Inside the Nixon Administration

The Secret Diary of Arthur Burns, 1969-1974

Edited by Robert H. Ferrell

As chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in the seventies, Arthur Burns had a unique view of the Nixon administration. Burns first joined the Nixon administration as an advisor in 1969 and was privy to the dynamics of the president's coterie over the course of six tumultuous years. Now the recently released secret diary of this top-level economist offers a surprisingly candid inside look at Richard Nixon's fall.

The diary tracks Burns's growing awareness of Nixon's behind-the-scenes maneuverings and worrisome behavior (such as "insane shouting") and reveals how such things undermined his respect and enthusiasm for the president. Perhaps even more telling, Burns's evaluations of his colleagues provide piercing insights into the president's inner circle, including Henry Kissinger ("a brilliant political analyst, but admittedly ignorant of economics"), George Schultz ("a no less confused amateur economist"), John Connally ("a thoroughly confused politician"), and the "vulgarians" H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman—the only people he thought Nixon felt relaxed around.

“An extraordinary account. . . . The diary itself is a treasure. It is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the history of the Nixon presidency or the political decisions that sustained the Great Inflation of the 1970s.

—H-Net Reviews

“Burns’s diary remains a valuable find. It reinforces our understanding of how Nixon came to embrace and implement a number of domestic policies, especially the New Economic Policy. It also reminds us of Nixon's complex persona and of the sense of betrayal engendered by Watergate. Ferrell has edited the diary expertly.

—Presidential Studies Quarterly
See all reviews...

The Burns diary also offers rare and telling glimpses into the era's economy—particularly an account of how Nixon exerted political pressure to shape monetary policies that helped to fuel the stagflation of the 1970s. The administration sought to close the so-called gold window, an approximate valuation of dollars with gold bullion, by floating the dollar, and the consensus over many years has been that Nixon himself arranged this—speculation now confirmed by Burns's diary. It also underscores the growing pressure Burns felt to serve the needs of Nixon's reelection bid rather than the economic welfare of the nation.

Sequestered for decades and unavailable until 2008, this document reveals an honest and relatively apolitical man surrounded by partisans in top administrative positions who were dishonest, inept—or both. "The President has many shortcomings," wrote Burns. "He has few convictions, but now and then he gets into a euphoric mood where he wants to persuade himself that he's a statesman. But his sycophantic advisers cannot even recognize that."

Deftly annotated by distinguished historian Robert Ferrell, who provides effective historical context and perspective, the Burns diary is a potent—and poignant—testament to the Machiavellian and often Byzantine world of American presidential politics.

About the Author

Robert H. Ferrell is author or editor of more than fifty books, including The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge; Woodrow Wilson and World War I; and America's Deadliest Battle: Meuse-Argonne, 1918. He is emeritus professor of history at Indiana University.