Elliot Richardson’s Resignation as Attorney General

Last week, the President fired his Attorney General. While President Trump’s young administration has certainly been full of historical firsts (oldest president, “healthiest” president, steakiest president, etc.), this particular event—abruptly canning your own AG—wasn’t one of them. Last time it happened, the year was 1973, and the president was Richard Nixon.

By autumn, the investigation into Watergate was closing in on Nixon. It’d be another almost-year before he finally buckled, but one of big turning points in that process—and of the public’s impression of Nixon—happened as a result of October 20th’s “Saturday Night Massacre.”

Nixon, tired of special prosecutor Archibald Cox breathing down his neck, came up with a simple workaround: firing Archibald Cox. He ordered his Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, to do the job; Richardson refused, and Nixon demanded his resignation. Richardson’s deputy also refused, and was fired. (Third-in-line—a man called Bork who’d become relevant in the next decade—did the deed.) And, just to tie up any loose ends now that Cox, Richardson, and Ruckelshaus were all gone, Nixon ordered his FBI to seal their offices. And all of this happened, naturally, while Nixon was under investigation by the other two branches of government. The man was on a roll.

It was, in other words, a Constitutional crisis. The Constitution is a living, malleable document, sure, but it also assumes a series of norms that—bless its heart—aren’t always there in human nature.

Ultimately, Nixon lost his battle, but the war of expanding executive-branch authority would go on to succeed beyond his wildest—if posthumous—dreams in the years after the millennium.

(Oh, and the obsession with pineapple was real.)

A Note on Sources

The American Scraps Executive Reference Library

Every American Scraps comic strip cites, links-to, and—where possible—displays a preview of its source artifact. These artifacts are all from public-domain, royalty-free sources, and are appropriate for use in the classroom. Most American Scraps sources come from The National Archives And Records Administration (NARA), whose “Today’s Document” feature was the original inspiration, in 2010, for this whole enterprise. (On a personal note, I’m grateful to NARA for the invaluable work they have done, and continue to do.)

For ease of use in the classroom—specifically grades 5–12—American Scraps organizes its material according to UCLA’s National Standards for History Basic Edition (1996), as you can see in those ten “Historical Eras” above. Learn more about the National Center for History in the Schools here.

If you’re a teacher and are using American Scraps in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line at jon@americanscraps.com.

A Note on Theft

The original art you see here on American Scraps is copyrighted, and reproduction of it is prohibited without written approval.

In other words, unless I’ve told you otherwise: Don’t save or screenshot these comics for use in your own post, tweet, slideshow, or embed. Don’t “remix” or “aggregate” them. Don’t reproduce them, even in an appreciative way. Don’t sell them. Don’t drop them into a listicle called “15 Comic GIFs That Tell The Story Of American History (And You Won’t Believe #8!)”.

Instead, contact me at jon@americanscraps.com and let’s talk about your idea.

American Scraps