End of the Line
By Paul Bacon

While Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt demonstrated the virtues of extending executive privilege, Richard Nixon proved why it must be kept in check. During his so-called "imperial presidency," Nixon sought the kingly powers expressly withheld from the high office: the power to declare war, the power of the purse, and the power of immunity from legislative oversight.

The cost of surrendering the last of these privileges became apparent after Nixon was allowed to conceal his involvement in the Watergate scandal. When Nixon fired the investigation's special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, his attorney general, Elliott Richardson, resigned in protest, claiming that "a government of laws was on the verge of becoming a government of one man." In his final abuse of privilege, Nixon attempted to suppress recordings that proved his part in the illegal cover-up. The Supreme Court eventually ruled to admit the tapes as evidence, and Nixon resigned from office, dealing Congress the card it needed to finally curb the growing powers of the executive branch.

Despite his infamous disgrace at home, Nixon achieved remarkable progress on the world stage. He made the first presidential visit to communist China and negotiated the first arms-control treaty with the Soviets. In a less glorious but long-overdue international action, Nixon ended his nation's military involvement in the Vietnam War, which had claimed nearly 60,000 American lives.


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