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Gerald Ford on Principles & Values

President of the U.S., 1974-1977; Republican Rep. (MI)


1980: Reagan considered offering "co-presidency"

Dad announced his candidacy for the 1980 presidential election. He was a long shot against Ronald Reagan, but he ran a strong campaign in Iowa and won an upset victory in the caucus. Unfortunately, his hot streak ran out amid the cold winters of New Hampshire. Reagan defeated him there and continued on to the Republican nomination.

There was a lot of speculation about whom Reagan would choose for vice president. At the convention in Detroit, he was in discussion with Gerald Ford about some sort of co-presidency. They agreed it wouldn't work--a good decision. Then Reagan called Dad and asked him to be his running mate--an even better decision.

On election night, the Reagan-Bush ticket crushed Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale 489-49 in the Electoral College.

Source: Decision Points, by Pres. George W. Bush, p. 42 , Nov 9, 2010

Portrayed as a klutz, but was actually athletic

The press portrayed Ford as a dullard and a klutz, but Secret Service agents say he was neither. A University of Michigan football player, Ford was an expert skier; agents could not keep up with him. Finally, the Secret Service assigned a world-class skier to his detail. The agent would ski backward and wave as the president tried to catch up with him. "Ford was a very athletic guy," says another agent. "He used to swim every day, he was a good golfer, and he was an outstanding skier."
Source: In the President`s Secret Service, by Ronald Kessler, p. 52 , Jun 29, 2009

On youth apathy: I could never sit on the sidelines

In the fall of 1975 Jack's friend lined me up with a paid internship working for our congressman, Jim Hanley, and every Tuesday and Thursday I took the number 80 bus down to the Cannon Office Building and did research, filing, and constituted correspondence. My first week working for Hanley, I was walking across the Capital and met the Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller. 3 years later because of my work starting a program to tutor prison inmates, I was asked to attend a seminar at the American Enterprise Institute and got to meet Gerald Ford. We discussed apathy among the young at the conference, and the former President told me, "I could never sit on the sidelines," which I admired because I never could either.
Source: What A Party!, by Terry McAuliffe, p. 23 , Jan 23, 2007

Pardoned Nixon under almost universally condemnation

In "Profiles in Courage", my father told the stories of eight senators who acted on principle and in the national interest, even though it put their own political careers at risk. The John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award is presented annually to an elected official who carries on this tradition. We sought to honor politicians like those in the original book, whose singular acts of courage in protecting the national interest put their own career at risk.When President Gerald R. Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon, barely one month after taking office at the height of the Watergate scandal, he was almost universally condemned. Yet that act of conscience in the national interest, though it may have cost Ford the presidency, has stood the test of time.
Source: Profiles In Courage For Our Time, by Caroline Kennedy , Apr 30, 2003

1974: Pardoned Nixon to "end our long national nightmare"

On 9/8/74, he went on television to announce the pardon to the country and the world. Dealing with Nixon and his family, ford said, "Theirs is an American tragedy in which we have all played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can I must." As president he had the power to grant a full and unconditional pardon for crimes that might have been committed. The main reason for the pardon was to put both Nixon and Watergate in the past, to put a second, more definitive end to "our long national nightmare." Just before reciting the official pardon proclamation, Ford read a sentence that he had added in his own hand: "I feel that Richard Nixon and his loved ones have suffered enough."
Source: Profiles in Courage For Our Time, by Caroline Kennedy, p.295 , Oct 1, 2001

Told 8 days prior to resignation that Nixon would resign

Nixon's chief of staff, Gen. Alexander Haig, had come to Ford's office twice, eight days before Nixon resigned. In the second key meeting, when no one else was present, Haig informed him that a smoking gun tape had been discovered that implicated Nixon directly in the illegal Watergate cover-up. Nixon had decided to resign.

Haig in effect added, Was Ford prepared to assume the presidency within a very short time? Ford was stunned. Haig, according to Ford's testimony, then laid out six options- half of which included a pardon for Nixon. But Ford insisted there was no pre-arrangement with Nixon or Haig.

The newspaper accounts noted that Ford's disclosure about meeting with Haig was new, but no one made much of it. In the meeting, Haig had dropped one of the bombshells of all times--that Ford was about to become president. Why had so much time been spent in the discussion on options dealing with Nixon's future and not the momentous transition problems and issues facing Ford?

Source: Profiles in Courage by Caroline Kennedy, p.297&305-306 , Oct 1, 2001

Cites Supreme Court decision: accepting pardon imputes guilt

[When Ford was interviewed in his 80's, he was asked]: Why didn't you make sure that Nixon's statement accepting the pardon went further? Nixon's statement said, "No words can describe the depth of my regret and pain at the anguish my mistakes over Watergate had caused."

Why didn't he press Nixon harder for an admission of guilt? "I still carry it around in my packet, their statement," Ford said. He reached into his pockets. "I've got it in my wallet here because any time anybody challenges me I pull it out." He searched around in his wallet.

He handed me a folded, dog-eared piece of paper. It was a portion of the 1915 Burdick Supreme Court decision that he'd been carrying around for years. I began to read aloud. "Most important, the justices found that a pardon 'carries an imputation of guilt, acceptance, a confession of it,'"

Ford landed on the last phrase, & he repeated it: "'Acceptance, a confession of it.'" See, Nixon confessed, he said. "That was always very reassuring to me.

Source: Profiles in Courage by Caroline Kennedy, p.308-309 , Oct 1, 2001

Preserved White House tapes, despite requests from Nixon

[Nixon's White House tapes would] provide more incontrovertible, conclusive proof of guilt than any possible indictment or trial of Nixon. Significantly, it was Ford who decided that the Nixon tapes had to be preserved. After resigning, Nixon wanted all his papers and tapes shipped to his home in California. Traditionally, a former president owned all his papers. Before issuing the pardon, Ford sought advice from a longtime friend and former Justice Department lawyer, Benton Becker, who immediately saw the trap for Ford. Returning all the tapes and papers to Nixon would make Ford a co-conspirator in concealing the truth of what had gone on in the Nixon White House.

To history, the tapes and Nixon records are more important than any possible prosecution or conviction. Ford's decision to pardon Nixon and to preserve the tapes and records for the public and for history reflect what might be called acts of instinctive courage. The last 27 years have proved their wisdom.

Source: Profiles in Courage by Caroline Kennedy, p.310-311 , Oct 1, 2001

1976: I tried to restore shattered confidence in democracy

On May 23, 2001, Ford gave a speech as part of the Senate Leader's Lecture Series. He referred to the 1976 presidential campaign:

"Because the specter of Vietnam, on the one hand, and Watergate, on the other, loomed so large, I found myself, in effect, running two campaigns: the first to win a full term. And the second to restore the shattered confidence of the American people in their democratic institutions. I was unsuccessful, as we all know, in the first. But as I left Washington, I could take some consolation in knowing that the national mood was different from what it had been just a few years earlier."

Ford's ambition for the country was larger than his own ambition. Restored confidence was more important than his reelection. That's courage.
Source: Profiles in Courage by Caroline Kennedy, p.314-315 , Oct 1, 2001

Profile in Courage Award for pardon of Nixon

Former president Gerald Ford was named this year’s winner of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s Profile in Courage Award for pardoning former president Richard Nixon in 1974. Many believe the pardon cost Ford re-election in 1976 and prevented a full airing of a scandal that involved bribery and political spying. But the givers of the award say the move spared the nation a protracted legal battle. “This had to be considered a great act of political courage because he knew what the public’s attitude was,” said the chair of the award committee.

Nixon resigned Aug. 8, 1974, rather than be impeached on charges of obstructing justice. Ford pardoned him a month later for any crimes he might have committed while in office.

Source: USA Today, p. 4A , May 1, 2001

Pardoning Nixon carries an imputation of guilt & confession

Ford called in [attorneys] to determine exactly what a president's pardon powers were. In a 1915 Supreme Court case, "Burdick v. United States," the Court's ruling stated that a pardon "carries an imputation of guilt, acceptance, a confession of it." If they could get Nixon to accept the pardon, they would have a confession, an acknowledgment that Nixon was guilty of criminal conduct.

"You make sure that Richard Nixon understand that case too," Ford told his attorney. "That he understands that our position, the White House position, will be his acceptance is an acknowledgment of guilt. Make sure there's an acceptance," Ford said. "I don't want to be embarrassed."

Ford said he was no longer merely considering a pardon. He had decided to do it if he could. [After negotiations], Nixon accepted the pardon and said, "I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate."

Source: Shadow, by Bob Woodward, p. 17-19 , Jun 15, 1999

North Vietnam must account for US MIAs or bar from UN

As long as North Vietnam, does not give us a complete accounting of our missing in action, I will never go along with the admission of Vietnam to the UN. If they do give us a bona fide, complete accounting of the eight hundred MIA's, then I believe that the US should begin negotiations for the admission of Vietnam to the United Nations.
Source: The Second Carter-Ford Presidential Debate , Oct 6, 1976

New balance: for both government and individuals

The time has come for a fundamentally different approach--for a new realism that is true to the great principles upon which this Nation was founded.

We must introduce a new balance to our economy--a balance that favors not only sound, active government but also a much more vigorous, healthy economy that can create new jobs and hold down prices.

We must introduce a new balance in the relationship between the individual and the government--a balance that favors greater individual freedom and self-reliance.

We must strike a new balance in our system of federalism--a balance that favors greater responsibility and freedom for the leaders of our State and local governments.

We must introduce a new balance between the spending on domestic programs and spending on defense--a balance that ensures we will fully meet our obligation to the needy while also protecting our security in a world that is still hostile to freedom.

Source: Pres. Ford's 1976 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 19, 1976

It is time we quit downgrading ourselves as a nation

America has had a unique role in the world since our independence 200 years ago. And ever since the end of WWII, we have borne--successfully--a heavy responsibility for ensuring a stable world order and hope for human progress.

Today, we are at peace, and I will do all in my power to keep it that way. Our military power is without equal, and I intend to keep it that way.

We should be proud of what America has accomplished in these areas. The American people have heard too much about how terrible our mistakes, how evil our deeds, and how misguided our purposes. The American people know better.

The truth is we are the world's greatest democracy. We remain the symbol of man's aspiration for liberty and well-being. We are the embodiment of hope for progress.

I say it is time we quit downgrading ourselves as a nation. Of course, it is our responsibility to learn the right lesson from past mistakes. It is our duty to see that they never happen again. But our greater duty is to look to the future.

Source: Pres. Ford's 1976 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 19, 1976

Pardoning Nixon let America's healing begin

I agonized over the idea of a pardon, and eventually several key conclusions solidified in my mind. First of all, I was not convinced that the country wanted to see an ex-President behind bars. And Nixon, in my opinion, had already suffered enormously. His resignation was an implicit admission of guilt.

But I wasn't motivated primarily by sympathy for his plight. It was the state of the country's health that worried me.

I was very sure of what would happen if I let the charges against Nixon run their legal course. The entire process would no doubt require years. He would be fighting for his freedom, take his cause to the people, and his constant struggle would have dominated the news. No other issue could compete with the drama of a former President trying to stay out of jail. Passions on both sides would be aroused. A period of such prolonged vituperation would be disastrous for the nation. America needed recovery, not revenge. The hate had to be drained and the healing begun.

Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p.160-161 , Sep 1, 1974

Rules for Congress: communication, conciliation, compromise

Nixon, whatever his shortcomings, had recruited a Cabinet of fine quality. I imposed a set of rules for myself in order to work harmoniously with his Cabinet:
  1. have no special confidants within the Cabinet
  2. listen, don't confide
  3. don't get involved in any jurisdictional rivalries
  4. have confidants outside the Cabinet from whom advice can be solicited
  5. don't get mired down in detail--handle the broad policy decisions and leave management and implementation to the department heads
  6. move aggressively on all fronts toward resolution and decision
  7. look at all proposals as if you're going to have to be the advocate who sells them to the public; and
  8. finally, encourage dissent before a final decision is made.
As President, my motto toward the Congress is communication, conciliation, compromise and cooperation. This Congress, unless it has changed, will be my working partner as well as my most constructive critic, I am not asking for conformity.
Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p.132-134 , Aug 12, 1974

I'm not elected, but also I'm not indebted to anyone

I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers. And I hope that such prayers will also be the first of many.

If you have not chosen me by secret ballot, neither have I gained office by any secret promises. I have not campaigned either for the presidency or the vice-presidency. I have not subscribed to any partisan platform. I am indebted to no man, and only to one woman--my dear wife--as I begin this very difficult job.

I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it. Those who nominated and confirmed me as vice president were my friends and are my friends. They were of both parties, elected by all the people and acting under the Constitution in their name. It is only fitting then that I should pledge to them and to you that I will be the president of all the people.

Source: A Patriot's Handbook, by Caroline Kennedy, p.181 , Aug 9, 1974

Nixon brought his troubles upon himself

Nixon was going to leave one way or the other. The only questions were when & how. And I was going to become President--a job to which I'd never aspired--at a tumultuous moment in the nation's history. I'm not the kind of person who is torn by self-doubt and I had no doubts about my ability to function well in the office. What bothered me most was the nature of Nixon's departure. In the 198 years of the Republic, no President had ever resigned, and only one other Chief Executive--Andrew Johnson--had ever been the target of an impeachment effort in the Congress. But Nixon, I had to conclude, had brought his troubles upon himself.

Repeatedly, Nixon had assured me that he was not involved in Watergate, that the evidence would prove his innocence. I had chosen to believe him, and I had tried to give him the benefit of every doubt.

I simply had to support him. If I did anything else, people would charge that I was undercutting him in order to acquire the Presidency myself.

Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p. 5 , Aug 1, 1974

Chosen by Nixon as safe choice for V.P.

Nixon nominated me, to replace Spiro Agnew, I was convinced, because he wanted to pick someone who could win speedy confirmation in the Congress. He also wanted someone who could help repair his frayed relations with Capitol Hill and the media.
Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p.107-110 , Oct 13, 1973

21-day period each year to Honor America

Rep. Ford co-sponsored H.CON.RES.236: Declaring the 21 days from Flag Day to Independence Day as a period to Honor America.

Sponsored by Rep. Thomas P. O'Neill; Related Bills: S.CON.RES.27.

Source: Bill sponsorship archives from the Library of Congress , Jun 5, 1973

Economic conservative; social moderate; foreign liberal

By 1948, I had pretty well formed the political philosophy I've maintained ever since. On economic policy, I was conservative and proud of it. I didn't believe that we could solve problems simply by throwing money at them. On social issues, I was a moderate; on questions of foreign policy, a liberal. The voters of the 5th District didn't think the federal government had the answers. They tended to agree that the best government is the least government, and I was determined to reflect their views.
Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p. 66 , Jul 2, 1948

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George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

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Page last updated: Mar 16, 2014