Checkers Speech

Speaker: Richard Nixon
Delivered On: 9/23/1952
Place: Los Angeles, CA
Subject: Campaign funds
Audio/Video Available:

Description: Accused of having accepted and used campaign fund donations in an improper way,
Republican vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon took the stand in 1952, defending
himself against these claims and encouraging viewers everywhere to contact the RNC
and tell them whether or not he should remain on the running ticket. This speech
derives it’s name, “Checkers,” from the statement Nixon made that, even if he had
to return all the campaign donation gifts he had received, he would keep the black
and white dog, Checkers, because his family had become attached to it. The American
public poured out an overwhelming response in support of Vice Presidential Candidate
Nixon, and he remained on the Republican ticket.
References:
Transcript/Log:

My fellow Americans, I come before you tonight as a candidate for the Vice Presidency
and as a man who’s honesty and integrity has been questioned. Now, a usual political
thing to do when charges are made against you is to either ignore them or to deny
them without giving details. I believe we’ve had enough of that in the United States,
particularly with the president administration in Washington, D.C. To me, the office
of the Vice Presidency of the United States is a great office and I feel that the
people have got to have confidence in the integrity of the men who run for that
office and who might obtain it. I have a theory too, the best and only answer to
a smear or to an honest misunderstanding of the facts is to tell the truth, and
that’s why I’m here tonight. I want to tell you my side of the case.

I am sure that you have read the charge and you’ve heard it, that I, Senator Nixon,
took $18,000 from a group of my supporters.

Now, was that wrong? And let me say that it was wrong–I’m saying, incidentally,
that it was wrong, not just illegal. Because it isn’t a question of whether it was
legal or illegal, that isn’t enough. The question is, was it morally wrong?

I say that it was morally wrong if any of that $18,000 went to Senator Nixon for
my personal use. I say that it was morally wrong if it was secretly given and secretly
handled. And I say that it was morally wrong if any of the contributors got special
favors for the contributions that they made. And now to answer those questions let
me say this: not one cent of the $18,000 or any other money of that type ever went
to me for my personal use. Every penny of it was used to pay for political expenses
that I did not think should be charged to the taxpayers of the United States. It
was not a secret fund. As a matter of fact, when I was on “Meet the Press,” some
of you may have seen it last Sunday–Peter Edson came up to me after the program
and he said, “Dick, what about this fund we hear about?” And I said, “Well, there’s
no secret about it. Go out and see Dana Smith, who was the administrator of the
fund.”

And I gave him his address, and I said that you will find that the purpose of the
fund simply was to defray political expenses that I did not feel should be charged
to the government. And third, let me point out, and I want to make this particularly
clear, that no contributor to this fund, no contributor to any of my campaigns,
has ever received any consideration that he would not have received as an ordinary
constituent.

I just don’t believe in that and I can say that never, while I have been in the
Senate of the United States, as far as the people that contributed to this fund
are concerned, have I made a telephone call for them to an agency, or have I gone
down to an agency in their behalf. And the records will show that, the records which
are in the hands of the administration.

But then some of you will say and rightly, “Well, what did you use the fund for,
Senator? Why did you have to have it?”

Let me tell you in just a word how a Senate office operates. First of all, a Senator
gets $15,000 a year in salary. He gets enough money to pay for one trip a year,
a round trip that is, for himself and his family between his home and Washington,
D.C.

And then he gets an allowance to handle the people that work in his office, to handle
his mail. And the allowance for my State of California is enough to hire 13 people.

And let me say, incidentally, that that allowance is not paid to the Senator–it’s
paid directly to the individuals that the Senator puts on his payroll, but all of
these people and all of these allowances are for strictly official business, business,
for example, when a constituent writes in and wants you to go down to the Veterans
Administration and get some information about his GI policy, items of that type
for example.

But there are other expenses which are not covered by the government. And I think
I can best discuss those expenses by asking you some questions.

Do you think that when I or any other Senator makes a political speech, has it printed,
should charge the printing of that speech and the mailing of that speech to the
taxpayers? Do you think, for example, when I or any other Senator makes a trip to
his home state to make a purely political speech that the cost of that trip should
be charged to the taxpayers? Do you think when a Senator makes political broadcasts
or political television broadcasts, radio or television, that the expense of those
broadcasts should be charged to the taxpayers?

Well, I know what your answer is. It is the same answer that audiences give me whenever
I discuss this particular problem. The answer is, “no.” The taxpayers shouldn’t
be required to finance items which are not official business but which are primarily
political business.

Well, then the question arises, you say, “Well, how do you pay for l these and how
can you do it legally?” And there are several ways that it can be done, incidentally,
and that it is done legally in the United States Senate and in the Congress.

The first way is to be a rich man. I don’t happen to be a rich man so I couldn’t
use that one. Another way that is used is to put your wife on the payroll. Let me
say, incidentally, that my opponent, my opposite number for the Vice Presidency
on the Democratic ticket, does have his wife on the payroll. And has had it, her
on his payroll for the ten years–the past ten years.

Now just let me say this. That’s his business and I’m not critical of him for doing
that. You will have to pass judgment on that particular point. But I have never
done that for this reason. I have found that there are so many deserving stenographers
and secretaries in Washington that needed the work that I just didn’t feel it was
right to put my wife on the payroll.

My wife’s sitting over here. She’s a wonderful stenographer. She used to teach stenography
and she used to teach shorthand in high school. That was when I met her. And I can
tell you folks that she’s worked many hours at night and many hours on Saturdays
and Sundays in my office and she’s done a fine job. And I’m proud to say tonight
that in the six years I’ve been in the House and the Senate of the United States,
Pat Nixon has never been on the government payroll.

Well, there are other ways that these finances can be taken care of. Some who are
lawyers, and I happen to be a lawyer, continue to practice law. But I haven’t been
able to do that. I’m so far away from California that I’ve been so busy with my
Senatorial work that I have not engaged in any legal practice.

And also as far as law practice was concerned, it seemed to me that the relationship
between an attorney and the client was so personal that you couldn’t possibly represent
a man as an attorney and then have an unbiased view when he presented his case to
you in the event that he had one before the government.

And so I felt that the best way to handle these necessary political expenses of
getting my message to the American people and the speeches I made, the speeches
that I had printed, for the most part, concerned this one message–of exposing this
administration, the communism in it, the corruption in it–the only way that I could
do that was to accept the aid which people in my home state of California who contributed
to my campaign and who continued to make these contributions after I was elected
were glad to make.

And let me say I’m proud of the fact that not one of them has ever asked me for
a special favor. I’m proud of the fact that not one of them has ever asked me to
vote on a bill other than as my own conscience would dictate. And I am proud of
the fact that the taxpayers by subterfuge or otherwise have never paid one dime
for expenses which I thought were political and shouldn’t be charged to the taxpayers.

Let me say, incidentally, that some of you may say, “Well, that’s all right, Senator;
that’s your explanation, but have you got any proof?? and I’d like to tell you this
evening that just about an hour ago we received an independent audit of this entire
fund. I suggested to Governor Sherman Adams, who is the chief of staff of the Dwight
Eisenhower campaign, that an independent audit and legal report be obtained. And
I have that audit here in my hands.

It’s an audit made by the Price, Waterhouse & Co. firm, and the legal opinion by
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, lawyers in Los Angeles, the biggest law firm and incidentally
one of the best ones in Los Angeles.

I am proud to report to you tonight that this audit and legal opinion is being forwarded
to General Eisenhower and I would like to read to you the opinion that was prepared
by Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, and based on all the pertinent laws, and statutes,
together with the audit report prepared by the certified public accountants.

“It is our conclusion that Senator Nixon did not obtain any financial gain from
the collection and disbursement of the funds by Dana Smith; that Senator Nixon did
not violate any federal or state law by reason of the operation of the fund; and
that neither the portion of the fund paid by Dana Smith directly to third persons,
nor the portion paid to Senator Nixon, to reimburse him for office expenses, constituted
income to the Senator which was either reportable or taxable as income under applicable
tax laws.
Signed,
Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher,
by Elmo H. Conley”

Now that, my friends is not Nixon speaking, but that’s an independent audit which
was requested because I want the American people to know all the facts and I am
not afraid of having independent people go in and check the facts, and that is exactly
what they did.

But then I realized that there are still some who may say, and rightly so, and let
me say that I recognize that some will continue to smear regardless of what the
truth may be, but that there has been understandably, some honest misunderstanding
on this matter, and there are some that will say, “Well, maybe you were able, Senator,
to fake this thing. How can we believe what you say, after all, is there a possibility
that maybe you got some sums in cash? Is there a possibility that you might have
feathered your own nest?” And so now, what I am going to do, and incidentally this
is unprecedented in the history of American politics, I am going at this time to
give to this television and radio audience, a complete financial history, everything
I have earned, everything I have spent, everything I own, and I want you to know
the facts.

I will have to start early, I was born in 1913. Our family was one of modest circumstances,
and most of my early life was spent in a store out in East Whittier. It was a grocery
store, one of those family enterprises. The only reason we were able to make it
go was because my mother and dad had five boys, and we all worked in the store.
I worked my way through college, and, to a great extent, through law school. And
then in 1940, probably the best thing that ever happened to me happened. I married
Pat who is sitting over here.

We had a rather difficult time after we were married, like so many of the young
couples who may be listening to us. I practiced law. She continued to teach school.

Then, in 1942, I went into the service. Let me say that my service record was not
a particularly unusual one. I went to the south pacific. I guess I’m entitled to
a couple of battle scars. I got a couple of letters of commendation. But I was just
there when the bombs were falling. And then I returned. I returned to the United
States, and in 1946, I ran for the Congress. When we came out of the war, Pat and
I, Pat during the war had worked as a stenographer, and in a bank, and as an economist
for a government agency, and when we came out, the total of our savings, from both
my law practice, her teaching and all the time I was in the war, the total for that
entire period was just less than $10,000, every cent of that, incidentally, was
in government bonds, well, that’s where we start, when I go into politics.

Now, whatever I earned since I went into politics, well, here it is. I jotted it
down. Let me read the notes.

First of all, I have had my salary as a Congressman and as a Senator. Second, I
have received a total in this past six years of $1,600 from estates which were in
my law firm at the time that I severed my connection with it. And, incidentally,
as I said before, I have not engaged in any legal practice, and have not accepted
any fees from business that came into the firm after I went into politics.

I have made an average of approximately $1,500 a year from nonpolitical speaking
engagements and lectures.

And then, fortunately, we have inherited little money. Pat sold her interest in
her father’s estate for $3,000, and I inherited $1,500 from my grandfather. We lived
rather modestly.

For four years we lived in an apartment in Parkfairfax, in Alexandria, Virginia.
The rent was $80 a month. And we saved for a time that we could buy a house. Now
that was what we took in. What did we do with this money? What do we have today
to show for it? This will surprise you because it is so little. I suppose as standards
generally go of people in public life.

First of all, we’ve got a house in Washington, which cost $41,000 and on which we
owe $20,000. We have a house in Whittier, California which cost $13,000 and on which
we owe $3,000. My folks are living there at the present time.

I have just $4,000 in life insurance, plus my GI policy which I have never been
able to convert, and which will run out in two years.

I have no life insurance whatever on Pat. I have no life insurance on our two youngsters
Patricia and Julie.

I own a 1950 Oldsmobile car. We have our furniture. We have no stocks and bonds
of any type. We have no interest, direct or indirect, in any business. Now that
is what we have. What do we owe? Well, in addition to the mortgages, the $20,000
mortgage on the house in Washington and the $10,000 mortgage on the house in Whittier,
I owe $4,000 to the Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C. with an interest at 4.5%.

I owe $3,500 to my parents, and the interest on that loan, which I pay regularly,
because it’s the part of the savings they made through the years they were working
so hard. I pay regularly 4% percent interest. And then I have a $500 loan, which
I have on my life insurance.

Well, that’s about it. That’s what we have. And that’s what we owe. It isn’t very
much. But Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we have got is honestly
ours.

I should say this, that Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable
Republican cloth coat, and I always tell her she would look good in anything.

One other thing I should probably tell you, because if I don’t they will probably
be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election.

A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters
would like to have a dog, and, believe it or not, the day we left before this campaign
trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package
for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?

It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate that he had sent all the way from
Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named
it Checkers.

And you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this,
right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.

It isn’t easy to come before a nationwide audience and bare your life, as I have
done. But I want to say some things before I conclude, that I think most of you
will agree on.

Mr. Mitchell, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, made this statement
that if a man couldn’t afford to be in the United States Senate, he shouldn’t run
for the Senate. And I just want to make my position clear. I don’t agree with Mr.
Mitchell when he says that only a rich man should serve his government in the United
States Senate or in the Congress. I don’t believe that represents the thinking of
the Democratic Party, and I know it doesn’t represent the thinking of the Republican
Party.

I believe that it’s fine that a man like Governor Stevenson, who inherited a fortune
from his father, can run for President. But I also feel that its essential in this
country of ours that a man of modest means can also run for President, because,
you know, remember Abraham Lincoln, you remember what he said, “God must have loved
the common people, he made so many of them.”

And now I’m going to suggest some courses of conduct. First of all, you have read
in the papers about other funds now. Mr. Stevenson, apparently, had a couple. One
of them in which a group of business people paid and helped to supplement the salaries
of state employees. Here is where the money went directly into their pockets.

And I think that what Mr. Stevenson should do should be to come before the American
people as I have, give the names of the people that have contributed to that fund,
give the names of the people who put this money into their pockets at the same time
that they were receiving money from their state government, and see what favors,
if any, they gave out for that. I don’t condemn Mr. Stevenson for what he did, but
until the facts are in there is a doubt that will be raised.

And as far as Mr. Sparkman is concerned, I would suggest the same thing. He’s had
his wife on the payroll. I don’t condemn him for that. But I think that he should
come before the American people and indicate what outside sources of income he has
had.

I would suggest that under the circumstances both Mr. Sparkman and Mr. Stevenson
should come before the American people as I have and make a complete financial statement
as to their financial history. And if they don’t, it will be an admission that they
have something to hide. And I think you will agree with me.

Because, folks, remember, a man that’s to be President of the United States, a man
that’s to be Vice President of the United States, must have the confidence of all
the people. And that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing, and that’s why I suggest that
Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Sparkman since they are under attack should do what they’re
doing.

Now, let me say this: I know that this is not the last of the smears. In spite of
my explanation tonight other smears will be made; others have been made in the past.
And the purpose of the smears, I know, is this–to silence me, to make me let up.

Well, they just don’t know who they’re dealing with. I’m going l tell you this:
I remember in the dark days of the Hiss case some of the same columnists, some of
the same radio commentators who are attacking me now and misrepresenting my position
were violently opposing me at the time I was after Alger Hiss.

But I continued to fight because I knew I was right. And I can say to this great
television and radio audience that I have no apologies to the American people for
my part in putting Alger Hiss where he is today. And as far as this is concerned,
I intend to continue the fight.

Why do I feel so deeply? Why do I feel that in spite of the smears, the misunderstandings,
the necessity for a man to come up here and bare his soul as I have? Why is it necessary
for me to continue this fight?

Why do I feel so deeply? Why do I feel that in spite of the smears, the misunderstandings,
the necessity for a man to come up here and bare his soul as I have? Why is it necessary
for me to continue this fight?

You say, “Why do I think it’s in danger?” and I say look at the record. Seven years
of the Truman-Acheson Administration and what’s happened? Six hundred million people
lost to the Communists, and a war in Korea in which we have lost 117,000 American
casualties.

And I say to all of you that a policy that results in a loss of six hundred million
people to the Communists and a war which costs us 117,000 American casualties isn’t
good enough for America. And I say that those in the State Department that made
the mistakes which caused that war and which resulted in those losses should be
kicked out of the State Department just as fast as we get ’em out of there.

And let me say that I know Mr. Stevenson won’t do that. Because he defends the Truman
policy and I know that Dwight Eisenhower will do that, and that he will give America
the leadership that it needs.

Take the problem of corruption. You’ve read about the mess in Washington. Mr. Stevenson
can’t clean it up because he was picked by the man, Truman, under whose Administration
the mess was made. You wouldn’t trust a man who made the mess to clean it up– that’s
Truman. And by the same token you can’t trust the man who was picked by the man
that made the mess to clean it up–and that’s Stevenson.

And so I say, Eisenhower, who owes nothing to Truman, nothing to the big city bosses,
he is the man that can clean up the mess in Washington.

Take Communism. I say that as far as that subject is concerned, the danger is great
to America. In the Hiss case they got the secrets which enabled them to break the
American Secret State Department Code. They got secrets in the atomic bomb case
which enabled them to get the secret of the atomic bomb, five years before they
would have gotten it by their own devices.

And I say that any man who called the Alger Hiss case a “red herring” isn’t fit
to be President of the United States. I say that a man who like Mr. Stevenson has
pooh-poohed and ridiculed the Communist threat in the United States–he said that
they are phantoms among ourselves; he’s accused us that have attempted to expose
the Communists of looking for Communists in the Bureau of Fisheries and Wildlife–I
say that a man who says that isn’t qualified to be President of the United States.

And I say that the only man who can lead us in this fight to rid the government
of both those who are Communists and those who have corrupted this government is
Eisenhower, because Eisenhower, you can be sure, recognizes the problem and he knows
how to deal with it. Now let me say that, finally, this evening I want to read to
you just briefly excerpts from a letter which I received, a letter which, after
all this is over, no one can take away from us. It reads as follows:

Dear Senator Nixon:
Since I’m only 19 years of age I can’t vote in this Presidential election but believe
me if I could, you and General Eisenhower would certainly get my vote. My husband
is in the Fleet Marines in Korea. He’s a corpsman on the front lines and we have
a two-month-old son he’s never seen. And I feel confident that with great Americans
like you and General Eisenhower in the White House, lonely Americans like myself
will be united with their loved ones now in Korea.
I only pray to God that you won’t be too late. Enclosed is a small check to help
you in your campaign. Living on $85 a month it is all I can afford at present. But
let me know what else I can do.

Folks, it’s a check for $10, and it’s one that I will never cash.

And just let me say this. We hear a lot about prosperity these days but I say, why
can’t we have prosperity built on peace rather than prosperity built on war? Why
can’t we have prosperity and an honest government in Washington, D.C., at the same
time. Believe me, we can. And Eisenhower is the man that can lead this crusade to
bring us that kind of prosperity.

And, now, finally, I know that you wonder whether or not I am going to stay on the
Republican ticket or resign.

Let me say this: I don’t believe that I ought to quit because I’m not a quitter.
And, incidentally, Pat’s not a quitter. After all, her name was Patricia Ryan and
she was born on St. Patrick’s Day, and you know the Irish never quit.

But the decision, my friends, is not mine. I would do nothing that would harm the
possibilities of Dwight Eisenhower to become President of the United States. 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.

But just let me say this last word. Regardless of what happens I’m going to continue
this fight. I’m going to campaign up and down in America until we drive the crooks
and the Communists and those that defend them out of Washington. And remember, folks,
Eisenhower is a great man. Believe me. He’s a great man. And a vote for Eisenhower
is a vote for what’s good for America.

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