For now at least, Richard Nixon holds the distinction of being the only sitting American president to resign, rather than face impeachment.
Tom “Fitz” Fitzgerald served as a Washington correspondent for the Chicago Sun-Times on the day the 37th president — born Jan. 9, 1913 — resigned. At a bar called Nick and Dottie’s, Fitz found the room packed with over 75 people glued to the TV as Nixon formally announced his resignation on Aug. 9, 1974.
“The bartender stopped ringing up sales,” Fitz wrote. “For the entire time that Mr. Nixon talked, not a single person in the room lifted a glass.” Just one person lit a match.
After the speech ended, a man at the bar stood up and raised his glass: “A toast to America. We’ve weathered another storm.” From the other side of the room, Fitz heard another man shout, “I wonder who the liberal press is going to get next?” No one answered either man.
Fitz left Nick and Dottie’s and walked two blocks down to the White House where some 3,000 people gathered on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. A group of 10 people held a sign that said, “Happy Days Are Here Again. No More Tricks from Dick.” Some chanted and sang. No one smiled.
“It wasn’t an angry crowd,” Fitz noted. “They were curious, of course. Many had flown in from all parts of the country. Strange, isn’t it. They had come here just so they could say they stood in front of the White House the night Richard Nixon stepped down.”
The crowd carried on, and Fitz noticed daughter Tricia Nixon gazing down at the crowd from a second-story window. A man in the center of the crowd lifted a male companion wearing a dark blue suit and a rubber Nixon mask onto his shoulders.
“The man in the Nixon mask could see that Tricia was looking at him,” Fitz wrote. “He reveled in his moment of glory. He raised one hand to Tricia in an obscene gesture. The crowd roared its approval.
"Tricia’s mouth opened in shock. Quickly, she drew the curtains shut. The crowd roared with triumph.”
For Fitz, the question hanging in the air after the culmination of the events of the day was simply: What next? It was obvious, he said, that the group hated Nixon, but their slogans indicated that they had very little use for Gerald Ford either.
“They seemed to have lost trust in everyone. Perhaps even themselves.”