Billy Graham declassified: The preacher and President Nixon

With the release of each classified memo and secretly recorded tape, more is learned about the inner workings of the Nixon White House — and of the people who advised a polarizing president at one of the most divisive times in modern political history. People like Billy Graham, the Montreat-based, world-famous evangelist.

Last week — when the Nixon Presidential Library passed from control by private backers to the U.S. National Archives — the library released 78,000 pages of previously secret documents, along with 11-and-a-half hours of recordings.

A selection of the documents posted on the library’s Web site includes five dealing directly with Graham. The papers — and at least one of the recordings — reveal back-room discussions about how Graham could best buoy Nixon’s bid for reelection in 1972, and suggest that Graham was a willing, if sometimes conflicted, player in the strategizing.

See the full story in tomorrow’s Mountain Xpress. For now, here are some of the key disclosures:

The black vote: In a Dec. 30, 1969, memo, Nixon instructed White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman to “follow up with Billy Graham in his work with Negro ministers across the country.” Click here to read the Nixon memo.

Evangelical politics: In a prescient letter to Nixon on Aug. 4, 1972, Graham predicted the rise of the Christian right as a potent political force. Graham also offered up some advice for Nixon’s reelection bid against Democrat George McGovern. Click here to read Graham’s letter.

A lost prayer: A mere three days after penning those campaign tips, Graham called the White House to discuss a request by a prominent Democrat for a show of support — a public prayer — from the evangelist. According to Deputy Assistant to the President Alexander P. Butterfield, Graham was in a quandary about what to do and wanted the president’s advice. Nixon said “No,” and Graham acceded. Click here to read Butterfield’s report on the matter.

Nixon’s “morality issue”: One of the newly released tapes is of a phone call on Nov. 3, 1972 — four days before the election, and three months after a $25,000 check connected Nixon’s administration to the Watergate break-in — in which White House Special Counsel Chuck Colson discussed a late-in-the-campaign public statement by Graham lauding Nixon’s integrity and morality. Colson told the president that Graham “came through very well.” Click here to listen to the recording of Colson and Nixon.

— Cecil Bothwell, staff writer

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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5 thoughts on “Billy Graham declassified: The preacher and President Nixon

  1. tamatha rena pope

    This poor man is going through the anguish of loosing his life partner at this very moment.And Im sure his own health is not the best.Now, seeing how he makes his home in the surrounding communities, can we not be compassionate “good neighbors” or should we just pour salt in his wounds and try to attempt strip this man of his integrity that distracts from the very credible way this gentleman has lived his life. I found nothing in the article that was particularly disturbing, what I found disturbing was the misleading scandalous headline and blatant attempt by the writer to take a cheap shot at a man who has done his very best in this life serving others and has helped many. What respect Mr Bothwell! I’m impressed!

  2. I would note first that the timing of this story was dictated by the Nixon Library. It might be deemed regretable that the release of documents came so close on the heels of Ruth Bell Graham’s demise, but public figures have made the choice to lead public lives and thereby expose their records to public scrutiny. Second, the picture painted of Graham’s extensive participation in political activity is not, in itself, new. You can read a longer version of the current story in this week’s Xpress or refer to The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House (1994) or Stanley Kutler’s Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes (1998) for more on Graham’s interaction with the Nixon White House. Speaking specifically to his efforts to woo black voters through emphasis on fear of crime, Graham admitted as much in a Life magazine interview in Nov. 1994. All of which I offer to suggest that this had nothing to do with an intent to pour salt in any wound, only to shed light on an important piece of national history that has a very local connection.

  3. silverman

    that lady is silly. what exactly is misleading about the headline?

  4. Gordon Ball

    Graham made himself a political figure. He toadied for Nixon, no doubt about it. He was willing to compromise his own image. So there’s nothing wrong with exposing him.
    And how can this Ms. Pope say that Graham is such a force for good? Only people who see the world in black and white could say that. Graham is human, flawed like the rest of us, and capable of doing bad things (which he did) as well as good things. Now we know him as he is: an eloquent revival minister who enjoyed his role with men of power and his secret role as an anti-Semite.

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