Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

First Advisor

Thomas H. Appleton

Department Affiliation

History

Second Advisor

Robert S. Weise

Department Affiliation

History

Third Advisor

Carolyn Renee Dupont

Department Affiliation

History

Abstract

Watergate is considered the most infamous political scandal in American history. It resulted in the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, and it had a profound, lasting, and damaging impact on the American people’s trust in government. The story of Watergate is often intertwined with that of President Nixon—his corruption, paranoia, abuse of power, and dramatic political demise. This thesis argues that the crisis of Watergate was rooted not merely in the personality and conduct of the tragically flawed Nixon, but in the deep, systemic government secrecy that developed in the United States at the onset of the cold war. There are four central ways in which this institutional secrecy affected the Watergate affair: (1) The emergence of a “national security” ideology in the United States in the immediate postwar years gave rise to hidden foreign policies and secret, often illegal, government activities; (2) the growing public awareness and discontent regarding this secrecy in the 1960s, particularly concerning US involvement in Vietnam, which thereupon led to the increasing regularity of national security leaks (media disclosures of state secrets); (3) the mentality of President Nixon and his subordinates concerning the use of illegal clandestine operations (“dirty tricks”) to combat perceived domestic enemies—a practice that had been employed by US intelligence and law-enforcement agencies for decades; and (4) the involvement of the CIA in the events surrounding Watergate, which demonstrates the secrecy and autonomy prevalent in the intelligence community, often to the detriment of American democracy.

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