Richard M. Nixon: Politician, President, Administrator

By Leon Friedman; William F. Levantrosser | Go to book overview

10
The Incoherence of the Civil Rights Policy in the Nixon Administration

HUGH D. GRAHAM

This paper is based primarily on research in the newly opened Nixon presidential papers, which first became available to scholars in December 1986. This was a half dozen years after the opening of the Gerald Ford Library, and it edged the opening of the Carter Library by only one month. The Watergate-related litigation that has so long blocked access to the Nixon papers has thus far prevented the research necessary for scholars to write archivally based, second-generation histories of the Nixon era. Now this process can at last begin, although the litigation continues to impose unusual and irksome limits on the range of papers that are now being made available. Nevertheless, my year of rummaging through the Nixon documents has convinced me that we have a sufficient mass of evidence available to support some sound generalizations about the evolution of domestic policy during the Nixon years--especially during the first administration, before Watergate crippled the presidency and considerably warped the normal legislative process through the remainder of Nixon's tenure.

I address the civil rights issue because the first Nixon Administration concludes my one-volume trilogy on the dramatic transformation of federal civil rights policy during the administrations of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. 1 Thus, I explicitly compare President Nixon's policies to those of his two Democratic predecessors, and implicitly we all share a subsequent frame of reference from our collective memory and the memoirs and secondary literature of the Ford, Carter, and, indeed, the Reagan years. I regard 1972 as a watershed year in modern civil rights history, one that essentially completed the second phase of the Second Reconstruction of the 1960s. Phase I began with President Kennedy's executive order of 1961 and extended through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This crucial first phase brought comprehensive policies based on classically liberal nondiscrimination, but left unresolved some major questions of enforcement structure, jurisdiction, and power. 2 Lyndon Johnson began to seek resolution from Congress of basic enforcement disputes

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