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Nixon's resignation letter and Ford's pardon shown at National Archives in Aug.

President Richard Nixon's resignation letter Aug. 9, 1974 and President Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon 40 years ago will be displayed Aug. 8-11 in the National Archives' "Featured Documents" exhibit.

President Nixon was the only U.S. President to resign. His Aug. 9, 1974 resignation letter will be shown for the 40th anniversary at National Archives.
President Nixon was the only U.S. President to resign. His Aug. 9, 1974 resignation letter will be shown for the 40th anniversary at National Archives.
President Nixon, official White House portrait. His Aug. 9, 1974 resignation letter will be shown at National Archives.
Nixon flashes victory sign as he departs from the White House after resigning in disgrace, faced with impeachment
Nixon flashes victory sign as he departs from the White House after resigning in disgrace, faced with impeachment
Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, Yorba Linda, California

And on Aug. 8 at noon at the National Archives, bestselling author Douglas Brinkley and Nixon tapes expert Luke Nichter will discuss and sign their new book, "The Nixon Tapes". The just-published book offers an unprecedented account of one of the most controversial Presidencies in U.S. history.

Brinkley, author of "Cronkite", "The Reagan Diaries", among other books, also is a contributing editor of "Vanity Fair", a CBS News historian, and a history professor at Rice University in Houston. Nichter, who digitized the 3,700 hours of Nixon tapes, is an associate professor of history at Texas A&M University – Central Texas.

Before Nichter's massive effort, less than 5 percent of those 3,700 hours of recordings between 1971 and 1973 had ever been transcribed and published. Now, back to the exhibit:

"I hereby resign the office of the President of the United States of America. Sincerely, Richard Nixon". That's all he wrote when he became the only U.S. President to resign.

On Sept. 8, 1974, President Ford signed and read his proclamation granting "a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he...has committed or may have committed..."

The proclamation explained that the nation's few weeks of "tranquility ... could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States."

That pardon is one of the most controversial decisions ever made by any U.S. President. It is widely regarded as a main reason why President Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter. President Carter began his inauguration speech, "For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land."

(Also, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, administered by the National Archives, has just gone live with online Watergate tapes, videos, photos, and documents relating to his resignation.)

The Nixon and Ford items will be followed in the Archives' rotating "Featured Documents" by:

  • (On display Aug. 12–Sept. 10) House Passage of the Bill of Rights, celebrating its 225th anniversary. The First Congress proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the Constitution, ten of which were ratified and are now collectively known as the Bill of Rights.
  • (On display Sept. 11–Nov. 3) Documents and an artifact commemorating the 1814 burning of Washington and attack on Baltimore and Fort McHenry. During the War of 1812, British forces occupied Washington, and burned the White House, the Capitol, and other government buildings. Just weeks later, the Americans held off the British at the Battle of Baltimore, including the Sept. 13-14 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry. That inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that became "The Star-Spangled Banner" 200 years ago.

And the newest "Featured Document" is another extremely controversial one:

(On display July 15-Aug. 7.)The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed 50 years ago Aug. 7, allowed enormous escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the joint resolution a few days later. It authorized the President "to take all necessary measures to repeal any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression" in Southeast Asia.

U.S. military forces in the undeclared war reached almost 550,000 -- more than 58,000 were killed. Congress eventually repealed the resolution in January 1971.

The "Featured Documents" exhibit, in the Archives' East Rotunda Gallery near displays of the original Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, is seen by more than one million visitors each year.

To see part of the exhibit online, click here

For more info: "Featured Documents", National Archives, www.archives.gov, on the National Mall at Constitution Avenue and 7th Street, Washington, D.C.