Lessons for Life: The Obituaries of Republicans Who Opposed Nixon’s Impeachment

“Obituaries reflect what the present thinks of the past,” wrote journalism professor Kathleen McElroy.

What will the future think of President Donald Trump and two historic votes senators must take on his impeachment? The obituaries of the Republicans who voted in favor and against the articles of impeachment for President Richard Nixon could provide some insight. How these GOP members of Congress voted in 1974 featured prominently in all of their obituaries.

It’s fair to say that when it comes to the impeachment of Trump, two votes in his Senate trial will long be remembered.

The first vote will come soon when senators decide whether to call the star witness, John Bolton, who has agreed to testify if they do. “In a courtroom, by contrast, jurors would not be allowed to deliver a verdict without hearing witnesses,” wrote the leading legal ethics expert, Stephen Gillers in discussing the Senate’s upcoming decision. Indeed, it would be unprecedented for the Senate to bar witnesses. Every Senate impeachment trial in American history has heard from witnesses. As Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in 1999 at the close of the Clinton impeachment, 

“I strongly supported efforts to allow both the House managers and the White House lawyers to call whatever live witnesses they deemed necessary to make their case. I favored a full and complete trial, believing that it was more important to insure fairness to both sides than it was to get the trial over by some arbitrary date. This was in keeping with normal procedures in all previous impeachment trials. It also seemed to me to be essential to fundamental fairness and a full airing of the facts and issues in dispute. A hundred years from now, no one will care whether the trial lasted two weeks or six months. They will care, we must hope, about the extent to which justice was done.”

Since the revelations in Bolton’s book manuscript have come to light, an overwhelming majority of the American public wants the Senate to call Bolton. It seems clear that history will understand full well “the extent to which justice was done” by senators who vote not to hear from him.

The second vote will be on whether to convict and remove the president from office. How will historians write about this momentous decision? That also seems clear. Over 2,000 historians signed onto a statement saying:

“President Trump’s numerous and flagrant abuses of power are precisely what the Framers had in mind as grounds for impeaching and removing a president. Among those most hurtful to the Constitution have been his attempts to coerce the country of Ukraine.”

The statement goes on to say, “It is our considered judgment that if President Trump’s misconduct does not rise to the level of impeachment, then virtually nothing does.” 

As House Manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) remarked on the floor of the Senate last week, “We can do a lifetime’s work, draft the most wonderful legislation, help our constituents and yet we may be remembered for none of that, but for a single decision, we may be remembered, affecting the course of our country.” He said these words after reflecting on the courage of the late Republican Congressman Thomas Railsback, who worked with a small bipartisan group in the House in 1974 to vote to impeach Nixon. Schiff highlighted Railsback as the congressman had passed away on Jan. 23, the eve of the Trump impeachment trial. The headline for his obituary in the Associated Press read, “Thomas Railsback, congressman who broke with GOP to back Nixon impeachment, dies.”

And so it has been for every obituary of every Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee who voted in 1974 for or against the Nixon articles of impeachment. If the reference is not made in the obituary’s headline, it still appears as a central point in the narrative of their lives as that single decision affected the course of history.

Here’s what we found when researching these obituaries.

In that summer of 1974, seven Republicans joined the Democrats to vote for at least one article of impeachment, including Thomas Railsback (Ill.), Hamilton Fish Jr. (N.Y.), Lawrence J. Hogan (Md.), M. Caldwell Butler (Va.), William S. Cohen (Maine), Harold V. Froehlich (Wis.), and Robert McClory (Ill.) 

Ten Republicans voted against all three articles of impeachment: Edward Hutchinson (Mich.), David Dennis (Ind.), Delbert Latta (Ohio), Trent Lott (Miss.),  Joseph Maraziti (N.J.), Wiley Mayne (Iowa), Carlos Moorhead (Calif.), Charles Sandman (N.J.), Henry Smith (N.Y.), and Charles Wiggins (Calif.). 

Regardless of whether the congressmen voted for or against the articles of impeachment, their legacies were largely defined by this one moment. So much so that newspapers titled their obituaries with reference to this vote: 

“Former Rep. Joseph Maraziti, 78, Defender of Nixon on Watergate” 

“Wiley Mayne; House GOP Member Who Voted Not to Impeach Nixon” 

“Sandman, Nixon Supporter, Dies” 

“Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., Md. Republican Who Called for Nixon’s impeachment, Dies at 88”

“M. Caldwell Butler, a Key Vote Against Nixon, Dies at 89” 

“R. McClory; Backed Nixon’s Impeachment” 

“Thomas Railsback, Congressman Who Broke with GOP to Back Nixon Impeachment, Dies.”

“Charles Wiggins, 72, Dies; Led Nixon’s Defense in Hearings”

HOW THEY VOTED OVERALL

FOR At Least One Article of Impeachment AGAINST All Articles of Impeachment
Thomas Railsback (Illinois) Edward Hutchinson (Michigan)
Hamilton Fish Jr. (New York) David Dennis (Indiana)
Lawrence J. Hogan (Maryland) Delbert Latta (Ohio)
Robert McClory (Illinois) Joseph Maraziti (New Jersey)
William S. Cohen (Maine) Wiley Mayne (Iowa)
Harold V. Froehlich (Wisconsin) Carlos Moorhead (California)
Charles Sandman (New Jersey)
Henry Smith (New York)
Charles Wiggins (California)

 

OBITUARIES FOR THE CONGRESSMEN WHO VOTED FOR THE ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT

Member Obituary
Thomas Railsback (Illinois) Thomas Railsback, congressman who broke with GOP to back Nixon impeachment, dies, Associated Press, Jan. 23, 2020

“Thomas Railsback, the veteran Republican congressman who broke with his party and helped draw up the articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in 1974, has died at 87.”

“Railsback represented Illinois’ 19th Congressional District for 16 years and was the second ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee when it was conducting the impeachment inquiry into Nixon. The inquiry was prompted by Nixon’s actions in the wake of the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office building in 1972.

Railsback credited Nixon with getting him elected to Congress in 1966 by campaigning for him in western Illinois.

‘I feel badly about what happened to Nixon,’ Railsback told the Idaho Statesman in 2012. ‘On the other hand, after listening to the [White House] tapes and seeing all the evidence, it was something we had to do because the evidence was there.’”
Hamilton Fish Jr. (New York) Hamilton Fish Jr., 70, Dies; Part of a Political Dynasty, N.Y. TIMES, July 24, 1996, at D19.

“Endowed with a streak of political independence that has run for nearly two centuries in the Fish family, Representative Fish won notoriety in 1974, when he voted for the resolution to impeach the Republican President, Richard M. Nixon.”
Lawrence J. Hogan (Maryland) Matt Shudel, Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., Md. Republican who Called for Nixon’s Impeachment, Dies at 88, WASH. POST (Apr. 22, 2017).

“Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., a combative Maryland political figure who rose to national prominence in 1974 by being the first Republican member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to call for President Richard M. Nixon’s impeachment, died April 20 at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis.”

“A onetime FBI agent, Mr. Hogan projected an image as a scrappy politician and conservative stalwart as a three-term congressman in the 1960s and 1970s and later as Prince George’s county executive. Nevertheless, he possessed an independent streak, most visibly when he put his political future at risk by turning against a president from his own party during the Watergate scandal.”



“On July 23, 1974, one day before the House Judiciary Committee was to begin debate on whether to impeach Nixon over his actions during the Watergate scandal, Mr. Hogan took his most notable public stand. ‘Richard M. Nixon has, beyond a reasonable doubt, committed impeachable offenses’ and participated in ‘an extended and extensive conspiracy to obstruct justice,’ Mr. Hogan declared at a news conference.

That night, Mr. Hogan purchased 15-minute time slots in four Maryland television markets to explain why he would vote to impeach the president. ‘The evidence convinces me that my president has lied repeatedly, deceiving public officials and the American people,’ he said.

Until that point, Mr. Hogan had been seen as a loyal Nixon supporter and a reliably conservative Republican voice in Congress. The effect of his ‘blistering declaration of independence,’ syndicated columnist George F. Will wrote, brought Mr. Hogan national recognition and left the White House feeling as though it had been ‘slugged on the base of the skull with a sock full of wet sand.’

Mr. Hogan was the only Republican member of the Judiciary Committee to vote for all three articles impeachment against Nixon. In a letter to his GOP colleagues, Mr. Hogan urged them to put party allegiance aside to uphold deeper constitutional principles.

‘While the travesties of Watergate were perpetrated outside the regular channels of Republican Party organizations, they were all committed by Republicans for the benefit of a Republican president,’ he wrote. ‘Do we want to be the party loyalists who in ringing rhetoric condemn the wrongdoings and scandals of the Democratic Party and excuse them when they are done by Republicans?’

Nixon resigned the presidency on Aug. 8, 1974. At the time, Mr. Hogan was the leading candidate in the Republican primary for Maryland governor. His stance on Watergate almost certainly cost him his party’s gubernatorial nomination, which was won by Louise Gore a month after Nixon left office. Gore lost the general election in a landslide to Democrat Marvin Mandel.

Critics from both parties charged that Mr. Hogan’s call for Nixon’s impeachment was an opportunistic effort to gain statewide publicity during the governor’s race. But in a 1987 interview with The Washington Post, he said he had no such calculated purpose in mind. ‘I assumed that in coming out for impeachment I would lose the nomination, which I did,” he said. “It had absolutely nothing to do with politics. I still resent people saying that now.’”
M. Caldwell Butler (Virginia) Douglas Martin, M. Caldwell Butler, a Key Vote Against Nixon, Dies at 89, N.Y. TIMES (July 29, 2014),

“M. Caldwell Butler, who as a first-term Republican representative from Virginia wept after he voted to impeach President Richard M. Nixon, whose landslide 1972 re-election victory had propelled Mr. Butler into Congress, died on Tuesday in Roanoke, Va.”

“Mr. Butler in 1973 led a group of schoolchildren to hand Nixon a letter thanking him for ending the Vietnam War, and he and his wife had been the president’s guests in the White House family quarters. His party’s initial response to the investigation of a possible presidential cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic Party’s headquarters in the Watergate complex in June 1972 had been dismissive. But by the steamy summer of 1974, mounting evidence — including secretly made tapes of Oval Office conversations acquired by subpoena — prompted seven Republicans and three conservative Southern Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee to waver in their support of Nixon. They self-effacingly called themselves ‘the unholy alliance.’”

“From his seat on the committee, Mr. Butler on July 25, 1974, dramatically announced that he would vote for impeachment — a statement that many treated as a bellwether. ‘For years we Republicans have campaigned against corruption and misconduct,’ he said. ‘But Watergate is our shame.’ Mary McGrory, the syndicated columnist, called Mr. Butler’s words “the single most fiery and liberating sentence spoken” during the Watergate investigations. ‘He was the first Republican to slash the comforting myth that somebody else, of unknown party origin, was to blame,’ she wrote.”

“On July 27, the Judiciary Committee voted 27 to 11 to impeach the president. Nixon resigned on Aug. 9 before the full House could vote on whether to send the impeachment articles to the Senate for trial. Mr. Butler dealt with hate mail and bomb threats, but his stiffest opposition came from his mother, who wrote him that his future “will go down the drain if you do not stand with your party at this critical time.’ ‘Dear Mother,’ he wrote. ‘You are probably right. However, I feel that my loyalty to the Republican Party does not relieve me of the obligation which I have.’ Mr. Butler nonetheless cried after the vote, he said in a 1984 interview with PBS, and called his wife, the former June Nolde, for reassurance.”
Robert McClory (Illinois) Wolfgang Saxon, Robert N. McClory, Congressman On Watergate Panel, Dies at 80, N.Y. TIMES, July 26, 1988, at B6.

“Former Representative Robert N. McClory, a 10-term Republican from the Chicago suburbs and a key figure in the impeachment proceedings against Richard M. Nixon, died Sunday at Georgetown University Medical Center after a heart attack.

“A conservative who was his party’s second-ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. McClory was initially opposed to impeaching President Nixon, but tapes of Presidential conversations swayed him, and he helped draft charges that the committee considered in July 1974.”

“Under the Constitution, it was up to the Judiciary Committee to sift through the allegations of break-ins, cover-ups and interference with the Federal Bureau of Investigation that made up the Wategate scandal and decide whether criminal charges of obstruction of justice and failure to uphold that Constitution were warranted. ‘I realize that there is no nice way to impeach a President of the United States,’ Mr. McClory told his colleagues in the debate. In the end, he voted against the article that accused Mr. Nixon of obstruction of justice, still unconvinced that the President was personally involved in criminal wrongdoing. He cast his ‘Aye’ for two other articles citing Mr. Nixon for abuse of power and contempt of Congress. The committee votes at the end of July 1974 directly led to Mr. Nixon's resignation on Aug. 9, after yet more tapes left no doubt that maneuvers to cover up illegal actions were discussed in the Oval Office.”

R. McClory; Backed Nixon’s Impeachment, L.A. TIMES, July 26, 1988, at B20.

“Robert McClory, one of seven Republican congressmen on the House Judiciary Committee to vote for the “abuse of power” article of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon, died after falling unconscious in church, District of Columbia police said Monday.”

“On July 29, 1974, McClory formed part of a 28-10 committee vote to impeach Nixon for misusing his powers of office. McClory had shifted to an affirmative vote on Article 2 of the impeachment process after opposing Article 1, which dealt with the Watergate cover-up. The committee vote on Article 2 dashed any hope Nixon had that he might beat the impeachment issue on the House floor and led to his subsequent resignation.”

“Eighteen months later it was learned that McClory and other Judiciary Committee leaders, including Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.), told Nixon that they would oppose continuation of the impeachment process if he resigned.”

Kenan Heise, Former Congressman Robert McClory, 80, CHI. TRIBUNE (July 26, 1988).

First two sentences of the obituary: “Former Republican U.S. Rep. Robert McClory, 80, who represented the North Shore in Congress from 1962 to 1982, drafted an article of impeachment in 1974 against then-President Richard Nixon, a member of his own party. Rep. McClory, the second-ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, had previously been a staunch supporter of Nixon.”

“During Nixon’s impeachment hearings, Rep. McClory said he was not convinced that Nixon was directly involved in the Watergate cover-up, but rejected suggestions that he had a partisan obligation to defend Nixon against all of the accusations. ‘I have heard it said by some that they cannot understand how a Republican could vote to impeach a Republican president,’ he said in the committee’s opening debate on impeachment. ‘Let me hasten to assert that that argument demeans my role here. It would make a mockery of our entire inquiry.’

 

OBITUARIES FOR THE CONGRESSMEN WHO VOTED AGAINST THE ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT

Member Obituary
Edward Hutchinson (Michigan) Edward Hutchinson, Ex-Congressman, Dies, N.Y. TIMES, July 24, 1985, at B5.

“Former Representative Edward Hutchinson, who was the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee in the debate on impeaching President Nixon, died Monday. He was 70 years old.”

“Mr. Hutchinson, who did not seek re-election to his Michigan seat in 1976, was first elected to the House in 1963. Long considered highly loyal to Mr. Nixon, Representative Hutchinson led the Michigan Republican delegation in August 1974 in calling for Mr. Nixon’s resignation or impeachment after the Watergate scandals.”

Ex-Rep. Hutchinson Dies; On Watergate Panel, WASH. POST, JULY 24, 1985, at C4.

“Former Rep. Edward Hutchinson, 70, a Michigan conservative who was the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee when it voted 27 to 11 to impeach President Nixon, died July 22 at a hospital in Naples, Fla.”

“Mr. Hutchinson voted against every article of impeachment brought against the president even after other Republicans had abandoned him. After the committee vote and further Watergate-related revelations, Mr. Hutchinson called for Nixon's resignation.”

“During the impeachment hearings, he was seen by many as a man who had little influence on the voices and votes of his Republican colleagues. But he succeeded in walking a fine line of party and institutional loyalty. If he expressed a somewhat convoluted theory of constitutional law in defense of his president and party leader, he closed ranks with committee chairman Peter Rodino (D-N.J.) in institutional confrontations with the White House.”
David Dennis (Indiana) David Dennis, ORLANDO SENTINEL (Jan. 9, 1999).

“Dennis, a former U.S. representative whose vote against impeaching President Nixon cost him his seat in Congress, died of pneumonia Wednesday in Richmond, Ind. He was 86. The three-term Republican congressman supported Nixon's position during impeachment hearings and voted in the House Judiciary Committee against the articles of impeachment. The articles were approved, and Dennis lost his re-election bid in 1974.”
Delbert Latta (Ohio) Delbert L. Latta, Key Reagan Ally in House, Dies at 96, N.Y. TIMES (May 13, 2016).
“In the early 1970s, during the Watergate hearings, he was a member of the House Judiciary Committee.”
Joseph Maraziti (New Jersey) Former Rep. Joseph Maraziti, 78, Defender of Nixon on Watergate, N.Y. TIMES, May 22, 1991, at D25.

“Joseph J. Maraziti, a former United States Representative who gained national recognition as a staunch defender of President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate investigation in Congress, died on Monday at St. Clare's-Riverside Hospital in Boonton, N.J.”

“He was a freshman Representative from the 13th Congressional District when, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he voted consistently against impeaching Mr. Nixon. That support, and President Gerald R. Ford's subsequent pardon of Mr. Nixon, were widely regarded as responsible for Mr. Maraziti's defeat by Helen S. Meyner, a Democrat, in the 1974 election.”
Wiley Mayne (Iowa) Wiley Mayne, 90; House GOP Member Who Voted Not to Impeach Nixon, L.A. TIMES (June 6, 2007).

“Wiley Mayne, 90, who represented northwest Iowa in Congress for eight years and was one of 10 Republicans who voted not to impeach President Nixon, died May 27 at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, after suffering a cardiopulmonary problem, his son John Mayne said.

As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Mayne voted not to impeach Nixon in July 1974, saying there was not enough evidence to warrant articles of impeachment.

His view would change early that August, when transcripts implicating Nixon in the cover-up of the Watergate break-in became public. Mayne announced on the House floor that he would vote for impeachment. Nixon resigned Aug. 9.”
Carlos Moorhead (California) Carlos J. Moorhead Dies at 89; Former Republican Congressman for 24 years, L.A. TIMES (Dec. 1, 2011).

“As a first-term congressman, he supported President Nixon during impeachment hearings and, over the course of his career, established a solidly conservative voting record.”
Charles Sandman (New Jersey) Ex-Rep. Charles Sandman, Nixon Supporter, Dies, N.Y. TIMES, Aug. 27, 1985, at A20.

First sentence of the obituary: “Charles W. Sandman, a New Jersey Superior Court judge and former United States Representative who was one of President Richard M. Nixon's strongest supporters during Congressional impeachment hearings in 1974, died Monday at Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital in Cape May Court House, N.J., after suffering a stroke Aug. 18.”

“The four-term Congressman from Cape May drew national attention as a staunch supporter of Mr. Nixon on the House Judiciary Committee during the last days of Watergate. As one after another of his Republican colleagues drew away from the President’s cause, Mr. Sandman continued defending Mr. Nixon as a victim of partisan attack.”

“It was during the impeachment hearings in the House Judiciary Committee that Mr. Sandman briefly came into the nation’s view: a heavyset man with glasses on the end of his nose, a pencil grasped between his hands, heaping sarcasm and scorn upon the arguments of those who would impeach the President. ‘Isn't it amazing? Isn't it surprising? Isn't it astonishing,’ he said repeatedly, trying to point out inconsistencies in arguments of opponents.”

“When public hearings to consider articles of impeachment against Mr. Nixon were begun by the Judiciary Committees’ 38 members in the summer of 1974, Mr. Sandman, with Representatives David W. Dennis of Indiana and Charles E. Wiggins of California, led the defense of the President. Their strategy was to construe the evidence as narrowly as possible, require ironclad proof and propose benign explanations of information damaging to the President. Throughout, Mr. Sandman mustered particularly caustic remarks. But his position, he said, was based on legal principle, not emotions. ‘My role is not one of defending the President – that’s for sure," he said at one point. ‘I believe in a strict construction of the Constitution. If somebody, for the first time in seven months, gives me something that is direct, I will vote to impeach.’”
Henry Smith (New York) Henry Smith, 85, Congressman in Vietnam and Watergate Eras, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 4, 1995, at B8.

“As the third-ranking Republican member of the committee, Mr. Smith also voted against impeaching President Nixon, arguing that the evidence against him was not strong enough. Shortly after the vote, he announced that he would not run for re-election. At the time, he called the Watergate scandal ‘stupid’ and said he ‘hated to belong to a stupid party.’”
Charles Wiggins (California) Charles Wiggins Dies, U.S. Appellate Judge, N.Y. Times, Mar. 5, 2000, at C5.

‘Judge Charles E. Wiggins, a Republican congressman from California who was influential in the Watergate hearings and switched from defending President Richard M. Nixon to supporting impeachment, died on Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 72 and had lived in Las Vegas.’

‘As a congressman, Mr. Wiggins was considered one of Nixon's staunchest defenders. Along with two other members of the House Judiciary Committee, he led the president's defense when the Watergate hearings began in the summer of 1974. The strategy was to construe the evidence as narrowly as possible, require ironclad proof and propose benign explanations of information damaging to the president.’

‘In weeks of closed Judiciary Committee hearings and in six days of televised debate in July, Mr. Wiggins argued that none of the evidence linked Nixon directly to a crime.

But his view changed abruptly on Aug. 5, 1974 when Nixon conceded that he had helped conceal the Watergate break-in.

The next morning, a front-page headline on The New York Times noted Mr. Wiggins's change of heart: ‘Wiggins for Impeachment; Others in G.O.P. Join Him.’

The Times reported that ‘Representative Charles E. Wiggins, President Nixon's strongest defender during the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment proceedings, and many other influential House Republicans’ had announced that ‘they would vote for impeachment,’ and that Mr. Wiggins and members of the House Republican leadership had expressed what The Times called  ‘a deep sense of disillusionment.’

In a statement outlining his new position, Mr. Wiggins said there was no longer any doubt that the president had agreed to a ‘plan of action’ to obstruct the Watergate investigation. ‘These facts standing alone are legally sufficient in my opinion to sustain at least one count against the president of conspiracy to obstruct justice,’ he said.

Because of that, Mr. Wiggins said, he had reached the "painful conclusion" that it was in the national interest for Nixon to resign.

Nixon did so on Aug. 9, 1974. Afterward, Mr. Wiggins wrote that it had been the right decision.

‘Such a conclusion was a sad and personally wrenching one for me to reach, because I regarded — and still do regard — myself as a friend of the president and his family and one still willing, proudly, to claim his achievements,’ Mr. Wiggins wrote.

My appreciation to Danielle A. Schulkin (NYU Law ‘20) for research on this project.

Photo credit: Bhaskar Dutta/Getty Images

 

About the Author(s)

Ryan Goodman

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, former Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-2016). Follow him on Twitter (@rgoodlaw).