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Gerald R. Ford

Introduction He said it himself: "I`m a Ford, not a Lincoln." Gerald R. Ford`s candor and honesty were why he was admired during his 25 years in Congress. From 1965 to 1973, Ford was the House minority leader. When Ford took the presidential oath of office on August 9, 1974, he declared:

The oath that I have taken is the same oath that was taken by George Washington and by every President under the Constitution. But I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts. Therefore, I feel it is my first duty to make an unprecedented compact with my countrymen. Not an inaugural address, not a fireside chat, not a campaign speech -- just a little straight talk among friends. And I intend it to be the first of many. 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.
It was indeed an unprecedented time. Ford was the first vice president chosen under terms of the 25th Amendment and, in the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal, was succeeding the first president ever to resign. Ford was immediately confronted with nearly insurmountable tasks: mastering inflation, reviving a depressed economy, solving chronic energy shortages, and trying to ensure world peace. On two separate excursions to California in September 1975, Ford was the target of assassination attempts. The assailants were Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore. Youth, education, and military service Born in Omaha, Nebraska, on July 14, 1913, Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ford`s parents separated two weeks after his birth, then his mother took him to Grand Rapids to live with her parents. Two years after his parents finalized their divorce, his mother remarried. Ford has three brothers. Early in his youth, Ford showed talent for playing football that supported him through his college years. He also was active in the Boy Scouts of America, achieving Eagle Scout in November 1927. He earned spending money by working in the family paint business and at a local restaurant. Ford played on the University`s national championship football teams in 1932 and 1933. He was voted the Wolverines` MVP (most valuable player) in 1934 and in January 1935, played in the annual East-West College All-Star game in San Francisco, California. In August 1935, he played in the Chicago Tribune College All-Star football game at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears. After graduating from the University of Michigan, at Ann Arbor with a B.A. degree in 1935, he rejected offers to play professional football with the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. Instead, he headed for Yale University. There, Ford coached football and earned his law degree in 1941. During World War II, Ford joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1942 and attained the rank of lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. He served aboard the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey, where he took part in many of the major operations in the South Pacific, including Truk, Saipan, and the Philippines. Congressman Ford Ford returned to Michigan from the war to practice law, but it was not long before public service fired his interest, and he entered Republican politics. He first ran for office in 1948. A few weeks before his election to Congress he married Elizabeth Bloomer. They produced four children: Michael, John, Steven, and Susan. Ford served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949 to December 1973. He once described himself as "a moderate in domestic affairs, an internationalist in foreign affairs, and a conservative in fiscal policy." Vice President Ford As defined in the 20th Amendment: Should a vice president resign, becomes incapacitated or dies, the president must appoint a new one. When Spiro Agnew resigned from the vice presidency owing to a kick-back scandal, House Minority Leader Ford was appointed by President Nixon to take his place. As vice president, Ford languished on the sidelines. Meanwhile, national security adviser Henry Kissinger basked in the limelight and Nixon`s foreign policy activities overshadowed domestic issues. Gerald Ford President Ford Gerald Ford became America`s 38th president when Nixon resigned. Under the provisions of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, Ford was required to designate a replacement for the office of vice president. His nominee for vice president was former governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, who was the second person to fill that office by appointment. He was sworn in on December 19, 1974, and served until the end of Ford’s term in January 1977.

The Ford cabinet. Ford inherited the Nixon Cabinet. Gradually, he selected a cabinet of his own. It is interesting to note that the hand-picked Nixon cabinet turnover was much more extensive during the Nixon administration than for the inherited Ford cabinet. Pardoning Nixon. As president, Ford tried to calm earlier controversies by granting former president Nixon a full pardon. Eight months after taking office, on September 8, 1974, Ford announced that Nixon would be pardoned for all crimes he might have committed during his presidency, thereby ending any threat of prosecution. An immediate outcry from across the nation was of a Nixon-Ford "deal." Accusations of a Nixon deal with Ford for clemency were bantered about, but the uproar soon faded.

Ford`s domestic agenda. In public policy, Ford followed the course of action Nixon had set, despite opposition and numerous confrontations with the Democratically controlled Congress. His first goal was to curb inflation, which led to a 12 percent unemployment rate, and the most serious recession since The Great Depression. A tax cut, coupled with higher unemployment benefits, led to a modest recovery. He vetoed a number of non-military appropriations bills that would have further increased the already heavy budgetary deficit. Ford continued as he had in his congressional days to view himself as "a moderate in domestic affairs, a conservative in fiscal affairs, and an internationalist in foreign affairs." A major goal was to help business operate more freely by reducing corporate taxes and easing the controls exercised by regulatory agencies. "We ...declared our independence 200 years ago, and we are not about to lose it now to paper shufflers and computers," he said. The paper shufflers referred to were the entrenched Washington, D.C. bureaucrats that Nixon had attempted to reorganize during his own presidency The president acted to curb the trend toward government intervention and spending, e.g. Welfare and Affirmative Action, as a means of solving the problems of American society and the economy. He imposed measures to curb inflation. In the long run, he believed, that shift would mean a better life for all Americans. During his first 14 months as president he vetoed 39 measures. His vetoes were usually sustained, but there was still no end to economic difficulties. Other issues President Ford dealt with are as follows:

  • The 18-year-old vote. The president recalled that in Congress he strongly supported the Constitutional amendment that made it possible for 18-year-olds to vote. "Many people said it would be unhealthy, that they were not qualified," he said. "I think they are. Their participation has been excellent."
  • Disadvantaged youth. Also on the job front, the president signed into law legislation providing $528 million to support 888,100 jobs for disadvantaged youth the following summer. He said that action, together with related summer youth programs, would produce summer jobs for 1.5 million young people in the summer of 1976. He directed the heads of all federal departments and agencies to cooperate in efforts to provide summer jobs in government for 54,000 needy youths. The president also called for 26,000 youths to do conservation work under the Department of Agriculture and Interior departments.
  • Ensuring equal opportunity. The president signed amendments to the Equal Opportunity Credit Act that bars discrimination against persons in obtaining credit for reasons unrelated to their credit worthiness. That law was intended to help young working people below 21 to obtain credit that otherwise might have been denied them because of age alone.
  • Education. In actions relating to education, President Ford aupported the concept that aid for college and university students should be provided to the individual students rather than to institutions so that the students can choose the kind of education they want. He requested full funding of the Basic Opportunity Grants program in 1976 and 1977 to enable needy students to receive up to $1,400 a year, but no more than half the money needed to meet their educational costs. Additional funds would come from loans, work study programs, and resources of the student or his family. The president`s budget for the 1977 fiscal year included $6.3 billion for higher education, including $4.3 billion for the G.I. Bill.
  • Ford`s foreign policy. The main issues during the Ford presidency were:

  • the North Vietnamese victory over South Vietnam (1975), and the Mayaguez Incident,
  • Detente and human rights policy,
  • Middle East crisis,
  • Arab oil power, and the
  • first international economic summits.
  • Ford acted energetically to re-assert U.S. ability and prestige following the collapse of Cambodia and the humiliating Fall of Saigon in South Vietnam. On May 12, 1975, the American Merchant Marine ship, S.S. Mayaguez, with 39 crewmen aboard, was captured in international waters by Cambodian gunboats. The ship was retrieved and all crewmen were saved, but at the cost of 41 American servicemen`s lives. Detente with the with the Soviet Union under leader Leonid Brezhnev continued. U.S.-Soviet relations were marked by on-going arms negotiations. They worked to enhance the SALT II treaty¹ to set new limitations on nuclear weapons (which failed to pass in Congress), the Helsinki agreements on human rights principles and East European national boundaries, trade negotiations, and the symbolic Apollo-Soyuz joint manned space flight. Ford`s personal diplomacy was highlighted by trips to Japan and China, a 10-day European tour, and co-sponsorship of the first international economic summit meeting. In addition, he received numerous foreign heads of state at the White House, many of whom came in observance of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976. Preventing a new war between the intractable Arab-Israeli opponents of the Middle East remained a major objective. "Shuttle diplomacy" in the Middle East seemed to yield hopeful results. By providing more aid to both Israel² and Egypt, the Ford administration helped to persuade the two countries to accept an interim truce agreement — which did not last. President Ford won the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1976, but lost the election to his Democratic opponent, former governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia, who was a Washington "outsider." On Inauguration Day, President-elect Carter began his acceptance speech by saying, "For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land." Electing Carter, however, may have been a signal from voters that they still suspected a deal for Ford to pardon President Nixon. Arab oil power was predominant on the geo-political scene at that time. The Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) Oil Embargo of 1973-1974³ had upset the balance of power and the national economies of Europe and America, which in turn increased inflation for years afterward. Post-presidential activities Since his term in office, Ford has been active and has served on numerous corporate boards. He also created the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Gerald R. Ford Award for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency. The highly regarded Betty Ford Center, established in 1982 by the former First Lady, has treated women and men suffering from chemical dependency. The center has always saved 50 percent of its space for women and 50 percent for men. Today the Betty Ford Center offers programs for the entire family system affected by addiction. For more information, go to The Betty Ford Center.

    ¹SALT II was still in negotiations under the Jimmy Carter administration. President Ronald Reagan scrapped SALT II and began renegotiation on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which remained in effect until President George W. Bush announced American withdrawal from the treaty in December 2001.

    ² Established in 1948, Israel has received, since its inception, approximately $13 billion per annum from the United States. As of 1997, the total estimated cost to U.S. taxpayers was nearly $135 billion. In large part, due to the influences of the pro-Israeli lobby, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, D.C. and various American Christian denominations.

    ³ On October 6, 1973, the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, Egyptian forces attacked Israel from across the Suez Canal, while at the same time Syrian troops flooded the Golan Heights in a surprise offensive. After early losses, Israeli counterattacks quickly pushed into Syrian territory in the north, as troops outflanked the Egyptian army in the south. Israel, with help from the U.S., succeeded in reversing the Arab gains and a cease-fire was concluded in November. But on October 17, OPEC struck back against the West by imposing an oil embargo on the U.S., while increasing prices by 70 percent to America`s Western European allies.