Fordham Law’s Watergate Archive Is a Treasure Trove for Scholars


A new section of Fordham Law’s Twenty-Fifth Amendment Archive explores the amendment’s first uses during the Watergate era, when it was twice invoked to fill vacancies in the vice presidency—and may have played a critical role in President Richard Nixon’s resignation. The archive’s Watergate section expands the online repository that has enhanced public understanding and scholarly analysis of the amendment over the last several years.

In addition to its procedures for presidential succession and inability, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment provides a way for the president to nominate a replacement vice president with the approval of Congress. Nixon used it to nominate Gerald Ford following Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation amid a bribery scandal.

Ford’s appointment put a Republican next in line to the presidency—a development that became especially relevant when the Watergate scandal intensified. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment’s principal sponsor, Senator Birch Bayh, believed the Republican president would not have resigned had the vice presidency remained vacant with Democratic Speaker of the House Carl Albert next in line.

The recently completed Watergate section of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment Archive features documents that tell the story of how the amendment provided stability as the scandal brought down a presidency. Items include speeches and hearings on the nominations of Ford and Nelson Rockefeller to the vice presidency. There are also Senate hearings evaluating the amendment’s uses during Watergate.

Norris Professor of Law and former Dean John D. Feerick ’61, who played a key role in the amendment’s development, was among the witnesses at those hearings. Another significant document is a once-secret memo Speaker Albert had drafted on his possible succession to the presidency.

An interactive timeline of key moments in the Watergate scandal complements the documents in the Watergate section.

The Twenty-Fifth Amendment Archive launched in 2017 to continue Fordham Law’s unique history as a source of scholarship and information on presidential succession. That history began with a 1963 Fordham Law Review article by Feerick that helped inform the amendment’s drafting. Some of the letters Feerick exchanged with lawmakers and others during the amendment’s development are included in the archive.

At a 2010 Fordham symposium, Bayh recognized the school’s identification with the amendment. The provision’s lead framer said, “[T]here’s no place in the country that is such a wellspring of knowledge on the dual questions of vice presidential vacancies and presidential disabilities.”

Journalists, scholars, and members of the public have drawn heavily on the items in the archive. The articles, books, reports, legislative history items, and executive branch documents have been downloaded nearly 24,000 times by users from 140 countries since the archive’s launch. An average of nearly 700 documents are downloaded each month.

Documents in the archive have been featured in articles in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, USA Today, Buzzfeed, Business Insider, Lawfare, Salon, and Foreign Policy. A Washington Post story used transcripts of hearings and debates in the archive to trace the impact of the book and movie “The Caine Mutiny” on the Twenty-Fifth Amendment’s crafting.

Books and scholarly articles have also relied on the archive, especially for a document with White House contingency plans for invoking the amendment that is available exclusively on the archive.

In 2018, the Maloney Library’s Twitter account highlighted an array of documents in archive with a series of tweets marking significant dates in presidential succession history. The highlighted items included Bayh’s book about the Twenty-Fifth Amendment’s drafting. Feerick also wrote a book touching on the same subject, and both books were out of print for decades before the archive made the available. Together, they have been download almost 1,000 times.


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