September 11, 2015 | Posted in 1st Doggies
During his Presidency, Richard Nixon had three dogs – King Timahoe (an Irish setter), Pasha (a terrier) and Vicki (a poodle). Ironically, his most famous dog never lived to spend time in the White House, yet he played a vital role in saving Nixon’s political career.
That dog was a black and white cocker spaniel named Checkers. Checkers was a Nixon family pet in the days of the Eisenhower/Nixon Republican ticket in 1952. During the campaign, opponents accused then-Senator Nixon of misusing an $18,000 “trust fund” that had been set up to reimburse some of his expenses during his run for the Vice Presidency. He’d also been accused of accepting expensive gifts. Dwight Eisenhower was supposedly on the brink of removing Nixon from the ticket, when Nixon got the idea to give a 30-minute televised speech, appealing to the public to understand his point of view. He made a stop in California (his home state) along the campaign trail and set up a makeshift television studio in the historic El Capitan Theatre.
During the impassioned speech, he denied the charges against him and made an effort to show how down-to-Earth he and his family were. He said wife Pat didn’t wear a fur coat – she wore “a respectable Republican cloth coat” and he always complimented her on how nice she looked.
Then, tongue in cheek, he said there was one gift he accepted that he should mention. A man in Texas had heard Pat mention that her daughters wanted a dog. The man sent a special delivery “package” to the Nixons – the package turned out to be the little black-and-white Cocker whose markings resembled checks. He said the girls loved the dog, and 6-year-old daughter Tricia named it Checkers. So, yes, he smiled, that was one gift from a constituent that he was going to keep.
The speech was a huge success, showing a human side of Nixon that the public hadn’t seen previously. Mamie Eisenhower was said to be moved to tears, telling her husband Dwight that any man who loved dogs could be trusted. Voters had a similar reaction and weeks later, Eisenhower and Nixon became President and Vice President of the United States.
The speech would forever be known as “the Checkers speech”, and remains one of the most famous political speeches of all time. Referring to it was at first a compliment but has since become an indication of an overly-emotional or too-dramatic speech by a politician.
Sadly, Checkers passed away at the age of 13 in 1964, four years before the Nixons would move into the White House. He was buried in a pet cemetery in New York. Tourists still visit his grave and leave flowers or small American flags.