|Born||July 14, 1913, Omaha, Nebr.|
|Education||University of Michigan, B.A., 1935|
Yale Univ. Law School, LL.B. 1940
|Military service||U.S. Navy, 1942-45|
|Previous public office|| ♦ House of Representatives, 1949-73|
♦ House minority leader, 1965-73
♦ Vice President, 1973-74
|Died||Dec. 26, 2006, Rancho Mirage, CA|
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.
Ford's popularity plummeted because of the pardon, and it never recovered. Many Americans believed there had been a secret deal 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. Possibly, the Helsinki Accord helped restrain the Soviet Union from intervening when citizens in communist countries overthrew their governments in 1989.
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.
Ford's wife, Betty, broke fresh ground for a First Lady by her forthrightness on controversial and personal matters. She championed abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment; expressed uncommon understanding for some of the new norms of young people's behavior, including premarital sex and the use of marijuana; and went public about her mastectomy, her drinking problem, and her entry into psychiatric treatment.
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 Détente, 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.
Gerald R. Ford died on December 26, 2006, at 93 years old, making him the longest-lived president in the history of the United States. He passed away in his home of Rancho Mirage, CA,
Ford was the only person to hold the presidential office without being elected as president nor vice-president. His 895-day presidency remains the shortest of all Presidents who did not die in office.
Possessed of an open personality, Ford was perceived as a straight-shooter. He was "Mr. Nice Guy," unpretentious but unimaginative. A splendid athlete, he sometimes seemed more comfortable talking about sports than about the intricacies of public policy.
The choice of Ford to fulfill Agnew's vacated role as vice president was based on his reputation for openness and honesty. "In all the years I sat in the House, I never knew Mr. Ford to make a dishonest statement nor a statement part-true and part-false. He never attempted to shade a statement, and I never heard him utter an unkind word," said Martha Griffiths.
The trust the American people had in him was severely and rapidly tarnished by his pardon of Nixon. Nonetheless, many grant in hindsight that he had respectably discharged with considerable dignity a great responsibility that he had not sought.
Ford was deeply disappointed that he could not vindicate his presidency at the polls. He must remain satisfied to be remembered as a congressional president whose historic role it was to mop up the dregs of the two most damaging episodes in the history of the modern White House, the Watergate affair and the Vietnam War.