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The Checkers speech

Senator Richard Nixon’s “Checkers” Speech
23 September 1952

My Fellow Americans: I come before you tonight as a candidate for the Vice Presidency and as a man whose honesty and integrity have been questioned. The 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 present 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, that 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 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 and 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 campaign, 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 thirteen 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.

But then the question arises, you say, “Well, how do you pay for 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, my opponent, my opposite number for the Vice Presidency on the Democratic ticket, does have his wife on the payroll. And has had 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.

…I’ll 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 stars. 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 Government agency — and when we came out the total of our saving from both my law practice, her teaching and all the time that I as in the war-the total for that entire period was just a little 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 what I’ve I earned since I went into politics? Well, here it is — I jotted it down, let me read the notes. First of all I’ve had my salary as a Congressman and as a Senator. Second, I have received a total in this past six years of $1600 from estates which were in my law firm 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 to the firm after I went into politics. I have made an average of approximately $1500 a year from nonpolitical speaking engagements and lectures. And then, fortunately, we’ve inherited a little money. Pat sold her interest in her father’s estate for $3,000 and I inherited $l500 from my grandfather. We live rather modestly. For four years we lived in an apartment in Park Fairfax, in Alexandria, Va. The rent was $80 a month. And we saved for the 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 $3000 [Nixon meant to say $10,000]. My folks are living there at the present time. I have just $4,000 in life insurance, plus my G.I. policy which I’ve never been able to convert and which will run out in two years. I have no insurance whatever on Pat. I have no life insurance on our our 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 of any kind, direct or indirect, in any business. Now, that’s what we have. What do we owe? Well, in addition to the mortgage, the $20,000 mortgage on the house in Washington, the $10,000 one on the house in Whittier, I owe $4,500 to the Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C. with interest 4 1/2 per cent. 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 per cent 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’ve 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 that she’d look good in anything.

One other thing I probably should tell you because if we don’t they’ll 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 before we left on 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’d sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl — Tricia, the 6-year old — named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it….