About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks at the Nixon Legacy Forum: “The Greatest Comeback—Richard Nixon and the 1968 election”

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
September 21, 2018

Good afternoon.  I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it’s my pleasure and privilege to welcome you, and in many cases to welcome you back, to the National Archives. 

I’m particularly happy to welcome so many veterans of the Nixon Administration, who are here for this Nixon Legacy Forum on “The Greatest Comeback — Richard Nixon and the 1968 election.”  Some of you have already been participants in earlier Nixon Forums.  This is a kind of “Gathering of the Clan.”  The last time we were all together was in Yorba Linda in October of 2016, for the opening of the new Nixon Library.  And now I can welcome you here to the National Archives.

The first Nixon Legacy Forum was held right here, in the McGowan Theater, in January of 2010.  Over the last eight years, there have been more than thirty of these Forums, covering as many aspects of President Nixon’s consequential administration.  Most of them have been here at the McGowan Theater, and most have been covered by C-SPAN.  And it’s good to see the C-SPAN cameras here again today. 

All of these Forums have been filmed and recorded by the Nixon Foundation, and they are now an important part of the historical record— available for students and scholars and any interested individual, on the websites of the National Archives, the Nixon Library, and the Nixon Foundation.  Forum topics have covered both foreign and domestic policy, as well as the managerial revolution that President Nixon ushered into the West Wing, and that marked the creation of the modern Executive Office of the President.  This afternoon, of course, we’re going back into pre-presidential history, with the campaign of 1968, that launched the Nixon presidency.

The Nixon Legacy Forums bring together men and women who served in the Nixon administration, to discuss some of the particular issues and programs that they worked on back in the day.  Their conversations are complemented and supplemented by materials documents, tape recordings, videos and photographs-- from the Nixon Library archives. 

For historians, and particularly future historians, this kind of resource is all but invaluable.  To be able to watch, and hear, the people who were making the history describe exactly how it was made, is a unique opportunity.  This is the kind of back stage, back stairs, backstory that documents simply can’t convey, but that is no less important in order to understand and appreciate what really happened and why.

Many years in history have devotees who believe that “their” year is the key that opens the door to everything that followed.  Recently, books have argued for the significance of 1913 — the world on the eve of the Great War— and 1920—  the year six former and future presidents joined battle for the White House.  1939 was the “countdown to war,” and 1944 was the year that FDR changed history.*

But I think that one year on which everyone agrees is 1968.  Whether it’s seen as a flashpoint, a watershed, or a tipping point, there’s no question that the issues, the events, the personalities, the struggles, the trends, not to mention the stakes, made 1968 a year unmatched by few other years in history.  And that was true not only here, but all around the world.  

Of course, 1968 was a presidential year, and that campaign reflected all of that year’s unsettled, and unsettling, aspects.  Considering the context— riots, assassinations, bombings, communications gaps, and generation gaps, and Americans dug in on different sides of most issues—some asked why anyone would even want to be President in a year like 1968.  Richard Nixon did and on the morning of November 6, his election as our 37th President was confirmed. 

1968 has already been a year of 50th anniversaries of Nixon milestones.  January 31 marked the 50th anniversary of when he announced his presidential candidacy.  March 12th marked the 50th anniversary of his decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary.  Last month, on August 8, was the 50th anniversary of his memorable acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach.  And, of course, November 6th will be the golden anniversary of his election to that office. 

The Nixon Library, which is part of the National Archive’s system of presidential libraries, will be celebrating many of these anniversaries.  If you have the good fortune to find yourself in Yorba Linda any time soon, I recommend a Special Exhibit that opened at the Nixon Library last month: “Vote Like Your Whole World Depended On It: The Story of the 1968 Election.”

That Exhibit is a partnership between the Nixon Library and the Nixon Foundation, and we’re honored by the presence of the Foundation’s Chairman, Dr. James Cavanaugh, and its President and CEO, Bill Baribault, here with us this afternoon.  Now it’s my pleasure to introduce Geoff Shepard, who will moderate this Forum, and introduce its participants. 

Geoff was selected a White House Fellow in 1969 and assigned to the Treasury Department where he worked under Paul Volker, then undersecretary for monetary affairs.  Following his fellowship year, Geoff joined John Ehrlichman’s Domestic Council staff at the Nixon White House where he served five years.  And another year in as Associate Director of General Government in the Ford White House.

The author of The Secret Plot to Elect Ted Kennedy President and The Real Watergate Scandal, for the past three decades, Geoff has arranged and hosted annual reunions of the Nixon/Ford policy planning staffs and since 2010 has produced the Nixon Legacy Forum series. 

Please welcome Geoff Shephard.