Watergate and the Constitution
This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.
- Era 10-Contemporary United States (1968 - present)
- Standard 1A-Demonstrate understanding of domestic politics from Nixon to Carter.
This lesson also correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.
- Standard I.C.1-Evaluate, take, and defend positions on what conditions contribute to the establishment and maintenance of constitutional government.
- Standard III.D.1-Evaluate, take, and defend positions on the role and importance of the law in the American political system.
Share this exercise with your history and government colleagues.
The activities below assume that students are familiar with the Watergate scandal. Textbooks may vary in the extent of their coverage, so you may want to supplement the textbook with a chronology of events.
- Before distributing the document, ask students whether or not they would have been in favor of prosecuting the former President in August 1974 and why. List their reasons on the board. Duplicate and distribute copies of the document and ask them to choose the argument on each side that seems most persuasive to them. Ask for volunteers to stage a class debate on the question: Should the Watergate Special Prosecutor seek an indictment of Richard Nixon?
- The framers of the Constitution purposely created a system of government in which the three branches would be in a state of tension when in disagreement. This tension has often been criticized for paralyzing the processes of government. However, it is generally agreed that these very tensions, together with the vigorous efforts of a free press, worked to reveal the full extent of the Watergate scandal. In order to illustrate this, ask students to match the unit of each branch of government with the event for which it was responsible.
The Legislative Branch
- Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities
- House Judiciary Committee
The Executive Branch
- Office of the Watergate Special Prosecutor
The Judicial Branch
- U.S. Supreme Court
- U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia
- imposed heavy sentences on the Watergate burglars, hoping they would talk
- claimed executive privilege
- investigations here revealed existence of White House taping system
- requested a trial subpoena for 64 White House tapes for evidence in the Watergate cover-up trial
- adopted three articles of impeachment
- ruled that executive privilege does not extend to criminal proceedings and that the President must turn over the tapes
-- KEY --
- Ask students to look up each of the following sections of the Constitution and explain how it relates to the story of Watergate. Also ask them to indicate which of these constitutional references are referred to in the document shown here.
1.c, 2.e, 3.b, 4.d, 5.f, 6.a
- Article I, section 2, clause 5
- Article I, section 3, clause 6
- Article I, section 3, clause 7
- Article II, section 1, clause 8
- Article II, section 2, clause 4
- Amendment I