Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. (July 14, 1913 – December 26, 2006) was an American politician who served as President of the United States from 1974 to 1977. Leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives from 1965 to 1973, he later served as the 40th Vice President of the United States from 1973 to 1974. He assumed the presidency when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. Ford tried to get himself elected to a full term in 1976, but failed.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ford attended the University of Michigan and Yale Law School. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve, serving from 1942 to 1946, leaving with the rank of lieutenant commander. Ford began his political career in 1949 as a representative from Michigan’s 5th district (in the Lower Peninsula). He served in Congress for 25 years, the last nine of which were as House Minority Leader. In December 1973, two months after Spiro Agnew’s resignation, Ford became the first person appointed as Vice President since the passage of the 25th amendment to the Constitution. After the subsequent resignation of President Nixon in August 1974, Ford immediately assumed the presidency. To date, this was the last intra-mandate presidential succession in the history of the United States.
As president, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, which marked the beginning of détente in the Cold War. With the collapse of South Vietnam nine months after he became president, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War formally ended. In domestic politics, Ford presided over the worst phase of the American economy since the Great Depression, with rising inflation, recession, and unemployment. In one of his most controversial acts, Ford granted a presidential pardon to Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate affair. During Ford’s presidency, foreign policy was characterized in procedural terms by the increased role that Congress began to play and the corresponding restraint of the president’s powers. In the 1976 Republican Party primaries, Ford defeated California Governor Ronald Reagan for the nomination. He was eventually defeated in the 1976 presidential election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Historians and political scientists rate him as a bad president.
After leaving the presidency, Ford remained active within the Republican Party. His moderate views on various social issues brought him increasingly into conflict with more conservative members of the party in the 1990s and early 2000s. In his retirement, Gerald Ford put aside the enmity he felt for Carter after the 1976 election, and the two former presidents developed a close friendship. After being stricken with a series of health problems, he passed away at home on December 26, 2006.
Gerald Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. on July 14, 1913, at 3202 Woolworth Avenue in Omaha, Nebraska, where his parents lived with his paternal grandparents. Her mother was Dorothy Ayer Gardner, and her father, Leslie Lynch King, Sr., a wool merchant and son of banker Charles Henry King and Martha Alicia King (née Porter). Dorothy separates from King six days after the birth of her son. She moves with her son to the home of her sister Tannisse and her brother-in-law Clarence Haskins James in Oak Park, Illinois. From there, she moved on to the home of her parents, Levi Addison Gardner and Adele Augusta Ayer, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dorothy and King divorced in December 1913; she gained full custody of their son. Ford’s paternal grandfather paid child support until shortly before his death in 1930.
Ford later said that his biological father had a history of domestic violence against his mother. James M. Cannon, a member of the Ford administration, wrote in a biography of the former president that the Kings’ separation and divorce were triggered when, a few days after Ford was born, Leslie King took a butcher knife and threatened to kill his wife, his son, and the nanny. On another occasion, Ford confided that the first time his father assaulted his mother was on their honeymoon when Dorothy smiled at another man.
Ford’s mother, Gardner, lived with his parents for two and a half years until she married salesman Gerald Rudolff Ford in February 1917. It was then that they began calling their son Gerald Rudolff Ford Jr. The future president was never formally adopted and did not legally change his name until December 3, 1935. He grew up in East Grand Rapids with his three half brothers from his mother’s second marriage: Thomas Gardner “Tom” Ford (1918-1995), Richard Addison “Dick” Ford (1924-2015), and James Francis “Jim” Ford (1927-2001).
Ford also has three half siblings from his father’s second marriage: Marjorie King (1921-1993), Leslie Henry King (1923-1976), and Patricia Jane King (1925-1980). As children, they never met, and did not meet until 1960. Ford did not meet his biological father until he was 17, when his mother and stepfather told him about the circumstances of his birth. Ford and his father maintained “sporadic contacts” until Leslie King Sr died in 1941.
Ford attended Grand Rapids South High School, where he became a promising athlete and captain of the soccer team. By 1930, Ford was one of the most recognized athletes in his city, attracting scholarship offers from several universities.
Ford attended the University of Michigan, where he played American soccer at center, linebacker, and long snapper, helping the Wolverines (the university’s team) win two national titles, in 1932 and 1933. In his last college term, in 1934, the team declined in quality and won only one game, but Ford was still seen as the star of the squad.
Throughout his life, Ford remained interested in the affairs of his university and collegiate American soccer, even attending some games as an adult. Ford also visited players and coaches during practices; at one point, he asked to join the players in the huddle. Before official events as president, Ford would often ask the Navy band to play the University of Michigan fight song, The Victors, instead of the anthem Hail to the Chief.
Ford graduated from the University of Michigan in 1935 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He turned down an offer to play for the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League. Instead, he took a job in September 1935 as a boxing coach and assistant soccer coach at Yale University Ford wanted to study at Yale Law School still in 1935 but his first application was denied because of his coaching job. He spent the summer of 1937 as a student at the University of Michigan Law School and eventually, in the spring of 1938, was accepted to Yale Law School.
Ford graduated from law school in 1941 and passed the exam to work as a lawyer in Michigan. In May 1941, he opened a small law firm in Grand Rapids along with a friend, Philip W. Buchen.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Ford enlisted in the Navy. He was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy Reserve on April 13, 1942. On April 20, he reported for active duty at the V-5 instructor school in Annapolis, Maryland. A month later he transferred to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he was an instructor in elementary navigation skills, explosives handling, gunnery, first aid, and military drill.
In May 1943, Ford asked to be transferred to sea duty. From June 1943 until December 1944, he worked on the USS Monterey as an assistant navigator, athletic officer, and antiaircraft gunnery officer. The carrier he was on saw action in various parts of the Pacific, such as the Caroline Islands, Marianas, New Guinea, Philippines, and Ryūkyū.
In late December 1944, the fleet that Ford was serving was hit by Typhoon Cobra. Three destroyers eventually sank and 800 men died, with the Monterey being broken up by fire. Ford was ordered to go on the lower decks to break down the damage, reporting to Captain Stuart H. Ingersoll. After the damage was remedied, the ship proceeded to California. From late April 1945 to January 1946, Ford served on the staff of Glenview Air Station, where he reached the rank of lieutenant commander. In February, he received an honorable discharge.
On October 15, 1948, Ford married Elizabeth Bloomer (it was his first and only marriage and her second. Her previous marriage, to William Warren, lasted only five years.
Originally from Grand Rapids, Betty Ford lived in New York City for many years, where she worked as a model and then as a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company. At the time of their engagement, Gerald Ford was campaigning for his first term (of thirteen) as a member of the House of Representatives. The marriage was delayed until just before the 1948 legislative election because, as The New York Times reported in a 1974 profile of Betty Ford, “Jerry Ford was running for Congress and wasn’t sure how voters would feel about him marrying a divorced former dancer.”
The couple had four children:
After returning to Grand Rapids in 1946, Ford became active in the local Republican Party headquarters and his supporters began to urge him to challenge Bartel J. Jonkman, the incumbent Republican. By that time, military service had changed his worldview. Ford once recalled, “I came back converted to internationalism.” On the other hand, Bartel was considered an isolationist. During the 1948 campaign, Ford went door to door visiting voters, also going to factories to talk to workers. Ford also visited local farms where, in one situation, a bet resulted in him spending two weeks milking cows after his election victory.
Ford was a member of the House of Representatives for twenty-five years for Michigan’s 5th district from 1949 to 1973. It was a tenure largely notable for its modesty. As an editorial in The New York Times described him, Ford “saw himself as a negotiator and a reconciler, and the record shows this: he did not write a single piece of major legislation in his entire career.” He was appointed to the House Appropriations Committee two years after being elected, and was still a prominent member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Ford described his philosophy as “a moderate in domestic affairs, internationalist in foreign relations, and conservative in fiscal policy.” Ford voted for the civil rights laws of 1957, and 1968, in addition to ratification of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Ford was known by his colleagues in the House as a “Congressman from Congress.”
In the early 1950s, Ford refused to run for the Senate or for governor of Michigan. Instead, his ambition was centered on becoming Speaker of the House of Representatives, something he called “the ultimate achievement. To sit there and be the head of 434 people and have the responsibility, in addition to the achievement, of trying to run the greatest legislative body in the history of mankind … I think I had that ambition a year or two after I had worked in the House of Representatives.”
The Warren Commission
On November 29, 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Ford to the Warren Commission, a special task force created to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Ford was assigned to prepare a biography of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. He and Earl Warren also interviewed Jack Ruby, the man who killed Oswald. According to a 1963 FBI memo that was released to the public in 2008, Ford was in direct contact with the FBI throughout his time on the Warren Commission and relayed information to the deputy director, Cartha DeLoach, about the panel’s activities. In the preface to his book, A Presidential Legacy and The Warren Commission, Ford defended the work of the commission and reiterated his support for its findings.
House minority leader (1965-1973)
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson led his party to a landslide victory in the general election, not only securing another term as president, but also dominating both houses of Congress, taking thirty-six seats in the House from the Republicans. Following the election, members of the Republican caucus sought to select a new minority leader. Three congressmen approached Ford to see if he would be willing to serve; after speaking with his family, he agreed. After a contested ballot, Ford was chosen to replace Charles Halleck of Indiana as minority leader in the House. The members of the Republican group who encouraged and eventually endorsed Ford to run as minority leader in the House later became known as the “Young Turks,” with one of those congressmen being Donald H. Rumsfeld of Illinois, who would later serve in his administration as Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense.
With Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, the Johnson administration was able to pass a series of legislative bills that the president called the “Great Society.” During the first session of the 89th Congress, Johnson submitted 87 bills to the legislature, with the president signing 84 of them (about 96%). In 1966, however, the Johnson administration came under heavy criticism for its handling of the Vietnam War, with Ford and the Republicans expressing concern about whether the United States was not doing what was necessary to win the war. Public opinion also began to move against Johnson and in the 1966 legislative election, the Republicans won 47 seats in the House. This was not enough to give the Republicans a majority in the House, but the victory gave Ford the opportunity to prevent the passage of other Great Society programs. Ford’s private criticism of the Vietnam War became public knowledge after he spoke from the House floor and questioned whether the White House had a clear plan to bring the war to a successful conclusion. The speech angered President Johnson, who accused Ford of playing “soccer
After Richard Nixon was elected president in November 1968, Ford’s role changed to be an advocate for the White House agenda. Congress passed several of Nixon’s proposals, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Tax Reform Act of 1969. Another prominent victory for the Republican minority was the passage of the State and Local Tax Assistance Act. Passed in 1972, this law guaranteed a revenue sharing program by state and local governments. Ford’s leadership was instrumental in the passage of these bills, many with bipartisan support.
During the eight years (1965-1973) that Ford served as Republican minority leader in the House, he won many friends because of his fair leadership and inoffensive personality.
To become Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ford worked to help Republicans across the country to secure a majority in the House by attending various events. After a decade of failing, he promised his wife that he would try again in 1974 and retire in 1976. On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned from office and declared that he would not contest criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering, part of a negotiated settlement for a scheme in which he accepted $29,500 ($228,847 in 2020 dollars) in bribes while he was governor of Maryland. According to The New York Times, Nixon sought the advice of senior congressional leaders on who would replace his vice president. The advice was reportedly unanimous, with Republicans nominating Ford for the position, at least according to then Speaker of the House of Representatives Carl Albert. Ford agreed, telling his wife that the vice presidency would be “a good conclusion” to his career.
Ford was formally nominated to fill the vice presidential vacancy left by Agnew on October 12, this being the first time the vice presidential position has been passed since the implementation of the 25th Amendment. The United States Senate voted to confirm Ford by 92 to 3 on November 27. On December 6, 1973, the House of Representatives likewise confirmed Ford, in a vote of 387 to 35. Shortly thereafter, Ford took the oath of office.
Ford became vice president just as the Watergate affair was unfolding. On a Thursday, August 1, 1974, White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig contacted Ford and told him to prepare to assume the presidency. At that time, Ford and his wife Betty were living in the Virginia suburbs, waiting for his move to the newly designated official vice president’s residence in Washington, D.C. However, “Al Haig asked to come see me,” Ford later said, “to tell me that there would be a new tape released on Monday, and he said that the evidence there was devastating and that there would probably be an impeachment or resignation . He stated, ‘I’m just warning you that you need to be prepared, that things could change dramatically and you could become president.’ And I said, ‘Betty, I don’t think we’ll ever live in the vice president’s house.'”
Richard Nixon formally resigned the presidency on the morning of August 9, 1974, with Ford being sworn in almost immediately thereafter. Thus he became the only person to become the nation’s Chief Executive without having previously been voted into office as President or Vice President by the Electoral College. The now President Ford then gave his first address to the nation, where he noted this detail: “I am perfectly aware that you did not elect me as your president by your ballots, so I ask you to confirm me as your president by your prayers.” He continued:
At that time, the nation, in the aftermath of Watergate, was disillusioned with the political class. The corruption and apparent bad character that permeated the Nixon administration shook the confidence of the American people in their government. President Ford tried to remedy this in his inaugural address:
On August 20, Ford nominated the former governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, to take over the vice presidential vacancy. Another name that had come up for the vice-presidential vacancy had been that of George H.W. Bush. Rockefeller went through extensive hearings before Congress, which caused embarrassment when it was revealed that he gave large gifts to senior advisors, such as Henry Kissinger. Although conservative Republicans were not pleased with Rockefeller’s choice, most of them voted for his confirmation and his nomination was approved in both the House and Senate. Some, including Barry Goldwater, voted against.
On September 8, 1974, Ford issued Proclamation 4311, which gave Nixon a full and unconditional pardon for any crime he committed against the United States while he was president. In a televised broadcast to the nation, Ford explained that he felt the pardon was in the best interest of the country and that the Nixon family’s situation “is a tragedy in which we all participate. It can go on indefinitely or someone must write the ending. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must.”
Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon was highly controversial. Critics ridiculed the move and said that a “corrupt bargain” had been struck between the two men. It was said at the time that Ford’s pardon was granted in exchange for Nixon’s resignation, which elevated Ford to the presidency. Ford’s first press secretary, and his personal friend, Jerald terHorst, resigned his position after the pardon. According to Bob Woodward, it was Alexander Haig, Nixon’s chief of staff, who proposed the pardon deal to Ford. He later decided to pardon Nixon for other reasons, mainly the friendship the two shared. Regardless, historians believe that this controversy was one of the main reasons why President Ford lost the 1976 presidential election, an observation that Ford agreed with. In an editorial released at the time, The New York Times said that Nixon’s pardon was “a deeply unwise, divisive and unfair act” that, in one fell swoop, “destroyed the new president’s credibility as a man of judgment, candor and competence.” On October 17, 1974, Ford testified before Congress regarding the pardon. He was the first president in office to testify before the House of Representatives since Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s. The pardon of Nixon turned out to be possibly the defining event of Gerald Ford’s presidency. As a result, his popularity rating plummeted, from 71% to about 50% at that time.
In the months following the pardon, Ford frequently refused to mention President Nixon’s name, referring to him in public as “my predecessor” or “the former president.” When, on a trip to California in 1974, White House correspondent Fred Barnes pressed Ford on the subject, the president replied surprisingly frankly, “I simply can’t make myself say his name.”
After Ford left the White House in January 1977, he privately justified his pardon of Nixon by carrying in his wallet a portion of the text of the 1915 Supreme Court decision Burdick v. United States, which stated that a pardon indicated a presumption of guilt and that acceptance of a pardon was equivalent to an admission of that guilt. In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Foundation gave Ford the Profile in Courage Award because of his pardon of Nixon. At the ceremony to give Ford the award, Senator Edward Kennedy said that he initially opposed the pardon, but later decided that history proved that Ford made the right decision.
Cabinet and mid-term elections
President Ford inherited Nixon’s cabinet. In the three years he held the presidency, Ford changed every cabinet member except Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon. Most of these changes took place in the fall of 1975 and became known as the “Halloween Massacre” and were mainly due to conflict of ideas between the cabinet members and the president. Among the appointments was William Coleman, the Secretary of Transportation, who was the second African American to serve in a presidential cabinet (after Robert C. Weaver) and the first appointed by a Republican president.
Ford chose George H. W. Bush as special envoy to China in 1974 and then appointed him as CIA Director in 1975.
Ford’s transition team was led by Donald Rumsfeld, his Chief of Staff. In 1975, Rumsfeld was appointed by Ford to serve in the post of Secretary of Defense. The president then chose Richard Cheney, a young politician from Wyoming, to replace Rumsfeld as White House Chief of Staff; Cheney still later became Ford’s campaign manager in the 1976 election.
Three months after Ford’s inauguration, elections took place to renew Congress. In the aftermath of Watergate and the Nixon pardon, the Republicans were not very popular. Taking advantage of this, the Democrats easily dominated the election, taking 49 seats in the House of Representatives (winning 291 seats out of 435) and four in the Senate (from 57 to 61). With this absolute majority, the 94th Congress overrode the most presidential vetoes since Andrew Johnson’s administration (1865-1869).
The economy of the United States was suffering in the second half of the 1970s and the Ford administration made improving the situation one of its priorities. One of the first acts of the new president to address the economy was to create, by decree on September 30, 1974, the Economic Policy Council. In October 1974, in response to rising inflation, Ford went before the American public and asked them to “end inflation” (in English, “Whip Inflation Now,” or “WIN”). The president wanted to start the “WIN” movement, to try to make the public aware of the dangers of inflation, which the government believed was the biggest threat to the economy (more so than unemployment, which was also on the rise). In retrospect, this was seen simply as a public relations stunt that had no way of solving the underlying problems. In October, President Ford then went to Congress to sell his economic plan, which included a temporary (one-year) 5% increase in the corporate income tax and on wealthy individuals, and a $4.4 billion budget cut to try to keep government spending below $300 billion dollars. At the time, inflation was around 12%.
The federal budget suffered from a deficit in every year that Ford was president. In 1975, the president signed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, despite his reservations about how the program would be funded in an era of unbalanced budgets, which established special education throughout the United States.
Between 1973 and 1975, the U.S. economy went into a severe recession, in the worst macroeconomic scenario since the Great Depression four decades earlier. The Ford administration’s focus turned to containing rising unemployment, which reached 9 percent in May 1975. In January 1975, Ford proposed a $16 billion one-year tax cut to stimulate economic growth, along with spending cuts to prevent inflation. Ford was widely criticized for how quickly he changed his mind from advocating a tax increase to arguing for lower taxes in a period of large budget deficit. In Congress, the proposed tax cut increased to $22.8 billion, as the government backed away from calling for spending cuts. In March 1975, Congress passed the Tax Reduction Act of 1975, which reduced the federal income tax. This resulted in an increase in the government deficit to about $53 billion in fiscal 1975 and $73.7 billion in 1976. Overall, the economy suffered during the Ford administration. Government debt, unemployment, and inflation rose, consumer confidence fell, and domestic manufacturing went into major decline, mainly due to strengthening economies in Asia.
In one notorious incident in 1975, New York City was on the brink of bankruptcy, with Mayor Abraham Beame failing to get Ford’s support for a federal bailout program. The Daily News famously put on its front cover “Ford to City: Drop Dead,” in reference to what the White House had said that the president would veto any kind of bailout plan for New York City.
In 1976, Ford was confronted by a likely swine flu pandemic (the H1N1 variant began infecting humans earlier in the decade). On February 5, 1976, an army recruit at Fort Dix mysteriously died and four other servicemen were hospitalized; health officials announced that “swine flu” was the cause. Soon after, the government began asking people to get vaccinated. Although the vaccination program was affected by delays and public relations problems, about 25% of the population had been vaccinated when the program was cancelled in December 1976.
Ford was in favor of passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would be an amendment to the Constitution to guarantee equal rights for all Americans regardless of gender.
As president, Ford’s position on abortion was that he supported “a federal constitutional amendment that would allow each of the 50 states to make their choice.” This was his position from his days as minority leader in the House in response to the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which he opposed. Ford was criticized for an interview on 60 Minutes that his wife Betty gave in 1975, where she commented that Roe v. Wade was a “great, great decision.” Later in life, Gerald Ford would identify himself as pro-choice.
President Ford continued the policy of détente toward the Soviet Union and China, easing Cold War tensions. He inherited the Strategic Arms Limits Talks (SALT) from the Nixon administration. The thawing of the relationship brought about by Nixon’s visit to China was reinforced by another visit, this time by Ford, in December 1975. The government then entered into the Helsinki Accords with the Soviets in 1975, creating the framework of Helsinki Watch, an independent non-governmental organization created to monitor compliance, which later evolved into Human Rights Watch.
Ford attended the first meeting of the so-called Group of Seven (G7), a gathering of the world’s most industrialized nations (initially the G5) in 1975 and arranged for Canada to join the group. Ford advocated international solutions to global problems, rather than unilateral approaches. “We live in an interdependent world, and therefore we must work together to solve common economic problems,” he said in a 1974 speech.
According to internal White House and Commission documents published in February 2016 by the National Security Archive at the University at George Washington, members of the Gerald Ford administration significantly altered the 1975 final report of the supposedly independent Rockefeller Commission investigating domestic CIA activities, over the objections of senior Commission officials. The changes included the removal of an entire 86-page section on CIA assassination plans and several edits to the report by then White House Deputy Chief of Staff Richard Cheney.
Two situations were unfolding in the Middle East that caught the attention of the United States in the mid-1970s. First, the Cyprus Conflict that began with the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in June 1974, causing problems for NATO. Disillusioned, the Greek government opted out of the NATO military structure. In September, Congress voted to end all military aid to Turkey. Ford, concerned both about the effect of this on Turkish-American relations and the deteriorating security on NATO’s eastern front, vetoed the bill. A second bill was then passed by Congress, which Ford also vetoed, although a deal was accepted to continue aid until the end of the year. The relationship between Turkey and the United States would remain cool for some time. Another issue was the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
In October 1973, UN Resolution 338 put an end to the Yom Kippur War. At that time, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s foreign policy towards the region was making almost no progress. Ford was frustrated with Kissinger’s slowness and Israel’s posturing in negotiations with Egypt. He then notified Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that he would be “reassessing” American foreign policy toward the Middle East. For six months, between March and September 1975, the United States refused to conclude any new arms agreements with the Israeli government. Rabin noted that this had been “one of the worst periods in American-Israeli relations. The Jewish community in the United States was furious, and the Israeli lobby in Congress acted firmly. A group of six senators wrote a letter to President Ford to get him to think hard about whether or not to release $2.59 billion in aid to Israel. Ford, for his part, did not like this new intrusion by the legislature into foreign affairs. American military aid to the Israelis did not resume until September 1975.
One of the most momentous events of the Ford administration was the end of the Vietnam War. The United States had ended its military actions against North Vietnam after signing the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973. The accords declared a ceasefire between North and South Vietnam, and called for the release of all American prisoners of war. One of the central themes of the agreement provided for the maintenance of Vietnam’s territorial integrity and, like the 1954 Geneva Conference, established the calling of elections in the North and South. The Paris Accords had established a sixty-day period for American forces to withdraw completely from Vietnam.
The agreements had been negotiated between then US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese politburo member Lê Đức Thọ. South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu was not involved in the final negotiations and publicly criticized the proposed agreement. However, anti-war pressures within the United States forced Nixon and Kissinger to pressure Thieu to sign the agreement and allow the withdrawal of American troops. In several letters to the South Vietnamese president, Nixon promised that the United States would defend Thieu’s government if the North Vietnamese violated the agreements.
In December 1974, four months after Ford’s inauguration, North Vietnamese forces attacked Phuoc Long province in southeast South Vietnam. General Trần Văn Trà sought to assess any South Vietnamese or American response to the invasion, as well as resolve logistical issues, before proceeding with the large-scale invasion that followed.
While North Vietnamese forces were invading the south, President Ford requested from Congress some $722 million in aid for South Vietnam, which had been promised by the Nixon administration. Congress, however, voted against the president’s request by a good margin. Senator Jacob K. Javits said, “large sums for evacuation, but not a penny for military aid.” President Thieu resigned on April 21, 1975, publicly blaming the lack of support from the United States for his country’s downfall. Two days later, on April 23, Ford gave a speech at Tulane University where he announced that the Vietnam War was over, “as far as America is concerned.” This announcement was met with thunderous applause.
Some 1,373 American citizens and 5,595 Vietnamese and other citizens of other third world nations were evacuated from Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, during Operation Constant Wind. In this action, military and CIA helicopters took the evacuees to United States Navy ships over a twenty-four hour period between April 29 and 30, 1975, immediately preceding the Fall of Saigon. During the operation, there were so many helicopters occupying the deck of the ships that some aircraft had to be thrown overboard to make room for the refugees. Other helicopters, having nowhere to land, deliberately landed in the sea after dropping off their passengers, close to the ships, and their pilots jumped out at the last moment to be rescued by smaller boats. These images shocked American public opinion.
Many of the Vietnamese evacuees were allowed to enter the United States under the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act. This 1975 act released $455 million dollars for the cost of resettling Indochina refugees in U.S. territory. In total, about 130,000 Vietnamese refugees fled to the United States in 1975 alone. In the following years, thousands more would leave for America.
North Vietnam’s victory over the South led to a considerable shift in the political winds in Asia, and Ford government officials worried about the consequent loss of U.S. influence in the region. The U.S. government proved that it was willing to respond forcefully to challenges to its interests in the region on two occasions, once when Khmer Rouge forces seized an American ship in international waters and again when American military officers were killed in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Koreas.
The former Portuguese colony of East Timor had declared independence in 1975. Indonesia’s dictator, Suharto, was a major ally of the United States in Southeast Asia. In December 1975, Suharto discussed plans to invade East Timor in a meeting with Ford and Henry Kissinger in the capital Jakarta. Both Ford and Kissinger stated that the United States would not oppose Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor. According to Ben Kiernan, this invasion and occupation resulted in the deaths of one-fourth of the Timorese population between 1975 and 1981.
Ford faced two assassination attempts during his presidency, less than three weeks apart. In Sacramento, California, on September 5, 1975, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson, pointed a .45 caliber Colt pistol at Ford. When Fromme pulled the trigger, Larry Buendorf, a Secret Service agent, grabbed the gun and managed to insert his thumb under the trigger, preventing the shot. It was later ascertained that although the gun was loaded with four cartridges, the pistol malfunctioned, making it impossible for the gun to fire. Fromme was taken into custody and later tried for attempted murder on the president, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Soon after the first assassination attempt, the Secret Service began keeping Ford at a safer distance from crowds, a strategy that may have saved his life seventeen days later. As the president left a hotel in San Francisco, Sara Jane Moore, standing among a crowd of people crossing the street, pointed her revolver at him. At the moment of firing, former Marine Oliver Sipple grabbed the gun and deflected the projectile’s trajectory, leaving one person injured. Moore was sentenced to life in prison, getting parole only on December 31, 2007, after thirty-two years in prison.
Ford appointed several people to federal and appellate courts. However, of the nominations of federal judges, only two passed through Congress (dominated by Democrats). In 1975, Ford appointed John Paul Stevens to a Supreme Court Associate Justice vacancy to replace William O. Douglas. During his tenure as Republican leader in the House, Ford led efforts to remove Douglas from the Court. After being confirmed, Stevens ultimately disappointed some conservatives by siding with the liberal wing of the Court over the outcome of many important issues.
Ford reluctantly agreed to run in the 1976 election, but first he had to face a challenge for the GOP nomination. Former California Governor Ronald Reagan and the conservative wing blamed Ford for not doing more to protect South Vietnam, for signing the Helsinki Accord, and for negotiating to give back the Panama Canal (negotiations that continued under President Carter, who signed the Torrijos-Carter Treaties). Reagan launched his campaign in the fall of 1975 and won in several states in the primaries, including North Carolina, Texas, Indiana, and California, but did not win a majority of delegates; Reagan withdrew his candidacy at the Republican Convention in Kansas City, Missouri. Conservative insurgency led Ford to abandon his liberal vice president Nelson Rockefeller in favor of Bob Dole of Kansas.
In addition to the pardon issue and persistent anti-Republican sentiment, Ford had to battle a plethora of problems with his media image. Comedian Chevy Chase often did skits on the popular Saturday Night Live show, imitating Ford, especially his clumsy style, as he was seen stumbling twice in his tenure. As Chase commented, “He even mentioned in his own autobiography that he had an effect over a period of time that affected the election to some degree.”
Ford’s 1976 election campaign benefited from the fact that he was an incumbent president during several anniversary events held during the run-up to the United States Bicentennial. In Washington D.C., the Fourth of July fireworks display was presided over by Ford and televised nationally. On July 7, the President and First Lady hosted Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip of the United Kingdom at the White House, which was televised by PBS. The two hundredth anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts gave Ford the opportunity to deliver a speech to 110,000 people in Concord, where he recognized the need for a strong national defense tempered with a call for “reconciliation, not recrimination” and “reconstruction, not rancor” between the United States and those who would pose “threats to peace.” Speaking in New Hampshire the previous day, Ford condemned the growing trend toward big government bureaucracy and advocated a return to “basic American virtues.”
Televised presidential debates had been held since 1960. In this way, Ford became the first sitting president to participate in a debate. Carter later attributed his election victory to the debates, saying that they “gave viewers reason to think that Jimmy Carter had something to offer. The turning point came in the second debate, when Ford erred in stating, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and never will be under a Ford administration” (the region had been dominated by Communist regimes since the end of World War II). Ford also said that he did not believe that the Poles considered themselves dominated by the Soviet Union (the country having had a socialist regime allied with Moscow since 1945). In an interview years later, Ford said that he intended to imply that the Soviets would never crush the “spirit” of Eastern Europeans seeking independence. However, the wording of the phrase was so strange that even the interviewer Max Frankel was visibly incredulous at the answer.
In the end, Carter won the election, receiving 50.1% of the popular vote and 297 electoral college votes, compared to 48% of Ford’s vote (and 240 electoral college votes).
The controversy of the pardon given to Nixon subsided over time. Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter, in his 1977 inaugural address, praised the outgoing president, stating, “For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he did to heal our land.
After leaving the White House, the Fords moved to Denver, Colorado. Ford invested his money in the oil business with Marvin Davis, which was successful, allowing him to leave an income for his children. He continued to make appearances at events of historical and ceremonial importance around the nation, such as presidential inaugurations and memorial services. The former president would give few interviews but sought to remain active. In 1979, Ford published his autobiography, A Time to Heal. A review by Foreign Affairs described it as “serene, calm, unpretentious, like the author. This is the shortest and most honest recent presidential memoir, but there are no surprises, no deep probing of motives or events. No more here than it appears.”
During the term of his successor, Jimmy Carter, Ford received monthly reports from President Carter’s senior staff on international and domestic issues and was always invited to lunch at the White House when he was passing through Washington, D.C. Their friendship developed after Carter left office, with the catalyst being their trip together to Anwar el-Sadat’s funeral in 1981. Until Ford’s death, Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, visited the Fords’ residence with some frequency. Ford and Carter served as honorary co-chairs of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform in 2001 and the Commission on Continuity of Government in 2002. Like former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Ford was also honorary co-chair of the Council on Excellence in Government, a group dedicated to excellence in government performance that provides leadership training for top federal officials. He also devoted much time to his love of golf, often playing both privately and at public events with comedian Bob Hope, a longtime friend.
In 1977, the former president established the Gerald R. Ford Institute of Public Policy at Albion College in Albion, Michigan, to train undergraduate students in public policy. In April 1981, the Gerald R. Ford Library was opened in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the north campus of his former alma mater, the University of Michigan, followed in September by the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids.
Ford considered seeking the GOP nomination for the 1980 election, forgoing numerous opportunities to serve on corporate boards to keep his options open for a rematch with Carter. Ford attacked President Carter’s conduct of the SALT II negotiations and his foreign policy as a whole toward the Middle East and Africa. Many argued that Ford also wanted to exorcise his image as an “accidental president” and win a term on his own. He believed that the ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan could not defeat Carter and would end up giving the incumbent a second term. Ford was encouraged by his former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, as well as Jim Rhodes of Ohio and Bill Clements of Texas, to try to run for the nomination. On March 15, 1980, however, Ford announced that he would not run for the Republican nomination, promising to support the eventual nominee.
After securing the Republican nomination in 1980, Ronald Reagan considered nominating Ford as his vice president, but negotiations between the two at the party convention did not move forward. Ford conditioned his acceptance of being Reagan’s vice president on an unprecedented “co-presidency,” empowering Ford to appoint people to key positions in the federal government (such as Kissinger back to Secretary of State and Alan Greenspan as Treasury Secretary). After rejecting these terms, Reagan offered the vacancy to George H.W. Bush, who accepted. Ford even campaigned, albeit in a limited way, for the Reagan-Bush ticket, stating that the country would be “better served by a Reagan presidency rather than a continuation of Jimmy Carter’s weak and politically convenient policies.” On October 8, 1980, Ford said that former President Nixon’s involvement in the general election could negatively impact Reagan’s campaign, “I think it would have been much more helpful if Mr. Nixon had stayed in the background during this campaign. It would have been much more beneficial to Ronald Reagan.”
In April 1991, Ford joined former Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter in supporting the passage of the Brady Bill, a gun control bill. Three years later, he wrote a letter to the House of Representatives, along with Carter and Reagan, in support of a federal ban on the possession of assault rifles by the general population.
At the 1992 Republican National Convention, Ford compared the then election cycle to his 1976 defeat by Carter and urged attention to the election of a Republican Congress: “If it’s change you want on November 3, my friends, the place to start is not in the White House, but in the United States Capitol. Congress, as every schoolchild knows, has the power of the purse. For nearly forty years, Democratic majorities have kept to the time-tested formula of the New Deal, tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect.” In 1994, for the first time in nearly half a century, Republicans would manage to dominate both houses of Congress.
In October 2001, Ford broke with GOP conservatives by stating that gay and lesbian couples “should be treated equally. Period.” He became the highest-ranking Republican to embrace full equality for gays, stating his belief that there should be a federal amendment banning discrimination against gays in employment and expressing his hope that the GOP would reach out to gay and lesbian voters. He was also a member of the Republican Unity Coalition, which The New York Times described as “a group of prominent Republicans, including former President Gerald R. Ford, dedicated to making sexual orientation a non-issue in the Republican Party.” In a July 2004 interview, former President Ford criticized the George W. Bush administration regarding the Iraq War.
Ford died on December 26, 2006, at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, of arteriosclerotic cerebrovascular disease and diffuse arteriosclerosis. He had end-stage coronary artery disease and severe aortic stenosis and insufficiency, caused by calcified change in one of his heart valves. At the time of his death, Ford was the oldest former president, living to be 93 years and 165 days (45 days longer than Ronald Reagan, who held the previous record). Ford died on the thirty-fourth anniversary of the death of President Harry S. Truman; he was the last surviving member of the Warren Commission.
A state funeral and memorial services were held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on a Tuesday, January 2, 2007. He was the eleventh president to be mourned in the rotunda of the Capitol. Following the wake, Ford’s body was buried at his Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Ford had previously chosen the song that would be played during his funeral procession on Capitol Hill. After his death in December 2006, the University of Michigan marching band played the college war song in his honor one last time as his body was taken to Grand Rapids International Airport, which even bears his name.
His wife, Betty Ford, passed away on July 8, 2011.
Ford is the only person to hold the presidential office without having been elected president or vice president. The choice to select Ford to take Spiro Agnew’s spot as Nixon’s vice president was based on his reputation for candor and honesty. “In all my years in the House, I have never known Mr. Ford to make a dishonest statement, nor a partially true or false statement. He never tried to disguise a statement and I never heard him utter an unkind word,” said Martha Griffiths.
The trust that the American public had in him was quickly and severely tarnished by his pardon of Nixon. Yet many admit, in retrospect, that he respectfully fulfilled with considerable dignity a great responsibility he had not sought. The Nixon pardon was one of the defining moments of Gerald Ford’s presidency. His popularity rating plummeted in the days that followed, and many saw the act as a “corrupt bargain.” However, in retrospect, many political analysts say that the pardon was the right thing to do, enabling the nation to begin to heal from the trauma of the whole scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation.
Despite his athletic record and notable career achievements, Ford acquired a reputation for being an awkward, likable, and simplistic common man. An incident in 1975, when he tripped while exiting Air Force One in Austria, was famously and repeatedly parodied by Chevy Chase, especially on Saturday Night Live, cementing Ford’s image as a klutz. Pieces of Ford’s common man image were also attributed to the inevitable comparison of him to Nixon, as well as his perceived Midwestern pettiness and self-deprecation.
- Gerald Ford
- Gerald Ford
- Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The ’70s. New York City: Basic Books. pp. xxiii, 301. ISBN 978-0-465-04195-4
- a b George Lenczowski (1990). American Presidents, and the Middle East. [S.l.]: Duke University Press. pp. 142–143. ISBN 978-0-8223-0972-7
- «Presidential Historians Survey 2017». C-SPAN. Consultado em 19 de julho de 2021
- Theodore Roosevelt, qui n’avait été élu pour son premier mandat que vice-président jusqu’en septembre 1901, le fut comme président, le 8 novembre 1904. Il en va de même de Calvin Coolidge (août 1923-novembre 1924), d’Harry Truman (avril 1945-novembre 1948), de Lyndon B. Johnson (novembre 1963-novembre 1964). Tous furent élus au terme d’un mandat de transition. D’autres présidents, comme Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) et Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885), qui succédèrent automatiquement aux présidents assassinés, Abraham Lincoln et James A. Garfield, ont été considérés comme « élus en tant que vice-présidents ». Ils ne furent pas réélus présidents.
- La sœur de Dorothy Gardner, donc la tante de Gerald Ford, s’appelait Tannisse et son mari Clarence Haskins James.
- Levi Addison Gardner et Adele Augusta Ayer.
- Leslie Lynch King Jr. est demeuré le nom officiel de l’enfant, Gerald Rudolff Ford n’ayant jamais adopté officiellement le fils de Dorothy Gardner.
- Philip Kunhardt Jr.: Gerald R. Ford “Healing the Nation”. Riverhead Books, New York, S. 79f (englisch).
- Douglas Brinkley: Gerald R. Ford: 1974–1977 (= American Presidents Series). Times Books/Henry Holt, New York City NY 2007, S. 5 (englisch).
- Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The ’70s. Nueva York: New York: Basic Books. p. xxiii, 303. ISBN 0-465-04195-7.
- Young, Jeff C. (1997). The Fathers of American Presidents. Jefferson: NC: McFarland & Co. ISBN 0-7864-0182-6.
- Investigatory Records on Gerald Ford, Applicant for a Commission. Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. 30 de diciembre de 1941. Archivado desde el original el 7 de diciembre de 2013. Consultado el 18 de noviembre de 2010.
- Kunhardt, Jr., Phillip (1999). Gerald R. Ford “Healing the Nation”. Nueva York: Riverhead Books. pp. 79-85. Archivado desde el original el 3 de febrero de 2006. Consultado el 26 de marzo de 2012.