Gerald Ford – Biography, Presidency & Accomplishments
Owing to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974, Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States under extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Watergate scandal. Ford’s tenure as president was marked by his stable character, bold choices and political integrity.
Gerald Ford: Fast Facts
Born: Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr.
Date of Birth: July 14, 1913
Place of birth: Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
Died: December 26, 2006; California, U.S.
Parents: Leslie Lynch King Sr. and Dorothy Ayer Gardner Ford
Education: University of Michigan, Yale University
Wife: Betty Bloomer (married in 1948)
Children: Michael, Steven, Jack, Susan
Political Party: Republican Party
Offices held prior to his presidency: US House of Representative from Michigan’s 5th district (1949-1973), 40th Vice President of the United States (1973-1974)
US Presidency: 38th President of the United States (1974-1977)
Predecessor: Richard Nixon
Successor: Jimmy Carter
Born in Leslie Lynch King in Omaha, Nebraska in 1913, Ford’s parents got divorced while he was still an infant. A prolific football player in school in high school, he earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan. He went on to pursue law at Yale University after declining several orders to play professional football.
After Yale, Ford enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II, and was commissioned in April, 1942. He served in the South Pacific during which time he received a number of commendations before his discharge in 1946.
Years in Congress
On his return from the War, Ford joined the bandwagon of supporters of a more interventional nation and rejected American isolationism. He put his political ideas to good use by running for Congress as a Republican. He beat the incumbent Republican Congressman from Michigan and served for 25 years in Congress. At the beginning of his career as congressman, Ford sat on several committees including the House of Appropriations Committee.
In the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, he was called to the Warren Commission which was responsible for investigating the murder. Ford earnestly agreed with the single-assassin premise and went the extra mile of providing secret information about the members of the Warren Committee who disagreed with the FBI’s theory.
Ford was widely admired for his open mindedness and assertiveness, and by 1965, he was elected as the minority leader of the House. During this time, he strongly opposed President Johnson’s policies regarding the Vietnam War. He served in this capacity until he was appointed by Nixon as his vice president in 1973.
Ford as Vice President
Ford was confirmed as vice president by Congress on December 6, 1973. This was soon followed by the “media circus” with regards to the Nixon’s Watergate scandal. In 1974, it became clear that Nixon would face charges for his part in the scandal. The evidence against him was enormous and Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, advised Ford to prepare to take the reins as president.
On August 9, 1974, Nixon stepped down and Ford swore the oath of office shortly after. He immediately appointed the Nelson Rockefeller as Governor of New York. As of that time, Ford was the only one who passed from vice president to president without prior elections.
The Ford Administration
One of Ford’s primary goals was to launch a period of “healing” in the United States after ten years of loss and wreckage. He also introduced an amnesty program for those who had eluded their military obligation or left during the Vietnam War.
What became his most infamous act during his administration was his pardon of Nixon and his absolution of the crimes of the Watergate scandal in September, 1974. The people wanted Nixon to go through Congressional trial but Ford wanted the nation to just move on.
His initial popularity waned and over the period, he proved to be a disappointment and incompetent in effecting positive change. Based on an alleged blackmail as the reason behind Ford’s pardon, he willingly appeared before Congress to account for his reason for the pardon. This was the first time a standing president had formally testified in Congress. Ford’s lost favor in his own political party by appointing Nelson A. Rockefeller as his vice president.
Right from the start, Ford’s administration was confronted with a high rate of inflation, a depressed economy, energy shortages. In spite of his attempt to solve the high “Whip Inflation Now,” program, the unemployment rate rose to almost 9%. There was only little he could do to stop the nation’s plummeting economy. In the first 14 months of his presidency, he vetoed 39 measures which were almost always supported.
In the area of foreign relations, he took vigorous steps to preserve the United States power and respect following the fall of Cambodia and Vietnam. In the last days of the Vietnam War, he ordered an airlift of about 237,000 asylum seekers from the Da Nang and transported the majority of them to the United States. In his effort to rescue Mayaguez cargo ship from Cambodia, Ford instructed the Marines to seize the ship. The mission was successful, but not without the death of 41 American citizens and with about 50 more injured.
In August, 1976, Ford won the Republican’s nomination for the Presidency making him the first incumbent president to consent to public debates with a rival; Jimmy Carter, a Democrat candidate. In November, 1976 presidential election, Ford lost to Carter.
After Ford’s Presidency
Ford was glad to retire from public life after his defeat. His memoir, “A Time to Heal” was published in 1976. Ford spoke on relevant political matters and penned a number of articles which ranged from stem cells research to another alternative to Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
Ford became the target of two assassination attempts. The first attempt failed because the Secret Service aptly intervened before shots could even be fired. In the second attempt, Ford was saved because the assassin’s one gunshot missed by several feet.
Ford met his would-be wife, Elizabeth Anne Bloomer, shortly after his return from World War II. The two exchanged wedding vows at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids in 1948. Together, they raised three sons and a daughter.
Death & Legacy
Ford died of an arteriosclerotic cerebrovascular disease on December 26, 2006. He was 93 years of age.
A 2012 Gallup poll indicated that Ford was adjudged by 54% of Americans as an average president. However, author contested that view in an article he wrote in Bridge Magazine and outlined his reasons why Ford deserved better.
Another author, Gleaves Whitney asserted that he would rate Ford’s leadership above average. He explained that “…Ford brought an integrity and a calmness to the presidency that we really miss…”
His illustrious political career saw him receive a number of honors, including:
- Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999 at the East Room of the White House. The honor was bestowed upon him by President Bill Clinton.
- 1981 marked the dedication of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- 2006 saw the movement of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy into the University of Michigan.
- He was also the recipient of a number of awards, including the American Campaign Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.