Gerald Ford

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Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford
Term of office August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977
Preceded by Richard Nixon
Succeeded by Jimmy Carter
Date of birth July 14, 1913
Place of birth Omaha, Nebraska
Spouse Betty Ford
Political party Republican

Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. (born July 14, 1913) (born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., renamed after his mother's remarriage) was the fortieth (19731974) Vice President and the thirty-eighth (19741977) President of the United States. He remains the only individual to serve as President without ever having been elected to either the presidency or vice presidency. Instead, following the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1973, he was nominated as Vice President by Richard Nixon and approved by both houses of Congress (not just the Senate, as is the procedure for Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, and most other federal officials), in keeping with provisions of the 25th Amendment. When Nixon resigned on noon of August 9, 1974, Ford assumed the presidency.

Along with his own vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, he is one of only two people to have been appointed Vice President rather than elected. As of 2005, he is the oldest living former President. He is one of two U.S. Presidents to live to the age of 92 years, and the second longest-lived president in U.S. history, behind Ronald Reagan's record of 93 years 120 days. He also has the second longest retirement among presidents at 28 years, behind Herbert Hoover's record of 31.


Early life

Ford was born to Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy Ayer Gardner in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents divorced two years after he was born, and his mother remarried to Gerald Ford, after whom he was renamed despite never being formally adopted by his step-father. He and Democrat Bill Clinton are the only two U.S. Presidents to have been adopted. Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and starred as a center playing American football for the University of Michigan. A three-year letterman, Ford helped the Wolverines to undefeated seasons in 1932 and 1933 and was voted the team's most valuable player in 1934. (His number 48 jersey has since been retired by the school.) At Michigan he joined Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and earned money for expenses by washing dishes at the fraternity house. After graduating the following spring, he turned down contract offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers of the National Football League. While at the Yale Law School, Ford joined a group of students led by R. Douglas Stuart, Jr. as they signed a petition to enforce the 1939 Neutrality Act. This petition was circulated nationally and was the inspiration for America First, a group determined to keep America out of World War II. Ford graduated from law school in 1941, having coached football and boxing part time to pay for school. Ford joined the Boy Scouts as a child and attained the highest rank of Eagle Scout. He always regarded this as one of his proudest accomplishments even after attaining the White House. He is quoted for saying, "I am the first Eagle Scout President!"

World War II

Ford in uniform, 1945
Ford in uniform, 1945

In April 1942 Ford joined the U.S. Naval Reserve receiving a commission as an ensign. After an orientation program at Annapolis, he became a physical fitness instructor at a pre- flight school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In the spring of 1943 he began service in the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey (CVL-26). He was first assigned as athletic director and gunnery division officer, then as assistant navigator with the Monterey, which took part in most of the major operations in the South Pacific, including Truk, Saipan, and the Philippines. His closest call with death came not as a result of enemy fire, however, but during a vicious typhoon in the Philippine Sea in December 1944. He came within inches of being swept overboard while the storm raged.he was very scared that he would die and not be able to become president. The ship, which was severely damaged by the storm and a resulting fire, had to be taken out of service. Ford spent the remainder of the war ashore and was discharged as a lieutenant commander in February 1946.

House of Representatives: Minority Leader

Ford was a member of the House of Representatives for 24 years from 1949 to 1973, and became Minority Leader of the Republican Party in the House. Ford was very popular with the voters in his district and was always re-elected with 60% margins. He always stayed in close touch with the people of Grand Rapids. During his first campaign, he visited farmers and promised he would work on their farms and milk their cows if elected - a promise which he apparently fulfilled [1]. Ford won an award in 1961 as a "Congressman's Congressman" that praised his committee work on military budgets. During his tenure, Ford was chosen to serve on the Warren Commission, a special task force set up to investigate the causes of, and quell rumors regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Commission eventually concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in killing the President, a conclusion sometimes disparaged by conspiracy theorists as the "Lone Nut Theory". During the eight years (19651973) he served as Minority Leader, Ford won many friends in the House due to his fair leadership and inoffensive personality. He often attacked the "Great Society" programs of President Lyndon Johnson as unneeded or wasteful. He made a speech attacking Johnson's Vietnam war policies called "Why are we pulling our punches in Vietnam?". Ford charged that the President was meddling in the war effort and not letting the military do its job. Ford appeared on a televised series of press conferences with famed Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen that became very popular. The two men proposed Republican alternatives to President Johnson's policies. Many in the press jokingly called this "The Ev and Jerry Show". Ford also led an effort to impeach William O. Douglas, who was a Justice on the United States Supreme Court. Ford made a speech charging Douglas with criminal activities and with promoting rebellion in his writings.


After Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned during Richard Nixon's presidency, on October 10, 1973, Nixon nominated Ford to take Agnew's place, under the 25th Amendment - the first time it was applied. The United States Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Ford on November 27, 1973 and on December 6, the House confirmed him 387 to 35. Ford had long been one of President Nixon's most outspoken supporters. Ford traveled widely as Vice President and made many speeches defending the embattled President. He cited the many achievements of President Nixon and dismissed Watergate as a media event and a tragic sideshow.


Vice President Ford is sworn in as the 38th President of the United States by Chief Justice Warren Burger as Mrs. Ford looks on.
Vice President Ford is sworn in as the 38th President of the United States by Chief Justice Warren Burger as Mrs. Ford looks on.

When Nixon then resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal on August 9, 1974, Ford assumed the presidency, proclaiming that "our long national nightmare is over". On August 20 Ford nominated former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill the Vice Presidency he had vacated, again under the 25th Amendment.

Pardons Nixon

On September 8, 1974 Ford gave Nixon a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes he may have committed while President or, indeed, for anything else he might have done. Ford explained that he felt the pardon was in the best interests of the country.

But at the time the pardon was highly controversial. Critics of the Nixon Administration derided the pardon and claimed that a "corrupt bargain" had been struck between the two men. These critics claimed that Ford's pardon was a quid pro quo in exchange for Nixon's resignation which elevated Ford to the Presidency. Despite the controversy, no evidence of any collusion has ever surfaced. Many historians believe the controversy was one of the major reasons why Ford failed to win reelection in 1976.

The pardon controversy eventually subsided and Ford is now widely regarded as being largely reponsible for restoring the American public's faith and confidence in their political system. Ford's successor Jimmy Carter opened his 1977 inaugural address by praising the outgoing President. "For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land."


The economy was a great concern during the Ford administration. In response to rising inflation, Ford went before the American public on television in October 1974 and asked them to "whip inflation now" (WIN); as part of this program, he urged people to wear "WIN" buttons. However, most people recognized this as simply a public relations gimmick without offering any effective means of solving the underlying problem. At the time inflation was around 7%, a relatively modest number in retrospect, but still enough to discourage investment and push capital overseas and into government bonds.

The economic focus began to change as the country sank into a mild recession, and in March 1975, Ford and Congress signed into law income tax rebates (see the Tax Reduction Act of 1975) to help boost the economy.

Foreign policy

President Ford, left, and USSR's Leonid Brezhnev meet at the Vladivostok summit negotiations, 1974
President Ford, left, and USSR's Leonid Brezhnev meet at the Vladivostok summit negotiations, 1974

Ford also faced a foreign policy crisis with the Mayaguez Incident. In May 1975, shortly after the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia, Cambodians seized an American merchant ship, the Mayaguez, in international waters. Ford dispatched Marines to rescue the crew, but the Marines landed on the wrong island and met unexpectedly stiff resistance just as, unknown to the US, the Mayaguez sailors were being released. In all phases of the operation, fifty service men were wounded and forty-one killed, including three men believed to have been left behind alive and subsequently executed and twenty-three Air Force personnel killed earlier while en route to the staging area at Utapao, Thailand. It is believed that approximately sixty Khmer Rouge soldiers were killed out of a land and sea force of about 300.

Ford's presidency also saw the final withdrawal of American personnel from Vietnam, in 'Operation Frequent Wind'. On 29 April and the morning of 30 April 1975 the American embassy in Saigon was evacuated, amidst chaotic scenes. [2]

Assassination attempts

While in Sacramento, California on September 5, 1975, a follower of incarcerated cult leader Charles Manson named Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme pointed a Colt .45-caliber handgun at Ford's stomach as he was shaking hands with well-wishers. No shots were fired, though, and nobody was injured. Seventeen days later, another woman – Sara Jane Moore – also tried to kill Ford in San Francisco; but her shooting attempt was thwarted by a bystander, Oliver Sipple.


Gerald Ford meets with his Cabinet.
Gerald Ford meets with his Cabinet.
President Gerald Ford 1974–1977
Vice President Nelson Rockefeller 1974–1977
State Henry A. Kissinger 1974–1977
Treasury William E. Simon 1974–1977
Defense James R. Schlesinger 1974–1975
  Donald Rumsfeld 1975–1977
Justice William Saxbe 1974–1975
  Edward Levi 1975–1977
Interior Rogers Morton 1974–1975
  Stanley K. Hathaway 1975
  Thomas Savig Kleppe 1975–1977
Agriculture Earl L. Butz 1974–1976
  John A. Knebel 1976–1977
Commerce Frederick B. Dent 1974–1975
  Rogers C. B. Morton 1975
  Elliot L. Richardson 1975–1977
Labor Peter J. Brennan 1974–1975
  John T. Dunlop 1975–1976
  W. J. Usery 1976–1977
HEW Caspar Weinberger 1974–1975
  Forrest D. Mathews 1975–1977
HUD James T. Lynn 1974–1975
  Carla A. Hills 1975–1977
Transportation Claude Brinegar 1974–1975
  William T. Coleman, Jr. 1975–1977

Supreme Court appointments

Ford appointed the following Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States:

1976 election bid

(Left to right:) Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library.
(Left to right:) Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library.

It is believed that Ford's pardoning of Nixon, along with the continuing economic problems, cost him the election of 1976.

His campaign may also have been hampered by a strong challenge that year for the nomination in the Republican party by Ronald Reagan. Additionally, Ford made a major gaffe during the second presidential election debate when he insisted that Eastern Europe was not dominated by the Soviet Union. Carter replied that he would like to see Ford convince Czech-Americans and Polish-Americans that their countries did not live under Soviet domination. On 30 October 1975, his refusal to sanction federal aid for the city of New York led The New York Daily News to paraphrase their perception of Ford's attitude in the headline "Ford to City: Drop Dead".

Had Ford won the election, he would have been disqualified by the 22nd amendment from running in 1980 because he served more than two years of Nixon's term.

Later elections

At the 1980 Republican National Convention, Ford was nearly nominated to return to service as Vice President under nominee Ronald Reagan. Very serious discussions were held between representatives for the two men (Henry Kissinger reportedly was present as one of the representatives for Ford.) Because of Ford's experience as President, however, he asked for an unprecedented areas of responsibility, primarily over foreign policy, which may have created a "co-presidency".

Reagan was not receptive to such proposals (and their constitutionality may be questioned.) Instead, Reagan asked George H. W. Bush, his main rival for the Republican nomination, to join him on a party unity ticket.

While attending the 2000 Republican National Convention, Ford suffered two mild strokes, but has subsequently recovered. He was hospitalized twice for dizziness in 2003.


Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1999 for his efforts to heal the nation after the Watergate scandal. The Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan was named after him in December 1999.

In 2001 Ford was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, a presigious award given by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for political courage. Ford was cited for his "controversial decision of conscience to pardon former President Richard M. Nixon," and leading the country through the tumultuous times of the late 1970s.

On November 22, 2004, New York Republican Governor George Pataki named Ford and the other living former presidents (Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton) as honorary members of the board rebuilding the World Trade Center.

Ford was one of four ex-presidents who joined then-president Bill Clinton in attending the funeral of Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994, in Nixon's hometown of Yorba Linda, California.
Ford was one of four ex-presidents who joined then-president Bill Clinton in attending the funeral of Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994, in Nixon's hometown of Yorba Linda, California.

Post-presidential years

Ford has remained relatively active as a former President, and during his post-presidential years he continued to make appearances at events of historical and ceremonial significance to the nation, such as presidential inaugurals and memorial services. In 1981 he opened the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ford has remained an avid fan of Michigan football and delivered a videotaped message before Michigan and Ohio State played their 100th game in 2003. In 1999, the School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan was renamed the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in honor of Ford's lifetime of public service. Ford has remained popular as a caricature in his retirement, with such icons as Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons continuing to lampoon him, but, despite his taking these in good humor, he has chosen to continue to respect the office by not appearing on those shows as himself (although he did appear on SNL as himself on 17 April 1976, during his run for re-election). He did, however, appear as himself on an episode of the prime-time soap opera Dynasty on 21 December 1983.

Ford has been outspoken on a variety of political issues confronting the nation since leaving office. Although he had taken a more centrist-to-conservative stance on the matter while campaigning for president in 1976, Ford has emerged as a leading pro-choice Republican on abortion rights; he has been an advisor to Republicans for Choice, and told Larry King in an interview that he shared in his wife's outspoken support of reproductive rights. Ford has also endorsed civil unions for gay couples, and urged Republicans not support the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.

In recent years Ford was quite accommodating in his written correspondence to those who had written to his office, often times fulfilling autograph requests, but in 2005, his office enacted a policy that he and Mrs. Ford "are no longer able to comply with the thousands of autograph requests that they receive each year."

Health concerns

Recently, there has been ongoing speculation regarding Ford's health. Though he gave an interview to Larry King in June 2004, attended the funeral of former President Reagan, and spoke at ceremonies commemorating the 30th anniversary of his swearing-in in August 2004, Ford has appeared increasingly frail – and this may have caused him to cut back on his formerly busy schedule. He was, for the first time in his political life, unable to attend a Republican National Convention when he did not attend the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. In addition, Ford was the only living former president not to attend ceremonies for the opening of the Bill Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas on November 18, 2004. Former president Bill Clinton told Larry King in an interview that Ford had confided that he now feels uncomfortable when flying in aircraft. At age 91 he was understandably the only living former president not to attend the second inauguration of President George W. Bush on January 20, 2005.

In 2005 when New York Republican Governor George Pataki named the living former presidents as honorary members of the board rebuilding the World Trade Center, he was unaware of Ford's health decline in the recent months.

In 2003, Ford's death was incorrectly announced by CNN when his pre-written obituary (along with those of several other famous figures such as Bob Hope and Pope John Paul II) was inadvertently published on CNN's web site due to a lapse in password protection.

Further reading

  • Cannon, James. Time and Chance: Gerald R. Ford's Appointment with History. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. [Chapters 1-3 concern Ford's early life and election to Congress; chapters 4–7 his congressional career; chapters 8–11 Watergate; chapters 12–19 concern Ford's appointment as Vice President, his vice presidency, the move to impeach Richard Nixon, and the transition to the presidency; chapter 20 concerns the Nixon pardon; and chapter 21 is a summary of the Ford presidency.]
  • Casserly, John J. The Ford White House: Diary of a Speechwriter. Boulder, CO: Colorado Associated University Press, 1977. [Memoir by a speechwriter for President Ford. It covers the period from November 1974 to January 1976.]
  • Congressional Quarterly, Inc. President Ford: The Man and His Record. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1974. [Background on Ford's political career and legislative record prior to becoming President, including his statements on major issues.]
  • Congressional Quarterly, Inc. Presidency. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1974-1976. [Annual volumes reviewing activities or issues.]
  • Coyne, John R. Fall in and Cheer. New York: Doubleday, 1979. [Memoir. Chapter 7 concerns his service as a Ford speechwriter, August 1974–February 1975.]
  • Ford, Betty. The Times of My Life. New York: Harper & Row, 1978. [Mrs. Ford's memoir - chapters 22- 37 concern her husband's presidency. The book emphasizes personal and family experiences rather than political events.]
  • Ford, Gerald R. Selected Speeches. Arlington, VA: R.W. Beatty, 1973. [A collection of speeches Ford delivered between 1965 and 1972 concerning politics and domestic and foreign affairs.]
  • Ford, Gerald R. A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford. New York: Harper & Row, 1979. [Memoir mainly concerning his presidency.]
  • The Ford Presidency: Twenty-Two Intimate Perspectives of Gerald Ford, Edited by Kenneth W. Thompson. Portraits of American Presidents, VII. Lanham, MA: University Press of America, 1988. [Interviews with Ford administration officials.]
  • Gerald R. Ford: Presidential Perspectives from the National Archives. Washington, DC: National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1994. [Sections written by Frank H. Mackaman, Leesa Tobin, and David Horrocks of the Ford Library. Photographs selected by Audiovisual Archivist Ken Hafeli.]
  • Gerald R. Ford and the Politics of Post-Watergate America, edited by Bernard J. Firestone and Alexej Ugrinsky. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993. [Proceedings of a conference on the presidency of Gerald R. Ford that took place at Hofstra University in April 1989.]
  • Greene, John Robert. The Limits of Power: The Nixon and Ford Administrations. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.
  • Greene, John Robert. The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.
  • Hartmann, Robert T. Palace Politics: An Insider's Account of the Ford Years. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980. [Memoir. Several chapters concern his work as an assistant to Congressman and Vice President Ford. Chapters 7–16 concern his work as a White House Counsellor and supervisor of the speechwriting unit.]
  • Hersey, John. The President: A Minute-by-Minute Account of a Week in the Life of Gerald Ford. New York: Knopf, 1975. [A writer examines President Ford's activities during one week in March 1975. Originally appeared in the "New York Times Magazine," April 20, 1975. Reprinted in Hersey's book "Aspects of the Presidency: Truman and Ford in Office," New Haven, Ticknor and Fields, 1980.]
  • Hyland, William. Mortal Rivals: Superpower Relations From Nixon to Reagan. New York: Random House, 1987. [Memoir - Information on his Ford administration work in the State Department and on the National Security Council staff appears on pp. 76-201. The focus is on Soviet-American relations, including the Vladivostok summit, Helsinki Conference, Angola, detente, and the role of Henry Kissinger.]
  • Kissinger, Henry A., Years of Renewal. [Dr. Kissinger's memoir of foreign policy decisions during his tenure as Secretary of State under Ford, including the Cyprus incident, the fall of Saigon, movement to an Egypt-Israeli peace agreement, Strategic Arms talks with the Soviet Union, and efforts to end fighting in Rhodesia.

See also

External links

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Preceded by:
Bartel J. Jonkman
United States Representative for the 5th Congressional District of Michigan
Succeeded by:
Richard F. Vander Veen
Preceded by:
Charles A. Halleck
House Minority Leader
Succeeded by:
John J. Rhodes
Preceded by:
Spiro Agnew
Vice President of the United States
December 6, 1973August 9, 1974
Succeeded by:
Nelson Rockefeller
Preceded by:
Richard Nixon
President of the United States
August 9, 1974January 20, 1977
Succeeded by:
Jimmy Carter
Preceded by:
Richard Nixon
Republican Party presidential candidate
1976 (lost)
Succeeded by:
Ronald Reagan
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