Archibald Cox: Biography & Watergate Scandal

Instructor: Joe Ricker
The Watergate Scandal is one of the most well known in U.S. history. Archibald Cox, a special prosecutor assigned to investigate the scandal, uncovered wrongdoing and corruption that led all the way up to President Nixon.

Archibald Cox

Archibald Cox was best known for his role as a special prosecutor during President Nixon's Watergate Scandal. Before this, Cox led an interesting life in American government, the justice system, and also worked as a law professor. Each of his endeavors highlighted his integrity and dedication to the American government and legal system, as well as laborers and the American people.

Born on May 17, 1912, Cox was one of six children and grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey. After high school, Cox began a significant association with Harvard, attending as an undergraduate and then continuing on to Harvard Law. Cox taught at Harvard throughout his life amidst his positions in government under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Archibald Cox helped to define legislation that provided fair working environments.

The significance of Archibald Cox is apparent at this point in our current political system. As an investigation into the Trump Campaign's ties to Russia unfolds, Trump's resistance to an investigation and his firing of FBI Director James Comey have developed into a possible constitutional crisis, and events similar to the Nixon Watergate Scandal are underway.

Labor Relations and John F. Kennedy

The early focus of Cox's career was on labor relations. As an expert in federal labor law, Cox continued his affiliation with Harvard by teaching labor law at the university. In practice, he strove to improve and define federal labor statutes as well as providing arbitration that enforced the Fair Labor Standards Act, which controls minimum wage, child labor, overtime pay, etc. for private, federal and state employees.

Cox's expertise wouldn't be limited to academia. Senator John F. Kennedy's legislative work involving labor needed an expert like Cox to help polish the legislation. Kennedy saw the merit of Cox's work and hired Cox as his labor advisor. Cox's intelligence and diligence impressed Kennedy enough to appoint Cox as the head of the intellectual strategy for his presidential campaign, which positioned Cox to recruit experts and other academics in Kennedy's pursuit of the presidency. Cox also helped to write many of Kennedy's speeches.

After his election to office, President Kennedy appointed Cox to solicitor general, a position directly under the U.S. Attorney General. As solicitor general, Cox's duties were to present and argue cases before the Supreme Court. After his tenure, Cox returned to Harvard and academia, where he began teaching constitutional law in addition to labor law. His role in government wasn't over however.


Watergate was a scandal uncovered during the Nixon presidency that forced the first and only U.S. president to resign. Archibald Cox played a significant role in this. The scandal began after a break-in at the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at the Watergate Office Complex.

Nixon's administration made attempts to cover-up their involvement, which led to further discovery that Nixon had illegally wire-tapped his political opponents. A good portion of this information was uncovered by Archibald Cox, who was appointed by Attorney General Elliot Richardson to investigate the conspiracy as a special prosecutor.

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