This blog post was composed by graduate assistant Bailey Edling, a master’s student in the History Department.
CREEP. To modern readers, this word might mean a myriad of things. It could be an insult, an action, or a song by TLC. Several decades ago, this word brought to mind something entirely different. It was politics and scandal, and it was the Committee to Re-Elect the President, Richard Nixon. The Watergate scandal involved a complicated plot to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters, tapes secretly recorded by the President, and a lot of destroyed evidence. Watergate and the conversations around impeachment and resignation engulfed the country. People blamed the news media; they pointed fingers at either side of the Congressional aisle. On one side of that aisle sat a young, freshman representative. At 29, Alan Steelman was the youngest Republican sitting in the House, and an important one at that, representing Dallas County, one of the most populous counties in the nation.
Prior to his election to Congress, Steelman had been appointed by President Nixon to serve as an executive director for the President’s Advisory Council on Minority Business Enterprise. He served in this role until his election to Congress in 1972. Steelman was well-liked and well-regarded nationally for his work during his first term. In 1973, he entered the political melee caused by the Watergate scandal. Asked by a reporter if he would support impeachment, Steelman responded, “If the information were true, if it could be proved, then yes, impeachment.”1
Nixon faced George McGovern in the election for his second term, and he won by a landslide, earning almost 20 million more votes in the popular election and securing 520 electoral votes to McGovern’s 17.2 Nixon was popular for his foreign policy. He was seen as helping thaw tensions between the US and China, bringing the Vietnam War to a close, and fighting communism and the influence of the USSR with a stronger fist than previous presidents. As it was still developing, Watergate was viewed as a Democratic ‘witch-hunt’ against a popular Republican president. Regardless, Steelman’s words about impeachment were straightforward. If the president had committed a crime, he should be impeached for it. The response from his constituency was swift and angry.
Steelman’s records are filled with hundreds of letters from Texans voicing strong sentiments in favor of Nixon, calling him the best president and the most intelligent. They comment that no matter his guilt, Nixon had their support one hundred percent. There are many notable insights one can draw from these letters. The first is that amid the hundreds of letters, less than ten supported impeachment. The rhetoric used by these Texans was most frequently religious, praying for Nixon and the state of the country. Some of the language reveals the anger Steelman’s constituents felt surrounding Watergate, calling it a tragedy, stupid, and the result of a socialist conspiracy. Some writers praise Steelman but urge his support of the president. Others lambast his lack of loyalty to the party and the president. One of the most interesting insights from these letters is the demographic breakdown. Women were writing to Steelman at double the rate of men.
The constituent letters in Steelman’s collection represent these women. In exit polls, the 1972 election of Nixon represented the widest gap between women voting for a Republican over a Democrat at 61% to 37%, respectively.3 What might lead women to overwhelmingly support Nixon? In 1972, there were several women’s rights issues at stake. Women were entering the workforce at higher rates. In 1950, women comprised roughly one-third of the labor force. By 1980, they would constitute half of it.4 In 1972, women made 58 cents to men’s dollar, could not secure a credit card or mortgage in their own name, could be fired for getting pregnant, and had no protections against sexual harassment at the workplace.5 6 The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) proposed legalized equal rights for women and garnered bipartisan support from politicians like Nixon. The Roe v. Wade decision was a year from being made; thus, abortion was a highly contentious issue that voters took to the polling booth. Beyond that, in 1972, America was at war in Vietnam, and millions of men – sons and husbands – would be drafted. The constituent letters reveal more than just these women’s concerns over Watergate and Richard Nixon. They illuminate their support for the Republican Party at a specific and watershed moment in the nation’s history.
Ultimately Nixon was not impeached. As the evidence supporting his involvement in Watergate mounted, the president eventually resigned, perhaps vindicating Steelman in the eyes of his constituents as he was elected for a second term. The experience did not silence Steelman either, for he has continued speaking out about impeachment. In 2020, he spoke at Baylor, his alma mater, regarding the complicated process of impeachment.7 In 2021, after the January 6th Insurrection, Steelman was one of several former Republican Congressmen to sign a letter in support of impeaching then-President Donald Trump.8
Written on hotel notepads, on scrap pieces of paper, telegrams, and embossed stationery, these letters in support of Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal are a peek inside the homes and minds of Texans in the 1970s. They also underscore the difficult decisions legislators must make when weighing their own conscience against the desires of their constituents. The careful cataloging of these letters signals that whether or not Steelman agreed with his voters, their voices were heard.
 Souder, Elizabeth. “What Will It Take to Persuade Americans on Impeachment? Former Dallas Rep. Alan Steelman Has Some Experience on the Issue.” The Dallas Morning News. October 6, 2019.
 270ToWin. “Presidential Election of 1972 – 270toWin,” n.d. https://www.270towin.com/1972_Election/.
 “The Exit Polls: A History and Trends Over Time, 1972-2020.” Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institution, January 2020.
 Toossi, Miltra. “A Century of Change: The U.S. Labor Force, 1950-2050.” Monthly Labor Review, May 2002, 15–28.
 National Committee on Pay Equity. “The Wage Gap Over Time: In Real Dollars, Women See a Continuing Gap,” n.d. https://www.pay-equity.org/info-time.html.
 Turner, Natasha. “10 Things American Women Could Not Do Before the 1970s.” Ms. Magazine, May 28, 2013.
 University Libraries | Baylor University. “Investigating Impeachment: Context, Congress, and the Constitution,” n.d. https://www.baylor.edu/library/index.php?id=973513.
 “Former GOP Lawmakers: Put Country over Party and Impeach President Trump,” January 11, 2021. Project on Government Oversight.