kinder, gentler nation” & a lot of foreign policy experience
B. The Persian Gulf War
1. The 1990 Iraqi attack on Kuwait & fears of an attack on Saudi Arabia led to the successful Operation Desert Storm in 1991
2. Despite claims of a “new world order,” Hussein was not removed, anti-U.S. sentiment increased, & the rise of Al Qaeda
C. Bush’s increased taxes & budget cuts led to a 1989 recession which opened the door for Clinton in the 1992 election
Watergate: A Brief Timeline of Events
November 1968: Richard Milhous Nixon, the 55-year-old former vice president who lost the presidency for the Republicans in 1960, reclaims it by defeating Hubert Humphrey in one of the closest elections in U.S. history.
July 23, 1970: Nixon approves a plan for greatly expanding domestic intelligence-gathering by the FBI, CIA and other agencies. He has second thoughts a few days later and rescinds his approval.
June 13, 1971: The New York Times begins publishing the Pentagon Papers -- the Defense Department's secret history of the Vietnam War. The Washington Post will begin publishing the papers later in the week.
September 9, 1971: The White House "plumbers" unit - named for their orders to plug leaks in the administration - burglarizes a psychiatrist's office to find files on Daniel Ellsberg, the former defense analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers.
June 17, 1972: Five men, one of whom says he used to work for the CIA, are arrested at 2:30 a.m. trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel and office complex.
June 19, 1972: A GOP security aide is among the Watergate burglars, The Washington Post reports. Former attorney general John Mitchell, head of the Nixon reelection campaign, denies any link to the operation.
August 1, 1972: A $25,000 cashier's check, apparently earmarked for the Nixon campaign, wound up in the bank account of a Watergate burglar, The Washington Post reports.
September 29, 1972: John Mitchell, while serving as attorney general, controlled a secret Republican fund used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against the Democrats, The Post reports.
October 10, 1972: FBI agents establish that the Watergate break-in stems from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon reelection effort, The Post reports.
November 11, 1972: Nixon is reelected in one of the largest landslides in American political history, taking more than 60 percent of the vote and crushing the Democratic nominee, Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota.
January 30, 1973: Former Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord Jr. are convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident. Five other men plead guilty, but mysteries remain.
April 30, 1973: Nixon's top White House staffers, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst resign over the scandal. White House counsel John Dean is fired.
May 18, 1973: The Senate Watergate committee begins its nationally televised hearings. Attorney General-designate Elliot Richardson taps former solicitor general Archibald Cox as the Justice Department's special prosecutor for Watergate.
June 3, 1973: John Dean has told Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times, The Post reports.
June 13, 1973: Watergate prosecutors find a memo addressed to John Ehrlichman describing in detail the plans to burglarize the office of Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, The Post reports.
July 13, 1973: Alexander Butterfield, former presidential appointments secretary, reveals in congressional testimony that since 1971 Nixon had recorded all conversations and telephone calls in his offices.
July 18, 1973: Nixon reportedly orders the White House taping system disconnected.
July 23, 1973: Nixon refuses to turn over the presidential tape recordings to the Senate Watergate committee or the special prosecutor.
October 20, 1973: Saturday Night Massacre: Nixon fires Archibald Cox and abolishes the office of the special prosecutor. Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus resign. Pressure for impeachment mounts in Congress.
November 17, 1973: Nixon declares, "I'm not a crook," maintaining his innocence in the Watergate case.
December 7, 1973: The White House can't explain an 18 1/2 -minute gap in one of the subpoenaed tapes. Chief of staff Alexander Haig says one theory is that "some sinister force" erased the segment.
April 30, 1974: The White House releases more than 1,200 pages of edited transcripts of the Nixon tapes to the House Judiciary Committee, but the committee insists that the tapes themselves must be turned over.
July 24, 1974: The Supreme Court rules unanimously that Nixon must turn over the tape recordings of 64 White House conversations, rejecting the president's claims of executive privilege.
August 8, 1974: Richard Nixon becomes the first U.S. president to resign. Vice President Gerald R. Ford assumes the country's highest office. He will later pardon Nixon of all charges related to the Watergate case.
Baggett/Carr/Neithercut Name _______________________
APUSH Unit 13 Date _____________ Pd ______
Presidential Scandals in American History: Grant, Harding, Nixon, Reagan, & Clinton Directions: Research each of the following presidential scandals and answer the discussion questions below.
What are the details of the scandal?
How did the scandal impact the country, president, or gov’t?
Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
Crédit Mobilier & Whiskey Ring
Warren Harding (1921-1923)
Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
Whitewater & Monica Lewinski
Rank order each of the five presidential scandals from most significant (#1) to least significant (#5) and explain your choice for #1. Consider Constitutional violations and damage to the image of the president in your ranking
According to the Constitution (Article II, Section IV), “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Which, if any, of the above presidents deserved to be impeached by the House of Representatives? Why?
Which, if any, presidents deserved to be removed from office by the Senate? Why?
Should a president be responsible for the scandals of his administration even if they are ignorant of them? Explain.
Ulysses S. Grant: Crédit Mobilier & the Whiskey Ring Although President Grant had some notable successes during his time in office, including the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, most historians agree that his two administrations, lasting from 1869 to 1877, were mainly characterized by indecisive leadership and massive corruption.
The Crédit Mobilier of America was a shell company formed in 1867 by stockholders in the Union Pacific Railroad to build the railroad. Shares in the construction company were then sold or given to influential congressmen, who subsequently profited themselves by approving federal subsidies for the building project and turning a blind eye to expenses, which ensured huge profits for the railroad builders.
The scandal broke in Sept. 1872, as Grant was campaigning for his second term, and a congressional committee was set up to investigate the charges. All of the politicians implicated in the scandal were Republican colleagues of Grant, including outgoing vice president Schuyler Colfax, incoming vice president Henry Wilson, and Speaker of the House James G. Blaine. In the end, only two congressmen were censured by the House, Oakes Ames of Massachusetts and James Brooks of New York; Representative James Garfield (Ohio) steadfastly denied the charges and was later elected president.
The remainder of Grant's second term didn't fare much better. The Whiskey Ring scandal in 1875 involved high-level government officials who conspired with distillers to defaud the government of tax revenues on the sale of whiskey. U.S. treasury secretary Benjamin Helm Bristow finally uncovered the conspiracy, which reached as far as Grant's private secretary Orville E. Babcock. Babcock was later acquitted through the personal intervention of Grant.
And to cap things off, in 1876 Grant's secretary of war, William Belknap, was impeached for accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for a lucrative appointment in Indian Territory. Belknap resigned almost immediately, thereby avoiding a conviction by the Senate.
Although Grant himself was never accused of any crime, the succession of scandals during his tenure in office overshadowed to a large extent his popularity as a Civil War hero. Much discouraged, Grant assured Congress and the nation that "Failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent."
Warren Harding: Teapot Dome The years immediately following World War I saw a resurgence in political corruption and one of the most notorious scandals in presidential history. The Teapot Dome scandal during Warren G. Harding's presidency began in 1921 when Harding, in a move subsequently deemed illegal by the Supreme Court, transferred responsibility for naval oil reserve lands to the Department of the Interior. The Secretary of the Interior, Albert B. Fall, went on to exploit those rights for his own gain. In 1922 he secretly granted exclusive rights to the Teapot Dome reserve in Wyoming to the Mammoth Oil Company in exchange for cash and no interest "loans." He granted rights to the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Hills reserves in California to the Pan American Petroleum Company in 1921–1922 for similar compensation.
No secret is kept for long in Washington, however, and the scandal soon came to light with congressional demands that the leases be abrogated. Subsequent investigations led to the arrest, trial, and conviction of Fall, the first ever for an active cabinet member. Though it was determined that Harding himself had not benefited from the bribery, the spotlight on his administration soon revealed it to be the most corrupt collection of officials since the Grant administration, and it was later dubbed the "Ohio Gang."
Harding died before the extent of the corruption was known, but congressional investigations into the scandals and corruption that characterized his administration eventually sent two of his cabinet members to jail for bribery, while a third was tried and acquitted of conspiracy charges. Harding's most lasting legacy is the addition of "teapot dome" to the American political vernacular as a synonym for public corruption.
Richard Nixon: Watergate The scandal that ended the Nixon presidency began on June 17, 1972, when five men, all employees of Nixon's reelection campaign, were caught breaking into rival Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. The intruders and two other accomplices were convicted of burglary and wiretapping in Jan. 1973; but it soon became evident, from hints that emerged at the trial and other details revealed in a series of articles by the Washington Post, that the break-in had had the approval of higher-level government officials who were attempting to cover up their involvement.
In April 1973, with a Senate investigation underway, several top Nixon aides, including H. R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, resigned over the scandal, and White House counsel John Dean III was fired. Dean subsequently testified during televised hearings beginning in May, exposing Nixon's participation in the Watergate cover-up and massive illegalities in Republican fundraising in 1972.
The hearings also revealed that since 1971 Nixon had recorded conversations and telephone calls in his office. The president, however, refused to turn the tapes over to the Senate Watergate committee, citing executive privilege. In Oct. 1973 Nixon ordered Elliot Richardson, the attorney general, to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor who had subpoenaed the tapes, but Richardson chose to resign instead. Richardson's assistant, William Ruckelshaus, also refused to fire Cox and was himself fired. Finally, it was the solicitor general, Robert Bork, who fired Cox. The incident, known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," led to widespread calls for Nixon's impeachment.
The White House released edited transcripts of the tapes in April 1974, and eventually the tapes themselves, after the Supreme Court rejected Nixon's claim to executive privilege. But the damage was done; President Nixon's behavior—his cover-up of the burglary and refusal to turn over evidence—and the erosion of the public's confidence in his administration, led the House Judiciary Committee to issue three articles of impeachment on July 30, 1974. The document also indicted Nixon for illegal wiretapping, misuse of the CIA, perjury, bribery, obstruction of justice, and other abuses of executive power.
"In all of this," the articles of impeachment summarize, "Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States." Impeachment appeared inevitable, and Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974.
Nixon was succeeded in office the same day by Vice President Gerald R. Ford, who a month later issued a full pardon to Nixon for any crimes he might have committed in office, thus eliminating the possibility of future prosecution. A number of other administration officials served time in prison for their offenses, including former attorney general John Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean, and G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent who helped plan the Watergate break-in.
Ronald Reagan: Iran-Contra The scandal that marred Ronald Reagan's presidency was rooted in two separate military initiatives in which American involvement was prohibited by federal law.
The first was the ongoing war between Iran and Iraq. Officially, American foreign policy took no sides in the conflict; however, secretly, officials at the National Security Council (NSC) were selling weapons (at heavily inflated prices) to Iran. This was done in exchange for Iranian assistance in negotiating the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian terrorists.
Secrecy was necessary for a number of reasons. First, the arms deal was illegal, violating a U.S. trade and arms embargo against Iran. It also clearly subverted the Reagan administration's policy not to negotiate with terrorists. And finally, profits from the operation were being used to fund another conflict, that of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, who were trying to overthrow the Communist Sandinista government.
Reagan had pledged to support the Contras, but in 1983 the Democrats in Congress passed the Boland Amendment, which prohibited the Defense Department or any U.S. intelligence agency from funding the Contras. The Reagan administration got around the law by using the National Security Council (not the Department of Defense or CIA) to provide the aid. NSC staff member Lt. Col. Oliver North was the White House official most directly involved with selling arms to Iran and diverting the proceeds to the Contras in Nicaragua. He continued to funnel money to the rebels until Nov. 1986, when his activities were discovered and he was fired.
In March 1988, Robert McFarlane, who was national security adviser from 1983 to 1985 and North's boss, pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress concerning the aid being given to the Contras. He was later fined $20,000 and given two years' probation. Oliver North and John Poindexter, McFarlane's successor at the NSC, were convicted on several counts, including obstruction of congressional inquiries. Ultimately, neither served any prison time, however. Their convictions were set aside on the grounds that their immunized congressional testimony had unfairly influenced the juries at their trials.
President Reagan and then-Vice President George Bush both denied detailed knowledge of the scheme and were never connected to any specific crime. In what has sometimes been seen as a cover-up, President Bush in 1992 granted pardons to six officials involved in the scandal, including McFarlane and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who was accused of lying to Congress about his knowledge of the arms-for-hostages deals. The pardon meant that Weinberger did not have to testify regarding the involvement of senior Reagan administration officials, including Bush.
Bill Clinton: Whitewater, Paula Jones, and Monica Lewinsky Clinton became the 42nd U.S. president following a turbulent political campaign that included vigorous personal attacks on his character. The "character issue" stemmed from allegations of infidelity, which Clinton and his wife Hillary refuted in a television interview, asserting that their relationship was solid. Throughout his term in office, Clinton was also dogged by allegations relating to the failed Whitewater real estate deal, in which he and Hillary had been involved prior to the 1992 election. Though the Clintons were never accused of any wrongdoing, partners in the venture were convicted of fraud and conspiracy in 1996.
Following his election to a second term in 1996, Clinton came under increasing pressure from Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who in 1994 took over the investigation of the Clintons' involvement in the Whitewater land deal. Over time, Starr's brief was expanded to include other matters, such as the death of White House lawyer Vincent Foster, the handling of firings in the White House travel office, and shocking allegations of sexual misconduct by Clinton.
In Jan. 1998, Clinton was called to testify in a long-pending sexual harassment suit brought against him by Paula Corbin Jones, a former Arkansas state employee. In his testimony, Clinton denied that he had had a sexual relationship with a young White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, and that he had attempted to cover it up. Although a federal judge in Arkansas threw out the Jones sexual harassment suit in April 1998, the same judge fined Clinton $90,000 in July 1999, after finding him guilty of giving false and misleading testimony in the Jones case over the alleged affair with Lewinsky. Meanwhile, the Lewinsky affair became the focus of Kenneth Starr's investigation as well as a national obsession.
On Aug. 17, 1998, after relentless media attention, leaks, and news of Lewinsky's upcoming testimony, Clinton made history by becoming the first U.S. president to testify in front of a grand jury in an investigation of his own possibly criminal conduct. In an address to the nation that evening, he admitted to having had an "inappropriate relationship" with Lewinsky, but reaffirmed that he did not ask anyone to lie about or cover up the affair. Paradoxically, in spite of the scandalous outcome of events, Clinton's overall popularity among Americans remained high. For the most part, the country seemed willing to ignore his weaknesses in character, as long as the economy was good, his policies were popular, and the United States remained strong abroad.
On Sept. 9, 1998, Kenneth Starr—a conservative Republican whose investigation was seen by Clinton supporters as a politically inspired vendetta—delivered his report to the House of Representatives. While the report outlined 11 possible grounds for impeachment, none stemmed from the initial subjects of the investigation, including the Whitewater real estate deal. The real focus of the accusations seemed to be Clinton's moral conduct, and the "Starr Report" graphically detailed his sexual affair.
Despite the American population's general disapproval of a trial (which was reflected in poll after poll), Congress moved forward in its highly partisan impeachment proceedings, and on Dec. 19 Clinton became the second president in history to be impeached. Two of the four articles of impeachment passed (Article I, grand jury perjury, and Article III, obstruction of justice), the votes drawn along party lines. After a Senate trial in Jan.-Feb. 1999, Clinton was acquitted on both counts.
On Jan. 19, 2001, the day before he left office, Clinton reached an agreement with independent counsel Robert Ray, the special prosecutor who had succeeded Kenneth Starr. In exchange for immunity from prosecution on perjury charges after he left office, Clinton admitted giving false testimony about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and he agreed to accept a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license and to pay a fine of $25,000.
Despite having settled the long-standing legal battle, Clinton continued to stir up controversy. In his final days, he issued some 140 pardons, including one to billionaire fugitive financier Marc Rich. The Justice Department began a criminal investigation to determine if the pardon was related to the $1.5 million donated to the Democratic Party and Clinton's library by Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich.
Top Ten U.S. Presidential Scandals
10. Woodrow Wilson's Engagement—Sex has long played a role in the world of presidential sex scandals. Woodrow Wilson, famed for his role in the progressive movement and World War I, was not without scandal. His sin, however, was not sex per se but simply an engagement. His first wife, Ellen Louise Axson, died in August of 1914. The next spring Wilson met and was engaged to Edith Galt. This was seen as scandalous at the time, rumors began to fly about the President including that he had even murdered his first wife in order to marry Galt (although they had not met until after Ellen had died).
9. Grover Cleveland's Illegitimate Son—Cleveland is best known as the only president in history to be elected for two non-sequential terms. During his first electoral campaign in 1884, information was released that he had fathered an illegitimate child ten years before. Unusual for a candidate mired in such a scandal Cleveland admitted guilt in the matter. Chants of “Ma, ma, where's my pa?” became popular throughout the country, but it did not stop Cleveland from getting elected (“…off to the White House, ha ha ha!”).
8. The Petticoat Affair—This major (but often forgotten) scandal occurred under the presidency of Andrew Jackson. It began with the marriage of Jackson's secretary of war, John Henry Eaton, to recently widowed Margaret Timberlake, whose husband had committed suicide. The marriage proved a great scandal in American high society, with rumors that Eaton had been having an affair with Timberlake which led to her first husband's suicide. Most of Jackson's cabinet (especially their wives) turned against Eaton but Jackson supported him, and the controversy led to such a conflict that almost Jackson's entire cabinet resigned over the issue. It also led to Jackson's vice president, John C. Calhoun, falling from favor and being replaced by Martin Van Buren in Jackson's second election campaign. Van Buren had been the only cabinet member to support the Eatons and thus had gained Jackson's favor.
7. The Credit Mobilier Scandal—The Credit Mobilier scandal under Ulysses S. Grant was the first major corruption scandal in the wake of the Civil War. Starting in 1867, several high-ranking Republican congressmen (all close supporters of soon-to-be-President Grant), were given and/or purchased at below-market prices stock in the Credit Mobilier of America company, which was involved in the funding and construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. The Congressmen then proceeded to grant a number of public subsidies and other gifts to the company to help line their own pockets.
6. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings—Thomas Jefferson's alleged relationship with Sally Hemmings was the first presidential sexscandal in the United States and prompted a discussion that continues to this day. In 1802 Jefferson was charged with having an affair and fathering a child with his slave, Sally Hemmings. Jefferson denied the charges and remained as president for another 7 years, however the debate about the truth of the matter continued until 1998 when DNA testing proved that Jefferson more than likely fathered at least one of Sally Hemming's children.
5. The Whiskey Ring—Ulysses S. Grant's presidency is often considered to be one of the most corrupt in history, and with good reason, as two major scandals took place during his presidency. The Whiskey Ring was a bribery and tax evasion scandal among many high ranking members of Grant’s cabinet (and even his own private secretary) and whiskey distillers. It resulted in the impeachment of his secretary of war, William Belknap, although he resigned before he could be convicted.
4. Iran-Contra—Iran-Contra is one of the biggest scandals to rock the presidency in modern times. When news that the Reagan administration was selling arms to Iran and using the profits to secretly fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, whom Congress had forbid the President from giving assistance too, the story caused a firestorm throughout the country. Admiral John M. Poindexter and Lt. Colonel Oliver North became the major targets of the scandal and became embroiled in lengthy trials and originally convicted for their roles although these convictions were later released on appeal, among fourteen other persons charged criminally in the whole affair. The scandal continues to be a black mark upon the Reagan presidency for many.
3. Teapot Dome—The Teapot Dome scandal of the Warren G. Harding administration has long been one of the poster boys of the world of presidential scandals. Harding transferred control of naval oil reserve lands over to the Department of the Interior in 1921 (although it was later reversed by the Supreme Court, who ruled the move illegal). Then Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall used his new power for personal gain, giving rights to the Teapot Dome Reserve in Wyoming to the Mammoth Oil company in return for bribes. When the scandal broke in 1924, Fall was found to have accumulated over $100,000 worth of bribes. Although Harding had already died in office prior to the scandal breaking, it became a hot topic of controversy for years after his death and continues to plague his now infamous legacy.
2. Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky—Perhaps no other scandal in presidential history can equal the Monica Lewinsky affair for pure sensationalism and absurdity. President Bill Clinton's sexual affair with an intern ultimately led to the second presidential impeachment in U.S. history (the first was Andrew Johnson in 1868). Although Clinton was ultimately acquitted of any crime, the affair became a laughing stock around the world and led to one of the most unusual documents in political history: the Starr Report, which intimately described Clinton's entire sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsy.
1. Watergate—There may be many scandals in the annals of presidential history, but none can compare for sheer impact with that of the Watergate scandal under Richard M. Nixon. The scandal began with a break-in at the Democratic headquarters in Washington, D.C. by five members of Nixon's re-election campaign. Although not initially involved, Nixon found out about the break-in and did everything he did to cover up the scandal. When Nixon was discovered to be involved in espionage and sabotage, the news shocked the nation and led to a grand disillusionment with the American political system. It has also led to just about every subsequent presidential scandal, both large and small, gaining the suffix "gate." (i.e. Whitewater-gate, Monica-gate, etc.)