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Gerald R. Ford
— 38th President of the United States —



TERM: August 9, 1974 to January 20, 1977

BORN: July 14, 1913
BIRTHPLACE: Omaha, Nebraska
DIED: December 27, 2006
OCCUPATION: Lawyer, congressman
MARRIED: Elizabeth Bloomer, 1948
CHILDREN: Michael Gerald, John Gardner, Steven Meigs, Susan Elizabeth

Gerald Ford became president under the strangest circumstances in the history of the office.

When Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's vice president, was forced to resign that office because of a scandal that resulted from actions during his term as governor of Maryland, Ford was named to replace Agnew. Then, when Nixon resigned under the threat of impeachment, Ford became president.

Ford's administration tried to help heal the wounds of the Vietnam war when he offered a full pardon for draft evaders and deserters if they would swear an oath of allegiance to the United States and perform two years of public service.

In a still controversial move, Ford granted a full pardon to Nixon, saying the country had suffered enough.

Although Ford had a distinguished career as a congressman from Michigan, he could not distance himself from Nixon's disgrace and lost a close election in 1976 to Jimmy Carter.

Ford grew up in a middle class family. He was a healthy, industrious youth who helped out with the chores.

When he was 12 or 13, Ford's parents told him he was adopted. He first met his biological father when he was 17 and would see him only one other time. Young Ford was bitter about his wealthy father's indifference toward him. He called their first meeting the most traumatic experience of his youth.

In high school, Ford was named to the National Honour Society while holding down part-time jobs frying burgers and working in an amusement park. He was a star centre for his high school football team who went on to win All American honours at the University of Michigan. Both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers offered him a contract to play professionally, but he rejected their offers so he could study law.

Ford also was a model for a short time and appeared on the cover of "Cosmopolitan" and inside "Look" magazine.

Ford served in the Navy during World War II. He was elected U.S. representative from Michigan in 1945, a job he kept until he was appointed Richard Nixon's vice president in 1973.

Ford survived two separate assassination attempts in September, 1975. He spent his retirement writing his memoirs and maintaining an active speaking schedule. President Ford died at his home in Rancho Mirage, California on December 26, 2006 at the age of 93.


Gerald Ford (born 1913) served as Republican leader in the House of Representatives before being selected by President Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew as vice president in 1973. A year later he replaced Nixon himself, who resigned due to the Watergate crisis. In the 1976 presidential election Ford lost to Jimmy Carter.

Gerald Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., in Omaha, Nebraska, on July 14, 1913. Shortly afterward, his mother divorced and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. After she remarried, he was adopted by and legally renamed for his stepfather, becoming Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr.

Ford's personality and career were clearly shaped by his family and community. Though not wealthy, the family was by Ford's later account "secure, orderly, and happy." His early years were rather ideal: handsome and popular, Gerald worked hard and graduated in the top five percent of his high school class. He also excelled in football, winning a full athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he played centre and, in his final year, was selected to participate in the Shrine College All-Star game. His football experiences, Ford later contended, helped instill in him a sense of fair play and obedience to rules.

Ford had a good formal education. After graduation from the University of Michigan, where he developed a strong interest in economics, he was admitted to Yale Law School. Here he graduated in the top quarter percent of the class (1941), which included such future luminaries as Potter Stewart and Cyrus Vance. Immediately after graduation, Ford joined with his college friend Philip Buchen in a law partnership in Grand Rapids; in early 1942 he enlisted in the Navy, serving throughout World War II and receiving his discharge as a lieutenant commander in February 1946.

Early Political Career

Ford was now ideally positioned to begin the political career which had always interested him. His stepfather was the Republican county chairman in 1944, which was certainly an advantage for Ford. A staunch admirer of Grand Rapids' conservative-but-internationalist senator Arthur Vandenberg, young Ford re-established himself in law practice and took on the Fifth District's isolationist congressman, Bartel Jonkman, in the 1948 primary for a seat in the House of Representatives. He won with 62 percent of the primary vote and repeated that generous margin of victory against his Democratic foe in the general election.

From the outset of his House career Gerald Ford displayed the qualities - and enjoyed the kind of help from others - which led to his rise to power in the lower house. His loyal adherence to the party line and cultivation of good will in his personal relations was soon rewarded with a seat on the prestigious Appropriations Committee. When Dwight Eisenhower gained the White House in 1952, Ford again found himself in an advantageous position since he had been one of 18 Republican congressmen who had initially written Eisenhower to urge him to seek the nomination.

Rise to House Leadership

During the 1950s Ford epitomized the so-called "Eisenhower wing" of the GOP ("Grand Old Party") in both his active support for internationalism in foreign policy (coupled with a nationalistic and patriotic tone) and his basic conservatism on domestic issues. He also developed close associations with other young GOP congressmen such as Robert Griffin of Michigan and Melvin Laird of Wisconsin who were rising to positions of influence in the House. Meanwhile, he continued to build his reputation as a solid party man with expertise on defense matters.

In 1963 he reaped the first tangible rewards of his party regularity, hard work, and good fellowship as he was elevated to the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference. Two years later, at the outset of the 89th Congress, a revolt led by his young, image-conscious party colleagues (prominent among them Griffin, Laird, Charles Goodell of New York, and Donald Rumsfeld of Illinois) propelled Ford into the post of minority leader.

Minority Leader

In a sense, Ford was fortunate to be in the minority party throughout his tenure as floor leader, for those years (1965-1973) - dominated by the Vietnam War and Watergate - presented nearly insurmountable obstacles to constructive policymaking. He tried to maintain a "positive" image for the GOP, initially supporting President Johnson's policies in Vietnam while attempting to pose responsible alternatives to Great Society measures. Gradually he broke from Johnson's Vietnam policy, calling for more aggressive pursuit of victory there.

During the Nixon years, Ford gained increasing visibility as symbol and spokesman for GOP policies. His party loyalty as minority leader made him a valuable asset to the Nixon administration. He was instrumental in securing passage of revenue-sharing, helped push the ill-fated Family Assistance (welfare reform) Plan, and took a pragmatic, essentially unsympathetic stance on civil rights issues - especially school bussing. He made perhaps his greatest public impact in these years when in 1970 - seemingly in retaliation for the Senate's rejection of two conservative Southerners nominated by Nixon for seats on the Supreme Court - he called for the impeachment of the liberal Justice William O. Douglas, claiming Douglas was guilty of corruption and inappropriate behavior. The impeachment effort was unsuccessful, and when the ailing Douglas eventually retired from the Court in 1975 Ford issued a laudatory public statement.

Ford also enhanced his reputation as a "hawk" on defense matters during these years. He was one of the few members of Congress who was kept informed by Nixon of the bombings of Cambodia before the controversial invasion of that country in the spring of 1970. Even after the Watergate scandal broke in 1973, Ford remained doggedly loyal long after many of his party colleagues had begun to distance themselves from President Nixon.

Ford retained his personal popularity with all elements of the GOP even while involving himself deeply in these controversial areas. His reputation for non-ideological practicality ("a Congressman's Congressman," he was sometimes labelled), coupled with personal qualities of openness, geniality, and candor, made him the most popular (and uncontroversial) of all possible choices for nomination by Nixon to the vice presidency in late 1973, under the terms of the 25th Amendment, to succeed the disgraced Spiro T. Agnew.

Loyal Vice President

The appropriate congressional committees conducted thorough hearings on even the well-liked Ford, but discovered no evidence linking him to Watergate. He was confirmed by votes of 92 to three in the Senate and 387 to 35 in the House, becoming the nation's first unelected vice president on December 6, 1973. At his swearing-in, Ford charmed a public sorely in need of discovering a lovable politician, stating with humility, "I am a Ford, not a Lincoln." He promised "to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right …, and … to do the very best that I can do for America."

Nixon and Ford were never personally close, but the latter proved to be a perfect choice for the job. His characteristic loyalty determined his course: during the eight-plus months he served as vice president, Ford made approximately 500 public appearances in 40 states, traveling over 100,000 miles to defend the president. He was faithful to Nixon to the end; even in early August of 1974, after the House Judiciary Committee had voted a first article of impeachment against the president, Ford continued to defend Nixon and condemned the committee action as "partisan."

Always a realist, however, Ford allowed aides to lay the groundwork for his possible transition to the White House. When Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, the unelected vice president was prepared to become the nation's first unelected president.

The White House Years

Once in the White House, Ford displayed a more consistently conservative ideology than ever before. While holding generally to the policies of the Nixon administration, he proved more unshakably committed than his predecessor to both a conservative, free market economic approach and strongly nationalistic defense and foreign policies. In attempting to translate his objectives into policy, however, President Ford was frequently blocked by a Democratic Congress intent on flexing its muscles in the wake of Watergate and Nixon's fall. The result was a running battle of vetoes and attempted overrides throughout the brief Ford presidency.

Ford made two quick tactical errors, whatever the merits of the two decisions. On September 8, 1974 he granted a full pardon to Richard Nixon, in advance, for any crimes he may have committed while in office, and a week later he announced a limited amnesty program for Vietnam-era deserters and draft evaders which angered the nationalistic right even while, in stark contrast to the pardon of Nixon, it seemed to many others not to go far enough in attempting to heal the wounds of the Vietnam War.

Gerald Ford governed the nation in a difficult period. Though president for only 895 days (the fifth shortest tenure in American history), he faced tremendous problems. After the furor surrounding the pardon subsided, the most important issues faced by Ford were inflation and unemployment, the continuing energy crisis, and the repercussions - both actual and psychological - from the final "loss" of South Vietnam in April 1975. Ford consistently championed legislative proposals to effect economic recovery by reducing taxes, spending, and the federal role in the national economy, but he got little from Congress except a temporary tax reduction. Federal spending continued to rise despite his call for a lowered spending ceiling. By late 1976 inflation, at least, had been checked somewhat; on the other hand, unemployment remained a major problem, and the 1976 election occurred in the midst of a recession. In energy matters, congressional Democrats consistently opposed Ford's proposals to tax imported oil and to deregulate domestic oil and natural gas. Eventually Congress approved only a very gradual decontrol measure.

Ford believed he was particularly hampered by Congress in foreign affairs. Having passed the War Powers Resolution in late 1973, the legislative branch first investigated, and then tried to impose restrictions on, the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In the area of war powers, Ford clearly bested his congressional adversaries. In the Mayaquez incident of May 1975 (involving the seizure of a U.S.-registered ship of that name by Cambodia), Ford retaliated with aerial attacks and a 175-marine assault without engaging the formal mechanisms required by the 1973 resolution. Although the actual success of this commando operation was debatable (39 crew members and the ship rescued, at a total cost of 41 other American lives), American honor had been vindicated and Ford's approval ratings rose sharply. Having succeeded in defying its provisions, Ford continued to speak out against the War Powers Resolution as unconstitutional even after he left the White House.

Ford basically continued Nixon's foreign policies, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was a dominant force in his administration as he had been under Nixon. Under increasing pressure from the nationalist right, Ford stopped using the word "detente," but he continued Nixon's efforts to negotiate a second SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty), and in 1975 he signed the Helsinki Accords, which recognized political arrangements in Eastern Europe which had been disputed for more than a generation.

The 1976 Election

Ford had originally stated he would not be a candidate on the national ticket in 1976, but he changed his mind. He faced a stiff challenge for the nomination, however; former Governor Ronald Reagan of California, champion of the Republican right, battled him through the 1976 primary season before succumbing narrowly at the convention. Running against Democrat Jimmy Carter of Georgia in November, Ford could not quite close the large gap by which he had trailed initially. He fell just short of victory. He received over 39 million popular votes to Carter's 40.8 million, winning 240 electoral votes to his opponent's 297. At the age of 63 he left public office - at the exact time he had earlier decided that he would retire.

Gerald Ford prospered as much after leaving the White House as any president had ever done. Moving their primary residence to near Palm Springs, California, he and his popular wife Betty (the former Elizabeth Warren, whom he married in 1948) also maintained homes in Vail, Colorado, and Los Angeles. Besides serving as a consultant to various businesses, by the mid-1980s Ford was on the boards of directors of several major companies, including Shearson/American Express, Beneficial Corporation of New Jersey, and Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation. Estimated to be earning $1 million per year, Ford shared a number of investments with millionaire Leonard Firestone and busied himself with numerous speaking engagements. Some criticized him for trading on his prestige for self-interest, but Ford remained clear of charges of wrongdoing and saw no reason to apologize for his success. Long a spokesman for free enterprise and individual initiative, it is somehow fitting that he became a millionaire in his post-presidential years.

In December, 1996 Business Week said that the former President had amassed a fortune of close to $300 million over the past two decades, largely from buying and selling U.S. banks and thrifts. Still, his fiscal success didn't diminish his concern over Congress's decision to cut off funds for all living former Presidents as of 1998. In July 1996 Ford paid a visit to several Congressmen, in the hope of urging a Congressional change of heart. Unfortunately for Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Ford, it appears that the Congressional decision is firm, especially in this era of scrutinizing every item in the Federal budget.

In 1997 Ford participated in "The Presidents' Summit on America's Future," along with former presidents Bush and Carter, and President Clinton, as well as General Colin Powell, and former first ladies Nancy Reagan and Lady Bird Johnson. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss volunteerism and community service, and marked the first occasion when living former presidents convened on a domestic policy.


Gerald Ford was the first Vice President ever to serve without having been popularly elected (he was appointed under the provisions of the 25th Amendment), and he was the first to succeed a President who resigned from office. His pardon of Richard Nixon for all Watergate crimes and his weak performance in dealing with the economy contributed to his election defeat in 1976.

Ford was originally named Leslie King, Jr. When he was two years old, his parents divorced; he took the name of his stepfather, Gerald Rudolph Ford, when his mother remarried. He was an Eagle Scout and in high school was a star football player and member of the student council. While an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Ford played football, and after graduation he received offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. Instead he went to Yale Law School and while there coached boxing, was the assistant football coach, and occasionally modeled for magazines. After receiving his law degree, Ford served as a lieutenant commander in the navy during World War II. He received 10 battle stars for action in the Pacific theater and almost lost his life when a typhoon hit the Third Fleet on December 18, 1944.

After the war Ford briefly practiced law, and in 1948 defeated an incumbent Republican and won election to the U.S. House of Representatives from Grand Rapids, Michigan. During the campaign he married Betty Bloomer Warren. He served 12 terms in the House, never receiving less than 60 percent of the vote. In 1965, after the Republican party suffered a major defeat in the Presidential and congressional elections, House Republicans ousted Charles Halleck and elected the younger and more aggressive Gerald Ford as minority leader. Ford proved an aggressive and successful leader who helped his party regain much of its lost stature. Ford frequently sparred with President Lyndon Johnson, who once remarked that Ford had “played too much football with his helmet off.” Ford opposed most of Johnson's Great Society programs, including aid to education and Medicare for the elderly.

In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew was convicted of accepting bribes and resigned from office. President Richard Nixon then appointed Ford as Vice President, both to rebuild the his administration's crumbling relations with Congress and because the Senate would be likely to confirm him. This was the first time that the 25th Amendment was used to fill a Vice Presidential vacancy. Ford was sworn in, after receiving congressional approval, on December 6, 1973.

When Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, Ford succeeded to the Presidency. “Our long national nightmare is over,” he told a nation numbed by the Watergate scandal. On September 8 he gave Nixon a “full, free and absolute” pardon for all Watergate crimes. “I do believe, with all my heart and mind and spirit, that I, not as President but as a humble servant of God, will receive justice without mercy if I fail to show mercy,” he told the American people in a televised address. Ford's popularity plummeted because of the pardon, and it never recovered. Many Americans believed there had been a secret deal, or at least an “understanding,” between Nixon and Ford, that Ford would issue a pardon if he were appointed Vice President and later succeeded Nixon in the White House.

Ford recommended to Congress that Nixon be paid $850,000 in transition expenses, which also upset public opinion. Congress allocated only $200,000 to Nixon. Ford appeared before a congressional committee to discuss the pardon, becoming the first President ever to appear before Congress for questioning. In September 1974 Ford offered Vietnam War deserters Presidential clemency if they participated in a work program. The contrast with the unconditional pardon given to Nixon seemed outrageous to many people.

Ford's domestic program was stalled by the Democratic Congress. As a result of the 1974 midterm elections, Democrats gained 43 House and 3 Senate seats to provide them with almost veto-proof margins. One-quarter of Ford's vetoes were overridden, a figure much higher than the 7 percent that other Presidents averaged. His anti-inflation effort, called Whip Inflation Now (WIN), was ignored, although the inflation rate dropped from 12 to 5 percent. His energy conservation program was derailed. Democrats passed their own education, public works, and housing measures. Ford vetoed many Democratic spending measures on domestic programs in 1976, but the vetoes were unpopular with Democrats and independent voters.

In foreign affairs, Ford's most notable achievements included an arms agreement with the Soviet Union on strategic weapons. In addition, the Helsinki Conference of 35 nations signed a pact in 1975 that recognized the borders of all states in Europe. It conferred legitimacy on Soviet expansionism after World War II but also required all nations to adhere to universal standards of human rights—provisions that eventually would make Soviet rule in Eastern Europe more difficult to sustain. In October 1975 Secretary of State Henry Kissinger helped put in place an interim peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in the Sinai Peninsula.

In 1975 the North Vietnamese army overran South Vietnam and put an end to the Vietnam War. President Ford ordered U.S. armed forces to evacuate Americans and South Vietnamese allies. Seven laws prohibited the use of the armed forces in Vietnam, and Ford went before a joint session of Congress to urge their repeal. After Congress deadlocked and did nothing, Ford ordered the evacuations anyway. He asked Congress to allocate almost half a billion dollars to settle 140,000 refugees from Indochina in the United States—one of his few legislative successes. Later, he sent the military to rescue crewmen of the merchant ship Mayaguez from Cambodian custody, losing 43 servicemen in the incident.

On September 22, 1975, Ford was almost assassinated by Sarah Jane Moore as he emerged from the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. The pistol was deflected by a bystander and Ford was not hit by the bullet.

In 1976 Ford was challenged by Ronald Reagan in the Republican primaries and barely defeated him for the nomination. The Republican platform, however, was written by conservatives and repudiated much of the Ford-Kissinger foreign policy of dtente, or relaxation of tensions with the Soviet Union. During the general election campaign, Ford made a major slip in a debate when he asserted that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” Although he seemed to have meant that the Soviets could not crush the Polish, Hungarian, and Czechoslovak peoples' longing for freedom, his poor choice of words gave the Democrats a chance to argue that Ford simply did not have the brains to be President. Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter in a close election, receiving slightly less than 49 percent of the vote.

After retiring from the White House, Ford wrote his memoirs and saw to the construction of his Presidential library in Ann Arbor and museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1980 there was an effort to put Ford on the Reagan ticket as Vice President, but Ford insisted on a virtual “co-Presidency” in which he would share Presidential powers, and the effort was aborted by the Reagan camp.


Vice-President 1973 – 4, President 1974 – 7 The son of Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy King, Ford was named at birth as Leslie Lynch King Jr. His parents divorced when he was 2 years old and his mother later married a paint salesman named Gerald Rudolf Ford. His name was changed to Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. when he was legally adopted by his stepfather. (He did not discover he was adopted until the age of 17.) He attended South High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the University of Michigan, where he majored in economics. Coming from a modest background, he had to work part-time to maintain himself. He was a star football player and was voted the team's "most valuable player" in 1934. After graduating from Michigan in 1935, he went on to Yale law school, where he worked on the athletic staff while studying for a law degree, receiving his degree in 1941. He was admitted to the Michigan bar and set up law practice in Grand Rapids. He saw war service and spent four years in the navy aboard the USS Monterey. Returning to Grand Rapids, he resumed his law practice and, in 1948, married a divorcee, Betty Bloomer Warren. The same year his stepfather — active in local Republican politics — and the state's senior Republican Senator, Arthur Vandenberg, persuaded him to run for Congress in his home district against the incumbent, an isolationist in international affairs. Ford scored a surprise victory in the Republican primary and went on to win easily in the general election.

Ford served for twenty-five years in the House of Representatives. He was a hardworking member and was appointed to several committees. In 1950 he was given a Distinguished Service Award by the US Junior Chamber of Commerce as one of the ten outstanding young men in the United States. Attentive to the needs of Grand Rapids, he regularly won re-election. In 1963 he was appointed as a member of the Warren Commission, investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and in 1965 led a "young turks" movement against the Republican leadership in the House. Elected as minority leader, he spent much of his spare time campaigning and giving speeches for colleagues. Ford had a reputation for being approachable, willing always to help and working hard to master his duties. In his voting behaviour, he was a conservative. He had a particular dislike of the opinions of liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, and sought unsuccessfully to impeach him. He had little grounding in foreign affairs but supported President Richard Nixon in his policy of détente with China and the Soviet Union.

By the early 1970s, he was considering retiring from Congress. He had served almost a quarter of a century in the House. His wife was conscious that she saw little of him and was keen to return to Grand Rapids. His plans changed suddenly in 1973 when President Nixon nominated him, under the terms of the 25th Amendment to the US constitution, to succeed Spiro Agnew as Vice-President after Agnew's resignation. Ford was not Nixon's first but he was his safest choice. Ford was a popular figure in Congress and the members were content to approve one of their own as Vice-President. His nomination was confirmed by both chambers and he took the oath as Vice-President on 6 December 1973.

Ford was a loyalist by inclination and promptly proclaimed his faith in the innocence of Richard Nixon in the face of accusations levelled against him in the Watergate affair. He toured the country giving speeches and defending the President, doing so after it became clear that he would be well adivsed to adopt a more aloof stance. After the release of incriminating tape recordings, Richard Nixon announced his resignation as President on 8 August 1974. The following day, Ford and his wife waved goodbye to Nixon as he left the White House by helicopter. Then, at noon, in the East Room of the White House Ford was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States. He became the only President never to have been elected to either the presidential or vice-presidential office.

Ford had to contend with a worsening economic situation and a political environment that was increasingly hostile. A month after his inauguration, he pardoned Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed. The pardon was unpopular — Ford's own press secretary resigned in protest — and the President's ratings in the opinion polls plummeted. In November, the Democrats made sweeping gains in the mid-term congressional elections. There was an attempt by the elected Democrats to pursue their own agenda against that of an unelected President.

In domestic affairs, Ford sought initially to tackle inflation. He held a gathering of economic experts and then distributed "WIN" (Whip Inflation Now') badges. However, he soon changed course and made tackling unemployment the administration's priority. He clashed with Congress, which wanted to go further than he was prepared to go in funding public works projects. Ford used the veto extensively before being advised that it was politically unwise to use it so liberally. In his short term of office, he vetoed 66 measures. Of the 48 regular vetoes, 12 were overridden. He had the lowest average success rate of modern presidents in getting measures passed by Congress (57.6 per cent, compared with 67.2 per cent for Nixon). In his energy policy, Ford supported market pricing and attempted to lift controls on oil prices and to deregulate natural gas rates, but Congress rejected his measures.

Ford also clashed with Congress on foreign policy. Congress denied Ford's attempts to send increased military aid to Cambodia and Vietnam. (Ford subsequently blamed Congress for the fall of the regime in South Vietnam.) Congress also refused Ford's request for more substantial aid to the pro-western forces in Angola. Against Ford's wishes it also imposed an arms embargo on Turkey.

Ford nonetheless was able to claim some successes. He was able to use his veto to achieve some compromise on energy policy and on unemployment programmes. He achieved a ceiling on federal expenditure in return for his approval of a bill authorizing reductions in income tax. In foreign affairs, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger continued his shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, achieving disengagement of forces in the Sinai and on the Golan Heights. Ford sent US marines to retake the American merchant ship, the Mayaguez, seized — according to American intelligence — by Cambodian forces in international waters. Though it later emerged that the Cambodians were about to release the crew (rendering unnecessary the American casualties sustained in the operation) the action was popular, and Ford's popularity ratings took a sudden, though temporary, upswing.

Ford's greatest contribution to the office, though, was in restoring a sense of stability. By the time of the 1976 presidential election campaign, he had established himself as a serious candidate. Though initially declaring he would not seek election in his own right, he changed his mind and sought the Republican nomination. He was challenged by the former Governor of California, Ronald Reagan. After a bruising contest, Ford won the nomination. In the general election, Ford did well in the first of two televised debates with his Democratic opponent Jimmy Carter, but then slipped in the second debate — on foreign policy — when he asserted that the countries of Eastern Europe were not under the domination of the Soviet Union. It took some days before Ford clarified what he meant (that the Soviets had no legal entitlement to dominate Eastern Europe) but the gaffe and the delay in rectifying it harmed his support. In the event, he lost narrowly to Carter, garnering 48 per cent of the popular vote to Carter's 50.1 per cent. Given the circumstances in which he came to the presidency, his performance was a highly creditable one. After his defeat, he retired from politics. A proposal that he become Ronald Reagan's running mate in 1980 was discussed but not pursued. He gave the occasional lecture but seemed at his happiest on the golf course.

Ford was extremely well liked as an individual. He was pleasant and open. His family circumstances aroused sympathy: his wife was rushed into hospital for major surgery shortly after the couple entered the White House and later received treatment for chronic alcoholism (she subsequently established the Betty Ford clinic). Ford was the subject of two assassination attempts; in one, in San Francisco, bullets were fired and just missed him — his life was saved by a bystander who knocked the arm of the woman firing the gun. The White House became more of a home than a fortress and Ford did much to restore the dignity of the office.

As President, though, Ford was not always taken that seriously. A knee injury — the result of his football playing days — left him prone to falling down steps occasionally. He was a master of the verbal gaffe. Much of the humour at his expense he took in good part. He once had to rebuke his own press secretary for appearing on a late-night television show and banging his head against the microphone, recognized by the audience as a take-off of his boss. He had an engaging way of making light of his own misfortunes. During one speech he was giving — not too well — he interrupted himself to announce, "I told Betty before I gave this speech that I knew it backwards — and that seems to be how I am delivering it." He was the antithesis of his predecessor. That was probably what the United States needed at the time.











This web page was last updated on: 10 December, 2008