After taking the oath of office following Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation over Watergate, President Gerald Ford famously declared, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
Ford was mocked for self-serving grandiosity, yet time would prove him correct. The nation was tested by corruption in the Oval Office, but the constitutional system prevailed because good and brave people of both parties confronted the crisis.
Most dramatically, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, resigned rather than follow Nixon’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre. And Nixon himself resigned when even fellow Republicans signaled they were prepared to impeach and convict him.
One result is that, while “Nixonian” is a synonym for illegal abuse of authority, his resignation and the smooth transfer of power marked a ringing triumph of justice. The fundamental principle that nobody in America is above the law was upheld in practice.