By: Richard Nixon
Date: September 23, 1952
Source: Nixon, Richard. "Richard Nixon Defending His Record, Promises To Drive 'The Crooks and the Communists' Out of Washington, Los Angeles, CA, September 23, 1952." Available online at http://www.pbs.org/greatspeeches/timeline/r_nixon_s.html; website home page: http://www.pbs.org (accessed June 18, 2003).
About the Author: Richard Nixon (1911–1994) graduated from Duke Law School in 1934. After serving in the navy during World War II (1939–1945), he pursued a career in politics. Serving as a U.S. representative and then a U.S. senator, he eventually became the vice president under President Dwight Eisenhower (served 1953–1961). He then was elected president in 1968. Nixon will probably be best remembered for the Watergate scandal, which led him to resign from office in 1974.
By the time Richard Nixon accepted the Republican nomination for vice president in 1952, he had already established a reputation for merciless campaigning that enthralled supporters and enraged opponents. In 1946, he defeated five-term incumbent Democrat Jerry Voorhis for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, primarily on the basis of a series of charges that Voorhis was a spoiled communist sympathizer. Red-baiting brought Nixon continued success as he led the House of Un-American Activities Committee campaign against Alger Hiss, a U.S. State Department official. Nixon gained national recognition for his battle against Hiss, who was charged and convicted of being a Soviet informant in 1948.
The Hiss investigations catapulted Nixon's bid for the U.S. Senate in 1950. During his second term in Congress, the Nixon campaign smeared his liberal opponent, Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas, as "the pink lady" and easily won the contest. When the Republican National Committee searched for an aggressive vice presidential candidate to join the more moderate, reserved General Dwight Eisenhower on the presidential ticket, it settled on Senator Nixon for the position.
In the months leading up to election day, Nixon found himself embroiled in a controversy that nearly cost him the nomination. Charges emerged that he had created an $18,000 campaign slush fund to enrich himself with campaign donations. Faced with mounting support to remove him from the ticket, Nixon attempted to use media interest to his advantage and turn the tables on the opposition. On September 23, 1952, just six weeks before the election, Nixon appeared on national television to refute the charges and, more importantly, campaign for his political future.
Nixon's shrewd address marked the birth of political campaigning in the era of live television broadcasting. Rarely if ever before had a vice presidential candidate addressed a nationwide audience via television. Under the bright studio lights, he delivered an impassioned speech that saved his political career.
Concerning the charges about a campaign slush fund, he seemed to admit guilt by speaking of himself in the third and first person in the same sentence, before reversing himself. In detailing his family finances, flattering his wife, or describing his respect for Eisenhower, Nixon attempted to accomplish more than proving he had not pocketed campaign contributions. He presented himself as an honest politician, loyal patriot and husband, and champion of the common American. At the same time, he redirected the spotlight away from his own possible misdeeds and levied a series of countercharges on the Truman administration and the Democratic candidates.
He closed the speech by deriding his enemies as "crooks and Communists" and called on viewers to decide his fate. This clever maneuver turned to his advantage, when the Republican National Committee soon received hundreds of thousands of messages in Nixon's favor. He remained on the ticket, which won in November, and he served two terms as Eisenhower's vice president.
While Eisenhower continued to stay above the political fray, the aggressive Nixon thrust himself into several high-profile political fights against Democrats at home and Cold War enemies abroad. In 1958, Nixon traded barbs with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev during an impromptu Kitchen debate. Two years later, the vice presidentfound himself outmatched by a candidate even more skillful at media manipulation. With the help of the country's first televised presidential debate, Senator John F. Kennedy defeated Nixon in the 1960 presidential contest.
Primary Source: "The Checkers Speech" [excerpt]
SYNOPSIS: Throughout most of his speech, Nixon focuses directly on the camera, looking down a few times to read economic and legal reports and correspondence. He raises his hands to his face in exasperation at times, but for the most part projects a sense of composure and confidence. During the closing segment concerning his future on the Republican ticket, he outstretches his hands as he pleads with the American public. Just as he seems to be concluding his speech, the broadcast feed stops as he runs over his allotted time.
My Fellow Americans,
I come before you tonight as a candidate for the Vice-Presidency and as a man whose honesty and integrity has been questioned.
Now, the usual political thing to do when charges are made against you is to either ignore them or to deny them without giving details. I believe we have had enough of that in the United States, particularly with the present Administration in Washington, D.C.
To me, the office of the Vice Presidency of the United States is a great office, and I feel that the people have got to have confidence in the integrity of the men who run for that office and who might attain them
I have a theory, too, that the best and only answer to a smear or an honest misunderstanding of the facts is to tell the truth. And that is why I am here tonight. I want to tell you my side of the case.
I am sure that you have read the charges, and you have heard it, that I, Senator Nixon, took $18,000 from a group of my supporters.
Now, was that wrong? And let me say that it was wrong. I am saying it, incidentally, that it was wrong, just not illegal, because it isn't a question of whether it was legal or illegal, that isn't enough. The question is, was it morally wrong. I say that it was morally wrong—if any of that $18,000 went to Senator Nixon, for my personal use. I say that it was morally wrong if it was secretly given and secretly handled.
And I say that it was morally wrong if any of the contributors got special favors for the contributions that they made.
And to answer those questions, let me say this: Not a cent of the $18,000 or any other money of that type ever went to me for my personal use. Every penny of it was used to pay for political expenses that I did not think should be charged to the taxpayers of the United States.…
The taxpayers should not be required to finance items which are not official business but which are primarily political business.…
I felt that the best way to handle these necessary political expenses of getting my message to the American people and the speeches I made—the speeches I had printed for the most part concerned this one message of exposing this Administration, the Communism in it, the corruption in it—the only way I could do that was to accept the aid which people in my home state of California, who contributed to my campaign and who continued to make these contributions after I was elected, were glad to make. And let me say that I am proud of the fact that not one of them has ever asked me for a special favor. I am proud of the fact that not one of them has ever asked me to vote on a bill other than my own conscience would dictate. And I am proud of the fact that the taxpayers, by subterfuge or otherwise, have never paid one dime for expenses which I thought were political and should not be charged top the taxpayers.…
But then I realized that there are still some who may say, and rightly so—and let me say that I recognize that some will continue to smear regardless of what the truth may be—but that there has been, understandably, some honest misunderstanding on this matter, and there are some that will say, "well, maybe you were able, Senator, to fake the thing. How can we believe what you say—after all, is there a possibility that maybe you got some sums in cash? Is there a possibility that you might have feathered your own nest?" And so now, what I am going to do—and incidentally this is unprecedented in the history of American politics—I am going at this time to give to this television and radio audience a complete financial history, everything I have earned, everything I have spent and everything I own, and I want you to know the facts.
I will have to start early: I was born in 1913. Our family was one of modest circumstances, and most of my early life was spent in a store out in East Whittier. It was a grocery store, one of those family enterprises.
The only reason we were able to make it go was because my mother and dad had five boys, and we all worked in the store. I worked my way through college, and, to a great extent, through law school. And then, in 1940, probably the best thing that ever happened to me happened: I married Pat, who is sitting over here. We had a rather difficult time after we were married, like so many of the young couples who might be listening to us. I practiced law. She continued to teach school.
Then, in 1942, I went into the service. Let me say that my service record was not a particularly unusual one. I went to the South Pacific. I guess I'm entitled to a couple of battle stars. I got a couple of letters of commendation. But I was just there when the bombs were falling. And then I returned. I returned to the United States, and in 1946, I ran for Congress. When we came out of the war—Pat and I—Pat, [who] during the war had worked as a stenographer, and in a bank, and as an economist for a Government agency—and when we came out, the total of our savings, from both my law practice, her teaching and all the time I was in the war, the total for that entire period was just less than $10,000—every cent of that, incidentally, was in Government bonds—well, that's where we start, when I go into politics.
Now, whatever I earned since I went into politics—well, here it is. I jotted it down. Let me read the notes. First of all, I have had my salary as a Congressman and as a Senator.…
I owe $3,500 to my parents, and the interest on that loan, which I pay regularly, because it is a part of the savings they made through the years they were working so hard—I pay regularly 4 percent interest. And then I have a $500 loan, which I have on my life insurance.
Well, that's about it. That's what we have. And that's what we owe. It isn't very much. But Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we have got is honestly ours.
I should say this, that Pat doesn't have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat, and I always tell her she would look good in anything.
One other thing I should probably tell you, because if I don't, they will probably be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention that our two youngsters would like to have a dog, and, believe it or not, the day we left before this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?
It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate that he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it "Checkers."
And you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it!
It isn't easy to come before a nation-wide audience and bare your life, as I have done. But I want to say some things before I conclude, that I think most of you will agree on.
Mr. Mitchell, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, made this statement, that if a man couldn't afford to be in the United States Senate, he shouldn't run for Senate. And I just want to make my position clear.
I don't agree with Mr. Mitchell when he says that only a rich man should serve his Government in the United States Senate or Congress. I don't believe that represents the thinking of the Democratic Party, and I know it doesn't represent the thinking of the Republican Party.…
And now I'm going to suggest some courses of conduct. First of all, you have read in the papers about other funds, now, Mr. Stevenson apparently had a couple. One of them in which a group of business people paid and helped to supplement the salaries of state employees. Here is where the money went directly into their pockets, and I think that what Mr. Stevenson should do should be to come before the American people, as I have, give the names of the people that contributed to that fund, give the names of the people who put this money into their pockets, at the same time that they were receiving money from their state government and see what favors, if any, they gave out for that.…
Now let me say this: I know this is not the last of the smears. In spite of my explanation tonight, other smears will be made. Others have been made in the past. And the purpose of the smears, I know, is this, to silence me, to make me let up. Well, they just don't know who they are dealing with. I'm going to tell you this: I remember in the dark days of the Hiss trial some of the same columnists, some of the same radio commentators who are attacking me now and misrepresenting my position, were violently opposing me at the time I was after Alger Hiss. But I continued to fight because I knew I was right, and I can say to this great television and radio audience, that I have no apologies to the American people for my part in putting Alger Hiss where he is today. And as far as this is concerned, I intend to continue to fight.
Why do I feel so deeply? Why do I feel that in spite of the smears, the misunderstanding, the necessity for a man to come up here and bare his soul? And I want to tell you why.
Because, you see, I love my country. And I think my country is in danger. And I think the only man that can save America at this time is the man that's running for President, on my ticket, Dwight Eisenhower.
You say, why do I think it is in danger? And I say look at the record. Seven years of the Truman-Acheson Administration, and what's happened? Six hundred million people lost to Communists.
And a war in Korea in which we have lost 117,000 American casualties, and I say that those in the State Department that made the mistakes which caused that war and which resulted in those losses should be kicked out of the State Department just as fast as we can get them out of there.…
Let me say this, finally. This evening I want to read to you just briefly excerpts from a letter that I received, a letter which after all this is over, no one can take away from us. It reads as follows:
Dear Senator Nixon,
Since I am only 19 years of age, I can't vote in this presidential election, but believe me, if I could, you and General Eisenhower would certainly get my vote. My husband is in the Fleet Marines in Korea. He is in the front lines. And we have a two month old son he has never seen. And I feel confident that with great Americans like you and General Eisenhower in the White House, lonely Americans like myself will be united with their loved ones now in Korea. I only pray to God that you won't be too late. Enclosed is a small check to help you with your campaign. Living on $85 a month it is all I can do.
Folks, it is a check for $10, and it is one that I shall never cash. And let me just say this: We hear a lot about prosperity these days, but I say, why can't we have prosperity built on peace, rather than prosperity built on war? Why can't we have prosperity and an honest Government in Washington, D.C. at the same time?
Believe me, we can. And Eisenhower is the man that can lead the crusade to bring us that kind of prosperity.
And now, finally, I know that you wonder whether or not I am going to stay on the Republican ticket or resign. Let me say this: I don't believe that I ought to quit, because I am not a quitter. And, incidentally, Pat is not a quitter. After all, her name is Patricia Ryan and she was born on St. Patrick's Day, and you know the Irish never quit.
But the decision, my friends, is not mine. I would do nothing that would harm the possibilities of Dwight Eisenhower to become President of the United States. And for that reason, I am submitting to the Republican National Committee tonight through this television broadcast the decision which it is theirs to make. Let them decide whether my position on the ticket will help or hurt. And I am going to ask you to help them decide. Wire and write the Republican National Committee whether you think I should stay on or whether I should get off. And whatever their decision, I will abide by it.
But let me just say this last word. (Nixon rises from chair and points to the camera.) Regardless of what happens, I am going to continue this fight.
I am going to campaign up and down America until we drive the crooks and the Communists and those that defend them out of Washington, and remember folks, Eisenhower is a great man. Folks, he is a great man, and a vote for Eisenhower is a vote for what is good for America.… [Nixon is cut off by the broadcasting station as he runs beyond his time allowance.]
Ambrose, Stephen E. Nixon: The Education of a Politician,
1913–1962. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.
Jameson, Kathleen Hall. Packaging the Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Advertising, 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Oliver, Myrna. "'Ted' Rodgers, 82; Set up Nixon's 'Checkers'
Speech." Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2003, C15. Available online at ; website home page: http://www.latimes.com/ (accessed June 18, 2003).