Former Army General, White House Chief of Staff, and Secretary of State Alexander Haig passed away this morning, and his death at age 85 brings back many memories.
After a great Army career, he became Richard Nixon’s last White House Chief of Staff, and played a very important role in the waning days of Nixon, as the Watergate scandal evolved. He informed the Pentagon to ignore the President if he called for them to impose martial law and suspend the Constitution! Apparently, Haig felt that Nixon was so mentally unbalanced under pressure that he could be a threat to constitutional order, so quietly and secretly so instructed the Pentagon in this unusual way.
Later, Haig was Secretary of State for one year under President Reagan, but eventually lost his position because of the controversial way he handled the attempted assassination of Reagan by John Hinckley in March 1981. At the time of the shooting, Vice President George HW Bush was in flight, so Haig took over the White House Press Secretary’s podium and said he was “in charge”, and acted very nervously and exuded sweat, leaving the image almost of a coup d’etat being initiated. Of course, Haig was absolutely wrong, because if the Vice President is not available, the presidential succession laws call for the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate to be next in line before the Secretary of State. Haig never recovered from this disastrous episode, and did not get along well with others in the Reagan Administration, so in 1982 he was replaced by George Shultz.
Haig had also served under President Ford, and made a feeble attempt at a Presidential candidacy in 1988, and then he disappeared from the public scene.
If for nothing else, Haig must be commended for his intervention with the Pentagon at the time of the crisis over Watergate. For that alone, he will be a part of our history textbooks!