Letters from the Archives is a series in which we highlight past Atlantic stories and reactions from readers at the time.
“Watergate is potentially the best thing to have happened to the presidency in a long time,” wrote Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in his November 1973 Atlantic article, “The Runaway Presidency.”
On June 17, 1972, five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., in the hopes of procuring campaign intelligence for the White House. The Nixon administration’s effort to distance itself from the burglary stands as one of the greatest political cover-ups in American history: “I can say categorically,” President Richard Nixon insisted that August, “no one in this Administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.” The following months and years proved otherwise; by February 1973, the Senate had approved a select committee to investigate the scandal. And that was just the start. In October, Nixon ordered a series of attorneys general to fire the independent special prosecutor (two of them refused and resigned in protest until finally the third carried the order out), an incident that came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
Schlesinger wrote about the “unprecedented concentration of power” in Nixon’s White House. The article, drawn from his soon-to-be-published The Imperial Presidency, explained how a corrupt style of executive governance had reemerged under the Nixon administration. Nixon’s time in office was “not an aberration but a culmination,” Schlesinger concluded. Impeachment would be a step toward fixing “the crisis of the presidency,” but not a long-term solution.