The Checkers speech or Fund speech was an address made on September 23, 1952, by the Republican candidate for vice president of the United States, California Senator Richard Nixon. Nixon had been accused of improprieties relating to a fund established by his backers to reimburse him for his political expenses. With his place on the Republican ticket in doubt, he flew to Los Angeles and delivered a half-hour television address in which he defended himself, attacked his opponents, and urged the audience to contact the Republican National Committee (RNC) to tell it whether he should remain on the ticket. During the speech, he stated that regardless of what anyone said, he intended to keep one gift: a black-and-white dog who had been named Checkers by the Nixon children, thus giving the address its popular name.
Nixon, as he related in his address, came from a family of modest means, and had spent much of his time after law school either in the military, campaigning for office, or serving in Congress. After his successful 1950 Senate campaign, Nixon's backers continued to raise money to finance his political activities. These contributions went to reimburse him for travel costs, postage for political mailings which he did not have franked, and similar expenses. Such a fund was not illegal at the time, but, because Nixon had made a point of attacking government corruption, it exposed him to charges he might be giving special favors to the contributors.
The press became aware of the fund in September 1952, two months after Nixon's selection as General Dwight D. Eisenhower's running mate. Within a few days, the story grew until the controversy threatened Nixon's place on the ticket. In an attempt to turn the tide of public opinion, Nixon broke off a whistle-stop tour of the West Coast to fly to Los Angeles to make a television and radio broadcast to the nation; the $75,000 to buy the television time was raised by the RNC. The idea for the Checkers reference came from Franklin Roosevelt's Fala speech—given eight years to the day before Nixon's address—in which Roosevelt mocked Republican claims that he had sent a destroyer to fetch his dog, Fala, when the dog was supposedly left behind in the Aleutian Islands.
Nixon's speech was seen or heard by about 60 million Americans, including the largest television audience to that time, and led to an outpouring of public support. A huge majority of the millions of telegrams and phone calls received by the RNC and other political offices supported Nixon. He was retained on the ticket, which then swept to victory weeks later in November 1952. The Checkers speech was an early example of a politician using television to appeal directly to the electorate, but has since sometimes been mocked or denigrated. Checkers speech has come more generally to mean any emotional speech by a politician.
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