Gilder Lehrman Interns Explore Campaigns for and against Impeachment of Richard Nixon

Today, the many ways Americans can easily voice our political opinions can make it hard to imagine a time when there were no such instantaneous options. Signing an online petition, posting an article to Facebook, or sharing a hashtag on Twitter can be done anywhere and in a matter of seconds. However, in decades past, Americans found other efficient and powerful means of communicating their opinions, not too different from the methods we use today.

Newspaper mail-in to a congressman in support of Richard Nixon (Gilder Lehrman Institute, GLC09613.02.58.08)This summer, the interns at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History have been cataloging and exploring the 5,000 documents in a collection of correspondence to Republican congressman Carlos J. Moorhead (R-CA) during the Watergate Scandal. He was a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and the letters were written by concerned citizens from across the country. Although each document is unique, a first look into the collection can easily produce a feeling of deja vu, due to the prevalence of a few specific newspaper clippings and mailing forms. Although the enclosures seem identical, each represents a single political action undertaken by an individual.

Ad from Bert and Melba Lewis against Nixon impeachment published in the Los Angeles Times (Gilder Lehrman Institute, GLC09613.02.2302)One of the most common is a form supporting President Nixon clipped from a newspaper. Measuring only about three by four inches, these items were formatted so they could be easily cut out, addressed, and signed by readers. Rather than requiring someone to get hundreds or thousands of signatures on one petition, these clippings allowed each signature of support to be delivered individually, which would also likely create a larger impact on Moorhead. The return addresses written on these clippings form a map of where in the nation support for Nixon was common and where support for impeachment was more popular. The ease of this format, for both the organizers of and participants in the campaign, made it a popular way to communicate with members of Congress.

Newspapers also provided plenty of other material for Americans looking for a bolder statement to include in their correspondence. Many letters addressed to Moorhead contain articles and ads from newspapers, which would then be referenced in the letter. For example, an ad written by Bert and Melba Lewis published in the Los Angeles Times was frequently sent alongside letters supporting Nixon. Ironically, considering its place of publication, the bold full-page advertisement refers to mainstream media as “a pack of jackals” that are “turning the American people against [Nixon].” Clearly, although the Lewises may not have trusted the media, they recognized the value it had in spreading their message and the influence that their ad could have if it went physically “viral.” In a later interview with the Los Angeles Times, a copy of which can be found in the Gilder Lehrman Collection, Bert Lewis recalled the immediacy with which people responded to the ad. He received dozens of phone calls at his home in the first two days following the ad’s run with requests for copies of the ad, even though his phone number was not provided in the newspaper. Letter from the president of Coca Cola to Rep. Moorhead, November 1, 1973 (Gilder Lehrman Institute, GLC09613.02.2302)These calls were likely prompted by the instructions, in small type at the bottom of the ad: “Those who agree please send your own thoughts, or a copy of this ad, to the President, your Senators and Congressmen, and a few friends outside Los Angeles with a request they do the same.”

The popularity of this ad is clear based on the number of times it appears in the collection, many copies of it bearing other couples’ names signed next to the typed ones of Bert and Melba. Although most copies of the ad do not contain more than two signatures, one striking example of it within the Collection includes over 100 signatures, with script covering nearly every available white space. The constituent who sent this heavily embellished copy to Moorhead wrote that she gathered all of the signatures in only two hours and that not one person she asked to sign refused. One of the more prominent Americans who used the ad was the then president of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Los Angeles, A. D. MacDonald. In his letter to Moorhead, MacDonald conveys his belief that the words of Bert and Melba “give expression to millions.”

Another Mother for Peace mailing in support of impeaching President Nixon (Gilder Lehrman Institute, GLC09613.02.0175)Those who desired impeachment proceedings against Nixon also used similar pre-printed letters addressed to Congress, which expressed their distrust of the President and his administration. One example of a common anti-Nixon mailing was written and distributed by the organization Another Mother for Peace. As opposed to the Lewises ad, which was written by an unknown couple, these mailings gained credibility by being published by an already prominent group, which was originally formed in 1967 in opposition to the Vietnam War. By 1974, when the campaign against Nixon was conducted, Another Mother for Peace already had substantial experience in organizing letter-writing campaigns. Their first campaign involved sending 1,000 Mother’s Day cards to Congressmen asking for, instead of “candy or flowers,” peace for America. These cards proved to be extremely successful, and by May 1967 they had sold 200,000 copies for citizens across the country to mail.

This success both increased the organization’s membership and inspired the group to support other causes, such as opposing chemical and biological warfare, ending nuclear pollution, and impeaching President Nixon. Their mailings are instantly recognizable due to the bright yellow stationery and the distinctive black and orange sunflower logo, which appeared on all materials created by the organization. The document itself was designed as a self-mailer, with a straight-forward message and a blank line for a signature on the front and spaces for the address and stamp on the back.

Although to the interns working with this collection these mailings initially seemed identical, save for the signature, with closer examination, each mailing reveals its subtle differences, and is a reminder of the individual who took the time to send it. Whether because of an underlined or highlighted phrase or the addition of a handwritten message at the bottom, it is the similarity of these documents that allows each one’s uniqueness to be so easily apparent.

If you’re interested in learning more about these documents, you can follow the Gilder Lehrman Institute on Instagram at @gilderlehrman, where every Wednesday one of our interns highlights a find from the collection for #WatergateWednesday.