National Checkers Day
Also known as
Dogs in Politics Day
annually on September 23rd
On September 23, 1952, in a televised address, California Senator Richard M. Nixon, the Republican vice presidential candidate running on a ticket with Dwight D. Eisenhower, defended himself for having a private fund with over $18,000 for covering political expenses, after some had called for his resignation from the campaign. Nixon spent the bulk of his speech going over his financial history in detail: defending it and specifying his expenses, income, investments, debt, properties, and more.
Nixon also mentioned that his daughters had been gifted a black-and-white cocker spaniel named Checkers and that the family would not be giving Checkers back:
One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don't they'll probably be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?
It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he'd sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted. And our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it.
The audience viewed Nixon positively following the speech, and he remained on the ticket. Although the portion of the speech devoted to Checkers was small, it resonated with viewers more than the rest of the speech, and the speech thus became known as the Checkers speech. It is now considered to be one of the greatest American political speeches. The anniversary of the speech became known as Checkers Day, a day "to recognize the importance of dogs in American politics," and has been observed at least since the early 1980s. As far as Checkers the dog, he died at the age of 13, in 1964, four years before Nixon was elected to the presidency, and is buried at Bideawee Pet Memorial Park in Long Island, New York.
Checkers Day is also known as Dogs in Politics Day. This likely is because another speech involving a political dog took place exactly eight years prior to the Checkers speech. It was on that date that Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his "Fala speech" during a dinner with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, a dinner that kicked off his campaign for an unprecedented fourth term in office. Just like the Checkers speech, it was a speech where someone seeking high office defended his name and invoked their dog. Republicans had charged that Roosevelt had left his Scottish terrier Fala behind when he had visited the Aleutian Islands earlier in the year and that he had sent a Navy destroyer back to get Fala, which may have cost taxpayers up to $20 million. Roosevelt denied wrongdoing, just as Nixon did on the same date eight years later. Nixon was privy to the Fala speech and its effectiveness, and modeled his speech after it and set it on the same date.
There are many other notable dogs in politics besides Fala and Checkers. Lincoln had Fido. Eisenhower had a weimaraner named Heidi. John F. Kennedy had Pushinka, Charlie, and others. Lyndon Johnson famously had beagles named Him and Her. Although Checkers never lived in the White House, other dogs of the Nixon family later did. Nixon had an Irish setter named King Timahoe, and his daughters had their own dogs too: Tricia had a Yorkshire terrier named Pasha, while Julie had a poodle named Vicky. George H.W. Bush's English springer spaniel, Millie, lived in the White House and gave birth to Spot, who became George W. Bush's White House dog. Barack Obama had Bo and then Sunny. Joe Biden had Champ and Major. These are just a few of the dogs in American politics that can be recognized today on Checkers Day!
How to Observe National Checkers Day
Celebrate dogs in American politics and recognize their importance!
- Read a book about dogs in American politics such as First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Best Friends, Pets at the White House: 50 Years of Presidents and Their Pets, or All-American Dogs: A History of Presidential Pets from Every Era.
- Watch the Checkers speech.
- Read the Checkers speech.
- Read a book about the 1952 presidential election such as I Like Ike: The Presidential Election of 1952 or Just Plain Dick: Richard Nixon's Checkers Speech and the "Rocking Socking" Election of 1952.
- Read a biography of Richard Nixon.
- Visit the Presidential Pet Museum in person or online. Their website has a section devoted to White House pets.
- Visit Checkers' grave.
- Buy a dog for yourself, or give someone a dog as a gift.
- Watch videos about American political dogs such as Fala: The President's Dog starring Fala Roosevelt or Where in the White House is Miss Beazley? starring Barney Bush.
- Play the game of checkers in honor of Checkers the dog.