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Oregon Trails: Nixon’s Speech

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GRANTS PASS, Ore. – The Presidential election race may be passing Oregon by this year, but 60 years ago one of the landmark moments in U.S. Election history happened, and had it’s roots right in Southern Oregon.

The presidential campaign of 1952 had World War Two hero General Dwight Eisenhower and California Senator Richard Nixon seeking to return a Republican to the White House for the first time since the Great Depression. In September of that year, General Eisenhower was on a whistle-stop train tour of the Midwest, while Senator Richard Nixon headed north through California to the Northwest.

It was during that train tour that a story broke out that Nixon had taken an inappropriate $18,000 gift. As the tour progressed, so did controversy over the alleged gift, which was designed to help defray campaign expenses. As the controversy and publicity grew, so did calls for Eisenhower to drop Nixon from the ticket. When the train reached the Rogue Valley, the situation seemed desperate.

At a stop in Grants Pass, Nixon’s campaign managers and two secretaries secretly left the train and checked into what one writer described as a “second rate” hotel where they would have access to phones. It’s believed to have been the old Redwood Hotel, just a couple blocks from the tracks.

Working all night long, the four staffers gathered all the information they could on the fund and how it was spent. Using that data, Nixon went on national television to give a detailed accounting, and challenged the other candidates to do the same. Then, in an emotional appeal, he said he did receive one gift he could not give back:

“One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don’t they’ll probably be saying this about me too. We did get something. A gift after the election,” Nixon said. “A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our 2 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 the Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us! 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 wanna say this right now, regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep him!”

It’s been 60 years since the “Checkers” speech and the passenger trains are all gone now. Even Richard Nixon is gone, but what happened in Grants Pass six decades ago made political history all across the nation. Eisenhower was reportedly ready to drop Nixon from the ticket until he gave his “Checkers” speech, but public sentiment swung heavily in Nixon’s favor, and he was asked to stay on and, as they say, the rest is history.

Richard Nixon was the nation’s 36th vice president. After losing a very close presidential race to John F. Kennedy in 1960, he made a try for governor of California in 1962 and lost. In 1968 he ran again for the White House, and was elected the 34th president. Then, in 1974, he became the first U.S. President to resign, following the Watergate Scandal. He was recognized for ending U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and for opening diplomatic relations with China. Richard Nixon died in 1994.