On the evening of September 23, 1952, Republican vice presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon went on the national airwaves to combat accusations of corruption in connection with his $18,000 expense fund. Before an audience of approximately 60 million Americans, Senator Nixon provided a guided tour of his family’s assets and debts. He also found time to compliment his wife’s “Republican” cloth coat and declare allegiance to his Cocker Spaniel, Checkers. At the conclusion of the speech, Nixon rolled the dice and surrendered his political fate to the fickle court of public opinion:
…And for that reason I am submitting to the Republican National Committee tonight through this television broadcast the decision which it is theirs to make. Let them decide whether my position on the ticket will help or hurt. And I am going to ask you to help them decide. Wire and write the Republican National Committee whether you think I should stay on or whether I should get off. And whatever their decision is, I will abide by it.
Telegrams, letters, postcards and telephone calls began pouring in by the thousands. According to Roger Morris’s definitive account of Nixon’s early career, Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, of the nearly four million responses received, opinion ran seventy-five to one in favor of keeping the young senator on the ticket. Supporters even sent in cash to help reimburse the RNC for the $75,000 cost of the broadcast. According to Morris, eventually $60,000 in small donations was collected.
CONELRAD recently spent some time at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum looking over their voluminous collection of this correspondence. The following is a sampling beginning with cartoon legend William “Bill” Hanna (1910-2001) of Hanna-Barbera fame. Apparently, Tom and Jerry were both Republicans…
P.E. Jordan of Clovis, New Mexico liked Senator Nixon’s address so much that he suggested demoting General Eisenhower to the vice presidential slot:
The Soules of California were so excited by Nixon’s speech, they wrote in immediately after the broadcast and even time-stamped their letter:
Of the letters that we reviewed, none made mention of Checkers, but Mrs. Burris of Compton, California used canine-friendly stationary…
She was, of course, a supporter….
Some of the letters were anonymous and artistic…
This correspondent felt that Nixon should “resign as Candidate for the Presidency of the United States…” He may not have been clear on the post the senator was seeking. In any case, this was the only letter that we examined that called for Nixon to get off the ticket:
Not everyone was 100% satisfied with the candidate’s explanation of where the money in the controversial “fund” was spent. Lilian M. Lehbach of Westfield, New Jersey registered her concern on this point and then expressed her “hope” that Nixon would not be “asked to withdraw.”
Other Wesfield, NJ residents were more adamant in their support:
Some of Nixon’s fans were young political nerds:
Profanity was almost non-existent in the missives we reviewed, but Walter Perry, Jr. wrote that to replace Nixon on the ticket would be a “damnable tragedy”:
Mr. and Mrs. L A Brasher of Alabama City, Alabama were steadfastly against sacrificing Senator Nixon “to communistic wolves.”
EP Van Roy of California also referenced the communists. He was most concerned, however, about the candidate’s wife, Pat (“My heart aches for Pat.”).
Billy Graham wasn’t the only minister to like Richard Nixon…
A preview of Nixon’s later “southern strategy” fan base was evident in this telegram from “THREE DIXIECRATS”
Lee Martin Hale, Jr. and his wife Anne represented the pure enthusiasm of many writing in after the Checkers speech by calling Nixon “tremendous.”
The overwhelmingly positive public response to the “Checkers” speech played the decisive role in keeping Richard Nixon on the 1952 Republican ticket. As a token of his appreciation to the masses, he sent out a form postcard…
Sept 29, 1952
This is just a note to tell how deeply Pat and I appreciated your expression of confidence after the broadcast last Tuesday.
We want you to know we shall do our best never to let you down.
We have a lot more letters. If there is enough interest, perhaps we will continue posting. We will abide by the will of the people…