When Gerald R. Ford took the oath of office on August 9, 1974, he declared, "I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances.... This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts." His words were a soothing balm to a hurting nation. He was the only Vice President of the United States to become President upon the resignation of the chief executive. President Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency facing almost certain impeachment because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal. President Nixon resigned as President on August 9, 1974, and Gerald R. Ford took the presidential oath on the same day.
President Ford came to the office as President on a very strange route. He was elected by the people of Michigan to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives thirteen times and also served as House minority leader. During his twenty-five years in Congress, he gained a reputation for his integrity and openness, which made him very popular. He served as House Minority Leader from 1965 until 1973.
In 1973 Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned from office while under criminal investigation for graft. Ford was the first person to be appointed to fill a vacancy in the vice presidency. He was also the only person to serve as both Vice President and President who was not elected to either office.
Ford came into the office of President with the full support of the American people. His calm, friendly manner and an unquestioned reputation for honesty made him a popular man in the nation. Ford's popularity dropped sharply about a month later when he pardoned Nixon for all federal crimes that he might have committed as President.
Ford acted in an effort to bring further healing to the nation, but his pardon of Nixon angered many Americans who felt that Nixon should be brought to trial for his part in the Watergate scandal. Other Americans felt that a pardon would be okay but only after Nixon had admitted his role in the scandal.
The Watergate scandal stayed in the news for most of the Ford Administration. Two other great events also took place. The first event was when Communist North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam and Communist forces later took over Cambodia, ending the Vietnam War in April 1975. Ford had previously asked Congress for more than $700 million in emergency military aid for South Vietnam, but Congress rejected the request. The Communist victory was followed by a massive U.S.-sponsored airlift of about 100,000 South Vietnamese refugees from their homeland. The second great event was the celebration of the bicentennial of the founding of the United States of America in 1976. A fleet of tall ships from various nations sailed toward New York City harbor to join the festivities.
Gerald Rudolph Ford was born on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska. He was named Leslie Lynch King, Jr. after his father who operated a family wool business there. Ford's parents divorced when he was about two years old, and his mother took him to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she had friends. She married Gerald R. Ford who owned a small paint company in the city in 1916. Ford adopted the young boy and gave him his name.
The boy who would become President was stocky and blond and was known as "Jerry." He grew up with three younger half brothers. Ford's biological father also remarried and gave Jerry one half brother and two half sisters. Ford's mother and stepfather encouraged him to become active in civic affairs. His stepfather took an active interest in local politics and participated in programs in Grand Rapids to help needy youths.
His mother spent much of her time in charity projects and other activities of the church attended by the family.
Jerry was a Boy Scout and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He once referred to himself as the nation's "first Eagle Scout Vice President." Jerry was strong and husky and excelled in sports. He was the star center on his high school football team, selected three times to the all-city high school football team, and named to the all-state team while a senior.
Ford later commented that playing football taught him the importance of playing as a team. While the normal attire for young men was a sport shirt, slacks and sweater, Jerry chose to wear a suit and tie to school. He studied hard and got good grades. Jerry was also selected as the most popular high school senior in Grand Rapids in a contest sponsored by a local theater.
Jerry worked at a small restaurant waiting on tables and washing dishes as a teenager. His biological father came in one day and introduced himself to the startled Jerry. Jerry knew about his "real" father but had not seen him since the divorce of his parents. King asked Jerry if he would like to live with the King family. Jerry told him that he considered the Fords to be his family. King later helped Ford get a summer job as a ranger in Yellowstone National Park (1936).
Ford entered the University of Michigan in 1931 where he earned good grades as well as playing center on the undefeated Michigan teams of 1932 and 1933. He was named the most valuable player by his teammates in 1934. Jerry played center in a football game between his college team and the Chicago Bears in the 1935 All-Star Football Game. Chicago won a 5 to 0.
Upon his graduation from the University of Michigan, Jerry was offered contracts to play professional football by the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. Ford declined the contracts because he wanted to study law. He accepted a job as assistant football coach and boxing coach at Yale, hoping to also study law there. He coached full time at Yale from 1935 until 1938 when he was admitted by the Yale Law School.
While at Yale he became a partner in a modeling agency in New York City, which was operated by his partner. Ford became a model for sports clothes for an article in Look Magazine in March 1940.
Ford ranked in the top third of his graduating class when he received his degree from Yale in 1941. He was admitted to the Michigan bar in June 1941 and soon opened a law office in Grand Rapids with a former college roommate.
When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Ford volunteered for the United States Navy. He entered the Navy in April 1941 as an ensign. He taught physical training at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, base for a year before he became the physical training director and assistant navigation officer of the U.S.S. Monterey, an aircraft carrier. The Monterey was part of every big naval battle in the Pacific Ocean in 1943 and 1944. Ford held the rank of lieutenant commander when he was discharged in January 1946.
Ford resumed his law career in Grand Rapids and became active in local Republican reform group. Leaders of the organization encouraged Ford to challenge the sitting U.S. Representative in the Republican primary election of 1948. Ford won the Primary and then the November election. He was reelected twelve times.
Jerry Ford met Elizabeth (Betty) Bloomer in 1947. They were married on October 15, 1948, just before Ford won his first election to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was late to his wedding because he was out campaigning. The Fords had four children.
Ford gained a reputation as a loyal Republican and a hard worker during his early years in Congress. He was mentioned as a possible candidate for the vice presidential nomination in 1960. In November 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and appointed Ford as one of the seven members of the commission.
Ford was chosen House minority leader in 1965 and urged Republicans to do more than just criticize Democrats. He worked for Republican alternatives to Democratic programs. He attracted national attention when he was on a series of televised Republican press conferences with the Senate Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen. The series brought more attention to Republican views.
Ford supported early policies in the Vietnam War but began to strongly attack U.S. military strategy in Vietnam by 1967. He gave a speech that year entitled "Why Are We Pulling Our Punches in Vietnam?" His speech encouraged Republicans to oppose Johnson's war policies.
Ford led a group of Republicans and Southern Democrats in opposing many of Johnson's social programs because he considered the programs to be either too expensive or unnecessary.
Ford led an effort in 1970 to impeach William O. Douglas, a liberal associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He criticized Douglas for two reasons: 1) His vote in a case involving Ralph Ginzburg, the editor of a magazine that paid the justice $350 for an article and 2) His encouragement of political dissent in various writing. The effort to impeach failed with a lack of evidence to support impeachment.
Early in 1973, after a land slide victory for Nixon and Agnew in 1972, federal investigators uncovered evidence that Agnew had accepted bribes while he served as Baltimore County Executive , as governor of Maryland, and as Vice President. Agnew resigned on October 10, 1973, and Nixon nominated Ford to replace him. Under the 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the nomination required the approval of both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Ford's nomination was approved in the Senate by a 92 to 3 vote on November 27 and in the House by a 387 to 35 vote on December 6.
Ford was sworn in as Vice President later on December 6, becoming the first appointed Vice Present in the nation's history. Shortly before Ford became Vice President, impeachment proceedings against Nixon were started in the House of Representatives. The House Judiciary Committee recommended that Nixon be impeached in July 1974 on three articles of impeachment: 1) interfering with justice by acting to hide evidence about the Watergate burglary from federal law enforcement officials, 2) abuse of presidential powers, and 3) illegally withholding evidence from the judiciary committee.
Although Ford defended Nixon, transcripts of taped White House conversations released on August 5 clearly supported the first proposed article of impeachment. Republican leaders of both the House and the Senate warned Nixon that he faced certain impeachment and removal from office. On the morning of August 9, Nixon resigned as President of the United States. At noon on the same day, Gerald R. Ford took the presidential oath of office and became the 38th President of the United States.
Ford nominated Nelson A. Rockefeller, former governor of New York, to be Vice President. After his nomination was confirmed in both the House and the Senate, Rockefeller took office in December 1974.
Ford became President at a time of soaring inflation and loss of public confidence in the government. Many Americans, especially the poor and the elderly, were hurt by the high inflation. Inflation was also threatening a severe business slump.
Two assassination attempts of Ford were made in California during September 1975 by two different women. The first attempt took place in Sacramento on September 5. A Secret Service agent saw a pistol being pointed at Ford and grabbed the gun before it was fired. The second attempt took place in San Francisco but the shot missed the President. Both women were convicted of attempting to assassinate a President and sentenced to life in prison.
The Ford presidency brought a relaxed and informal style of living at the White House. The Fords impressed people with their friendly hospitality and personal warmth. The Fords enjoyed entertaining and invited more than 900 guests to a White House Christmas Party for members of Congress in 1974. President and Mrs. Ford especially enjoyed dancing.
Ford was challenged by Ronald Reagan, former California governor, for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination in a close and bitter contest in the state primary elections. Ford narrowly won nomination on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention. The Democratic rival was Jimmy Carter, and issue was the economy. Ford promised to continue doing the things that he believed had brought about economic recovery, and Carter said that Ford's policies had contributed to the continuing high rate of unemployment.
Carter won by both the popular vote and the electoral vote. On Inauguration Day, President Carter began his speech, "For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land." Grateful Americans concurred.
After leaving the White House, Ford served on the board of directors for several companies, lectured or spoke at colleges, universities and various organizations, and published his autobiography, A Time to Heal, in 1979. He handled some assignments for President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
The Gerald R. Ford Museum opened in Grand Rapids and the Gerald R. Ford Library opened in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1981. Mrs. Ford helped to open the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, in 1982 to treat alcoholism and drug abuse. She opened the center after seeking treatment in 1978 for her own addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs.
President Ford died at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, on December 26, 2006, after experiencing health problems and being admitted to the hospital four times in 2006. He lived longer than any other President of the United States, dying at the age of 93 years and 165 days.
I cannot end this post without writing that I personally believe that Gerald R. Ford was one of the best Presidents in my lifetime. I could not understand why anyone would prefer Jimmy Carter over Gerald R. Ford - and particularly after the dismal Carter presidency. It is my belief that our country made a big mistake by not reelecting Gerald R. Ford as President. How many of our other Presidents could be described as men of honesty, integrity, and openness?
Most of the facts and quotes for this post came from an article by J. F. terHorst in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 7, pp. 372-379. Others came from www.whitehouse.gov and www.ipl.org.
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