A Dialogue About History: Watergate

Student Question

What was your opinion and experience with the Watergate Scandal, and the eventual resignation of President Nixon? The first president in American history to do so.

Residents’ Answers

  • I was in my first year teaching and had not really been focusing on all that led up to the Watergate Scandal and the consequent hearings which started in April of 1973. The excitement of the secrets given up by “Deep Throat” and Woodward and Bernstein’s relentless reporting was there but I was preoccupied. All that changed with the riveting saga which was the Watergate Hearings conducted by the Senate Watergate committee. I was enthralled by the chair Sam Ervin, described as a ”big man with a face like a giant friendly turnip”. Not a Hollywood leading man but a mind, a graduate of Harvard Law School and the Senate’s expert on constitutional law. Who would know Nixon better than Sam? In 1954, then Vice President Richard Nixon had appointed Ervin to a committee formed to investigate whether McCarthy should be censured by the Senate. The Senate Select Committee to Investigate Campaign Practices, which investigated Watergate, was popularly known as the “Ervin Committee”. Sam hammered and questioned and used his rapier sharp blade to cut through the lies and deceptions. I was, the nation was consumed with the flares of temper and incredulity which traveled across the committee members’ faces. I felt as if I was part of what the government and our representatives were necessarily tasked with, to uphold and safeguard our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I was a citizen soldier reporting for duty daily in front of the television screen. I barely ever could watch the actual proceedings in real time but somehow kept up. It was my country that had been sullied, dirtied by the actions of those who trampled on our founding principles. The one day my husband and I caught a section of the proceedings has been part of my vocabulary to this day. Sam went nose to nose with White House counsel John Ehrlichman about the Nixon approved raid on a psychiatrist’s office in the interests of national security. Ervin said, with some heat, ‘But foreign intelligence activities have nothin’ in the world to do with a psychiatrist’s opinion of his patient’s psychological state.’ Ehrlichman fired back, ‘How do you know that, Mr Chairman?’ Without a second’s pause, Ervin shouted, ‘Because I understand the English language. It’s my mother tongue.’ That single retort by Sam taught me a valuable lesson. He did not reference his precious Alma Mater or all his years in high places as why he knew something. No, that which is given to all our country’s citizens, great and small, educated or plain sense we have our common language to guide us in our ability to think. Think about our privileges, our liberties, and our right to defend ourselves against tyranny. I use Sam’s wit and wisdom; I confess I have poured over his famous quotes and insights many times over the years when I need to critically evaluate what is happening with the country’s government from the local level to the national theatre. Nixon was a flawed character and we shall and do have others along the path. It is what we learn from our forefathers and foremothers, however, which should guide us thus making us strong in the battle to preserve that which we must necessarily hold dear.
  • Saddened by it.
  • It took too long.
  • The same as it is now! The politicians are all crooked at some level ! Watch your back as best you can!
  • Shock and disappointment in the office of the President. It’s never been the same. Politics have been ugly in town ever since.

Student Response

It has been an enlightening experience working on the Lambertville Historical Society scholarship project. Gaining the perspective of Lambertville residents who lived during this time helps to understand how these impactful events shaped the town and its citizens. Cleary based on the responses given even events that were not specific to the city, like the assassinations of American political and social leaders, the Vietnam war, and the Watergate scandal, had an effect on this community. There were so many terrible events in a ten to fifteen year period that the residents became almost callused to them because of their frequency. It is somewhat similar to today, how mass shootings have become commonplace and the shock of such incidents is diminished. On the political side, especially in relation to Nixon’s resignation and with today’s political climate, those types of national events can heighten political discourse even in a local community…

After reviewing the responses from the Historical Society, it was not shocking that national events did not have a large impact on day to day life in Lambertville. A similar response would probably be given by residents of the city today about the happenings around the country and world…