Gerald Ford in Profiles In Courage For Our Time, by Caroline Kennedy

On Principles & Values: 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

On Principles & Values: 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

On Principles & Values: 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

On Principles & Values: 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

On Principles & Values: 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

On Principles & Values: 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

The above quotations are from Profiles In Courage For Our Time,
by Caroline Kennedy.
Click here for other excerpts from Profiles In Courage For Our Time,
by Caroline Kennedy
Click here for other excerpts by Gerald Ford.
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Page last updated: Feb 21, 2019