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Nixon and Limits of Executive Power

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
2 - 50 minute class periods
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
For students to investigate the expansion of executive powers by President Richard Nixon and the debate about the scope of executive power.

For students to investigate the expansion of executive powers by President Richard Nixon and the debate about the scope of executive power.

Lesson Objectives - the student will

Identify examples of Nixon's use of executive power during his presidency.
Analyze criticisms of Nixon's actions in the context of an overreach of executive power.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

• 9-12.AH.5.GV.B- Determine the lasting impact of the this period on principles of government including separation of powers, checks and balances, rule of law, judicial review, and limited government

• 9-12.GV.3.GV.D- Describe and give examples of how the constitutional principle of checks and balances limits the power of government and leaders.

• 9-12.AH.1.CC.B- Explain connections among historical context and peoples’ perspectives at the time in United States’ history

• 9-12.AH.1.GV.A- Analyze laws, policies, and processes to determine how governmental systems affect individuals and groups in society in United States’ history c. 1870-2010.

• 9-12.AH.1.CC.E- Analyze the causes and consequences of a specific problem in United States’ history post c. 1870 as well as the challenges and opportunities faced by those trying to address the problem.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

New York Times series by John Herbers
March 4, 1973- Nixon's Presidency: Expansion of Power
March 5, 1973- Nixon's Presidency: Crisis for Congress
March 6, 1973 - Nixon's Presidency: Centralized Control
March 7, 1973- Nixon's Presidency: A Nation is Changed

The articles were read into the Congressional Record on the order of Senator Sam Ervin.
March 12, 1973 Senate Congressional Record pg 7335-7341

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

This is a mid-unit assignment for dual credit U.S. history students studying the Nixon era and Watergate.

1. The teacher will have provided background information about

  • Nixon's general domestic and foreign policies as president until 1973
  • the press' relationship with Nixon, in particular New York Times Co. v Nixon.
  • the background to this article series. Briefly discuss the nature of the article using the first two sections of the document analysis sheet from the National Archives:
  • the above analysis will include information about the author of the New York Times (John Herbers) and the senator (Sam Ervin) who had the series of articles read into the Congressional record

2. Students will summarize the article they read by using the 5-3-1 document analysis tool available here:

This may be done in groups using the jigsaw method of cooperative learning and then shared as a class.

Jigsaw strategy - teacher can decide which strategy is best for his/her classroom. The articles are lengthy for 7-8 pages. Teacher can choose just one article or may choose to have different groups read different articles. If a single article is chosen, teacher may decide to divide up the article and have groups just read part of the article. The jigsaw strategy is explained here:

1. Assign students into at least 4 groups of 4. Teachers will have to accommodate based on the number of students in their classroom. The 5-3-1 document analysis can be done with fewer than 4 students, if necessary.

2. Then assign one student in each home group to read each article.

3. Now ask students to move so they are sitting with others students who will read the same article. These new groups are called expert groups. Students assigned to the first article should sit in one area of the room, and the second in another area, etc.

4. Give each expert group the reading about their topic. Ask students to read it and discuss it with their group members. They should then complete the 5-3-1 worksheet to help them decide which portions of the material the students in the other groups need to learn about. They should also create a list of talking points.

5. After the allotted “expert” time, ask students to return to their home groups. Each student will be asked to spend 5–7 minutes teaching their other home group members about their article. Other students should not copy the papers of the experts. Instead, they should listen, take notes, and ask questions.

6. After students teach their home groups, every student should have studied one case or concept in depth and learned about several others.

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

• Each group or individual student will create a one-pager about the argument about presidential power presented in the article they read. (Option: after hearing all summaries presented, teacher may have students create a one-pager for their own thesis about whether Nixon abused executive power during his presidency.) A template and rubric for the argument one-pager can be purchased here:

• Also free templates available here: