It wasn’t quite on the level of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech or John F. Kennedy’s moon speech, but Friday marks a significant anniversary for what a 1999 poll of leading communications scholars ranked sixth. most important American speech of the 20th century.
On September 23, 1952, Richard Nixon delivered what he called the “Checkers Speech,” a 30-minute address to the nation to a national television audience to dismiss allegations that he had misappropriated political funds and spent money on personal gifts, a successful Senate bid in 1950.
At the time, Nixon was the vice presidential nominee for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential campaign.
It also came at a time when television was still in its infancy and no one knew exactly the magnitude of this platform for voters.
As media figures and Republican leaders tried to persuade him to let the ticket pass, Nixon turned to television in a last-ditch effort to salvage his place as Eisenhower’s running mate.
The speech and dog reference
The Republican Party was buying itself time in a window, and Nixon defiantly addressed the nation in a 30-minute speech from Los Angeles’ El Capitan Theater, saying the $18,000 he received from supporters was entirely for campaign costs been.
Nixon further cited an audit report by a group of certified public accountants in which he said he made no financial gain from supporters’ money or violated any laws.
But even that passionate denial paled in comparison to how he was appealing to the public with what he said mid-speech.
Nixon said there was one thing he and his family bought after the election, which he said in the speech:
“A man down in Texas heard (wife) Pat mention on the radio that our two children would like a dog. And believe it or not, the day before we left for this campaign trip, we received a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. do you know what it was It was a small cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he had shipped all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted. And our little girl Tricia, the six year old, called it “Checkers”. And you know, the kids love the dog, like all kids, and I just want to say this, no matter what they say about it, we’re going to keep it.”
That’s why it’s been known as “Checkers Speech” ever since.
The speech, seen or heard by 60 million Americans, was a great blessing for Nixon. The Republican National Committee received millions of calls and telegrams supporting him, and Eisenhower easily won the 1952 election.
This, of course, led to Nixon eventually running against Kennedy as the presidential nominee in 1960 and eventually winning the 1968 and 1972 elections before resigning over the Watergate scandal.
The speech also essentially brought out the power of television for politicians to get their messages across, albeit ridiculed by some.
Eventually, the speech led to the creation of the so-called “National Day of Dogs in Politics,” celebrated every September 23 as a tribute to the presidents’ famous furry friends.